Katsuhiro Otomo, director of the infamous 1988 classic anime film Akira, is one of the most popular and influential people in entertainment out there. He’s worked on numerous awesome anime anthologies (say that three times fast) such as Neo Tokyo, Robot Carnival, and one he fashioned together with other directors in 1995’s Memories. When it comes to anime royalty, few can match his impressive pedigree.
Now he’s back with three more directors to follow up, in the wonderfully bizarre yet beautiful collection of four anime shorts titled Short Peace. While it left me scratching my head most of the time, it is without a doubt some of the most mesmerizing storytelling and animation I have ever seen.
I’ve always been a sucker for short stories, either in written or film form. So to have four anime shorts directed by some of the most popular figures in both Japanese culture and entertainment in general, is a special treat in itself. That treat is called Short Peace, which is some of the most beautiful and creative pieces of storytelling and animation I’ve seen. And while the shorts themselves at times make very little sense (or so it seems at first until you really think about them), I was glad to soak in the experience and enjoyed the ride it took me on.
After the movie opens with a trippy introduction of a young girl playing a hide and seek-like game with a friend, only to be magically whisked away into the funky techno music filled title screen of Short Peace, the shorts kick off with “Possessions” that is directed by Shuhei Morita (2005’s Kakurenbo – Hide & Seek). Here the short follows a traveler that looks as though he’s from the samurai period of Japan, who is seeking shelter from a bad storm outside. Once he finds a small shrine hut to take refuge in, the inside comes to life with strange, broken yet magical creatures such as a dancing, talking frog (no, not the infamous Warner Bros. one) made from old Japanese umbrellas, a talking sliding Shoji door, and a giant dragon made from old junk. The traveler turns out to be a skilled jack-of-all-trades guy who decides to fix up the frog, door and dragon with his toolkit, leading to some surprising revelations that I dare not spoil.
The next short titled “Combustible” is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. Here he tells a weird kind of romance story that takes place is ancient Japan between a young lady and man who have been friends since they were kids. Now that they are grown, it is shown that the two have feelings for one another, but the man becomes disowned by his father for getting tattoos and decides to become a firefighter for the town, while the girl grows up to be a servant lady. When a fire makes its way to the town, it is up to the man to lead the firefighters to try and contain the fire, while the woman tries to escape after becoming trapped in it. What happens next is an adventure you’ll have to experience for yourself.
In the next short, “Gambo” is where things really start to get weird and freaky, but in a fun, twisted kind of way. Directed by Hiroaki Ando, who has worked on anime projects such as Tweeny Witches, Steamboy, and Metropolis, the story starts with some samurai being nearly killed by a giant polar bear who can understand speech and spares their lives after one of the samurai yells at it to finish them off. Meanwhile a giant, half naked red demon is going around kidnapping young women from villages to help him breed more demons into the world. When the last little girl in the village runs away out of fear and anger, she stumbles upon the polar bear where she tells it to kill her since she’s tired of living in fear of the demon. Instead the bear licks away her tears and growls softly at her, which somehow she understands it as his name, Gambo. When the demon comes for her, it’s up to Gambo and the injured samurai to join forces and fight it off, which leads to some of the most violent and disturbing visuals I’ve seen in animation, but I enjoyed every second of it.
The last of the shorts, “A Farewell to Arms” is also just as weird and disturbing. Directed by Hajime Katoki, the infamous creator of some of the most memorable entries in the mech genre established by Gundam, Super Robot Wars, Patlabor and such, this story follows a group of guys set in a post-apocalyptic Japan who hunt down rogue, malfunctioning, AI-driven mech tanks. The guys seem to have things under control at first, as their strategic plan of setting traps, sniping at it with laser guns, and even throwing good old fashioned bombs at them seems to work. But when something goes terribly wrong, it will push the team to their absolute limit to set things right or die trying.
I’ll admit I was a little bias going in watching Short Peace, as I’m a big fan of the directors and just anthology films in general. But I really did enjoy the shorts and think most who watch them will also do the same. The animation and detail throughout the stories was spot on and fit each short perfectly, whether it was a mix of 2D and 3D animation with cel-shaded effects, of just traditional 2D animation, all of it looked great. The music, sounds and voice acting was also fitting, as the screener I watched was in Japanese with English subtitles, which is just as I wanted to see it.
I highly recommend Short Peace to all who can handle mature yet bizarre and always entertaining stories and visuals. Katsuhiro Otomo is in great form here, and anyone who loves animation and anthology films will absolutely flip head over heels for this, while anyone else looking for something different and exciting to watch will do well to start here. While you may come out scratching your head when it’s over, you’ll enjoy every second of the wild ride it takes you on.