Toons of Glory

Cornell Cinema’s Animation Show of Shows on campus this weekend includes a look at a post-apocalyptic world of only machines: “Empty Places“.

In the 80’s and 90’s – CU Cinema screened “Animation Celebration” and “Spike and Mike”, among others - that showcased short works in all manner of mediums from around the world. The short length meant that you’d see CGI, hand-drawn pieces and stop-motion, all in one tight package.

Cornell Cinema continues a winter tradition, screening “The 22nd Animation Show of Shows” on Saturday, January 26 at 7pm and Sunday, January 27 at 5pm. The program comprises ten shorts from Europe, Asia and North America: nine recent and one classic restored in 4K, Frederic Back’s 1987 Oscar-winning “The Man Who Planted Trees”.

Time and space prohibit extensive critiques of all ten shorts, but rest assured this is a program well worth watching. 

I particularly admired Patrick Smith and Kaori Ishida’s “Beyond Noh” (U.S./Japan), which shows split-second imagery of 3475 different masks from around the world in under four minutes, from African tribal masks and Guy Fawkes to Spider-Man and that Bill Clinton mask you wore in college, all set to a driving, propulsive score. The effect is similar to the short films that Chuck Braverman created for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in the late 60s.

Another standout is Geoffroy de Crecy‘s “Empty Places” (France); in one angle at a time, we see a world devoid of humanity where all the machinery rumbles on: a record on  a turntable, a carnival ride, an escalator. Without people around to hear the music, ride the rides or ascend to another floor, the machines roll mindlessly on for an audience of zero.  

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When it comes to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, I feel like the last guest at a great party; the first Miyazaki film I saw was “Howl’s Moving Castle” in 2005.  If you’re also late to the party, Cornell Cinema starts a Studio Ghibli Sunday series on Sunday, January 29 at 4pm – 11 films, including Miyazaki classics but also Ghibli directors Yoshifumi Kondô (“Whisper of the Heart” on March 26), Isao Takahata (“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” on April 23) and Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“When Marnie Was There”, finishing up on April 30). Check out Cornell Cinema’s calendar for titles and play dates. 

“We’ll be showing the US/English language dubbed versions of the films,” Cornell Cinema’s Molly Ryan told me. “Tough decision, but I want the series to be accessible for K-8 audiences who might have a harder time with subtitles.” 

First up is Miyazaki’s “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1984), which I saw for the first time at home a few months back. Taking place one thousand years after the destruction of civilization, what’s left of the world is divided between Miyazaki’s trademark European fairy tale villages, and apocalyptic landscapes overrun by mutant insects and poisonous spores that float down like snow. The story focuses on Nausicaä (Alison Lohman), a bright and brave young lady with a real talent for communicating with all creatures as she learns the truth about her tribe’s history and tries to teach everyone around her not to live by fear.

Considering that this is only Miyazaki’s second animated feature, it’s remarkably assured and beautifully made. American animated movies aimed at kids  are nice and safe and sanded smooth so as not to offend, but “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” operates on some fairly sophisticated levels and goes to some surprisingly dark places. It’s a pleasure watching the formation of an animator’s obsessions:  humankind’s connection to nature, a deep distrust of technology run amuck, and the joys of flight.

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