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.
I can think of both many better, and many worse, ways to spend an hour. Story - 5/10 This “Movie” is really three shorts that all deal with someone being heroic in their own way. The first film is Kanini & Kanino, a story about a brother and sister, living in the water, who have to go out and rescue their father after he’s swept away. You wouldn’t really know it from the story, but this is supposed to be about a family of crabs, but you would just think it’s a fantasy story and these people use the little crab like arms as their main hunting tool. There’s honestly very little to this film, being a story that uses no dialogue, it almost feels like a first year college film, but not in a bad way, just in it’s simplicity to tell a story through actions instead of words. The second film, while certainly helpful at raising awareness about the struggles people with lethal food allergies go through, doesn’t really hit on that “hero” idea that was supposed to be the thread connecting the three films. You can say Shun is brave, and that his parents, friends and neighbors are caring people who look out for him, but it’s hard to say anyone is a hero, in the sense of going above and beyond to protect someone. As a story it’s more of a somewhat of a PSA showing the worse case scenarios having to do with food allergies. I think to make it a better story they needed to finish what they started, as they begin the film with Shun taking part in a allergy test, but we never get back to that part of the story to see it’s conclusion. The final story, Invisible, is about a man who feels unseen by the entire world, unfortunatly like the first story they actually do a very bad job of showing that. The problem is that while at first you can see this idea that he’s someone who just isn’t noticed by those around him, they start to get into fantastically scenes of him being literally blown away by wind, because he must wear a fire extinguisher to keep his body grounded. I did enjoy the story, and I get that they added some parts for the action and excitement, I think they lose a lot by creating a great metaphor and then betraying it with the literal elements. Animation - 8/10 The scenic animation for Kanini & Kanino is very beautifully done, but is unfortunatly let down by the lackluster characters and the really awful CGI used for the fish. Movie number two, Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, has a very simplistic look to it, that isn’t bad looking until they attempt to get fancy, by having different styles of animation during different moments in the film. If the animation quality was higher you can possibly say it looks good, but considering the rest of the film it just came across as sloppy. While invisible was much more crude looking than the first too, it really seemed to work for the story. Their way of creating the main character, without really giving him a visible form, was very well done and all the scenery was nicely animated. Sound - 5/10 There isn’t much to the sound of the first movie, there’s some good ambient noise, but the voices are nothing more than our characters annoyingly screaming out each others names. While taking a slight step forward, since it at least had voices, Life Ain’t Gonna Lose also took many steps back by having those voices be awful. As so often the case, characters voiced by children are just really bad, and here it’s no exception as the actor who voices Shun just doesn’t sound good at all. Even when they tried to cast a well known actress as the mother it just doesn’t work, as normally good screen actors so rarely are able to transition to voice over work. Like the first film, the final one doesn’t have much in the way of voice over work, since our lonely man never has anyone to share his feelings or thoughts with. They did a good job though with the music and the sound effects. Characters - 4/10 Since these are short films it’s often tough to really build great characters, as it’s the story itself that really carries the show. The first group of characters are all members of the “crab” family, and unfortunatly everything we know is just from their actions, so a strong father, a caring brother and, well, a sister. Also unless you read the online descriptions for the movie you wouldn’t actually know they’re crabs. As I’ve said Life Ain’t Gonna Lose is far more a PSA than a movie, and the characters follow that trend. What we learn about each character is just through the scenario’s we see them in, which are all made to highlight problems such a child, and his family, would suffer through. All the characters are really just supposed to be regular people who are living their life, but who need to look out for this boy. There is really only one character in Invisible, and it could have been a good character if they didn’t completely mix their metaphor with literal story points. That being said they were able convey their point (though a bit muddled) and show the emotions of someone without a body to a satisfactory degree. Overall - 5/10 None of the films of the group were particularly good, even when judging them against other shorts, but two out of the three were decent enough to be worth the time it takes to watch them. Overall I would rate Kanini & Kanino as almost a One, as it’s really nothing special or even entertaining. Life Ain’t Gonna Lose is much better, but as I said felt much more like a PSA for a elementary school class than a real short film. Finally Invisible would be rated on the higher side, it’s a good film that I just think needed to stay truer to it’s initial premise, maybe internalizing the idea of “drifting away” instead of putting it right there on the screen.
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