Friday, January 5, 2018

Anime DVDs You May Have Missed: “Stormy Night”

Japanese Title: Arashi no Yoru ni (Stormy Night)
Publisher: Asia Video Publishing (Hong Kong)
Format: Region 3 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional Cantonese dub and English and Chinese Subtitles
Length: 105 minutes
Production Date: 2005
English Version Release Date: 10 November 2006
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

Note: Originally published on the “Anime Archivist” blog May 2014.

Besides films by Studio Ghibli and Mamoru Hosoda, family and children’s anime films are generally ignored by western anime fandom as a whole. Luckily GKids has taken up the slack and are releasing a number of these films as limited theatrical releases in the US, however not a great deal of these films have made it to home video so far for whatever reason. Occasionally an English subtitled script made for limited or film festival screenings will end up on a foreign release DVD or Blu-ray. It’s in those rare moments that anime fans have an opportunity to legitimately see some of these films. Out of the blue in 2006 came a Hong Kong English subtitled release of this children’s movie, “Stormy Night”, a film that will probably never see the light of day on video in English elsewhere.

The film follows a young male goat named Mei, who lives in a forest with the rest of his flock. Mei is grazing on a grassy hill one afternoon with number of goats when a thunderstorm blows in. Mei, who is terrified by thunder and lightning, gets separated from his companions and ends up taking shelter inside an abandoned barn. In the pitch blackness of the barn, Mei hears what he assumes is hooves of another goat entering the barn to take shelter. It is in fact a slightly injured wolf named Gav who is using an improvised crutch made from a tree branch to move about. Unable to see or smell each other and assuming the other is of their own species, the pair strike up a conversation and discover they have a lot in common. Both lost their mother at an early age and were skinny during childhood. Things are going so well that they agree to meet up again the next day in front of the barn for a picnic. They agree to use the password “stormy night” so they can recognise each other. The storm finally passes by daybreak. Gav leaves first, but Mei’s legs have fallen asleep so he can’t leave with Gav. As a result the two never see each other.

The following day arrives and Mei returns to the barn. He’s a little early, so he decides to hide behind a tree nearby and surprise Gav. Gav soon turns up and sees the grass moving around the base of the tree and realises that Mei is hiding behind it. He decides to sneak up and surprise him. Mei hears Gav moving closer towards the tree and jumps out. As the two of them yell out “stormy night” they see who each other really are and are astonished. For whatever reason Gav doesn’t eat Mei and Mei doesn’t attempt to flee. They decide to still have their picnic up on top of grassy field on top of a small mountain. On the path up the mountain, Gav accidently loses the lunch he was carrying around his neck in a piece of cloth. Unfortunately he starts salivating and dreaming of eating Mei and has to fight himself several times to avoid devouring the small goat. Despite Gav’s hunger, the two of them strike up another friendly conversation. Though there are some awkward moments, such as Mei asking if Gav eats goats, to which he lies and says no, the two of them steadily become friends. However Gav’s hunger gets the better of him and as Mei is walking away he attempts to attack him. But Mei turns around which stops Gav in his tracks. Gav tries to cover up his attack up by asking if they can meet again on Zephyr Pass. Mei happily agrees.

The day of their next meeting arrives, but Mei is caught out leaving the flock. Though he explains that he is going to Zephyr Pass to meet a friend, his grandmother forces him to go with two friends, Tap and Mee, as a precaution as previously wolves have attacked goats there. Gav has arrived early at the meeting place and hides in bushes when he spots the other two goats with Mei. Tap decides to boast about his knowledge of wolves and shows off some defensive moves, accidently kicking Gav in the heads who is still hiding. Gav jumps out and screams in pain, scaring off Tap and Mee. Gav and Mei laugh off the incident and decide to meet yet again, this time at Rocky Bluff. Unfortunately when Gav returns to his pack, the leader, Gil, tells the pack of a new plan to capture goats by going to Rocky Bluff. Luckily it’s a foggy day and Gav manages to save Mei from a member of his own pack. The pair hold up inside a cave until the danger is over.

Back at the goat’s flock, an elderly female goat recounts her near death experience at Rocky Bluff. She also recounts to the disbelieving flock that she witnessed Mei run away with a wolf. Mei is questioned in front of the entire flock by the goat elder. He admits he is friends with Gav and tries to defend his friendship by saying he’s a good guy. The entire flock is shocked. They can’t understand how they could be friends and suspect Gav is tricking Mei. The elder goat decides he should meet with Gav one more time in an attempt to find out where the wolf pack plants to hunt. Mei feels a little ashamed and begins to question his friendship with Gav. He feels he has no real option but to follow the elder’s orders and meets up with Gav beside the river. A rainstorm blows in and Gav spies a cave on the other side. He suggests to Mei they take shelter there. While attempting to cross the river by jumping on rocks, Mei falls in and Gav franticly saves him. Resting on a rock in the middle of the river, they both confess to each other that their respective flocks/packs found out about their friendship and have cornered them into spying on each other. Both believe in their friendship with each other and don’t want to be separated. Gav suggests they should escape and the pair of them jump into the raging river. The goat flock and wolf pack, who have both been watching Gav and Mei, gasp in astonishment. Gil and the rest of the pack vows to track down and punish Gav for his betrayal.

This film is based upon a series of seven picture books written by Yuichi Kimura and illustrated by Hiroshi Abe. The first book, “One Stormy Night” was released in 1994 and was an unexpected hit. Kimura was encouraged to write more with “One Sunny Day” following in 1996 and a further five books between 1997 and 2005. An annual stage musical began in 1997 and was followed by this feature film in 2005, a drama CD in 2006 and a follow up CG animated TV series “One Stormy Night: Secret Friends” in 2012, which was directed by Tetsuro Amino (director of “Iria – Zeiram the Animation”, “Macross 7” and “Shiki”). The 2005 film on this DVD, was directed by Gisaburo Sugii, who has directed a wide range of very diverse anime in his career including the 1984 version of “Glass Mask”, “Touch”, “Night on the Galactic Railroad”, “The Tale of Genji” and “Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie”. The film was produced by the recently defunct Group TAC who produced a number of diverse and plain odd projects including “Black Blood Brothers”, “Viewtiful Joe” and two of Japanese cult Happy Science’s bizarre anime films (which I will be having a look at sometime down the track).

For a film based on a series of picture books and aimed at young children, as an adult I found it to be really entertaining. I’ve always felt that western children’s entertainment is overly sanitised, especially modern day stuff. To a large degree Japanese children’s entertainment isn’t. Take the opening scene of this film which is quite dark and somewhat violent. It follows the wolves hunting a goat pack. We see a child Mei and his mother being stalked by the wolves. She encourages him to flee and rips off the ear of the pack’s leader in order to save Mei (and yes, you see the wolf’s bloody ear flying across the screen). But despite her efforts, she soon succumbs to the pack’s attack and is surrounded by the wolves who eat her. While the death of Mei’s mother isn’t graphic, we are left with no doubt as to what is happening, with a long overhead shot of the wolves gathered in a circle around her. I really can’t imagine a sequence like this appearing in a Hollywood kid’s film.

As you may have guessed by my description of the opening sequence, this is really isn’t just a simple little kids’ film. Oh sure, the cast is made up of talking animals, but the makers of the film certainly don’t talk down to their audience. While there are plenty of jokes in the film at the expense of Mei and Gav’s unconventional relationship, there are a number of very serious moments when the pair really question their friendship. One scene shows Gav arriving back early in the morning, wiping blood off his mouth, after hunting prey the previous night. Mei angrily asks if he has being hunting. Gav explains he was only eating field mice and that he has to eat meat. Mei acknowledges this but still feels uneasy about what he does. There are also some really tender moments such as Mei offering himself up to Gav as a meal when they find themselves trapped in a snowstorm. Naturally Gav finds himself wracked with guilt and love for his friend and can’t go through with it. The supporting cast are quite interesting too. The leader of the wolf pack Gil, is a bit like a yakuza leader, with the rest of the pack a parody of a gang (keep an eye out for Gil’s girl in the background). Similarly the goats personalities are rather well fleshed out too. While most are cautious of their surroundings, the young goats such as Mee and Tap come off as a little naïve. Amusingly the old elder goat is almost always moved around by the rest of flock by being held up mid-air as if she was crowd surfing at a music festival.

Despite being over a decade old, the film still looks pretty good for its age. It looks like they’ve tried to keep the artistic style from the picture books intact. Most of the animation is really well done, but some of the CG shots, in particular the river sequences, look a little shoddy. But what really shines through here is the story. It’s really entertaining for a children’s story and has quite a number of twists and turns towards the end of the film. There’s plenty of action and suspense in the second half too as Mei and Gav become fugitives with Gil and the rest of the wolf pack constantly on their trail. For most anime fans though I think the problem they will have with this film is that it’s squarely aimed at kids. You can’t deny that. But I think if you can watch something as childish as “Cardcaptor Sakura” (you KNOW it was made for and aimed at children, despite the fact we know who all the merchandise aimed at) or other magical girl anime like “Creamy Mami”, then really you should have no trouble with this film.

While this DVD only has subtitles as the only English option, an official English dub authorised by the film’s main investor, TBS, was released in several parts between December 2008 and November 2009 on Youtube. It was also made available as a free downloadable file (seemingly no longer available). It’s rather baffling as to why this dub hasn’t made it to DVD or Blu-ray or why no publisher in the US, UK, Australia or anywhere else decided to pick it up and release it to the home video market. Lets’ face it; the vast majority of family and children’s animated films reaching western cinemas are gigantic CG animated films with tons of big name actors and jokes squarely aimed at adults. It has sort of surprised me that a bunch of smaller distributors haven’t taken up the opportunity to release some of the many Japanese animated kids films released over there to western cinemas (or home video). They’d be great alternative to the sameness of the current crop of Hollywood CG blockbusters. Sure, in the past we got a new Miyazaki movie every so often with a couple of poorly distributed Ghibli films from other directors in between, but no one other than GKids seems to be interested in these sort of films. There must be a market there if GKids is willing to take a chance with these films. It baffles me that with a pre-existing dub, you’d think this film would be a shoo-in for at least an English language home video release somewhere.

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