Director: Shuhei Morita
Screenplay: Shiro Kuro
Based on an original idea
Cast (English/Japanese): Dan Green/Makoto Ueki (as Yaimao); Michael Sinterniklaas/Junko Takeuchi (as Hikora); Sean Schemmel/Rei Naitou (as Noshiga); Tom Wayland/Mika Ishibashi (as Tachiji); Veronica Taylor/Akiko Kobayashi (as Suku); Veronica Taylor/Masami Suzuki (as Sorincha)
Viewed in English dub version
Continuing on with the discussion of (blog entry #3) A.LI.CE (1999) and three dimensional animation in anime, there's also the subject of cel shading, a technique which offers another visual palette in itself, turning computer generated images into what looks like 2D comic book illustrations. Its more well known for video games, making itself known through Jet Set Radio (2000), but it's been used in other media and has been seen a few times in anime. Kakurenbo, in only twenty plus minutes, follows a group of children who go to an abandoned and haunted city to play Otokoyo, a game of hide or seek where one is safe if you follow the neon signs and escape the various back alleys and tightly knit streets. Those who lose the game are supposedly snatched away by demons. One boy Hikora joins this particular game to find his sister Sorincha, who went missing after a previous game of Otokoyo. What's found in the city for the players are legitimately monstrous.
In terms of the animation style, while it does show itself as being three dimensional animation on a lower budget, this is a very good example of practical and imaginative use of such a technique. Cel shading allows three dimensional animation to have a character to it, vivid in primary colours or at least the look of a cartoon with a visual dynamic to it. While a work from around the same time like Galerians: Rion (2002, which was released in the West in 2004) was already doomed to become dated, using the three dimensional animation style of A.LI.CE, Kakurenbo despite some blemishes still looks very good now through its distinct appearance. Wisely, to avoid the problems in trying to animate small but complicated details, the children all wear fox masks as part of the game of Otokoyo that are never taken off, reducing the problems trying to animated facial movements could've have. The demons are enormous or at least inhuman entities which don't need tiny, intricate movements or details to them either, reducing the struggle the production team has. The detail instead in found in the setting, a ghost town fully evoked as the characters trapped between the various corridors and areas trying to escape the monsters.
As for the film itself as a short story, it's a moody piece, where urban lights of a rundown city have a pervasive atmosphere to them and the story ends with a creepy twist. It feels like a fairy tale and especially with what happens with the children caught by the demons, you get a story that isn't adult at all but does have a suitably ghoulish premise without an ounce of blood being shed or any physical harm being fully depicted. The fact that Japanese mythology paints the film in terms of its visuals is inherently a good thing. Like any country, the horror stories made within it are going to be influenced by the culture surrounding them, and from the costumes including the fox masks to the looks of the demons, it saturates Kakurenbo immensely. You get enough to tantalise but are still fed by what exists in the very short feature. Even if most of the demons are actually giant monsters, including one ridden by two smaller twin demons, they're suitably scary for the story.
After this, director Morita made Freedom (2006-8), what is for some a sci-fi folly I'd gladly watch for the blog. It attempted to take the cel shading 3D animation here to a larger scale story, but Freedom was unfortunately stuck with people only knowing it for Katsuhiro Otomo being involved with it and the amount of product referencing for Nissin Cup Noodles throughout its frames. Morita has however helmed the television adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul in 2014, a new and very popular work whose visibility is clear when my obscure neck of the woods has volumes of the original manga on sale at WHSmiths. It's good to see that Morita went from this great start, even if it took eleven years from Kakurenbo, and might be on his way to a healthy directorial career. That it involves Tokyo Ghoul means his beginning with a horror story comes full circle with another horror story as his latest which is nice.