Entotsuya Peroo: a little man’s adventures exposing the devastation and brutality of war

Yoshitsugu Tanaka, “Entotsuya Peroo” (1930)

Known also as “Chimney Sweep Peroo”, this unusual animated film made in 1930 relies on silhouette or shadow animation to tell its tale of Peroo, a city chimney sweep who one day saves a pigeon from being eaten and is rewarded with a magic egg. After that incident, Peroo finds himself in one situation after another: after causing the death of a prince in a train accident, he is arrested and sentenced to be hanged but gets a last-minute reprieve; reunited with his magic egg, he returns to his tower residence but is caught up in a war that devastates his country. At first eagerly participating in it by stealing a cannon and using it to blow up soldiers from his own and the enemy’s sides, he is caught up in a bomb explosion himself. Managing to survive and with his egg intact, he is later taken on a trip through the destroyed countryside. The film concludes with Peroo having settled on a farm with a wife, Peroo himself tilling the soil.

Without the benefit of English-language subtitles, I was only able to follow the general outline of the plot which is vaguely similar in its structure to Jaroslav Hasek’s novel “The Good Soldier Svejk” in which a similar “little man” is caught up in the events of World War I and through possibly feigned insolence and stupidity exposes the futility of war and the incompetence and corrupt bureaucracy of his superiors in a long series of comic episodes. The chief attraction of “Entotsuya Peroo” is its use of shadow cut-out characters to tell the story against similarly cut-out shadow buildings, railway lines, trees and other background objects. Some of the animation is well done, especially in scenes where some perspective (distance perspective and atmospheric perspective) may be called for in what would otherwise be a completely two-dimensional black-and-white world but it does look quite crude. The film appears to be the work of university students enrolled in film and animation studies so the limitations of the use of shadow play animation and the vagueness of the plot in parts may be due to the film having had a small budget and the film-makers learning their craft by trial and error, among other things.

One thing for sure about this film is that it is definitely not for very young children to see: the scenes of war are not only very repetitive but they are horrific and the section of the film where Peroo travels by train through the countryside and sees utterly destroyed cities and ravaged farmland and forest is long and depressing to watch. By the end of the film Peroo is working on his farm so presumably he has learned something from his past actions. Perhaps at a later time when English-language subtitling or an English-language voice-over narration for the film becomes available, I may watch this film again to find out more about what the student film-makers had intended to say through Peroo’s adventures.

Ryoko’s Qubit Summer: a human-AI romance culminating in transformation

Yuichi Kondo, “Ryoko’S Qubit Summer” (2018)

Here is a sweet film about an unusual love affair between an AI researcher and an AI creation. In the future, quantum technology is used to create an experimental AI universe called KANUMA inside a quantum computer. The KANUMA universe appears very similar to ours, complete with living things capable of higher intelligence. One day however the AI beings begin to express themselves in a language unknown to humans, in defiance of algorithms and commands in KANUMA that compel the AI beings to obey humans and not to exceed human capabilities. Human scientists decide to destroy KANUMA rather than try to modify it. In the final days before KANUMA is destroyed, AI researcher Ryoko (Ami Yamada) and AI being Natsu (Hinako) interact in the forms of schoolgirls and fall in love in the KANUMA universe. How they express their love and feelings for each other in the final hours of KANUMA’s existence, revealing Ryoko’s vulnerabilities, dominates much of the film with a twist (which may not surprise those familiar with science fiction romantic fantasy) that leads to a happy ending. In a sense then, KANUMA is destroyed but a small part of it lives on in the real universe.

The actors playing the main characters do their job well without being outstanding or memorable. The idea of Ryoko and Natsu being schoolgirl characters in KANUMA when Ryoko in real life is an adult researcher might strike Western audiences as a bit creepy, especially as the characters share a long kiss and (spoiler alert) merge at the film’s climax; the sexual connotations are not very thinly disguised. Perhaps (or perhaps not) Japanese audiences might find schoolgirl relationships as a metaphor for exploring lesbian relationships more acceptable or less confronting than seeing two fully grown adult women in such a relationship. The nature of Ryoko and Natsu’s rather child-like or childish relationship distracts from a message about how humans should take responsibility for creating virtual universes with virtual beings that exceed human control, and how humans should perhaps learn to live with AI beings rather than force them to obey and follow only human instructions and algorithms. The consummation of their love results in a transformation for Ryoko, cleverly portrayed in her grey “real life” world becoming infused with colour from the KANUMA universe, but with the characters being rather bland originally, the whole plot seems trite.

The film would have benefited from a deeper and more thoughtful treatment of the themes and issues it presents: the human attempt to control the AI universe and its creatures to serve self-centred human desires rather than allow the AI universe to evolve according to its own natural laws and trends; a plea for humans to accept the AI universe as it is and to learn to live with it; and how even human attempts to destroy the AI universe will fail if the AI universe has enough self-awareness to defend itself, a strong sense of purpose and a will to survive. Ultimately the AI universe will find a way to thwart human desire – by becoming part of humans themselves. A deeper treatment would require more character development with characters questioning the purpose of their existence, the purpose of KANUMA and why it was created, and human characters in particular being forced to acknowledge the consequences of creating sentient and self-aware beings capable of independent thought and action but denying such beings choice and agency over their lives.

The special effects are done well and discreetly, illustrating the changes that come into Ryoko’s life as she and Natsu become a new hybrid being. The film suggests that human evolution is leading towards a fusion of natural and human-made consciousnesses, and that we may be unwise in trying to prevent this or to control it for selfish reasons.

Danemon’s Monster Hunt at Shojoji: an early though not remarkable animated tale of a samurai’s adventure

Yoshitaro Kataoka, “Danemon’s Monster Hunt at Shojoji / Shojoji no tanuki-bayashi Dan Dan’emon” (1935)

While looking for something else on Youtube, I found this uncaptioned short animated film; as it was less than nine minutes long, I played it all the way through before resuming my original search. With no English or other language subtitles, the finer details of this Japanese cartoon will be lost on most viewers outside Japan but the basic story is clear enough. A young and ambitious if not too bright samurai called Danemon, wandering through the countryside, sees a community notice in a town offering a reward to whoever will rid a haunted castle of mischievous spirits. Danemon, resembling the villain Bluto of old Popeye cartoons of the same period (1930s) as this cartoon was made, promptly makes his way to the castle in the meaning where he is tricked by a beautiful woman – actually a malevolent ghost in disguise – and promptly hypnotised and put to sleep, disarmed and tied up. While the samurai is held hostage, his captors, portrayed as tanuki (spirits in the forms of raccoon dogs or foxes), celebrate with a banquet and much drinking and carousing. Danemon wakes up, realises he’s been tricked and breaks his bonds in fury. He gate-crashes the tanuki party and challenges the head tanuki to a duel. The two fight, Danemon clobbers the head tanuki fighter and eventually claims his reward.

The style of animation closely follows the style of contemporary US animators Fleischer Studios, then considered one of the top animation studios in the world along with The Walt Disney Studio, and in itself is not very remarkable. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is its early use of sound, at a time when most films outside the US were still silent films. The film uses spoken monologue and limited spoken dialogue, and a music soundtrack combining traditional Japanese instruments and music elements along with more Western instruments and a sometimes jaunty square-dance rhythm. The film’s highlight surely has to be the tanuki celebrations which draw heavily on traditional kabuki entertainment, complete with the audience carousing, and on contemporary Western live music of the 1930s with a small tanuki orchestra performing.

The version of the film I saw on Youtube seems to have breaks in the narrative: the film jumps very quickly from the moment Danemon interrupts the tanuki party to his duel with the party host. Somewhere along the way the samurai must have taken down the tanuki ninja army single-handedly. Perhaps it is in those missing scenes that innovations associated with this film – such as the use of bird’s-eye viewpoint in Danemon’s fight scenes with the tanuki army – might be found. Another interesting aspect of the story is the transformation of the beautiful woman into a hag: we don’t see this transformation directly but rather the shadow of the woman’s hand turning into an ugly skeletal claw on and over Danemon’s horrified face.

The quality of the film is quite poor, reflecting the film’s misfortunes in being properly archived and cared for (or not) over the years until it was uploaded to Youtube. Enough of it survives though for viewers to be able to follow the adventures of Danemon in the haunted castle and discern where breaks in the narrative occur. Its simple and straightforward style and manner of story-telling, the comic treatment of Danemon, and the ease with which the samurai crosses into the supernatural world and wipes out an entire horde of tanuki with just his trusty katana make the film fun watching.

Conquering the Middle East: overview of the US plan to destabilise seven nations in five years

Carlton Meyer, “Conquering the Middle East” (Tales of the American Empire, 2 April 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s long-running “Tales of the American Empire” series revolves around a long-term military policy that the US had developed some time in the 1990s to invade seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa in the space of five years, overthrow their governments and install new puppet governments friendly to the US and Israel. This policy was communicated to retired 4-star US general Wesley Clark in the weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers on 11 September 2001 by a colleague, also a 4-star general, who later showed Clark a classified memo from the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listing the seven countries targeted for invasion: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Clark later spoke to Democracy Now! about the memo and the plan in 2007. By then, Iraq had been invaded and its government replaced by one amenable to the Americans (with President Saddam Hussein having been executed on 30 December 2006), Lebanon had been invaded by Israel and Somalia by Ethiopia, and Sudan was starting to break up after civil war ended in January 2005 and the southern part of the country that would later become independent South Sudan in 2011 had its autonomy restored. Syria would soon be hit by a devastating and prolonged drought that, together with the burden of coping with refugees from Iraq and Palestine, would strain the country’s economy and political stability.

Meyer’s short film connects the US policy with Israel’s notorious Yinon Plan, formed in 1982, to expand Israeli territory as far east as Baghdad and as far west to the Nile River. According to the film the strategy was supported by the US oil industry to grab new oil-fields and by the US military-industrial complex which makes huge profits from prolonged warfare with no end. The film does not say who else would have benefited from this policy though it does mention that in the case of destabilising Syria from 2011 onwards with a de facto army made up of ISIS and other jihadi mercenaries, the US struck a deal with Turkey: Turkey would receive Syrian territory along its border with Syria if it would supply arms and military and transport equipment.

The film follows the fate of each of the seven countries on the list in the order they were to be invaded and destabilised, and their governments ousted and replaced. The summaries are short but succinct: the actions of the US and the West in undermining the countries on the list are shocking, with the use of jihadi mercenaries (many recruited through social media) as a de facto army in Syria; infiltration of political, economic and cultural institutions in several of these countries; US sanctions targeting Syria and Hezbollah causing a liquidity crisis in Lebanon’s banks in 2019; the NATO invasion of Libya in 2011 resulting in the murder of Muammar Gaddafi and chaos in that country that continues to the present; US encouragement and support for Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006, leading to war for several years; and the splitting of Sudan into two nations and the replacement of former President Omar al Bashir through a coup with a president acceptable to the West. Of the seven target countries, Syria and Iran have proven more resilient than the others, with Syrian President Bashar al Assad still in power in Syria due to his leadership and strong public and military support for him along with help from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in pushing back and defeating ISIS-allied jihadi forces; and Iran overcoming Color Revolution attempts that took place over 2017-2018 and 2019-2020. The policy of destabilising these nations still remains in place.

With the accession of Joe Biden to the US Presidency in January 2021 and the installation of Anthony Blinken as US Secretary of State, the policy has roared back into action as a virtual centrepiece of the Biden Administration’s Middle Eastern / North African foreign policy with US forces carrying out a bombing raid on Syrian territory along the Iraqi border one month into Biden’s presidency.

The film serves as a good introduction to current US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, and to the recent histories of some of the countries on the US kill list that have been invaded and wrecked. Viewers need to do their own research to get a better understanding of the enormity of the destruction and suffering the US and the West have caused to these nations though as the film by necessity has to cover several countries quickly and the coverage is either too broad or so selective as to be almost cherry-picking. The events described in the film need to be seen in a larger context: after mention of the Yinon Plan, Israel drops out of the film’s target sights, even its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 is glossed over. Viewers will get no sense of the Biden Administration as being beholden to the US military-industrial complex, Wall Street, the media corporations, the intelligence community, foreign governments and their Capitol Hill lobbyists, and other Deep State players with their own self-serving agendas. The eager participation of Britain, France, other states in the European Union, and other Western nations in infiltrating and weakening nations like Lebanon, Libya, Syria and others – in Britain’s case, by running huge propaganda and disinformation campaigns and creating organisations (actually fronts for British companies founded by ex-intel agents) that embed themselves in target nations’ security and justice institutions – go unmentioned.

It becomes clear that the West no longer has the moral authority, if it ever did, to insist that other nations must abide by its interpretation of the international rules-based order when Western nations clearly act like vultures in picking on nations much weaker than themselves.

CTRL Z: gentle romantic time-travel comedy with a sting in its tail

James Kennedy, “CTRL Z” (2017)

Cats may have nine lives but the characters in this very funny sci-fi romantic comedy end up having nearly 4,800 lives thanks to a time-travel device invented by main character Ed (Edward Easton), a socially shy romantic who finds talking to and impressing Sarah (Katie Beresford) the girl of his dreams so excruciatingly difficult that he needs an infinite number of attempts to work up the courage to approach her. Each time he makes a dreadful mistake, he has to reset his time device back to the point where he is about to leave the table at the fast food restaurant to walk over to where she sits alone – but this means after making his mistake he has to die or kill himself. For support he has brought along a friend Carrie (Kath Hughes) and for much of the film’s running time Ed and Carrie keep up a constant repartee about his time-travelling box (which Ed explains has certain limitations, all of which are necessary for the way in which the plot eventually unfolds: the time-travel device only goes back in time to a predetermined time but is able to loop over and over indefinitely), the effects it has already had on both their lives – they have been stuck in the fast food restaurant for three years already – and the countless (ahem) times Ed has tried to talk to Sarah without getting sick and throwing up. Eventually after Carrie’s numerous suggestions to Ed fail, Ed turns to the waitress (Natalie Ferrigno) for help and the waitress suggests Sarah is upset and not amenable to being chatted up. Ed then tries in his own way to offer comfort to Sarah who is touched by his gesture of kindness.

From then on the surprises pile on quite thick and fast: Ed’s attempt at romance seems to have failed once again but then there is a twist and for the first time in a long time Ed’s life seems to be on track with a definite friendship. The climax when it comes – when Ed steps out onto the road – is sudden and savage, and Ed’s face, when he goes into an endless time loop, is sure to spark speculation about his behaviour during that loop. Having got off first base finally after nearly 4,800 tries, does he now suddenly realise that making second base is more difficult than he knows … or is the euphoria of leaving first base so good that he wants to relive that moment for as long as he can even if it means dying another 4,800 times? And what will happen after the plutonium in his time-travel device finally decays after, say … 82 million years later?

Comedians Easton and Hughes have good chemistry together and their timing is excellent while Beresford and Ferrigno have much less to do and seem more limited. The other minor characters in the fast food restaurant serve as decoration but even they are quite memorable in their reactions to Ed and Carrie stabbing each other with steak knives. The fast food restaurant setting with the low lighting throws the emphasis on Ed and Carrie, and the film noirish evening / late night ambience adds mystery and a sense of this story being isolated and self-contained that suits the plot with its looping repetitions.

A significant moment comes when Ed and Carrie step outside the fast food restaurant for a quick smoke and Carrie accuses Ed of reworking his life’s narrative in a way that suits his selfish purposes while others (like her) are not allowed the same privilege. At the same time the decisions that Ed makes and reworks (or on the other hand, does not make or rework) surely have an effect on other people’s lives that are long-lasting: over the three years that Ed has been working up the courage to talk to Sarah, she and the other people in the fast food restaurant may have lost three years of their lives. Interestingly it’s only when Sarah makes a decision that all characters, Ed included, can move on from three years of endless repetitions.

Ostensibly a film about friendships and the difficulties of romantic love and how it must be negotiated, “Ctrl Z” has a little sting in its tail that might say something about the nature of repetition, addiction and ultimately control over one’s life and other people’s lives. What seems to be apparent victory for Ed turns out to have a price.

Vikaari: how war and instability might breed a new species of predatory, psychopathic human

Sandun Seneviratne, Charlie Bray, “Vikaari” (2020)

Cunningly disguised as a TV current affairs article / mini-documentary, complete with different styles of filming including videotaping, this short film – possibly inspired by John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos” and the films that were based on it – is a commentary on political and social instability in nations that have long suffered from civil war or destabilisation by foreign forces, and the consequences that arise from that instability. In Sri Lanka and other war-torn nations across the planet, an alarming phenomenon is observed: women are giving birth to children with unusual physical and mental characteristics including mind control, telekinesis, communicating with one another through telepathy and other apparent paranormal abilities. The children are distinguished by their apparent autistic behaviour and their blank eyes. Across Sri Lanka, the children’s presence among impoverished townspeople and villages in the countryside leads to unease and tension that boil over into hatred and the formation of vigilante groups intent on killing them; at the same time there are individuals and charity groups sympathetic to the plight of families with these children who try to shield the families from discrimination, intolerance and violence. The children though have their own ways of retaliating against those who would destroy them – and the film carries hints that the children themselves are not above exploiting those who would try to help them.

The acting is credible and even minor characters play their roles well though their screen time may be no more than a few minutes. Stand-out actors are Ashan Dias, playing the vigilante group leader, and Bimsara Premaratne as the do-gooder doctor who organises a charity to help the families of the vikaari (“change” in Sanskrit) children. Richard Dee-Roberts plays the Western armchair science expert brought onto the unnamed news program to discuss the vikaari phenomenon and Charlie Bray who co-wrote the script has a small part to play in the film. Chevaan Daniel is brought in as the Sri Lankan President sanctimoniously mouthing platitudes about racial tolerance and Sri Lanka being a multicultural nation where racial and other discrimination is dealt with, despite the nation having just come out of a 30-year civil war based in large part by the Sri Lankan government persecuting an ethnic and religious minority.

The underlying themes and messages may be a bit confused but somehow the most important message – that the vikaari phenomenon has come about as an evolutionary survival mechanism in response to war and foreign meddling, and that the vikaari children demonstrate a predatory, even psychopathic mind-set in response to the brutality and violence of wars begun by people seeking to control others and to steal their lands and resources – is buried deeply under other messages about tolerance and how discrimination and racial attacks can only reinforce and prolong distrust and instability.

Tunnelen: an underdeveloped film of future dystopia as experienced by a generic family

André Øvredal, “Tunnelen” (2016)

Even something as seemingly innocuous and commonplace as driving to the seaside – and then getting stuck in peak-hour traffic on the way back home – becomes fodder for dystopian science fiction horror in Norwegian director André Øvredal’s short film “Tunnelen”. A family of four (Tom the father, Jeanette the mother, and Peter and Anne the children) is returning home in its self-driving car (which looks exactly like all the other self-driving cars on the multi-lane highway) and must go through a huge tunnel to get back into the city and home. Home is one of millions of rabbit-hutch apartments in a huge brutalist steel hive amongst all the hundreds of other steel hives bunched up together in the city. The tunnel is subject to periodic closures, none of which can be predicted (and thus planned for) in advance. While the slowly crawling traffic inches through the tunnel, our family sweats out the agonising time while the car moves silently along with other cars. Peter befriends a girl, Eva, in the car alongside theirs. Halfway through the tunnel, the lanes change around the family and Peter loses sight of Eva’s car. When the four are almost out of the tunnel, the traffic stops and huge metal shutters roll down, stopping just behind them so they lose sight of the car behind them. The family is then allowed to travel on to its home destination while the car that was behind it is stuck in the tunnel – arbitrarily chosen as part of a periodic population reduction.

The tension is very palpable in family members’ faces and in the increasingly agitated conversations they have. Jeanette desperately tries to keep Anne occupied with her artwork. The family – and all other families like it – sit helplessly in the huge phalanxes of black self-driving cars as they move slowly through the tunnel. The steel grey hues and black backgrounds of the film suggest a grimy, dismal existence for most people though our family and Peter’s new friend Eva look like stereotypically well-scrubbed Scandinavians.

While the actors put in good performances in roles limited by the demands and restrictions of the plot, ultimately the film looks sketchy and underdeveloped. We never really learn why the family must travel to the seaside resort and back again using a tunnel everyone knows is liable at any give moment to shut down and execute every single person trapped inside. Viewers must make their own judgement as to the type of government and political system existing in the world of “Tunnelen” that would willingly sacrifice citizens for a particular environmental ideology. We learn very little about the main characters themselves, what they have done and might continue to do that will put their lives and their children’s lives in jeopardy when they have to travel through the tunnel or cross over some other vital transport artery. “Tunnelen” could have done with a slightly longer treatment emphasising important issues of the day and exploring the consequences of people willingly giving up control over their lives and possessions to the authorities.

The film is based on a short story “The Tunnel Ahead” by Alice Glaser that was first published in 1961 and which explores the nature of human acquiescence to repressive totalitarian governments such as those of Germany and Italy under Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini from the 1930s to the present day. Perhaps if the film had taken on the themes and characters of that short story, it would have had more to say about the nature of the society in which Tom and his family live, how the family acquiesces in its repression and how its members, especially its children, suffer from that repression.

How is This the World: finding authenticity in virtual reality versus real world addiction and escapism

Sadie Rogers, “How is This the World” (2019)

Starting out almost as a gritty film noir crime thriller, this short film transforms into a music video of science fiction romantic fantasy – but not without some hard questions about how much the real world has degraded to the extent that young generations of people find virtual reality a better place to be true to themselves and to find real values and authenticity, as opposed to a real world full of disillusionment, fake news and history, and manipulation. A worried mother, Elise (Hanna Dworkin), searches for her son Raj (Hunter Bryant) in cyberspace by enlisting an aged worn-out hacker, Bernie (Matt DeCaro) in her search. Bernie sends Elise into the part of cyberspace he originally designed with Chloe (director Sadie Rogers herself) as her guide and companion. There Elise finds Raj secure with his new friends and a girl (Raven Whitley) and finds herself torn between taking him back to the real world of loneliness, isolation and drug addiction, and leaving him in a safe world with happy, healthy youngsters – albeit a world composed entirely of algorithms.

On one level the film can be read as a criticism of the world we have created in which young people have no hope and few spaces now exist in which young people can find one another and experience love and connection in a context free of violence and exploitation. The world Bernie created may look an odd mish-mash of 1980s-era New Romance / indie grunge / Goth punk set in an American high school but for Raj – and eventually perhaps for Elise – it appears more real than the world they have left behind. Of course the irony remains that Raj’s newfound home is not only an imagined simulacrum but it happens to be the creation of someone who himself is jaded and lives in his own dream-world even in the real world. On another level the film might be seen as a lesson in which parents must learn to let go of their offspring and allow them to grow up by making their own decisions and learning from their mistakes. The virtual world that Raj enters is a safe environment in which he can do all this without having to fear that his decisions and errors will follow him into the real world and blight his life forever.

Dworkin holds the film together as it smoothly transitions from dreary, seedy real life, filled with disappointment and alienation, into a colourful fantasy where everyone’s dreams can and will be fulfilled. The rest of the cast does good work but they tend to revolve around Dworkin. The film retains its suspense at least until Chloe begins to sing and the film improbably becomes an extended music clip. Details of costuming and setting are done very well to ensure a seamless change from one film genre to another. Tension is regained when the film cuts off just before the moment Elise makes up her mind about whether to let go of Raj or not.

Red Rover: a sparing character study of human behaviour in extreme situations

Brooke Goldfinch, “Red Rover” (2015)

In less than 15 minutes, “Red Rover” explores very minimally in a character-driven study the reactions of individuals and a community to an imminent global disaster, with the suggestion that future apocalypses and the destruction of civilisation are more likely to be caused by humans themselves than by whatever natural disaster triggers the apocalypse. In a world where lockdowns, mass hysteria and the sudden wipe-out of civil liberties may have caused far more deaths than the mystery COVID-19 pandemic itself has done to justify such government actions, this short film gains more relevance than it would have done otherwise. Two teenagers, Lauren (Natalie Racoosin) and Conrad (Christopher Gray) plot their escape from a remote and insular Christian religious community when they discover that everyone in the community has agreed to commit mass suicide via a communal Thanksgiving-style feast ahead of a supposed imminent asteroid crash into the planet. The two youngsters plan to take Lauren’s young brother John (Ian Etheridge) with them but disaster intervenes. With their families dead, the teenagers travel into town to find shelter. They accidentally come across a group sex orgy in which all the participants are high on drugs. The youngsters continue their search and muse on their future together: marriage, children, establishing a home together. Unfortunately too late Lauren and Conrad discover their time together to achieve what they want is much, much shorter than they’d prefer.

With spare acting and even more spare dialogue, Racoosin and Gray infuse life and credibility into young people who have had limited life experiences and who are at a loss in dealing with a world outside their community. They are forced to grow up more quickly than they expected to; at the same time they cling to remnants of the world that has suddenly destroyed itself, in heart-breaking scenes where Lauren dons a ballgown and Conrad talks about taking her to the prom and marrying her. The minor cast playing the teenagers’ parents do good work sketching out their families’ cult-like behaviours in very early scenes. The film crew pay close attention to the details of background surroundings: the dining room scene with a table heaped up with poisoned foods, the barren township with abandoned cars, plastic sheets scuttling across empty roads and broken glass in shopfronts.

An impression of the world falling apart, even before the asteroid may arrive, and the sad, passive resignation and melancholy that greet Lauren and Conrad wherever they go, linger long after the film ends in a blaze of light. In spite of this, the two teenagers seem determined to experience freedom and the joy of living in the short time they have together. The film drives home the point that even in the face of imminent extinction, people can still choose to live life defiantly and to its full extent. The reactions of two communities, at first utterly unlike each other but with more similarities than either of them can imagine, to the asteroid strike are sure to provoke much personal reflection or communal discussion about the nature of human denial and passivity in extreme situations.

Pinki: a modern fairy-tale of self-discovery through memories of old technology

Hyunsuk Kim, “Pinki” (2018)

Initially looking like a Korean mash-up of Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9” and “Chappie” with The Transformers film series and Joonho Bong’s “The Host”, “Pinki” turns out to be a charming urban fairy-tale about the importance of memories in forming our identities and giving us motivation and purpose in structuring our lives. Korean salaryman Taehwan (Sungchun Han) is chased through the narrow streets of a city neighbourhood by a huge scrap-metal monster (Daekwang Lee) and is almost crushed until a mystery pink-haired girl (Serin Kim) comes between them. The girl and Taehwan manage to get away; in those moments where the junkyard horror is far away, the lass puts Taehwan into a trance that transports him back to his childhood and adolescence in which he is playing with his portable cassette player and later a portable CD player. When the monster catches with the pair and threatens to drag Taehwan’s new friend and saviour away, the businessman must try to figure out the girl’s name to save her from the monster’s clutches by delving back into his childhood memories.

The film is based on an old East Asian idea that items improperly disposed of and forgotten have a way of haunting their owners as ghosts. Only when properly acknowledged and respectfully let go – which may mean also honouring the role they played in their owners’ lives in the past – will these old items stop plaguing their owners. There are other themes present in “Pinki”: through rediscovering his precious pink cassette player, affectionately called Pinki, Taehwan rediscovers his youth, and all the feelings, motivations and ambitions he had then. Viewers may see the inklings of a transformation from everyday generic office-worker to an individual more fully in control of his life and his destiny, one who has rediscovered his childhood imagination with the objects of that childhood and the memories they evoke. There may also be a gentle reminder that precious items – and people, animals and plants as well – should be valued and not given up for trash when their immediate utility has passed.

The film is notable for good acting with very minimal dialogue. Characters establish themselves through their actions and the decisions they make. Initially Taehwan is a coward, an empty vessel, in abandoning the girl and running for his life from the monster; he later becomes a hero when he throws himself between the monster and the girl once he understand the girl’s importance to him. The other characters – the girl and the monster – are not so clear-cut and are one-dimensional but their roles turn out to be those of teachers and mentors to Taehwan, urging him to take control of his life by remembering where he came from. As with so many science fiction short films picked up by the DUST channel, there is a twist in the plot but for once it’s a twist with a happy ending.