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Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Digimon: Our War Game.

Quick reminder that there will be no review tomorrow, Friday, or Saturday, and we'll be back properly on Monday.

Digimon: Our War Game.

Our penultimate stop on the 'let's talk about Mamoru Hosoda' trip, we take a look at the second of the Digimon films that he worked on, and the film where you could easily argue that he had a lot less freedom. Being able to work within a tight framework and to the demands of -- in this case -- executives, toy companies, and series producers is a pretty important skill for any director to have, so it's interesting to think about how well Hosoda coped with those demands.

Set some months after Digimon Adventure 01, Our War Game sees a new Digimon appear and rapidly start consuming data to grow. As Taichi, Koushiro, Yamato, and Takeru set out to stop it (with the remaining four kids being unavailable), the new Digimon assumes his Ultimate form, Diablomon, and forces them into a deadly game where the punishment for losing will be a nuclear missile impacting Tokyo.

At only forty minutes long, this is by necessity a very fast-paced, tightly packed film, and it shows in Hosoda's shot composition. While a lot of his films are defined by long silences and lengthy Pinter pauses, Our War Game only ever holds a shot for exactly as long as it needs to be held, and no longer. Liberal use is made of sudden, sharp cuts between multiple different viewpoints (such as one scene which involves a series of rapid cuts between Koushiro and Taichi's mother on one side of the room, and Taichi on the other; and another scene shortly afterwards that involves quick cuts between Yamato and Takeru in Shimane and Taichi and Koushiro in Odaiba), and sequences, especially long sequences where not a lot happens, are often trimmed down into quick, sudden successions of momentary shots.

I like the red outlining effect on the Digimon.

Thus, Hosoda's forced to use his transitions quite cleverly. One transition near the start of the film involves the same landscape shifting from night (with a giant egg in the sky) to day to indicate a timeskip of several years; at one point, a scene transitions from 'a group of kids being tormented by a ferris wheel spinning out of control' to 'Taichi and Koushiro on the phone' by cutting to Taichi's mother watching the wheel from afar. 

Critically deprived of time and with a lot of story to cram into a small space, Hosoda utilises recurring visuals both to make transitions smoother and to heighten tension (as in the final sequence, where the countdown towards the missile landing is intercut with various other countdowns, such as a countdown on a microwave and a countdown to the end of, with tension being raised by showing one of those countdowns ending with failure, and then, when it's revealed the missile won't go off, lowered by showing another countdown ending with frazzled, exhausted success). It's a clever directing trick.

Such expressiveness, much feeling.

Visually, the film's animation style is almost identical to the first Digimon film's, and the aesthetic of the internet shares a lot of similarities with Summer Wars, as mentioned in my review of it. It's all pretty and nice, but it lacks the sharpness and vivid colours that would come to define Hosoda's later work. One thing that did jump out at me, though, is how expressive the characters were made, how every facial expression or movement of their bodies, however slight, communicates a clear emotion.

(While we're talking about Summer Wars, Hosoda also revisits a few of the more minor themes from this film in that one. Broadly speaking, they have very different themes - Our War Game is about friendship and beating-things-up-with-giant-monsters, whereas Summer Wars is about traditionalism, family, and community. That said, both films make a lot of jabs at the US, and US foreign policy, and both have a running theme of 'a disaster that most people don't realise isn't just a game.')

The film excels in other technical aspects as well: The music is all lovely to listen to, with a special shout-out going to 'Requiem,' the song that plays during Omegamon's appearance; the voice-acting is broadly pretty strong; and while short, the film covers a pretty significant amount of story while also feeling pretty well-paced.


(Interestingly, as far as writing goes, it's all pretty good, but I feel like Hikari, in her brief scenes, acts oddly more like a child in this film than she does in the actual series.)

All in all, this is actually a really good film, and it kind of just hammers in my desire (even if it's a complete pipe dream) to see Mamoru Hosoda direct a full series of Digimon, because it seems like he'd be very good at it. It's not difficult to see why a lot of people say this is their favourite Digimon film, and from an artistic standpoint it's actually very well-constructed, despite being, let's be entirely honest, a cashgrab tie-in film.

Next week, we'll be doing our final part of this Mamoru Hosoda series by looking at that one One Piece film he did.

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