Modest Heroes will consist of three shorts by three different directors: "Kanini & Kanino" ("Kani no Kanino") by Hiromasa Yonebayashi will be a 15-minute fantasy adventure story of two crab siblings, and will be long. "Life Ain't Gonna Lose" ("Samurai Egg") by Yoshiyuki Momose will be a 15-minute "human drama" showing the love between a mother and a boy. "Invisible" ("Tōmei Ningen") by Akihiko Yamashita will be a 14-minute "action spectacle" that centers on the lonely struggle of one invisible man. Studio Ponoc describes the shorts as "tales of modest heroes of our times."
"Chiisana Eiyuu: Kani to Tamago to Toumei Ningen (Modest Heroes)" is Studio Ponac's second movie project after their debut film, "Mary to Majo no Hana (Mary and the Witch's Flower)". The film is a collection of three non sequential shorts that each tell a unique story about a heroic character and his or her respective journey. "Modest Heroes" is obviously not going to beat "Mary and the Witch's Flower", but it's still an enjoyable watch and it did certainly kept me interested the whole way through.
Short One: "Kanini & Kanino"
"Kanini & Kanino" surrounds the tale of two crab siblings whose life of living underwater becomes
drastically different when their pregnant mother goes to the surface to give birth, leaving only their father to protect them from the dangers of the river. One night, one of the siblings attempts to travel to the surface, only for something dramatic to occur, ultimately leaving the two siblings to fend for themselves in the vast river environment. I can't really say much about the short. I enjoyed the visuals way more than the characters or the plot, with its fantastic blend of 2D animation with splashes of CGI for the river environment that is eye-catchingly beautiful to say the least (despite the CGI fish, but whatever). I'm not really invested in Kanini or Kanino, as forgettable as they are, and the fact that the short doesn't have any dialog hurts their dynamics as a whole. For the story and characters to be lacking in depth, the visual did make up for it to be considered for an enjoyable one-time watch.
Short Two: "Life Ain't Gonna Lose"
"Life Ain't Gonna Lose" is about the relationship between a mother and her son, Shun, who has a severe egg allergy that in-contact, could cause a life-threatening case in which Shun only has minutes to live. The short is based off a true story (claimed by the director) and it does a pretty good job keeping me interested in the characters and how they deal with Shun's condition. The mother is overly protected of Shun and tries her hardest to protect him from any harm, just to amend for all the times that she isn't there for him. Shun himself quickly learns to stay strong and formidable despite his unfortunate state and is eager to overcome any obstacles in his life to prove that he isn't frail and weak. The characters in this short are way more realistic and the hand-drawn artstyle complements it by having a sort of nostalgic feel, reminiscent of a children's storybook. The animation is fluid and the movements are more expressive that doesn't distract you from the overall atmosphere of the short. The intriguing aesthetic and the lovable character makes this short exceedingly enjoyable for anybody to enjoy, and this, along with the next short, produces a well crafted compilation if it weren't for the first short.
Short Three: "Invisible"
"Invisible" contains an interesting and ingenious concept that is explored in a very creative way. The short follows an invisible man, whom others cannot see. The man is required to carry a heavy object since he could easily be carried by a gust of wind without it. The short basically surrounds a day of his life, in which he ponders about his identity in life and his struggle of loneliness. What makes the short especially unique is through several brilliant action-packed moments that is exemplified by the gripping animation and the spectacular choreographer of the whole segment. Aesthetically, the short is bleak and almost depressing with its dimmed colors and almost dreary tone that sets it apart from the bright and colorful visuals of the previous two shorts. The Invisible-Man himself carries a dispirited mood that I can't help but feel sympathetic for. These design choices overall make the conclusion of the short extremely satisfying and makes the whole experience well-worth the watch.
So what can I say? Studio Ponac did a fine job producing these shorts and I highly recommend this to those who are fans of their previous film. Creatively impressive and tremendously entertaining, "Modest Heroes" is huge step for Studio Ponac to work with other directors and their consistency in quality has me anxiously waiting for their next project.
MODEST HEROES, a 53-minute (yes, that's how long it is) animated feature which is actually three fifteen-minute featurettes in one program, is the second animated release from Studio Ponoc. Founded in 2015, the fledging studio found success nationwide with their first feature, the charming if derivative MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER. That film, handled by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and many other former animators at Studio Ghibli (who temporarily closed in 2014 but thankfully reopened recently), was more of a crowd-pleaser and technically more of a "Best of Ghibli" kind of showcase. MODEST HEROES, on the other hand, is something quite different, and may actually be all
the better because of it. This "package film" (a term borrowed from the 1940's Disney releases MAKE MINE MUSIC, FUN & FANCY FREE, etc.) provides the animators the opportunity to experiment with various animation techniques and aesthetic styles. Each featurette, handled by different directors, is loosely tied together with various shots of the quirkiest film projector I've ever seen in any movie.
The first featurette which opens this anthology, "Kanini and Kanino", handled by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is an absolutely breathtaking and imaginative underwater fantasy about a pint-sized family who wield staffs with crab claws (shades of THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY) who dwell at the bottom of the sea of all places. The titular characters are two siblings who are separated from their parents and set off on a journey to find them. This featurette is the only one of the three not to receive a dub, and interestingly, is rather limited with dialogue, giving the picture a bit of a semi-silent film treatment. (There are occasions where the characters call out each other's names.) This short mixes traditional animation with computer generated imagery to realize both its underwater environment and the monstrous fishes who cast ominous shadows above our tiny heroes.
After this stunner, we shift gears to a more down-to-earth, slice-of-life kind of tale, aptly named, "Life Ain't Gonna Lose." Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, this short is based on an actual true story about a little boy who is lethally allergic to eggs. His mother strives to support him while managing her career as a dancer, and the boy must eat special foods and avoid getting contact with egg yolk. It's a very relatable and nearly heart wrenching tale. The animation here is a bit more like a watercolor-painting style, but the short is no less impactful for it. This dubbed version features the voice of Maggie Q as the boy's mother.
The final tale, and arguably the gloomiest, is Akihito Yamashita's "Invisible", in which we follow a man who is literally invisible to everyone around him. All we see is his coat, hat, glasses, shoes, and gloves. He needs to carry a weight in order to stay on the ground, because otherwise he will float away. He does good deeds, but is unnoticed by others... until he sees a runaway baby's carriage. This short is animated in the classic hand drawn style, and with more shadowy colors. Again, dialogue is sparse in this short, but not to the same degree as in the first.
All three featurettes showcase the visual range of Studio Ponoc in ways that will leave you eager to come back for more and more. Interestingly, after the showing I went to, an interview with Ponoc producer Yoshiaki Nishimura aired, who expressed the need to try to stand out from other studios in Japan. His solution--to try to push the limits of animation and make their movies the kind that kids would enjoy and would also inspire adults. It's very rare to see animation studios today with this kind of thinking. Bravo to Studio Ponoc for making the approach. It will be very interesting to see what they do next. If you ever get a chance to see MODEST HEROES, I strongly suggest you do so, and without hesitation.