“Hina is Beautiful,” a new film from Japan’s Iwaisawa Kenji, director of the cult “On-Gaku: Our Sound”), headlines an Annecy Animation Showcase at this year’s Cannes’ Marché du Film.
The Showcase in general looks like a declaration of intentions from the world’s most important animation festival. Its shows heartfelt support for some of the world’s most original, redolent and sometimes riotous – think France’s Jul, Brazil’s Otto Guerra – adult animation auteurs of all ages, hailing from four corners of the earth.
All productions are works in progress, though production status varies radically from one title to another.
“Hina” looks to have largely flown under the international radar to date, which will make this year’s Showcase a must-attend after Iwaisawa burst onto the scene with left-of-field musical comedy “On-Gaku,” hailed by Variety as 2020’s “biggest dark horse in anime fandom.” If it’s half as good as “On-Gaku” which in 2019 beat “I Lost My Body” and “Children of the Sea” to win the Grand Prix at the Ottawa Animation Festival, as Variety noted, it should be worth watching.
Wetting appetites all the more, the film’s screenplay is written by Oscar-nominated Oe Takamasa (“Drive My Car”). The animation director and character designer is Asano Naoyuki (“Evangelion: 3.0+1.0,” “Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!”).
Some of this year’s Showcase directors stand out for boldness of technique. 2021 saw India’s Upamanyu Bhattacharyya at an Annecy Residency, transferring animation frames onto fabric which textile artist Maitri Ravishankar embroidered frame by frame and Bhattacharyya photograph as he established the visuals for “Heirloom.”
“The film is a celebration of Indian textiles and their capacity to contain epic narratives about families, communities and legends,” Bhattacharyya told Variety. “The ‘main’ storyline is presented in 2D animation with hand-painted backgrounds. When the characters interact with a tapestry that contains their family story, the film uses a special technique. Every frame is a unique embroidery piece.”
Singled out when director María Trenor sung a Robert Wyatt song on stage at Cartoon Movie, “Rock Bottom” tells the self-destructive love story of Bob and Alif, two artists caught in the creative whirlwind of early 1970s hippie culture, from Trenor who won a Berlinale Teddy Award for 2004 short “With What Shall I Wash It?”
Jul’s “Silex and the City” and Guerra’s “Son of a Bitch” are set in the Stone Age and Brazilian backlands respectively. Their focus, however, is very much the foibles and malaise of the modern age. “Major social themes are revisited through the prism of a prehistoric comedy,” producer Franck Ekinci said of ”Silex.”
“Heirloom,” (Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, India)
Heavily textured, set in 1960s Ahmedabad on the cusp of technological revolution which splits a family, husband Kirti spends a fortune on a handloom museum while wife Sonal wants him to enter the power loom business. The couple are able to travel into their past via a magical tapestry that contains their family story. From Bhattacharyya, one of India’s on-the-rise 2D animators, rewarded at Annecy in 2020 for “Wade.”
“Hina is Beautiful,” (Iwaisawa Kenji, Japan)
Catching large attention with his hand-drawn debut, comedy “On-Gaku: Our Sound,” a Gkids North America pickup, Iwaisawa returns with “Hina is Beautiful.” Described by Iwaisawa as “a highly entertaining action drama,“ made in 2D and rotoscoping, it is set in Izu, Japan, where “men are fighting over a woman called Hina. What is it exactly that makes Hina mislead men? As the men try to reveal their true feelings for Hina, strong, muscly men also get involved and the sound of the festival drum signals the start of a confrontation,” the synopsis runs. “The brand-new method, rotoscoping, is used in the entire film,” Iwaisawa told Variety. “It is the most remarkable point of ‘Hina is Beautiful.’ Rotoscoping makes it possible to depict the delicate background arts and the move of a crowd of people.”
“Rock Bottom,” (María Trenor, Spain)
Winner of a €20,000 ($21,000) Netflix award at Spain’s Mianima mentoring program, and one of the most original animation productions coming out of Spain, inspired by the early life and acclaimed 1974 art rock album of former-Soft Machine vocalist-drummer Robert Wyatt. The musical uses a stylized rotoscoping technique combined with 2D frame-by-frame animation, balancing realism and the psychotropic, says producer Alba Sotorra (“The Return: Life After ISIS”). Valencia’s Jaibo Films, behind Locarno hit “Sacred Spirit,” Poland’s GS Animation, and Majorca’s Empatic also produce. The film is aiming for a first quarter 2024 premiere. “The visual style of the film is extremely well cared for and takes you back to the hippy era: underground, colorful, stylized. Together with Robert Wyat’s music, they bring a poetic and emotion to the story that bonds you with the characters’ inner journey and their creative process as artists,” Sotorra said.
“Silex and the City,” (Jul, co-directed by Jean-Paul Guigue, France)
A comedy feature riff on the celebrated comic book series by Jul, which – like its TV series adaptation, Arte’s long-running hit animation series “The Darwinners,” produced by Haut et Court – cocks a snook at the pretensions of the modern-age, via a Stone Age family who are transported to the present day. Jul himself directs. French animation stalwart Je Suis Bien Content (“Avril and the Extraordinary World,” “My Father’s Secrets”) produces, as on the series. The feature is 2D animation, with one live-action sequence. The second part of production – background sets, animation, compositing, post-production – will begin around June-to-July, said JSBC’s Ekinci.
“The Son of a Bitch,” (Otto Guerra, Tania Anaya, Erica Maradona, Savio Leite, Brazil)
A dramatic comedy and the latest from Otto Guerra (“Until Sbornia Do Us Part,” “City of Pirates”), one of Latin America’s great animation vets, here directing with Tania Anaya. Targeting adults and YAs, a standout at Ventana Sur’s 2022 Animation!, organized with Annecy’s MIFA market, it turns on the personal odyssey of Ishmael who escapes to the big city from his Minas Gerais backlands town, where his mother runs a brothel. But he cannot escape his origins. Produced by Guerra’s 45-year-old Otto Desenhos Animados and Anaya Produções. “The film addresses aspects that people don’t have in common, such as language and aesthetics, an evocation of Brazilianess, at a time when the world is experiencing increasing globalization and its consequent emptying and/or erasing of local cultures,” says executive producer Tatiana Mitre at Anaya Produções. “The film intends to be a junction of the local and the universal, the sacred and the profane, the popular and the erudite,” she adds.