Hannah Collins looks forward to the Kotatsu Animation Festival, a celebration of Japanese animation returning in person to Cardiff and Aberystwyth over two weekends, and offers a sage guide to the best features on the bill.
After going digital-only last year, the Kotatsu Animation Festival returns to Cardiff and Aberystwyth this September and October. Launched by Eiko Meredith with the goal of bringing Japanese animation and culture to a broader audience, the 11th iteration of Kotatsu is returning at a pivotal time. Anime’s recent boom in popularity around the world is reaching a fever pitch, with spinoff movies like 2019’s Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train slicing up box office records, streaming sites like Netflix increasing the global accessibility of the genre, and manga – the comics that many productions adapt – increasingly outpacing the demand for western superhero comics.
Despite this, chances for fans outside of Japan to catch the latest feature-length, animated release from the country in theatres remains rare – even with debates about the future of post-pandemic cinema raging, there’s still nothing quite like the spectacle of blockbuster animation on the big screen. Therefore, festivals like Kotatsu – and its Celtic twin, Scotland Loves Animation – are a mecca for seasoned otaku and the ani-curious alike.
The 2021 Kotatsu line-up is as varied as usual, from the ode to alt-rock that is Kenji Iwaisawa’s On-Gaku to YA romance, Josee, The Tiger And The Fish. True to the spirit of the event, independent creators also have an important place, this year in the form of two short films: In Full Bloom, made using cut-outs, and The Mark Of Emi, which is entirely hand-drawn.
Another notable and more mainstream highlight is Ride Your Wave, a supernatural love story from acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa and Studio SARU. The film took home the Jury Award at the aforementioned Scotland Loves Animation festival in 2019. And rightly so: equal parts funny, heartbreaking, and a little absurd, Ride Your Wave is a genuine crowdpleaser.
Lupin III: The First also comfortably fits into that category. Though only the latest entry in the titular character’s long line of works, which date back to the 60s, the film is actually a fantastic entry point for newcomers – functioning as a soft reboot for the rogueish thief. Taking healthy influence from Indiana Jones, the globetrotting adventure also features spectacular 3D CG animation. (And if the name rings a bell, it’s because yes, Lupin III is descended from the Arsène Lupin.)
Speaking of which, also screening at Kotatsu is Studio Ghibli’s first foray into 3D CG, Earwig And The Witch. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of Ghibli cofounder and all-round industry icon Hayao Miyazaki, the weight of expectation continues to hang heavily on him. Unfortunately, the critics’ consensus on Earwig doesn’t fully dispel the doubt leftover from his first, flawed effort for his father’s company, Tales From Earthsea. But honestly, even Ghibli at its ‘worst’ is always worth the price of admission.
Showing in Aberystwyth only is Studio 4℃’s Children Of The Sea, which is director Ayumu Watanabe’s first theatrical release since 2014’s Space Brothers #0. Slow and melancholy for the first two thirds, Children Of The Sea takes a hard left turn into the psychedelic and metaphysical towards its climax. As well as that, expect a sketchy but rich colour palette and a gorgeous score from long-time Ghibli collaborator, Joe Hisaishi.
Also an Aberystwyth exclusive is arguably Kotatsu 2021’s showstopper, Promare – an absolute banger from anime disruptors Studio TRIGGER. The film is ostensibly about a ragtag group of mecha firefighters, but actually has more to do with xenophobia and social revolution. Story aside, Promare is a frenetic thrill ride, best viewed with a similarly lively audience around you.
New to this year’s proceedings is the Critic Award, with journalist and author Andrew Osmond and critics Ryota Fujitsu and Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi on the panel. As well as films, there will also be a live tour via Zoom of Oscar-nominated animator and director Koji Yamamura’s studio, and a festival staple workshop – singular, sadly – on Yakuta (traditional Japanese dress) delivered in Cardiff’s Canton Library by Yumiko Jones of Bristol’s Japanese Cultural Society.
Kotatsu Animation Festival, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, Sat 25 + Sun 26 Sept; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Fri 1-Sun 3 Oct. Info and tickets: www.kotatsufestival.com
words HANNAH COLLINS
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