Friday, November 6, 2009

Kakurenbo: It's All About the Visuals

I know it's a bit late for me to feature a review of a horror anime when Halloween 09 already came and went, but better late than never. Besides, it's been a while since I reviewed something on this blog.

(lit. "Hide and Seek") is a cel-shaded animated short created by Morita Shuuhei. The film seeks to promote a return to Japan's roots through the vehicle of a traditional children's game, called otokoyo, but given an undeniably modern twist: CGI. The result is an interestingly creepy animated gem rich in visual details and culture but little plot. Not that the lack of plot would bother the true CGI fan, for this movie is all about the visuals, with the story only there as a prop.

Kakurenbo Trailer @ YouTube

That said, Kakurenbo does have an interesting storyline. There is a rumor that children who play hide and seek in a certain dark city, called (appropriately enough) the Demon City, never return. It is said that they are spirited away by demons who dwell in the shadows. Despite the danger, Hikora decides to play the game, along with seven other kids, in the hopes of finding his missing sister, Sorincha. Once there, the children disappear one by one, taken by the four demons, leaving only Hikora and a strange, masked-girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sorincha. Who is she? What happened to the other kids? And where is the fifth and final demon?

Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek DVD (r1)@
Kakurenbo DVD (r2) @ Play-Asia
Kakurenbo DVD (r2) (Japan Version) @ Yes Asia

I'm a huge fan of "tradition-meet-modern world" ideas so Kakurenbo intrigued me with its storyline alone. Unfortunately, that's all it ever did. I keep thinking that if the film were longer and the story and the characters were fleshed out more, Kakurenbo would be better. But I guess we'll never know.

But despite the obvious handicap of its length, Kakurenbo does manage to deliver. Visually, it's one of the most stunning cel-shaded animation I've ever seen. And that's something coming from someone who loathes cel-shading. The movie takes you through an enjoyable, if a bit short, ride through a mysterious city, cloaked in shadows and neon lights. The details will wow your brain and perhaps knowing this, Morita allows you to peruse each minute detail of the building facades with a languid, slow-pan camera. This, in turn, enhances the film's mood and atmosphere, which is certainly creepy and builds up to an even creepier twist. It's not so much horror but it has the whole spiritual, atmospheric mystery going for it.

Character design is tops. I especially like the fox masks that the children wear all throughout. You'd think it would be hard to decipher their emotions with those masks on but the animators are so good at body language that you never have any doubt about the terror each character is experiencing. Still, it was very hard for me to take the horror aspect seriously when I'm looking at cartoon characters reacting to equally cartoonish monsters.

All in all, Kakurenbo is a feast for the eyes. But if you're looking for more than that, I suggest you look somewhere else.

Kakurenbo OFFICIAL (JPN)
Kakurenbo @ Wikipedia
Kakurenbo @ Anime News Network