This review is dedicated to Noboru Ishiguro, the legendary director of SDF Macross, Megazone 23, Legend of Galactic heroes, and the founder of Artland, the studio responsible for modern hits such as Mushishi and Katekyo Hitman REBORN!!, who died of lung infection last year in March 2012 at the age of 73. 'Pattenrai!! Minami no Shima no Mizu Monogatari' (or 'Yoichi Hatta - the father of Chianan Canal') was his last directorial work.
‘Pattenrai!!’ is based on the true story of Yoichi Hatta, a Japanese civil engineer who designed the Chianan Canal and Wushantou Reservoir in Japanese occupied Taiwan before the second World War, changing the barren southern region into one of Taiwan's most fertile lands.
The story is told through the perspectives of two friends, A-Wen and Chin-yi , who grow up during the years that the canal is constructed, and shows how each of their lives are affected, directly or indirectly, by Yoichi Hatta and the Chianan Canal project. ‘A-Wen’ is the son of a poor Taiwanese farmer in Chianan, who at first shares his father’s mistrust of Hatta and his project, but is later inspired by Hatta to become a civil engineer and take part in his project. ‘Chin-yi’ is the son of a Japanese who works for Construction and Forest Agency but later joins Yoichi Hatta’s Canal project as an engineer.
The movie roughly covers the years that it took to construct the canal, from 1917 to 1930, following the construction of the project and the effect that it has on the people of the region, and especially these two friends. The story of these two kids adds a flavor of slice of life to the historical period drama.
There are some who say that Pattenrai!! is at least borderline propaganda material, meant to promote the now archaic Japanese nationalist sentiments. They say or suggest this because of the history between the two countries and their mutual mistrust, which is present (to some extent) till this day in the current south china sea dispute. A review I read on the internet points out how odd it is that a Japanese production would be made to pay tribute to the Japanese Engineer, when in fact he is more of Taiwan’s hero and lived most of his life there in Taiwan with his family. However, nothing in the movie suggests that there is any propaganda material, and it seems that the movie was made with all the best intentions.
The movie does not criticize nor glorify imperial Japan, or expose the evils that Japanese committed in Taiwan; that is not the intent. It is not a realistic period drama that covers these political aspects. Instead it emphasizes on putting aside all differences and working for the improvement of human beings through science, technology, hard work, and sheer will-power. Yoichi Hatta of the movie believes strongly in his project and the changes it will bring. At one point, A-Wen asks him why he is doing something that will help the people of the land when he is not Taiwanese, and he replies that it does not matter where he comes from, the sea and the water are the heritage of all mankind.
After digging up on the internet, I found out that the movie was used as part of an effort to get Chianan Canal and Wushantou reservoir recognized as world heritage sites. It created some buzz in Taiwan when it was given special screenings attended by political figures, including president and former president of Taiwan. This was eventually followed by the inauguration of the Yoichi Hatta Memorial Park on 8 May 2011 near Wushantou reservoir in Tainan city, on the 69th anniversary of the passing of Yoichi Hatta. The history of the canal and its designer especially after WWII makes for an interesting read and is worth checking out.
The best part of Pattenrai!! is the ending, when the canal is finally completed and the water starts flowing through the barren and arid lands. After the end, as the credits roll, we are led through the events that follow, including the tragic death of Yoichi Hatta and his wife during the second world war, and how they are still remembered and honored in Taiwan till this day.
Pattenrai!! is a low budget project that is doomed to be unpopular, and not without good reason. Its style and content make it unsuitable for mass audience, and it will only appeal to anime fans who like realistic historical drama. Its animation is mediocre at best. Its music is nothing to write home about, and It is far from masterpiece material. It is not anything spectacular or moving, and some may even find it dull or boring. Its plot has not been ‘realistically’ executed in the sense that you would expect in a live action movie, but has been adopted with anime specific ethos and sensibilities. One might say that the content of the movie would have been more suitable for live action or even a documentary, but I suppose animation is a more cheaper and ‘safer’ option considering the purpose of the movie. But it is a decent movie all the same, one that is worth checking out by those who are interested in historical drama.