The Other Side of Animation 243: The Summit of The Gods Review

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Heads up: I was able to watch this series before its recent release via a screener sent to me by Netflix. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Netflix.

Have you ever seen, “Why did this need to be animated?” lobbed at animated films that try to do something different? Why do animated films like Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles and Funan get this kind of criticism when no one seems to ask this about live-action films? Wouldn’t it be cooler to see some of the more abstract live-action films get the animation treatment? Why worry about making sure the live-action and CGI elements mix and match when you could just worry about how good the animation looks? Why did this comedy full of physical comedy need to be live-action? Why not animate it so you can take advantage of cartoony physics like in the new Looney Tunes shorts or the classic Tom & Jerry shorts? If we keep criticizing animated features for doing something different, then the medium can’t evolve. If we don’t push the envelope of what we can tell in animation, then we wouldn’t have films like Toy Story, Into the Spider-Verse, Spirited Away, and Loving Vincent. When you let art evolve in what kind of stories we tell, we get films like The Summit of The Gods. 

Based on the manga by Jiro Taniguchi, which itself is based on the novel by Baku Yumemakura, this film is directed and co-written by Patrick Imbert. The other big-wigs in production also include co-writer and producer Jean-Charles Ostorero, producer Didier Brunner, producer Damien Brunner, and Stephan Roelants. The story follows a journalist/photographer named Makoto Fukamachi, who is trying to find a mysterious climber named Habu Joji. Makoto needs to find Habu due to the fact that he has a camera that belonged to infamous climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. For history buffs, Mallory and Irvine went climbing to the top of Mount Everest, but then never returned. Makoto gets invested in learning about the history of Habu, and even gets roped into Habu’s journey to try to climb to the top of Mount Everest. 

This film perfectly captures that feeling of finding that path of pushing yourself to go the distance. What would drive people to do stuff like in the documentary Free Solo? To escape the limitations of what humans are capable of doing? To prove something to someone or in this case, yourself? While it may be at 90 minutes, they pace it out to feel like a much longer film (and one that’s better-paced than most 2+ hour flicks). Much of this film shows either Makoto’s journey or Habu’s history, and is told through normal dialogue, some narration, but a lot of silence and visual storytelling. It’s a film that treats its story and characters with substance, and is more of an adult-focused experience. They do some abstract visuals to tell some parts, but it’s played straight, and that’s what is so good about it. The team behind this film gave this as much weight and passion as some of the better dramas that are released. 

The animation might not be flashy, but it is more realistic than what we are normally given with drama-based films. From what I can tell, they did not use rotoscoping, which seems to be a more common tool for adult-animated dramas than you would think. Still, the visual style reminds me of films like Funan. Realistic designs that move as normal humans do, but without the focus on all the minute details like a lot of Bakshi’s films do. It’s a film with many obvious great landscape shots and just pure beauty capturing the city life and nature. The best and most visually arresting moments are when there is climbing involved. The way they focus on the weight of the movements and the dangers that come with climbing up some of the world’s most dangerous locations is perfect. You will be kept on edge during multiple moments in the overall experience. The voice cast is fantastic as well. The film has its original French language and will have an English dub for those that may want to not follow subtitles, but both have incredible performances. The french cast includes Lazare Herson-Macarel, Éric Herson-Macarel, Damien Boisseau, Elisabeth Ventura, Kylian Rehlinger, François Dunoyer, Philippe Vincent, Luc Bernard, Gauthier Battoue, Marc Arnaud, and Jérôme Keen. The English cast includes Darren Barnet, Rich Ting, Chris Naoki, Ray Yamamoto, Brent Yoshida, Richard K Parks, Paul Nakauchi, Keiko Agena, Keisuke Hoashi, Clyde Kusatsu, Brian Takahashi, and Paul Nakauchi. The music by Amin Bouhafa is ethereal and otherworldly as it perfectly fits the moments of natural beauty seeing the journey of our brave mountaineers traverse one of the most dangerous places on earth. 

The Summit of The Gods is a Mount Everest-sized accomplishment and victory in animation. When animation fans say they want something different, this is what you can point out to them in order to get that fix of something distinct and unique. It’s easily one of the best films, animation or otherwise of 2021, and considering how many incredible animated films have come out this year, that should tell you how amazing this is. If you have Netflix, then you owe it to yourself to watch this film. If you want to see more diversity in animation, then you need to make sure you see films like this. Now then, next time we talk, we will be talking about Disney’s newest feature, Encanto

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Rating: Essential