Scotland Loves Anime 2012: Day 1

Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright (Gyakuten Saiban) kicked off the Scotland Loves Anime Glasgow weekend at the Glasgow Film Theatre. An odd choice - a live action film pistol-starting an animation festival - a state of affairs not lost on the imitable Jonathan Clements who provided a brief introduction and set the context for the film.

I was reliably informed by the GFT's staff that the event had sold out, and with nary a spare seat in sight it was a difficult claim to dispute. When it came to the question of who had played the games, nearly everyone's hand in the auditorium shot skyward, myself excluded. A ten minute playtest of the Japanese DS version (which bizarrely had English subtitles) when it came out hardly constituted familiarity with the Phoenix's court-room pointing simulator.

Short and to the point, Jonathan covered Takashi Miike's work schedule (brutal), the film's take on the legal system and "the exotic west" underlying theme as well as the film's delivery on DigiBeta tapes meaning a brief changeover halfway through the film (the projectionist wordlessly indicated twenty seconds, Jonathan estimated four minutes). The most interesting element though was on gift giving in Japan (and likely other far east countries), specifically the subtext for different presents.

For instance, gifting a knife meant you wanted to "cut" the friendship, a hankerchief meant that sorrow was in the person's future, while a clock was particularly inauspicious and indicated the person would die soon. Relevant to the opening case of the film and a look at an aspect of Japanese culture that would be easily overlooked by anyone not informed such a system even existed.

The film itself was rapturously received with guffaws from all round which made even some of the more oblique, off-the-wall antics enjoyable. At close to two and half hours it was far from short but despite the quirky take on an "action scene" it zipped by. The twenty second (ahem!) changeover halfway through caught some audience members out, believing they could sneak to the toilet and not miss a thing.

Subtitles were for the most part superb despite a few oddities in translation ("dirty pool!") and grammar. The use of the western names (Phoenix, Edgeworth etc.) was, for someone not invested in the games, a most puzzling choice. Having a character on-screen talk to a bird called Sayuri only for it to appear as "Polly" in text is... disconcerting. Similarly the visual quality seemed to take a dip in the final half an hour despite a near flawless presentation beforehand, but it couldn't distract from the fun and games going on.

Rounding off the day with a late showing of Tokyo Fish Attack (Gyo) with Jonathan again taking introductory duties. He had followed the advice he had given the audience at the beginning of Ace Attorney of getting drunk before watching Gyo ("because that's certainly what all of the animators did"); this meant his introduction was a little more jovial and a little more animated than usual. His excuse was the guests for tomorrow's screening of the K-On movie encouraged him, however that seemed a dubious excuse at best.

Regardless, the introduction covered the context the film was produced against - namely the Tohoku earthquake of 2011 which explains all of the references to rotting fish (energy supply limitation meant no air conditioning) and the "terror from the sea" imagery. The liberal sampling of American B-movie horror tropes was explained as an exploration of what Western audiences consider entertaining; that the movie is at once a disaster, horror, creature-feature and zombie movie, it's hard not to agree.

The audience had noticeably thinned since Ace Attorney but were no less engaged, laughing at the absurdities and increasingly surreal antics going on. It seems the promise of an animated monster movie was too much for some of the GFT's staff who I caught slipping into the audience, though they seemed unimpressed (and perhaps a little disturbed) hearing their opinions afterwards.

Quality was spot on and the subtitles were for the most part spot on despite some obvious kinks (like claiming a plane was landing despite not having taken off yet...). As was said during the introduction, this is not Citizen Kane so grammar perfect subtitles were not needed.

A brilliant way to kick off over a week of films and activities: two films which show you can be quirky and bizarre in different ways and still be raucously entertaining. I doubt either film would have had much impact were it not for the receptive audience, laughing along at the sight of mutant zombie sharks or the Blue Badger intervening in a court case.

Roll on the weekend.