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The Locarno International Film Festival has joined with Italy’s National Cinema Museum in Turin to present a unique event dedicated to Japanese animated film, exploring both more commercial and independent output, from the earliest times to the contemporary scene. The event features a retrospective, a series of international premieres, an exhibition, a book, an on-line shorts competition and a website. A special space reserved for industry professionals and experts in the field is also be set up to showcase works still in production or close to completion.
Built on a synergetic partnership between two prestigious institutions – international festival and film museum – Manga Impact attempts to map out a territory whose borders are still disputed, covering some terrain which is usually the exclusive preserve of the genre’s most devoted fans – the otaku, the anime geeks who haunt the Akihabara district in Tokyo, and specialized video and book stores across Europe. But the aim of Manga Impact is to address movie fans of all kinds, introducing them to a world which has a language and aesthetics all its own, while at the same time maintaining the excellent research standards which have always distinguished retrospectives in both Locarno and Turin.
The name Manga Impact evokes the shockwaves felt when films and TV series first made their way into Western homes and theaters, market by market, in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the UK and USA, throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Titles such as Goldrake, Speed Racer (Mach 5) and Akira, to mention but three, revolutionized young people’s mental schedules, leaving their mark with a new language and emotionally charged iconography. Many of their elders (parents, television critics, programmers, opinion leaders and adults in general) responded to the shock of the new products with direct hostility. Their incomprehension led to accusations of banality, violence and perverse ethics.
To some extent, things are different now. Young people have grown up with these images in mind, producing a different climate of receptiveness to a pulsating, multi-faceted industry. The ‘manga universe’ itself has become more clearly structured, subdividing product by reference audience and releasing a range of offerings that is quite staggering in terms of both quantity and quality. “Manga” – as we continue to call it for convenience’s sake – has established a firm hold, in a process that is less visible but more widespread.
The idea of the retrospective with its sixty or so programs, each lasting roughly two hours, is to give some idea of the complexity of the universe of Japanese animation: from the early animated films of the 1920s (recently restored by the National Film Centre) to the full-length features of the 1960s (still little known to Western audiences); from Studio Ghibli productions to the contemporary independent scene. It will also provide an opportunity to view on film and on the big screen a number of anime classics which have been relegated entirely to the home video circuit in the West. The retrospective will take a transverse approach. In our view the best way to present the extraordinary wealth of this universe, and to make sure that audiences, especially newcomers, are not overwhelmed and confused by its variety, is to map out several clear routes through the material that will act as parallel – and occasionally intersecting – lines of interpretation. Taken together, the programs will offer an outstanding overview of a phenomenon which reveals much about style, society and culture in modern Japan.
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