One of the main aims of our curation here on Short of the Week is to programme films that ’brave new territory’. So if short film truly is the petri dish of creativity within the industry, that needs to be evident in the films we showcase on our platform. Whether we always hit this target, is for you, our audience, to decide. However, it’s a goal we’re always striving for and films like Nieto’s Swallow the Universe make hitting this objective so much easier. If you come to S/W looking for films that break new ground and subvert expectations, you’re going to love this.
A breathtaking Japanese Emaki manga (hand-drawn side-scrolling animation) telling the story of a boy (Emiko) with a dental superpower, whose face is coveted by the entire animal kingdom, Nieto’s 13-minute film is truly unlike anything we’ve seen before. Backing up its unconventional storyline with a staggering animation style, based on the work of cartoonist Daïchi Mori, Nieto’s short swiftly guides you through a world where tigers tear at your face and flaming turtles deliver words of wisdom.
Described by Nieto as a film about “the passage to adulthood”, we’re introduced to the short’s tortured protagonist after the rest of his family is killed in a fatal car accident, caused by his father exploding after failing to relieve himself. It’s a dark opening to the film and things certainly don’t get any lighter. The drastic changes to Emiko’s situation may well cause him to discover the unknown Shinto power that was contained within his mouth, but when it comes to origin stories, they don’t come more twisted than this.
In converting Mori’s illustrated hand-scroll style to screen, Nieto has created a film with a novel visual language and one I certainly hadn’t seen before. A mixture of the traditional and the contemporary, the beautiful and the grotesque, the director adds 3D computer-generated elements to the key component of the 2D hand-drawn style, to create a vivid animation that seems to leap off the screen. The warped world of Swallow the Universe is one you don’t particularly want to be immersed in, but Nieto leaves you with no choice, it’s all or nothing – with the latter not really an option.
With a plethora of selections to it name, Swallow the Universe was a favourite on the festival circuit, winning awards at Anima, Clermont-Ferrand and Zagreb. Part of the Autour De Minuit catalogue, with Nicolas Schmerkin listed as producer, the film’s online premiere came on their Animatic YouTube channel and we hope by featuring it on S/W we can make it just as popular as it was in theatres around the world.
With Nieto’s bio describing his work as “insane experiments and experiences”, if you want to check out more of the filmmaker’s work, this playlist is full of surprises.