It’s Anime Week at Row House Cinema, and the highlight of the four-film program of Japanese animation is the Pittsburgh premiere of Napping Princess.
Kenji Kamiyama’s film mixes genres — action, fantasy, coming-of-age — into an entertaining hybrid that revolves around a nascent technology familiar to Pittsburghers: autonomous vehicles. It’s 2020, and a big auto manufacturer wants to have its driverless vehicles featured at the Tokyo Olympics. To that end, it has thugs abduct a provincial mechanic who seems to know a bit about high-tech cars. Meanwhile, his teenage daughter Kokone is napping and indulging in fantastical reveries in which she is the imprisoned magically inclined princess of Eastpolis, a place entirely dominated by 24-hour automobile manufacturing.
If you’re an anime fan, you won’t be surprised to learn these two storylines intertwine, despite one being set in reality and the other in a young girl’s head. Napping Princess offers nods to similarly themed man-and-machine works such as Metropolis, Transformers and assorted mecha tales. (There is also a well-sourced shout-out to Carnegie Mellon University, which we all know is a hub of autonomous-vehicle research.) At almost two hours, the film feels a wee bit padded, but be sure to sit through the credits for some sweet and critical backstory.
Also on the Row House program is Satoshi Kon’s 2003 film Tokyo Godfathers. While this film may bear some resemblance to the 1948 three-cowboys-and-a-baby Western The Three Godfathers, John Ford’s film sure didn’t feature a touching scene in a bar full of old drag queens. On a snowy Christmas in Tokyo, a homeless trio — a middle-aged alcoholic man, an aging weepy transvestite and a teen-age runaway — discover an abandoned baby girl, and take great pains and greater risks to return the child to her mother. In their journey — through alleys, hospitals and empty office buildings — they bond as a quirky family and discover real joy despite their impoverished circumstances. This film is by turns comic, sentimental and obvious, but as always the animation is beautiful, especially the glittery canyons of Tokyo, its streets emptied by the season and muted by falling snow.
The Boy and the Beast is Mamoru Hosoda’s 2015 adventure about an orphaned boy who stumbles into a world of magical animals and becomes the apprentice of a gruff warrior beast. Naturally, a father-son relationship develops.
And lastly, there is this oldie, Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise. In Hiroyuki Yamaga’s philosophical science-fiction film, two rival nations engage in a race for military prowess, including a quest to pilot a rocket. The 1987 film is noted for its particularly well executed and detailed animation.