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Kotatsu Anime Festival, Cardiff & Aberystwyth - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Alice Vernon

NWR Issue 109

Kotatsu Anime Festival, Cardiff & Aberystwyth

Last weekend, Saturday 10 October, the Kotatsu Anime Festival came to Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Organised by Cardiff-based Eiko Ishii Meredith, Kotatsu is the only film festival of its kind in Wales. Whilst it was a much smaller affair than its Cardiff counterpart last month, it brought some excellent examples of Japanese storytelling. The Arts Centre cinema has always served me well in showing the latest Studio Ghibli films, and I hope Kotatsu encourages further screenings of anime.

The festival started with ‘Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise’, a cult classic from 1987. Set in a half-futuristic, half-primitive world obsessed with war, it followed the development and insidious fame of the Space Force, a previously mocked organisation that becomes rapidly overwhelmed by publicity after vowing to send a man into space for the first time. Beginning with a team of pensioner engineers and a limited budget, the rocket attracts attention when it is discovered by the military. Astronaut Shiro wrestles with his newfound spirituality and pacifism as his ambition for exploration becomes overshadowed with violence. My knowledge of classic anime is relatively thin, and what struck me about this film was the intricacy with which it had been animated. Every frame was alive with visual detail, from peeling posters on crumbling walls to the wrinkles in Shiro’s spacesuit. I was also surprised by its witty script. Perhaps the themes of pacifism and the self-destruction of humanity was a bit heavy-going for half ten in the morning, but there’s no better way to get into anime than to experience it at its most visceral. It was a thrilling start to the day.

‘A Letter to Momo’ (2011) followed. Before it began, Eiko gave a brief introduction, explaining that the festival’s aim was to celebrate ‘the diversity of Japanese animation’. Eiko certainly planned the programme well, since ‘A Letter to Momo’ presented not only a different decade but also genre. It was a film about childhood grief and recovery; emotional connections and communication, and it was as imaginative as it was poignant. Following the death of her father, Momo and her mother move closer to relatives on a secluded Japanese island. There, Momo meets three youkai (goblins or ghosts) and they get up to all sorts of trouble. Through them, Momo regains a connection with her father and learns to laugh again. It was bright and nostalgic, but also carried an underlying message about Japan’s rural degradation and aging population.

A film from the incredibly popular Tiger and Bunny franchise came next, but I only have an approximate knowledge of the series so I rejoined the festival a few hours later for a screening of three short films and ‘Short Peace’ (2013). The independent films emphasised the variety of Japanese animation – they were abstract, quiet, silly, and delighted in experimentation. They weren’t something I would ordinarily have the chance to see, but I thought they complemented the programme very well. ‘Short Peace’, too, showed the multiplicity of artistic styles available in the medium in its four mini-films. Exploding with state-of-the-art animation, this film also harked back to the ancestors of Japanese storytelling. ‘Combustible’, especially, unfolded like a traditional emaki-mono (picture scroll), maintaining a paper-like texture. It was a visual treat, showing the ever-developing possibilities of the medium while paying respects to its earliest examples.

This was only the second time Kotatsu has travelled to Aberystwyth, and it is something I really hope to see grow as a regular event in the Arts Centre. The films were well selected for both anime fans and newcomers, shattering misconceptions of the medium and providing a range from the contemporary classic to the independent. Kotatsu, just like its meaning (snug heated table), brought a wonderfully welcoming and comfortable atmosphere to the cinema. I thoroughly look forward to its return next year.

Alice Vernon is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

Kotatsu festival 2015 was at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre on 26 September and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 10 October


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