Locarno spotlights Japanese manga

Fest draws together giants for big Impact event

ROME — While Japanese animation has been gaining fans in the West since the 1970s, the universe of manga comics, and the anime films they spawn, remain for most shrouded in an esoteric mist.

In a rare attempt to put this Japanese staple under the microscope, and trace anime to its origins, Locarno’s Manga Impact event will comprise massive amounts of Japanese toons on film and TV, in all formats, plus artwork, comicbooks, videogames, dolls and other manga materials ranging from poetry to porn.

“It’s a very broad territory that we want to explore and within which we will connect some of the dots, knowing perfectly well that we can’t provide a meticulosly complete map,” the event’s curator, Carlo Chatrian, says.

Still, the manga celebration concocted by Locarno in tandem with Italy’s Turin Film Museum — where Manga Impact will move to through January 2010 — is being touted by Locarno artistic topper Frederic Maire as “the first time a generalist fest dedicated such an important space to Japanese animation,” and they are certainly pulling out all the stops.

Manga Impact will include an homage to helmer Isao Takahata, whose TV series “Heidi” and “Anne of Green Gables” were instrumental to the spread of Japanese animation in the Western world in the 1970s, and who went on to found Studio Ghibli in 1985 with Hayao Miyazaki.

Takahata will bring to Switzerland his 1994 eco-fable “Pom Poko” and hold an onstage conversation with Gallic animator and Western counterpart Michel Ocelot (“Kirikou and the Sorceress”).

Locarno also is feting Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose “Mobile Suit Gundam” TV series spawned three feature films in the 1980s. Never previously seen in Europe, those pics will unspool at the fest.

Silent anime films from the 1920s from Tokyo’s National Film Center also will unspool, and a focus on the 1960s features produced by Japanese toon giant Toei Animation will be in the spotlight as well.

As for new works by anime auteurs, aside from Mamoru Hosoda’s “Summer Wars” in competish, Locarno also will unveil the latest from Mamoru Oshii (“The Sky Crawlers”) titled “Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai,” about the exploits of legendary real-life swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Faux docu is scripted by Oshii and helmed by his close collaborator Mizuho Nishikubo, whose credits include the anime sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Volume 1.”

Besides a dedicated website, mangaimpact.ch , the event will produce a Manga Impact book published by Phaidon, profiling more than 300 players within the manga universe in the first manga directory of this type.

As for its effect on the fest, Manga Impact is expected to be such a big magnet that Locarno has opened up a nearby nuclear bunker and converted it a youth hostel to provide cheap accommodations for the armies of expected enthusiasts.

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