Thursday, January 5, 2012

In short: Elemi (2009)

Original title: Denshinbashira Elemi no Koi

Suburban Japanese telephone pole Elemi falls in love with phone technician Takahashi. After Elemi learns something about transience and compassion through the death of a cat, she begins phoning Takahashi, pretending to be a human girl instead of a cute telephone pole, even going so far as to do some stock trading to be able to buy Takahashi a birthday present. Through their conversations, Takahashi falls in love with Elemi too, but what kind of a relationship can a telephone pole and a guy have - if the guy will even believe Elemi when she tells him what she truly is? And what will the utility pole community say?

Hideto Nakata's short (44 minutes) stop motion animation is - among other things - a reminder that not all Japanese animation is of the drawn sort; in fact there's a not quite as popular but strong tradition of other types of animation in the country, usually of a (compared to the anime mainstream) more indie movie nerd than a otaku sensibility.

Elemi is a fine piece of fantasy (the term "magical realism" is for the weak of heart) meditating - in a very Japanese way - about things like transience, love and the culture of utility poles. For my philosophical taste, the film's probably a little too accepting of fate in its outlook, but then I am less than enamoured of the concept of treating acceptance of that which makes one unhappy as a virtue.

Nonetheless, Elemi is a pretty wonderful piece of work, hitting the sweet spot between melancholia, a love of the slightly weird (this is after all a movie that spends time inventing the social rules of utility poles), and beauty.

The film delivers all this through an appropriately leisurely pace, a very fine soundtrack, and pretty brilliant character design - the sort that knows how to anthropomorphise a telephone pole properly and provide it with real character.


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