Celebrate the arts: Give a gift of global good will

That image above captures so many of us right now: Winter is darkening the Northern Hemisphere and there we stand—wondering whether we can find the warmth and light again. TODAY, we’re sharing reviews of two new DVDs you’re unlikely to find without our help. Walk into a Target or Best Buy video department this week and you’ll mainly see Shrek and Twilight displays. These films aren’t on the shelves.


The image, above, comes from “Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor,” the animated short video that opens in this glorious collection from Japanese animator Koji Yamamura’s career. If you’ve enjoyed Japanese animated features over the years—or perhaps popular cartoon series like “Astro Boy”—you’ve probably missed Yamamura. Some of his recent works, like the Kafka story, will provoke long discussions with friends. Some of his earlier short films are very creative little fantasies anyone—of any age—will celebrate. One such example is “Imagination,” from the 1990s, which looks like an Eric Carle pre-school picturebook springing to life on the TV screen.

Yamamura developed his message, as well as his art, as he crossed into the new millennium. In recent years, he has been crafting short animated films that can best be described as calls to: Wake up!!!

One such film, “Mt. Head,” is the fanciful fable of a man so stingy that he eats not only fresh cherries, but the pits as well. He doesn’t want those pits to be wasted! Because he is so obsessive about eating these cherries—eventually a cherry tree begins to grow from the top of his bald head! Obviously, that’s where this crazy story of the stingy man explodes into what Americans would call a Tall Tale like Paul Bunyan. The rest of the stingy man’s neighbors love the beautiful cherry tree atop his head—and finally he’s the center of a happy community. But that just convinces the old grouch to get a “hair cut” and wipe out that miraculous tree. I won’t spoil the end of the movie, but it’s the kind of short film you can enjoy with any age group.

“Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor” is aimed at adults, although there’s nothing specific in this animation that would spark even a PG-13 rating in the U.S. The old doctor is supposed to be a leader in his community—he’s supposed to do many things, in fact! He’s supposed to act quickly. He’s supposed to act compassionately. He’s supposed to heal people. Instead, he’s lets himself sink into a funk of winter weather, his own lethargy—and, I don’t want to spoil the film by revealing any more. But, when this old doctor allows himself to stand out in the winter’s cold too long, he ends up opening a Pandora’s Box.

If you’re a parent, a teacher, a small-group leader or you simply love Japanese animation, this is a collection of more than a dozen animated films that will help you celebrate the arts—and share some global good will, along the way. You won’t find “Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor and other Fantastic Films by Koji Yamamura” in most stores, but Amazon released the new DVD this week.


Want to throw open a brand-new window on the world?

Get a copy of “Only When I Dance,” an absolutely delightful documentary about two young dancers who emerge from the slums of Rio de Janeiro through ballet. What do Americans know about these human hives of poverty for thousands of poor families? Largely, we’ve seen these slums through the eyes of director Fernando Meirelles in his two-part series “City of God” (2002) and “City of Men” (2007). Both of those films were fairly popular with American audiences because they were spiced with the sex and violence that runs rampant in these vast ghettos. Those two movies basically were the “Godfather” or the “Goodfellas” of the Brazilian slums.

In “Only When I Dance,” we see these same slums in the opening scene—but then the young dancer named Irlan raises his foot heavenward in his morning exercise routine and the entire story transforms. There’s light and hope and art. And, no, this is not a fairy tale. We are warned immediately that life here is dangerous for everyone: “Here, if we don’t teach our children to live an honest life, they may become a drug dealer. That’s a short life that leads either to a coffin or to jail.”

BUT—not for Irlan and not for Isabela, two teens who dream of becoming professional dancers. They devote themselves wholeheartedly to these fond hopes. For most American viewers who’ve only seen the gun-slinging, drug-dealing side of poverty in Rio, these scenes are startling. Previewing the DVD, which is released this week with English subtitles for American viewers, I wished I could give Christmas gifts of this film to every young person in this country hoping for a career in the arts.

You can order “Only When I Dance” from Amazon now. The DVD is distributed by Film Movement, which also offers a monthly DVD series by subscription. Film Movement subscribers got “Only When I Dance” as their May selection in the monthly series. The DVD was only released for the rest of us this month via Amazon and other online retailers. Here’s the link if you’d like to explore the Film Movement subscription option.

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture recently. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com)

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