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Memories 1995

Memories (1995)

Katsuhiro Otomo had been involved with two other anthologies (and one afterwards) prior to Memories, and while I’m still hunting down Neo Tokyo, I’m pretty confident in saying that Memories will remain my favourite.

And maybe there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in that – some of the stuff we see as teenagers seems to cling to us for decades after, right? Well, this is one of those titles but I think most anime fans would enjoy at least two out of the three shorts in this anthology regardless of the production context or their age.

Actually – let me re-phrase, if you like science-fiction and a bit of light horror, maybe some dark comedy or allegory, then Memories has you covered.

The anthology is made up of three pieces – all based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s short manga works, and features three directors. For me (and for most folks it seems) the stand out is Magnetic Rose (dir. Kōji Morimoto), which is as haunting as it is beautiful. Everything about it is top notch and I’d recommend seeing Magnetic Rose if you had to choose just one. Now, I’m definitely biased as there’s a lot of involvement from some of my favourite industry figures – there’s the Otomo source material and a screenplay by Satoshi Kon and music by Yoko Kanno, but the nightmarish search of the ruined ship and its decaying memories really is mesmerising.

The other two stories, Stink Bomb (dir. Tensai Okamura) and Cannon Fodder (dir. Katsuhiro Otomo) are just as well put-together but for me not quite as good as the opener – Stink Bomb has some moments of dark comedy but for me it’s closer to a tragedy in the end, and features some great animation too. The final short is easily the more distinctive when it comes to art style, but perhaps due to its allegorical nature the message seemed stronger than the story; it came closer to being a vignette actually.

I actually would love to see more of the anthology format, as it seems to have resurface only occasionally across the last twenty years. Or maybe it’s more that I’ve missed them? Obviously I remember Short Piece from 2013 and I was also excited to see that Studio Ponoc’s second work is also an anthology (Modest Heroes) so the anthology approach isn’t ‘gone’ but it did seem like it was no longer in fashion for quite a while there.

4 Stars

Kurogane Communication (Kurogane Komyunikeishon)

The first thing that struck me about Kurogane Communication was how clearly it evokes great robot-focused films of the past. There’s obviously a nod to Terminator in the form of Reeves (and maybe Robocop for Honi) but Ghost in the Shell is probably the text that’s referenced most often – from Major to the Puppet Master and even to the OST at times (maybe no surprise considering Kenji Kawai was involved there).

Kurogane Communication (Kurogane Komyunikeishon) 1998

Yet Kurogane Communication is probably pitched at a younger audience – it’s far brighter visually and fairly optimistic tone-wise, and most of the violence is centred around robots. (Somehow, the show evokes Astro Boy, though perhaps only vaguely). Most interesting to me, in terms of pinning down the target age group, is the fact that each episode is around 15 minutes (a little less without opening and closing). For me, that sorta had two effects – one was to give the impression of a show built for pre-teen audiences and their (perceived) shorter attention spans and the other, it seemed to compress the storytelling really well.

Each episode is a tightly constructed with a distinct problem being introduced and solved but slowly the bigger picture is also revealed and by the last act it’s a single, larger issue that faces the team. The show does squeeze in some characterisation too, and while the leads generally embody famous archetypes, there’s an interesting touch to some of them for sure. Part of the draw for me is the post-apocalyptic aspects and the mystery there – I think I am a little obsessed with imagingings of the future, and stories where humanity manages to persist in the face of its own grievous errors.

At times I think it was clear the anime didn’t have enough screen-time to set everything up, and if you give this show a shot, you’ll noticed a fair few things that feel like plot holes or unexplained conveniences. For one thing, for a while there the plot only moved forward if Haruka just ran off into danger despite solid reasons not to – but I was able to look beyond those problems easily enough. I will say that the anime worked the ‘accidental pervert’ trope far too hard for a young lead and the other bits of fan service didn’t seem to fit the tone of the show or the given scene.

Still, despite those things Kurogane Communication has heart; Spike is cute and the ending is sweet and welcome, there’s some touching moments throughout, a compelling setting, a steady pace and Angela’s backstory was a real highlight – in fact, I’d be more than happy to see a spin-off series about her life as a duelling robot 🙂

3.5 Stars

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (Toraigan baddorando ranburu)

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (Toraigan baddorando ranburu) 2010

I’m sure I’ve led a review with something like the following statement before, but I imagine following up on a classic, even with the same team, must be both exciting and daunting. For me, I feel like Trigun: Badlands Rumble had a lot of the familiar elements I was hoping for, along with some fun new stuff too. Ultimately, it’s unfair to compare a single movie to a series but I imagine fans of the original will still enjoy Badlands Rumble without being necessarily over the moon about it – and I myself liked it plenty 😀

The film opens with a great, self-contained prologue that has tension, comedy and action in typical Trigun fashion. It works as a great reminder for (or introduction to) folks about the tone of the storytelling and the setting too – along with doing a great job highlighting Vash’s trademark goofball pacifism.

The story is essentially about catching a thief but there are a few players whose hands are not revealed too quickly, and a lot of competing interests which kept me guessing at times. I believe in the lead-up to release of the film there was some talk of the movie being ‘Vash vs Wolfwood’ but that’s not the meat of the story at all. It’s also still firmly a western but includes those sneaky sci-fi aspects too.

Obviously, as a feature film the budget and animation quality is higher than the TV series (which predated the movie by 12 years) and it’s a welcome update for sure, but the characters were the main draw for me going in.

In terms of character, when I saw Badlands it was a lot like that ‘meeting up with old friends’ cliché and so it was hard to untangle nostalgia from the experience. But still, Wolfwood’s appearance is a great little surprise, and while I’m always craving more time for he and Vash to interact, the film widens the scope beyond the usual team to give thief Gasback (one of the main antagonists) and bounty hunter Amelia more screen time, which I really enjoyed because it expanded the world of Gunsmoke nicely.

One thing I wanted to also quickly mention was the ‘sympathy for the devil’ trope that’s pretty popular across all entertainment mediums – I always consider it a bit manipulative on the part of the writers, since it makes it easy to forget that the character it refers to is actually a bad chap or chapette. Of course, it’s also a sign of more nuanced characters so that’s always a plus.

It was also really nice to have Tsuneo Imahori responsible for the OST again, as I really loved Sandstorm for one, but it’s equally gratifying to see the original voice cast reunited too – as ever, I reckon Masaya Onosaka kills it as Vash. (Oh, and for an idea of the increase in production values check out the saloon rumble!)

4 Stars  

Where’s Wally – or Vash, anyway

The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi)

The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi) 2002

After 1995’s Whisper of the Heart I imagine at least a few folks were saying ‘I wish we could read one of Shizuku’s stories about Baron’ and luckily, that’s the premise of The Cat Returns.

It’s a loose sequel to Whisper of the Heart (as the carry-over characters are limited to the Baron and Muta) and it follows more of an adventure/isekai storyline – and those aren’t negative differences for me. The movie is also a little shorter than most Ghibli films but Aoi Hiiragi is still involved with the writing so the Baron is his usual charming self.

As ever, the animation is great. Both the real world and the Cat Kingdom that main character Haru finds herself dragged into are bright and memorable but for me, despite Haru being a good lead, I was mostly thrilled to see Baron get to take (mostly) centre stage. There’s daring rescues, thrilling chases and even a bit of swordplay, and also comedic moments here and there too – not just slapstick, but also things like the neat little pun in the form of the CIA-like tuxedo cats.

And in a way, the film is worth it to see Muta in action too 🙂

During the years of Ghibli powering along and releasing back to back blockbusters, it seemed like maybe there wasn’t much time for the leaders of the studio to support new directors as much as they’d perhaps like… although, I haven’t read deeply on the subject but I’m very curious nevertheless.

Because obviously Miyazaki, Takahata and Suzuki have at times given the reins to other staff members and results have mostly been great, I reckon – especially with the most obvious choice in Yoshifumi Kondō (who directed Whisper of the Heart.) Here, in The Cat Returns, Hiroyuki Morita was given director’s chair. Over the years, he’d been involved in a lot of impressive titles before being given the spotlight, like Akira, Lupin III, Memories, My Neighbors the Yamadas and GITS2 among others.

In the end, I don’t know if The Cat Returns ended up being overall as enchanting for me as Whisper of the Heart but obviously they’re different films by design, and The Cat Returns is still worth watching at least once.

3 Stars

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Banpaia Hantā Dī: Buraddorasuto)

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Banpaia Hantā Dī: Buraddorasuto) 2000

Even today, nearly twenty years after the release of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, I’m still fascinated by the fact that the English dub was done first. And, twenty years later and I’ve still never heard the Japanese cast 🙂

Finishing the English voice acting first was done as part of push for (much-deserved) attention overseas during a US theatrical run in 2000 and I wonder if the subtitle had a related secondary function? The first was of course to distinguish it from the original anime adaptation but to me it’s suggesting that a vampire’s struggle with (or failure to contain) their desire for blood will make up a good amount of the plot.

Instead, the source material probably has a more accurate title perhaps – the third novel in Hideyuki Kikuchi’s series that makes up the key aspects of the movie was called Demon Deathchase.

I like it because it’s more functional in terms of a descriptor – since the film is kinda one long chase sequence. There’s still room to breathe and reflect here and there, and plenty of fighting and gore, but the pacing is brisk as D seeks his bounty through increasingly grim scenes. There’s not a lot of time for character development either, but the scene-setting and atmosphere-building (via the creepy OST and the beautifully gothic visuals) aren’t ignored by any stretch.

The opening alone feels like a lesson in establishing both setting and mood – but it soon leads to the main plot – the rescue mission of a maiden ensnared by a vampire, and then it’s straight to the first impressive fight sequence as D and competing bounty hunters rip through some of the shambling zombie-type vampires. (It’s not until later that we meet the real Vampires; once again the arrogant noble-types).

On almost every level this adaptation is superior to the 1985 one, though in a way it’s not as bold, nor do we get the same feel for D as a character this time around. I think Bloodlust is not as much a gore-fest either, and perhaps it’s even somewhat toned down for Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who was behind Ninja Scroll, Wicked City etc. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is also something of a tragic love story and so if you’re looking for the kinda crass sexual content sometimes found in his other films, you won’t get it here. And whether that was done in part to placate US censors or audiences, I obviously can’t say, but it was a nice change from Kawajiri.

While I don’t usually place spoiler warnings within reviews of ‘old’ films, nor much beyond my general note in the About section, I’ll probably do so now – this next para will spoil a few things.

The film follows certain horror conventions almost as much as dark fantasy and so a good deal of the supporting cast is quickly established as cannon-fodder, and so once I knew most of them would die I didn’t have to bother becoming invested in their lives or storylines, but obviously Leila remains important enough to survive, and again, D is the main draw. Yet it’s Grove who’s probably the most memorable of the supporting cast – and arguably the most tragic – in the film. He’s basically an ace-in-the-hole but when he’s not kicking monster butt he’s bound by the toll his power takes on his body and though his fellow hunters care… there’s no quest to help him; he’s just a caged weapon to be used up. (Maybe there’s more to it in the novel, of course.)

For me the dub was memorable though I guess Wendee Lee might have possibly been under-utilised a little? And if I compare John Dimagio (who you’ll doubtless know as Bender among many other roles) he was able to play three or four characters and I only picked up on him voicing two of them 😀 In terms of a more specific negative for me, I admit that I wasn’t totally sold on semi-Beetlejuice-esque update to Left Hand – his dialogue too, often fell into a ‘comic-relief’ vein which I didn’t like but, it is a distinctive feature of the film.

But again, everything is really high-level with Bloodlust, right down to the very last scene, which is touching coda that I won’t spoil, and is probably my second-favourite moment in the film.

Definitely for fans of Kawajiri and the vampire genre in general, and certainly anyone who is familiar with Vampire Hunter D but might not have seen this one yet, as it can be fun to compare, for instance, there’s still a strong western feel and a retro-look to a lot of the character design.

Supposedly a television series has been in development for many years – so if it is released one day, I’m sure I’ll check it out with high hopes indeed.

5 Stars

Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki)

Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki) 2012

Another blockbuster from Mamoru Hosoda, though it’s far deeper into tear-jerker territory than his previous film, Summer Wars. But soon after that movie’s success Hosoda left Madhouse to create Studio Chizu, and Wolf Children was the first feature made by his new studio.

My anticipation was pretty high for this film in the lead up (much like it had been with Summer Wars) and while it’s just as beautiful (and just as fraught with drama) it’s not an action film, though there’s more than enough tension mixed in with the romance and magic. The film also has a slice of life feel at times – all great things!

As is my way with these write-ups, I try not to offer too much in the way of plot but in its simplest form – this is the story of a single mother fighting to keep her family together. Hana is a good lead, determined, very human. And she faces some pretty hard times, not in the least of which being that her children are shape-shifters. (And of course, quite adorable too). Other times it is prejudice that she has to deal with or the terror of the natural world but obviously her own doubts too.

The story is wide enough to focus on both her and the kids’ storylines individually, as Wolf Children does span a few years but not in such a way that you feel like ‘I missed something here’ and so by the end it does feel a little like a saga. Regular Hosoda collaborator Satoko Okudera wrote the screenplay here and I think that’s a big part of why the film works too.

I actually hadn’t realised when I first saw it that the character design was by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki, though it will feel far closer to his work on The Girl who Leapt Through Time as opposed to Neon Genesis. But that’s more of a side note, I guess – so I’ll wrap it up now and just say that if you’ve missed this drama I think it’s definitely worth watching.

4 Stars

When can I say something is a classic?

So, when can I actually say something is a classic?

The glib answer is whenever I want, of course 😀

But while working on a semi-functional menu for the Review Heap and checking over some of my tags – I saw one that caught my eye: classic.

Of course, I instantly began to doubt myself, wondering “am I using this tag judiciously enough”? I think I’d only tagged three titles thusly out of the scores of reviews I’d done at that point. After a quick look through them I added two more and then started to doubt myself again. For instance, I thought about tagging Pyscho-Pass… but is it really old enough to be a classic?

Another pause.

.

‘Age’ is hardly the only valid metric for deciding whether something is a classic or not, right? I mean, I reckon it certainly is useful – if a text has maintained some sort of critical and/or audience-based acclaim over a long time then it probably is pretty damn classic. But should something quite good (in my opinion) like Pyscho-Pass be precluded from that status because it’s less than 10 years old?

(To change gears for just a tic, I wonder if this might be a good discussion-style kinda post? I don’t do many of them but this seems like it could work, and so if you’d like to weigh in, please do!)

So after a few quick searches I found some interesting quotes/posts/ideas from a few different areas: cars, games, beauty, literature, furniture and music. Obviously, they won’t all be directly analogous to film and television and further, not all of the quotes below are from famous or scholarly sources either, but I think they’ll still be useful.

At the very bottom I’ll narrow down some parameters that I want to try to use here on the blog perhaps.

To begin at last, generally speaking:

A classic is an outstanding example of a particular style; something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality; of the first or highest quality, class, or rank – something that exemplifies its class.

(Wikipedia)

That’s a pretty good start I reckon, high quality and exemplary. Now I’ll change gears into the world of automobiles for a moment, where one source defines ‘classic’ as:

For example, the Classic Car Club of America defines a classic as a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile built between 1915 and 1948. For insurance and registration purposes, the age of a classic car, in most cases, is at least 20 years old but not more than 40 years old.

Here ‘age’ pops up but there’s a minimum for ‘classic’ of around 20 years, and a top range too, when insurers get involved at least. Obviously I can’t speak to their categories but using that idea of age as marker would suggest Pyscho Pass isn’t actually ‘old enough’ yet.

A quick one now:

Furniture and small appliances tend to be considered ‘vintage’ from 25 to 50 years old and older.

There’s that ‘couple of decades’ kinda requirement again! Now I want to jump over to literature for a bit, to first come at the metric of Time from the opposite end:

Modern classics in literature are like that—smooth-skinned and young, yet with a sense of longevity… A classic usually expresses some artistic quality—an expression of life, truth, and beauty.

Thoughtco

Longevity appears here, which I like – in this instance they’ve suggested that the beholder has to make a call about what is an ‘instant’ or ‘modern’ classic based on potential longevity. That I think is pretty interesting as it sets us each up, in a way, as kinda arbitrary arbiters. Not sure beauty fully works in terms of language or say, a visual style when thinking of film texts, because those production elements can be outstanding, distinctive or exemplary without being conventionally beautiful, right?

Still, onward – now from Italo Calvino:

A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers… A classic is a work that comes before other classics; but those who have read other classics first immediately recognize its place in the genealogy of classic works.

I like some of this as well; a classic text rewards repeated engagement – seems like a criteria that most folks would accept too. It’s also interesting to see him mention genealogy but also a place ‘above’ the rest, perhaps – and so I now feel like a classic can only be a true classic if it’s seen as better than the other classics out there 😀

This from Richard J. Smith, writing about the I-Ching:

  • First, the work must focus on matters of great importance, identifying fundamental human problems and providing some sort of guidance for dealing with them.
  • Second, it must address these fundamental issues in ‘beautiful, moving, and memorable ways,’ with ‘stimulating and inviting images.’
  • Third, it must be complex, nuanced, comprehensive, and profound, requiring careful and repeated study in order to yield its deepest secrets and greatest wisdom.
  • [Fourth] One might add that precisely because of these characteristics, a classic has great staying power across both time and space.

Okay, more stuff I like here, though again I see ‘beauty’… but maybe I’m being too narrow in my definition when I see the word used here? I keep thinking aesthetics, yet maybe I shouldn’t – though I definitely believe memorable is a useful word. The first criteria is interesting too – if I double back to Pyscho-Pass, the series feels like it does identify fundamental human problems and maybe offer some guidance too.

I stumbled across this blog post from 2010 and it’s going back to ‘time/age’ again but brings in the idea of the wider genre – and I think it’s clear that while all the songs in the example are rock songs, (so the grouping is of similar things on the surface) there are still differences in how audiences respond to these purportedly equal members of that group of classic songs.

When I was at the gym this afternoon, before I had put in my iPod earbuds, I heard U2’s “Beautiful Day” on one of the local classic rock radio stations. No complaints from me, of course, but really … how old does a song have to be to be called “classic rock”?

“Beautiful Day” was released less than 10 years ago — September 2000. Partly because U2 has really slowed down its pace of album releases, that song was the lead single just two albums before the current one. Just doesn’t seem like it belongs next to 25-year-old Van Halen songs, 35-year-old Zeppelin songs, and things like “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

The other point this example triggered for me, is whether a band which started in say, the late 70s like U2, is always playing ‘classic rock’ even when they release a song in 2010 and such a term in music clearly refers to the past. Obviously, the band’s work spanned a range of genres and styles over the years but this becomes similar to a related issue, I guess: namely, when unpacking any art movement that features terms like ‘modernism’ or ‘contemporary’ I have to remember that sometimes that word is ‘frozen’ and it only refers to a particular period.

Therefore, ‘classic rock’ is perhaps closer to a historical genre than a description of quality and so we might have classic films that are of a time and place but more valuable as historical documents rather than paragons for the future.

Anyone else getting sick of the word classic yet? Just me? Okay, well, now I want to share a short exchange from a gamespot forum, dated around five years ago:

#1gamerguru100

I know this can vary for different things. In your opinion, how much time passes before a movie is considered classic? Video games? Cars? Something else?

I can’t really come up with an example. 😛 I mean, when did NES and SNES become classic video game systems? The early 2000s maybe?

What do you think?

Master_Live

Like you said, it varies. I would say for example (to name a few):

GoldenEye (1997)

GTA III (2001)

Halo 1 (2001)

are already classics.

top_lel

I would say 16 years but that would make me classic too.

The_Last_Ride

10-15 years i would say

deactivated-5b1e62582e305

I don’t think it’s only a measure of time but more about how much impact it’s had. Something like Call of Duty 4 that came out 7 years ago can already be considered a classic simply because of how it changed the industry.

So once again, time seems really important but also now the question of how much ‘impact’ a game had on those that followed. To me, that makes the two go hand in hand to some extent – for instance, to truly judge the impact of one text on those that followed, you obviously have to actually wait around a few years to see.

In that case, can I say Pyscho-Pass is a classic because it will probably one day be cited as an influence on future productions? Or is Pyscho-Pass the result of the influence of other classic texts? I guess we only need to look to Philip K Dick’s work (specifically the film adaptations like Blade Runner and Minority Report) to see what director Naoyoshi Shiotani felt were influences on Pyscho-Pass.

And as a side-note, is the series no longer a classic (in my head) now that subsequent seasons have lowered in quality or audience response?

But finally now, this from a 2018 thread online where folks were arguing about classic beauty:

Classic beauty just means a beauty that involves a symmetric, well-proportioned face, features on the delicate side, none disproportionate (even if its beautiful or sexy in its own way, e.g. Angelina’s mouth, Amal’s eyebrows), perhaps a statuesque, sculptural quality to face and body.

Here there seemed to be concerns around aesthetic and structure, which I think can be applied to art just as easily because we obviously care about the look of animation, the quality of the writing, especially the plot and characterisation at a minimum.

Phew – bigger post than I feared!

But it looks like idea of longevity (or at least a sense that longevity is likely) comes up often, along with the actual features of the text (which I take to mean both style and content) and yes, a certain amount of chronological distance from the present (distinct from longevity) along with the actual or even potential impact on a genre/medium and/or upon the texts that followed the potential classic, are all key factors that I should consider – based on my admittedly cursory research here.

I guess something like the following could be among things for me to think about before using the ‘classic’ tag in my reviews (not that it ultimately matters, but I’ve had fun here :D):

  • Longevity
  • Impact on other texts
  • Aesthetic or structural qualities
  • Worth multiple viewings

Okay, done! I’d love to hear if you’ve got anything to add, as I’m sure I’ve missed something.

And I haven’t decided on Pyscho-Pass just yet, though maybe it shouldn’t be so hard? I think the first season at least ticks 3 of the 4 criteria I mentioned above for me, but I’m wondering whether the Longevity aspect can hold out? I mean, will folks turn away from the show in the next couple of decades if the subsequent seasons continue to be received poorly/not as highly as the first?

I’ll keep thinking!

AND for curiosity’s sake, here are the films I’ve tagged with that precious ‘classic’ moniker so far:

The Review Heap Classics (as of Nov 2019)

Though if you’re expecting certain films or shows to be there well, they might not show up simply because I haven’t got around to them yet – for instance, GITS is missing but won’t be missing forever!

Gude Crest – The Emblem of Gude (Onna Senshi Efe & Jīra: Gūde no Monshō)

Gude Crest – The Emblem of Gude (Onna Senshi Efe & Jīra: Gūde no Monshō) 1990

Gude Crest is a JC Staff one-shot OVA. It’s based on the high fantasy novels of Hikawa Reiko’s (Onna senshi Efera & Jiriora, 1989 -) and at 45 mins it really zooms through the story, so that’s a plus if you want something fairly old-school and fast-paced.

On the other hand, Gude Crest wasn’t blessed by a big budget. You’ll get a fair few pans across stills to establish the location and even a few repeated shots, though overall it’s not miles behind the studio’s Ellcia (released couple of years after). To my eye, care has mostly gone into character design and some of the fight sequences.

What I found most enjoyable was the characters and the world itself, since everything is presented pretty boldly, which makes sense given the running time. In a way, the heroines Efe and Jīra aren’t too far removed from say Charlies Angels or even the Dirty Pair, since their dynamic is pretty similar. You can see that mismatched partners/buddy-cop feel to their interactions at times, though the bickering isn’t always funny so much as just ‘on-screen’.

(I did notice the direction at times, there’s some great use of perspective or framing, like here with the candles in the temple)

Elsewhere the dialogue can be exposition-heavy and I suspect that’s partly because the adaptation starts more ‘in the middle’ of a book. Instantly, the characters are already well-defined but in contrast, there’s a lot of contextual info that seemed to be missing.

Still, it’s a short, fun fantasy story. And somehow, though it is less complex than say Ellcia, I think I enjoyed Gude Crest a little more. Even with a fairly anti-climactic finish in some ways, it just had more exuberance overall.

3 Stars

Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta)

Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta) 1992

Ah, the Crimson Pig – another classic Ghibli film, and another chance for Miyazaki to explore romance and the thrill of flight, along with the planes themselves too.

Having opened with that statement I’ll quickly add that Porco Rosso is still most definitely an action film but there’s a real sense of a sweeping, even war-time Hollywood romance to a lot of the story and setting, which is no surprise given the historical aspects.

Doubtless everyone is aware that this movie was based on a Miyazaki manga and commissioned (at first) as a shorter film for flights upon Japan Airlines. But it quickly grew into a full-length feature and I reckon it’s one of his best, though Porco doesn’t get the same attention as say, Spirited Away, Howls or Totoro.

In brief, Porco Rosso is the story of an Italian ace fighter pilot who has turned his back on humanity and even cursed himself into having a pig’s head. He now works the Adriatic sea as a bounty hunter and struggles to deal with his old life – perhaps chief amongst his worries is former love Gina (voiced in the dub by Susan Egan who some will recognise as Lin from Spirited Aaway).

Again, I’ll skip away from too many details of the plot but there’s a lot of comedy in the movie too, mostly provided by Porco’s rival, the ego maniac (yet somewhat honorable) Curtis. But there’s plenty of room for slapstick too and some good one-liners, and perhaps most amusingly, Miyazaki gets to expand upon the comical (even silly) fist fight routine he also used in Laputa: Castle in the Sky years earlier.

But I think most of what really enthrals me each time I see the film is the stunning scenery – it’s an idealised but still enchanting version of Europe – even with the fascists. And having Porco’s plane painted red really makes it pop against the sunny blues and greens; I guess it’s an obvious but still effective choice.

Of course, being a visual medium I’m gonna mention the actual plane designs and attention to detail there too, which seems stunning, and the dogfights are always fantastic. I wish I knew more about aviation to really appreciate the work I think Miyazaki and Ghibli put in to those aspects, actually.

But another aspect that stands out to me was the dub – it felt like, post the success of Spirited Away, Disney decided to put a fair bit of money behind the voice acting. I always feel a little sad when I don’t give the original actors enough credit, since they deserve to be heard, but I’ve grown really accustomed to Michael Keaton as Porco and Cary Elwes as Curtis (in fact, all of Cary’s work for Ghibli feels perfect to me :D). There’s even a gruff Brad Garrett right around the peak of Everybody Loves Raymond in a smaller role.

Aside from the adventure, romance and aerial battles, this might be Miyazaki’s most intertexual film for Ghibli, since it comes jam-packed full of references – I’m sure I’ve missed some but it feels like there are so many: Hollywood-style movie posters, Gina’s lounge-singing scene, the Disney and Betty Boop homages in the cinema, the historical context of course and the haunting Roald Dahl scene to name a few. I guess there’s also a few in-jokes, and maybe Fio hearkens back to Nausicaa somewhat, in the way that the fist fight looks back to Miyazaki’s earlier work too. In fact, there’s one of his quotes that I found when I went digging:

“When a man becomes middle-aged, he becomes a pig”

And I wonder if middle age (I guess he was around 50 at the time) influenced a lot of the nostalgia found in the movie? (As opposed to Miyazaki claiming that he himself was a pig).

The richness of the allusions continue to Joe Hisashi’s soundtrack too – which is perhaps not as lush as that of Howl’s Moving Castle, but when I listen to it now I wonder if it isn’t more romantic? So much is beautiful:

But there’s also the moments like this, to circle back to the allusions, where it seems Hisaishi is channeling Flight of the Bumblebee:

And I’m sure there are other aspects I missed there, but since this ended up being far longer than I first imagined, I think I’ll wrap it up now and just say that I love this movie 😀

5 Stars

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (3)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2019

Continuing my ‘not an episode review’ posts 🙂

Just finished 4,5 & 6 and very happy that Tetsurou got at least something in the way of a consequence for his stunt and seeing Juzo’s ‘head gun’ in action was impressive – I actually didn’t think it would be fired so soon in the season.

It’s nice to meet Olivier and while her costume is kinda typical fan service fare I thought the blue lipstick was something different at least – and as her screen time increased over the last two episodes I appreciated glimpses into her and Juzo’s past – though new (long-term?) villain Gondry probably gave us more hints to Juzo’s mysteries in episode six.

The introduction to Kronen was pretty slick too and the stand off between he and Juzo in the mansion was a highlight. (I had a chuckle when later, Juzo scratches his car.) I’m interested to see whether more threads are introduced next or current ones are expanded, because the political situation is growing more complex now and maybe I’d prefer to dig in where we are a little deeper before experiencing something new.

Stein’s Gate (Shutainzu Gēto)

Stein’s Gate (Shutainzu Gēto) 2011

Game adaptations that work exceptionally well as film or longer narratives feel rare to me – but maybe that’s a reflection of my limited knowledge of animation that falls into that range?

Either way, I think this series is outstanding.

It’s rightly considered a classic of speculative fiction and anime; it features a compelling cast, premise and execution – and I mention that last aspect because for me, I can enjoy a show with fascinating ideas and give it a bit of a pass if the execution doesn’t quite match up, but I know not everyone is as forgiving as I am!

However, I don’t really feel Stein’s Gate has too many flaws – I mean, it panders with the harem aspects and main character Okabe has a moment of rage that stretched my ability to go along with him, but other than those two aspects I think the series will be well-regarded for decades.

Here’s a quick Wikipedia plot summary:

[Stein’s Gate] follows Rintaro Okabe, who together with his friends accidentally discovers a method of time travel through which they can send text messages to the past, thereby changing the present.

So, with that simple description comes a whole lot of tension and trauma as Okabe finally finds meaning through his discovery – only for his obsession to quickly pull his friends into life and death situations that soon keep compounding until Okabe is driven right to the very edge in his frantic efforts to right the wrongs he’s largely responsible for.

And yet, there is romance, friendship, comedy, conspiracy and alternate timelines aplenty, twists and welcome surprises too – all explored in a very intimate setting that is beautifully realised; the Akihabara, Tokyo that it depicts seems to strike a perfect balance between hyper-realistic and anime-romanticised.

The writing too I found to be top-notch – it’s self-aware without bludgeoning the viewer with the fact, generally where Okabe’s friend Daru takes the lion’s share of the one-liners or general wit. In fact, more often than not we’re encouraged to laugh at Okabe and his delusions of grandeur, something that will either become a source of fondness if you make it through the whole series, or which will drive you batty and force you to maybe walk away too soon, as I nearly did.

Having said that, I think that the science-fiction elements are both front and centre, but it’s still a drama and boy, at times it really made me feel for the characters. Okabe certainly puts himself through the ringer and part of the cleverness of the writing is that one of his friends, Mayuri, is such a sweet girl that his fear of making her suffer becomes a powerful storyline indeed.

Perhaps it’s not a revolutionary move in terms of storytelling – I mean, I don’t care so much if a villain suffers – but she’s so without guile that Rintaro’s mistakes really pack a bigger emotional punch than they otherwise might.

Anyway, enough rambling – I’ll close with a note that I think if you like time travel, drama or romance you’ll enjoy Stein’s Gate a lot, but a quick note: my dvd came with an OVA but presented it as episode 25 and to be honest, I don’t think it has the same impact as a final episode. If I was able, I’d jump back a bit in time and not actually watch it 😀

5 Stars

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