Studio Ponoc’s Modest Heroes Review: A superb start for Studio Ponoc’s short film anthology series
It’s pretty rare when I get to see a series of short films in theaters and, honestly, it’s easy to just associate the form of filmmaking with Pixar. However, Studio Ponoc, a highly acclaimed anime studio filled with former Studio Ghibli creators, looks to change the landscape of short films with an anthology series of short films from directors and filmmakers across the Japanese landscape. Their first outing, Modest Heroes, shares three incredible films that not only touch upon certain struggles in life, but also easily touch viewers’ hearts.
Kanini & Kanino
The first short film from director Hiromasa Yonebayashi tells the story of two brothers, Kanini and Kanino, who come from a group of magical creatures that live in a stream. Surrounded by giant fish and separated from both of their parents, the two set out on a small adventure to reunite with them.
The film is beautifully animated and has some imaginative moments with its creatures outside of its tiny heroes. The other creatures of the stream not only bring some scary moments that will make viewers fearful for Kanini and Kanino, but also some funny moments that will make viewers laugh.
The story of Kanini & Kanino is incredibly interesting and unique compared to the other short films as it’s a story that is told with very little words. Most of the character development and emotions are told through actions and it makes it a story of adventure and gaining maturity that isn’t like many others. I did find myself not connecting with what’s happening from time to time and needing to adjust to it a little bit, but the adjustment came quick and it’s easy to feel an emotional attachment to them.
Life Ain’t Gonna Lose
The next short film took on a more realistic story as it follows a young child, Saru, who suffers from a deadly egg allergy that plagues his daily life. With his mom constantly juggling both Saru’s food allergy and assuring that he can live a mostly normal life, the relationship between Saru and his mother can be quite stressful, but their love for one another is never lost.
This film was easily the most emotional of the three short films and captures its viewer’s hearts right from the beginning. It’s nearly impossible to fight back tears as seeing what happens when Saru interacts with anything egg related will make your heart sink.
Saru, though, never displays this as a struggle and is portrayed in a very mature light. Saru is aware of his issue, but never lets it drag him down or make the film feel overtly depressing. Rather, the film feels more uplifting as Saru and his mother desire to work with his illness and create a more pleasant life.
The film also feels unique to me as it covers a story that isn’t really seen much in American movies. Fatal food allergies are never really talked about in film and are especially never really associated with children on-screen. That’s what makes Life Ain’t Gonna Lose so impactful to those who watch it as it sheds some light on what the real issues are for kids and parents that suffer from this kind of illness.
The last short film focuses on a man who is completely invisible to everyone around him. The film basically just focuses on his daily life and struggles to connect with people and depicts him as literally an invisible man.
The animation in Invisible is absolutely amazing and seeing movement come from an invisible man was eye-catching. Seeing him do simple tasks like typing on a keyboard or pushing down the pedals on his moped is fascinating to see. There’re also moments where shades of his face are shown through cuts and rain that nicely touch on his growth to being no longer feeling invisible.
Many will find Invisible is incredibly relatable and a little sad to see someone struggling to be noticed and struggle to get by because of it. There’s no worse feeling than that of being ignored and Invisible touches on it in some simple ways with him being ignored by co-workers and, in some ways, the universe itself with automatic doors not even recognizing his presence. All of this adds up to an ending that’s both tense and heart-warming.
Studio Ponoc has truly shown how impactful to filmmaking they truly can be with Modest Heroes and why short film shouldn’t be so overlooked. All three films are excellent and really display true struggles in life. Studio Ponoc’s short film future looks good though, considering that Modest Heroes is labeled as Volume 1 so hopefully we won’t have too long so see what else Studio Ponoc has in store.
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