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Anime Film Festival 2019 (London)

Whilst it feels as if there are plenty of anime conventions across the UK, aside from Scotland Loves Anime I can't think of any other events that focus purely on anime for a whole day screening films back to back. Anime Limited and Manga UK have given us many limited cinematic releases over the past few years (Perfect Blue and Cowboy Bebop to name just two of them) and there used to be an anime weekend at the BFI in London but I haven't seen that advertised for a while. So seeing the news that there was an Anime Film Festival (through this very site) pretty much on my doorstep was very appealing. Once I saw the line-up the day pass was bought and I would just have to make up the day of decorating.

The Anime Film Festival was held at the Picturehouse Central, just off Piccadilly on London 7 September 2019. Organised by a small group of anime fans the event screened 4 films for which you could get different passes (all day, afternoon, evening or individual tickets if you wanted). On offer were Mirai from Mamoru HosodaPenguin Highway from Hiroyasu IshidaYour Name by Makoto Shinkai and the film that really sold it to me, Redline by Takeshi Koike. It was a good mix of films to open with where 2 have been shown in the UK within the past 12 months.

The Picturehouse Central was a great venue to hold the event. The event organisers Reuben Ramanah and Clare Kelly had secured a good size screening room (that was sold out for every screening) and a couple of smaller spaces for event attendees to chat, relax and eat between films. I can't imagine all the planning that went into the event and the associated stresses but everything ran smoothly giving it a relaxed atmosphere. Reuben introduced each film to put it into context and was preceded by a short festival animation by one of the event sponsors, Picnic animation studio.

Seeing Mirai again on the big screen was marvellous. Having also watched it at home on Blu-ray I was curious to see how I would feel about it on its third viewing in 12 months. It's a film which can easily be enjoyed on both big and small screens but some of the scenes work so much better on a larger screen. The scenes with the aircraft engine and those from World War 2 really benefited from the cinema sound - the seats shook as the bombs landed. I'm familiar enough with the dialogue so I could just sit back and enjoy the imagery that Mamoru Hosoda had directed. I also saw some of the details that I had not seen before. The emotional elements really hit home too and it made me realise just how good the film is.

I'm so happy to have seen Penguin Highway again - and I would watch it again. I saw it sometime last year and I missed so much! It is a very lovely film to watch and this time I was able to appreciate the interactions between characters and their respective dynamics. I found myself getting lost in the work that Ishida and his team built around Aoyama, the Lady, Uchida and some of his classmates. Yes, it is quirky but it is full of heart and penguins so there is much to enjoy about it. Its ending prompted some debate with the attendees afterwards but you could see people had enjoyed it.

After wolfing down some food I headed in to see Your Name. This was not a film I was particularly excited to see but I was happy to give it watch as it was part of the festival programming. I have enjoyed the shorter works of Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, 5cm per Second and Garden Of Words) but his longer films failed to grab me, and I really disliked Children Who Chase Lost Voices. 

Your Name is a phenomenally popular film with fans and critics but it didn't work for me. The audience in the auditorium, however, loved it - laughing and in some cases crying along with it. Shinkai gives us films which are incredibly pretty but it felt like I had seen much of this film before ...in his own works and others. Several of his films explore relationships separated by time and space and this is another one. The twist in the story didn't really have the impact it did, it felt a bit too long with what seemed like several endings and the reuse of some body swap gags fell flat for me. I'm glad I saw it because it is a gorgeous film to look at on such a big screen.

Then we came to, for me, the main event ... Redline. I love Redline, it is one of my top animated films. On the big screen it was something else. It felt epic - Roboworld filled my vision, crowds were huge and the sound was intense (the lady next to me put in her headphones to attenuate it a bit). The noise of engines, explosions, crowds and the Redline musical theme were turned right up and, like in Mirai, you felt like you were there. There was a real sense of anticipation in the auditorium for this feature. I was one of the few who had seen it already but listening to people before (and after) it had almost taken on a mythic quality. "Have you seen it? I hear it's amazing." "Did you know that..." "That sequence when..." I would love this film to get a wider cinematic release (mostly so I could see it again) and perhaps the audience would like to see it again too. 

I had a great time - seeing Redline on the big screen was a real treat and something I have wanted for a while. Whilst I had seen most of the films it is great to see them again on a big screen and be reminded just how good they are. Festivals offer the opportunity to see films new films which perhaps would not be first choices but because they are part of a programme you get to engage with them. From an attendees perspective, the event was a success and I look forward to seeing what the team puts together next year.