Masaaki Yuasa's dizzying mini-epic begins as boy-seeks-girl and ends by circumnavigating entire universes of possibility
A classic historical novel, in English for the first time, has a dazzling stop-motion animated adaptation to go with it from one of Japan's masters of that art
Hirokazu Kore-eda's debut feature, twenty years on, remains an ominous and poignant masterwork
I'm always going to be grateful that the Animerama productions — the animated theatrical features for adults produced by Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto — have now all been restored for English-speaking audiences. They're milestones, and they deserve to be seen by anyone curious about animation as an art form. But where they excel as milestones or animation-art showcases, they stumble as entertainment or even coherent storytelling. Cleopatra, the second project in the series, is so willfully bizarre that it almost merits being seen for that reason alone. Like A Thousand And One Nights before it, it showcases techniques and design styles that seem fresh and new simply because they've been out of vogue for so long, and for that reason alone it's worth a viewing. But it feels like it leaves too many of its best ideas on the table.
A key insight for Osamu Tezuka's work, I think, is that he was willing to try anything once, if not always succeed. In 1969, his animation studio Mushi Productions released A Thousand And One Nights, the first of three attempts at creating feature-film animated projects for adults collectively called "Animerama". Nights is a curious project even by Tezuka's most outré standards — alternately visionary and puerile, in the same way Ralph Bakshi's own animation-for-adults projects pushed buttons and boundaries while also being hidebound by their own juvenile tastes. But it's a fascinating time capsule, and the story as a whole is reminiscent of one of Tezuka's own adult manga in its scope and sweep.
Takashi Miike once made a film, for which I seem to be a fandom of one, called Izo, where the embodiments of great impersonal forces in the universe strive to keep a renegade figure from destroying time and space and causality. Kyōsōgiga has the same cosmic-scale ambitions — it's about nothing less than god and the universe and the balance of all things, but it's delivered by way of a frenzied mashup of Buddhist lore, supernatural slapstick action, and domestic drama in the vein of The Eccentric Family. There's nothing like it, in the best possible way.