Three movies with international flavor — a French film about Japanese mountaineers, an American studio release set in a mythologized Southeast Asia and an anime from a Japanese master set largely in a virtual world — deserve long looks in the race for the 2022 animated feature Oscar.
The Summit of the Gods
It's 2D, but "The Summit of the Gods" makes viewers feel its dizzying heights. The French film delves deeply into that drive to take on dangerous mountains, and does so by showing, not telling. It was something director Patrick Imbert investigated from the safety of his studio.
"I read a lot about mountaineers and they all talk about this mysterious thing that pushes them to do what they do. There are no words to put on it. I tried to compare it with the creative approach: If you ask me why I draw, I don't have any answer to give you. I cannot live without doing it.
"I think it's the same for these guys. The difference is that in drawing ... we can have tendinitis," he says, laughing.
"Summit" is no joke. It's a drama for grownups that begins with one mystery — a journalist learns of the existence of a camera that could settle, once and for all, who was first to summit Mount Everest — then probes the deeper enigma inside the world's greatest mountaineers. The journalist searches for the legendary Japanese climber who could hold the answers.
Imbert's hand-drawn animation beautifully articulates the characters, giving each their own physical vocabulary and body language. Avoiding what he calls "animation effects" as much as possible — hallucinatory visuals that can unmoor the viewer from the reality of the film — he conveys the experience of climbing: the vertigo, the lethality.
By bypassing discussion for scenes of climbers pressing onward, and depicting one character first observing, then falling into the obsession, "Summit" reaches something perhaps profound: a visceral examination of that inexplicable drive. Even the plot's quest appears a molehill beside it.
"I still don't care who reached the summit first. I totally don't care," says Imbert. "It's not a question about who reached it first. It's something else."
Raya and the Last Dragon