Takeshi Yashiro Shorts
Michael Potts | 4/12/2020
Four short episodes of (mostly) whimsy and magic, the Japanese Film Festival’s collection of stop-motion shorts directed by Takeshi Yashiro are sure to be a hit with kids and anyone who is a kid at heart.
JFF 2020 has put together a compilation of four works by Taskeshi Yashiro, which include:
Gon, the Little Fox (2019);
Norman the Snowman: On a Night of Shooting Stars (2016);
Moon of a Sleepless Night (2015); and
Norman the Snowman: The Northern Lights (2013).
Each follows its own story, though the two Norman the Snowman shorts feature the same characters, though all are presented in the same stop-motion style.
Gon, the Little Fox tells the tale of an orphaned fox who attempts to comfort a young man, Hyoju, whose mother passes away and who is chastised by others for being weak. Moon of a Sleepless Night chronicles the journey of a boy who meets a squirrel from the moon and goes with him to release the moon from a tree in which it is stuck. Each of the Norman the Snowman shorts follow a boy and his snowman friend as they go on adventures and learn more about the world.
With the exception of Gon, all of these stories are gentle, wholesome tales about growing up, each delightful in their own way. Gon, on the other hand, is a heavier and much more tragic narrative, and is fittingly scripted in a more mature way, though of course it is not without its own brightness and levity.
Of note is that each of the Norman the Snowman shorts presented by JFF are dubbed in English, whereas the other two are voiced in the original Japanese with English subtitles. In that vein, it is possible to detect a stiffness in the dialogue writing for the dubs, where the transition into spoken English has ended with the loss of some of the original flow, and this also comes across in a detectable woodenness from some of the voice cast. As a more general comment, there are some odd scripting choices at times across all four shorts, but in totality they are few and far between. These are by no means fatal flaws, but it is noticeable particularly when watching all four shorts in quick succession.
However, the main draw of these productions is the animation and that is certainly a great strength and of itself makes this collection worth watching. The human models are all created with wooden heads, but this does not present an obstacle to the conveyance of emotions for Yashiro. Indeed, the detail of the models and the performances of the voice cast together produce something which is more affective than the sum of its parts. The quality of the stop-motion in Gon, the Little Fox, in particular, is worthy of significant praise particularly in the natural and fluid way that the characters interact with their environment.
Watching these short films was a delight and the collective magic of the productions makes insignificant the small imperfections.