Anime: Your Choice! (Dottini-Suru?)
The name of this movie is not an instruction set meant for the viewer, but some very particular members of the creative staff.
If you were lucky, you were able to attend a foundational school setting with a nice art program.
The arts tend to be among the first things cut in a school budget crunch, and filling in gaps can range from needing to scramble for anything from supplies to staff. Assuming the losses are ever made up for at all. Even in a more cash flush and well situated program though, while there may be units on anything from ceramics to how different the paints work, something few school kids get real chance to work on is animation. It is a tricky little dilemma that crosses the mind at times, particularly as so many animated products are oriented towards young consumers. Places they places fantasies in, but may have limited opportunities to craft themselves. There is a lot of technical skill and material involved though, to say nothing of the dedication required to see even a small project through.
It is easy to understand how some come to doodle little running stick figure people or the like in the margins of their textbooks. A large, bound unit of paper for sequential order. Bare minimum detail, so easy to keep their creation small and on model.
Putting off focusing in their actual class at the time in favor of something else providing them drive as they try to drain out the clock.
Your Choice! is a 1999 film supported by the National Children’s Castle youth development center in Tokyo working in conjunction with the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.
Chief directing duties were granted to independent animator Kōji Yamamura, who runs his own self titled studio via Yamamura Animation. In this capacity, he has worked on all manner of projects ranging from music videos to advertisements, as well as facilitating his own explorations in different formats from claymation to traditional animation for his more personal works for film festival circuits and special showcase events.
Yamamura’s animation style is heavily influenced by picture book illustration, in so much that his traditional animation efforts take great care to make as many individual frames as possible its own piece with unique sketch lines for the coloring. When these selections of his filmography play out, it ensures constant if minor stormy activity. A morphing sensation, one of playing with shapes and lines as much as it is also making up for the minor natural movements one would expect of things like breathing.
In this case however, while Yamamura is the overall director, this is not a story of his one comes to Your Choice! to see. He worked extensively with young students in both Japan and Chicago, as they supplied storyboards and designs for how segments should go. Some of these are featured in the opening credits, though there is also a separate little making of short which also exists.
The end result being Yamamura working with the students on their ideas, and sewing the final project together as a chain of events to unfold on screen.
In practice the film is, true to its title, as much about the decision points facing the characters as much as it is also something where the junior directors themselves were able to come up with virtually anything they wanted.
Both for what I am sure was a useful workshopping tool as well as narrative drive, characters face a series of decision points.
A little crocodile looking kid named Raoul who has a horrible toothache but also needs a haircut and care for an over itchy scalp, stuck outside of a barber shop and a dentist office. Each of those professionals being different phases of a crescent moon. One carries an umbrella around so the day stays sunny while an armadillo debates if they should do the same, as every time they walk out of their home without one it a storm rolls in, while it dissipates if they carry the umbrella.
A bug named Halogen who chooses to feast on lightbulbs over apples, as if bugs being drawn to light was a gluttonous activity. The cascade of events that would branch off such a thing, as replacements need to be found, possibly being more annoying than the average summertime bug bites.
Some unexpected events I will refrain from mentioning as well, to be sure, given the inventive minds in play.
I do not feel it would be unfair if one were to ascribe a certain game like quality to Your Choice!
Clocking in at exactly ten minutes, mixed with the ever present decision points as characters struggles between one option and another (or takes an unrepresented third path altogether), there is a closer notion of there being a timer on the whole operation. Fundamentally, the short could be easily fit within the framework of indie tabletop story games, which tend to be more focused on having a unique experience fast and in relatively few minutes over a more prolonged need for play pieces, character sheets, and so on.
Which does not discount them in any way, mind you, nor this short. A lot of chaos goes into trying to balance out raw efficiency. Trying to manage two groups of students from across the world, many not even having two digits to their age, and to gel their storyboards and ideas into a cohesive product? Let alone a seamless one, so it feels like an afternoon for the characters rather than overly choppy or fragmented? It is something that would be a tall order or many.
Your Choice! is a quirky little thing. Planetary bodies working jobs to make folks look and feel good. Armadillos in top hats taller than even themselves. Arrivals to the scene that need not necessarily make sense themselves, only that they can be reacted to in the moment.
The table story game notion is apt as it does make a nice little pick up, play, then move on time as more guests arrive or a heartier experience is desired. The short is fun in part for waiting to see what happens next, though calling it a “novelty” would also be more than a little misapplied. I am sure for the junior directors, these were amongst the coolest, funniest, or what have you ideas they had kicking around in their head. So there is a certain level of honesty to it all as well. It never feels like it is talking down to what it thinks kids might like, and even moves a bit slower and more methodical in tone (due at least in part to all the indecision points) than some would perhaps expect for children’s animation.
Imaginative imagery, like those crescent moons who are also a barber and a dentist. But not presenting such matters as something crazed and wacky. Rather, just taking cool ideas from kids, and presenting them without pointing out how weird they may otherwise seem. That is an appreciation for the creative mind and process of a child in there a whole lot of people would have loved to have an opportunity for themselves. Heck, even just the idea that someone older than them did not think their ideas were nonsense just because they were kids.
As we are reaching the point where soon all of the junior directors of Your Choice! will be of university graduate age or further, I hope that is something they can look back on for their interactions going forwards. For themselves, for their friends, for their own families and future projects, whatever they may be.
For fun, also.
That should always be a choice.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.