Fifteen Japanese animators all contribute a one minute short to be used as filler between regularly-scheduled NHK programs. Animated experiments follow, most as different from one another as an arachnid is from a mammal, as do some potential jokes about the number of Japanese animators it takes to screw in a lightbulb.
Only joking about the last part, of course. Anyhow....
....what we see here is actually a pretty neat little experiment: assemble fifteen well-regarded directors and animators and give each one minute in which to tell a story, allowing them to showcase their trademark style while giving them the challenge of enforced brevity. As these shorts have little in common besides said brevity, the complete set makes an interesting little variety show, and while meant as the sort of television spots one sees placed between a program's "actual" segments (and which one might be prone to forget), the high-quality animation on display will make them very worth hunting down for fans of short movies as well as fans of their respective directors.
The episodes of Ani*Kuri15 run the gamut of the serious, the humorous, and the surreal, and while it's unlikely that one will enjoy every single one of them, the assortment of styles means that there will almost definitely be something that pleases, with a great degree of variation from person to person. The series, however, does not and could never possibly represent the absolute "best" Japan has to offer, as I do sense the slightest hint of political favoritism in terms of who was given space for a spot (a disproportionate percentage of the animators is from Studio 4˚C, for example, and some animation studios of whose work I would have enjoyed seeing are not at all represented). Nonetheless, for every short I found to be lacking, there were four that I enjoyed, and if viewed as an animation showcase, the series works perfectly.
Among my favorites was Makoto Shinkai's "A Gathering of Cats", the story of a revenge-obsessed cat whose tail is endlessly trod-upon that may be the only time I've seen him direct with a sense of humor (surprisingly, it works very well). Meanwhile, Satoshi Kon's "Good Morning" shows that his toying with waking dreams can be applied as easily to the mundane (a montage of a woman waking up and preparing for the day) as it was to the dramatic, making me miss the man even more; Shinji Kimura of Studio 4˚C gives us a humorous stop-motion take on an alien invasion in "Attack of Higamshimachi 2nd Borough", while Mamoru Oshii makes a rare and aberrant return to animation with "Project Mermaid" another stop-motion film in which a fish is transformed into a mermaid composed of cut-out photographs and then proceeds to swim through a ruined underwater city made of similar materials. There are some videos that surprised me quite a bit: I've yet to see either Michael Arias or 4˚C produce any feature-length films that I've liked, but I rather enjoyed seeing the studio's quirky visual style be put to humorous use (as it is in "Invasion From Space-Hiroshi's Case") or put into an unpretentious slice-of-life featurette (as is done in Arias' own "Okkakkeko"), and while Gainax hasn't been up to much in recent years, their one contribution, a music video called "From the Other Side of Tears", is charmingly bittersweet and earnest.
My personal least favorites were GONZO's "Blaze Man", a rather chaotic battle scene that mostly served to remind me of why I don't care for the CGI in Blue Submarine No. 6, and "Princess Onmitsu", a token magical girl story (the third GONZO short, "Gyrosopter", is much better; although it's also CGI, it's much closer to some more recent GONZO works that have gotten the computer graphics right). Meanwhile, there's one short that tries for a plot but misses the mark (Studio 4˚C's "Supaatsu Taisa"), and another that floats somewhat incoherently with nothing besides a slightly amusing sequence of an animator drawing a scene (Kazuto Nakzawa's "Yurururu ~Nichijou Hen~"). Nonetheless, the good outweighs the bad by a good margin, and while I imagine that preference for certain directors will influence one's opinion (as did happen in my case, admittedly), the fact that these showcases are short, standalone, plotless, and, for the most part, devoid of dialogue or at least dialogue that's essential for the plot makes them more broadly interesting than even some of the directors' more famous works may be.
The point is this: if you're at all an animation buff (which, if you happen to be reading this website, is probably the case) or someone who enjoys quirky featurettes, seek this series out. Its intended medium and shortness has probably doomed it to never be widely available, but it's relatively easy to find all of the videos on the internet if you know where to look. If you're ever lacking in interesting anime to watch, or if you're procrastinating and want to try doing something besides playing solitaire or checking your Facebook for the 17th time, I'd highly recommend checking this out: hey, the skill on display might even incite you to get back to work.
Fifteen animated featurettes, most of them excellent, and several by directors whose work I admire...what's not to like? — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: These were made precisely for the purpose of airing as in-between spots on the NHK, a station not much known for letting "risque" content slide, and aside from a bit of (very tame) violence there's hardly anything objectionable.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source
Review Status: Full (15/15)
Ani*Kuri15 © 2007-2008 Various Creators
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