A Tree of Palme (Parumu no Ki)

A Tree of Palme (Parumu no Ki) 2002

Over at Iridium Eye Reviews a little while back I was talking with Curtis about A Tree of Palme and he described it as an ‘avant-garde anime Pinocchio’ and I reckon that’s a spot-on description of the film, so I’d like to borrow it!

(You can check his review here :D)

I finally had the chance to see this one late last year and it was compelling. It’s a complex story and deserves a more detailed write up than I’m going to manage, but it’s also not without some flaws for me.

But! I want to nudge those off to the side for a bit and get back to what I enjoyed – first and foremost, the art and the way it fed the world-building was fantastic. It’s a mostly sombre palette with lots of shadow and blues but there’s still variety. The animation is detailed and fluid and character designs stand out too, which is most welcome in a story with a big cast.

Probably no surprise from me here, but I’d have loved more world-building detail! On the other hand, it would have been tough to fit much more into an already long movie, which has a fairly epic storyline.

The music too was moving, from the orchestral to the more sparsely arranged moments. Above all, I think I remember the Theremin most. There’s a piece below that generally signals the atmosphere of the film – and atmosphere in A Tree of Palme is indeed its own character; I think the music fits the narrative and visuals in a way that adds to the fantastical and unnerving setting.   

A Tree of Palme was directed by Takashi Nakamura, who was behind (among other things) the excellent ‘Chicken Man and Red Neck’ from Robot Carnival. If you’ve seen that short you might get a vague feel for the storytelling tone, which can be frenetic and even jumpy – that’s not instantly a problem either, but here I wanted a little more of a conventional narrative at times.

And I’m not sure I even should desire that as a viewer, because the non-linear and multi-part structure is part of what makes this film memorable.

Pushing back against that thought is the feeling that some of the sharp cuts between competing storylines don’t give me enough of either thread or character. Overall, Palme’s quest to become human seems too quickly absorbed into the far bigger story at play, which appears as a vague mythology, for one example. At other moments I wanted a bit more context around some of the competing interests in the movie too*.

Finally, I had a bit of trouble warming to Palme himself – now, I’m only one viewer so you certainly don’t have to take my word for it but in my mind, he’s more of an antagonist than hero. Part of my reasoning there is that he is powerfully selfish – or, if I were being kind, driven.

There’s a key moment in the latter half that’s really important in terms of showing onscreen growth, of showing that this is a robot struggling to figure out how to be human, but far earlier we’re shown something that soured me on him right away.

In the film’s opening we witness Palme’s cold dismissal of his creator, for what seems to be years at a time. The wooden/mechanical robot is meant to be grief-stricken to the point of shutting-down completely, and his single-minded desire to find his missing mother often turns him into a problem for those around him, especially Popo.

Now, what is clear to me despite what I’ve mentioned above, is that a big part of my problem is that I’m clearly projecting my expectations of human behaviour onto a robot, and that’s not going to fly. So whether you feel Palme is a selfish machine or a troubled character given human characteristics by the narrative, might fluctuate and change as the film goes on.

Still, I’d recommend this if you’re interested in long fantasy epics and great production values in anime – but not if you’re looking for a lean narrative more in line with a Disney adaptation, because A Tree of Palme is certainly far more challenging!

4 Stars

* Related to this, I think I would have enjoyed the story just as much or more if it had actually been told completely from Koram’s POV.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) 2017

Action-packed and grisly at times (perhaps gratuitously so, and I understand that descriptor won’t match everyone’s opinion of course) this series is pretty fast-paced, building quickly to a finish that maybe could have been ‘bigger’ but was by no means a let-down, either.

In a way, the tagline writes itself and I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it used officially – but basically, if you can imagine zombies on a train then you’ve got it to some extent.

Obviously there’s a more to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress than that, but not as much as I’d like in terms of world-building and any wider context appearing in the story. To a small extent the film that followed mitigates that feeling but overall, I think this could have easily been 24 episodes with a lot more exploration of how the world came to be the dystopia it is shown to be in the series.

The settings usually had lots of detail.

Still, I’m always willing to give a chance to a story that isn’t an adaptation and knowing that Wit Studio would produce something that (at a minimum) looked impressive led me to give the show a shot after stumbling across the film on Netflix last year.

Okay, time to jump in to some dot points:

  • Yukina and also Kurusu were underused in the story, I reckon.
  • The villain was the ‘handsome evil’ type and he really was a piece of work – clearly pretty much everything about him was a lie used to manipulate others, some good characterisation there.
  • I enjoyed the conflicting idea of being trapped – but trapped in moving thing, so whenever a train was attacked by the kabane, there was a sense that flight was both happening but also kinda useless. Having said that, maybe too many zombies were ‘shamblers’ so not always very threatening.
  • I didn’t buy the viewer resentment toward Ikoma I think I remember reading. If you’ve seen this series you’ll know he’s a classic underdog so I was on board with him pretty quickly. Most of all, he was almost always right about pretty much everything, and had to suffer fools almost constantly.

On a related note, one great thing about being so far behind everyone else with new shows, is that I often miss both the hype and the naysayers. It seems that at least to some extent, Attack on Titan fanatics piled on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a bit, considering it too similar or just a money-grab, somehow?

For me, the two shows are plenty different even with some clear similarities, and I think I’ve argued before a little on the important role of the cash-cow – without said cow, the more ‘risky’ or original shows just don’t get made. (And here I mean ‘original’ as compared to a show that is an adaptation of an existing manga etc).

Yep, he’s a villain.

Overall, I enjoyed Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress without being over the moon. If you’re a horror or dark fantasy fan (even a steampunk fan perhaps) you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy here, beyond the beautifully coloured art.

3.5 Stars

Hero shot 😀

At times, the show paused for what seem almost like glamour-shots, switching to a little extra detail while also adding an almost soft focus, as if they were setting up future stills for trading cards or other merch? There’s more than I’ve noted here of course, but I tried to snap a couple. (First is a better example).


The storyline is continued in a follow-up film that I actually abandoned last year, at the time knowing that I should probably watch the series first.

I definitely enjoyed the movie; it continued the main themes and struggles, advancing some character development too. I do wonder whether the relationship hindrances thrown up between Ikoma and Mumei were always natural?

Still, if you enjoyed the series you’ll like the film, I reckon.

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

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 🙂

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

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 film’s 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 always place spoiler warnings within reviews of ‘old’ films, I should do so more often, and will add one now – as 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.

This meant that once I knew most of them would die, I didn’t have to bother becoming too 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 love 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 a 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, it can be fun to compare the two films, 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