Director Kamiyama wanted to make a film to share with his daughter and succeeds in this gorgeously realized, emotionally engaging gem.


Photo © GKIDS


Ancien and the Magic Tablet (2017)

Director: Kenji Kamiyama
Starring (voice): Mitsuki Takahata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima and Tomoya Maeno

Screenplay: Kenji Kamiyama
Running time: 110 minutes

High school girl Kokone cannot stay awake. Her naps transport her to a dream world of battling machines, where she discovers her own family may be involved.

“A spirited young heroine finds adventure as she straddles dreams and reality”

With films like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, 009 Re:Cyborg and Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit under his belt, director/ screenwriter Kenji Kamiyama is one of the biggest names in the world of post-Miyazaki animation. His new film, Ancien and the Magic Tablet (Japanese title: Hirune Hime, literally “Napping Princess”), combines his gift for meticulous world-building with more personal concerns as a father: “I had been asking myself what the role of animation movies should be, facing and living in such a harsh reality today. One day, someone asked, ‘why don’t you create something that you would like your own daughter to watch?’ Then, suddenly, a story of an innocent girl and a father came into my head.”

It is 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics are just weeks away. Kokone Morikawa is a typical high school girl, diligently studying for her university entrance exams. She lives with her widower father, a hipster mechanic more talented and artful than his job requires who is forever busy modifying motorcycles and cars. Kokone has a problem though: she just can’t seem to stay awake. And when these naps overtake her she takes on the persona of Princess Ancien and is plunged into the bizarre dream-state realm of Heartland, a steampunk world dedicated to the production of the automobile. There, she is thrust into the machine war between the Engine-heads and the evil Colossus. The only weapons she possesses are a magic tablet computer and a talking dog called Joy.

As her naps increase in frequency, and the dream world deepens, Kokone begins to spot parallels between the twin planes of dreams and reality and discovers clues that her family may also play a role in the Heartland wars. When her father is arrested and the authorities begin searching for a tablet once belonging to her mother, Kokone’s two worlds collide and the excitement begins.

Kamiyama is trying to accomplish a lot in his 110-minute lm and for the most part he succeeds with aplomb. Firstly his lm is beautiful to look at. Heartland is a rich, colourful, imaginatively detailed world against which he contrasts Kokone’s realworld suburbia in a much drabber palette. His themes are relevant and address the distancing  effect of technology. These are thrown into relief as he finds echoes of his futuristic machine-world in the not-so-distant future of pre-Olympics Tokyo. He questions the role of machines in modern life and asks at what point the benefits of technology turn on themselves and begin to exert a deleterious effect on our lives.

Of course, story and character are the heart of any film and, while Ancien’s narrative is occasionally too busy, Kokone wins the day. Voiced by Mitsuki Takahata—who also sings the theme song, a deliriously lovely Japanese take on The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”— Kokone is an engaging, fully rounded heroine: bright and energetic yet naive and insecure. For all the manic goings-on around her she feels like a real girl.

Kamiyama said he wanted to make a film he could share with his daughter and in Ancien he has achieved that. It will be enjoyed by fathers, daughters, anime buffs and lovers of good movies.

Ancien and the Magic Tablet is scheduled to screen as part of the Toronto Japanese Film Festival’s summer program on Sunday, August 20, at 2 pm.