'Secrets of the Heavenly Book'

Japanese animated features have become quite familiar over the last decade or so: but we have never seen much of Chinese animation, though they have quite a large industry. Where Japanese animations tend to feature futuristic cities with lots of robots and violence, the most popular area in Chinese animation seems to be the traditional fairy tales featuring the various gods, magicians, and often the popular Monkey King.

The National Film Theatre has been running a short season of features from the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, which opened in 1957: I picked one film more or less at random, and last Wednesday saw Secrets of the Heavenly Book (1983). Set in the fairy-tale world, the complicated and sometimes incomprehensible plot includes a 3000-year-old monk who has been guarding a secret book of magic spells, who (to the fury of the Jade Emperor) releases its secrets to a boy born from a goose-egg: the book is stolen by three foxes who can assume human form, who promptly use it to trick villagers and help a greedy official to steal all the villagers' food and property: they hide in a monastery run by a couple of comic monks: and in the end there is a battle between the seemingly limitless powers of the foxes and the boy before the book is confiscated and destroyed by the original monk before he is arrested and taken to heaven for punishment. I over-simplify, you understand.

The backgrounds are in the style of the traditional delicate Chinese water-colours: but the characters are very stylized, with painted faces and non-realistic features, and in limited animation - more UPA than Disney. It's all done with some wit and charm, though the limited form of the animation is a bit tiring over feature length - that said, the film is a sensible 86 minutes (most Japanese animations run around 2 hours and tend to wear out their welcomes - and note that the classic Disney features limited themselves to 70-75 minutes).

On the whole it's entertaining, though the fairy-tale milieu is a little confusing for westerners, and the comedy is very broad: but an interesting chance to see a rarely presented area of world animation.

Link: Wikipedia entry including a still

Posted: Sun - February 25, 2007 at 08:45 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM