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2014 Best Animated Short Candidates: Shuhei Morita's "Possessions"

In the run-up to the announcement of the nominees for the 2014 Best Animated Short Film, Toonzone is taking a look at some of the shortlisted candidates for the category. Out of the ten shortlisted films, three to five candidates will be nominated.

Possessions by Shuhei MoritaLongtime Toonzone readers may recall Shuhei Morita’s name from the short film “Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek,” which hit the States back in 2005, on the air through Adult Swim and on DVD from the now-defunct Central Park Media. “Possessions” is Shuhei Morita’s latest short film, and it runs through a slightly different gamut of spooky thrills than “Kakurenbo.” The Japanese title of the short, “Tsukumo-Gami,” refers to the folk legends that objects will gain souls after 100 years, often playing tricks on their owners as a result. The fact that this title is mostly untranslatable to English has led to a wonderful bit of linguistic trickery: a delightful play on words that exploits “Possessions” as both noun and verb to aptly describe what’s happening in the film. In the short, a wanderer in Japan is caught in a storm and seeks shelter in a seemingly abandoned house. However, he soon finds that perhaps he should have taken his chances in the storm, as he is confronted with a succession of bizarre household objects come to life, threatening this intruder on their domain.

To some degree, “Posssessions” is a “how are we getting there?” story. The short exploits enough visual tricks and hints early on that we’re not that surprised when something leaps out at the unnamed traveler and goes, “Boo!” What is surprising is the form that these spooks take, and the traveler’s reaction to them. The burly traveler is coarse and unrefined, reminding me of Toshiro Mifune’s performance as Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai, but he is also quite resourceful and surprisingly unflappable. Much of the fun of “Possessions” comes from waiting for the form of whatever strange household item is about to turn up; much of the rest comes from seeing how the traveler’s initial shock turns to adapting and enduring. Like “Kakurenbo,” “Possessions” is cel-shaded CGI, taking flat renderings that are evocative of Japanese prints and pushing them through a three-dimensional space. The results are quite striking, with a delightful sense of depth and weight. It’s also something that backs one of my assertions about animation as a medium: since everything in animation is artificial, nothing ever has to look fake. Even though the majority of the cast of “Possessions” is patently unreal, they’re also completely believable denizens of this delightfully strange world. I think “Possessions” is also a nice showcase for how computers have really changed the face of animation; I would love to see more shorts and even feature films that adapt this film’s aesthetic sensibilities in melding hand-drawn and CGI animation.

I’m guessing that it’s a tough sell to license this short for most of the anime companies currently operating. If it does end up on the list of Oscar nominees on January 16th, one hopes Shuhei Morita’s “Possessions” can get some attention beyond the usual circles (perhaps with a reissue of “Kakurenbo” as a stretch goal).

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