An ambitious collection of three thrilling tales; Kanini & Kanino, Invisible, Life Ain't Gonna Lose. Together, the stories explore ideas of heroism large and small, and the infinite potential of the short film format allows the directors and Studio Ponoc to experiment with breathtaking, action-packed visuals, concise human drama, and gorgeous fantasy worlds, in this unforgettable short film anthology that is further demonstration of the studio’s exciting future.
The film is the first volume in the studio's Ponoc Short Films Theatre anthology, and includes films directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. As you may know, Studio Ponoc was founded by former Studio Ghibli lead film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura after the dissolution of the Ghibli Production Department; and as such, it has the same great animation and sound as you expect from a Ghibli film. However, in their previous work, Mary and the Witch's Flower, the storytelling was not quite there. Thankfully, it seems they are getting everything together for these shorts, as the stories are great and everything you can expect from former Ghibli team up to make a name for themselves. This film's three stories all have something to say with eloquent visuals: 1. The first short, Kanini & Kanino by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, takes us into an underwater world where we explore the lives of the protagonist from their perspective, and their struggles to survive in such a world. Is reminiscent of The Secret World of Arrietty, but underwater, which was also directed by him. In this short we see full use of the animation and music to bring this fantasy world to life. It has barely any dialog, so it can be easily understood by young kids. 2. The second one, Life Ain’t Gonna Lose by Yoshiyuki Momose, depicts an elementary schoolboy who has a life-threatening allergy to eggs, and his family struggles (especially his mom), in their everyday lives to keep him safe. 3. The third, Invisible by Akihiko Yamashita, who is better known so far as a character designer, explores the loneliness and alienation of a man who passes through society unperceived, making full use of the animation not just to symbolize how invisible he appears to others, but also to create visual storytelling conveying more meaning than words alone can. 4. Sadly, there was supposed to be a fourth segment by Isao Takahata. He was very enthusiastic about the idea, but he passed away during pre-production. Here is a good article about the shorts with more information: Artful Trilogy: Studio Ponoc’s "Modest Heroes". I definitely recommend this anthology to everyone who likes Ghibli films and shorts. It's a good movie to watch with the family. The dub is great.
Modest Heroes, the first in an anthology series by Studio Ponoc, displays a level of talent and imagination that was sorely missed in their first feature film, Mary and the Witches Flower. Modest heroes, as a collection of shorts, is a pretty good package. The three anime range from overly familiar to interesting and fun. Anime shorts often exist to show off the talents of the people who make them, and Modest Heroes does not disappoint in displaying their talents. This does not mean that all of the shorts are interesting. As in all anime shorts anthologies, there are the strong and weak stories. Oddly, the quality of shorts rises from the first to last. Kanino and Kanini The first short is the weakest. My reasoning behind why this short was placed first is that the producers wanted to start Modest Heroes with a Studio Ghibli like story and feeling. The problem with this idea is the short continues the problem setting an identity for Studio Ponoc. The short looks good and goes by quickly, but I would have chosen another short as the starter. I was a little discouraged to see this short first as I thought that Heroes would be a collection of Ghibli clones. Luckily, the following shorts proved me wrong. Life Ain't Gonna Lose The second short immediately ramps up the quality by having a fluid and water color esque style. The colors and characters pop out from the screen and I was interested immediately. I was impressed that the producers chose the topic of a family struggling with a deadly allergy affecting their child. That the studio would pick a serious topic after such a lightweight short gave me confidence that Ponoc has the will to create an identity of their own. Life is the most distinctive short of this collection in that it is the most emotional and serious. In a world where certain ingrediants are commonly used, having to avoid eggs sounds relentlessly difficult. Trying to be normal with such an affliction is very relatable, and I'm glad that the animation tackles this seriously without having the tone become overly heavy. Bravo! Invisible The last short ties with Life in its quality, but in a different way. This is a fantasy that explores the common feeling of becoming invisible. The art style reminds me of a softer Akira, but without the sense of apocalyptic finality. The story itself is basic, but the sense of whimsy illustrates the central idea well. Modest Heroes, as a display of Studio Ponoc's talents, gives me hope that Ponoc can create a distinct identity of its own. The challenge will be to translate that identity in its feature movies. If you like shorts, this will make you feel good. If you feel curious about Studio Ponoc, Modest Heroes may make you excited for more.
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