The third annual Animation Is Film Festival (AIF) returns this weekend to the TCL Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood, with indie Oscar hopefuls “Weathering With You” (GKids), Japan’s official International Film Oscar entry from “Your Name” director Makoto Shinkai, and “I Lost My Body” (Netflix), the Cannes Nespresso Grand Prize winner from director Jeremy Clapin, competing for the jury Grand Prize and Audience awards.
This year AIF (co-sponsored by GKids and Annecy) offers 10 features in competition with a special emphasis on Asian releases. The festival will also present special screenings (the CG blockbuster, “Ne Zha,” about a protection deity who becomes an underdog, which is China’s official International Film Oscar entry), retrospectives (a 4K restoration of the Hungarian “Son of the White Mare”), behind-the-scenes presentations (Disney’s “Frozen 2” and Netflix’s “Klaus”), short films (a Best of Annecy with female directors), and more.
“One of the trends that’s really obvious this year is representation by Asia, not just Japan, but China and India, and even within that, you have a huge range of filmmaking,” said Eric Beckman, GKids and AIF founder. “Monster blockbusters with ‘Weathering With You’ and ‘Ne Zha’ to more independent leaning, auteur things like ‘No. 7 Cherry Lane’ or ‘Bombay Rose,’ to outright experimental type films like ‘SHe,’ which is amazingly powerful and something very different from what you would normally expect.”
As a sub-category within that, two films are representing their countries at the Oscars: “Ne Zha” and “Weathering With You,” which were the biggest films released this year in China and Japan, respectively. Amazingly, “Ne Zha” grossed some $800 million at the Chinese box office. “That’s just insane,” said Beckman, “especially with the lower ticket prices.”
With “Weathering With You,” Shinkai delivers a dazzling anime romance between a high school runaway from Tokyo and a young orphan girl with a strange power for positive climate change. The beautiful, unpredictable imagery nicely matches the existential yearning for love and a future freed from perpetual storms. And with the French-made “I Lost My Body,” Clapin evokes his own existential journey of love and understanding, with a displaced hand struggling to survive while trying to solve the twisted mystery of a life beset by pain and suffering.
Other films in competition include: “Bombay Rose” (India/UK/France/Qatar), a hand-drawn celebration of memory, art, music and color; “Children of the Sea” (Japan), the latest from Studio 4°C, about a haunting whale song that serves as the catalyst of a cosmic event; “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” (Gkids, France/Romania/Belgium), which explores the memories of a mixed-breed Labrador after an accident; “No. 7 Cherry Lane” (Hong Kong SAR China), which concerns a series of magical moments at the movies in 1967 Hong Kong; “Ride Your Wave” (Japan), about love and tragedy in a small seaside town between a surf-loving college student and a firefighter; “SHe” (China), a dystopian world populated by the ruling black male shoes and the oppressed female red high-heels with spindly vines; “The Swallows of Kabul” (France), which explores love and horror during Taliban occupation; and “White Snake” (GKids, China), a fantastical adventure about trickster demons, deadly mythical beasts, and the promise of eternal love.
The jury includes IndieWire editor-at-large Anne Thompson, Allison Abbate (EVP, Warner Animation Group), Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times film critic), Melissa Cobb (VP, Kids and Family, Netflix), Peter Debruge (Variety chief film critic and jury chair), Carolyn Giardina (Editor, The Hollywood Reporter), Jorge R. Gutierrez (director, “The Book of Life,” “Son of Jaguar”), Jennifer Yuh Nelson (director, “Kung Fu Panda” sequels, “Darkest Minds”), Charles Solomon (critic and animation historian), Mabel Tam (VP and head film buyer, Landmark Theaters).