Owaka, the daughter of a merchant family, and her childhood friend Matsukichi. The two were drawn to each other, but Matsukichi has been disowned by his family, and is working for the city fire brigade. Meanwhile, negotiations begin for the arrangement of Owaka's marriage.
Unable to let go of her thoughts of Matsukichi, her mad emotions make her bring about a massive inferno which razes Edo. By chance encounter, the two meet again amidst the fires.
It is an epic spectacle set against the stage of the massive metropolis of Edo.
Written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself, Combustible tells the tragic love story of a firefighter and a geisha as we see their love being impossible due to laws that forbids them to be together and a wildfire that causes more harm to one another. Combustible starts off very calmly while introducing the love story of the firefighter and the geisha but certain laws or traditions forbid them to be together but during the final act of the film. a fire goes out of control and if you thought it ends on a happy, the short pulls a 180 and goes to a much darker path than you would have expect on an animated film. The art in Combustible is executed perfectly with an art style that depicts the traditional paintings of ancient myths that we see from Japan and it looks wonderful (the fire effects look phenomenal). With it's dark third act and beautiful visuals, Combustible is another phenomenal work from Otomo. read more
Combustible is a 12 minute short film included in Short Peace, which released in June of 2012. Notable names attached to this short include Katsuhiro Otomo (Director: Akira, Steamboy, Cannon Fodder) as Writer and Director, and Kouichi Arai (Key Animator: FLCL, Ghost in the Shell, Perfect Blue) as Key Animator. Combustible is a Historical, Slice of Life anime that explores themes of family obligations, bitterness, and love.
The story takes place in the city of Edo during the 18th century. After an establishing pan over the bustling city, the camera stops at a wealthy house. The main character, Owaka, is introduced here as a young girl, obedient and submissive to her parental instructions. Shortly after, Owaka's childhood friend Matsukichi is introduced as disobedient, fulfilling his desires on his own account. The two seem to be quite fond of one another as children, as playing in Owaka's garden seems to be the only place where the two can enjoy themselves outside the reign of their family responsibilities. However, a shot of the garden with changing seasons and the children fading away from the shot indicates that over time their friendship faded as well, with only the lingering voices of the children serving as Owaka's memories of her prior freedom and unrequited love with Matsukichi. Now Owaka is a woman, still obedient even to her arranged marriage, while Matsukichi is still disobedient and has now been banished from his family because he desired to become a firefighter. At this point, Owaka has become bitter towards herself and her uncontrollable circumstances. She accidentally begins a fire in her house but instead of putting it out as she should, she decides to disobey this, opting for her house to continue burning. The fire begins to ravage her house and the surrounding houses in the city, forcing the firefighters to intervene. It is then that Matsukichi as a firefighter finds his old house and Owaka's house burning. A shot of Owaka's garden burning serves as a reminder to the bond that Matsukichi and her shared in their childhood, but burning away in haste. Matsukichi discovers Owaka on the roof of a burning house, and though he warns her not to head towards the tower, she does and is swallowed by the flames she began. The short ends with another establishing shot of the city, similar to the first shot, though with the city in flames.
The story is rather simple: childhood friends provide each other solace in their youth, both go their separate ways, and while Matsukichi follows his dreams in opposition to his family, Owaka is submissive to her family, leading her to be full of regret and bitterness towards her family and herself, her bitterness and love for Matsukichi result in Owaka starting a fire, the two meet again in the flames but their reunion is short lived as Owaka's uncontrollable flames eventually engulf her. However, what makes this story great is its exploration of themes through the narrative, characters, art direction, sound design, and cinematography. The two main characters are a complete contrast to one another, with Matsukichi taking control of his own life even to the dismay of his family, while Owaka continues to be submissive to the rules of society and her family expectations. It is this difference in character that will eventually lead the two apart, leading Owaka to become even more bitter as her childhood solace and love has now departed her. The flames that Owaka initiate are also symbolic, giving representing the subtext of the burning love that Owaka shared with Matsukichi, while also symbolizing her burning resentment to her current circumstances that are out of her control. This moment of defiance, that of letting the fire burn instead of reporting it, is one of the only moments when Owaka exercised her own free will, the fire was caused by her. However, just as her arranged marriage was out of her control, so to does she not realize the fire has become out of her control until it was too late. In short, a small flame is like love, bright and warm. But when that love turn into bitterness and anger towards her family/society rules, the once beautiful flame can turn into an uncontrollable fire that destroys all in its path.
The art direction for Combustible is unique and relative to the themes being explored. For the majority of the short, the art style and the frame of the shot are very reminiscent of traditional Japanese art. This style highlights many straight, perpendicular, and parallel lines and views the characters from a distance. All of these elements help reinforce the theme of family obligations, the expectations that one's family or society has placed upon them, where people aren't meant to express themselves or become whoever they desire. Color, particularly of the fire, are also well done by conveying the beauty of the small flame, contrasted with the overwhelming terror of the city burning. The motivated cinematography, editing (exp: the children fading from the garden with only the voices remaining to symbolize their separate ways and Owaka remembering their time together as children), and a unique art style all complement one another very well to provide an impressive visual experience.
The music is also reminiscent of traditional Japanese music, possibly with much of the same effect as the art direction discussed above. The music isn't quite as memorable as the visual art direction, but the traditional Japanese music combined with some motivated audio editing (see example of characters fading with voices still lingering) provide a nice audio experience that also reinforces the themes and setting of the short.
Reference the above Synopsis and Story sections for more detailed information on who the characters where. The characters were certainly above average, though they mostly serve as ciphers for theme exploration. This isn't inherently negative, in fact it help tie this short together. But alone without theme exploration, the characters aren't too interesting. This could be due to the shorter run-time, as it doesn't permit for many moment where the audience can observe the characters in a more natural circumstance or relate with them on subtle human levels based on their reactions to others/their environment. However, being a short focused on theme exploration, this isn't as severe an issue.
Similar to the characters, there isn't too much to enjoyment to be found outside of theme exploration through the narrative/characters/art/sound. Basically, this short certainly isn't one to watch with your friends on a Saturday night with expectations to turn one's brain off and be overwhelmed with bullets and explosions. The enjoyment comes solely through the appreciation of this short's themes and art direction in particular. These are elements that might resonate well with some (myself included) but not with everyone who might expect something more action-oriented like Appleseed. For enjoyment then, this leaves Combustible working on one level (the artistic level) but not on any other level (such as pure spectacle, action, or romantic levels).
Combustible is a very impressive short, and certainly worth the 12 minutes of watching, especially if anyone is interested in a more artistic and thematic anime to view. read more