Run entirely by volunteers, the Asian Film Festival of Dallas once again earned my admiration for putting together a wonderful show this year. That being said, I must admit that battling 70 minutes of bumper to bumper traffic in a torrential downpour did not put me in a good mood to enjoy a very quiet, slow-paced piece of animation on the closing night of the fest. But it's a measure of Japanese filmmaker Makoto Shinkai's artistry that his latest project, 5 Centimeters Per Second, held me in its grip for the entire running time of 63 minutes.

Shinkai first stirred up excitement in 2002 with the short film Voices of a Distant Star, which he animated entirely by himself on his home computer. He followed that up with the feature-length The Place Promised in Our Early Days in 2004. What all his films hold in common is a fragile, poetic beauty. While the backgrounds are incredibly detailed (and gorgeous), his character designs avoid the trap of photo-realism. I'm not an art or anime expert, but to my untrained eyes his images are reminiscent of watercolors, with few sharp edges and a soft-focus feel. His stories so far have also been consistent, exploring themes of isolation, loneliness and romantic yearning from the point of view of young people struggling with their feelings.

Three episodes are linked in 5 Centimeters Per Second; all endeavor to dig into the idea of distance both in physical and emotional terms. Once again, Shinkai has created a passel of indelible images -- a train slowly traveling through a snowy landscape, a determined girl on a surfboard, a disconsolate teenage boy with a cigarette dangling from his hand -- that linger long after the film is over. This is arthouse anime at its finest, much more concerned with mood and feeling than plot or action.

South Korean gambling flick Tazza: The High Rollers was the final film shown. Somehow I had the impression that Tazza would be a dark, sweeping epic, but instead it's kitchen sink entertainment, with the filmmakers stitching together guns, blood, goofy humor, vehicular mayhem and even a breathtaking behind and breasts (thank you, Kim Hye-su) for good measure. The narrative becomes incoherent, the pace slackens and speeds up irregularly, and character motivations change inexplicably. It's a bewildering mess, but I suppose it's all in good fun, and there are certainly worse ways to spend 128 minutes.
categories Cinematical