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It's about learning to smile...
I had the pleasure of watching the premiere showing of this beautiful and touching animated short film, 'Shashinkan' ['The Portrait Studio'] (17 min) by Takashi Nakamura at the Fantasia Film Festival, and judging by the audience's very positive response, I wasn't the only one who instantly fell under its charms.
The movie revolves around a Japanese photography studio situated in some large city (presumably Tokyo). The ever enthusiastic photographer specializes in portraits, and we see him dealing with three generations of a single family throughout the 20th century, especially one girl that doesn't smile much. We are shown how the environment, the cityscape, clothing and the characters evolve, with historical tidbits thrown in at times. While this is far from an original plot setup, the creator manages to make it fresh and interesting by using photography as its approaching angle -- kinda like Satoshi Kon's brilliant 'Millennium Actress' used motion picture.
Design is rather stylish yet fairly simple. If I'd be allowed to make an outlandish analogy, I'd say it's kind of a cross between traditional Japanese-style manga/anime and Craig McCracken, known for 'The Powerpuff Girls' and 'Dexter's Laboratory'. There's a definite "cartoonish" quality to it which paradoxically does wonders to bring forth the characters' emotions.
The only two reasons I'm not giving 'The Portrait Studio' a higher mark is that, first, it is a little redundant (although it is well-played to comic effect); and second, it lacks a twist on an over-used recipe -- so don't expect some ground-breaking 'cause it ain't happening. Despite these minor shortcomings, I dearly recommend this short animated film to everyone. This gem is sure to please anyone with a heart!