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Cartoon feature on Jewish girl in Shanghai

CHINA'S animation industry is taking on bolder, more sophisticated topics, and one cartoon feature, "A Jewish Girl in Shanghai," will be released globally on Friday, with English subtitles.

"A Jewish Girl" from Shanghai Animation Film Studio depicts the friendship between local Chinese people and Jewish refugees who sheltered in Hongkou District's Jewish ghetto during World War II.

The girl, Wu Lin, forges a deep bond with an ordinary Chinese family, despite differences in language and culture. She is traumatized after her family's flight from Nazi persecution in Europe, but a boy her age, Zhou A'gen, helps her adjust and brings a smile to her face.

Fifty years later they are reunited when Wu returns to Shanghai.

During the conflict, around 30,000 Jewish refugees sheltered in Shanghai, mostly around what came to be known as "Little Vienna," and established a vibrant community, including synagogues, Austrian bakeries and coffee shops, kosher butcher shops, delicatessens, theaters, schools, hospitals and sports leagues. Newspapers were printed in many languages.

Food was scarce and health conditions were poor, but they survived.

The cosmopolitan city was one of the few that accepted Jews without visas and was known for its openness.

Many Jews who once lived in Shanghai and their children have visited the city to find the sites of the temporary apartments, landmarks, a museum and memorial to those years. The animated film is based on a graphic novel, "Wu Lin" (2008) by writer Wu Lin.

"Hongkou District used to be Noah's Ark for Jewish people and there were many touching stories," says Wang Tianyun, a producer of the film. "We hope this film can give young people a chance to learn about this period of history, the traditional friendship between the Chinese and Jewish people and the city's wide acceptance of different cultures."

Many foreign film distributors have shown strong interest in buying overseas copyrights, according to Wang, who notes that the full-length feature is a sensitive and thoughtful story with depth.

Cartoon boom

China's animation industry has been booming in recent years. Small private animation studios are mushrooming and the Internet is becoming an important medium for new films.

At the promotion fair for the 2010 Tudou Video Festival in April, many creative animation projects and proposals from small studios generated considerable interest among buyers.

One of the most interesting new projects in the works is an animation series about female white-collar workers and their emotional world.

The series will be a collaboration between Beijing Hutoon Animation Co Ltd and China Film Group Corp, says Pi San, Hutoon's director.

"Women living in this fast-paced society encounter many emotional problems," Pi says. The plan is to first make several seasons, nurturing a specific audience, and then making a film version.

The animated independent protagonist will be a combination of Hong Kong singer Faye Wong and French actress Audrey Tautou.

The film about pursuit of career and true love will be shown on the Internet and other platforms, such as mobile phones and outdoor LED displays.

Few Chinese animation works take a serious look at modern city life, but film makers increasingly realize that cartoon productions can deal with wide range of topics, including dating, marriage, campus life, careers, the post-1980s generation, family conflicts and other issues.

Successful American and Japanese animation demonstrate that serious topics can be effectively addressed and appeal to adult viewers.

Unlike big state-owned animation enterprises, private animation studios are generally more flexible, market-oriented and bold in creating original works.

In 2009 China produced more than 170,000 minutes of animation, compared with 130 minutes in previous year. There are an estimated 50 million cartoon consumers around the country and more than 5,000 animation enterprises, but the total output value is only around 30 billion yuan (US$4.4 billion) per year, according to the China Cartoon Industry Investment Forum held in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. So there's vast room for expansion.


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