Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Red Turtle & Kedi

I wasn’t exactly planning a family-friendly Kendall Square double feature originally, but I forgot my book of tickets when going out for a bunch of movies over the weekend and was actually kind of wiped after my second movie on Saturday. So, no chance to see Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle before the ceremony, although I wasn’t necessarily going to be rooting one way or another in that category beyond pulling for Kubo.

Animation fans have been saying goodbye to Studio Ghibli a lot over the last few years, with The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There, each seeming to close off a period of the venerable animation studio’s history, at least in terms of feature films. The announcement that they would be co-producing The Red Turtle seemed like yet another final chapter, as it sounded like a one-off. Since then, it’s been announced that Hayao Miyazaki will be making the short he was working on into a feature, so things will at least be briefly “back to normal”.

After that, I stuck around for Kedi, kind of surprised that it wasn’t in theater #9 - the smallest room in the place, where things either on a one-week booking or on their way out usually play - but instead on screen #1, the main theater. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by that - I know a ton of local film people who are also big cat people, so it’s maybe not surprising that demand for the documentary about Istanbul alley cats found an audience here despite originally being one of those one-week bookings. Granted, I don’t know how many of those folks also saw the Turkish cat movie I saw at fantasia last year, with Bad Cat being a very different take on Istanbul cats, but I found it funny to see that the cartoonist whose work was adapted into it was one of the interview subjects. I wonder how many folks outside Turkey caught that.

Whenever I see a relatively family-friendly movie, I think about getting it for my nieces as a Christmas or birthday present, but these movies are tough calls there: The Red Turtle is kind of artsy with no dialogue, after all. And as to Kedi... I’ve done some eccentric movie choices where they’re concerned, but a Turkish-language documentary might be a weird choice, even coming from Uncle Jay.

La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, DCP)

The Studio Ghibli logo at the start of The Red Turtle invites a lot of commentary on its own, representing as it does Japan’s most beloved animation studio giving a boost to up and coming animators worldwide in the wake of its founders’ retirements. But while most watching the movie will have just the vaguest idea of what sort of guidance Isao Takahata gave director Michael Dudok de Wit, we can certainly appreciate the signal boost the Ghibli name gives it, as this is the sort of beautiful but unconventional animated film that might otherwise struggle to find the visibility it deserves.

It is clearly a different beast from many other animated films visually, most notably for the black dots that serve as the eyes on the characters’ faces, a design quirk that combined with fairly realistic proportions may remind the audience of Tintin or other European comics that add a dash of artistic license to carefully-rendered images to simultaneously ground their world and hint that things out of the ordinary can happen. De Wit and his animators fill the movie with beautiful draftsmanship that can capture tremendous detail but will often sacrifice it for effect - consider the opening act of the movie, when a nameless castaway has just arrived on an island and the relatively plain rocks he climbs on and carefully chosen backgrounds give an impression of him being shrunken, surrounded by danger too large to fight, though he will fit the setting better later on without much visual change.

The man’s story is, of necessity, fairly simple - the lifeboat he’s in has been smashed, but he is able to land on an island relatively protected by a sandbar and with sources of food and fresh water. Naturally, he tries to build rafts and escape - there is plenty of bamboo - but something unseen keeps smashes them just before he gets too far to return to shore, eventually revealed as a large red turtle. Furious, he fights back, only to be surprised when a beautiful young woman appears on the island with little explanation.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run, DCP)

Toward the end of Kedi, the viewer might start to see director Ceyda Torun making a broader point about modern cities in general and Istanbul in particular, and how room for the organic rather than planned and parceled-out is precious but vanishing. That may not be her intention, of course; though the human subjects of the film certainly discuss things like that at times, it’s always in a way that relates to their feline friends. If one doesn’t see it that way, it’s fine; for all I know, she was simply trying to make a sweet little documentary about the stray cats of the city, and it is thoroughly adorable even if one doesn’t buy into it having a second layer.

Istanbul, the audience is told, is home to thousands of street cats; they originally came on trade ships from Norway and came to be considered useful when rats started infesting one of the world’s first sewage systems. Today, housecats are not uncommon but many more cats live on their own, domesticated to some extent but far from the property of any particular human, and Torun follows a number of them around the city, getting a look at their daily lives and hearing stories about the people they interact with.

Torun mostly tells the cats’ stories first, introducing them before the humans in their lives appear, giving the audience a chance to observe them a bit before the narration and interviews start being played directly off clips which highlight the point being made or certainly direct someone watching to recognize specific human traits in the cat’s expression. For the most part, these interviews are ordinary people, many of whom live and work around the waterways, although it likely amused some in Turkey that cartoonist Bülent Üstün was among those interviewed (his comics about Shero, a far more profane and horny orange fat cat than Garfield, were recently made into the animated feature Bad Cat). As the film goes on, the interviews tend to focus a bit less on the cats’ independence and a bit more on how their presence is good for the person in question, with the effort and expense some put into feeding these strays a bit eyebrow-raising.

Full review on EFC.

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