The Austin Chronicle

The Austin Film Society's Sublime Lines

Essential Cinema Series: Japanese animé

By Sofia Resnick, November 24, 2006, Screens

In a colorful post-World War I world, where air pirates rule the European skies and the best engineers and architects are women, it is up to one man – one man with the face of a pig – to fight for integrity and the honor of independent bush pilots. This whimsical plot makes up 1992's Porco Rosso by acclaimed animé director Hayao Miyazaki and Tony Bancroft. On Nov. 21, it was the first of five offerings in the Austin Film Society's latest Essential Cinema series, Sublime Lines: Japanese Animé.

The series – curated by Susan Napier, a Mitsubishi professor of Japanese studies at the University of Texas – is in part an effort to promote the appreciation of animé as an influential genre of film in America. Despite their varying types of animation, these films share characteristics common to this genre of Japanese filmmaking, such as manga comic art and East Asian philosophy and mythology. So different in its nature in comparison to traditional American cartoons, animé at times seems almost as surreal as the fantastic subjects its architects dream up.

The series continues through Dec. 19, screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown every Tuesday at 7pm. Next on the slate is 2001's Spirited Away, another Miyazaki feature and the first animé film to be formally recognized by the U.S., receiving the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Miyazaki incorporates similar themes found in Porco Rosso, including the heroism of young female characters and the pig-curse put on greedy humans. The film also addresses the common animé theme of human vulnerability against machines and gods.

Millennium Actress, directed by Satoshi Kon in 2001, is a good fit for the series because it is the only film that does not deal with robots, spirits, or pigs. The story of former famous actress Chiyoko Fujiwara, now in her 70s, is told creatively in a series of flashbacks through the lens of an interviewer and his cameraman. The subtlety of the hand-drawn artwork is impressive, as is the poetic nature of Chiyoko's love story.

Metropolis, directed by Rintaro, is based on the manga series created by Osamu Tezuka, which was indirectly influenced by Fritz Lang's pre-World War II epic of the same name. The narrative is secondary to the themes presented, such as plutocratic dystopia, class struggle, and the threat of technology to the human spirit. Masterfully executed, Metropolis might be less accessible to children, due to its complex themes and pervasive violence.

The series ends with Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, directed by Mamoru Oshii and released in 2004. Like Metropolis, this sequel is also based on a manga series and deals with the subject of robots usurping human society. In the story, set in the future, an anti-terrorist unit investigates the case of a female robot, a sexroid created solely for sexual pleasure, who has begun to slaughter her own kind.

The artwork in each film is exquisite in design and animation, balancing a marriage of hand-drawn manga and CGI. The intricate stories are not simple, and happy endings are replaced with subtle, sometimes grim, glimmers of hope.

Tuesdays, 7pm, through Dec. 19

Alamo Drafthouse Downtown

Admission: free for AFS members and $4 for nonmembers

Nov. 28
Spirited Away

Dec. 5
Millennium Actress

Dec. 12

Dec. 19
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

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