Sunday, May 04, 2008

Asian Animation -- Two Cities Under Attack

McDull, prince de la bun (Toe Yuen, 2004)

McDull is an anthropomorphic piglet who lives with his mother in an older section of Hong Kong. His mother, believing in the importance of education, sends him to a rather peculiar kindergarten (staffed by humans but seemingly dedicated solely to the instruction of various other cute anthropomorphic creatures). McDull's mother (clearly a single parent) worries about finances -- but sees no reason why she should be any less able to write bestsellers for children than J. K. Rowling. Sadly, young McDull has little interest in hearing his mother's literary efforts recounted as bedtime stories, much preferring Harry Potter. Even sadder, although McDull doesn't realize it, the story he rejects (about McBing, the Prince de la Bun) is actually a (presumably rather embroidered) tale about his own absent father's adventures. Always thinking ahead, McDull's mother is scouting out a suitable family plot, visiting a lovely seaside, hillside cemetery somewhere in the new territories. All the while, the crowded but cozy neighborhood McDull and his mother inhabit is increasingly attracting the interest of urban renewers.

While the HK this film is accompanied by subtitles, one gets a sense that one really needs to be fluent in Cantonese to appreciate fully what one hears in this film. Verbal humor seems a central element that is not fully appreciable by me. I suspect that understanding Cantonese would not, however, render the story here more comprehensible -- as it seems (deliberately) highly random (or, one could say, surreal). Visually, the film is a bit of hodge podge -- mixing manipulated bits of live action footage and 3-D animation with a mostly more-traditional style of animation. I prefer the latter (all my screen shots belong to this category).

McDull began life as the the cousin of another piglet (called McMug) -- in a series of comics. He eventually became a star in his own right. McDull made it into the movies in the 2001 My Life as McDull. The present film was his second. A third film, McDull, the Alumni (one-third animated, two-thirds live action), came out in 2006. The present film is probably the easily way to make McDull's acquaintance, as the HK DVD of My Life as McDull is out of print and the third film is reputedly not as appealing as the first two.

More screen shots:

Tekon kinkurîto / Tekkonkinkreet (Michael Arias, 2006)

Another new animated film that has urban renewal as a major plot point. The city under attack here seems to be a partly-real and partly fantastic, slightly old-time Tokyo (here named Treasure Town). The protagonists are a couple of young orphans (self-adopted brothers) called Black and White who constitute a gang of two, dedicated to the preservation of their rather tawdry and run-down neighborhood. Their opponents? -- First the yakuza and then (scarier still) what seems to be an extra-terrestrial real estate developer (who commands various super-human minions). A couple of yakuza, one old and another young, however, sympathize with the boy's goals -- against the wishes of their boss.

Visually, this film is simply superb -- much more pleasing to me than the work of the much-hyped Satoshi Kon. This is my vision of dystopia since the extraordinary (critically ignored) 2003 series Texhnolyze. Surprisingly, this nostalgic look at a vanished and vanishing Tokyo was directed by an expatriate American, Michael Arias -- based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto. In making this, Arias (whose prior expertise was mainly in the technical side of the animation business) drew on the expertise of Studio 4°C (a "lesser-known" but respected anime production company).

While the primary focus here is on the visuals, I would note the voice acting is quite good, featuring a number of noted performers, including (among others) Kazunari Nimomiya, Yuu Aoi, Min Tanaka and Yusuke Isseya. I saw this on a very good-looking and sounding (English-subitled) Hong Kong DVD. There is now an American DVD as well -- but I don't know how this compares with the version I saw.

By the way, the nonsense-sounding name of the film (and manga) has a fairly simple explanation -- it is a childish mispronunciation of "tekkin konkuriito" (steel-reinforced concrete). More pictures (and that's what really counts here):

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