Among this year’s Oscar-nominated short films are two helmed by Asian filmmakers. Competing in the Best Animated Short category, The Dam Keeper is the compelling tale of a bullied pig that’s also his town’s savior.
Against a landscape of surrealistic pastel hills and crayon-colored houses, a variety of animals live together. Dressed in clothing, they walk on hind legs and behave like people except they have no voices. Instead, they emit their own creature sounds such as a dog, a teacher, who barks at his students. However, whenever the characters laugh, they sound like human children—sometimes endearing and, at other times, quite cruel.
The persecuted pig is an orphan assigned the crucial task of winding a windmill every eight hours in order to prevent darkness—in the form of pollution—from engulfing the city. Yet, in spite of his importance, he’s tormented at school where kids snort whenever he walks past them.
One day a new student, a fox, appears. Unbelievably, he befriends the pig through his artwork. The two even sketch together, but a misunderstanding leads to a near tragedy. A unique metaphorical story about friendship and keeping darkness at bay, this film was hand painted, frame by fame on Photoshop, giving it a 3D look.
Animators Robert Kondo from Southern California and Daisuke (Dice) Tsutsumi from Tokyo met while working at Pixar Studios. After leaving, they founded Tonko House and spent a year creating their 18-minute animation.
Director Wei Hu’s Oscar-nominated live-action short, La Lampe Au Beurre de Yak (Butter Lamp), features Tibetan nomads lining up for family photos in front of iconic but faux landscapes—like the Great Wall of China and Disneyland. While a photographer offers endless direction for a precise shot, the discomfort his subjects display is revealing. Requests for them to sacrifice cultural traditions for modern life (even for a few minutes) are received warily. And, a young man, still grieving his mother’s death, is distraught when asked to remove the coat she gave him in order to take a perfect picture.