First-time filmmaker Diego Guzman’s new 2D animated feature draws inspiration from Satoshi Kon and Masaaki Yuasa to tell the tale of citizens contorting their bodies by any means possible into square shapes to get into a Tetris-like cube heaven, until one man finds another shape inside him that’s the antithesis of their world.
There’s plenty about first-time filmmaker Diego Guzman’s animated feature The Other Shape that isn’t even remotely familiar territory, such as citizens contorting their bodies by any means necessary into square shapes or their universe’s Tetris-like cube heaven. But fans of Japan’s most iconic early 2000s films may find Guzman’s bizarre world still contains a welcomed nostalgia.
“Satoshi Kon is one of my heroes,” says Guzman of the anime director, best known for Paprika, Perfect Blue, and Tokyo Godfathers. “I’ve always admired him, not just for his movie’s visuals but also the way he tells a story. Things can get a bit crazy, and our movie is very trippy as well. Also, in my movie, there’s actually a homage to the robot from Paprika.”
A finalist for the New York Animation Film Awards, The Other Shape (or La Otra Forma) is a Latin American co-production between Guzman’s HIERROanimacion in Colombia and GIZ Studio in Brazil. The 2D animated dystopian feature follows character Peter Press, a man obsessed with fitting (literally and figuratively) into a geometric world, where everything and everyone is shaped like a square, by any means necessary. Be it by a box, a frame, a metal press, or some other form of stretching and contorting, the citizens of Guzman’s animated world will go to the most extreme lengths to shape themselves into squares and ascend to–or be physically inserted into–square paradise.
But Peter soon discovers that there’s another, wild, authentic shape inside him that’s the antithesis of his entire world. The sci-fi film was featured at Annecy and won Best Animation at Spain’s Sitges Film Festival. The Other Shape is set to screen next at Animasyros animation festival in Greece from Tuesday, September 26 through Sunday, October 1, and on Friday, September 29 at the Festival of Animation Berlin.
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The movie also contains no dialogue.
“For myself, as an animator, it’s easier to tell stories in drawings rather than using words,” shares Guzman. “And it seems to be working. One of the feedbacks we’ve had from people coming out of the movie is that they feel stiff and claustrophobic, which is kind of the point.”
With no script to describe the thoughts and feelings of his characters, Guzman wanted to make sure the film contained as much descriptive imagery as possible and looked to his long-time hero Satoshi Kon’s films, observing the way faces were drawn in extreme detail, with every line and wrinkle accounted for, and how skin was animated in a way that made it feel palpable, gooey, and fragile. This makes the body constriction all the more disturbing.
“We also wanted you to feel the skin of the characters, because this is a conflict between man and machine and there’s a lot of friction between the skin and the metal,” explains Guzman. “When a character is scared, or trapped, we want people to really feel that.”
He adds, “With no dialogue, you make use of everything that you have: color, composition, and, very importantly, music. The music tends to carry the emotional journey of the characters. It’s not a musical, but almost 80 percent of the film is making use of music.”
In addition to films like Paprika, Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game inspired many of the colors used and shape volume expressed in The Other Shape, and Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville was also a movie with no dialogue that helped guide Guzman’s characters, who often embody the silent acting flamboyancy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
But one of the biggest production challenges wasn’t making up for the lack of character conversation, but rather the design of the square citizens in contrast to the abstract, “other shaped” creature residing inside Peter.
“It took us a long time to find the right animators and, even after we did, it was about a six-month training period for the animators to learn how to get the model of the characters right,” says Guzman. “But this creature at the end is the opposite of these designs. So, then they had to unlearn all that. There are days when I don’t know how we made this movie. We were all just so passionate about it.”
The origins of The Other Shape began with a simple, yet profound, observation that Guzman had about 10 years ago.
“I just started to look around and realized that everything is squared nowadays,” he shares. “Our phones, picture frames, windows, doors, rugs, perfume bottles. And it’s perfectly normal, until you start thinking about it all the time like a conspiracy and wondering if there’s some technique to all this with mass production. If everything around us is becoming a square shape, then the next step would be that we’d want to become that shape as well.”
Slowly but surely, this square world Guzman had built began to produce characters, and those characters began to adopt different devices that would allow them to manually morph their faces, eyes, feet, and even breasts into squares. And the square world of The Other Shape, Guzman notes, is the polar opposite of the nature of the Latin American environment.
“In the movie’s world, everything fits just perfectly but, in Latin America, nothing fits perfectly,” he says. “You have to push it, bend it, stretch it, do what you have to do to make it fit. A dinner for two can be a dinner for three. That kind of thing. In that way, the process the characters go through to become a square is very symbolic of that.”
It began as a rather funny idea, but it didn’t take long for the darker themes of Guzman’s film to make their way to the surface.
“Animation helps us to feel even more than we would in the real world,” he shares. “Like with food, for example. Animated food always looks so much better. And in this film, the stuff that’s uncomfortable to talk about is even more uncomfortable to see.”
After five years of production, the film was released into Colombian cinemas and Guzman is still a bit shocked that his first-ever feature film is not only on the global festival circuit, but winning awards on top of that.
“There aren’t a lot of stories like this coming out of Latin America,” he says. “We don’t usually see entirely new worlds being created like this. I wanted to explore that and encourage other filmmakers to explore that as well.”
He continues, “We chose all the tough roads. It’s an animated feature, that’s not for kids, with no dialogue, and an ending that’s open for debate. But I would do it again. And I plan to.”
Guzman admits that The Other Shape “Is not a movie for everyone,” but has some advice for those who are able to make it to a screening.
“A lot of people walk out and are like, ‘What did I just see?’” says Guzman. “My advice is to let it sit for 15 minutes. You have to keep an open mind and think outside the box. And pay attention to everything. Don’t try to be on your phone and watch this at the same time. You will miss something.”
To stay up to date on The Other Shape’s festival appearances and screenings, follow HIERROanimacion’s updates on their website or social channels: