Yuki Terai: Secret Films (Japan 2000)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/16/06

A brief, but fascinating collection of short films featuring Yuki Terai, one of Japan's first (if not THE first) virtual idols. The first chapter features Yuki as a super cat burglar, out to steal a precious guitar from someone. When she gets caught, she engages in a hand-to-hand duel with the owner of the guitar that's a shot for shot rip-off of the classic showdown between Jackie Chan and Benny Urquidez from the climax of "Wheels On Meals" (1984). Widely considered the best martial arts fight ever filmed, it only makes sense to steal from the best, but it's extremely disconcerting to watch. Even so, it's a delightful bit of entertainment. The second chapter, "The Mirror", is utterly fantastic. Yuki wakes up one morning and soon her day is ruined when multiple copies of her mirror image start chasing her around town. Although the ending doesn't make any sense, the proceedings are extremely creepy and very effective. The third story features Yuki as the sole inhabitant of a spaceship that gets infected by a virus. She has to make a mad dash for the escape pod before the ship self destructs. A wonderfully tense and exciting piece that's spoiled only by her overly silly looking space helmet. The final piece is a music video that's mind-numbingly dull and plagued by technical problems. One of the biggest problems with computer animation is creating a convincing lip-sync, and when you've got something as structured and rhythmic as music, it's even more difficult to get it right. So that's a constant irritation. Or perhaps it's overly noticeable because it's approaching the Uncanny Valley. The next biggest problem with this piece is with the motion capture. The actress who performed Yuki's dance has no rhythm and moves as if she's dancing on eggs. It looks ridiculous and is completely uninteresting.

Technically, the animation is cutting edge circa 1999. Textures are overly clean and plastic looking, but the lighting, modeling, and choreography are quite slick. Motion blur is a little dicey, but for the most part the rendering is excellent. Sound and music are above average, and the pacing is just about right. Overall, a very enjoyable collection of Japanese computer animation.