Film / Reviews

'Shirobako the Movie': Unboxing the nitty-gritty of anime

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

From “8½” to “Day for Night” to “Dolemite Is My Name,” the history of cinema is replete with movies about making movies. The latest addition to that self-referential genre is Tsutomu Mizushima’s “Shirobako the Movie,” an anime about the blood, sweat and beers that go into putting an animated movie on screen.

It’s the sequel to the television series “Shirobako,” which aired from 2014 to 2015 and centered around Aoi Miyamori (voiced by Juri Kimura), a newly minted production assistant at the fictional Musashino Animation who, along with the audience, learns the ins and outs of how anime is made from scratch to screen — and all the speed bumps that pop up along the way.

The film opens four years later, with the great Musashino Animation a shell of its former self after the cancellation of an in-progress series. With the studio floundering, one of its producers comes to Miyamori with a daring plan: Make an original theatrical film that must be completed in under a year. With the studio staffed by a skeleton crew, it’s up to Miyamori to get the band back together and pull off an animated miracle.

Shirobako the Movie (Gekijoban Shirobako)
Rating
Run Time 119 mins.

Like the series that preceded it, “Shirobako the Movie” offers up a depiction of the anime industry that’s humorous but down-to-the-details accurate. That includes the myriad creative decisions that go into an anime production, including which pieces to animate by hand and which to computer-generate, who to cast in which parts, and the like.

But where “Shirobako” is particularly strong is in its depiction of all the more mundane elements that go into getting anime on screen — from production assistants driving through west Tokyo to pick up completed drawings from freelance animators to the handshake agreements that take place over late-night, beer-fueled negotiations in cheap Tokyo pubs.

One pivotal scene in the film involves Miyamori storming a rival firm and delivering a crushing blow to her enemies by — wait for it — pointing out how the small print in a contract favors her studio. For those unfamiliar with the often turbulent world of anime production, there’s probably no better introduction to how the sausage gets (and sometimes doesn’t get) made — and for diehards, there are plenty of winks to real-life places and people to enjoy.

The above goes for both the series and this new movie, but that’s where the latter lost me a little: “Shirobako the Movie” doesn’t bring much to the table that the series didn’t five years ago. Like many films about getting the band back together, it basically serves as a kind of greatest hits for the original, with many situations and jokes repeated almost line for line. The new characters introduced for the film don’t add much to the dynamic, and while Miyamori and her friends are four years older, they face the same existential questions as they did in the series, like exactly why they’ve chosen to work in the low-paying, work-life balance-crushing anime industry in the first place.

Still, while “Shirobako the Movie” doesn’t feel essential, it is a lot of fun to see these characters again, fighting against scheming rights holders, seemingly impossible deadlines and creative doubts to dream up something that is worth their viewers’ time. The real-life creators of “Shirobako” certainly have.

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