Storytelling is an age old art. From the moment that time began, people have wanted record of the events that transpire. Such is history. But stories go a step beyond that, exploring situations that may not have existed and using them to convey a message. Or just create a sense of enjoyment. But what makes a story? Is it the dialogue of characters? Is it the path that they follow? Is it the visuals that media utilises? The sound? Short answer; it’s all of these and none of these. It’s whatever you want it to be and it’s however you want to show it.
First things first, Short Peace is not a concurrent film. It is a collection of four short films that each exist unto themselves and possess their own inherent personality. That being said, each is linked together by one overarching theme; Japan. Though set throughout various points in time, from the distant past to the ever further distant future, all of these adventures take place in the Land of the Rising Sun. The first details a particularly strange night in the life of a travelling craftsmen who, seeking shelter from a storm, finds himself amongst a number of Tsukumogami (objects that have come to life after 100 years). The second explores a rather sad tale of a firefighter in ancient Japan and the woman who cares for him. The next shifts focus a little and depicts and absolutely brutal fight between a polar bear and an Oni, whilst the final jumps into the future and pits a team of soldiers against a nigh indestructible robot tank. Though the final of the collection stands the furthest apart, it is still inherently a Japanese short, featuring more than a little of that anime flair.
The first thing that you’ll notice when jumping between stories is the animation techniques utilised by each. For example, Combustible (the firefighter story) is presented in the style of an animated scroll, with ornate borders letterboxing the entire short. The visuals themselves are also feature characters who would appear at home on said scroll and an odd, almost top down viewpoint, completing the traditional look and immediately expressing its origins. For the remaining three shorts, CG animation is utilised heavily, forming the entirety of Possessions (the Tsukumogami story) and the majority of Gambo (polar bear vs Oni) and A Farewell to Weapons (soldier vs robot tank). Though rendered entirely by this technique, the main character of Possessions possesses a noticeably cartoonish face. This is by no means a complaint, as the facial style helped sell the charm of the story and the benevolent nature of such a quiet protagonist. Said style carried over to the Tsukumogami themselves which, combined with the vibrant colours, bestowed a great deal of personality onto these once inanimate objects.
Shifting to Gambo, the art style takes on a decidedly fuzzy appearance, as if the CG is being viewed through mild static. However, the most notable facet of this short is the sheer brutality of it. It’s not everyday that you witness a polar bear take on a demon of Japan but let me tell you, they hold nothing back. Combined with the sound of bones crushing and the primal screams of demon and bear alike, this story is one of raw brutality, though for a noble cause. Though incomparable to Gambo, A Farewell to Weapons also features a particularly intense battle sequence that is presented in a way that really drives it point home. Namely, that humans and machines are inherently different, conveyed through a combination of classic 2D animation (for the humans) and CG (for the machines). It also serves to keep the visuals fresh and interesting throughout, though the fact that there’s a killer robot tank certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Though dialogue is not a prevalent in most shorts, it does take a central role in A Farewell to Weapons. Though even then, it is still rather succinct. Regardless, the English dub cast does a great job at presenting each character. With all that being said, the collection relies mostly on its soundtrack to carry emotion. One of the most powerful uses of music comes in the climax of Combustion, wherein the raging inferno is overlayed by the sound of increasingly intense drumbeats. Whilst selling the drama of this event perfectly, it also serves to bolster the traditional feel of the short. In a similar vein, the final short opens with an awesome rock song that immediately captures the mood and sets it apart from the three that preceded it.
Short Peace is a brilliant collection of four little stories that are presented in their own unique way. Despite their short length, each does an excellent job of capturing and exploring a story from start to finish. It’s honestly pretty interesting to see how much meaning and plot can be conveyed through such a compact and limited medium. Between the shift in styles and the jumps through time periods, each manages to keep you entertained for its own reason and grasps its own foothold within the greater theme at play. Between the haunted objects, spreading flames, polar bears, Onis, soldiers and robots, you’re bound to wind up feeling something. Whether it’s excited, happy, sad or shocked however is up to you. Such is storytelling, something that these four directors captured in its entirety.
Head over to Hanabee and watch these stories unfold