Last year Studio Ponoc burst onto the animation scene with their feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower. This was the first project of the new studio formed from animators leftover from the closing of Studio Ghibli. It was a sweet, if forgettable film but it showed a lot of promise for the new studio. Now Studio Ponoc has released the first in a series of anthology films called The Ponoc Short Films Theater and given this entry the title of Modest Heroes. Unfortunately like Mary and the Witch’s Flower the film doesn’t quite live up to the great potential the studio offers. It’s a harmless grouping of shorts but one that will soon be forgotten.
Kanini & Kanino-
The first short is called Kanini & Kanino and comes from former Studio Ghibli director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It tells the story of a brother and sister who live under the water and must see after themselves when they are separated from their parents. This includes fighting off a dangerous fish.
The animation is great in this short and it’s sweet enough but it wasn’t very memorable. Little kids will enjoy it but a great short should pull at the heartstrings a little more or make the audience laugh. This is cute but didn’t go much further.
Life Ain’t Goona Lose
The second short. Life Aint Goona Lose, is directed by Yoshiyuki Momose and was my favorite of the 3. It tells the story of a Mother who must care for her son who has a severe allergy to eggs. If he gets even the slightest contamination he breaks out into hives and must go to the hospital.
The animation in the short reminded me of something Isao Takahata would have done (he was going to make an entry in the anthology but he unfortunately passed away before he could). You really feel for the Mother in the story and the stress she lives with when each meal is eaten.
The only weird part about the short is at the end she tells her son that he will ‘get better’ from the allergy but I don’t think that’s the way these types of severe allergies work. Sure if a kid has a mild response or stomach ache to something they outgrow it but a life threatening allergy doesn’t just go away.
Nevertheless, I found the short moving and unique to have an animated short with such a modern, easy to relate with story.
The last short is called Invisible and is directed by Akihiko Yamashita. It is the most abstract of the 3 as it tells the story of a man who is literally invisible. He goes about his day and nobody notices he is there because he has no arms, legs or face. This is obviously trying to be an allegory of modern loneliness and it has some poignant moments. However, it was really short and repetitive so it didn’t really stick out for me.
The short does use music really well and if this was test reel for a feature I would say to go ahead and make it. Unfortunately as a short it didn’t quite do it for me or make much of an impact.
Modest Heroes is barely a feature film at only 53 minutes. At the Fathom Event they padded it out with some interviews from the artists. I love the idea of doing anime shorts and hope Studio Ponoc is able to continue on with their anthology volumes but these 3 shorts left me wishing they were better than they were. They aren’t awful. Just nothing I will remember like some of the great Disney or Pixar shorts. If you get a chance to see it I would recommend it because it is so short but hopefully their next films will be much better. There’s such potential they have yet to realize and I am rooting for them to succeed!