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Welcome to the Space Show May 23, 2010

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Film.
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ANN

The second film I saw at the BFI Anime Weekend was this gem from the team behind R.O.D. and Kamichu!.

Though those two series were very different, they are similar in mixing slice-of-life and relatively ordinary characters with extraordinary situations. And this is continued in  the  team’s debut feature film. Starting out like a space Totoro and morphing into a shonen adventure 2/3 through, it’s an ambitious, visually stunning and vastly imaginative affair.

The basic story follows five schoolkids from a (really) small town who are camping out alone in their school over summer vacation. They find and heal an injured dog, who turns out to be a space alien (of course). The alien  repays them with a field trip into space, but as with any field trip, things don’t go quite as smoothly as anticipated.

That description doesn’t really do justice to the nuances of the premise or the numerous twists and turns that the plot takes. I wasn’t kidding when I called it a ‘space Totoro’. As Totoro had a couple of kids encountering a magical spirit and exploring a strange new world, so Welcome to the Space Show does similar. There’s even a serpent train similar to the cat bus.

That sense of wonderment really had me hooked. Starting off slow, you connect with the kids in the earlier, character-establishing scenes, with wonderful attention to detail in terms of character details and background.  Then when the take off to space actually occurs, you’re really swept up in the adventure, sharing the kids wide-eyed awe at a strange new world.

Part of that is because of the animators’ huge imagination. In a Q&A after the screening, Director Koji Masunari told us they created some 400+ different aliens for the feature and the variety of shapes, sizes and colours really shows. When the kids arrive on the theme park-like Moonbase, I was struck by the same feelings I have whenever I arrive in Japan: a complete assault on the eyes and ears, walls of screens full of bright lights and unfamiliar shapes, and that feeling that you’re really not in Kansas anymore. Perhaps one of the film’s great achievements, it conveys what it’s like for a Japanese tourist arriving in a foreign land, or indeed a foreigner visiting Japan for the first time.

It’s the little things that really make this film: the trip through immigration, the ‘passport’ devices that also act as universal translators (even for writing), aliens who use their hair like hands, Pochi’s eyes. It all helps you invest in the film’s universe and allow yourself to get swept up in the ride.

At least that’s the case for most of it. After an hour and  a half it kind of descends into a rather confusing action romp with some loose plot strands and a complicated tale of friendship gone bad, ancient powers and illegal trading. It also seems to extend the running time unnecessarily. I can’t help but feel that a cut of 30 mins would really have benefitted what is meant to be a kids movie.

It’s a shame in a way, as a much simpler tale of five kids who go on an adventure and return knowing more about life, hard-work and friendship, is still very much at the core of the film. One wonders if Studio Ghibli would have convoluted the story so for the sake of an action climax.

But I wouldn’t want those criticisms to detract anyone from seeing this. Welcome to the Space Show is still one of the most enjoyable anime I’ve seen in a while and full of funny, touching and downright cool moments. There are too few films that take you on a real adventure these days, and anything with imagination like this deserves to be seen.

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Comments»

1. My anime 2010 « Canned Memory - January 30, 2011

[…] written about Eva 2.0 and Welcome to the Space Show already, as well as Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Red Line and Musashi at the Sci-Fi […]

2. My 2010 « Canned Memory - January 30, 2011

[…] written about Eva 2.0 and Welcome to the Space Show already, as well as Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Red Line and Musashi at the Sci-Fi […]


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