Ji Chang is an excellent archer that strives to be the best in the world. He looks for a certain man that is capable of shooting a leaf from a distance. He decides to make this man his master. He visits his master occasionally over the years for training. He eventually masters the techniques of the bow and decides to head out for the mountains in search of an old man with supernatural abilities.
Kihachiro Kawamoto, (who sadly passed away in 2010) has put substantial effort into producing this beauty of a short animation. Based on a story by Atsushi Nakajima, To Shoot Without Shooting details the trials of a aspiring archer. And it tells this story in a surprising yet uplifting way. It's a beautiful little animation, grounded in matters of the mind; not matters of wobbling breasts or huge mechas like most anime.
The plot is very much based on Chinese myths, it reminds me very much of Monkey for instance, but the ministrations our hero goes through are more humbling and humanising. By the end of the
anime we have come to an appreciation of not only our characters situations, but life itself. Incredibly enjoyable. The animation is set in a historical Chinese village, and while it does not consider some consistencies such as how this archer makes a living, it plays out very well and gives a really satisfying feeling to the viewer on completion.
The art is the most striking part of To Shoot Without Shooting. Kawamoto is particularly famous for his puppetry; which is on display here. In addition to stop motion puppetry however, there's large amounts of different environmental effects, for instance snow, applied in both digital and manual procedures. It's a technical feat, and really quite amazing. For instance there's a threading machine shown, and it's visibly tiny, yet it's been laboriously made to look perfect. While some people may find the idea of miniatures just a bit of a cheap trick; it has effectively awed me. And; these puppets of Kawamoto's, with their little head shakes and so forth, yet no mouth flaps, often seems to transmit more emotions than a more realistic style of animation. The actual art, is very reminiscent of period Chinese works, and while it isn't original or anything, it is impressive. The landscapes especially are pleasing to the eye at times.
Sound I don't think could be faulted. The sound effects are perfect; and the musical pieces chosen as points seem highly suitable, and meld seamlessly into the background. The voice acting was done all by one person; that may be the only weakness. As such, each character is not so different from each other, however, this use might actually be contributing to the effectiveness of the production by using one omniscient voice in a evidential style.
Concerning enjoyment? It was wonderful. It gave me a smile as I watched. I'm sure it will for you too. Kawamoto's other works suffer from a less buoyant narrative, and the cut out animation in Tabi for instance, is less impressive, making To Shoot Without Shooting quite a unique work, and frankly, criminally underwatched. Do yourself a favour; if you haven't yet, go and watch it now.