Chimney Town Doll – Movie Review

Have you ever referred to someone as a trash human? In a beautiful and tender steampunk action anime Chimney Town Doll, that’s actually a really big compliment. Adapted from Akihiro Nishino’s 2016 children’s picture book (which he also directs as a musical and Noh theater production), it’s a remarkable directorial debut for the artist and host of visual effects Yusuke Hirota as they tell the story of two misfits who find themselves, and save the world in the process.

Poupelle (Hale in the excellent English dub, Masataka Kubota in the original Japanese version) is a real trash can. A mysterious creature that assembles around a crystalline heart with the rubbish of the Night City landfill, he is the least harmful byproduct of the Locked City. It would be the thick layer of smoke covering the sky, and that hazy shadow is the reason little Lubicchi (Corbo / Mana Ashida) no longer has a father. Bruno the tailor (Root / Shinosuke Tatekawa), Bruno the mad, Bruno the heretic who told stories of a sky behind the smoke and the burning lights called stars: chimney sweeps and has no friends his age. It’s a vain hope to see those stars and prove her missing father was right, and possibly cleanse the air for her mother (Lee / Eiko Koike), whose cough, doctors say, is incurable. At least he has a friend in Poupelle, the perfect innocent who just wants to help.

This sooty fairy tale translates the complex world of Nishino’s book perfectly, simplifying their elaborate designs just enough to make it work in animation. It doesn’t sound like someone else’s work, but on the contrary really fresh and innovative while still feeling in the tradition of classic children’s literature. There is a long tradition of Japanese animators adapting European children’s writers, and Nishino manages to channel the same kind of emotional and narrative resonances that Studio Ghibli sought with Arrietty’s Secret World, or Studio Ponoc on Mary and the witch’s flower (the name of the garbage collector is a gift, being a French play on words for trash can and doll). Poupelle and Lubicchi are the perfect opposites – attracting strangers found in such books, bound by both their loneliness and their tongue-in-cheek jokes that won’t fly over the heads of young audience members. At the same time, there is a heavy environmental message here, only slightly bogged down by what may be a heavy cryptocurrency subplot (in addition, with a similar ‘look at the stars’ scripting device to the lumpen Do not seek, this is definitive proof that a humorous spoonful of honey definitely lowers such a drug). Ultimately, it’s an ambitious and inspiring story to dare to reach for the stars even when authority figures tell you they don’t exist – and the value of having a friend who believes in you, even if he has an umbrella handle for his nose.

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