'Redline,' directed by Takeshi Koike (Japan)
'Redline' is fast, furious and out of control. Seriously, I do not ever think I've seen such loud anime, both aurally and visually -- this auto-racing movie makes 'Speed Racer' look like a Sunday drive, and is a long way from 'Cars.' The film was eagerly awaited at Fantastic Fest because it was written by Katsuhito Ishii, who wrote and directed Fantastic Fest 2006 selection 'Funky Forest,' and directed by Takeshi Koike, who animated 'Funky Forest.'
The "Redline" of the movie is one of the biggest auto races -- not in the world, but in the galaxy in this futuristic tale. In fact, it's being held on a planet whose inhabitants are actively opposed to its being there and intend to destroy all participants and maybe the spectators too. The prime competitors for the prize are Sonoshee, who has been devoted to cars since her girlhood, and JP, a dark horse with a reputation for being involved in race-fixing and criminal activity.
Before this all starts to sound like a straightforward action film with fast cars, let me point out that the supporting characters range from magical princesses to bizarrely slimy creatures to robot overlords to Funky Boy, which has to be seen to be believed. Apart from JP's souped-up but traditional-looking Trans Am, the cars are like nothing you've ever seen, either.
'Redline' is a whirlwind of a fun movie, and definitely not for children, unless you are nonchalant about showing your kids animated nudity and gore. Anchor Bay will be releasing this frenetic film in the U.S., and it's playing at VIZ Cinema in San Francisco later this month. This is definitely a movie to see in a theater if it appeals to you -- it's almost overwhelming, but not quite.
'Summer Wars,' directed by Mamoru Hosoda (Japan)
If 'Redline' is punk rock anime, 'Summer Wars' is High School Musical in comparison -- pastels, schoolgirls, adorable children and delightfully nerdy teens. (But better music.) Oh, and possibly world destruction via computer, but involving very cute avatars! John Gholson called it "'WarGames' re-imagined as a Japanese ensemble family drama. And then animated." That just about says it all, but neglects to mention the lively characters and lovely visuals.
The focal point of 'Summer Wars' is an enormous ultimate social media application called OZ, the love child of Facebook and Second Life, in which everyone is represented by a cute avatar. Kenji, a teenage math genius, is planning to spend the summer working to monitor security holes in OZ. However, the lovely college student Natsuki persuades him to work for her at her family's country mansion, setting up the lavish arrangements for her grandmother's 90th birthday party. Oh, and she forgets to mention that he'll also be posing as her boyfriend. When Kenji inadvertently hacks OZ, an artificial intelligence called Love Machine proceeds to wreak havoc on the virtual world ... and threatens to do the same to the real world as well.
'Summer Wars' seemed a little slow at times, although perhaps anything seems sluggish after watching 'Redline' the night before. But the animation style is lovely, and the characters are engaging and fun to watch. Natsuki's extended family is one of the most delightfully loopy seen onscreen since 'The Host' -- everyone a little offbeat but still generally loving and happy. In addition, the film's depiction of the dark side of social media might make it a great double-feature with 'The Social Network.'
'In the Attic,' directed by Jiri Barta (Czech Republic)
The third animated feature at Fantastic Fest is a far cry from the Japanese anime of the above two films. 'In the Attic' is a stop-motion animated children's film from the Czech Republic, set almost entirely in the sprawling attic of a family home. It is especially creepy for a family film -- Tim Burton comes off as merely Hello Kitty in comparison -- but the animation style is fascinating and unusual.
'In the Attic' begins with a typical morning in the lives of the toys in one corner of the attic, who come to life in a cute and goofy way. Buttercup the doll makes breakfast for her teddy bear, marionette, and modeling-clay friends, who then go off to "work" in a train station, or in the case of Sir Handsome the marionette, slaying a dragon. Madame Curie, the button-ear rat, runs an attic-wide radio station. But in the dusty far corner, evil creatures lurk, and one of them has his eye on Buttercup.
The Golden Head of Evil, who longs for Buttercup, is portrayed by a live actor's head at times, which is disconcerting and possibly the most repellent part of the film. It would have been better to have kept all the attic creatures as stop-motion animation, but perhaps that wasn't feasible with this character. On the other hand, the live-action cat fits right in with the other attic characters, and it's regrettable that his character arc is never completed.
'In the Attic' has a very simple, very slight children's story, but that's not the reason to watch this movie. The best reason is to marvel over the animation. Animator Jiri Barta has created a beautiful, delicate little world. Many of the animation set pieces, are absolutely incredible: in particular the train as well as an airplane fashioned from a vacuum cleaner. The movie currently has no U.S. distribution ... you may need to keep an eye out for imported DVDs if you want to see 'In the Attic' for yourself.
For more on all of Fantastic Fest 2010's films, animated and otherwise, click here!