The Deer King: a Sweeping Fantasy Epic

Opening at Showroom Cinema on Friday 29th July, The Deer King is an anime feature that marks the directing debut of Masashi Ando. Ando's previous animation work featured in titles such as Spirited Away, Paprika, and Your Name, which helped shape the world of modern animation. Ando co-directs The Deer King with Masayuki Miyaji, fellow Ghibli alumni who also worked on Spirited Away.

The Deer King is a sweeping fantasy epic. It hosts a complex but profoundly symbolic and resonant storyline which follows the Empire of Zol's colonisation of Aquafa's land and citizens years before our story starts. All that remains untouched on Aquafa's land is the Fire Horse Territory, where wild dogs that once carried the deadly Mittsual or Black Wolf Fever are left untamed. When the dogs rampage through a Zol-controlled salt mine, The Deer King tale begins.

Black Wolf Fever is a deadly affliction presented as something that is both magical and physical, a rising storm of black vapours that cloaks an onrush of rabid dogs. For two generations, it has broken out in repeated waves. Back to strike again this fever is considered a curse on the Zol people because only they seem to be infected by the disease. 

Van, an enslaved former soldier, is set free during the wild dog's rampage in the salt mine. Finally free from the salt mines, Van seeks out a simple, peaceful existence in the countryside. However, he hasn’t escaped unscathed. One of the dogs bit him, yet he is showing signs of being asymptomatic of the disease when he is left unaffected by their bites. It’s not long before others put the story together, making him the number one target for a series of interested parties, all with differing agendas. 

Haunted by memories of the wife and son he left behind to fight the Zolians. Van has acquired a surrogate daughter, in Yuna, a gap-toothed infant he saved from the salt mines who fixates on Van as her new father. Van bonds with Yuna, his instinct to protect her both brings him purpose and new nightmares of failing once more. 

However, Van is a "chosen one" for two rival powers, and he must decide which side best deserves his service and his loyalty. Van and Yuna become entwined in the political bio-warfare between these two nations, and their fate becomes part and parcel with the Mittsual and the Aquafa cause. 

Unlike Ghibli films, this movie is based on an existing fantasy novel series by Nahoko Uehashi. The original 2014 fantasy novel won a Japanese prize for medical fiction. This film adaptation retains much of Nahoko's interest in how a pre-modern culture faces a disease it doesn't understand. 

Pairing the complex storyline and continued beauty of Ando's animation with the sweeping melodies of Harumi Fuuki, The Deer King stands out among other animated movies. The future looks bright for Ando's directing future. 

Opening at Showroom Cinema on Friday 29th July. Tickets are now on sale.  

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