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Andrew Osmond on… oh, he’s forgotten already. Nurse!

Wrinkles is a new grown-up Spanish animated film about elderly people in a care home. Hang on a bit, that can’t be right. Animation and the elderly; they’re two things which have nothing to do with each other. Well, except for that grumpy old man in Pixar’s Up, pulling his house along on balloons. And that ocean-sailing, Mafia-bashing granny in Belleville Rendez-vous.

… And that ‘Turtle Ninja’ guy in the Dragon Ball anime, and Aramaki in Ghost in the Shell. And that sky pirate queen in Miyazaki’s Laputa, and Sophie for most of Howl’s Moving Castle. And Mr Burns and Homer’s dad in The Simpsons. AndWe might need a rethink.

True, many of the above characters are supporting players, or live rather more active lives than most real sept- or octogenarians, but what do you expect in animation? There are fewer animated films which take a sustained, warts-and-all look at old age, though there are some stunning cases in short indy animation; for example, the beautiful CGI film Bunny by Chris Wedge – who went on to make Ice Age – and the Oscar-winning The House of Small Cubes by Japan’s Kunio Kato.

In feature films, the classic anime case is Roujin Z, the 1991 black comedy classic available from Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray (we’ve previously looked at it here). As the Anime Encyclopedia notes, “There aren’t many anime that begin with an old man wetting himself.” This is only the first indignity which Mr. Takizawa, the oldster in question, suffers. Luckily for him, his computerised superbed takes matters into its own circuits and breaks him out of the unfeeling future care system. We described what follows as “an OAP holiday with smashed buildings, riot police and the mother of massive mecha fights.” And there’s no question that we’re on the side of the wrinklies.

We cheer for Mr. Takizawa and his superbed/computer/mecha/ever-faithful spouse (it’s complicated), though the viewpoint mostly stays with younger characters, especially the kind (and pretty) nurse, Haruko. However, some scenes still convey the darkness of old age, especially when poor Takizawa is used in the bed’s humiliating product demonstration. It’s (horribly) funny, but it puts you in the uncomfortable position of imagining what it would be like to be the system’s fall guy; to be old and helpless, at the mercy of young idiots who don’t see you as a human who’s happened to have lived on the earth a few more years than them. It’s that injustice, that impotent fury, which gives Roujin Z its soul and lets it live on longer than most mecha-fests.

Spain’s Wrinkles, though, tackles old age in a more head-on way. For anime viewers, it could be almost a parody of those ‘everyday’ (nichijo) series about schooldays and student life. These celebrate making friends, minor mishaps, the anticipation of youngsters with a wide world and the prospects of adulthood stretching out before them. Wrinkles substitutes a care home for a school, and its residents’ weathered looks won’t win swimwear contests. Their days revolve not around lessons and tests, but the fug of mealtimes and medications. The lives they contemplate are in the past. As for graduation… Well, there’s only one way that most of the care home residents will leave, and it ain’t vertical.

While the film gets us to know numerous residents in the home, it’s primarily the tale of two men. Emilio is our viewpoint for most of the way; he’s a dignified, gentlemanly widower, a former bank manager, who’s bundled off to the care home by his son, exasperated by Emilio’s drifting forgetfulness about where and when he is. In the English dub, Emilio is voiced by Martin Sheen, alongside George Coe as Emilio’s roommate Miguel. Miguel is a far more roguish, sometimes callous-seeming figure, gleefully defying the system (perhaps inevitably, there’s a touch of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.) But it’s Emilio who we stay with; and in time that means we travel with him to places other films and animation fear to tread, with no hope of return.

Directed by Ignacio Ferreras, the film is based on an award-winning graphic novel, also called Wrinkles (Arrugas in Spanish) by the artist Paco Roca. Roca was also one of the co-writers of the film version. When he’s not depicting the elderly, he’s drawn strips about Salvador Dali and the Spanish Civil War.

Wrinkles arose from a need to discuss old age, a scarcely-touched topic in literature or cinema,” said Roca. “Upon collecting his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Michael Caine lamented the lack of leading roles for his age. In today’s society, old age is like being a supporting actor and so Wrinkles reflects what the elderly are feeling, estranged from the starring roles.”

The characters in the film are grounded in people who the artist met. “I haven’t really made anything up,” Roca says. “The real anecdotes are so good they couldn’t be outdone. Emilio [the main character] is the father of a good friend of mine… I also met a lady who spent all day sat at a window convinced she was on a train, and to get her to eat something she had to be told she was in the dining coach.”  Animation allows for such states of consciousness to be visualised, in ways which could seem gimmicky in live-action but natural in drawing.

Like anime features, the film was made with a budget which was preposterously low by Hollywood standards; just €2 million. Also like anime, some work was outsourced, with about a quarter of the film’s animation being made in the Philippines. And in a third analogy, the film capitalised on Wrinkles’ existing popularity in comic form.

The strip was already a good seller in European territories, and in Japan. “So we decided to follow the comic book very closely,” says producer Manuel Cristobal, “from both the story and artistic point of view. Our film is exactly the same, so that was an advantage, and we knew we could achieve the 2D style and look even though we had so little money.”

Animation professionals often keep an eye on each other’s work. Even anime directors who turn their noses up at ‘commercial’ Japanese animation can be bowled over by what they see at world festivals. So it’s certainly possible that Wrinkles could inspire a serious anime author. In Japan, he or she could aim at a specific market, the fans of manga like Shooting Stars in the Twilight. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s an acclaimed strip by Kenshi Hirokane, telling love stories and thrillers about people on the high side of sixty.

An anime movie set in a care home, or even a whole anime TV series… Well, far stranger things have been made in the industry. But with Roujin Z as a precedent, we have to ask; will there be a mecha A.I. lurking in the basement?

Wrinkles has a limited theatrical release in the UK from 18th April, and is out on DVD and Blu-ray ten days later from Anchor Bay. Roujin Z is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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