GIRAF Animation Festival streaming Canada-wide Nov. 19-28

Marco's Oriental Noodles

Set in small-town Saskatchewan in the year 2037, it's the story of a trendy noodle shop exploring the newest frontier in hipster cuisine: psychedelic, polydimensional comfort food.

An illustration of a person in a trucker hat and vest staring at a bowl of ramen

Howie Shia's entry in the CBC's Keep Calm and Decolonize series holds onto some of the traits of his previous short, Bam, but you could hardly be blamed for missing the connection between the two. Ambitious as it is in its dynamic compositions and mythical allusions, Bam is still a straightforward story set in a realistic world. Rendered solely in shades of pink and red, Marco's Oriental Noodles is even more tightly restrained than its predecessor visually, and significantly more conceptually sprawling.

Spurred on by the CBC's call for Canadian animation that presents an alternative, anti-colonial vision for Canada, Shia's film plants a flag for trippy Prairie sci-fi as a terrain worth exploring. Set in small-town Saskatchewan in the year 2037, it's the story of a trendy noodle shop exploring the newest frontier in hipster cuisine: psychedelic, polydimensional comfort food.

Marco's Oriental Noodles immediately differentiates itself from most science fiction by refusing to make a clean break from the past. It's like a twist on William Gibson's oft-quoted statement that the future is already here, just unevenly distributed. If that's true, it follows that it'll still be unevenly distributed in the decades to come, but most sci-fi is still set in unrecognizable worlds transformed by the sweep of technology. They aren't likely to feature a water tower in their opening shot, unless it's to emphasize a post-apocalyptic resource shortage.

Shia's future-Saskatchewan may have hover-pickup trucks making Jetsons noises, but they're still pickup trucks, and it's still clearly Saskatchewan. The one aspect that is pure, 100% future-fantasy is the food. Marco's shop has taken advantage of the legalization of "quantum narcotics" to develop a menu of science-pun-laden dishes that sound like something out of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. None of them sound particularly pleasant to eat, but they do sound like an experience. Whether they still count as "oriental noodles", well, that's a complex question.

Food is a tricky subject when it comes to questions of colonialism and appropriation. As Shia says in an interview with Skwigly's Ben Mitchell, "Every hipster in the western world is chasing down “authentic” ramen/tacos/falafels/whatever; but in a sense, the pursuit of authenticity is a way of holding a culture in place – cherry picking an era and region and politic and declaring that circumstance to be more authentic than any before or after. It’s not done with malicious intent, but there is definitely a sense of entitlement built into it." By showing a heightened version of trendy "ethnic" food, Shia is able to look at Canada's multiculturalism from a skewed perspective rather than tackling the issue head on.

It's an imaginative, pun-filled short, one that's sure to entertain anyone with a head for science and a stomach for ramen. It's also a good reminder that sci-fi is often at its best when it strays from grandiose stories and sprawling mega-cities. A quiet setting, a well-observed script, and a willingness to embrace the inevitable oddness of the future all go a long way.

dir: Howie Shia
syn: A futuristic noodle shop in small-town Saskatchewan has become the world’s first purveyor of the latest in culinary fashion: psychedelic, polydimensional comfort food. In this lovingly bizarre short, director and animator Howie Shia examines the small, largely unnoticeable ways in which colonization seeps into our lives, and asks, what is the responsibility of those who dine at a colonial supper table in his film Marco's Oriental Noodles? Dig in. As the country marks 150 years of Confederation, five of Canada's most distinguished filmmakers respond to Buffy Sainte-Marie's call to "Keep Calm and Decolonize" and offer an alternative vision.

Watch all five films, curated by Jesse Wente, now: http://cbc.ca/decolonize

2017