Over the years, Japan has been considered the powerhouse of Asian animation. The island nation continues to hold that lead, but it was shut out of the competition the Annecy Intl. Animated Film Festival. Instead, the lineup showcases the new players that have risen to prominence throughout East Asia and the new diversity of Asian animation.
In competition, South Korean helmer Yeon Sang-ho’s “Seoul Station” is a zombie apocalyptic thriller and a prequel to his live-action debut “Train to Busan,” which recently screened in Cannes. Like his previous features, “Seoul” deals with human nature and absurdities in modern society.
Yeon also produced the festival’s out-of-competition Korean entry, “Kai.” Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the Lee Sung-gang indie film is the antithesis of “Seoul Station,” a mass-appeal adventure with warm, bright colors.
While South Korea is Japan’s strongest competition for regional dominance, China’s “Monkey King: Hero is Back” and the Philippines’ “Manang Biring” also represent rising players in Asian animation. Both films are showing out of competition.
While China’s film industry has been booming, its animation industry was a late bloomer. At first, only a few franchises like “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” saw box office success. That is, until “Monkey King: Hero Is Back,” which embodies the gradual sophistication of Chinese animation.
Inspired by the Chinese classic “Journey to the West,” the 3D animated adventure was a sensation in China last year and encouraged the country’s animation industry. Southeast Asian countries have long served as subcontractors for products of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Produced with rotoscoping, “Manang Biring” is a rare animated film produced in the Philippines and the first animated feature from the country to screen at Annecy. The adult-oriented comedy, about a terminally ill old woman looking to reunite with her estranged daughter, won best picture at the Philippines’ Cinema One Originals Film Festival.
Japan is making its presence felt with two non-competition titles. Produced by major Japanese animation house Shirogumi, “Gamba” is a 3D adaptation of a popular children’s book about a town mouse who bands his friends together to liberate an island ruled by an evil clan of weasels. More down-to-earth is “Anthem of the Heart,” a schoolyard romance with light magical elements from the creators of the hugely popular “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day” series.
Pictured: Korean zombie apocalypse thriller “Seoul Station” is among the films at Annecy showcasing Asian animation beyond Japan.