'Winter Days (2003)' first came to my attention through the involvement of Russian masters Yuriy Norshteyn and Aleksandr Petrov. Otherwise, I've never really explored Asian animation, and this seemed as good a place as any: 36 animators, most from Japan, but others from all over the world, each capturing a moment from the haiku poetry of Matsuo Bashō (1644 1694). Each animator was assigned a stanza, and asked to contribute a work of between 30 and 60 seconds; Norshteyn, being perhaps the greatest animator of all time, is allowed two minutes. The array of short films represents a wealth of startlingly different animation styles, each produced independently of the other. Most don't tell a story that is, apart from the wider arc of the Bashō poem itself but instead capture a mood, a moment.
Norshteyn's contribution, which opens the feature, stands head-and- shoulders above the rest. His trademark cut-out animation is breathtaking, conjuring up a blistering windstorm that you can almost feel battering against your face. Petrov draws on his richly-textured paint-on-glass animation to create a distinctive atmosphere, as a giant raven ominously stalks outside the window of an old house. The film also introduced me to some unfamiliar talents: I enjoyed the stark black-and- white angles of Belgian animator Raoul Servais, the eerie surrealism of Tatsuo Shimamura, the surprisingly-expressive puppetry of Břetislav Pojar, and the dreary, rich textures of Keita Kurosaka. Several I didn't like the bizarre and undignified crassness of Yoji Kuri and Mark Baker, for example but you can't win them all, and the successes nevertheless make 'Winter Days' very much worthwhile.
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