Posts Tagged ‘japan

03
Sep
16

Hara-kiri (1962)

Hara-kiri is a 1962 samurai film directed by Masaki Kobayashi and starring Tatsuya Nakadai. Generally speaking, I don’t really like Japanese live action films much. I don’t know why I keep watching them. They are mostly garbage. Fortunately, this one was a lot different.

It’s hard to explain what this movie is about without spoiling everything that happens. So, I’ll just give you the gist of it. During the feudal period in Japan, many samurai were left without masters (ronin). Some would go to the homes of lords and ask for a place where they could commit Hara-kiri to die with honor. Sometimes, though, certain ronin would not kill themselves, and refuse to leave the Lord’s home unless they were paid off.

Nakadai shows up at the home of one such lord. He is a ronin and wants to commit Hara-kiri. The lord is away, so Nakadai speaks with his head counselor. The counselor is uncertain about letting Nakadai commit Hara-kiri, because the last ronin who showed up for this very purpose did so as a bluff to get money.

Continue reading ‘Hara-kiri (1962)’

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20
Sep
14

Gatchaman Crowds is Horrible

If only the series was as cool as this artwork.

“Gatcha, Gatcha-Gatcha, Gatcha,” sang main character Hajime.

“Strangle, Strangle-Strangle, Strangle,” sang BrikHaus as he strangled the life out of Hajime.

Seriously, Hajime is one of the most annoying anime characters in recent memory. She is a super-positive, Mary-Sue type who has earned the dual ire and love of anime fans who have watched this series. She is one of those characters who shouts all their lines, says incredible positive things all the time, and is unrealistically naieve. It’s impossible to think that anyone could be as dense as her in real life. So, when this is a show’s main character, things aren’t off to a great start.

Things don’t get much better with the rest of the characters. Three characters shout/scream all of their lines. Two characters are incredibly pseudo-gay, they are insulting stereotypes. Of course, there is the token quiet/shy loli character. None of the characters have any depth at all. They are all completely one-note. They have virtually no backstories, no personalities, and nothing to make them interesting at all.

Continue reading ‘Gatchaman Crowds is Horrible’

29
Mar
14

The Wind Rises

Jiro and Naoko.

Hayao Miyazaki’s final film (until he un-retires again), The Wind Rises, is an excellent capstone to his already legendary career. The movie is decidedly less fantastical than the rest of his work, but just as emotionally moving as anything else.
The Wind Rises tells the story of Jiro Hirokoshi, a Japanese man who loves aviation. He has poor eyesight and is told he can never fly a plane, so he decides to do the next best thing: design airplanes. The film follows him from a young boy into his middle years as he toils to develop a new kind of airplane. The storytelling, while fictionalized, is quite riveting. You understand Jiro’s eagerness to build an aircraft, and you feel his successes and failures through each attempt.
01
Feb
14

Kids on the Slope, Mawaru Penguindrum

Kids on the Slope

Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a funny caption for this picture.

Shinichiro Watanabe is a pretty great anime director. With the one-two punch of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, he firmly planted himself in the hall of the greats alongside Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. So, how could I not be excited about his new series, Kids on the Slope? Instead of his usual sci-fi/fantasy/action/comedy shtick, he opted for something rooted far more in reality. The series would take place in 1960s Japan and focus on high school students becoming friends over jazz music. The incredible Yoko Kanno (who has quite the eptitude for jazz) provided the soundtrack. All the pieces were in place to create yet another masterpiece of anime.
Yet, Kids on the Slope is somewhat lacking. It just doesn’t do enough to pull itself out of mediocrity. The main character, Kaoru, seems like a typical anime kid: shy, weird, no friends, nervous around girls, etc. His friend, Sentaro, is a lot more interesting as he starts out as a thug, but slowly the audience learns his troubled backstory and that he has a lot more going on underneath the surface. Female character, Ritsuko, is a blank, offering nothing to the series except for a completely cliche and totally unwanted love triangle between the three.
Kids on the Slope is better than a lot of the shit that passes for anime these days. The time period is unusual, the focus more based in reality, there aren’t any circle eyes or people getting punched into space, the characters interact in organic ways, and the love of jazz shines through. Unfortunately, the series falls into a lot of preditable tropes like the love triangle, the nervous characters, the characters who literally run away instead of talking about their feelings, and on and on. Kids on the Slope is truly a mixed-bag. It’s a disappointment because it could have been great but wasn’t.
Verdict: Average
Mawaru Penguindrum

Spoilers: The Penguindrum is a diary. Why is a diary called a Penguindrum? Because Japan.

Kunihiku Ikuhara created one of the greatest anime series of all time, Revolutionary Girl Utena. The complexity of story, the depth of characters, the epic tone, the action, the drama, the comedy, and the underlying metaphors were what elevated that series. If it had excelled at any one of those things, it would have been an awesome series. But it excelled at all of them, making it a legendary series. Suffice it to say, I was thrilled to see Ikuhara emerged from his cave in 2011 with a new anime titled Mawaru Penguindrum.
With this series, it is quite clear that he is trying to emulate his past success. Penguindrum tries to have complex characters, an intricate story, and drama mixed with comedy. It technically has all those things, but it stumbles hard along the way. The characters aren’t very interesting. They are far more tropey than they should be. The story isn’t that intricate. In fact, it falls into the typical anime mystery camp. That is, the mystery is a rather simple background story, but important information about it is withheld from the audience until the end. There aren’t clues to follow or themes to unravel, no, it’s just purposely kept at bay. Lots of anime use this technique, and it’s frustrating for the audience.
The show has two more major problems. First, it focuses on one character at a time. For several episodes it will focus on one person, then the next few episodes it will focus on another, with a totally different set of plot points and themes. It makes the series feel like an anthology. By the end, there is little sense of cohesion. Second, the show is buried in metaphors. Utena had lots of metaphors but they were decipherable. Penguindrum has layers upon layers of metaphors. There are so many that it’s virtually impossible to know what is really going on and what’s a metaphor. There isn’t anything clearly tangible for the audience to grab hold to in order to slowly unravel what is real and what has deeper meaning.
Penguindrum becomes somewhat an incomprehensible mess by the end. I wanted to like it, I really did, but it tried to do too much. It piled on too many things and drowned under an artsy-fartsy mess of too many shitty metaphors.
Verdict: Bad
09
Nov
13

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Hellsing Ultimate

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

So… many… characters…

I am a huge fan of the original anime series Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s a near-perfect vision of what anime should be. It has drama, humor, love, action, suspense, you name it, it has it. It was so good, in fact, I proclaimed it to be one of the greatest anime of the 2000-2009 decade.
Something very common in anime is for a popular manga to be animated before it has concluded. This happened with the original Fullmetal Alchemist series. Once the animators hit episode 34, they had caught up to the manga. They then had to create a brand new ending to finish the series. Fast forwarding several years, the manga has been completed. Not wanting to miss any chance at milking a cash-cow, the series was remade, from the beginning, to tell the entire story.
This, unfortunately, was a huge mistake. The first 34 episodes of the TV series (I don’t know how many books of the manga it took) is compressed into a mere 13 episodes. The content is told in an extremely hurried fashion. While the previous series used these episodes to introduce us to the characters and to slowly build the drama, the new series rushes through everything so quickly it doesn’t have a chance to breathe.
07
Jun
13

Steins;Gate, Black Rock Shooter TV

Steins;Gate

Why are these stupid assholes in outer space?

Steins;Gate is a completely forgettable anime which, naturally, has almost universal acclaim as a “Masterpiece.” I’m not sure why, because it’s anything but a masterpiece. Piece of trash? Sure. Piece of crap? OK. Piece of cliche story recycled from better ones? Definitely. This show is about time travel. But it’s not really about time travel. It’s about moe bullshit. It likes to showcase cutesy girls and cutesy boys who look, talk, and act like girls in the most annoying fashion possible. The main character (who holds the trademark on the most grating laugh of all time) is constantly travelling back in time in 3-day intervals in order to prevent the death of his friend. In doing so, he fucks up things more and must do even more travelling to right the wrongs he caused. It’s a good concept when executed well. However, in this anime, it serves mostly as a method of showing the same crap over and over again, and letting us listen to girls who talk like cats in maid cafes. I’ll admit there were a couple of riveting episodes (number 13 comes to mind), but there was nowhere near enough material to last 24 episodes. This could have been great as a 2-hour movie, but since this is Japanese anime, they stretched it out to something bloated and not recognizable as good. A single day after I finished this series, I tried to remember how it concluded, but I couldn’t. It was so bland, so flat, that I couldn’t remember what happened one fucking day later. If that’s not a testament to mediocrity, I don’t know what is.

Verdict: Bad

Black Rock Shooter TV

At least she’s a hot alter-ego, right?

I complain about anime being too long so often it has almost become a mantra. In Black Rock Shooter’s case, they didn’t make the show unnecessarily long. At only 8 episodes, it is the perfect length to tell a compelling narrative and then conclude without pointless tangents. Unfortunately, Black Rock Shooter doesn’t have a compelling narrative to tell. It is a travesty, an insult to good story-telling. This is a school-age drama with cute girls homolusting after each other in the way they could only do in a Japanese anime. Simultaneously, we see a fantasy setting with the same girls blasting each other with high-tech weaponry and coming off without a scratch in the way they could only do in a Japanese anime. We learn that these are some kind of mysterious alter-egos of the main characters, living in an alternate dimension or something, and the reason they fight is because the real world people are sad. If their fantasy counterparts die, then the real world people become happy again. Black Rock Shooter kills all her friends in order to make their counterparts happy. Ummm… sure, why not? The grasp this anime has on logic is tenuous at best. The action scenes are cool to watch, but other than that, it has nothing else to offer. Unless, of course, you like shitty acting and shitty storytelling.

Verdict: Shitty

24
May
13

Versus

It’s called Versus, yet there is only one person in the poster. Hmm…

Versus is a bizarre movie. Nonsensical, even. It’s a super low-budget cult film featuring cops, gangsters, shootouts, samurai, zombies, martial arts, karate zombies, sword fighting, and demons. It’s like the director grabbed a list of “cool shit” from the internet, and mixed it all together, hoping it would work. And depending on your point of view, it either totally works, or is a complete fucking mess.

Director Ryuhei Kitamura filmed this in 2000, and it certainly shows. Versus comes from a time when the tone of movies was more focused on wacky hijinks and slapstick humor, which is a big departure from today’s films when everything is a GRRR DARK AND GRITTY exercise in moroseness. I suppose if Versus had played it straight, nothing would work. The whole thing is just too goddamn crazy. The lighter tone is there to remind the viewer to not take it too seriously, otherwise the movie collapses in on itself. The closest thing I can compare this to is Evil Dead II. It’s got plenty of madcap antics and off-beat humor, mixed in with a semi-serious plot. It isn’t really clear whether Kitamura is completely aping Sam Raimi’s directing style, or paying homage to it.

Continue reading ‘Versus’




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