As part of the Tokyo International Film Festival, three short films based on the Pikmin characters from Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario and Zelda were premiered on Saturday, 25th October in a cinema in Nihonbashi.
The process for applying to see what I saw was as inconspicuous as the event itself. A downtown and eclectic part of east Tokyo was host to the premiere of three short CG HD and 3D films based on the ‘Pikmin’ series, started in 2001 by Nintendo lynchpin and iconic game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto.
Uncharacteristically reserved, and as he reiterated many times, very nervous, a stoic and edgy Miyamoto walked into the cinema and into uncharted territory. Revealed in the post-screening panel, he has completed between 20-30 short films, with only the three currently selected for public viewing.
He needn’t have worried. The films had a polish and vibrancy reminiscent of anything from John Lassiter’s (a speaker about cool Japan the night before) filmography. The exploration to bring Japanese culture to the west was also mentioned by Miyamoto, and the universal appeal and playful nature of characters like Pikmin, replicate characters such as the minions or the aliens from Toy Story.
The films took the individual abilities of the Pikmin from the games, and added a layer of expression of personality and emotion to further highlight their interaction with real world situations and locations. Despite there being no dialogue, squeaks whistles and hums were enough to make the audience relate to the characters.
Whether the films were depicting a pair of Pikmin confined and in danger or hundreds ganging up on their advisary, every pixel of the glorious 4k screen was used to exude the passion for the franchise that Miyamoto clearly has, and the and the ability of his team of animators used to help bring them to life. The beautiful simplicity of the narratives and interaction of the Pikmin perfectly suited the format and medium, mirroring Pixar short films like ‘For the birds’.
Film one- ‘The Night Juicer’ (3 mins).
This could be seen as the ‘darkest’ of the three, using moody lighting and imposing and obscuring camera angles to depict a sinister looking Captain Olimar making a sludgy brown smoothie with two nervous Pikmin peeking from behind a door frame. The tension builds using an incredible orchestral score, which Nintendo have been successful utilising recently. After an unsuccessful taste test and the revelation that Olimar is using Pikmin for his smoothie, he then goes after
His next victims. A great ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (and homaged in Super Mario 64) style chase shot builds suspense and the Pikmin are exaggerated in their frantic attempt to escape Olimar’s grasp.
The audience breath a sigh of relief as the big reveal is…
(SPOILERS) a conveniently shaped crate of carrots, complete with green leaf!
A typically playful ‘FIN’ screen. Next stop- Cannes?!
Film two- ‘Treasure in a bottle’ (8 minutes)
If the first film was confined and tense in tone, this was the opposite. A sprawling grass/ rice field, drenched in sunshine and waiting to be explored, reminiscent of ‘honey, I shrunk the kids’ or ‘a bug’s life’. It was a chance to show the scale of the environment and the size of the Pikmin in relation to real world objects and terrestrial species- in this case, the iconic Japanese soda brand
(with a cheeky Nintendo logo) complete with the film’s macguffin, the illusive blue marble trapped inside the bottle.
A lone red Pikmin chases after an uncatchable butterfly, only for his attention to be taken by a shiny blue orb inside a glass bottle. Technically, it was beautiful. All three were in 3D, but this really (literally) played with the Pikmin having fun and posing in reflective surfaces and the sun drenched environment to showcase the level of technical prowess from the animation team, on par with any contemporary, yet still playing with visual indicators, such as thought bubbles seemingly drawn in 2D with crayon. Utilising the 3D and the size of the Pikmin in relation to their surroundings, creating a sense of verticality and scale using the giant cinema screen.
More Pikmin show up as lone red goes after his prize and gets stuck in the bottle. Again, the use of the sun reflecting off, through the glass combined with the imposing sense of scale really showed off the pedigree of the animation studio. The mocking Pikmin realise (in a lovely ‘idea flower/ light bulb moment) that their friend needs help and come up with an idea to fill the bottle with water to float the worried red to the top, to no avail. After another ‘Raiders’ like shot involving the ball, the butterfly from the beginning of the film is shown dragging a number of Pikmin from it’s rear in a chain, and so to plan b. I think it was a lovely nod to the games in the way teamwork and utilising each characters abilities to complete a task, and this film has a nice homage to that. Trying to pull red out of the bottle, the tension increases and then the team fails, falling into a heap complete with cartoon stars and spirals. Then after trying a rock bomb and the bottle shooting and spinning into the air, another example of teamwork has around a hundred Pikmin carrying the bottle in order to keep the marble inside. This was highlighted in Miyamoto’s talk regarding the nostalgic conundrum during his childhood of trying to get the marble out and, from a marketing perspective, introducing the product to the west.
Film three ‘Occupational Hazard’ (13 minutes)
The third, and longest, of the short films was set on a construction site. The Pikmin again were working as a team to complete various industrial tasks such as carrying and goofing around with screws, washers etc. a Pikmin using its leaf to unscrew a screw and then spinning around itself was a great example of the visual physical humour running throughout the films, highlighting the universal appeal amongst audiences. There was lots going on, efficiently going about there business under the supervision of captain Olimar.
One Pikmin is intrigued by a trail of screws with an ominous green glow, leading him into a dark cave awakening the Pikmin’s nemesis, Bulborb! A small group of Pikmin come to his aid by using a spare glove to try and hypnotise, then fight the Bulborb. In a dynamic, tense and nostalgia filled fight scene (including a T-Rex style chase and a glorious old school nintendo reference) involving a couple of watery blowhogs, playing in the mud and taking on White Pikmin spewing purple poison and melting various parts of a crane until it collapses. Despite the tension, there is still a fun, slapstick, visual humor to the whole scene. After an interspersed fun nod involving a string of pikmin as Christmas lights, another beautiful use of the Pikmin’s ability to use their flower as a parachute, epically culminating in hundreds of Pikmin all work together to take on the Bulborb.
The whole scene reminded me of the opening of Toy Story 3, demonstrating a child’s imagination to create epic scenes out of toys and inanimate objects.
After the screening, Miyamoto took to the stage and talked about the films inception, the new 3DS and the potential of future collaborations with Nobuo Kawakami (Chairman of Dwango and a producer-trainee at Studio Ghibli).
He kept reiterating how nervous he was about showing the films in this format, and revealed he had made 20-30 short films, yet decided to show these three at this time. He also revealed that the films will be available to view on the 3DS via a video application to be released in the future. The films were started around the same time as Pikmin 3, with E3 2012 and the introduction movie to Pikmin 3 in particular being a source. Despite the mix of live action and CG in 2012 and these being entirely CG, the idea of pikmin interacting with real world objects and working as a team is thematically a priority. Also, the use of the 3DS augmented reality cards further developed the potential for narrative ideas.
Miyamoto was drawn to the idea of using Pikmin in short films because of their approachable simplicity and it’s relatively new IP, opposed to games like Mario and Zelda having such a long, rich heritage and in Zelda’s case, narrative arcs. The Pikmin have more of potential in different situations and the medium of 4k and cinema literally enables the audience to see the Pikmin better.
Although the models for the Pikmin previously existed, the bigger scale and higher resolution meant that the Pikmin for these films were made from scratch and took much longer to render.
Miyamoto said that he has a number of ideas about various projects, including the other films he has made, but is struggling to find artists because the talent have already been taken by video games developers. He also highlighted the notion of risk and reward regarding a foray into a new medium, especially with his relative inexperience.
In conclusion, I think this collaboration is just the start of a creative and technical relationship which can expand the franchise into a different medium, yet keep the core principles and thematic elements from the games. Although this was a side project, Iwata approved Miyamoto’s idea and the potential for other Nintendo IP becoming short films is entirely possible.
Technically beautiful, thematically in keeping with the games and being universally appealing, the Pikmin short films were fun, funny, endearing, quirky and clever.