This film takes us through a "day in the life" of several teenage boys struggling with their sexuality while lingering on tense shots of natural scenes in the meantime.
It's something of a pity to me when a filmmaker over-relies on images to tell a story. Yes, I know that I have praised other works for the effectiveness of their visuals in the past, making this perhaps a surprising criticism, but sometimes it seems to me that directors forego the effort to connect the audience to the characters onscreen in favor of simply drawing pictures they hope will incite reactions, and if the director is one whose skill in wordless storytelling is weak, the result may be work that shows a great deal and yet manages to says nothing. While Kohiro Shoshido's Nakedyouth never becomes hard to follow, its attempted story of youth coming to terms with their sexuality spends more time piquing the audience's curiosity with well-animated montages of nature scenes than helping invest the audience in a cast whose muteness, namelessness, and lack of personality make them seem like mere art fixtures. The film is thus ineffective, and while the beautiful CGI work and shortness make it a pleasant watch, I was disappointed to see that an anime that purported to seriously discuss the subject of LGBT people in Japan failed to make much of a point, the attempted message lost in what is, essentially, a static series of paintings.
Shoshido certainly does know how to draw beautifully with computers, and as his skill in animation is at least equal to Makoto Shinkai, Yasuhiro Yoshiura, and other such masters of computer animation, its unsurprising that this short received as many awards as it did when first released. The lighting in this film is handled in a way that it often "blinks" in and out as if the audience's eyes were seeing its landscapes directly, and the slowly-paced scenes linger beautifully on such things as a flock of birds crossing the sky, water rippling, and a steam-filled showering room that seems devoid of life until, after a long and lonely pause, a single, lanky, and naked human finally emerges in a cloud of steam. The animation is smooth, with the appearance and movement of human bodies being realistic, and the music, a soft electronic soundtrack, gives the otherwise-silent film a simultaneous sense of quiet nervousness and serenity, which, in my opinion at least, is what Shoshido was going for. Those who are content with imagery as reward will likely enjoy this heartily, and I do admit that its skill is impressive for a student work.
My desire for more of a satisfying story or emotional thread, however, makes this difficult to accept, and Nakedyouth offers virtually nothing in terms of plot progression or characterization (an essential quality for a film about such a personal topic as sexuality). The various young men seen here feel like means to highlight the human body and little else, with their expressions being impossible to read and the seemingly random scenes of, say, a school's wrestling team competing in a match having no clear relevance to the topic at hand. The film does attempt a cyclical approach, with a scene of a naked man toweling off after a shower appearing four times, and yet the effect is lost when no clear change occurs before and after each instance, with the atmosphere remaining largely unchanged and no clear pattern developing among the images. While watching Nakedyouth, I experienced the disconnect I sometimes feel while observing portraits, that of one who can see a person's exterior and perhaps have the barest sense of personality through the stiff facial expression and yet who will never this person interact or hear them speak and thus never truly meet them. Animation, in my opinion, has always been a step above painting in that its dynamism and multi-sensory approach allows the viewer to make a better judgement of the person in question. Nakedyouth, in contrast, seems to steps back on that, reducing movement and interaction to the bare minimum, removing dialogue, forcing the audience to judge on outward appearance alone, and thus stripping away a layer of personality.
As such, Nakedyouth is a pretty yet frustrating watch, and I do somehow feel that it could have been much more than it was. Shoshido, whose work appears to be largely unknown outside of a few localized circles and almost entirely unknown to American audiences, does deserve credit for his visual skill, but given the fact that he has not since produced any work since this piece's release in 2006, its unclear to me whether this pretty but unsatisfying little piece will leave any impact in the repertoire of independent anime. The ten minutes that this film occupies will hardly be a loss to anyone, but it's certainly safe to say that there are better independent films, and I hope that one day I may get to see the satisfying short film about LGBT people in Japan that this promised to be.
It rests a little too much on the hope that stringing a series of beautiful images together will make a coherent story and thus passes without much impact, with the completely blank set of characters making the supposed homoerotic undertone hard to latch onto. Though still a pleasant watch due to the visuals, I don't think it quite achieves its intended goal. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: This short clearly depicts a man's penis at several points, and while no actual sex occurs onscreen (nor are there any situations where it is hinted at), one scene implicitly shows a man masturbating. It's definitely not for children, but teenagers and up should be okay.
Version(s) Viewed: Video available on the YouTube Channel Kojiro Shishido Animation Works (Courtesy of the Film's Creator)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Nakedyouth © 2006 Kohiro Shishido Animation Works
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