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Director: Gisaburō Sugii
Release Date:
July 7, 2012
Rating:
 ★
Review:

‘The Life of Budori Gusuko’ is a film adaption of the novel of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa from 1932. Earlier director Gisaburō Sugii had filmed ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’ (1985) by the same writer. Strangely, in both films, the characters are inexplicably depicted as cats. The reason of this goes completely beyond me, as Sugii does nothing with the idea of the characters being cats. They’re just humans in a cat shape.

I haven’t seen ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’, yet, but I understand this film is some kind of classic. I wish I could say the same of ‘The life of Budori Gusuko’, but not so. This film is very disappointing in almost every aspect.

The story tells about Budori Gusuko, a blue cat, and the son of a lumberjack somewhere in the mountains. One year summer never comes, and famine comes to the land. Gusuko’s family disappears, and during the film he keeps on looking for his lost younger sister Neri. Starvation and loss presses Gusuko to leave the mountains…

The story takes place in some parallel world, but Sugii’s world building is annoyingly sloppy. The mountains in which Gusuko grows up are unmistakably European in character, but when Gusuko descends into the valley, we suddenly see very Asian rice paddies. Once we’re in the city, the setting becomes some sort of steampunk, with fantastical flying machines, while Gusuko’s second and third dream take place in some undeniably Japanese fantasy world. The volcano team, too, is typically Japanese.

But worse than that is the story itself. The film is frustratingly episodic, with things just happening on the screen, with little mutual relationship or any detectable story arc. A voice over is used much too much, and there are three very long dream sequences that add very little to the story, and the inclusion of which is more irksome than welcome.

The main problem is that Gusuko’s life story is not particularly interesting. The character himself is frustratingly passive and devoid of character. And worse, after the dire straits in the mountains, he hardly suffers any setbacks. Down in the valley he gets help and work immediately from a friendly but rather reckless farmer called Red Beard. Only when bad harvests hit the valley, too, Gusuko is forced to leave him, too, to descend once more to the city.

Likewise, in the city, Gusuko immediately reaches his goal. There’s some vague climate theme, but Gusuko’s proposed solution is questionable to say the least. Because we learn so little about Gusuko’s motives and inner world (the three dream sequences don’t help a bit) Gusuko’s last act comes out of nowhere. Nor do we care, because Gusuko never gained our sympathy in the first place. The resulting film is appallingly boring.

It must be said that ‘The Life of Budori Gusuko’ can boast some lush and outlandish background art, qualitative if unremarkable animation, adequate effect animation, and a modest dose of apt computer animation when depicting moving doors, lamps, factory parts, flying machines and of Gusuko ascending the stairs. There’s even some puppet animation during the second dream scene. Moreover, the sparse chamber music score is pleasant and effective. Composer Ryōta Komatsu makes clever use of strings, harpsichord, accordion, and percussion. But all these positive aspects cannot rescue a film whose central story is a bad choice to start with.

Surprisingly, this was not the first animated adaptation of the novel. In 1994 the Japanese Animal-ya studio had made another adaptation. It puzzles me what the Japanese see in this terribly boring tale with its questionable message.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Life of Budori Gusuko’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Life of Budori Gusuko’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

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