Just got home from watching Kamiyama Kenji’s latest movie, Ancien and the Magic Tablet, or Hirune-hime ~ Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari. It’s good. But this is what I wanted to spam all the time after the film was over:
Light spoilers ahead.
The movie takes place largely in Okayama. The main heroine sports a lovely local accent and it gave the whole movie a distinctive Okayama feel. Did you know the first Honda motor vehicle, a motorcycle, is called “Dream”? Or how wings prominently features in Honda’s logos and sappy slogans? There are like a dozen other things, some not about Honda, that I could point out. Some are outright Kamiyama signatures such as his somewhat heavy-handed references at the things Eden of the East has addressed, but let’s leave that aside for now.
The screening I attended also had a quick Q&A with the director afterwards, and in NYCIFF style some kids got to ask some good questions! This is the best part of the festival, year in and year out. I mention this just so I can add the tidbit that this film is made from the perspective of a movie Kamiyama would leave as a message or work for his daughter, so some of the things made a lot of sense after that explanatory comment after the film.
Ancien did its best during the adventure segments. It’s like some of the more riveting scenes during Eden, where it’s about Jason Bourne slash protagonist trying to do magic by getting away on creative car and foot chases. Or more specifically in Ancien where the heroine in her dream would get into these adventure set pieces with her pet plushie, Joy (fully voiced by a Granblue-Fantastic-Kugimiya Rie). Those were good, in fact I love all the scenes with Joy in it. The movie has a dream versus reality track sort of thing, where the story would slip into dream mode with the protagonists in tow, sometimes when they are not even dreaming. I thought Kamiyama did justice with this schtik as well.
The problem I have with Ancien, and I recognize it might just be me, is every other scene I want to spam some factoid about Honda or autonomous driving because, somehow, the movie is about Honda and autonomous driving. I would rate this movie a whole grade up if it…wasn’t about either of these? Well, on the surface it isn’t! But who are they kidding com’on. I don’t make those 3-panel memes but I think it is well justified here. I went to see Ancien and the Magic Tablet (spoiler alert: it is a tablet as you expect), I expected dream-like adventures, instead I got a spiel about Japan’s inability to modernize itself, where the auto industry is used as an example of where it fails to do so.
I am glad Kamiyama repped CMU in the film, so there’s that. Those DARPA teams FTW! You know he did his research. But at the same time I’m glad he was trying to tell a story to the adults in the audience–hopefully those of us who can pick out an allegory from the first few lines will have a homing beacon to take us through the film if all the references to Honda falls by the wayside.
The visuals are top notch, I guess this goes without saying. The CG use is great in that they took a few cool shots thanks to it. One particularly sticks out in my head is the one when Kokone was running through the fantasy cityscape and climbing her way up to a vantage point. There are some mix of steampunk-inspired scenes, some out of Okayama’s rural sights, and the occasional hustle and bustle from the big cities. There were a lot of car designs, so there’s something cool in that. There are also some neat motorcycle designs, including the one special motorcycle (in real life). The way it moved towards the end did remind me of those pesky Tachikomas, LOL. For the soundtrack nerds out there Shimomura pulled in another Final Fantasy 15 soundtrack so you can rest assured.
To wrap it up, it’s a good movie where fantasy and steam-SF mix in a reality that sometimes can be fantastic, but that’s also the point? The movie has strong thematic notes, but when it’s so busy on the narrative foreground you might not always pick them up. I liked how the solution proposed here is by having your daughter talk to your grandfather, because this one resonates with me, out of all the answers you can give. Ancien’s Japanese title loosely translate to “Napping Princess ~ the story I did not know” and I think that does less to give you the wrong expectation (or right expectation? I don’t know) going in. If you have kids, this is one to bring them to see, and it’s not usual for Kamiyama to hand one of those in for his assignments!