Typically, stick and wire, claymation, 2D cel animation, and 3D computer graphics portray the artificiality in filmmaking. However, if thoughtfully crafted, animation can bring to life the notions of humanity and reality, and surpass them. Animation, combined with imagination, is the legitimate building block to a different perspective and experience. Some films, although animated, better depict human subject matter and the quintessence of life than many of the live-action films we see today.
Anomalisa (2015) Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed this stop-motion gem, in which each movement, action and reaction is shot frame-by-frame. The film is about Michael (David Thewlis), an inspirational speaker who struggles to deal with the mundanity of his life, hoping Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) can spark an inspiration to help him see life differently.
Michael suffers from the Fregoli Delusion, a disorder that leaves him unable to distinguish one person from another. In other words, Michael only sees a single face in every stranger and loved one in his life. Kaufman relies heavily on detachment, introspection and the delusion of love to create a visceral and heartbreaking story. Although this film is animated, it may be the most touching tale of love and despair ever produced. What better way to convey the ordinariness of the people in Michael’s life than by using the same clay, same technique and facial design? By using animation, Kaufman allows audiences to share a surreal experience, using puppets, specifically, to further the notion and importance of relinquishing control.
Perfect Blue (1999) Directed by Satoshi Kon
Perfect Blue follows pop-star Mima (Junko Iwao) as she steps out of the musical limelight to pursue acting, which begins to fracture her identity and tarnish her reputation in unimaginable ways. Mima attracts a stalker, who creates a fan-page, falsely leading others to make wild presumptions about her life, resulting in a dichotomy between her public and private image. This is a commentary on the show-biz industry, as public figures tend to have little privacy, or no semblance of a private life. As her online persona grows in popularity, so does the self-loathing and fear within her…
Mima grapples with the difficulties of transitioning careers, as she navigates the ‘B-List’ film industry. She accepts a role in which she is the victim of rape, and Satoshi Kon horrifically but truthfully displays the violence, psychological trauma, and the subconscious perception of an audience. After shooting the scene and the impending fear of a stalker, Mima becomes overwhelmed with horror and paranoia. Perfect Blue deals more with the social implications of becoming famous, as to say, fame brings notoriety. Yet, Satoshi Kon uses animation to accentuate the virtual possibilities that can impact reality.
The stress of her newfound job and industry only perpetuates the feud within herself, a dichotomy she no longer controls. Mima becomes immersed in this nightmarish dreamscape of life, becoming unable to distinguish between what is real and what is behind the lens of a camera.
Isle of Dogs (2018) Directed by Wes Anderson
It is incredibly challenging to create such originality that permeates through Isle of Dogs, but the great Wes Anderson achieved that goal. Isle of Dogs is about a dystopian Japanese society in which canines are displaced to an island due to ‘snout fever,’ which is later revealed to be government propaganda, in an effort to eradicate the loving house-pet. Eventually, a young boy named Atari helps free these animals as a Noah’s Ark type-messiah.
The film pours out endearment and juvenescence while maintaining Anderson’s characteristic symmetry and uncanny humor. The film is a reminder to appreciate the things, or should I say animals, we take for granted. Technically and artistically the film is complicated, but at its core, Isle of Dogs is about a change-of-heart and finding the treasure among trash.
Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s second animated film, but has better cinematography than most non-animated/live-action movies. Each scene has an individualized color palette, mood and decadence that layer the film like chocolate. The scenes are intimate, glowing with radiance and hope, then muddled by rustic colors and industrialization.
It is unique for Anderson to address politics, more commonly he reflects on family, as the film examines Atari’s relationship with his dictatorial and stand-offish uncle. Both are moving, but family is always the most affecting place to depict dysfunction. Anderson thoughtfully reinvents the family movie, by allowing comedy to find its place naturally and uncovering the naiveness and joy of man, animal, and boy.