In our second piece analyzing this year’s indie contenders in the unpredictable Best Animated Feature Oscar race, we turn our attention to two Japanese animated features which bowed in Annecy earlier this year and won major prizes at this festival, considered as the largest and most prestigious animation film festival.
We were there to cover the festival and watch several high-profile indie contenders (Loving Vincent, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales among others) and we got the chance to watch these two Japanese films that are a testament to Japan’s fantastic animation industry and the unique voices and vision of its filmmakers.
Let’s take a closer look at their Oscar chances.
Arriving with relatively high expectations after a shocking win (more on that later) at the Japanese Film Academy Awards and very solid reviews in Japan, In This Corner of the World was the first film to screen at Annecy and managed to win the Jury Prize (which interestingly was also awarded last year to this year’s indie contender The Girl Without Hands).
1) The Story: The film focuses on a woman who accepts an arranged marriage and relocates to her husband’s family home during World War II.
(2) Quick Review: This is an interesting take on the impact of war on one’s state of mind and outlook. Rather than becoming a tale of misery and pain, the movie brilliantly finds the humor in the middle of bombs, shattered houses, and separated families. And it’s able to do it gracefully and seamlessly thanks to its focus on its lead character that is an optimistic if a bit clumsy person whose life was sort of chosen for her – with an arranged marriage and a relocation to Hiroshima. It’s mostly accessible, though a bit slow, and some parts of it could have used better focus and sharper dialogue and it does feature some bizarre directorial choices in a few scenes but it’s a fresh take on war films overall. More like an anti-Grave Of The Fireflies.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? Given the rule change that now allows all AMPAS members to vote on the nominees in this category, smaller films such as this one may struggle. However, the Academy has recently embraced anime films in this category – albeit from Studio Ghibli only – with When Marnie Was There being a recent example. Will they gravitate towards this new approach to war films? The film is timely and thematic but it has a small distributor and isn’t very visible on the campaign trail. One point worth mentioning though is that the film managed to pull off a shocking win over Your Name., the second highest grossing Japanese film of all time just behind Spirited Away. Everyone expected Your Name. to be the winner but In This Corner managed to beat it. Interestingly, Your Name. was eligible in last year’s Animated Feature race but was snubbed. This year’s race, however, isn’t as fierce.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Anime films, outside Studio Ghibli, did not appeal to AMPAS and were constantly snubbed. Could this be the one that defies the odds?
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. Reviews are strong and major prizes have been won. However, it’s not a lock by any means thanks to a weak campaign, new Oscar rule, and the film’s low visibility. But its accessible nature may persuade voters outside the animation branch. That is, if they manage to see it. We’re pegging this at a 50% chance, behind several more crowd-pleasing, if not artistically better, contenders.
One of the last films to screen at Annecy, this film was this edition’s true underdog that managed to surprise everyone and scoop the festival’s biggest prize: The Cristal d’Annecy Prize for Best Animated Feature – a prize that everyone expected to go to Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully painted animated film. The jury opted for a more breezy, light-hearted and musical film.
1) The Story: The story of a mermaid who, as soon as music is turned on, has the ability to develop legs and walk on land.
(2) Quick Review: Directed by emerging Japanese filmmaker Masaaki Yuasa, it’s a film that has a very vibrant, youthful spirit to it. Even though the story may appear to be quite simple, Yuasa tries to reflect on several deeper themes throughout and succeeds more than he doesn’t. Some may find the film’s story to be a bit repetitive – and comparisons could be drawn to Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo among other anime works – but Yuasa gives his film a musical, dreamy feel that mostly works. In the film’s second half, which is weaker than its first half, tensions arise and the film’s protagonist tries to get back Lu, the mermaid. The film’s momentum slows down here but it’s a generally appealing and inventive feature from a director to watch.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? AMPAS did not nominate Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo which was a big surprise when nominees were announced that year. It was directed by Hayao Miyazaki who is the most Oscar-nominated Japanese animated director of all time so the snub was shocking to many people. It’s hard to accurately explain why – but the film had a light-hearted story and lacked the heavy themes strongly present in Miyazaki’s previous works. Lu Over The Wall comes with a similar feel but lacks the Studio Ghibli prestige. And with the rule change, we doubt it makes a connection with AMPAS voters.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Winners of the Cristal d’Annecy (the festival’s biggest prize) have had a solid track record at the Oscars only recently. Last year, My Life As A Zucchini won the same award and went on to score a nod in this category. The Boy And The World also won this prize in 2014 and onto the Oscars. However, several other winners of the same prize, such as France’s April And The Extraordinary World, were snubbed at the Oscars despite making a splash in Annecy.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. With good reviews and a major festival win, it’s in the race but not in a strong position. The film isn’t visible on the campaign trail and doesn’t seem to have strong buzz. The Oscar rule change won’t help it either. We’ll peg it at a 30% chance for a nomination.