My notes on Aragne Sign of Vermillion, which screened at the Fantasia Festival.
A relatively brief (70mins) animated horror film debut from Japanese Saku Sakamaoto, this is a deliberately fragmentary effort. If you’ve checked out the ‘deleted scenes’ on any cartoon DVD/BluRay release, you’ll be familiar with the look of sequences planned for any given animated feature but then dropped before they were finished – fully-realised shots mixed in with jittery line-drawings, still pictures, animated but unfinished figures. Aragne includes many moments which look like that on purpose, perhaps to convey the worldview of a protagonist who is as unsure about what she’s seeing as audiences are likely to be. Student Rin (voiced by Kana Hanazawa) is struggling with memory and personality issues even before she moves into a dilapidated but purpose-built housing block which seems to have more ghosts – and bugs – than residents. She has contact with other characters, but it’s never certain whether any of them are real (or whether she’s a phantom herself), and the occasional appearance of a serial killer makes things even less clear. A prologue and flashbacks deal with a covered-up outbreak of some hideous contagion and there’s much theorising about the relationships of bugs and butterflies to the human soul – I think the idea is that a particular type of murder can release everyone’s inner insect, with the potential for some sort of bugpocalyptic event, but it’s hard to be sure. At greater length, this lack of a coherent (or even engaging) storyline would be a bigger problem, but Sakamoto is a great image-maker and collages together scenes which are eerie and affecting even if they don’t count as story or character beats. It’s a memorably disturbing and imaginative one-off.