Reviewby Rebecca Bundy,
DVD: Hide & Seek
In the game of O-to-ko-yo, seven children gather before the gates of the Demon City in order to play a game of hide-and-seek. The rules seem simple, but this game has a dark history: no child who's played it has ever returned. While outrunning bizarre demons through the twisting, neon streets, Hikora will soon discover the fate of his sister, Sorincha, and all the children who have come before him.
Though it's doubtful that 3D-CG will ever completely replace the more traditional style of Japanese animation, it's definitely starting to make itself known. Movies like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children use CG technology to mimic reality while others, like Appleseed the Movie and Kakurenbo, try to imitate the "feel" of anime.
Regardless of your opinion on the way Appleseed looked, Kakurenbo definitely looks better as far as the animation is concerned. Sure, Kakurenbo is completely shot in dark or overcast scenes with only flickering lights, neon signs, and the occasional glowing pair of eyes to emphasize the details and features of the various characters and scenes. One could also say that the character designs themselves are too simple for a comparison and all fight scenes are quickly ended with the camera dimming or focusing elsewhere.
The simplicity is what makes the graphics work; especially during the numerous moments when you forget that it doesn't really look any different from a regular anime. Almost all of the details are (rightly) reserved for the haunting scenery and towering buildings which work against the children as they try to flee from the various monsters. There's also a great deal of attention given to the monsters themselves. Their half-machine, half-organic designs are extremely interesting and give each one a great deal of personality depending on the way they look or move. My favorite is the half-lion, half Chinese float monster with the lanterns hanging from his ears. All of them though are extremely well animated and maintain a perfect balance between mechanical and animalistic movements.
The graphics and design do fall short when it comes to the children, but not because the designs are simple. The lack of mouths, eyebrows, and realistically blinking eyes makes it very difficult to relate to the characters since you never feel what they're feeling. The kids face down the demons, either with brave or cowardly reactions, but the reactions never connect with the viewers. Logic would say that 1 (giant monster) + 2 (cowardly kid) = 3 (scared kid who flees), but we never see bodies shake, tears weld up in eyes, mouths quiver, or a reason why we should care about some masked boy. This is especially evident in the climatic moments of the movie when Hikora overcomes his fears and charges the monsters in order to save his friend. His eyes never change, nor does his body tremble with rage or fear. He simply runs towards the monsters and all emotion is left up to the voice actors.
With these faceless and mostly nameless characters, the voice actors for both the original and the dub do an overall decent job picking up the slack that the animation left for them. Junko Takeuchi definitely shines above the other voices in the original with her Hikora, though it's no surprise considering how much experience she has with roles as young male heroes. Some of the other voices for the nameless Fox Kids sound strained, but overall it doesn't hinder the movie on its own. The dub, however, pulls in a notch above the original with voices that bring life to their characters and sound natural while they do it. Michael Sinterniklaas and Dan Green work well together as Hikora and Yaimao, while Veronica Taylor's Sorincha is especially creepy throughout her entire performance. Everyone really pulls through with a range of emotions in their voice and definitely make it easier to care about the children.
The music is exceptional and really brings chills to one's spine with a strange mix of sounds and traditional instruments. Silence is definitely golden and is used during “quiet” moments to really emphasize the normality of the current scene. These moments switch quickly into the realm of scary and the music makes these transitions perfect.
Kakurenbo's biggest flaw is in its story and plot. Limited on time, the movie tosses aside important elements such as characterization and setting and instead hurls a batch of generic, one-trick children into a semi-abandoned world filled with monsters who hunt down children in order to power a city which has numerous lights outside even though no one ever goes out at night to use them. The large majority of the movie is spent following the various children as they try to resist, yet nothing is actually learned or gained through all of this meaningless action. The story definitely shines in its final moments when the reality of the game is revealed and Hikora “wins” his prize for being the last one caught, but it barely makes up for the 20 or so minutes you spend wondering when the movie is going to get to the point. The time would've been better spent on the children so we care that they're being used as batteries.
Finally, the extras give us a general mix of features including galleries, trailers for the movie in the US and Japan, and interviews with the director, Shuhei Morita, and writer/character designer Daisuke Sajiki. There's also a terribly boring but extremely informative commentary by Morita and Sajiki while three versions of the movie (the storyboard, the 3D-CG Preview, and the final version) play on the screen. It was interesting to see all the expressions that were drawn in on the masks in the storyboard phase, but unless you're really into the technical aspect of handling CG and making a movie, you should pass on this feature.
The lackluster story, bland characters, and short run time make it hard to justify the price tag, but anyone who loves new and unusual visuals will definitely get a kick out of this movie.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A
+ A definite treat for the eyes and ears.
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