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"Kakurenbo": Freakily Satisfying

by on October 6, 2005

When Toon Zone covered the Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival, one of the short films highlighted was a piece by Shuhei Morita entitled Kakurenbo. After winning a bunch of awards, Central Park Media has brought this little piece over to our shores, but was it worth it?

There is an old folk tale that goes “do not play hide-and-seek at night, or else the demons will get you.” Well, a bunch of kids decide to test out that theory for themselves, each for their different reasons. Hiroka is searching for his sister, Sorincha, who was lost playing the same game a few days ago. Yaimao, being a good friend, is helping Hiroka out. Noshinga, your typical bully full of bluster, brings along his two cohorts Tachiji and Suku in order to prove their bravery. And then there’s the twins In and Yanku, who are basically just there to fill out the cast and look mysterious. The group explores this barren part of Tokyo before being faced with gigantic mechanical demons, determined to do something so horrible it would give away the entire plot if I told you.

I’ve never been a big fan of horror movies. I avoid all the Friday the 13th and Jason movies, the first Scream bored me, and the Halloween films never really interested me. So imagine my surprise when I actually found that I liked this film. The mood is appropriately creepy and that alone allows it to have a greater impact than your average horror flick, while the demons themselves are extremely cool-looking and different from the typical mysterious-slasher-guy. Though it’s obvious that parts of the film were inspired by Jurassic Park and The Matrix, they’re done in such a way as it doesn’t feel like a rip-off, but more of a borrowing of an idea.

In all horror flicks, it’s the villian that makes or breaks the story, and these demons really shine. Each are given their own design element and all of them look really creepy. It’s a bit easier to do this in animation than it is in real life, but Morita and Daisuke Sajiki (the designer) make it look almost too easy.

Unfortunately, the film’s not perfect, mainly in the human characters. Hirota and Yaimao are easily identifiable and sympathetic, but the other kids don’t really seem to serve a purpose other than to be cannon fodder. Since the movie’s so short, very little time is given to making the characters seem more realistic, and even though the demons are cool to watch, it still has the cliché of the victims being offed in a checklist format. When you’re watching the movie and Noshiga gets captured, you think, “Well, he’s dead,” not “Don’t you dare kill him! I like that kid!,” which is unfortunate. Heck, the twins don’t even speak, so they don’t really have any personality other than to look cool, and get more development in the commentary than in the movie itself! Had the writers cut out about half the kids (maybe saving them for a sequel or something), things might have been better. As it is, the development is decent, but none of the characters will leave a big impact.

Animation is done using cel-shaded CG, and for the most part, it works. The humans are rather robotic (not quite as fluid as Appleseed), but it’s not as distracting as in other features. The demons, on the other hand, are animated really well and the lighting effects allow them to be as creepy as they deserve to be. As a rather unique design choice, all the humans wear fox masks in this story, which saves the movie from by far the hardest part of CG animation: lip flaps (I’m sure the U.S. production crew loved not having to match up mouth flaps). While it may look odd to some people, I personally didn’t mind it at all. In fact, I like the design touch, as it gives the film a bit of an added personality and makes it stand out among the pack, which is always harder and harder to do in today’s culture.

There’s little background music to be heard, but what is there works very effectively in setting the mood and getting you into the film. Voice-wise, we get some real choice quality here. This dub proves that it’s not just the actors that make the characters come alive, but the director as well. Tom Wayland has done an absolutely masterful job at bringing the best out of each and every one of the voice artists on this movie. Sean Schemmel gets to show off his real acting chops, while Veronica Taylor pulls some very nice double-duty, and Michael Stinkerlass’ work is by far the best I’ve heard from him yet. And here I thought getting great voice work out of the “reversioned” MewMew Power was an acheivement. Seriously, this is BangZoom/FUNimation-quality dubbing we’re talking about here. The Japanese version also does a great job at setting the mood, but what else can you expect when you have Junko Takeuchi (Naruto) playing the main character?

One thing I’ve always loved about Central Park Media releases are their awesome extras, and this disc is no exception. First off, we have a commentary set to the rough cut of the movie. The screen is set in thirds, with the final cut, the rough CG cut, and the storyboards running at the same time, while Morita, Sajiki, and an interviewer comment on the viewings. While those who are familiar with how the industry works will find little new in this feature, it’s still interesting to see how the movie came together and who did what, especially since roughly 1/4 of the production crew is commenting.

After that, Morita and Sajiki are interviewed for about 5 to 10 minutes. These, while nice, are a bit redundant, especially Sajiki’s, while Morita’s focuses more on how surprised he was that he won awards and got so much praise when it was going up against Howl’s Moving Castle, Appleseed, Steamboy, and the first Zeta Gundam movie. After that, we have character and background galleries, the U.S. and Japanese trailers, and various other trailers for CPM’s other anime and manga. While the special features here are interesting, I would have liked to hear from the English staff, even if it was only text-only.

Would I recommend this film? Yes, I would. I normally don’t like short films like this, but this movie took me in and wouldn’t let go. Anybody who’s a fan of a good horror story will definately get some enjoyment out of this film. Now where’s Kakurenbo II?

Kakurenbo will be in stores next Tuesday, Oct. 11 from Central Park Media

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