The BFI (the British Film Institute) has announced details of a major, two-month season of Anime at the BFI Southbank and IMAX. Some of the films will hopefully also go onto the BFI Player, so those outside London can also see them – we’re waiting on that to be confirmed.
Originally planned for summer 2020 and postponed due to, well, everything we were all going through, the season is now coming to the BFI from the 28th of March to the 31st May, with a diverse array of screenings, from classics to new releases.
From the official release:
“Programmed by BFI Lead Programmer Justin Johnson with co-programming from writer and academic Hanako Miyata, this varied season of more than 40 features covers a wide variety of genres, telling contemporary, fantastical or other-worldly stories, many of which are uniquely Japanese.
“The season offers audiences a chance to explore anime classics alongside work by contemporary auteurs and a small but increasingly important group of women working in anime who are helping bring the form into the 21st century.”
Previews of hotly anticipated new releases will include Summer Ghost (2021), the directorial debut of acclaimed designer-illustrator loundraw, who is tipped as “the one to watch” in a new generation of anime filmmakers.
In Summer Ghost, a group of high-school students light fireworks in the hope of awaking the ghost of a young woman who has been sighted over several years; each of the friends has a reason for being there, and on one night, the living and the dead are joined together.
The preview of this powerful theatrical short on 13th May will be followed by a Q&A with director loundraw.
There will be a preview of Inu-OH (directed by Masaaki Yuasa, 2021) on 30th March, a thrillingly original film that boasts some astonishing sequences. In 12th-century Japan, the Heike people lost their battle against fellow samurai clan the Genji and went into hiding. Their stories were preserved by priests and Noh performers who shared them widely; a couple of centuries later, Inu-oh befriends a blind musician and together they challenge prejudice and create contemporary, ground-breaking performances that shake up years of tradition.
On 20th April there will be a preview of Bubble (directed by Tetsurô Araki, 2022), which is featuring worldwide on Netflix from 28th April 2022.
After mysterious bubbles rain down, a huge explosion results in a massive dome enclosing Tokyo. Many years later, graffiti-ridden, deserted and decaying, and illegally occupied by “the orphans of the bubble fall”, the city’s dangerous landscape is treated by its disaffected youth as their own assault course.
On 31st March, there will be a special event, a Exploring Anime: Panel Discussion in which experts will explore what anime is, its history and origins, and how it’s viewed both within Japan and internationally. The talk will also highlight key themes from the season, including emerging female voices in the medium, while also foregrounding a few of the classic titles screening.
Ticket holders to screenings on 1st May will be given free admission to a day-long drop-in GamePad Event, featuring video games, cosplay and prizes. The fantastic line-up of games that audiences will be able to try includes fighting games such as Tekken 7 and Dragonball FighterZ, co-op games like Taiko: Drum Master and Just Dance, and fan-favourites Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.
Emerging Female Voices
Thought-provoking, beautifully characterised work from emerging female voices screening in the season include Naoko Yamada’s intelligent and sensitive drama A Silent Voice (2016) about a high-school student experiencing hearing loss, who is bullied and forced to transfer to another school. She later crosses paths with one of the bullies who, in turn, has been victimised and is racked with guilt and desperate for forgiveness.
Yamada’s follow-up, Liz and the Blue Bird (2018), presents parallel stories in the form of a fairy tale about a lonely girl who becomes enamoured with a blue bird that takes human form; a tale that’s subsequently turned into a musical piece performed by a school band. Band members Mizori and Nosomi’s deteriorating friendship comes under the microscope in this compelling, character-driven film.
The Anthem of the Heart (directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai, 2015) follows Jun, who goes from being an outgoing, excitable young girl to a withdrawn, silent one after a shocking discovery led to her parent’s break-up. Years later, still unable to speak, Jun discovers that she’s able to sing. Written by anime writing sensation Mari Okada, this is a beautifully orchestrated drama.
Okada writes and makes her directorial debut with the high-fantasy drama Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms (2018); lonely Maquia is from a clan who stop ageing in their mid-teens – her life changes forever when an army invades, searching for the clan’s secret to immortality.
Anime at BFI IMAX
Audiences wanting the biggest possible big screen experience should head to the largest screen in Britain, BFI IMAX, where a number of screenings will take place during the season. These will include classics of the genres like Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s striking, hyperkinetic adaptation of his own manga, the seminal Akira (1988); the beautifully animated and disturbingly prophetic Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995) and Satoshi Kon’s story of a reclusive, long-retired movie star Millennium Actress (2001).
More recent titles screening at BFI IMAX will include a pair of blockbuster hits from Makoto Shinkai, Your Name (2016) and Weathering with You (2019), Mamoru Hosoda’s latest breath-taking film Belle (2021) and Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata’s final film, the Oscar-nominated The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).
Contemporary Anime Auteurs
The season will feature a focus on a trio of contemporary auteurs who have successfully created work to rival that of the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata – Satoshi Kon, Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda.
Satoshi Kon’s films are known for playing with notions of reality and fiction and blurring boundaries. By the time of his death at the age of 46, he left a body of legitimate classics behind, including the smart and stylish critique of celebrity fandom Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001), which pays homage to many great Japanese films, the Christmas-set comedy-drama Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Kon’s final film, the visually stunning Paprika (2006).
Makoto Shinkai is a significant talent who had global success on an unprecedented scale with his hit Your Name (screening in BFI IMAX alongside Weathering with You). The BFI will also screen his debut feature The Place Promised in our Early Days (2004) set in an alternative post-war Japan where half the country is governed by the US and the other by “the union”.
There will also be a Shinkai double bill featuring his second feature 5 Centimeters per Second (2007) and The Garden of Words (2013), a delightful short that plays with the traditional Japanese definition of love, a “lonely sadness”.
Mamoru Hosoda continues to surprise and delight with every new film – a selection of his work screening will include the award-winning The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006); dazzling sci-fi Summer Wars (2009), about a maths genius who inadvertently activates a deviant AI; the beguiling Wolf Children (2012) about a woman who falls in love with a mysterious man with the blood of both man and wolf; and recent hit Belle (2021), a magical voyage into a breath-taking other universe.
Classics screening in the season will include Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (Hiroyuki Yamaga, 1987) about a would-be astronaut who joins a small, disenfranchised group, the Royal Space Force; the classic precursor to the Ghost in the Shell series, Patlabor: The Movie (Mamoru Oshii, 1989) and Patlabor 2: The Movie (Mamoru Oshii, 1993); and the feature version of the successful anime TV series Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Shin’ichirô Watanabe, 2001).
As well as screenings of Akira (Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 1988) in the BFI IMAX, the season will include Memories (Kôji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 1995), a trio of sci-fi stories based on manga by Ôtomo, each using different animation styles to tell their tales and Steamboy (Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 2004), his first major release since Akira, a steampunk anime set in an alternative 1863, during the lead-up to the Great Exhibition in 1866. Completing this section of the programme will be screenings of Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa (Seiji Mizushima, 2005), Tekkonkinkreet (Michael Arias, 2006) and The Case of Hana & Alice (Shunji Iwai, 2015).
The History of Anime
A selection of key films in the development of the anime art form, both in terms of quality and international recognition will include the Early Days of Anime Shorts Programme 1917-1946, a collection of rarely seen anime shorts, offering audiences an opportunity to look at the way the form evolved over the early, formative days of cinema.
All prints of the first anime feature ever made, the World War Two propaganda film Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (Mitsuyo Seo, 1945), were meant to be destroyed by occupying forces, but a copy of the film and survived, and after being unseen for decades, was restored. Mitsuyo Seo drew inspiration from Disney’s Fantasia to tell the story of a young monkey, bear, puppy and pheasant who rise through the ranks of the animal navy to save Asia from Western colonisation.
Unseen for many years until its recent restoration, Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973) is an explicit revenge drama based on Jules Michelet’s book La sorcière. In this harrowing story, a feudal lord in the middle-ages commits a terrible crime against a couple of newlyweds; although the film is explicit and troubling, it remains a true anime classic, combining vivid watercolours with artistic influences such as Gustav Klimt.
Also screening will be three episodes of Kimba and the White Lion (1965), based on the hit manga about a young lion cub and numerous episodes of Astroboy (1980), which made its debut in 1963, directed by Tezuka Osama, and was remade in the 1980s in colour.
For many filmgoers in the West, anime is all about Studio Ghibli and the incredible body of work helmed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. This season would be incomplete without screenings of some of their best-loved films like Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001), Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997), Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988), When Marnie Was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014) and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2013).
BFI Southbank’s monthly Family Funday, which features a free workshop for children prior to a screening, will be inspired by My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) on 24th April and Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986) on 8th May.
Completing the season will be early pre-Ghibli work from Miyazaki and Takahata – the magical fantasy adventure set in Iron Age Norway, The Little Norse Prince (Isao Takahata, 1968) and Miyazaki’s first feature as director Lupin The 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979), featuring the roguish gentleman thief Lupin III.