2 years ago
Hey g1s! Whitly here! So I saw an anime recommendations video on YouTube, and it got me thinking: how do I know so much about it? Is it because I’ve become deeply ingrained in anime lore, after spending many years thinking it was dumb and uninteresting? And then I decided, why not write about anime’s influence on me? I don’t indulge often, the last time I did was even a disaster, but still. I’ve got nothing better to do anyway.
So allow me to shed some insights into my relationship with Japanese animation. Hold on to the railing and fasten your seatbelts, the ride through Memory Lane has officially begun!
Gotta Catch ‘Em All – Pokémon
Every anime fan has that one show as his or her introduction to anime. Being a kid of the 90’s, mine was this obnoxious piece of marketing. I already knew what Pokémon was long-before the show, as I used to watch over the shoulders of other kids playing the games during recess. Still, this was a weird experience. After cartoons like Animaniacs and Magic School Bus, to name a few, I wasn’t all that impressed the first time I spotted it on TV at my grandparent’s condo room in Florida. And neither were my brothers, as, no sooner did we hear the title (which I initially mistook for “Kuzimon”,) then we unanimously shook our heads in disbelief and opted to change the channel. It was dumb.
Fast-forward a year, and I was flipping channels on the TV in my old house. Sure enough, there was Pokémon again. I figured I hadn’t been fair, especially since I was now a fan of the games and trading cards, so I watched it. It was the episode where Butterfree finds a girlfriend, if I remember correctly, and I enjoyed it. Thus began my 6-year obsession with the show, one that died down in my freshman year of high school.
In retrospect, I don’t think the show has aged well; true, fans of the franchise would agree with me to an extent, but I don’t even consider the early episodes to be great. They’re cheap, ugly, weirdly voice-acted and drag forever. And the story is numbingly stupid, such that I retroactively apologize to my family for being a fan. Even the movies, which I drove my mom mad to see, suck. Not to mention, the opening has been so drilled in my head that I retroactively hate it. Speaking of which, does anyone even know what the real opening is? Because it’s not that annoying jingle that even die-hard Otaku consider the real deal, that’s for sure!
Anyway, while I think it’s terrible in hindsight, it made way for other anime that I soon became fond of.
FYI, I made that picture from scratch. And no music clip this time, as it’d be too complicated to pick one.
Anyway, in came these three shows, Dragon Ball Z, Digimon and Monster Rancher. I put them in that order because, honestly, it’s how I was introduced to them. Right around the time of Pokémon, my cousin, a huge wrestling fan, showed me Dragon Ball Z. I had no clue what was going on half the time, or if it was a good decision to keep watching, but it was my cousin. He was the coolest guy ever, so I trusted him. Sure enough, I got hooked.
Digimon took a little longer to warm up to. I remember seeing the first episode, thinking “This is cool” and then going back to Pokémon. It didn’t grab me right away, despite Fox Kids promoting the h*ll out of it. The whole “rip-off” argument didn’t help either, as I couldn’t bring up this show without it surfacing. But it didn’t NOT grab me, so I persisted. Right around the time that Myotismon made his appearance, I became accepting of the premise and started liking it.
Which leads me to Monster Rancher. Unlike Digimon, I was sucked in immediately. Why? Because it deviated enough from everything else I’d seen. Not to mention, Genki, the protagonist, was spacey and hyper-impulsive. As someone who couldn’t focus in class, I instantly related to him, meaning that I could get behind the often dark and violent premise.
Together, these three shows, when combined with Pokémon, were the holy quadfecta of my Saturday morning anime fix. Except, I didn’t know that I was watching anime yet. Instead, they were four shows that were different, but in a good way. Pokémon was cute and funny, Dragon Ball Z I could go away from for a while and miss little, Digimon was the cool kid’s show and Monster Rancher was...um...well, I was already entering preteen-hood, so I guess I kept watching it because of its more-ahem-risqué character designs (that, and it was fun.) But anyway, whenever these shows were on, I’d stop what I was doing, rush to the TV, fight with my brothers for the remote and have fun if I won/storm to my room and cry if I lost.
Yeah, my childhood sucked. But at least the shows I watched helped numb the pain of bad grades and no friends, so HAH! Besides, the crossovers in my head were epic, so screw-
*Ahem* Sorry about that.
The grand irony is that these shows didn’t leave a long-lasting impact either (save Digimon, but we’ll get back to that.) Dragon Ball Z is pretty awful, with its egregious padding, cartoony and stale voice acting, fights that go nowhere and drag on and lack of long-term consequences for its high stakes fights. It’s like a video game that, at 291 episodes, feels like it’ll never end. Monster Rancher got boring right when Moo, the main villain, found his body again, although part of that could also be me getting older and no longer caring. And while I tried holding on to Digimon, the dwindling ratings of its fourth season, combined with constant changes in air times, meant dropping it as I was entering my final year of middle school.
But that’s okay, because a newer show took their place.
Duel – Yu-Gi-Oh!
Yes, this opening is corny. No, I don’t care. Because FUCK YOU, IT’S TIME TO DUEL!
Anyway, TV anime always seemed to be like fads. If show X was no longer interesting, the time slots would shuffle around constantly until it faded out. In its place, a new show that gripped people’s attention would be switched to the original time slot. For me, it was Yu-Gi-Oh!. Yeah, I’d gone from shows based on a video game, a comic, a Tamagotchi line and an...I don’t know, we’ll just say video game, to a show based on a card game. I must’ve really loved toys and comics!
Anyway, my love for Yu-Gi-Oh! was made easier by the fact that 4Kidz, the infamous dubbing company known for ruining anime, had taken over Fox’s Saturday morning time slot and was showing their repertoire in droves: Shaman King, SonicX, Ultimate Muscle, One Piece!, Kirby: Right Back At Ya!, F-Zero, to name a few. There were endearing qualities about all of them, including a hip-hop ballad that I still don’t get the hate for, but the shows never gripped me like Yu-Gi-Oh!. And 4Kidz knew this, as they marketed it like no tomorrow.
You wouldn’t believe how addictive the show was for my then-13 year-old self! If it was on TV, I had to see it. If I was at school and it was on TV that afternoon, I counted down the minutes until I could get home to see it. If my family was out to dinner and it was on TV, well...you get the idea. And Heaven help me if I missed even a minute of an episode!
Unfortunately, I didn’t always get to see it anyway. My parents, ever worried about my neglecting of schoolwork, started putting me on TV regiments in hopes that it’d get me to focus more. Guess what? It failed. I had to see my Yu-Gi-Oh!, it was my pride and joy! So whenever I could, I’d sneak out of my room, go downstairs, turn the TV on, lower the volume so that no one could hear it and proceed to watch Yu-Gi-Oh!. It didn’t always work, but I tried.
The situation reached its peak in December of 2004, just as we’d settled in to my current house. A lot of changes came with the move, including a drastic move to religious Judaism so as to accommodate my older brother, but the TV was still available on Saturday mornings initially. But it diminished too. That, when coupled with both being in high school and the options available becoming increasingly less-interesting, led me to stop caring altogether. Besides, I was becoming more observant anyway, so it wasn’t worth the time.
So I made the decision to stop watching anime altogether and focus on my work. I’d also become jaded about anime, thinking it nothing more than a shallow waste of time. It was silly, not serious. The characters made faces that removed me from the experience, and everything I was watching no longer cut it. Even when I caught a glimpse of what was on TV during my Winter Breaks in Florida, it wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was done, or so I thought...
Fast forward to my first year of university. The transition was tough, what with the Jewish holidays, but I adjusted slowly. Unfortunately, come November 6th, 2008, my school declared an 85-day strike. All of that preparation, anxiety, willingness to embrace school and its possibilities...gone. By the time the strike ended, I was an emotional wreck. I needed a calming agent, and fast! So, come Spring Reading Week, I followed-up on a long-standing curiousity and familiarized myself with something special.
Tank! – Cowboy Bebop
Two disclaimers need to be made here:
1. Cowboy Bebop didn’t make an anime fan. Cowboy Bebop just made me a fan of Cowboy Bebop. Anime, to my 18 year-old mind, was gross, silly and couldn’t be taken seriously, so Cowboy Bebop was a pretty bad argument changing my mind. Even to this day, I’ll play Devil’s Advocate against someone using it as a “gateway drug” and say “Try harder.” Just FYI.
2. My reason for watching Cowboy Bebop was Edward. See, I was in a bad place emotionally, and I was making bad intellectual decisions. As such, I had a-*Sigh*-sexual attraction to Ed. Yeah, don’t start with me. Regardless, she was why I was drawn to it, and I would often skip episodes that didn’t feature her.
Fortunately, Cowboy Bebop ended up being something special. There was an indescribable, unexpected charm to had about an anime series that felt more American than Japanese. It was episodic, each episode was self-contained and, when it boiled down to it, the series was addictive. It was like eating candy, I couldn’t have enough. And when it ended, I was sad.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain why the show is great, but it definitely helped me a great deal. The transition to university, particularly my second year, was horrid because of the strike, and this show gave me a temporary respite. Admittedly, I only watched it one. But once was all I needed. It gave me a focal point for getting my g1 account reactivated, amongst other reasons, was one of the first topics of conversation I had with a g1 off-site (i.e. Skype) and was even mentioned in my one-year anniversary blog when thanking g1s that’d impacted me as a blogger.
Also, the soundtrack is boss.
To pick episodes that got to me the most, I’d say Session 9 (which introduced Ed,) Session 11 (for being weird in a fun way,) Session 14 (because chess,) Session 15 (for having Faye’s back-story,) Session 17 (because funny,) Session 18 (for its conclusion,) Session 20 (because SCARY!,) Session 23 (for being a confusing mindf***,) Session 24 (because Ed leaves at the end) and the 2-part finale (for obvious reasons.) Not all them have held up in hindsight, especially during my re-watch 2 years ago, but they definitely proved that Cowboy Bebop had staying power.
Due to scheduling and timing arrangements, my 3rd year of university began 2 weeks late, and I had plenty of time to be bored. This led to my next obsession.
One Summer’s Day – Spirited Away
In hindsight, I should’ve picked this movie up and watched it earlier. I’d known it existed since the 2003 Oscars ceremony, when it won Best Animated Feature, I’d heard it praised on a blog in V3, my brother’s friend left a copy of it lying around my house and hadn’t come back for it, what kept me from the movie? I guess it was fear of the unknown. Here was this movie with a girl on the cover, one surrounded by weird-looking houses and ghosts. I’m adamant about trying new things, and this was something new. So, naturally, I avoided it.
About two weeks before my 3rd year of university, I was loafing around one evening and, voila! There it was, staring back at me like it was daring me to watch it. So I did, because I was bored. Was it worth it? FUCK YES!
In my first blog about the movie, which can no longer be accessed because of V5, I proclaimed Spirited Away as one of the best movies ever. Three years and six viewings later, I still hold that to be true. It’s just...magical. For something I was initially afraid of, Spirited Away was a genuine surprise. And, not surprisingly, it’d lead me down a road to anime...films. More specifically, Studio Ghibli films.
For the next two weeks, I made it my mission to see as many Hayao Miyazaki movies as possible. My then-local Blockbuster had a copy of Castle in the Sky in-stock, which I’d eventually buy off of them because no one was renting it other than me, so I rented it and took it home. They also had a copy of Howl’s Moving Castle, so I rented that one too. As anyone who knows me well can testify, I loved the former and found the latter overrated. Still, I’d end up renting the two movies a few more times before adding them to my newly formed DVD collection, with Spirited Away being its “keystone”.
Next, it was a trip to HMV. I’d received a $40 gift certificate from my aunt for my 20th birthday, so I used it to purchase Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke. With those two out of the way, and the latter teaching me that anime could be mature without being overly-sexual or disturbing, I went back the following weeks to buy My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo. I then proceeded to buy My Neighbors the Yamadas, Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns on a triple whim, causing me to be super late for class and get lectured in private by my professor for being a “disruptive student”. The following day, almost as if to spite him, I dropped the class. JUSTICE!
I’ll spare you the exchanges, savings, buying sprees and disappointments that went along with it all, but-long-story-short-I ended up owning every Studio Ghibli movie released on DVD in the West at the time. Special mention goes to Elmo 3000 for Grave of the Fireflies, a favour I’ve yet to pay him back for...oops. I also had to re-organize my DVD collection per request of my younger brother, who was finding it difficult to understand my sorting methods and wanted each of my collections ordered logically, so thanks to him too. But yeah, I was a Studio Ghibli fan, as well as slightly more accepting of anime. But was I an anime fan yet?
Well, this story would be over if I were, right? Moving on.
Around this time, I became a fan of film, most-notably animation. I put my gaming hobby on indefinite hold, it wasn’t holding me anymore anyway, and began a quest to write a Top 100 of my favourite animated films. You all know the end-result, but I started scrounging the internet for any movies I could find, including anime films. To that end, I discovered that:
1. Katsuhiro Otomo isn’t worth his salt as a director...save Metropolis, but he didn’t really direct that.
2. Ghost in the Shell is really boring.
3. 5 CM Per Second is both really confusing and incredibly moving.
4. The Pokémon and Digimon films don’t hold up (although the former are worse than the latter.)
5. Satoshi Kon doesn’t impress me. Yes, he’s talented, but I prefer investment above subversion of reality. Also, and I know this’ll anger some of his fans, but calling him more talented than Hayao Miyazaki is like saying that Christopher Marlowe is more talented than William Shakespeare. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, how many people have READ Marlowe VS Shakespeare?
But perhaps the most-interesting point of note was a movie that, despite not being from Studio Ghibli, impressed me just as much. I found it while traversing through an IGN article discussing under-the-radar animated films, and I’m thrilled that I saw it.
Natsuzora – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
I love Mamoru Hosoda. Have I mentioned that?
The circumstances for this one were really a matter of timing and more timing, as I found it in segments on YouTube, yet didn’t have time to see it before the weekly learning sessions that I went to at the time. So I opened 10 tabs on my browser, placed each piece of the movie in one of the tabs, waited for them to load fully and left. When I came back, I watched the entire movie. And it was awesome. Keeping in mind that non-Studio Ghibli anime films kept disappointing me, calling The Girl Who Leapt Through Time “awesome” shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Anyway, from there it was straight to Hosoda’s repertoire. I remember a g1 in V4 praising his next film out the window, so I figured it must’ve been good. With a name like Summer Wars, how could it not? Still, while I never fell in-love with it to the same extent as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, it re-affirmed Hosoda’s awesomeness. That, and his films are currently the only non-Studio Ghibli anime entries in my DVD collection.
Interestingly enough, I went through a phase where I’d only look up reviews for his films on YouTube. It didn’t matter their quality, and it led to discovering two really talented individuals, both of whom I credit in helping me appreciate anime. The first was GRArkada, host of the Glass Reflection series. His style can be described as “philosophical”, a thinker expressing his love/disdain in such a way that the average person would be forced to think. I often call him “The Martini Otaku”, as he’s the kind of reviewer that’d show up to a 5-star event, order a martini and discuss anime with the other gentlemen in the room. Not to mention, he’s the reason why I’m writing this blog in the first place.
The other reviewer, surprisingly, had a much stronger impact. Her style was less sophisticated, but more in-depth. She had a fun charm, something complimented brilliantly by the snarky text in her reviews. And she had a 4-star rating system that she never took too seriously. I’m, of course, referring to JesuOtaku.
JesuOtaku’s Summer Wars Review – JesuOtaku
I’m breaking my rule by including a non-anime influence, but I really have to thank JesuOtaku, aka Hope Chapman. Because she understands that most of her fans aren’t big on anime anyway, and she’d be doing a major disservice by not dissecting the hype. As someone who still finds certain aspects of anime culture to be confusing, it’s helpful context. Plus, she reminds me a lot of the late-Roger Ebert, whom I was very fond of, so there’s a personal attachment on that front.
Anyway, for the next while, I made it my goal to go through her backlog and see what she had to say on anime. Sure enough, I found her Digimon Retrospective series. And it was really good, so much so that I even went back to revisit the series. Of course, saying “it was really good” comes in twos, because so was the series.
Digimon Are the Champions – Digimon
Told you I’d get back to this!
The strangest part about Digimon is how, unlike the other entries in my childhood quadfecta, it actually holds up. My childhood was so awful that I gravitated to many shows and movies, and while time has been awful to most of them, Digimon is a rare exception. Sure, it’s corny and flawed, but, like a bottle of fine wine, it’s aged well. Not to mention, it’s quite ambitious and daring for what was originally a marketing vehicle for kids. But you can read up on that in two of my V5 blogs.
So I’d gotten back into a childhood favourite, watching the first four seasons (in the order of 3>4>1>2) in the span of a month. Sure, I slacked on my schoolwork...but school was getting boring and frustrating, and this was a nice diversion from that. Also, I couldn’t shut up about the show! Seriously, the first conversation I ever had with my sister-in-law, who had just started dating my brother, was over whether or not Digimon was actually cool. Looking back, it was a dumb idea. But it was worth it, because Digimon.
This also marks the point where I began to really appreciate anime. Before, it was on-and-off. Sure, I watched it occasionally, but-as I said about Cowboy Bebop-it didn’t mean that I was really a fan per se. Still, the deciding factor was a show that took me two weeks to finish, yet was a 4-star recommendation by JesuOtaku.
Stray – Wolf’s Rain
Now THAT’S more like it!
I think, more than any other show, that Wolf’s Rain opened my eyes to of anime’s storytelling potential. Not only was it justifiably dark, it was clever, thought provoking, emotionally investing and incredibly philosophical. To-date, I still don’t understand half of its imagery, and I’ve seen it twice. I also own it, making it one of two anime shows currently in my collection. And, if I may be so frank, I still consider it one of the few shows that, with a few tweaks, could be a legitimate movie trilogy. No bullsh*t, I’m dead serious.
I know Wolf’s Rain is very divisive, with many anime fans either loving or hating it, but I’m big on any series mature enough to take me seriously. Besides, Doug Walker, aka The Nostalgia Critic, proclaimed it to be one of his favourite shows ever, and he can’t stand most anime! Oh, and did I mention that it has one of the greatest fight scenes ever? Yes, the show has one of the greatest fight scenes ever. I’m not kidding, watch this sh*t...assuming you don’t mind spoilers.
One last point of note is its final four episodes. Initially released as a 96-minute OVA, so as to finish the show properly, it’s famous for being one of the most heartbreaking finales ever. And it’s 100% true, as I was in tears at least once per episode. It’s almost like a modern Shakespearean tragedy, as you care for all of its characters before they promptly rip you from them forever. And it feels justified.
So with Wolf’s Rain done, I was now an anime fan. I began watching other shows I’d never seen, like Baccano! and Spice & Wolf, and enjoyed them immensely. With all the years I’d spent avoiding anime, I’d been missing out on plenty of great shows and had some making up to do. To-date, I’ve yet to fully complete my hunt for worthwhile shows, and I doubt I ever will. There are too many to pick from, some being impossible to find because, at the end of that day, I became interested in them way too late. Actually, I could probably watch them online, but copyright purists would breathe down my neck, so...
I had one caveat, however, one I held firm to before even knowing the right word to describe it: no Manga Iconography, save Digimon. Anime was an aesthetic hobby, and Manga-style artwork was off-putting. Besides, it drew me out of the illusion, since I considered it a cheap substitute for real facial expressions. And it looked ugly.
To-date, while I’ve warmed up a bit to Manga Iconography, I still don’t like it; after all, like I said, it draws me out of the illusion. Why make a goofy face for laughs when drawing the same reaction in a more restrained manner can equally get my attention? If anime were live-action, Manga Iconography would be over-acting. And I don’t mean in a good way either. As such, I’ve missed plenty of great shows, but it didn’t bother me initially. It wasn’t until I saw one in particular that my notions were severely challenged.
Morning Grace – Princess Tutu
I’m a hypocrite.
I frequently convince myself that my enjoyment for anime will never extend beyond X, but then Y proves me wrong. I then draw the line at Y, only for Z to challenge me yet again. It’s a repeating cycle that’s still going. In this case, it was Manga Iconography. Considering how ugly I think it is, I was surprised by how little it bothered me in Princess Tutu. But you can read my blog for a further explanation.
What really hooked me about Princess Tutu was twofold. Firstly, there’s the show’s use of classical music. As a huge fan of the genre, to the point that my alarm clock is set to the only classical music station in the city, it’s always wonderful to see a show use its. Like Cowboy Bebop, music is an integral part of the storytelling, and, also like Cowboy Bebop, it successfully draws you in. Even if I weren’t an anime fan, I’d probably have liked it just for that.
And secondly, the show is a clever, modern-day fairy tale that’s also somewhat tragic. Is it a kid’s show? Yes, but it’s one done well. It respects its audience’s intelligence, something a lot of children’s entertainment fails at, while also challenging them. As a fan of Pixar and Disney, of which this show reminds me of, I was instantly hooked on that too.
With the chips down, I was more open to anime that didn’t fit my ideal. I started going on a binging spree, watching a new show almost every week (since that was how long it usually took to finish each.) I also had a tendency to start a series on a Saturday night, tackling it in pieces during the week and end it on a Friday afternoon. Don’t ask why, it just worked out that way. Within the span of 8 months, I’d seen over two dozen shows.
But I wasn’t satisfied. There was one series in particular that I desperately wanted to watch. However, being in my 4th year of university, I was swamped by schoolwork. I had time for a small series, or even a Studio Ghibli movie in theatres (something that’s become a yearly tradition since The Secret World of Arrietty came out here in February of 2012,) but longer shows? No. Still, I was persistent, so once Spring exams approached, I hit an online streaming site (shut up) and hunkered down to see the “greatest Shonen series ever made.”
It didn’t disappoint.
Ready, Steady, Go! – Fullmetal Alchemist
To be honest, I’m not gonna bother going into too much length about why this show is awesome. You can just read my blog for further insight. But anyway, this one makes the list because of what it shouldn’t have been. By all means, it shouldn’t have been half as smart, sophisticated, emotional, psychological, suspenseful, funny and well paced as it was. It also shouldn’t have functioned at all, what with its immense cast and its “nearly every episode” twists. But it does, hence why it’s so remarkable. Keeping in mind that I’m not a fan of shows that are ambitious for their own good, as it reeks of arrogance, me saying that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I also like how it subverts some of the common complaints I have about Shonen. It’s self-contained, for one, which means that even its fillers don’t over-pad its 51 episodes. Two, the premise isn’t “searching for something grander”, and nor does it over-exert what it is. And third, and this is more aesthetics, the characters don’t shout their attacks before using them, instead trusting the audience’s memory. I still wish that the Manga Iconography wasn’t there, but what can you do?
I should also address that conclusion, which so many detractors proclaim was handled better in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I ended up watching that show in December of the same year, and I disagree: not only is the ending to that show sloppier, but it negates any sense of sacrifice the protagonists had to make because of their dumb decision in the beginning. Besides, an ambiguous ending is smarter, and it’s not like it wasn’t left on a hopeful note...ignoring the movie, but I see that as an unnecessary-yet-enjoyable addition that still ends similarly. Also, it doesn’t excuse the issues-actually, maybe I’ll save that for another blog where I compare both iterations. People will read that, right?
I’ll save you the details that happened after watching Fullmetal Alchemist because, honestly, not a lot did. I was already an anime fan, so it’s not like I needed any convincing that anime was worth my time. And there was little room left for an anime show or movie to make an impression anyway. The only exception was the magical girls genre. Princess Tutu wasn’t enough, I needed more convincing that “the dumbest genre out there” could be compelling.
Connect – Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Yeah...it was only a matter of time before this one came up. STOP PROVING ME WRONG, ANIME! GEEZ!
As a prelude to my thoughts on this one, yes, I’m using the show’s full name. The reason is because no one seems to be able to agree on what to call it: its full name? Just Madoka Magica? Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica? Madoka? Dokes-okay, FUCK WHOEVER CAME UP WITH THAT! IT’S STUPID!!!!!!
I think this caught me the most off-guard. It’s not because it’s the best, because it’s not. It’s not because it’s the cleverest, because it’s not. It’s not even because it changed my stance on anime, because it didn’t do that either.
It’s because it completely threw me for a loop.
When I first went into Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I was expecting something dumb and contrived; after all, that’s what it looked like. The characters were silly, the opening was too cutesy, the animation style looked...bobble head-ish, it just didn’t sit right. So what if JesuOtaku gave it four-stars, or if she said it’d throw me for a loop? All I saw was stupid and more stupid, and I was only watching it out of skepticism. There was no way, NO WAY, that a show like Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica could be good.
Then...episode 4 happened, and my jaw hit the floor.
Yeah, I have a bad habit of letting my skepticism get in the way of quality. To be honest, some of the series I’ve mentioned here, including Fullmetal Alchemist, were me being skeptical, getting smacked in the face by reality and realizing how much of a f***ing idiot I am. I prefer that to going in expecting awesome and getting disappointment, but still: I’m judgmental. Because not only is Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica good, it’s great. And tragic. And has one of the most eyebrow-raising final episodes ever, but I’ll leave that a surprise. Actually, I’ll leave the entire show a surprise, I don’t want to ruin it!
Okay, we’re up-to-date with my anime history. What have we learned?
Well, that I have too much time on my hands, for one. But also, I’ve learned that I’m always late on the uptake when it comes to anime trends. Keep in mind, I didn’t even know what Cowboy Bebop until 11 years after it debuted, and I also hadn’t heard of Fullmetal Alchemist until a few years ago. It’ll definitely make the more snobbish Otakus laugh, but it’s not really a flaw. We all jump on certain bandwagons later than others, and anime’s mine.
On a different note, I also tend to gravitate to one of three kinds of anime: family-friendly (Digimon, Princess Tutu,) gritty and serious (Wolf’s Rain) and subversive (Fullmetal Alchemist, Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) I don’t do it on purpose, but it suggests a specific mindset: I either want to tap into my little kid, or watch something that I can take more seriously. I know it’s not fair to be overly judgmental of what I barely understand, but...I guess that’s how I roll.
I also would like to point out that I don’t always fall in the usual categories. I’ll see any show/movie of salt, but only if dubbed in English. And, while I’m at it, I also don’t agree that Cowboy Bebop has the best dub ever. It’s great, but dated. My actual pick for “best dub” is Wolf’s Rain, a show that many anime fans still haven’t seen/gotten into because of its content and pacing. But I won’t harp too much on that.
Overall, I’ve come a long way. And, incidentally, I still have a long way to go. I recognize that there are many anime shows and genres I’ve yet to latch onto, and while some of might have reasons (I’m looking at you, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya,) others are just...well, I don’t really know. Above all, though, I’m still trying to figure out what’s worth my time, and it involves experimentations that will probably keep happening for many years.
The final point I’d like to make is that I wouldn’t consider myself an Otaku. I find the label restricting, as I like all kinds of animation. Not to mention, I still hold reservations about being associated with what comes with it. So yeah, I think “animation fan” better describes me. But I’ll let you be the judge.
Now then, if you’d kindly climb out of your seats and go back to reality, I’d appreciate it. I’ve wasted enough time rambling as is. Until next time, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the rescue!” *Flies off*
2 years ago
Hey g1s! Whitly here! I’m just gonna say this now, but I’m not really all that enamoured with Satoshi Kon as a director.
To be fair, I don’t exactly hate him either. He was a talented guy, there’s absolutely no denying that. And yes, I definitely think he died too soon. That having been said, his resume has failed to really enthrall me. Some of it, like Millennium Actress and Paranoia Agent, is quite good, even showing signs of sheer brilliance. But others, like Paprika, are just okay. As a whole, however, he fails to inspire me.
Which makes it easier to discuss the elephant in the room, being that Perfect Blue, aka his directorial debut, isn’t all that good.
I feel dirty shaming this movie at all, as, like most debuts, I’m not entirely sure if Satoshi Kon knew what he was doing yet. There’s a brilliant idea to be had here, but it’s buried amidst a sea of mediocrity. Something doesn’t add up, and I’ve seen this movie in both subtitles and its English dub. But enough rambling, it’s time to dissect this thriller and give it the diagnosis I feel it deserves.
Anyway, what’s the story?
Mima Kirigoe is a pop idol that aspires to be a professional TV actress. After leaving her singing career behind, much to the dismay of her fans, she nervously begins to embrace, her new life and the challenges it poses. Sadly, it seems as though her old career won’t let go without a fight, as a series attacks on her colleagues, many of whom have a direct connection to her, begin taking place. What’s worse, Mima’s also being tormented by an obsessed fan, as well as an apparition who considers her new path disgusting and shameful. What do all of these have in common? Is Mima really in trouble, or is she just losing her mind?
One of the more striking aspects of Perfect Blue is how bizarre-yet-compelling its premise is. It feels like an animated thriller akin to David Lynch or David Fincher, with hints of Darren Aronofsky thrown in for good measure. That’s always been Satoshi Kon’s modus operandi, subverting reality to question his characters and the world around them. It’s effective for the audience, constantly keeping us in suspense, although it doesn’t really work here. Why?
Because, simply put, the movie’s a mess. But explaining why requires spoilers, so brace yourselves.
To be fair, I’ll start with the positives. For one, it definitely feels like a movie. I say this in regards to its cinematic flow, as it grasps the basics of cinematography and direction. Everything from swerving, to close shots, to pan shots, to wide shots, it’s all there and accounted for. At the very least, it understands how a thriller, especially an anime thriller, should be directed.
I like the “Japanophile” feel of character designs. Satoshi Kon would become noted for his insistence on Asian faces and characters, and even here it begins to show. I say this because, usually, anime style strives for a hybrid of East and West, in part due to its obvious Disney influences. But Satoshi Kon’s style screams East, which is a nice change of pace. If I had to be honest, his character models are as distinctly Japanese as those from Studio Ghibli, although that’s a given considering how insistent the latter is in striving for Japanese authenticity.
I also like Mima. Sure, she’s young, naïve, idealistic and a touch scatterbrained, but it’s to be expected. Perfect Blue’s story is about the stresses of the studio machine on celebrities, and Mima’s youthful optimism is the perfect caveat for that. Not to mention, she’s the best part about the movie, and it never forgets that. This is also a bit of a downside, but I’ll get into why later.
As far as voice acting goes, the Japanese is passable to my untrained ears. The dub, however, is a little shaky, but it’s not bad. Everyone does the best they can, and they mostly succeed in spite of what little was still known about dubbing in the late-90’s to early-21st Century. Special mention goes to Bridgette Hoffman as Mima, as well as Wendy Lee as her manager, aka Rumi. The two turn in the best performances in the entire dub. Overall, both tracks are fine.
Finally, the movie has one of the greatest thriller premises ever: a young woman goes crazy from the stresses of her new job and starts killing her fellow employees...supposedly. In the words of the immortal Bubsy, “What could possibly go wrong?”
The cast in a nutshell.
Yeah...remember how I said that this was Satoshi Kon’s directorial debut? It shows.
Starting with the most subjective complaint, the animation is ugly. And I mean really ugly. I get it, the budget was modest. The man was still proving himself. It came out in 1997, when anime budgets weren’t as high as they are now. And you know what?
I don’t care.
Just because something is cheap, doesn’t mean it should look cheap. Pi was cheaply made, and it looks great. Memento was cheaply made, and it looks great. Even Neon Genesis Evangelion, a 26 episode show with virtually no budget, such to the point of showing at times, looks better than this movie. And it predates it by two years.
I think people forget that ambition comes second to competency, especially when your resources are modest. So you can’t afford to draw such detailed characters? Scale back. So you can’t afford to animate large crowds in action? Cut down on the number of people you draw. I get that anime isn’t afforded the luxury of Western animation, but this is a feature-length film. I’d buy that excuse if it were a TV series, where budgets are allotted on a case-by-case basis, but it’s not. Movies require a little more competency, so it’s inexcusable.
Complicating the situation is the reality that the character models, while stylized, look borderline generic. Again, bad-looking animation can be compensated for with good storytelling. But this is also a movie, and a theatrical one too. Unless this was the norm for anime films of the mid-late-90’s, and that’s questionable given what was coming out then, I’d expect better than ugly faces that barely meet Satoshi Kon’s ambitions. Scale back, don’t over-exert yourself just to be unique.
Moving to more practical complaints, the pacing is flustered from start to finish. The first-act, though establishing everything within the usual 30 minutes, seems unsure of what its objective is: does it focus on Mima, the creepy-looking stalker who frequents everywhere she goes, or those three guys who are just mouthpieces for exposition and serve no real purpose until the movie’s climax? It dances between the three constantly, and you wouldn’t be able to tell that this is Mima’s story until she arrives at her new job. I’m not kidding; I was confused when I first watched it. That’s a bad sign.
Fortunately, the plot picks up with the exploding letter scene. It’s by that point that the focus emerges, and we start exploring the effects that acting are having on Mima: she’s forced to remember lines verbatim, she’s thrust into a “rape scene”, she strips her clothes for a smutty photo shoot, etc. This is fine and dandy, as real actors and actresses often end up in these situations, but there’s another problem that arises here: the layout. Simply put, there’s not enough breather room between Mima’s tasks and her reactions. Not to mention, her freak-out from the “rape scene” hits the same over-the-top-yet-strangely-under-acted note as Tommy Wiseau’s freak-out at the end of The Room.
That’s not to say the second-act is bad, it’s not. It’s best part of the movie, with Mima’s public life clashing with the attacks she’s indirectly linked to. But this presents a third problem: it’s too predictable. Perfect Blue wants to shock everyone with its violence. To a degree, it does. But it also fails, namely because the perpetrator is way too obvious . Seriously, am I supposed to be shocked when the only guy who looks disturbing enough to be a killer is actually the killer? Does the movie think I was born yesterday?
YEP, TOTALLY NOT SUSPICIOUS AT ALL! I’D HAVE NEVER SEEN IT COMING! (Seriously, how can no one figure it out?)
This leads to yet another complaint I have: why should I care if these people are dying? Do any of them actually matter? You could’ve easily swapped them out with other people, and no one would care. They’d still be fresh meat waiting to get sliced up by the totally-not-obvious-but-actually-really-obvious bad guy who, as we learn, has an unhealthy obsession with Mima. It’s not shocking, it’s just senseless.
As if I can’t pile on the complaints enough, the movie’s use of atmosphere to show Mima’s decay is wonky. On one hand, conversing with her subconscious, which takes the form of another Mima in a pop idol dress, is brilliant. Her frequent mocking of the heroine, hence driving her to madness, is expertly crafted, and having her be in cahoots with the killer is equally so. It leads to lots of great suspense and tension, as we question Mima’s sanity and, ultimately, whether or not she’s really behind the attacks. If we can ignore the obvious, as well as that this concept was executed much better in an early episode of Paranoia Agent, then it works on some level.
On the other hand, the use of exposition to explain what’s happening to Mima fails miserably. Kon wants the other characters to explain what’s happening to Mima indirectly. He wants it to weave in with her television career, causing the line between fiction and reality to be blurred. Guess what? He did that better in Millennium Actress, where it actually felt appropriate because the heroine’s private and public lives were so closely connected. Here, it’s awkward and jarring.
Let’s not forget the “waking up in bed” fake-outs that Perfect Blue loves using/abusing. In total, Mima experiences panic, only to wake up in bed and wonder if it was a dream, FOUR TIMES! Five, if you include the half fake-out before the third-act reveal. Bed fake-outs can very effective, true, but only when done right. And they’re not here, they’re just lazy cock-blocks that rival Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland in raw stupidity.
To top it all off, there’s the third-act twist. I can handle the ugly animation. I can handle the lack of focus in the first-act. I can handle the obvious killer. I can handle the uninteresting side-characters. I can handle the awkward exposition. I can even handle the fake-outs. However, I can’t, for the life of me, handle the single, dumbest, most unneeded, most unnecessary, most ridiculously full of itself plot twist that I’ve ever witnessed in an anime movie to-date:
After all is said and done, Rumi is behind the murders.
Let me explain why this twist kills the movie completely.
So Rumi offers to take Mima home after being attacked by Mr. I’m-the-obvious-killer-and-it’s-bizarre-that-no-one-else-could-pick-up-on-that. After arriving, Mima realizes that this isn’t her apartment: it’s Rumi’s. Rumi then comes out in a J-pop uniform, the same one Mima’s ghost was wearing, and reveals that she was behind the attacks all along. Why? Because she’s obsessed with Mima’s former life, and desperately wants to be her. From there, the two wind up in a cat and mouse game, with Mima being chased along the rooftops by Rumi, until Rumi is injured, almost gets hit by a car and passes out. The movie ends with Mima visiting Rumi in a psychiatric ward, her career as an actress now in full-bloom.
It’d be a great twist...assuming it wasn’t one of the dumbest, and I mean dumbest, ways to cap off this movie.
This twist raises a threefold problem. Firstly, where’s it coming from? Rumi was never established as having been envious of Mima. Sure, you could argue that she didn’t approve of her career change, but disapproval and envy aren’t one in the same. You could also argue that it’s good to surprise the audience, as movies shouldn’t be predictable, but it fails there too. It’s like Hans being a villain in Frozen: you need proper context for these last minute twists to work. Unless they actually work, movies need to stop using them. It’s really lazy writing.
Secondly, it undermines everything that was built up prior. Here you have a woman with a stressful job, one whose past keeps haunting her, and is at the forefront of a string of murders she’s worried she might be responsible for. Wouldn’t it be significantly better if she were the one committing these murders all along? Perhaps we realize that she’s gone insane, developed an alter ego, confronts her alter ego Black Swan-style and kills herself? I’m not a screenplay writer, but that suggestion makes more sense than the twist that the movie uses.
And thirdly, the ending. Oh boy, that ending! Everything Perfect Blue is trying to be, all of its cleverness, any underlying message it might have, gone. Just like that. And the movie makes no attempt at hiding that it’s given up either. It’s rare that an ending makes me retroactively loathe a movie, but this is one of those instances.
Of course, there are other issues with this climax, like how no one could hear Mima screaming for help despite being right above the streets, how Rumi got impaled and still lived, or how that truck appeared at that exact second to knock both characters out-cold, but that’s nitpicking. And, honestly, I stopped caring by then because the movie had already jumped the shark.
Overall, this isn’t a well-made movie. It’s interesting, but interesting doesn’t mean good. I wanted to like it, I really did. But I couldn’t, as it’s too flawed and disoriented for its own good. Therefore, despite not wanting to do so, I must award Perfect Blue a...
...as well a recommendation for you to NOT watch it unless you’re genuinely curious. Or if you disagree, as I’m only human and realize my opinions are subjective.
That about does it for now. Until next time, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the rescue!” *Flies off*
I’ll leave you with the only legitimately terrifying track from the film:
Virtua Mima II – Perfect Blue
2 years ago
Hey g1s! Whitly here! And I’ve been thinking: now that I’m done university for good, what next? But that’s not a question I for right now. Instead, I’ll tackle a debate that’s been floating around the internet for nearly a year:
Yes, I opened that can of worms. Sue me.
Anyway, I’ll air my dirty laundry now and get my overall thoughts on this movie out of the way. I feel like that’s necessary before turning on the Rinse Cycle and sharing the film’s you-know-what twist and why, like it or not, it needs to be addressed properly:
The movie is okay. It’s not terrible, it’s not fantastic, it’s simply okay. It’s better than Iron Man 2, but it pales to Iron Man. It’s better than both Thor movies and The Incredible Hulk, but it’s absolutely nowhere near as good as either of the Captain America films. It also can’t hold a candle to The Avengers.
As a whole, it has a lot of serious problems outside of you-know-what, like how its basic premise is lame, its ultimate message about skeletons in your closet is ridiculous, its reinforcement that Tony Stark is an inconsiderate douchebag and its third-act, though fun, being the messiest part of what’s already a messy story. It feels largely insignificant insofar as an Iron Man film goes, and it’s as dumb as it is fun and witty. I really don’t know what else to make of it, it’s....popcorn fluff. Really fun popcorn fluff. But enough of that, let’s talk about what you really want me to discuss: The Mandarin.
By the way, MAJOR spoilers!
Main Theme – Iron Man 3
So the twist occurs about halfway through the movie, as Tony Stark heads to The Mandarin’s hideout to get some answers. After cleverly distracting the guards, he makes his way in through a side window and sees The Mandarin beckoning two hookers to wash up. He sneaks up behind him, holds a gun to his head and demands he speak. And, sure enough, he discover a British man named Trevor Slattery, washed up actor and bum who only took up his role because the real mastermind offered him a better life.
Cue fanboy rage in 5...4...3...2...1...
To be honest, when I first saw Iron Man 3, I thought nothing of this twist. It was stupid, true, but also funny. I remember laughing with the audience at Trevor’s zany antics, his story involving drugs, his shouting of “Olay, olay, olay, olay!” at the TV screen when his favourite soccer team scored a goal, etc. It was...silly. But as I thought about it more, especially with the divisive reactions it got from people, I realized that, yeah, it was stupid and awful. And while it’s not enough to ruin the movie, there’s definitely weight to the claim of it being a bad twist.
Let’s talk on a basic level first. Put yourself in the minds of the average filmgoers, the “Joan and Cletus” individuals. The whole time they’re getting hints to this terrible and ruthless fear known as The Mandarin, a guy who comes up occasionally to remind people that he exists and isn’t to be taken lightly. He also looks vaguely like Osama bin Laden, a terrorist who’s well known even to those who don’t read the news regularly. The expectations are high, Tony Stark finally figures out where he lives and, lo-and-behold, what do they get? Not The Mandarin, but some washed-up bum. Yep, everyone’s been played for suckers. Ignoring any semantics about expectations, can you at least understand why people were upset?
This is the big reason why The Mandarin’s reveal was so divisive: you spend all this time focused on a baddie, only to discover that he wasn’t real. You were fed a lie, a sham, had the wool pulled over your eyes. The Mandarin wasn’t a villain, he was a nobody made into a somebody by the illusions of TV and secrecy. Even if it might be a clever commentary on some level, it’s still equally as annoying and awful a twist as the one from Perfect Blue. It’s also the point where the movie starts falling apart narrative-wise, but that’s for another blog.
Moving on to more intricate semantics, stop and think about what the twist actually entails: on one hand, here’s a villain who’s played up by mass-media, not unlike real-life. It can make a nobody into a somebody, a minor threat into a major threat and a non-threat into a terrorist. Ever since 9/11, the constant fear of outside forces threatening our peaceful existence has grown. In some ways it’s even been capitalized on. So to have The Mandarin, an embodiment of this fear, turn out to be a nobody could actually be a commentary on how far we go to exaggerate these fears. It’s quite clever on paper.
The problem comes into play once you stop and think about what I said: it’s quite clever on paper. The problem with film is that the script alone can’t save an idea once it’s executed on-screen. Even if your idea works in theory, that doesn’t mean it works in practice. The Mandarin twist could easily be one of the most brilliant plot twists of the past decade, but that’s only paper. In the movie it’s a giant middle finger to those who were waiting for a decent reveal.
I guess a good comparison would be Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. Like The Mandarin, Bane was constantly built up as a threat. He was buff, had a creepy accent and could even outmatch Batman in sheer strength; h*ll, he smashes Batman’s face in and breaks his f***ing back! But as soon as Batman gets the upper hand, the big twist happens and Bane is revealed as the henchman of the real antagonist: Talia al Ghul. A lot of people take issue with this twist too, even though I felt it was much better integrated, and it’s largely because of the idea being sound on paper, but flimsy in execution. Again, a plot twist needs to WORK for it to be clever, and Bane’s twist, like The Mandarin’s, doesn’t.
Bad-luck Bane: villain of a Christopher Nolan film, gets ruined by plot-twist.
It’s at this point that defenders defer to the elephant in the room: The Mandarin is a boring villain. He’s a stereotype. It wouldn’t work in the context of Iron Man’s world. In an interview with Shane Black, i.e. the director, he even claimed that The Mandarin was racist, and that he didn’t think the real version of him, an Asian magician who fights Iron Man for world supremacy, could work in a movie like Iron Man 3 without offending people.
Here’s where I shoot the elephant in the room with a metaphorical rifle and steal its metaphorical tusks for metaphorical ivory, as I have a simple question: why include him at all?
I get it, The Mandarin is bland-central station, he’d never work in a modern-day movie. But if that’s the case, then swap him out for a more interesting antagonist. Keeping and playing him as the middle-finger card is the MCU-equivalent of Venom in Spider-Man 3, and not because the two are comparable in depth or interest. I like Venom, he’s fun. But I can’t deny that, like The Mandarin, he served no other purpose than to anger long-time fans and please a director who never liked him in the first place.
I should go out and say now that this isn’t Sir Ben Kingsley’s fault either. Not only is he ethnically Indian by blood, but his real name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. Ben Kingsley is his stage name. He’s an incredibly versatile actor, and he played an Asian character in Gandhi. H*ll, he’s more Jewish than Caucasian, although that’s up for debate considering Jewish semantics of matrilineal descent. Oh, and he plays his role sincerely here, making the twist pretty funny.
But that Sir Kingsley was given such an insulting character to work with is, well, insulting. Say what you will about his recent career choices, but this is below him. Ben Kingsley was in Gandhi, Schindler’s List and Hugo, to name a few. He’s won an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Grammy, and two Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Not to mention, he’s a character in a movie written and directed by the guy responsible for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. With such talent on board, it’s a backhanded insult to make someone who once portrayed India’s greatest political leader of the 20th Century look like an idiot for no other reason than a simple chuckle.
Going back to boredom, it’s amazing how that’s sudden justification for ruining a villain. I didn’t think Bane, outside of breaking of Batman’s spine, was all that interesting before The Dark Knight Rises came out, and I thought his henchman twist was much better-implemented than The Mandarin being a bum. So why is it a bigger issue? Shouldn’t they be considered equally problematic?
Then again, I haven’t read a comic book in close to 9 years, nor was I a big comic reader anyway, so maybe I’m missing something.
Actually, here’s a better comparison: Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins. Again, what little I knew of the character prior didn’t scream interesting. So far as I was concerned, he was a crazed immortal who wanted to be more immortal than he already was. But Batman Begins did something clever with him, even creating a twist fake-out to further emphasize how desperate he was to see Gotham City burn to the ground. Why couldn’t Iron Man 3 do that with The Mandarin? I’m not simply repeating Jeremy Jahns here, I genuinely believe that a Ra’s al Ghul-style twist would’ve been awesome.
I’ve also heard arguments that the movie already had that twist...in the form of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. Killian, as it turns out, was using The Mandarin as his cover, as he’d intended to create an army of regenerative superhumans and become the superior race. Also, he blows fire out of his mouth, as if that’s any less silly than The Mandarin being an Asian magician. I didn’t realize that substituting one, Saturday morning cartoon villain for another, Saturday morning cartoon villain was considered an upgrade. My, how our standards have fallen!
Admit it, this scene is completely ridiculous!
Actually, let’s talk briefly about how lame Killian is as a villain. Not only are his motives dumb, but he doesn’t do much of anything outside of attempt to assassinate the president. And his death, at the hands of Pepper Potts, is incredibly silly and anti-climactic since it comes from nowhere. That’s another part of why The Mandarin twist doesn’t work, as Killian’s not much better a villain. If he were like Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins, i.e. a twist of clever misdirection, it’d be fine, but Saturday morning cartoon villain breathing fire? NOPE, not buying it!
Which is why The Mandarin twist sucks. Not because he’s racist. Not because he’s boring. Not even because the idea isn’t clever in theory. No, it’s because it’s poorly executed, goes nowhere interesting, substitutes one goofball for another and definitely...well...it doesn’t help the movie’s narrative flow, at least in this Tanooki Captain’s opinion.
Look, I’m not saying that Iron Man 3 is terrible; h*ll, none of the MCU entries are technically “bad”! I enjoyed the movie for its ambition, its final battle being one of the best in any superhero movie to-date. But, like 6 of 9 MCU movies so far, it’s nothing special. It feels like a messy placeholder for the next Avengers movie, except also trying to close off Tony Stark’s legacy. I only wish it were better, and its twist with The Mandarin is one reason why.
I guess that’s it for now (this was a shorter blog, no?) Until next time, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the Rescue!” *Flies off*
2 years ago
Hey g1s! Whitly here! The Oscars are over, the awards were handed out, the complaints were heard all around the world, yada-yada. But that’s not for right now. No, instead, I’d like to focus on something related to my last blog, but only kinda: old people.
Before you get pissy and roll your eyes, here me out:
Everyone ages. That’s a fact. The human body, being organic, has a finite “shelf life”, and when the “expiration date” reaches closer, the person becomes old. The definition varies depending on who you ask, but it’s a generally accepted...well, thing that people eventually become old. Get it? Got it? Good.
Now, even if indirect and unintentional, there’s a tendency for younger people to look down on older people. The reasons vary as frequently as the definitions of old do: they’re sickly. They look ugly. They’re miserable. They’re not in-tune with modernity like us. We’ll outlive them anyway. They keep bragging about how their lives were less sheltered than ours. And, above all else, they make stupid remarks about our hobbies and interests, regardless of whether or not they like them themselves.
I love old people. True, they can be difficult, but having worked and interacted with them many-a-time, I can assure you they’re not all bad once you get to know them. Some are even, dare I say it, quite accomplished, wise and experienced in many facets of life. H*ll, my Zaidy, who’s turning 85 this year, is one of the most interesting people I know! I might not always agree with him, but that doesn’t-I’m getting off-track.
Anyway, old people aren’t so bad. So why does the Internet hate them so much?
I don’t deny that everything an old person says is the “gold standard”. As someone who lives in the now, it disappoints me when I hear him or her say something not terribly thoughtful. And it happens often, because people are flawed, shortsighted and say things they later regret. Even some of my greatest heroes, who are definitely old, have made remarks that, quite frankly, are-pardon my French-dumb as sh*t. But even then, is it worth throwing a hissy fit? The Internet thinks so!
Here are three celebrated individuals, all of them old, who’ve made headlines in the last few years for their “dumb as sh*t” remarks about, you guessed it, my hobbies:
1. Hayao Miyazaki:
I don’t think I need to introduce Hayao Miyazaki to you all. Not only is he one of the greatest directors in animation today, but he may well be one of the greatest directors in film today. His resume, ranging from 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro to 2013’s The Wind Rises, has encompassed some of the greatest films ever, and he’s one of the few directors where I can’t honestly say I dislike a single film he’s made, even if some I’m less fond of than others. He’s that good.
Still, the man has made controversial statements about the anime market lately. Back in 2013, as Miyazaki was preparing to hang up the cape and cowl permanently, he expressed frustration with the subset of anime called “Moe”. Moe, the Japanese word for “cute”, is an anime style in which the female characters, irrespective of age, are hyper-infantilized physically and vocally so to appeal to the cutesy tendencies of male viewers. The end result is woman who looks and sounds like a little girl.
It goes without saying that Moe has become very popular lately, something evidenced by the increasing number of shows pandering to the Moe-loving crowd, but is it worth complaining about? According to Mr. Miyazaki, the answer is yes:
“...In particular, Miyazaki explained, it can be frustrating when the voice actors want their presence to be felt by others...‘Especially the young women’s voices,’ Miyazaki continued. ‘It seems like they’re all speaking with an “Aren’t-I-so-cute?” voice. That’s unbearable. I always want to do something about that.’”
Wait, are you calling mai waifu “annoying”? I-it’s not like I’m trying to find her attractive, b-baka! *Blushes, grumbles and looks away*
If my sarcastic jab at Otaku culture wasn’t already obvious, Miyazaki’s remark received backlash. On the page where I got this information alone, a series of lengthy debates and arguments erupted in the comments. People either agreed with him, disagreed with him, or, um...agreed with him. Yeah, that sounds about right. To those on his side, Miyazaki was the unsung hero of truth, the critic who wasn’t afraid to “expose the garbage of modern-day anime.” To his detractors, he was another blind naysayer who “hated all things cute.” But was his remark worth the backlash?
Well...yes and no?
Look, I’m not above recognizing when one of my favourite directors says something ridiculous. And, let’s be honest, it pales to his other remark that generated hate recently. Honestly, criticizing female VAs because of cutesy voices isn’t entirely fair. What if the script calls for it? Better yet, what if it’s actually appropriate?
Not too long ago, I had the pleasure, if you call it that, of watching Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica, aka “the darkest take on the Magical Girls genre that I’ve ever seen.” I won’t mince my words when I say that it’s absolutely worth your time, for reasons I won’t get into, but it’s a Studio SHAFT show. It has many of their signature stamps, including bobble-head, Moe-esque characters. But it worked, as the Moe-style made the darker moments less jarring to watch. Would Miyazaki take issue with that?
The problem with Miyazaki’s statement is that it generalizes. Actually, it over-generalizes. While there’s truth to his statement, it doesn’t factor in any of the grey areas. Is Moe annoying? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s no different than Hollywood’s use of CGI and 3D: it’s all in how it’s used. And Moe can be great in the right context, like in the show I mentioned above, so his statement, I think, is unfair.
That said, the backlash he received is way too extreme for someone giving an honest opinion. C’mon, really?
This wouldn’t be the last time Miyazaki would criticize anime, however. Earlier this year, he followed up his Moe statement, albeit indirectly, with an equally controversial claim about anime as a whole. In his own words, Miyazaki stated:
“Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people...that’s why the industry is full of otaku!”
For those who don’t know, an Otaku is a fancy way of saying “fan” in Japanese (roughly speaking, there are similar translations for the word.) You can be an Otaku in roughly any area of life, be it books, movies, sports, games, etc. However, it’s largely stuck with anime, for one reason or another, and is used as a blanket term akin to calling a fan of Dr. Who a “Whovian” or of the Star Trek franchise a “Trekkie”. Here, Miyazaki uses this term to directly insult the anime industry, calling its content creators the equivalent of man-children who’ve never gotten laid. Ouch!
It goes without saying that if Miyazaki’s remark on voice acting hit a nerve with anime fans, his remark about the industry as a whole struck a limb! People were either congratulating him, or calling him an old coot so out of touch with modernity that he should disappear forever. Yeah, no attempts at rebuke, no counter-argument, no respectful discourse, nadda! Either he was your unsung hero, or your greatest enemy. So where do I stand? In the back-aisle of the supermarket, busy eating the unopened food that landed on the ground while everyone else is throwing it in rage. PASS THE CHIPS, I’M HUNGRY!
In all seriousness, I’m split. On one hand, there’s no denying Mr. Miyazaki has a point. Anime has become over-saturated with lazy, pandering bullsh*t that floods out anything of note. We get fan service, Moe trash and the newest, generic slice-of-life show that does nothing interesting. And most of it is cheap, cheap, CHEAP! So yes, I can see where he’s coming from.
On the other hand, I feel the same way I do about any generalization: “Movies these days are cheap CGI and no heart!” “Games these days lack creativity and challenge!” “Those kids don’t know what they’re missing! In my day, we had to walk to school barefoot, up a hill, both ways and in the dead cold of Winter!” Sure gramps, why not act like an entitled a**hole while ranting about how we’re all entitled a**holes? Speaking of which, do you need your depends changed?
It bugs me because generalizations are, well, generalizations. They miss the heart and soul of the industry, and they completely ignore the fact that, true, sh*t exists, but it’s always existed. Markets are capitalist, they’re about making a quick buck. Garbage, therefore, is nothing new. And in the case of anime, it forgets that, yes, good shows still exist. Need proof?
“O NOES, MODERN ANIME IZ AWFUL!”
I’m not one to shy away from my issues with most anime: it’s cheap. It’s not budgeted well. It strives for sameness. It’s badly written. The use of Manga Iconography pisses me off. Some genres drag forever. The market feels over-stuffed. Essentially, there’s a lot I don’t like.
But you know something? That’s not stopping me from enjoying what’s good! In 2003, Studio BONES released two of my favourite shows of all-time: Wolf’s Rain and Fullmetal Alchemist. In 2007, Studio Pierrot released Baccano!. In 2008, Spice & Wolf redefined what it meant to be a fan service show, with the “fan service” aspect sidelined in favour of good writing. Last year, Attack on Titan was released to wide acclaim. Clearly, the whole “modern anime sucks” argument forgot to factor those in, didn’t it?
I also think Miyazaki’s claim is disingenuous because of its phrasing: “hardly any basis taken from observing real people?” Is that referring to the style of animation? The character writing? The use of environment for effect? And how is that responsible for creating Otaku? I respect you as an auteur of anime, Miyazaki-san, but you can’t make these claims without contextualizing what you mean.
Oh, and explain your friendship with Hideaki Anno if-oh right, he agrees with you. NEVER MIND!
Still, is it fair to call Miyazaki an “old coot” because of these silly and unfounded claims? Nope. The man’s not senile...yet, and he still knows how to write/make good movies, so it’s not like he’s lost it. And he’s very accomplished too, even if he’s getting old. Rather, we should accept that he said something dumb, rebut him respectfully and move on. Getting red-faced only further proves his point.
2. Steven Spielberg:
Like Miyazaki, Steven Spielberg needs no introduction. The man is responsible for some of the greatest movies ever made (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan,) revolutionizing the action genre, proving he’s equally comfortable in drama and has even made his mark as being one damned fine producer. But he’s got an ego too. Not only has he fallen victim to greed, see The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but he’s made some rather shortsighted remarks about the nature of the film industry. Amongst these are his ill-spoken jab at Harry Potter, as well as what I’m about to mention.
Around the release of Lincoln, Spielberg, along with long-time friend George Lucas, predicted the implosion of Hollywood:
“‘We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails -- we barely got them into theaters. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theater...’”
As you can see, it’s the whole “We want more people to see our movies” shpeal. I remember bringing this up at my old job, and my co-worker went on a tirade about how Spielberg is a hypocrite for complaining about the Hollywood he helped create. Another co-worker then went on to complain about how “boring and self-righteous” Lincoln was when she heard his initial comment. But they’re both action junkies, so I can’t blame them for not appreciating a masterfully scripted movie like Lincoln. (Seriously though, what’s with the sudden hate for Lincoln?)
Their words would echo a lot of the response, however. And I don’t blame them: Steven Spielberg directed Jaws, the Indiana Jones movies and Jurassic Park. He’s one of the pioneers behind the Hollywood that favors action films over serious drama pieces. Sure, he might’ve switched gears to drama over time, but he helped create what he’s complaining about! Was he not expecting it to backfire?
I don’t even say this disrespectfully. I love Spielberg’s movies. I even prefer dramatic Spielberg to action Spielberg. H*ll, Lincoln is one of my favourites from him, easily number 5! But when you’re complaining that the very industry you helped create is making it hard for you to get your serious, heartfelt dramas out to the general public...well, that’s your own damned fault!
Also, asking for more expensive movie tickets is ridiculous. I already pay $13 a pop for a movie, regardless of genre. The exception is on Tuesdays, when the price drops to $9. I have no steady income either, so this is money that I’ve worked hard to save. If you expect me to pay more for a drama, you’re crazy!
Does this mean Spielberg doesn’t have a point, however misguided and egotistical it may be? No, he’s not entirely inaccurate. You look at how hard it is to make original, compelling dramas these days, as well as how little revenue they generate compared to action movies, and you’ll see his point. Not to mention, like he said in the article, he had a hard time getting Lincoln green-lit, even being forced to buy his own studio, i.e. Amblin Entertainment, to make it happen. I’m not sure why, or even what “buying” entails, but the proof’s in the pudding.
Besides, if it means getting movies like this, I’m all for it!
All in all, there are three ways to interpret this claim. On one hand, you can consider it a cash grab from an otherwise great director. On another, you can consider it a sad statement about Hollywood. Or, on the off chance you have a third hand protruding from your body, you can take it as a silly claim from a wise old man. Because, honestly, even wise old men have their off-moments, right?
Still, I await American Sniper, Spielberg’s next movie, when it releases next year.
3. Roger Ebert:
Once again, no introduction needed for the late-Roger Ebert. Despite losing the battle to cancer last year, he’s made imprints as a writer, film critic, TV icon, journalist and editorialist. He and Gene Siskel, also deceased, ran one of the greatest TV reviewing shows together from the 70’s-late 90’s, and even after Siskel’s death, also from cancer, he kept strong and proved he could be equally successful on his own. In short, quite the accomplished man.
That said, even the deceased have skeletons in their closets, and Ebert was no exception. In 2010, he wrote a lengthy editorial on the merits of video games, stating that, quite simply, they’d never reach the artistic levels of film. To quote one section:
“One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome...it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.”
His editorial, needless to say, is a little confusing. It spends a lot of time discussing a person named Santiago and rebuking most of her arguments. The one clear element is that Ebert, ultimately, makes the claim that video games aren’t art. Art is static and unchanging, while video games constantly evolve based on the decisions of the player. It’s this interactivity that gets in the way of the artistic experience.
Naturally, the gaming community was enraged: how DARE a film critic claim that something he doesn’t understand is art? It reached a point where legendary e-personality Moviebob made a video to counter the argument, one that was later upped in quality by e-personality Adam Sessler. It also reached such a point that Ebert revised his claim, stating that video games could be art, but weren’t right now. In short, not a pretty picture.
This debate always struck me as confusing. On one hand, I agree that Ebert was off. Video games can be art. They, by the definition of the word, are art. “Art” is also arbitrary anyway, so what it can and can’t be sounds authoritarian. It’s especially problematic because, honestly, video games can be equally as compelling narrative-wise as any book, movie, play, etc. In some cases, they can be more so because of their interactivity. You look at Heavy Rain, which forms its backbone on a plot that varies depending on interaction, and you see that, yes, there are artistic merits.
On the other hand, who cares? I know gamers can be incredibly defensive of their hobby, I used to be one myself, so it’s no surprise that Ebert’s words would be interpreted as an attack, but is it justified? Argue semantics and examples all day, but does it mean anything? What’s more important anyway: the artistic merits of a game, or the functionality of said game?
I also take issue because, quite frankly, having a good narrative doesn’t automatically mean that your game is any good. I’ve seen games with bad narratives that play perfectly fine, as well as games with great narratives that fail as games. Yes, we should strive to make great games with rich worlds, but we should never forget that, in the end, a video game is meant to be played and enjoyed. And I know many people would disagree, but isn’t that more important than whether or not there’s some form of artistic merit?
It’s like Ebert himself said:
“Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?...Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?”
I R ART! ANALYZE MEH, DERP!
I guess, to be fair, the issue of whether or not video games are “art” is purely subjective and revolves around what you’d consider art. Do I personally think they’re “art”? Sure, why not? I’m as open to the idea as I am to the death penalty, so long as its parameters are clearly defined. I don’t think all games are art, but I don’t think all books, plays, movies, etc. are art either...at least, not in the way Ebert defined them. But yeah, I’m not against the possibility.
This one’s harder to call foul over because, unlike Miyazaki and Spielberg, Ebert wasn’t basing his argument in arrogance or greed. He had an opinion that, while not without basis, pissed off a large community of individuals known as “gamers”. Whether or not all the facts were present...is iffy, but no real harm was intended. So I guess it’s an issue of outlook, as opposed to a “dumb moment from a wise old man.” Fair enough?
So, what did we learn? Well, that old farts say the darndest things-wait, that’s demeaning...REDO!
Actually, that kinda is what we’ve learned, no? I guess the only other lesson is that, ultimately, while old people might occasionally say something strange, in the end it shouldn’t be held against them. Yes, the statement was silly, but is it stupidity? Not really. Old people can be wise beyond our years, and this might be a limitation of the generation, or cynicism, from whence they originate. Besides, if you were to open your mouth to make a claim, would it be fair if you were shunned for it?
Think about it. Until then, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the rescue!” *Flies off*
2 years ago
Make Thee an Ark - Noah (Courtesy of Yasser Abdel Rahman.)
Hey g1s! Whitly here! So I decided to watch Noah in celebration of finishing one of my two final essays. And you know what? It was really interesting! But that’s not important right now. Instead, I’d like to address the backlash it’s received from not religious groups, even though there’s that too, but rather the general public. Yeah, in an ironic twist, people are mad that Darren Aronofsky, one of the most visceral and mind-blowing directors to ever embrace film, is adapting a Biblical story.
Why am I reminded of Christopher Nolan with this poster?
I’m gonna come right out and say this, even though I probably should’ve expected it anyway: I don’t get it...at all.
Now, to be fair, I don’t not get it; after all, it’s the Bible, the Holy Scripture, the Book of Genesis, etc. It’s a story that, honestly, we’ve grown out of. We’re modern, progressive, enlightened thinkers, and here’s this old-fashioned, outdated, traditionalist story. It’s like that neighbour that we hated and moved away from calling one day to ask if we’d like to come over for dinner. Naturally, we’re not happy.
That said, it’s dumb, and here’s why:
See, I’ve made it no secret before that I’m a practicing Jew. It’s one of my interests on my g1 profile, I frequently discuss it in the forums, h*ll, I even Tweet about it! So yeah, I’m committed. As such, one of my favourite kinds of movies is the Jewish-inspired one, hence one of the reasons why The Prince of Egypt was on my Top 15 list and Schindler’s List is my 5th-favourite movie ever. I can’t get enough of the material, and I anxiously await new movies with ties, directly or indirectly, to my roots.
Sadly, religious, or religiously inspired, films are rare. They come out every-once-in-a-blue-moon, and on the off chance that they do come out...well, they’re either piddling and/or unmarketable. And they rarely sell. The only exception is the Exodus story, which will have been adapted 7 times by the end of this year, but I’m sick to death of that one. (But I’ll still probably watch Exodus when it comes out.)
On a similar note, I really like Darren Aronofsky. He’s one of Hollywood’s greatest visceral directors, with his small resume being, for the most part, really impressive. He’s cerebral, justifiably dark, justifiably freaky, subversive, deconstructive, etc. Simply put, he knows how to take a rather ordinary and uninteresting idea, i.e. math, drugs or ballet, and give it enough depth to resonate in our minds without feeling preachy or overwhelming. Additionally, his movies are insane!
Aronofsky also has a soft spot for his Jewish heritage. Despite being a self-admitted atheist, I don’t think the Jew in him has disappeared. The protagonists in his films are almost always Jewish, he made Kabbalah an integral part of his directorial debut, and his films frequently struggle with the traditions of the old. There’s no other way of putting it: Mr. Aronofsky is a culturally identifying Jew. If anything, he’s more “Jewish” than many “practicing” Jews, but that’s a subject for another day.
So when Noah was announced as his next project, my initial thought was, “Excellent! This is perfect for him.” After all, given how long it was in production, as well as everything I’ve said prior, why wouldn’t it be? Its plot twists might’ve been kept a secret, its angle on the story bizarre, but there’s no denying that, at the end of the day, someone like Aronofsky would bring his A-game. And, you know what? I commend him for that!
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about its detractors. You snoop around on any movie-related site and WHAT do you see?
“Will this movie try to convert me?”
“ppl who actually believe in Noah are fundamentalist loons.”
“If you believe in the story of Noah then you're scientifically ignorant, that's the long and short of it.”
FYI, I didn’t edit these comments. But yeah, one of the big critiques of Noah, at least on the non-religious side, isn’t stemming from the movie changing the content of its source, but that it’s being made at all. Despite being about something completely different than the title suggests, the problem here is that Hollywood is “making religious propaganda.” But still, there are several reasons why a movie like Noah has every right to not only exist, but be seen by large numbers of people. Be warned, MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT!!!
Firstly, there’s the tale itself. The story of Noah, which takes place between 6:9 and 11:32 of Genesis, really boils down to the following:
Mankind has become corrupted after 10 generations > Noah is the only one God deems righteous > God commands Noah to build an ark from Gopher Wood and gather his family/two of each animal, as the whole world will be flooded and rebooted > Noah builds the ark and is mocked by his neighbours for doing so > the flood consumes the world for 40 days and 40 nights > the ark finally rests on Mount Ararat > Noah sends out a raven to find land, but the raven returns empty-handed > Noah sends out a dove, which comes back with an olive branch > Noah sends it out again, this time the dove not coming back > Noah and his family leave the ark and start their lives again.
There’s also the subplot with Noah getting piss drunk, as well as his son showing his father indecency and getting cursed for doing so, but that’s basically the story in a nutshell. It’s a small section of the Bible, which I’ll refer to as the Torah from hereon in, but yeah. It’s a “hit the reboot button” moment in God’s relationship to man. I saved you 5 chapters of one of the oldest-surviving books in history. Hallelujah!
DUH, ANAMALZ! HERP-A-DERP!
If only it were that easy.
See, the problem with witling a book like the Torah to its bare essentials is that it misses two, key issues. The first is that the Torah was never a history book, but rather a text on ethical monotheism. I know the whole, “Is scripture apocryphal with the intent to teach?” debate is pretty controversial, with no clear consensus, but it’s true: the Torah is more concerned with how you live your life, and any subsequent stories are meant to drive that home. That part was widely agreed, by Jews at least, even during the Middle Ages. As such, deriving history from it is problematic.
And second, the Torah doesn’t make sense at face value. It contains, for example, a whole section of a specific dye, i.e. Techelet, used for colouring fringes, i.e. Tzitzit, that can only be obtained from a specific animal called the Chillazon. Techelet pops up 48 times in the entirety of the text, but you never discover: a. What Techelet is. b. Why they need to go on Tzitzit. c. What Tzitzit actually look like. d. What a Chillazon is. We know what all of this is through interpretation, not the source alone. That, combined with the awkward syntax of the original phrasing, makes for a massive headache at face value.
So it’s no surprise that its stories aren’t any different. With Noah specifically, many questions arise, like why did God wait 10 generations? Why was Noah so righteous? What’s Gopher Wood? Why 40 days and 40 nights? Where’s Mount Ararat, and why isn’t the ark still there?
You see what I’m getting at? Basically, the story of Noah can’t be read or understood without interpretation. Granted, that’s what commentators are for, but even Aronofsky understood that. You can argue whether or not he was successful, or even if his interpretation makes sense, but Noah is no less an interpretation of the story it’s based on. It’s merely one from a Jewish atheist who makes films.
Which leads to what the movie is all about: a man has intense visions that the world is gonna get flooded, so he builds a wooden cabin to save his family and two of every animal. The flood happens, he feels survivalist guilt, shenanigans ensue on the boat itself, the storm subsides, everything starts anew. It keeps the essence of the story intact, but there are little details added to make the story more grounded; for example, are Noah’s visions signs of insanity? Is he really no worse than everyone else? The movie eventually proves that he isn’t, but it’s played with in a refreshing and creative way.
The movie also takes artistic liberties narrative-wise. Methuselah, for example, has a minor role in the story as a hermit who has retreated from society and is awaiting the world’s end. For reference, Methuselah was long dead by this point. The decision to change the exiled race of Nephilim angels into rock giants called “The Watchers” was interesting too, even if a tad silly. Tubal-Cain, who had a brief role in the original story, plays an expanded part here, as does Shem’s wife Ila. There’s also a sub-plot involving Noah’s fractured relationship with his son Ham, which was expanded from the source beyond his curse and was even made somewhat tragic. These are strictly Midrashic incorporations; they all come from the rabbinic interpretations, as well as a book called Enoch, and they’re definitely artistic liberties.
Which leads to my next point: the incorporation of Midrash. Midrash, much like Aesop’s fables, is expanded allegory meant to instruct and teach. Specifically, it’s allegory from rabbinical scholars. Since we’ve already established that the Torah doesn’t make sense on its own, these interpretations flesh out and contemporize it for a contemporary audience. Everything from the rock giants, to Methuselah’s presence, to the way Noah receives his prophetic visions is Midrash. In fact, the way Noah receives his prophetic visions is actually one of many explanations on how they actually were transmitted.
It’s especially interesting because Darren Aronofsky isn’t conforming to stereotypical, generic notions of how religion's perceived as per the Western world. The Nephilim, for example, don’t look like humans, but rather faceless apparitions that take on the physical form of rock giants. Prophetic visions aren’t direct conversations, but rather visions contained in dreams. Even God, who is frequently referred to as “The Creator,” is never shown or heard, but rather presented through nature. Oh, and there’s a montage halfway that further confirms evolution and creation can work hand-in-hand without contradiction (sorry guys, but both sides were being closed-minded here.)
Surprisingly, this is really refreshing. We’ve been so over-exposed to the generic approach to faith that it’s easy to forget that it, too, was originally based on an interpretation. A Greco-Roman interpretation, if you wanna be technical, but still an interpretation. And it’s nice in theory, who wouldn’t want a God who looks life a buff grandpa, but taking it to its literal extent is asking for trouble. It’s ironic that the atheist director had to remind us of this, but oh well!
Yeah...no. Nice try, though!
Moving on from there, part of the issue with Noah’s backlash stems from an ignorance of the source material...on both sides of the spectrum. As I learned in my Grade 11 Rabbinics course, much to my complete shock, the way in which people are taught the Torah in school is flawed. You learn the basic text when you’re little, which makes sense, but it doesn’t evolve as you get older. Essentially, the stuff you know now is probably what you learned when you were 6 or 7. You’re now in your teens, twenties or thirties, so is that being honest?
Essentially, there’s a lack of intellectual growth here. The Torah isn’t this cutesy, bedtime story you tell your kids, to quote Hook, “To shut you up, and put you to sleep.” It’s dark, cryptic, violent and laden with subtext. Passing it off as a kid’s book doesn’t do it justice, nor does taking it as literal truth. There’s value to its face text, don’t mistake me, but I wouldn’t have known that Song of Songs was about God’s relationship with the Israelites if I simply learned it as a youthful love story, or that Job was actually a metaphor for human suffering. You’ve got to dig deeper, folks!
And this is why I get irritated when people “think they have it all figured out,” only to prove that, no, they don’t. They have it no more figured it out than they do A Pilgrim’s Journey by reading it without thinking over what they’ve read. Ignorance is a problem on its own, but partial-ignorance? Even worse. And the Torah is no different, as-like I said-it was never meant as history.
That’s fine and dandy, but as a rogue commenter on IMDb pointed out:
“If it's not meant to be taken literally, how is it to be taken?”
This is an interesting and relevant question. The original story, if my understanding of it is correct, is two-fold: a warning against societies without laws, and a redemption story for the future should one man be decent in this time. It’s a commentary on how humanity is full of itself, a warning about what’ll happen without order, but also a reminder of how one person can make a difference. It also gives context to the invention of alcohol, but...
There’s also another point worth addressing: Noah’s failure. Yes, believe it or not, Noah was supposed to reach out to humanity and prevent the flood from happening. There’s even a Midrash that suggests that he spent 120 years building the ark, a process meant to try to persuade his neighbours to change. Ultimately, he failed. But even outside of this Midrash, Noah was partly to blame for the flood, something he only realized once the flood was over. Why else would he get drunk off his a**, huh?
But this ties in with the sad reality that Noah...maybe was a little self-centred? Like the bird in the Torah known as a “Chasidah,” Noah cared more for his own family than for his fellow man. After all, just because you’re considered a “righteous man of [your] time,” doesn’t mean that you’re a saint. Noah was most-certainly righteous, don’t misunderstand, but where as Abraham and Moses, both of whom were also righteous, were willing to stand up to God and defend those around them, Noah...was content with letting everyone go to h*ll. Perhaps that’s why he’s punished later by becoming vulnerable enough to be exposed by Ham, no?
And, surprisingly, Aronofsky tackles this dilemma in Noah. Maybe not to the extent of the Torah, but enough that you question his sanity once the storm begins. He, for example, wants his line to die out, so much so that he comes close to murdering Ila’s children because they’re girls. He also burns down Ila and Shem’s escape raft so they have no way to oppose him. It’s only once he sees his granddaughters for what they are, harmless innocents, that he relents and gives his blessing. It’s an interesting take on Noah, to say the least.
Really though, the main theme here is whether or not humanity is so great. Should we be allowed to exist, or should we die out? The movie starts under the assertion that the former is correct, yet concludes by countering its original argument and stating that, yes, humans deserve to live. We might be flawed, easily corruptible and egocentric, but we’re not inherently evil! So long as there’s a little bit of hope, even a little, mankind deserves to live; after all, that’s why God created a rainbow!
Isn’t it pretty?
I apologize for the lecture, but it seems there’s no other way to drive this home. Like the Shakespearean works of old, the Torah has many great stories and lessons that, regardless of what you think of them, are still relevant in this day and age. Noah is one example of that, taking a reboot of humanity story and giving it a modern spin about the dangers of greed and destruction. H*ll, considering that it’s already doing well at the box office, why not make more? Take note, Hollywood: I want to see an adaptation of the battle of Jericho next. MAKE IT HAPPEN, DAMMIT!
Speaking strictly as a movie, however, Noah’s a lot better than it could’ve been. I loved its audaciousness to, controversially, take both stories of creation, as told in Genesis 1:1 and 2:5, and mix them with evolution to show that the “Creationism VS Evolution” argument is really not an argument at all. I also like the incorporation of the Nephilim, as well as the expanded use of Methuselah and Ila. But most importantly, I like that the movie made Ham, who was cursed by his father in the text, sympathetic, giving him an actual reason to distrust his father outside of “he was acting like a drunken bum.” Plenty of creative license was taken to bring these changes to life, including the rejection of the common myth that the forbidden fruit was an apple, but none of it was disrespectful. It had a story to tell, and it told it.
That’s not to say Noah is flawless. Aside from the first 30 minutes being a time-jumping and aimless mess, the movie’s pretty Hollywood-esque. The redemption of the Nephilim is silly, and the big climax before the flood feels ripped from the opening battle in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I also though that Methuselah could’ve had a bigger role than he did, as well as that Ham’s relationship with Tubal-Cain felt forced. The fight with Tubal-Cain and Noah in the third-act was also forced, something not helped by the action scenes suffering from shaky-cam, and the overplaying of Noah’s neighbours to drive their evil, meat-eating ways home felt like a shameless PSA for veganism. And finally, only Shem having kids felt biased for the wrong reasons, which wasn’t helped by the cheap melodrama surrounding Ila’s unexpected pregnancy.
But where as these flaws would’ve crippled a lesser film, in the hands of Darren Aronofsky they merely feel like flaws. Does that mean that Noah’s his best film? Not necessarily. Does that mean that Noah’s his worst film? Again, not necessarily. But does that mean that Noah still isn’t worth watching? No, this is still a good movie. Odd, controversial, bizarre even, but good. And it pains me that people don’t recognize that.
Look, I can’t stop anyone from calling it boring. It’s a free country, your tastes can differ from mine. Nor do I have the power to stop people from condemning it. But, as with the Christians who critique its factual inaccuracies, condemning Noah for being “another Bible movie” is distasteful and dishonest. Because this is Hollywood, the land of interpretation. Besides, I’ve seen plenty of movies that have challenged my monotheism, so you can do the same every-once-in-a-while for your atheism. It won’t hurt, I promise.
I guess I’ll leave you with a quote from a review that sums up Noah beautifully:
“By leaving us with such issues to ponder, ‘Noah’ transcends the genre of mere ‘Biblical epic.’ It becomes part of the very discussion.”
And yes, as the article says, I’d consider this movie a Midrashic take on the source material.
Until next time, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the Rescue!” *Flies off*
2 years ago
Princess Mononoke OST (Courtesy of user StudioGhibliMusic.)
Hey g1s! Whitly here! It’s that time of year again, the time when we look back and reflect on the past year. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, be it games, books, politics, personal struggles or movies, there’s this underlying compulsion to share with everyone what the last 365 days really meant to us. And I’ve decided to jump on this bandwagon and share my thoughts on the movie year. Whether or not I do this annually is up for debate, especially since I struggle with commitments, but at least there’s enough to do it this once.
Before I begin, I’d like to remind everyone that I haven’t seen every movie out this year. That’s unreasonable, especially since I don’t make a steady income and am usually forced to save up. That, when combined with my reluctance to part with what little money I scrounge up each week, means I’m more inclined to go for heavy-hitters and critical darlings over lesser-knowns and box-office busts. If that bothers you, then-to quote one of my favourite lines from 2012-“Argo fuck yourself.”
Additionally, this list is entirely my opinion. None of what I’m touting is gospel, as I’m just one man. Agree, disagree, or any of that jazz, I don’t care: either respectfully comment on the blog when you’re done, or make your own. Again, if you can’t stand anything I’m about to say, “Argo fuck yourself.”
Part I: 2013 as a Whole
Every film cycle has its defining quirk. 2009, for example, was the year of animation, giving us some of the best ever made. 2010, on the other hand, is regarded as one of the greatest movies years in history, with its choices being mostly high quality. 2011 was the year of quantity over quality, while 2012 was the roller-coaster year of big disappointments juxtaposed to unexpected surprises. So how does 2013 stack-up?
Well, put simply, 2013 is the late-bloomer. For the most part, i.e. the first 2/3 of the year, it was very dry. True, there were gems, but they were few and mostly low-key. Even ignoring the big disappointments, the year was quiet and barren, giving us an unenthusiastic Winter (which isn’t uncommon) and following it with an empty Spring (which is sometimes common) and a Summer of, put bluntly, desolation (which is very uncommon, since the Summer months are known for their action spectacles.) I think that, in a total of 8½ months, only 17 movies intrigued me, and even then I only ended up watching 12-13.
Then, in late-September, just as I was about to call it quits, the year picked up. It’s not unusual to get greatness in the Fall-December, what with Oscar season and whatnot, but the amount of quality was mind-blowing. In just 3½ short months, there was a movie that interested me every week, sometimes more than one. By the time of this blog’s completion, I’ll have seen 33 movies, a record high for me. Which makes me wonder why 2013 waited to dump all of its gold dust just as the year was starting to end, but whatever.
Overall, a 3.5/5. Let’s hope 2014 paces itself better.
Part II: Biggest News of 2013
I’ve already covered this announcement in detail, but the gist is that Hayao Miyazaki, who’s now 73 years old, has called it quits for good with directing starting in September of this past year. Honestly, I didn’t take him seriously at first, what with having announced his retirement 6 times since 1995, but as the weeks went on it was clearer and clearer that he was done for good this time. I look forward to seeing his final movie, The Wind Rises, in theatres when it releases in North America on February 21st, and I wish him the best in his endeavours...
Unless he’s planning to make another movie, in which case he should make up his f***ing mind already. I’d probably still watch it, however.
Part III: Worst movie
Next up, the “dunder” award. It seems like every movie year has a standout that really makes me question if film has just given up. In 2010, it was The Last Airbender. In 2011, it was Super. Last year, it was Dark Shadows. And this year, it was Movie 43. Damn you to h*ll, you ungrateful, unenthusiastic, cynically driven piece of sh*t.
The premise is as follows: two idiots get high one night, upload their shenanigans to YouTube and think they’ve made big when their view count skyrockets in seconds. Turns out that, surprise, the younger brother of one of them had copypasta’d their YouTube views as a prank, so they decide to get revenge by downloading porn on his MacBook. The ruse? They’re looking for the magical “Movie 43”, a mysterious web movie that’s said to be too secretive for normal eyes. And, all-the-while, disgusting and “hilarious” shorts are interspersed to flesh-out the runtime.
I was initially hesitant to see this, especially considering that it was already being labeled the worst movie of 2013 when it came out. I even, not surprisingly, missed it in theatres. But curiousity kept rearing its ugly head, so I caved and watched it on my laptop just to see what the fuss was all about. To be fair, it’s not the worst movie ever, but...ugh! HOW DO YOU FAIL THIS BAD, PEOPLE?!
I’m not sure what’s worse: that all of the skits are varying degrees of horrendous, or that so many talented actors and actresses were actually coaxed into making this garbage. Yeah, 12 skits...and not a single one was legitimately funny. Which is fine if they were clever, as I don’t need to always be laughing, but chin testicles? Taking a dump on your coprophelia-obsessed wife? A truth or dare sequence that’s beyond racially insensitive? A cat that wants to f*** his owner? Beating up leprechauns for gold?
Admittedly, some skits had potential, most-notably the superhero speed-dating one, but they’re all pointless, unfunny, vulgar for no reason, insensitive and just flat-out awful. There’s no subtext, no underlying meaning, no attempt at subtlety...it’s just bad. And I mean really bad. And it goes on and on and on. That’s right, a 97-minute series of gag skits goes on forever. Adam Sandler is subtle compared to this garbage!
At the end of the day, the movie has two saving graces: one, it has a funny joke about Amsterdam not being a country. Okay movie, you made me laugh there. Two, the acting was, shockingly, really good. Every actor and actress involved, regardless of how long he or she was on-screen, was actually trying. Granted, they had awful material to work with, but I have to give them credit for that.
Then again, a well-acted turd is still a turd. 1.5/5. FUCK THIS MOVIE!!!
Part IV: Most mediocre movie
I’m so gonna get hate for this, but it has to be said: yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s interesting. Yes, it’s visually appealing. But, that aside, is Pacific Rim really all that fantastic? My eyes say yes, but my true thoughts indicate otherwise.
I’m not sure if it was expectations, my longing for more substance, or that giant monster movies aren’t my thing, or even all three, but I don’t see the appeal of 100-foot tall machines beating the crap out of 100-foot tall monsters. Is it cool? Yes...for about 5 minutes. But when I don’t care about the people beating up those monsters, save Mako, what good does that do? Am I supposed to endure bad writing, hokey acting, forced exposition and a dumb climax just for that? As my grandfather said about Lincoln: “if the presentation isn’t good, who cares how interesting it sounds?”
I’d also like to address the claims of depth being thrown around about Pacific Rim: what depth? Where’s the subtext about coexistence? Where’s the allegory about fighting our inner animals? What’s the underlying take-away of this 2-hour experience? That Rock-‘em Sock-‘em Robots is awesome?
I can understand if it were just touted as a fun time at the movies, but Pacific Rim is as shallow as it gets, and that’s its greatest strength. It’s being nothing more than a love-letter to Japanese monster movies. The only “depth” this movie has is its oceans, which are beautifully rendered in CG, by the way. But yeah, deep this movie isn’t.
Gotta admit, though, sure is one h*ll of a video game. 3/5. My only regret is that we never see the final boss, although they’re probably saving it for the sequel.
Onto the real deal. I’ve tried my hardest to keep everything spoiler-free:
Part V: My 12 favourite movies of the year (in alphabetical order)
12 Years a Slave
I know this is anticlimactic, but it has to be said: this is my favourite movie of 2013. Not to discredit the other entries, all of which are worth seeing, but it’s no contest-actually, that’s not quite true. One other movie came pretty close to beating it out. But it ended up winning anyway. I’d end this entry right now with “go see it” and feel no guilt for doing so, but that won’t cut it.
There are two aspects that make this movie shine, both tying together very well. The first is its honesty, namely in its depiction of slavery in the south. Simply put, it was unfair, unjust, dishonest and nasty, nasty, nasty. Simple acts, like asking questions, could get you into trouble, as evidenced on several occasions. Even the identities of the slaves weren’t their own! And it makes for some painful-yet-enticing scenes, including one where the main character finally accepts that all is lost.
The second is that slavery was a human system. And not in a “this wasn’t all that bad” way, but rather in a “this was a sad fact of reality” way. Not to mention, there were layers to it. Some slave owners were worse than others, there were different kinds of slaves, even some blacks had slaves! It’s this level of intricacy that made slavery so difficult to stop, to the point that, as we know retrospectively, it took a war to finally abolish it.
Overall, well worth the trip to the cinema. Whether it was the honesty, the brutality, even just the perspective of the movie, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a slavery story this unique and layered. And even with the occasionally overdone shots, it’s still a solid film. Not to mention, the overly sentimental ending actually feels justified. You know your movie’s worthy of its praise when you can have a sappy ending and it feels 100% justified. 5/5.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on here, at least for me. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of David O. Russell. Nothing against him personally, but, after having seen The Fighter and The Silver Linings Playbook, he doesn’t do it for me. The former was okay, while the latter had some dumb script contrivances in the third-act. He’s like Quentin Tarantino: talented, but not my cup of tea. The difference? Tarantino is too chatty and over-the-top, while O. Russell is overly blunt and melodramatic.
I say this because, surprisingly, American Hustle uses those two elements to its advantage. The movie’s melodramatic at times, but it never feels out of place given how ridiculous its premise is (not to mention the half-comical disclaimer in the beginning). And as for being too blunt? Well, it works. The film never forgets what it’s trying to be, and it only feels honest because it has dark words to say about the bullsh*t we do to ourselves/everyone around us.
I’ve heard complaints that American Hustle is too shallow, that it never excels beyond that. Clearly, those complainers have never seen a Tarantino film before. But seriously, American Hustle is intentionally shallow, and it never tries to be serious. If that’s you wanted, then allow me to beat you over the head with a phone. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt for long!
The movie can get a little bogged down in some of its plot details, most-notably near the end, but it’s never jarring. It even has one of the best twist endings I’ve seen this year, if you can believe that! So give it a try. It’s funny, sincere, subverts a few clichés here and there, etc. What’s not to love, assuming you don’t mind that it rips off Scorsese and Tarantino? Actually, scratch that: it rips them off because there’s a good story to be told with those elements. 4.5/5.
A movie I wanted to see even before it came out, Captain Phillips had me pumped the second the trailer was released. For one, it was Paul Greengrass, the director of the second and third Bourne films. That alone is worth my curiousity. And for another, it was based on one of my favourite news stories of the last 5 years. Yeah, bet’cha didn’t know that! That aside, it’s one of my favourites of 2013, and was another reason why I’d initially misjudged the year when I saw it in October.
The movie’s biggest strength is its attention to detail. I’ve yet to see a movie that captures the real-life feel of being hijacked by pirates like this one. Sure, pirate hijackings aren’t new, we’ve seen them in fiction many times. But a non-fictional, biopic-based take? No, not really...at least, to my knowledge.
But the most interesting part is just how real, and suspenseful, the dialogue is. I say this because not only does it give weight to the pirates, explaining what’s at stake on their end, but also because it gives weight to the captain and his crew, explaining what’s at stake on their end. And most of it is unscripted. That’s right, about 75% of the exchanges between Captain Phillips and his pirate captors, from what I’ve read, were improvised. To be able to pull that off while still feeling suspenseful and unnerving is impressive.
The only problems I have are a minor and a major, in that order. The minor is the camera work, which is as unsteady as the ocean that comprises the setting. It’s not too distracting, but it made me feel a tad woozy. The major, however, is the last half-hour, which is too long and repetitive. Sure, it creates unease, I get that, and the pay-off at the end is fantastic, I get that too, but it’s way too long. Other than that, it’s my second-favourite biopic of the year, right behind 12 Years a Slave. 4.5/5.
If there’s one category 2013 wasn’t known for, it was its animated films. It had plenty to choose from, make no mistake, but, excluding From Up On Poppy Hill, which was decent, Monsters, University, which wasn’t too special, and The Wind Rises, which I’m waiting on the dub for, nothing really caught my interest. The year went by, the options became more and more plenty, but the sentiment remained. Like 2013 itself, I was ready to give up on animation. It just didn’t seem like anyone cared...
...Or I WOULD’VE said that had two movies not come along to change my mind. One of them I’ll cover in a bit, but the other, surprisingly, was a Disney movie. I say that because, honestly, I haven’t been in-love with a Disney feature since The Lion King, which was almost 20 years ago. So seeing a film that could’ve been “just another Disney movie”, especially with its lousy marketing campaign, end up being worthy of its praise is quite something. Not only that, but it might actually start a revival for Disney, assuming they stay on the path that Frozen has laid out in, pardon the pun, ice.
I think the kicker for me was that, like my favourite Disney movie (Aladdin,) it bucks and subverts a lot of the clichés that Disney movies have become famous for: the naïve princess who falls in love with a prince in a day? It pokes fun at how ridiculous that is. The damsel in distress? Anna can take care of herself, thank you! The antagonist hell-bent on ruining the protagonist’s life? Not present. It’s the little touches that make this one shine, and that’s on top of the most-addictive film score this year.
But the key to its success, and that’s what makes Frozen really shine, is that it has a genuine story to tell. And it’s unafraid to go the lengths needed to tell it. It’s a story about sisterly love, a commentary on isolation, a lesson about family, just to name a few. And while it pulls a few contrivances out of its a** in the third-act because “kid’s movie”, it’s great to see that a Disney movie as icy as this one can also be so heartwarming (pun intended.) 4.5/5.
The ultimate “wow” movie of the year, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, yet ended up leaving completely satisfied with Gravity. Lots of people give CGI crap for being fake and lifeless, claiming that it lacks the natural and believable energy of the days of old. This upsets me, as CGI is a tool for telling a story. It all depends on its use, something this movie reminds us of in 91-minutes. Not to mention, I don’t think it could be made without CGI.
Anyway, the best descriptor is one a YouTube user named comicbookgirl19 used: “sublime art”. Simply put, this movie is mesmerizing. It’s mesmerizing because of its grandeur, but also because of its organic feel. Unlike traditional sci-fi, which stretches reality to tell a story, Gravity stretches plausibility only slightly, yet still has a scenario that plays on real emotions and reactions. And it’s terrifying! Even so, there’s a natural beauty to it, hence the whole “sublime art” aspect.
I’ve heard arguments that the movie’s story is so-so and silly, but I think that misses the point. This is a survival tale, an allegory for drowning and a metaphor for rebirth. It’s about the struggle for humanity against all odds, as well as cautionary tale about the dangers of the universe. And, above all else, it’s profoundly spiritual. As a religious person, I found it refreshing to have movie with a religious message that didn’t feel preachy or downplayed. I’d go into more detail, but you have to see it to understand.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest triumph is, like I said, its ability to wow you in a compact period of time. Most big spectacle movies, i.e. blockbusters, drag out their dazzle factor to hammer in all of the pretty sh*t they throw at you. And, often, they feel shallow and empty because of it. Gravity does much of the same, but in only 91-minutes. And it also has more heart and soul than most Blockbusters in that short timeframe. If a movie can do all of what Gravity does in 91-minutes, that’s impressive. Granted, I think the last shot is a tad annoying, but that’s a minor nitpick for my second-favourite movie of the year. 5/5.
The most-recently viewed entry, it’s also one of more interesting ones. I say this for two reasons: firstly, it’s science fiction, which leads to a lot of possibilities for storytelling. And secondly, it’s a realistic drama. Many sci-fi movies are action movies with a tech-heavy premise, making them appeal mostly to an action junkie. Not that I mind a good action movie, but sci-fi can encompass a whole range of range of genres and topics. Her reminds us of that, which is a nice change of pace.
The two elements that make Her shine also feed off of its aforementioned realism. In the world of Her, technology is king. Computers organize emails, TVs have touch interfaces and cameras can send messages instantaneously. Additionally, video games are an accepted past time, not niche or stigmatized at all. When you stop and think about where technology is headed, as well as how society is adapting to it, it’s not so farfetched.
But the real meat is the protagonist’s relationship with his AI-infused computer. It’s about their, oddly enough, romantic relationship. It sounds bizarre, but when you think about it, AI isn’t an unrealistic goal in the near future. It may very well be that, one day, people will fall in-love with programs, and we’ll have to face the tough questions of what love really means. It’s expertly touched on, even to the point of emotional affection. That’s tricky to do, but Her does it.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, however. The movie sometimes stumbles on its feet, introducing scenarios it may not have fully thought through. Also, it pulls a Frozen in the third-act with a stupid and contrived twist that, while sound in theory, is absurd in practice. Still, it’s a heart-felt and clever take on love that really gets you thinking. Congrats, Spike Jonze: you’ve officially made up for Where the Wild Things Are. 4.5/5.
This was the movie that saved 2013, giving me something to love in a year with only two standouts up to that point. Admittedly, I find Ron Howard a hit-or-miss director, making some great movies (Apollo 13, Splash, Frost/Nixon, Parenthood), some bad movies (The Grinch, The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons) and a few in-between (Ed TV, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man). What’s worse, the only racing movies I’d really attached to prior were the Cars films, and they were nothing spectacular. So making a racing movie when your track record is everywhere is a recipe for who-knows-what. That being said, Mr. Howard pulled it off: he not only made a great movie, he also made my favourite racing movie period.
The key is not focusing on the races. That’s usually my problem with most racing movies: they focus too much on the races themselves, which I find boring. Seriously, I’d only care about racing as a sport if I was an F1 junkie, and I’m not. No offense to F1 racing fans, but...yeah, this is getting awkward. Basically, Whitly no like racing movies, he finds them boring.
And this is why Rush works, as it focuses on the people behind the racing. More specifically, it focuses on the rivalry between legends James Hunt and Niki Lauda, their arrogance, their intense passion and the ultimate respect that they had for one-another despite being enemies. It leads to an intense game of ping-pong, as you’re forced to constantly shift your allegiances and end up not knowing who to root for. Ultimately, you end up rooting for both, which is a testament to the movie’s staying power.
Not to mention, it’s both very funny and super serious, achieving an almost near-perfect balance. That’s very hard to pull off, yet the movie does it without batting an eyelash. I have a few issues with the editing, particularly at one point halfway, but it never kills the mood. If anything, it actually fits with the high-octane energy of Rush, which only makes sense if you go see it. So yeah, GO SEE IT! 4.5/5.
Saving Mr. Banks
Perhaps my least-favourite entry, I was originally not going to include it. After all, it’s a perversion of history, and a shameless one too. Not to mention, being a Disney movie, it plays things safe so as to not shame “Uncle Walt’s” reputation. But then I thought about it, and then I thought about it some more. And, finally, I came to the conclusion that it had to be, had to be, included. Why?
Well, it mostly has to do with the risks it does take. For one, it jabs at the Disney establishment, which is something I thought it’d never do. And two, it argues that maybe, just maybe, making Mary Poppins was a mistake. Not to intentionally put down that movie, it’s one of my favourites from Disney, but given the context it’s easy to forget the reasons behind PL Travers not wanting it to be made. We’re reminded of them, so it’s well worth a mention at the very least.
But the real strength lies in Emma Thompson’s performance, most-notably in her relationship with her father. Not only is Travers Goff a career best for Collin Farrell, but his tragic back-story is so well done that it moved me to tears. Not since Up has a Disney movie made me, justifiably, cry this hard. But it does, as it’s that powerful. Not to mention, it makes PL Travers instantly relatable, a very tough feat given how much of a miserable hard-a** she is.
The movie definitely doesn’t share the full story, however. It’s still a Disney movie, meaning that Disney, obviously, wins in the end. This is especially apparent in the final scene, which feels whitewashed and not really accurate to what actually happened. Still, this is Hollywood, the system that gave us a chase in Argo and a predictably lame ending to Lincoln. If neither of those problems ruined those movies, then neither will the changes and/or omissions in Saving Mr. Banks. 4/5.
Here’s an entry that won’t be on most people’s lists. Interestingly enough, this movie makes me feel bad that I didn’t get into film as a hobby a few years prior. Steven Soderbergh was a director whom I felt didn’t get the credit he deserved when he was still making movies. This may not be his best per se, but it’s my favourite of the three that I’ve watched. Yeah, I should probably see more of his backlog...
Anyway, the focus is somewhat of an elephant in the room to most people: mental illness. More specifically, treating it, and if treating it is even the answer. It deals a lot with the make up of the human psyche while vulnerable, as well as the, quote, “side effects” of coping. Some are direct, some indirect, and Side Effects deals with both. As I’m on meds, it was very fascinating.
But there’s also a thriller component, namely in the realm of law. It asks the big questions: who’s responsible when a murder is committed without cognizance? Is it even murder if the person was unaware of it? Should physicians be held accountable for what their patients do as a result of their counseling? Without giving too much away, there’s more to this story than meets the eye, including a really clever twist that challenges your sympathies.
I’ve heard complaints that the ending is ridiculous. I don’t agree, as the ending is no less silly than most thrillers. That doesn’t make it perfect, it dawdles occasionally, but still. And yes, I absolutely can’t recommend it enough. Mr. Soderbergh, I’ll miss you immensely. 4.5/5.
Another movie that probably won’t be on people’s lists, this was the true highlight of the 2013 Summer season. Yep, forget Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, This Is the End, The World’s End, World War Z and all of the big-budget action films, this gem is the one film I’ll remember most from the May-August window. And it’s weird because, honestly, horror isn’t a genre I’m in-love with. Sure, I’ll sit down and watch a scary movie if it’s worth my time, but going out my way to see one? Not really...unless there’s nothing better to do.
That said, it’s rare to see a horror movie like this one. Most horror films these days are about the violence and humour, no doubt a take-away from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise, which gets annoying and boring after a while. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s appropriate to use both, I don’t mind. But constantly? And in crappily executed stories too? Give me a break!
Surprisingly, The Conjuring isn’t like that. Sure, it’s scary, but not silly! Everyone involved took it seriously, including the actors and actresses. And the scares, dig this, are purely environmental. Yeah, no violence and/or blood, no people screaming as their bodies are being dissected, no dumb comedic moments, nothing of that sort. It’s all pure, 100%, non-gory scenery freak-outs. And it’s really effective.
That’s not saying it’s flawless ,as it can be a little slow in setting up. Additionally, it drops one of its side-threads early on and never goes back to it. The side-plot involving one of the characters is also dropped. Finally, the climax, while a great build-up, ends anticlimactically. Still, none of these problems hurt what’s here, which is genuine, honest and heart-felt. James Wan, from what I’ve heard, is very hit-or-miss, but if he keeps making movies like The Conjuring he could become a force to be reckoned with. Go see it. 4.5/5.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Every cycle gets a big action movie in the Fall. Two years ago, it was Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which was my favourite entry in a franchise I don’t really care for. Last year, it was Skyfall, aka one of my favourite James Bond movies. This year, it was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. And I gotta say, this is one of the best movie sequels I’ve ever seen, probably Top 5 material. Considering how much I liked The Hunger Games, that’s saying something!
Everything, like all good sequels, is bigger and better: the characters? More in-depth. The story? More elaborate. The effects? Far better. The themes? What about them?
But the biggest compliment I can give this movie is that even its retreads feel fresh. As much as it redoes the whole “Hunger Games” aspect, there was always a fear that it’d feel like more of the same. But it doesn’t. Sure, it’s still “kill or be killed”, but the players are different, the stakes are different, the pressures-both internal and external-are more extreme, etc. It even allows for different dangers, as this is now about rebellion. It’s not easy to explain in words, you have to see it to really understand.
The ending also threw me for a loop. I say this because, honestly, I usually abhor cliffhanger endings, feeling like they serve no purpose other than to hype you up for a letdown. This time, however, it works. Without giving anything away, it leaves you satisfied, yet also makes you crave more. Oh, and no more shaky-cam. When a movie can do that, it’s easy to forgive any unneeded romance that was just as bad in the original as it is here. 4.5/5.
The Wolf Children
Saving “the best for last”, remember the other animated movie I mentioned? This is it. And it took me by surprise too. Not because I thought it’d suck, I didn’t, but because I expected it to be just another Summer Wars, i.e. great, but no masterpiece. Instead, what I got was not only my favourite animated movie of the past year, but quite-possibly one of my favourite animated movies ever. Keep in mind that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was on my Top 15 list, so this is no small praise.
Perhaps the simplest way to describe this movie is to take My Neighbor Totoro and combine it with Bambi. It has the simple, childlike wonder of the former, yet also fuses a naturalistic, coming of age story containing heavy subtext about fate and its effects on nature vs. nurture. The two children, despite coming from the same starting point, grow up and choose two distinct paths for themselves. It’s also a coming of age story for the mother, Hana, who’s thrown into something she never thought she’d be in, adapts to it and then is forced to pull back at the end of the day. It’s a simple story, no doubt, but one done well.
It’s also interesting because Mamoru Hosoda has been compared to Hayao Miyazaki, insofar as his ability to make whimsy from the mundane and have us accept it. This might be true to an extent, but it’s also a disservice to Hosoda’s ability to portray children for all of their smarts and dumbness. This is something Miyazaki romanticizes, so they’re not quite the same. It also leads to the drawback of shoving Hana somewhat to the sidelines, but that’s not a big detriment. Besides, Summer Wars had a dozen contrivances that hurt it more, so I’m not concerned.
Even still, this is a powerful movie, and one I’d recommend to anyone. It’s sweet, heartfelt, emotional and funny. It’s sincere enough for any parent to relate to, yet down-to-Earth enough for children to love. And it has enough of the meat of life for anyone in-between. So check it out if you can, as running through the snow has never been more beautiful. 5/5.
Okay, here are some last minute honourable mentions:
Best original song-“Roll, Jordan Roll” from 12 Years a Slave.
Best original soundtrack-Frozen.
MVP of the year (male)-Matthew McConaughey.
MVP of the year (female)-Jennifer Lawrence.
Biggest waste of talent in a movie this year-Everyone involved in Movie 43.
A big thanks to Oanciticizen for letting me adapt his idea. Inspiration for this blog comes from various sources.
Until next time, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the rescue!” *Flies off*
2 years ago
Note: The following is the end result of 3 and a half intense weeks of Skype conversations, as well as close to a year’s worth of preparation and planning. Save for slight changes in grammatical, punctuation and spelling syntax, said conversation remains unedited save the inclusions of pictures, hyperlinks and video clips. Enjoy this lengthy conversation at your leisure, major spoilers included.
Whitly: Hey g1s! Whitly here! About a year ago, I made an attempt, with the help of 7 other g1s, to review 7 shows from the illustrious Studio BONES. For reasons too many to name, and some being too personal to get into in great detail, the project had to be abandoned just as it was 5/7 of the way done. Long-story-short, I overshot my ambitions, miscalculated the availability of a few of my fellow collaborators and ran out of time. For that, especially since I don't like leaving major projects unfinished, I'm deeply sorry.
Anyway, I've decided to make it up to you all, as well as one of my fellow collaborators, by doing another collab...that I'm hoping will actually get finished this time. But first, introduce yourself, fellow collaborator!
Metaking64: Hello, I'm Metaking. I had worked with Whitly on the part of his collab on Soul Eater (a show I'm quite a fan of). I used to be a frequenter on ScrewAttack, though not so much anymore, and now I write animation reviews for g1 Darkseid's "On the Dark Side of Things" blog. I enjoy video games, anime, cartoons and so on. Glad to be here!
Anyway, today we'll be taking on something a little smaller, yet hopefully still just as awesome. Care to share what our topic is, Metaking?
Metaking64: Sure. Today we're tackling one of my personal favorite anime directors in recent times. His name is Mamoru Hosoda. He got his start in TV, and began to show promise when he directed two Digimon films and the sixth One Piece film, all three of which earned mostly positive reception. What really brought him to the forefront of the anime scene though was his three most recent, and what are for the most part considered his three best films: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and The Wolf Children.
He’s quite a handsome fella, isn’t he?
We should also note that Hosoda is an unusual kind of director. He's often compared to Hayao Miyazaki, but I feel that doesn't entirely do his sort of work justice. He's really more like Miyazaki if he was a Gen X-er and was more grounded in reality. Not that I don't like Miyazaki's fantasy approach, but-okay, I gotta stop myself before I unknowingly slander my favourite director of all-time.
I guess, to put it bluntly, picture Miyazaki if he were born 30 years later and was eternally stuck in puberty. That's Hosoda in a nutshell, and it really shows both in his movies AND in his professional life (since, y'know, he's notorious for desiring independence and having fall-outs with his employers.) But enough of that, let's cut to the chase and discuss the first of his big three, and arguably the movie that made him a household name in Japan, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Video courtesy of David Stringham.
Why don't we start with a basic synopsis? Metaking, what's the movie about?
Metaking64: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is about Makoto, a teenage girl who isn't quite sure what she wants to do with her future. She spends most of her free time playing catch and hanging out in general with her two best friends, Chiaki and Kosuke. Then one day after a nasty fall, she discovers she's gained the ability to travel, or "leap" backwards in time. At first she uses this newfound power to do the kinds of things any high-schooler wishes they could do (pass pop quizzes, undo embarrassing moments) but as the film goes on she starts to realize her actions may have more of an effect than she first thought.
Whitly: You forgot the part about her near-death-actually, we'll discuss that later on.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is one of those rare surprises for me. Keep in mind that I was still going through my "anime movies only" phase when I first stumbled onto this movie in a now-deleted online review. Considering that it was heralded as "one of the overlooked greats," as well as that most non-Miyazaki anime films had failed to catch my interest fully, I figured it'd just be another disappointment. Boy, was I wrong: not only is the movie great, but it even managed to make it onto my Top 15 Favourite Animated Movies List! I'm a stubborn mule when it comes to trying new things, so consider that noteworthy.
Metaking64: I actually first came across the film because after Summer Wars (which I know we'll get to later) I was interested in seeing more work from Hosoda. After seeing it I then knew for sure that he was really something special as far as anime directors go.
Whitly: Alright then, let's get straight to what makes this movie special, starting with the story: it's streamlined. The big problem I have with most anime films is their insistence on being big, being complex, being well...full of themselves. Not that that can't work in their favour, see Metropolis, but it becomes a problem when you factor in that, honestly, not everyone is gonna "get" you right away. The average person, and I'm sorry to say this so generally, isn't complicated. He or she isn't gonna understand all the storytelling, heavy-duty exposition, or lack thereof, that your movie throws out at them. They need something simple enough to follow, yet deep enough to attach to.
To that end, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has you covered; true, it's very Twilight Zone-esque in its premise, what with being about time travel and its consequences, but it's more than JUST that. Simply put, the movie is more of a high school drama, as well as a coming of age story for our lead who, quite frankly, is a self-centred, yet good-natured, brat.
Metaking64: Exactly. Although the time travel is there, it's not so much the focus. It's merely a device to create this really well crafted and streamlined story about a girl learning some important life lessons, in a way that just happens to involve time travel. It's a movie that I think pretty much anyone could enjoy, with it's endearing characters, strong emotional moments, and meaningful themes about growing up.
Whitly: And boy, is the "growing up" part fun. And by "fun," I mean "watching Makoto make a fool of herself/get injured during her time leaps."
Actually, here's a game you can play: take a shot every time Makoto does something silly/injures herself. You'll be out before the halfway point.
Metaking64: It is interesting though, that while Makoto tumbling around or running into things is all in good fun for the most part, at a few points in the film things get quite a bit darker in terms of people getting hurt.
Whitly: And herself. Remember, her first time leap happened right after she got hit by an oncoming train because her bicycle brakes jammed.
Metaking64: And it's quite a disturbing scene. Watching her desperately try to stop, flying off her handlebars right into the path of the train, and the wrecked bike debris scattering all over.
Whitly: Which is then turned into confusion for the audience once she goes back in time a few minutes and finds herself on the ground, yet alive. Anyone would be taken aback by that emotional whiplash.
That's not to say that it's all bad, though.
Some of the time leaps are, actually, kinda funny. Makoto playing relationship doctor, in particular.
Metaking64: That stuff like her suddenly being the best baseball catcher in the world was also pretty funny to watch.
Whitly: Indeed. So there's a nice mix to be had, it's not all "holy sh*t".
Metaking64: Yep, there are plenty of fun moments, and some darker ones, some of the ones later on really surprised me with just how brutal they were (In subtle ways, no excessive blood and gore or anything). It kept a good balance.
Whitly: Speaking of which, a good chunk of that balance comes in the way of Auntie Witch, who can almost be seen as a "conscience character" for Makoto. She often provides support, both morally and emotionally, for Makoto, and she's easily my favourite side-character in the movie.
Metaking64: Are you aware of the significance of Auntie Witch, or who she's heavily implied to be even if it's never outright stated?
Whitly: I looked it up ages ago, since I originally thought she was a future version of Makoto, and she's the original girl from the novel this movie was based on (yes, this was an adaptation of a famous novel in Japan.)
As a side note, a live-action redo of this movie happened a few years ago, and it featured Makoto's cousin as the lead. Clearly, Japan loves this book.
What is it about this particular book that’s so popular?
Metaking64: Yep, although the animated film is less an adaptation and more of a sequel when you think about it.
Whitly: Before we get sidetracked completely, let's focus on the characters now. We've mentioned that Makoto is a good-natured brat, but her friends, peers and family deserve credit for being likable too. We'll start with her family, whom is wealthy, apparently, yet never falls into a stereotypical "we're rich snobs" trope. The father and mother act like real parents, and Makoto's sister is both bratty herself AND more intelligent than Makoto. Call it "Younger Sibling Syndrome," if you will.
Metaking64: The family is nice, although they don't really play much of a role in the story. The parents get a few funny lines, the sister gets a scene or two where she interacts with Makoto, but they're very much background characters, if likable ones.
Whitly: I dunno, Makoto's sister definitely makes an impression, even if she's not major...
Metaking64: Oh she does, but she doesn't really play a big part in what happens to Makoto throughout the story in my eyes.
Whitly: Save the pudding fiasco, but that's played up for laughs.
I'll say this, however: Makoto's two, closest friends, Kosuke and Chiaki, play a big part in the story. In fact, Chiaki is actually more complex and interesting than he's first made out to be.
Metaking64: Yeah, those two are for sure the biggest players in the story other than Makoto. The friendship between her and the two of them feels very natural, and in fact is the main driving force behind Makoto's most significant internal conflict. She wants their friendship to stay the way it is at that time forever.
Whitly: This includes brushing off Chiaki's attempts to ask her out, resenting Kosuke's eventual decision to start dating a freshman girl and avoiding both of them at either time should things get complicated. Also, her attempts to keep everything the way it is constantly backfire on her, such to the point where, during the halfway twist, she finally realizes the consequences of "playing God".
Let's actually address that twist.
Metaking64: I assume you mean when something disastrous happened that at first it seemed she couldn't reverse?
Whitly: We're not spoiler-free here, so you can say what happens.
Metaking64: Just making sure we were on the same page, that's all.
Whitly: And I'm referring to Kosuke and his girlfriend crashing into that train that was originally meant for Makoto.
Metaking64: One of those "surprisingly brutal" scenes I was referring to.
Whitly: I remember a YouTube reviewer describing it as "delaying the inevitable with a clever fake-out," something the movie does surprisingly well there: you're given a sense of urgency the whole time, afraid that something will happen, but nothing comes to pass. Then, just as you get ready to shout "FALSE ALARM!", it happens...
And that's when some of the movie's detractors (they exist) claim that the movie jumps the shark: the future twist.
Metaking64: By which you mean the twist that Makoto's best friend Chiaki is actually from the future, and Makoto got her powers from the device he used to travel back in time.
Honestly, what's so crazy about that twist anyway? They frequently hint at it throughout the first-half, and when it does comes into play...it makes sense.
Metaking64: I'm surprised anyone would be against it. Not only is it so heavily hinted at, but the way it's handled is very interesting and even moving. That he came back in time to see that restored painting that no longer existed in the future, and got so lost in the fun of being a high schooler that he didn't get the chance, is tragic. It added a whole new level to Chiaki as a character, without undoing all the characterization and development he'd had up to that point.
Whitly: Exactly! But we can let our readers decide if it's a good twist on their own.
Not your average painting.
I guess we can move on to Makoto's schoolmates, including Takase, Rumi and Yuri. There are more characters, like the two members of that student club I keep forgetting the name of, but they're the most important.
Metaking64: Indeed, while, again, they weren't a part of the trio of main characters that create the main drive of the story, many of them did play a significant part of it. In fact, I'd like to add one classmate you didn't mention who has an important role: Sojiro. The boy who Makoto switched places with in the school project she had earlier embarrassed herself in, which when he did the screw up, resulted in him becoming a victim of harassment from other students.
Whitly: Was it Sojiro, or Takase? I remember them calling him Takase.
Metaking64: Oh yeah, I forgot they called him Takase (most of the other characters were referred to by their first names).
Whitly: To be fair, I thought that WAS his first name.
Anyway, I guess you can explain what they're all about briefly, since we've spent so much time discussing characters as is.
Metaking64: In addition to Takase, there's Yuri, who seems to be the closest thing Makoto has to a female best friend. She does make quite an impact on the story though, as while Makoto was intent on avoiding Chiaki after he tried to ask her out, Chiaki and Yuri ended up developing feelings for each other. It's after that Makoto starts to realize that maybe she had feelings for Chiaki too.
Whitly: And it's something that Auntie Witch points out to Makoto when she brings up messing with other people's feelings.
Also, best line: "She's a witch! I KNEW she was my Auntie Witch!"
Metaking64: Also, honestly I'm not sure who you're referring to when you say "Rumi". The only other classmate I remember having a major role in the story was Kaho Fujitani, the girl who had a crush on Kosuke. Is that who you're referring to?
Whitly: D'oh! I knew her name wasn't right! *Facepalm* Still, Kaho's kind of a tragic character too, although, honestly, she felt a lot like a plot device.
Metaking64: It's alright, I called Takese by a name they never used to refer to him in the film so it all evens out.
Yep, Kaho was mostly there to create that early fear of change in Makoto, though she was still a nice character. I especially like the scenes when Makoto actually ends up trying to get her and Kosuke together, often with hilarious results.
Whitly: And...then the whole "bicycle hitting the train" ordeal.
I guess now's a good time to mention the dub, which was outsourced to Ocean Studios in Vancouver, Canada, because Bandai Entertainment, now defunct, never did any of their dubbing in-house. What'd you think of the dub?
Metaking64: In my most previous viewing I actually saw it subbed for the first time, and honestly, I think they're on equal grounds. I like the casting choices for pretty much all of the characters in the dub, and I don't recall having any issues with the voice acting or dialogue.
Whitly: Save for one or two scenes, one of them being because Makoto running sounded like she was having sex (don't ask,) I've only watched the dub. And, honestly, it's great. Blue Ocean Studios isn't known for much outside of their Death Note and Black Lagoon dubs, but this movie is proof that even the underdogs can surprise you from time to time. Next to Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain, this is the best non-Texas based dub I've heard in anime, and a good chunk of that is because of Emily Hirst's wonderful performance as Makoto. Not only was she awarded with a Young Artist's Award for her role, which is pretty prestigious on its own, but she really proved what she was capable of DESPITE being 14 years old at the time of the recording. Everyone else is great as well, with one of the voices of Megaman taking on the role of Chiaki, but she's the star.
In other words, it's a great dub all-around. Definitely worth listening to.
Metaking64: Agreed, though I didn't know about Hirst only being 14 at recording, that makes her great performance even more impressive. Also, the running scene sounded pretty much the same in Japanese, so yeah, you can't really blame the dub.
Whitly: Or can I? *Dramatic gopher*
Anyway, the animation and soundtrack are probably good places to go next.
Metaking64: Actually, with the running scene brought up, I think that's a good place to transition into the film's animation. For those unaware, the film has a scene of Makoto running that lasts something like 20-30 seconds. I know you, Whitly, aren't a fan of this scene for how much it drags on and feels unnecessary, and while I partially agree with you, one thing is for sure. That scene is a perfect showcase of how great the animation in this film can be.
Whitly: I'll agree on that. I remember JesuOtaku once pointing out that Hosoda has a very fidgety style to his animation, in that it always looks like the characters, even when they're inactive, are doing something. Considering how so many anime shows, and even movies, skimp out on movement for the sake of budgeting, it's nice to see a director who'll have none of that. Every character is expressive and bursting with energy, and while the film tends to fall into that awful trap known as "Manga Iconography" from time-to-time, it's great to see an anime film with actual movement for a change.
Metaking64: Exactly. Anime is somewhat known for being plagued by the practice of motionless characters with mouths flapping open and closed, so I love how full of life Hosoda's style is. He makes sure that there's almost always something happening on screen, characters are almost always moving in some way. At certain points that does result in it looking a bit wonky, but for the most part it gives his animation an energy and life-like quality that's hard to achieve. In addition, Hosoda really knows how to fully utilize his most talented animators for the important scenes. The aforementioned running scene, is filled with tiny details and motions that make it stand out and make it fascinating to watch at times, and in Makoto's big crying scene, there's so much emotion in her face it makes the scene that much more emotionally powerful.
Whitly: If I have one complaint about Hosoda's style, and this is the case with all of his movies, it's that the character models are incredibly minimalist. They lack conventional shading, i.e. shadowing, texture, etc, and they almost look too simplistic for their often-detailed backdrops. But I can overlook that.
That said, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time can also suffer from some artistic over-ambition. Hosoda wanted to be artsy with this debut, and while some parts, like the time travelling sequences, are amazing, others, like that aforementioned running scene, are unnecessary. Also, the imagery during Makoto's psychedelic fall in the beginning is bizarre. I mean, bubbles? Horses gallivanting in a field? WHAT?!
Seriously Hosoda, lay off the acid.
Metaking64: Yeah, that was really bizarre.
But on the other hand, I don't really mind much because of how much many scenes hit their mark. Like when Chiaki stops time, and we get tons of beautiful shots of various things frozen in time, or, like you said, the awesome looking time traveling sequences.
Whitly: I know, it's just weird.
Speaking of minimal-yet-effective, that soundtrack. It's mostly low-key orchestras and piano medleys, but when it wants to bring out the big boys, it brings them out! The music can range from somber, to quiet, to even overpowering with raw energy and emotion. It's...not that much different from most Hollywood scores, honestly. Oh, and the two vocal ballads? Both masterpieces on their own.
By the way, cool fact about the end credits song: the images used match the song's tempo.
Metaking64: My favorite tracks are probably the ones that are exclusively piano, they set the mood really well and are surprisingly fitting for the tone of the film. But the soundtrack as a whole, while not my favorite soundtrack from a Hosoda film (we'll get to that eventually) is still a great one. Which really shows that in addition to having a good eye for animation, Hosoda has a good ear for music.
Whitly: If you're referring to the movie I think you are, then I think we're in agreement there.
As for what really makes this movie work so well? Aside from being an accurate portrayal of teenagehood, silliness and seriousness and all, it's incredibly honest about what it means to grow up. Makoto's change is subtle, but effective, showing that she still has a lot of growing up to do, but she's at last willing to accept her failures by the end. Additionally, the movie has some dark subtext about accepting the bad that life throws your way. True, having the power to fix your mistakes before they happen might be cool, but is it really worth it if it means messing up other people's lives in the process? Considering that time is static and fixed, this movie argues that, yeah, maybe it's best to accept your failures and move on.
It's like the movie says: "Time waits for no one."
Metaking64: Yes, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a story about Makoto and her dealing with growing up and the inevitable changes and mistakes that comes with it that come with it. As far as anime films go, it's a prime example of top notch character development, Makoto's arc from her immature beginnings, trying to undo or avoid all of her problems, to facing them head on, feels incredibly natural. It's funny, it's thoughtful, it's dark, and boy at some points is it sad. But at the same time, it ends on a hopeful note, that people can change, and that even when things get rough, these challenges can be overcome. Some very effective and genuine themes.
Whitly: I have a few quibbles with the movie though, like its use of artsy excess, Manga Iconography and occasional moments of sappiness and sentimentalism. I also think that it's a little slow to start, and its time travel mechanics/futuristic elements can be a little tough to swallow at first. Then again, Looper's time travel mechanics were even harder to swallow, and that's still a great movie. Time travel doesn't exist yet, so any attempt at tackling it is gonna be a little confusing, even if it IS a part of a Twilight Zone-esque, high school drama from the mind of Mamoru Hosoda.
Metaking64: With the Manga Iconography, I see where you're coming from, it's just personally never been something that bothered me. I think it can be cute and funny as long as it doesn't get in the way of the story, and with Hosoda it never does. I don't think its laziness, I think it's just a stylistic choice for the sake of the comedy.
The sappiness and sentimentalism, eh, I think part of the charm of the movie is that it's a bit sappy at times. What I do agree with, is the time travel mechanics, which after 3 viewings, I still don't fully understand. It's really inconsistent and at times a bit convoluted, it's probably the only major peeve I had with the film. But as I mentioned before, the time travel itself is only a device to set up a story where the characters are really the focus, so it really doesn't hurt the movie severely. And besides, similar to your case with Looper, I love the movie Inception despite still not completely grasping how the dreams worked.
Whitly: That's fair. Keep in mind that none of my issues really ruin the movie, they just hold it back from being perfect overall. I'd still give it a 4.5/5, a recommendation to watch it if you can, and a reminder that Makoto Konno's bike lock number is 724 (I've seen the movie 6 times already, it's been engraved in my mind.)
Metaking64: I'm actually in the same boat as you, I have a few little issues that keep me from considering it perfect, but overall it's still a great film that I love and often find myself enjoying more and more with each viewing (I probably would have seen it 6 times by now if I could find a reasonable place to buy it, which I can't thanks to Bandai Entertainment going kaput) and for any fan of anime, coming of age films, or sci-fi out there it's a must-see. I'll also give it a 4.5/5.
Whitly: That leaves an average of 4.5/5 from both of us. Not bad for a starter film, huh?
Metaking64: It sure isn't.
Video courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.
Whitly: Moving on from time travel to the internet, it's time to get our inner nerds on and save the world from hackers and computer viruses. Ladies and gentlemen, Hosoda's next film is Summer Wars. And to be honest with you right now, as if I haven't made it clear enough on multiple occasions, I'm not as fond of this movie as most. That doesn't mean that I don't still love it, but...we'll get to why soon enough.
Anyway, why don't you start us off with another plot synopsis?
Metaking64: Sounds good. High school student and part-time moderator for the virtual reality world known as OZ (think the sum total of everything internet in one place, an MMO, a social network, an online store, a fighting game, a place to do business, etc.) Kenji Koiso was expecting another humdrum summer until one of his classmates, Natsuki, hires him to accompany her on a trip to a large gathering of her family in celebration of their eldest, Natsuki's great grandmother, reaching 90 years of age. Things get complicated when it turns out Natsuki wants Kenji to pose as her fiancé. And then things get more complicated when Kenji gets framed for crippling OZ, thanks to a super-intelligent computer virus taking it over and using it, and all the people and services that depend on it, as play things. Which is pretty complicated. As a result, it's up to Kenji and the Jinnouchi family to save the world from utter chaos, or worse.
Whitly: Sounds complicated indeed.
Anyway, I actually have YOU to thank for introducing this one to me, as I remember reading your review of the movie in V4 of ScrewAttack. I finally sat down and saw it after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but, as I-actually, I'll hold off on that. Basically, thanks for the recommendation.
Metaking64: Ah yes, the days of V4, such memories. I remember someone uploaded a trailer for the movie onto ScrewAttack, and it really caught my attention for some reason. It was when I was still pretty early in my days of being an anime-watcher, and I hadn't seen many anime films. So seeing Summer Wars was a big eye opener to me as far as helping me realize how cool anime could be as standalone films.
Whitly: That's what FUNimation's trailers do to you (or, used to do. They've gotten a little lazy in that regard as of late.)
Starting with the story again, this movie's pretty dense in its plot and set-up, especially its set-up, which can be both good and bad. On one hand, there's more to talk about as far as content goes, but the downside is the first half-hour being a sequence of necessary exposition dumps to get you to swallow: 1. What OZ is all about. 2. Kenji's back-story. 3. Natsuki's family history. 4. What Kenji's responsibility as a "fiancé" is (I'll get back to that later, as I take issue with that plot thread on various levels.) It works, it's not terribly overbearing, but I definitely miss the simplicity from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time's set-up.
Metaking64: Yeah, it's definitely a lot to take in (trying to fit all the important details of the set up into a paragraph certainly took a bit of thought) but I think they make it feel fairly natural, mostly thanks to the dialogue. They work in lots of exposition details into conversations rather than long droning dumps, so all of the factors get set up without making it seem too jarring or overwhelming. Little things you believe to just be small talk often later on turn out to be important plot points, which is an effective way of doing things.
Whitly: Like Tarantinoing? (Sorry, Tarantinologues drive me crazy, but it's an easy comparison.)
I do see what you're saying, though, and it's true. The opening monologue from OZ's mainframe computer is one of the best opening monologues in any movie I've seen to-date, and the conversations are very natural. I've also noticed over several viewings that: a. OZ's guardian angels are a reference to The Beatles, and b. That King Kazuma's introduction tells you more about his personality than any exposition could ever do justice to. Again, not all movies need lengthy ramblings to establish their characters, sometimes letting the visuals do the talking is just as important. (*Hint* Tarantino *Hint*)
Metaking64: As someone who doesn't know a much about The Beatles, the guardian angles being a reference is something new to me. And yeah, King Kazuma has a great introduction.
Whitly: Yoko was John Lennon's wife. She's part of, but not solely, why The Beatles broke up.
Anyway, I actually have a second problem with the story: a lack of originality. I know that people constantly pick on Avatar for ripping off Pocahontas (which sorta makes sense,) Ferngully (which barely makes sense) and Dances with Wolves (which DOESN'T make sense at all,) but it at least wasn't remaking James Cameron's older movies. Summer Wars, the OZ sections, at least, is a redo of Hosoda's short film Our War Games, which was a Digimon-related work. It's even shot-by-shot identical at times too.
That said, Summer Wars is, like, 100 times better executed. As much as I love Digimon, Our War Games was pretty eh overall. And while Summer Wars's story is kinda lazy, it's still a massive improvement, both in scope and tension, over what it's "ripping off". So yeah, I just mentioned the elephant in the room, and then shot it. You happy now, internet?
Metaking64: The Digimon films (I believe he made 2) remain the only Hosoda films I haven't seen, but I've seen clips and heard the general set up of Our War Games, and yeah it's clear the movies have quite a bit in common. But then again, I think there's nothing really wrong with taking an idea he worked with previously, and trying to execute it as well as he wished he could without the Digimon brand holding him back.
Whitly: True, but it's still a little lazy in my eyes.
This looks familiar...
Anyway, I guess we can move on to the characters. And holy smokes, the cast is HUGE here. I think it was close to 40 when I checked on Wikipedia, and that's not including characters that have 1 or 2 lines. So, to be fair, we'll cover the most important ones, starting with Kenji.
Kenji is, without a doubt, the best representation of a nerd that doesn't come off as a stereotype. He's not bratty, whiney or arrogant, although he's definitely shy and cowardly, but rather a kid who just happens to be really bright. I like that. And he never really becomes a gung-ho bada** by the end either, which is also a nice change of pace. Considering how easy it could've been to make Kenji into a stereotype, that Hosoda keeps him grounded in reality is further proof of how well he gets teenagers.
Metaking64: Yeah, the "socially inept nerd type" is a character trope that comes up a lot in anime, and like you said, they usually end up obnoxious. Kenji on the other hand is very much an exception. He's a well-balanced character, a bit awkward and naive, but he can also be clever, and even brave at times. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Granny is first introduced to Kenji, and she looks him in the eyes and asks if he would "die for her" and he stops fidgeting, freezes a bit, and answers "yes", and after that Granny seems to fully approve of him. As we later learn, (I know we'll talk more about her later) Granny is a great judge of character, and I think in that scene she really understood that there was more to Kenji than it seemed. He's really a good, and strong willed person at heart, and it really shines through, especially in the later parts of the movie.
Whitly: Indeed. Especially considering the crap he gets thrown throughout.
Speaking of which, Natsuki. I have an issue with her original plan for Kenji, which we'll cover shortly, but, again, a great example of a teenager who isn't a cliché. It'd have been easy to write her as a ditz, what with being rich and all, but she's also given a strong core to relate to. She's stubborn, flirty, kind-hearted, shortsighted, naive, pretty much everything a real teenager of her status would be. And she becomes pretty awesome in her own in the climax, which is a pleasant surprise in its own right.
Metaking64: For the first half she didn't do all that much, she was likable, but was just kind of there in the background while things slowly escalated. It was really in the second half of the movie when she suddenly became a really strong character. Whether it be her emotional scene holding hands with Kenji, or the big climax, she really ended up being the center of some of the film's best scenes.
Still sadder than Dragon Ball Z. (Courtesy of SirJasonLee.)
Whitly: Oh man, that scene. THAT SCENE!!!!
Metaking64: Indeed. It tugs on the heartstrings every time (and is gorgeously animated and directed).
Whitly: It also works for other reasons, but we'll cover those soon enough.
While we're on it, Sakae Jinnouchi: I love her as a character. Not only is she a dignified matriarch, but she's also every bit as kind and loving a great-grandmother as you'd expect. Her phone conversations with Japanese officials proves to be one of the best parts of the movie's first-half, and her bada** confrontation with her estranged son is her real moment of triumph. She leaves such an impression on the audience with her presence that her death is felt that much more, and even then she still gives advice and has indirect presence from beyond death in the second-half of the movie.
Metaking64: Yeah, Sakae (or "Granny" as they usually refer to her in the film) was really great. She's kind and loving, but also clever and strong willed. She understands the importance of doing everything you can to help others, and can motivate just about anyone with her words. You don't really get characters like her all that often, usually elderly characters in anime, heck, in most fiction, are restricted to roles such as a quiet but wise character, or a quirky comic relief character. It's not often you see a character this old with that kind of passion and fire within them, its really refreshing actually.
Whitly: She's also the focus of the movie's biggest, emotional centerpiece. As someone who lost his bubby (or grandmother) 11 years ago, the minutes stretching from the failed CPR to Natsuki bursting into tears always gets me without fail.
Metaking64: Yeah, it's emotionally powerful. The desperate attempt to revive her through CPR, the aforementioned hand holding scene, and Granny's letter about the importance of family. Really heartbreaking stuff.
Whitly: Can I go out and say that Natsuki crying over Sakae's death hits me just as hard as the ending to Grave of the Fireflies, or is that stretching it a little bit?
Metaking64: Actually, I wouldn't know, Grave of the Fireflies is one of the few Studio Ghibli movies I've yet to see (partially due to people constantly assuring me it'll make me cry my eyes out *loud gulp*).
Whitly: It's worth seeing, but I definitely think it's a little overrated as a film.
Yes, I said it. Sue me.
Next on the list, Wabisuke. Considering his estrangement from the rest of the Jinnouchi clan, his entrance and personality are very fitting. You learn about his character from the other family members too, including how he was illegitimate (and probably developed an inferiority complex because of it,) was close with Natsuki when she was younger and even why he was estranged. But the movie, again, makes him into more than a simple whiner and moper, giving him enough humanity to feel real, misunderstood and even sympathetic by the end.
Also, him creating Love Machine, the villain of the movie, is a clever and logical twist.
Metaking64: Early on Wabisuke is somewhat of a jerk for the most part, cracking jokes at the expense of the family, along with not seeming to feel any guilt for creating an AI that was causing so much damage. Then along comes a scene I love, when Natsuki calls him with the news of Granny's death. How it starts with him making another joke, and then when he hears it, he just loses it, driving full speed to the house, literally crashing into their yard he's in such a hurry to see her. It was great to see him finally dropping the jerk act he had been using to stay distant from the family, and finally be on the same page with them.
Whitly: I think what makes Wabisuke so interesting, at least to me, is that, let's face it, every family has a member like him: distant, cold, perhaps even estranged and disdainful of everyone else, the likes. And they really nailed it here without him coming off as a clichéd a**hole. Sure, he's still an a**hole, but he's at least a realistic one. Writers, take note: this is how you write an honest-yet-cold-hearted jerk.
Anyway, I think the favourite for any fan of this movie is Kazuma: he actually has two introductions, but you wouldn't make the connection right away. The first is in the opening, where his avatar is busy fighting off other avatars in OZ, and the second is when we meet his real self huddled in a remote spot in the Jinnouchi estate. Both really exemplify his character, as he's pretty much an anti-social, competitive gamer who can even be argued as the insert character for most nerds watching the movie. He's pretty popular, and it's easy to see why.
Metaking64: Yeah, I'm definitely a big fan of Kazuma. The introduction of his avatar, King Kazma is an example of the awesome fight scenes this movie often boasts. And he's just as awesome outside of OZ too, often seeing the logical sides of the situation, along with just being an interesting character. He gets a pretty good amount of attention in the film's story, we learn about how Mansuke taught him martial arts to defend himself against bullies, how seriously he takes the fighting in OZ, and of course how he has a little sibling on the way, which becomes prominent later in the film when he struggles with a feeling that he wasn't able to protect his mother and future sister when things start to go sour, which is especially touching when you consider how earlier in the film he seemed to be spiteful towards the idea of having a sibling.
Whitly: He's also written as a pre-teen, which is nice. I think people get caught up in this misconstrued notion that interesting characters have to always be self-sufficient bada**es, and while this can definitely be fun from time-to-time, it also gets boring after a while. Good writing has to strive for a balance between awesome and real, with the latter often translating into the former when done right, and Kazuma strikes that balance: he has insecurities, he frequently feels a need to prove himself and he's really good at martial arts, most-notably Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi.
Metaking64: And I think that's why Kazuma is so many people's favorite character. On the one hand, he's really a cool and skilled bada**, who's awesome in a fight, but on the other side of that coin he's really relatable, he feels like a real human being rather than a trope or an archetype. That combination of coolness and relatability makes him a really memorable character.
Whitly: On the opposite end of nerddom, there's Sakuma. Sakuma is...lame. But that's his charm, as most nerds are...lame. There's really not much I can say about him, other than that he's somewhat of a voice of reason for Kenji without feeling too much like an old fart who frequently says "told you!" to his face (which'd be awkward anyway, since he's only 17 years old.)
Metaking64: Yeah, Sakuma doesn't really do all that much. He's mostly there to play the role of Kenji's best friend, and more importantly, the one in the know as to everything happening in OZ. He was usually there to let the characters know when something big was going on with OZ, which isn't to say he wasn't a neat character, but he had little that made him interesting.
Whitly: And then...there's Shota. Oh God, I hate Shota. His entire shtick is that he doesn't approve of Kenji and Natsuki dating, something he makes known throughout the entire movie. And he's obnoxious. I know that there are people like him who actually exist, but even then he doesn't do much of anything useful. I honestly think that Summer Wars could've cut him out altogether and not only still worked, but actually been a lot better off. THAT'S how much I hate him.
He also overacts...a lot.
Metaking64: I didn't mind Shota that much, he was an alright comic relief character, simple as that. Until he completely ruined the plan to defeat Love Machine by moving all the ice that was cooling the supercomputer, after THAT I hated him. Though Kazuma giving him a good punch made me feel better about that at least.
Whitly: That's just it: I didn't think he was funny. At all. In fact, every time I saw him on-screen, I wanted to punch him. Actually, punch is the wrong word: I wanted to SHOOT him. He's like an Adam Sandler character if he were more realistic, but equally as annoying. And it'd be one thing if he pitched in every-so-often, but-save one scene, which he STILL bungles-he's completely useless and learns nothing by the end of the movie. He's even one of the problems that I have with the movie's closing scene, but we'll save that for when we discuss said closing scene.
Question to those reading this: am I alone on Shota, or is hating him a commonly accepted practice amongst Summer Wars fans?
Metaking64: He just didn't really bug me to that extent. He was obnoxious, but honestly I've seen MUCH worse as far as annoying and useless comic relief characters go.
Whitly: So have I. But while stubbing your toe might hurt less than getting hit in the groin, that doesn't mean that it isn't still painful.
Metaking64: I suppose.
Whitly: I'm glad we've established that.
Last on our list of important/stand-out characters is Love Machine, named after the famous song of the same name. Considering that this is the only one of the big-three Hosoda movie thus far to have a villain, as well as that Love Machine is a redo of Diablomon/Diaboromon from Our War Games, it'd have been easy to make it generic and unthreatening. The former is still a little bit true, it's not the most in-depth villain imaginable, but it makes up for that by being legitimately creepy and unsettling. The only thing missing is Hugo Weaving's voice coming out of its mouth, but I digress.
Oh, and fun fact: the code that makes Kenji's nose bleed in the climax and the code that gets Kenji's avatar hacked are one-in-the-same. That Love Machine is one devious mofo, huh?
Metaking64: Hmm, that is interesting.
As you said, he's not really a complex villain. He's an AI that wants to learn and consume, that's about it. However, he is really intimidating. Especially after their first attempt at capturing him fails, and he basically goes god-mode, totally obliterating King Kazma, wrecking a huge chunk of OZ, and threatening the world with nuclear fallout.
Whitly: I think the weirdest part is that, like I said before, Wabisuke created it. That, and it was built with a desire to learn. There's some pretty clever subtext there about playing God, which-while not a new idea-is executed quite well here.
Metaking64: Yep, very true.
Whitly: The rest of the cast is typical Mamoru Hosoda: not terribly note-worthy or complex, but definitely memorable and fun to watch interact with one-another. (Especially Rumi, who'd make a great commentator given how much heckling she does over her son's baseball game.) I'll say this much, though: when even your movie's token pet, in this case a dog, is memorable, you know you're doing something right.
Metaking64: Yeah, the characters are probably my favorite part of the movie. It's such a large number of characters yet every character feels really unique and human, and the way they interact really does make them feel like a real family. That and the handful main characters get tons of great development and interesting conflicts, it makes the movie that much more investing to watch. It really is a perfect example of how it’s possible to write great characters, even when it's a cast this large.
Whitly: Which is always hard to do, given that it's a balancing act (see the X-Men movies for another example that doesn't quite work.)
I still love the X-Men movies, but that doesn’t make what I said any less true.
Moving to the dub, it's complete switch of country, and style, from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Where as that movie was a Vancouver dub under the supervision of Bandai Entertainment, this movie was translated by the always-wonderful and realistic-sounding folks from FUNimation Entertainment in Texas. I know saying this would be redundant by this point, especially given their superb track record, but...yeah, it's great. I can't pinpoint a single line or role that didn't work, and I like how they even got Michael Sinterniklaas, a California regular, to voice the lead himself. Props also go to Maxey Whitehead as a pitch-perfect Kazuma, Pam Dougherty as the elderly Sakae, Brina Palencia in one of her best roles yet as Natsuki (seriously, it's toss up between her and Holo for my favourite performance of hers,) J. Michael Tatum as Wabisuke (again, very fitting) and even Alison Viktorin as one of the little kids, which is great considering how I rarely hear her voice in FUNimation dubs.
Honestly, I think every regular at FUNimation is present in some shape or form, save Aaron Dismuke, Greg Ayres, Luci Christian and Vic Mignogna, and they all bring their A-game for Summer Wars.
Metaking64: I think kind of the great thing about the Summer Wars dub is that with Summer Wars having such a large and diverse cast of characters, there are so many talented voice actors/actresses in one place. FUNimation is probably my favorite when it comes to making dubs, they do a great job making performances feel natural and believable, and in the Summer Wars dub that shines through as much as ever. Maxey Whitehead (who I was already a fan of after Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood dub and Crona in the Soul Eater dub) absolutely kills it as Kazuma, Michael Sinterniklaas and Pam Dougherty are great, and it’s thanks to Brina Palencia that the more emotional scenes of the film hit so hard. That and the extended cast of family members are just filled with "oh it's that VA!" moments and they all do really great jobs giving energetic and memorable performances, even if they weren't major characters.
Whitly: Indeed. And how about that soundtrack? Like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, it feels Hollywood-esque, but where as that movie was more about the quiet tunes, this one is full-out, in-your-face, loud, bombastic, action-packed orchestrations. Not that there aren't quieter tunes, like when everyone's sitting around in mourning, but it really feels like a high-energy score. It's my favourite of Hosoda's big three in that regard, even up to the end credits song that, once again, uses imagery in juxtaposition to the song's tempo.
So yeah, a great soundtrack, again.
Metaking64: Yeah, as apposed to the somber music of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, with it's tracks centered around a few instruments, Summer Wars goes bigger with lots of grand orchestral tracks (with some more electronic stuff in there for good measure). I really like the soundtrack, it can be exciting and it can be emotional, in addition some tracks like King Kazma's theme are really unique and stand out. But, this actually isn't my favorite Hosoda soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, I like it a lot, but it's not the one of Hosoda's big three movies that I come back to the most, we'll get to that one down the line.
Whitly: Really? So I guess I was wrong on us agreeing over best soundtrack in a Hosoda film...
As for the animation, again, it's Hosoda. His fidgety, manic style really shines through here, especially with the movie's little kid characters. I don't think, even in Western animation, anyone else really nails the jumpy, obnoxious energy of tykes like Hosoda does, which is a real asset. Not that the other characters don't move well too, but the kids are the true standouts.
Metaking64: Yeah, all those kinds of things are as great as usual, the constant movement, the strong use of animation in emotional scenes, and so on. If there's one place that Summer Wars somewhat stands out from the other two Hosoda films we're covering, it's in regards to the virtual world of OZ, which is hugely unique and visually inventive with its design and art style (Fun fact: The visual style of OZ was actually inspired by Nintendo games). It's also one of the few examples of CGI being used in 2D anime that I'm not just fine with, but actually really like and don't think could have been done better without said CG. Plus it's the only of the three Hosoda films with fight scenes, and they're some really good, well-choreographed fight scenes.
Whitly: Speaking of OZ, one of the big complaints people have with this movie is how it doesn't understand how the internet works. The complaints might be valid on some level, but, c'mon, it's a family movie. If you really expect technical mumbo-jumbo, an endless sequence of zeroes and ones and all the internal makings of the actual internet...you're watching the wrong movie. I like accuracy, but that'd be boring and confusing for a premise like this one. Besides, if the internet were even half as entertaining in real-life as it is in Summer Wars, then I assure you that more people would actually understand how it works.
Metaking64: Yeah, it's a lot like the time travel in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It doesn't really matter that some of the times the mechanics don't make perfect sense, or in Summer Wars's case, the portrayal of certain aspects of the internet aren't 100% realistic, because it's merely a device in the story, not really the focus of the narrative itself. It’s not a documentary about the internet, it’s a fictional story, and in fiction sometimes you have to bend reality a bit for the sake of telling a better story.
Whitly: And, like I said, Summer Wars makes the internet kinda fun.
Metaking64: Very true. I wish the internet was a bit more like OZ...
Whitly: Don't we all?
It’s a sport’s fans dream come true! What’s not to like?
As for actual complaints that I can get behind, the Manga Iconography is back, and there's more of it. I remember you mentioning that it adds to the comedy aspect of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but here's the thing: it's distracting. I'm a fan of comedy that can be sold without over-exaggerated body movements, and while the over-exaggerations can be cute at times, seeing it juxtaposed with real, fluid movement is jarring to watch.
Plus, this is a movie, not a show. That standards are a little higher because of better budgeting, so it's really no excuse to cheapen out and not draw the extra two panels to make it look more believable.
Metaking64: I didn't think it was a problem in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but I will admit, in Summer Wars it starts to become a problem. Not a serious one, I still kind of think in concept it has a purpose, but it comes up often enough in moments it didn't really need to come up, that it did start to bug me a bit.
Whitly: I thought it was a problem in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time too, honestly. And it's not as bad as it COULD'VE been, Hosoda didn't go full-out Shonen with it, but yeah...not needed.
So now comes the part where you all say, "Wait, didn't Whitly say that he's not as fond of this movie as most people? Why is that?" Well, I've already touched on a few issues, but here goes:
Let's start with my first problem: the big lie. Natsuki's original reason for getting Kenji to come to her great-grandmother's house was for him to pose as her fiancé. I appreciate the reason behind it-she wanted her great-grandmother to live long enough to see her get married, especially given her angina, but it's still stupid for several reasons. It's ridiculous, for one, that Kenji and Natsuki would even have enough chemistry to be in that kind of a relationship while still in high school, especially since he's a shy nerd and she's "Little Miss Personality" (to quote a review I once watched for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.) Two, even if no one in the Jinnouchi family has reason to suspect otherwise, why would anyone be dumb enough to buy into this lie? And finally, while the big reveal is played up a tad more realistically than I initially thought, that everyone just turns on him so suddenly, as if they "knew it all along" (which they didn't, or else the family dinner scene would've gone differently,) isn't only jarring to watch, it's annoying. And let's not forget that this whole segment slows down the movie's pacing for a good 10 minutes, 10 minutes that could've been better suited to other events (like figuring out who was REALLY behind OZ's malfunction.)
Metaking64: Yeah, that just doesn't really bother me as much. You have to remember, in
2 years ago
Hey g1s! Whitly here! X-Men: Days of Future Past was awesome. It was clever, suspenseful, emotional, funny and even fixed a lot of the continuity and consistency errors that’d plagued the franchise for nearly 8 years. But that begs the question: if a movie like this one was made to do damage control, then isn’t that a sign that there were too many, poorly-made X-Men films as is? Better yet, if there are more X-Men movies on the way, as expected with longstanding franchises, then isn’t that dooming the franchise to continuity issues all-over again?
As I began piecing these questions together, I remembered that a while back, in a forum thread that I can no longer access on Rotten Tomatoes’ website, a question was asked:
“Anyone else burned out on super hero flicks?”
Needless to say, the responses were varied. Some, for example, went on about how yes, the market was over-flooded with superhero films, both good and bad. Others stated that no, there was no problem, and that the OP (or “original poster”) was paranoid. But my favourite response was this one:
“i'm burned out on shitty super hero flicks full of CGI explosive action and dumbed down comedy that are aimed primarily at 10 year olds & prepubescent teenagers - shit flicks with shit action, crap drama + character development ie IM3, Thor:TDW”
I’d spend forever proofing this paragraph, but that’s not the point. Sadly, there’s a growing sentiment, small as it may be, that superhero movies are over-saturating the action genre, let-alone Hollywood. It’s tiresome. And they “suck”. Essentially, people are fed up with the genre being so popular. And it’s not only the average person, there are even critics who are fed up.
So...is it deserved? Well, before I can answer that, why don’t we trace the roots of the issue and see how it started?
I think the place to begin is, surprisingly, 2000’s X-Men. Sure, the modern superhero film started with Blade in 1998, but given how the 90’s signaled the death of the first wave of superhero films (see Batman & Robin,) it’s safe to say that success was largely due to X-Men. Anyway, back in 2000, the idea of a superhero being respectable was still largely unfathomable. The 90’s, as I’d said, took a toll on people’s perceptions of what superheroes were about, so 20th Century Fox taking a gamble on this property could’ve easily backfired. Regardless, people saw it, and-wouldn’t you know-it was a hit, so much so that other studios saw the potential for adapting other properties to the big screen. Sony followed with Spider-Man in 2002, Guillermo del Toro took a chance with Dark Horse’s Hellboy series in 2004, Warner Bros. revived Batman in 2005, even Pixar threw their hat in the ring with The Incredibles. And while a lot of these new superhero movies weren’t great, the ones that stood out showed that this market shouldn’t be taken lightly.
That doesn’t mean exhaustion didn’t start to kick in, however. As the years went on, and superhero movies became more numerous and easier to make, people began growing weary of them. Suddenly, what was once a novelty was now commonplace. What was once a single gem was now a franchise. Superheroes were marketable, and with the introduction of reboots should the original fail critically/financially, there were even more of them. And people became fed up, as it was too much of something they no longer wanted...right?
Here’s where I give my two cents and argue contrary. In fact, to further explain why, I’ll pick some favourites:
1. The Dark Knight
Release date: July 18th, 2008.
We’ll start with one of the most recognizable entries. I say “recognizable” because of its influence on nerd culture and the mainstream understanding of what a superhero movie, let-alone one based on a comic book, was capable of. On one hand, it paid tribute to Batman and entertained as an action movie. On the other hand, it was a compelling and deconstructive drama, grounded in mostly real-world physics and proving that even a hooded vigilante who fights crime at night can reach those that feel comics can never be taken seriously. It’s a best of both worlds film, and even its detractors have had a hard time finding anything legitimately bad to say nearly 6 years after its release.
The story is simple, yet layered enough to require several viewings to fully understand: Batman is busy ridding Gotham City of crime and corruption, a feat helped by the newly-appointed DA, Harvey Dent. Desperate to get back at him, the remaining thugs band together, under the forced helped of a lunatic named “The Joker”, and decide to mess with Batman by killing people and trying to break Harvey Dent. Ultimately, Batman is left with a moral dilemma: does he pursue his quest at the expense of the innocent, or cave and let the city fall to ruin?
I don’t think I was mentally prepared for this movie. I don’t think anyone was, honestly. It’s one of those rare experiences where a creation of celluloid, despite being about a costumed crime fighter, has breached its parameters and tapped into a collective fear: the ambiguity of modern terrorism. Ever since 9/11, the perceptions of global security have shifted. No longer is the “big baddie” a guy in robes, he’s now one of our own. He could be anyone, anywhere and at any time. Essentially, terrorism has become opaque enough that we never know when it’ll strike and from where it’ll occur.
And that’s the brilliance of The Dark Knight, taking and humanizing that through its villain. The Joker isn’t your standard bad guy. He lacks a motive, he’s unpredictable and he can’t be stopped through simple methods; h*ll, even if he DOES get captured, then what? With a mind like his, always three steps ahead, who’s to say that he won’t still be a threat? These questions drive the movie’s central theme of justice vs. anarchy, such that you begin doubting if Batman really is the symbol of hope he wishes to be.
The movie, surprisingly, also delves into serious politics, global relations and government security, to name a few. That’s not to say it’s humourless, mostly black, or emotionless, mostly bleak, but its underlying issues are as dark as the movie’s title. And part of that comes from the villain, who’s a career best from the late-Heath Ledger and was absolutely deserving of his posthumous Oscar. Not to mention, it has one of the best final scenes in not simply a comic book movie, but a movie in general, really driving home how frail the line between hero and villain really is. I’m sorry if I’m gushing, but it’s true.
If I have to complain about one detail, aside from its length or protagonist’s gruff voice, it’s its constant use of in-film exposition. Not that it’s unbearable, it leads to some of the best lines, but like Schindler’s List its frequent explanation can be draining. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it can pull down the experience for those with short attention spans. Then again, judging by its critical and fan reception, that’s probably a moot point. Still, if you’re looking for a film that transcends the limits of what a superhero experience can be, this is one to watch.
2. The Incredibles
Release date: November 5th, 2004.
On the more “family-friendly” end of the spectrum, there’s this gem. Pixar was known for high-quality films in their prime, and The Incredibles is one of their best. It’s also, not surprisingly, one of their most popular, gaining enough of a fan-base that demand for a sequel was heard for almost a decade. I’m not sure how that’d be accomplished, especially since a sequel already exists in the form of a video game, but since it made its way onto my Top 15 list I wouldn’t be against that prospect myself. It’s THAT good.
Anyway, the movie follows Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible. Mr. Incredible was one of the most-respected superheroes ever, a fact not helped by his ego. So when superheroes were forced into hiding by a series of lawsuits, Mr. Incredible didn’t take to this well. Fast-forward 15 years, where, despite raising a family with fellow-superheroine Elastigirl, Mr. Incredible is an insurance salesman longing for the good old days. He gets his wish when he’s recruited by a mysterious employer willing to pay him to don his costume, but as the movie progresses he realizes that maybe he’s in over his head. It seems like his past is out for revenge, and with his family’s help he has to right a wrong before it gets too far out of hand.
It should come as no surprise that this was well received upon release, even being the best-reviewed, mainstream superhero movie to-date, but stopping there would do a disservice. The movie is also a refreshing look at American values and family life, criticizing certain aspects of both. And that’s its strength: it’s a comedic-action movie with plenty of satire to go around. It tackles our perceptions of those who are gifted, claiming they shouldn’t try to be “normal” to help others’ inadequacies, but it also touches on whether living in the past is really so healthy. It’s something you’d expect from Pixar, but given its integration it doesn’t feel burdensome at all.
As expected, the movie is a CGI creation. CGI has taken lots of flak for being soulless from purists, claiming that it lacks the heart of traditional animation, but this is probably one of the best arguments you can make in defense of it. The camera shots, the stylization, the individual powers, the fight choreography, everything screams CGI. Not to mention, it’s grounded in real-world physics, even though it’s a cartoon universe. You can’t get that with traditional animation or live-action.
The movie also pays homage to classic spy thrillers, both in scenery and music. The gadgets and main villain seem straight from old James Bond movies, and the music has a retro vibe that meshes well with its old-yet-new look and feel. It’s also low-key and avoids pop culture references when it can. This is great because, contrary to most family-friendly movies these days, it’s aged quite well for something 10 years old. It’s pretty intense, and quite graphic considering its target audience, but still.
In the end, The Incredibles has something for everyone: action, intelligence, a retro vibe, humour, the list goes on. It’s the ideal superhero film for the family, in other words. It’s not flawless, I’d have liked more emphasis on Mr. Incredible’s family, but whatever it lacks in detail it more than compensates for in content. Not to mention, it’s safe for children, which is something I can’t say for some of my other choices. If you’re in the mood for an animated, family-friendly superhero movie, give this a shot.
3. Spider-Man 2
Release date: June 30th, 2004.
And then we get to this movie. Perhaps one of most-influential superhero film franchises of the 21st Century, Sam Raimi’s take on Spider-Man set the stage for what was possible. The downside is that it’s taken a backseat as of late, often criticized for having “aged poorly” in relation to its more serious and realistic peers. This, I think, is unfair; true, the movies are silly, there’s no denying that. But like the first two Superman films of the late-70’s and early-80’s, silly =/= bad, and I think that these films have aged far better than people give credit. I even feel that they’ve aged better than the newer Spider-Man movies ever will, and Spider-Man 2 is still my favourite Marvel movie.
Taking place a year after the original, Spider-Man 2 follows Peter Parker as he tries balancing his superhero persona with his actual persona, something he keeps failing at. So when an opportunity to shadow famous Oscorp scientist Otto Octavius arises, Peter takes it and observes him during a live demonstration of nuclear fission. Sadly, the demonstration goes awry, causing Octavius to become the crazed “Dr. Octopus”. It’s now up to Spider-Man to save New York City from this octopedal madman before he sinks everyone in his science, all while struggling with his personal life and a best friend who hasn’t forgiven him for the death of his father. Can he pull it off, or will his sudden inability to control his powers make it too difficult?
I remember actually buying the original Spider-Man films after watching The Amazing Spider-Man and being disappointed. Were all Spider-Man movies that bad, or was I going crazy? Fortunately, Raimi’s Trilogy reminded me that Spider-Man did, in fact, once work on the big screen. And I still think they hold up better than the new films ever will! But that’s enough of that.
Anyway, Spider-Man 2 works for the same reason as The Dark Knight: it knows how to work as a movie and still treat its hero with respect. But while the latter accomplishes this by being dark and gritty, this one stays light and silly. It’s not ashamed of its comic book roots, only making changes for the sake of a better film. Plus, it’s fun as h*ll. No really, it is.
Perhaps this is audacious, but Spider-Man 2 even has one of the best fight scenes in a comic book movie to-date...on a train. Yeah, forget the highway confrontation in The Dark Knight, the last 45 minutes of The Avengers or The Iron Brigade in Iron Man 3, the train fight remains my favourite in a comic adaptation. It’s fast-paced, intense, unexpected and even leads to one of the best scenes in the movie, the one where Spider-Man realizes that he’s more important than he originally thought. It also fits in with the theme of choice vs. responsibility. And yes, that theme is well implemented, contrary to what some might say.
I won’t pretend that Spider-Man 2 is the pinnacle of high art, but it’s still, in many ways, an equal to The Dark Knight in setting the bar high for future superhero movies. Sure, it’s flawed, (Mary Jane, anyone?) but while that could be seen as annoying, it never bothered me. Even now, 10 years later, I still find myself enjoying what the movie has to offer: light fun, with the occasional dramatic moment. And, ultimately, isn’t that what really matters? Why not decide for yourself?
4. Iron Man
Release date: May 2nd, 2008.
Next comes the oddball of the group, in that it’s a first in an established series of movies about superheroes. It’s weird because I’m not a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although I don’t hate it by any stretch of the imagination. Still, gotta give credit where it’s due and hand Iron Man the crown for being its best entry. That’s right, 6 years and 9 movies later...and it’s still the best entry. Go figure.
Tony Stark is a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist who deals in weapons manufacturing, a legacy he inherited from his late-father. While in Afghanistan to demonstrate his newest invention, The Jericho Missile, his protection squad is ambushed by, in an ironic twist, rockets bearing his logo. After a series of events that allow him to escape a cave with a generator replacing his heart, Tony vows to shut down his weapons block and fight terrorists that are using them for malicious intent. But will he succeed? Or is there more here than meets the eye?
As I said before, Iron Man is the first in a series of multi-superhero movies. Future installments, ranging from good to okay in quality, would feature all ranges of science, fantasy and sometimes both. Despite this, the movie is pretty grounded in reality. The characters feel like real people, and, while it does have drawbacks when suspension of disbelief is stretched in the third-act, it’s relatively modest in action and storytelling. It feels more like a game of internal espionage than an action movie, even if the latter is still present.
And I think that’s what makes it so engaging, at least when compared to other MCU movies. Future installments would get so caught up in mythology and hard sci-fi that, honestly, they’d forget to be intelligent/straight-forward. As much I love some of those movies, there’s no denying the simple charm of discovering that not everything is as it seems. And since that that’s what the movie’s really all about, and that it’s not bonking you over the head with that, it’s a plus. Not to mention, it’s probably the tightest-written superhero origin movie, and that’s saying something given what the genre has given us.
That’s not to say it’s flawless, as it has minor issues. The first-act is kinda slow, only picking up once Tony heads home. Additionally, while the overall story is simple enough, the internal events can be confusing to those unfamiliar with techno/socio-economic babble, as there’s so much of it. And finally, the end fight, though fun, is a little too silly for its own good, really forcing you to stretch your suspension of disbelief. That said, it’s a fun movie, so if you’re interested in a quick and realistic superhero film that focuses more on writing than flash-and-bang, this is the place to go.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Release date: May 23rd, 2014.
And finally, the most-recent entry. It’s important to note that, on one hand, this movie is Bryan Singer playing nanny and fixing the mistakes of previous X-Men movies, as well as that its basic set-up is confusing as h*ll. That said, it doesn’t really matter. This is still a damn fine movie, and it’s absolutely worth watching for what it does right. It’s also, dare I say it, the best entry in the X-Men franchise.
The movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, one where soldiers called “Super Sentinels” rule the Earth, have enslaved humanity and are wiping out mutants rapidly. In order to fix this, Shadowcat, a mutant blessed with time travelling capabilities, sends Wolverine, a mutant with advanced healing powers, 50 years back in time to prevent the Sentinel program from ever being approved. Along the way, he meets a young Professor X, who’s given up all hope, a young Magneto, imprisoned for assassinating JFK, and a young Mystique, who is directly tied into the events of this post-apocalyptic future. But can Wolverine fix the past in time? Or will he fail? With time working against him, nothing’s certain.
Perhaps the greatest strength of X-Men: Days of Future Past is its set-up. To the best of my recollection, though it’s been a while, past X-Men movies have traded in a simple premise for a complicated execution, with too much going on for the story to sink in. This movie, however, is the reverse, trading a complex premise for a really simple execution. This allows for everything, even its ludicrous set-up, to be easily digestible, which is refreshing. It also allows for the odd “WTF” moment, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The best parts of this movie take place in the 70’s. Not because the future setting is bad, but because you get to see more of the past characters from previous movies. For all my problems with X-Men: First Class, I really enjoyed seeing the new faces and how they interacted with their world. This one doesn’t have all of them, certain plot contrivances have written a few out, but the ones that are still there are as fun now as they were 3 years ago. Not to mention, of all the new characters, Quicksilver is awesome, having my favourite scene in all film this year.
But superficialities aside, the movie’s past setting is also the most inspired aspect. For all the interest the future setting has, it’s overdone given that “post-apocalyptic” isn’t anything new. The past, however, is fresh, exciting and you see how famous events in history play out from a mutant’s perspective. That alone is exciting. Not to mention, the climax is one of the franchise’s best, not being a big showdown, but rather a small, tension-felt moment built solely around the theme of choice.
Ultimately, X-Men: Days of Future Past is about hope. Hope for the present, the past and the future. Whether it’s the main conflict, the controversial ending, or even the climax, the movie reminds us that hope never goes out of fashion. That, when combined with everything else it does well, makes it worth your time. If you like time travel movies and can accept the odd moment of confusion or contrivance, give it a shot.
With these five movies having the spotlight shed on them, the question of whether or not there are too many superhero movies becomes a question of whether or not there are too many bad superhero movies. Because that’s really what the issue is, as no one usually complains about a genre unless it feels stale and overdone. But that’s the key: is it really? Is the superhero genre any more overdone than, say, the YA genre, or the action genre? H*ll, if you wanna make the correlation, is it any more overdone than FPS video games?
You can complain all you want about oversaturation, or lack of proper spacing, or even improper business models. But whether or not superhero movies are overstaying their welcome is debatable. Because let’s face it, some of the best movies of this century have been superhero movies. That’s undeniable, and it’ll stay like that as long as genuine stories can be made with the material. And I think they can.
So, are there too many superhero movies? I think the real question is if there’s still room for good superhero movies. I think the general reception speaks for itself.
With that out of the way, I regret to inform you all that this might be my last blog for a while on ScrewAttack. See, I got a new position as a writer on a website called“Infinite Rainy Day,” the link to which can be found here. Since I have a mandate for material, it takes priority. That means that, sadly, posting on this site will have to cease for now, at least until I can balance my job with my fans. I might come back to post here occasionally, and I’ll still try to be active on both the main site and the forums, but that’s the way it has to be.
Anyway, it’s been a fun 6 or so years as a g1, and I’ve learned a lot during my time here, so I encourage you to follow my work on Infinite Rainy Day. Better yet, why not Follow me on Twitter? I have an account, so it’ll be a great way to see what I’m up to. Until then, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the Rescue!” *Flies off*
2 years ago
Hey g1s! Whitly here! So the Oscars, aka “Hollywood’s yearly masturbation cycle”, happened. Yeah, 85 years of this “blatant bullsh*t” reoccurred not too long ago. The nominees were announced, the winners chosen and guess what? That horse you bet on didn’t win again. That’s right, the ceremony has become a target for everything wrong with modern cinema, to the point where heckling its “God-awful” decisions is the norm.
And, honestly, I don’t get it. But explaining why is difficult, so bear with me.
Up until a few years ago, I had no idea that people despised the Oscars. It was a fun waste of time! A long one, three and a half hours, but a fun waste of time nonetheless. However, around the time of Avatar’s 2009 Best Picture nomination, I began to see the hate. How could a movie so blatantly unoriginal and heavy-handed, people argued, get a Best Picture nomination? Was The Academy drunk?
From there, it was downhill. The years went by, the Oscars kept arriving and, lo-and-behold, there was the complaining. It seemed like it’d never stop, even bleeding into the remainder of the year. And it annoyed me, to the point where I’ve been meaning to write this rant for over four years. It wasn’t until recently that I learned how to do it, but don’t get me wrong: sometimes, the only way to explain why I think something’s stupid is to be blunt and honest. Even if it means losing your trust, I’m not holding back. You’ve been warned.
To be fair, I don’t not get the hate. After all, there’s plenty of dirty politics behind closed doors, most of which I can’t begin to understand. That, when factoring in arbitrary voting decisions, ambiguity of tastes, a small number of voters, etc., it’s easy to see why people are upset. My issue is the vile nature of those who are upset, which is way too extreme. Because, really now, is it really worth getting THIS mad over something so trivial?
*Whips book at screen in vicious rage* FAHK YOUZ!
This isn’t exactly a new question. I’ve had it with the Oscars hatred for, what, five years now? It’s like there’s a genetic predisposition for hating the Oscars, almost like a virus. You might think that’s ridiculous, but is it really? Go on any movie website and mention the words “Oscar Season” (or some variant) casually. Watch the sparks fly.
Also, admittedly, part of it could be me overreacting in my own little way; after all, I’m an alleged “stick in the mud”, someone who can’t loosen up and go with the flow. As such, I might be over-exaggerating the extremeness of this hatred toward the Oscars. But I remain firm. Because of this, allow me to tackle the three most-common complaints people have about the Oscars, deconstruct them and explain to you why, quite frankly, I think they’re bullsh*t. Let’s begin!
“The Oscars are fake!”
Admittedly, this is one that a co-worker brought up when I was still working at my local cinema. “The Oscars are so fake,” he said, “they never feel like anything heartfelt goes into them.” I tried pressing him for more information, but he went on to list movies that won when they “shouldn’t have”. Way to dodge the question, buddy! 10 points.
Anyway, the problem here is two-fold: firstly, what qualifies as “fake”? The production value? The talent involved? The execution? I’d buy “dishonest”, since it’s clear that Oscar ceremonies are a ruse for views, but what about it is fake when actual people and talent are involved? Looks pretty real to me!
Secondly, on the off chance that it is fake, so what? Fake jewelry sells for a decent price in the right markets. Fake food gets consumed every day. Fake simulations of herbs are used in medications. Fake props are used in films to get around technical issues. Clearly, fake =/= worthless.
Which leads back to the Oscars. Even if they’re “fake”, they draw in crowds of people. They generate ratings on TV. They get tons of revenue from advertising. If they really are “fake”, then they’re doing a pretty good job at imitating reality!
“It’s just a bunch of old, white men calling the shots, they’re so out of touch with reality!”
Uch, THIS argument!
Admittedly, I can’t say much about this one, even though I’ve yet to see actual statistics (and I’d be more than open to seeing any if they exist,) so I’ll just buy into these “old, white men”-okay, I can’t finish that sentence without snickering, so let’s try again. I’ll buy into this argument, even though I’ve yet to see statistics. The only rebuttal I’ll make is that I’m sure it’s not as black-and-white as people make it out to be. But I’m taking a stab in the dark, so moving on.
My real complaint is that implies a lack of standards, specifically for old, white men. Because old, white men have no standards, right? It’s not like they lack criteria for what qualifies as an Oscar-worthy-oh wait, they do! Just go on their website, and BAM! Rules and criteria!
Fine, so there are ways around said rules and criteria. All you need is influence and money, assuming I’ve got this right, and you can get your content into the runnings via loopholes. But still, there are standards! Old, white men have standards! I know it’s shocking, but they do!
On a more personal note, the issue extends deeper than that. Saying “it’s just old, white men” reeks almost of “you represent a stereotype, so you can’t have opinions on anything”. Considering how we try, in this day and age, to be tolerant of everyone, isn’t shunning the majority hypocritical? Why can’t old, white men have valid opinions? Why are they suddenly not allowed a say? What makes them any less qualified than the rest?
Think about that.
Boo! *Tosses popcorn*
Part of the problem could be more along the lines of breaking away from traditional stereotypes, however. The Oscars are the last stronghold of the “traditional, white values” in mainstream art. We, the progressives, hate those traditional, white values. Therefore, we hate the Oscars. If it sounds strange that I’m even arguing this leaky logic, join the club. That’s exactly how I feel about the whole “old, white men” argument in the first place!
Oh, and for the record, I’m a young, Jewish boy. If you think I’m defending these old, white men because I’m one myself, then I’ll be sure to overcharge you on your next down payment.
“I’m done with the Oscars! Thy don’t know quality when it hits them in the nose!”
I’ll cover the first part of this complaint with a simple response: if the Oscars bother you THAT much, don’t watch them. Seriously, if you say you’re done with something, yet still keep doing it, then you’re not really done with it. You’re not winning sympathy points either. Simply put, either put up, or shut up. Also, you’re a hypocrite. And no, I’m not sorry I said that.
As for the latter, define “quality”. Actually, here’s the dictionary definition:
“Quality |?kwäl?t?| noun ( pl. -ties): the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.”
But I don’t like it, as it fails to bring out an important element of the word: quality is subjective. What’s one standard in relation to another? How does one define a standard anyway? What’s considered “excellence”? Basically, it’s case-by-case.
This subjectivity also brings up a second problem: quality in art is relative. What might be bad in one instance could be good in another. A might be bad in one scenario, but not in another. B might be great in this instance, but not in that. And C? What about it?
It’s especially important in film, an art form incorporating to create an experience. The use of sound, lighting, images, acting, music, editing, etc. all combine to make movies. Also, the creators involved are all humans. Since humans are, by their very nature, flawed and distinct, the end result will always be different. Not only that, but we, as audience members, are expected to see these end results and form opinions on them, each one distinct from the rest.
In other words, subjectivity is key.
You know, I shouldn’t even have to bring this up. Why? Because it’s a given that tastes are subjective, and that the Oscars are no exception. But I have to. Because people just don’t get it.
Seriously, what makes the Oscars different?
Why are members of The Academy not allowed opinions?
Better yet, why does it matter if their opinions are different than yours?
And, most-importantly, to paraphrase what someone once said to me: “Who the fuck are you to make such judgment?” It’s like the Oscars are a loophole in the unstated truth of art: everyone’s entitled to an opinion, even if it differs from yours. It doesn’t “apply” to The Academy Awards, even though it should. And why? I dunno, it just...doesn’t, apparently.
Also, guys, girls, I’ll say this right now: it’s not the end of the world if your favourite movie/actor/insert here doesn’t get an award. Because really, does an award like an Oscar truly exemplify quality? Do you need a gold trophy to remind you that Citizen Kane is a landmark achievement in film? No, you can watch it and see for yourself. An award is secondary, like a footnote at the end of a fantastic essay, or a tag on the box of a great cleaning product. Ignore the f***ing award and skip to the product, would you?
Oh wait, that’s not happening. Because we’d much rather do this instead:
If I get your bottle, will you shut up? (Courtesy of user wi0915.)
That’s right, we’d rather act like babies. Because f*** maturity, f*** being sensible, f*** letting other people have opinions and f*** the Oscars! They didn’t nominate what I wanted, so they should die in a fire! Who cares if it makes me look unreasonable or childish, right? Right?! RIGHT?!?
Well, I’d go in and say “wrong”, but I’d be in the minority. It seems like Oscar bashing is the uncontested norm, be it the average Joe or the snooty critic. As I mentioned earlier, it’s like a gene, a chromosome built into the DNA of the typical film casual or lover. And I feel both confused and-possibly-relieved that I never inherited it. Because, and I know that I’m in a minority, it IS stupid, it IS insensible, it IS immature, it IS bigoted and-well, you get the point.
I mean, you can spend all day arguing semantics, and it’d still mean nothing. You can argue the ignorance on the part of the voters. You can argue that this should’ve won. You can argue that that should’ve lost. But until you can give objective evidence that the opinions of The Academy are wrong, and I wish you the best at trying, I’m gonna ignore you. Because it’s a waste of my time, and I’ve got more important issues to deal with (like finishing my final year of undergrad, for one.)
That said, are you allowed to get mad if your choice doesn’t win? Are you allowed to be disappointed if something else takes its place? Are you allowed to express your disdain at all? It’s a free country, so yes to all of those. But it should be underscored with an understanding that, yes, even The Academy is entitled to its opinions, regardless of whether or not you agree. And that’s where the real problem lies, since it’s not happening.
I only hope that I, one day, learn to understand why it’s such a big deal anyway. In a world of starvation, poverty, war, corruption, dirty politics, economic decline and mass pollution, a world so over-populated and increasingly under-resourced, complaining that your favourite movie didn’t get that gold plaque is low on the priority list. And yet, for millions of film fans everywhere, it’s virtually an equal to what I listed above. Yes, I respect film, and yes, I’d like to see it appreciated as an art form. But no, b*tching about something as subjective as the Oscars isn’t the way to go about it. Because really, when you stop and reflect, is it worth the hate?
Something for you to think about.
Well, that’s it for now! I know this is a shorter rant than usual, but I figured it wasn’t worth being overly redundant. I’d also love to hear your feedback, including insight to my initial query. Until then, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the rescue!” *Flies off*
3 years ago
One Summer’s Day – Spirited Away
Hey g1s! Whitly here! As tenderly I await the bliss of one Summer’s day (get it?), it’s time for another entry in Whitly’s Wonderful World of Studio Ghibli!
Banner courtesy of g1 JETZ.acx.
With the coming of a new millennium, it only seemed fitting that Studio Ghibli would kick things off with a bang. But how? And with what? Those questions would be answered by Miyazaki himself. Having retired in 1999 and spent time at a friend’s country house, Miyazaki noticed a 10 year-old girl showing resentment to her parents. Interested in teaching her respect, Miyazaki came out of retirement to make a movie.
And, in my opinion, it’s also his magnum opus:
Spirited Away opened on July 20th, 2001, with a North American release on September 20th, 2002. It’s no surprise that the movie was a success, that was expected, but rather that it took the world by surprise. The movie would nab Berlin’s Golden Bear Award, a first for an animated film, as well as make the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only, non-English film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Additionally, it’d make Roger Ebert’s list of Top 10 Movies of 2002, as well as place at #10 in the BFI’s “50 films you should watch before the age of 14” list. With all this said, it’s pretty clear that Spirited Away was something special.
What’s it about?
Chihiro Ogino (Daveigh Chase) and her parents are moving. Along the way, they get lost and wind up at an “abandoned” theme park. Chihiro’s parents (Michael Chiklis and Lauren Holly) pig out at a food stand while she goes exploring, whereupon she meets a mysterious boy, named Haku (Jason Marsden), who warns her to leave before sunset. So she heads back to find her parents turned into pigs. Trapped with nowhere to go, Chihiro sells her identity to the owner of a nearby bathhouse, named Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette) in order to save her parents. The rest of the movie is her learning the ways of the spirit world and becoming a better person.
I love this movie. I’ve seen it 6 times, the first being on a whim 3 years ago. It was one of those rare surprises, the ones that actually changed how I look at something. In this case, it changed how I view anime for the better, enough to be open to what it had to offer. Since then, I’ve recommended it to a dozen people, written numerous pieces on it and seen it 5 more times. Since there’s lots to discuss, I’ll do that.
Firstly, there’s Chihiro. Chihiro is one of the greatest, child characters ever. She’s not a witch, she has no magical pendants and she can’t recite spells. She can’t fight, defend, or attack. She’s not particularly sharp or clever. She’s not even all that sweet. To be honest, she’s a self-centred, emotional, whiny, bitter, antagonistic, grumpy, scared little girl with little to anything exemplary about her.
And that’s why she’s awesome. True, she’s not special, but she’s the epitome of a little kid. And the movie plays to that, thrusting her into a situation where she’s out of her element and must be herself. The only things has are the love of her parents and her innocent charm. And she pulls it off with ease.
Speaking of which, I also love the side characters. Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers), while grumpy initially, is a prisoner of the bathhouse whose age and reluctance has forced him to abandon his departure. Lin (Susan Egan), being younger and more optimistic, still yearns to leave, however difficult that is. Even Haku, who helps Chihiro frequently, despises his job, yet circumstances beyond his control prevent his leave. They all feel discontent and-not wanting Chihiro to share their fates-slowly warm up to her because of that. I found them deep and compelling, perhaps even more than expected.
Of course, even the shallower characters make impacts. Yubaba, while not menacing, is funny, quirky and greedy. Her son, Bo (Tara Strong), is a whiny brat who learns humility, No Face represents the extremes of loneliness. But my favourite side character is the Stink Spirit, who makes an appearance halfway through; true, he’s in one scene, says little and leaves abruptly. But his very purpose needs no explanation. I can’t say what happens without spoiling anything, but you’ll have a hard time forgetting him.
Thematically, this movie’s a winner for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a coming of age story, and it’s executed so grandly and honestly I doubt you’d need to be a kid to appreciate it. Actually, it’s better if you aren’t, as so much of it flies right over your head. There’s a commentary on the values of hard work, the reciprocal nature of love, the importance of friendship, it’s all incorporated in said theme in a mature and thought-provoking manner. No, really!
The great and honourable Stink Spirit. Isn’t he cute?
The other theme is greed and dishonesty. Examples of greed are punished throughout the movie. These include Chihiro’s parents becoming pigs, a spoilerific scene with No Face and a spoilerific scene with Haku. Miyazaki once stated he included a sub-textual commentary on Japan’s economy post 90’s crash, feeling that it didn’t resolve the problem efficiently. I buy that, as the movie frequently notes who does wrong and who does right. Perhaps it’s a little cynical to say, but as someone who’s a fan of the “just desserts” principal I find this very satisfying.
I love this movie’s look. Miyazaki’s always makes beautiful-looking films, but he really let himself go. You have lush backdrops, bustling pigpens and multi-leveled bathhouse floors. And then you have weird looking creatures of various kinds. Amongst them are living balls of soot, a Chinese dragon, an eight-legged spider human, a giant radish, a sumo-sized baby, bobbling heads, a talking frog, a sludge monster, the list goes on. I honestly think Miyazaki was high, there’s no other way he could’ve done this!
Even still, there’s natural beauty here. To quote myself quoting Time Magazine:
“The animation doesn’t boast the meticulously rendered character expressions of the early Disney features. Nor does it aim for the slam-bang effects of DreamWorks’ computerized cartoons. Instead, Miyazaki goes for, and gets, the big picture, the grand emotion, one spectacular set piece stacked on another in brilliant colors and design. There’s not a more impressive sequence in recent movies than the arrival at the bathhouse of a huge, amorphous river god, encased in centuries’ worth of stink and sludge, whom Chihiro has the daunting task of giving a sturdy wash and scrub. Spirited Away is handcrafted art, as personal as an Utamaro painting, yet its breadth and depth gave it a worldwide appeal.”
Soundtrack-wise, it’s one of Joe Hisaishi’s best. It’s not emotionally simple like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro. It lacks the catchiness of Castle in the Sky. It’s not even grand like Princess Mononoke or relaxing like Porco Rosso. And yet, it’s as beautiful as ever:
The Dragon Boy – Spirited Away
The Sixth Stop – Spirited Away
Always with Me – Spirited Away
I also like Miyazaki’s balance of sad, scary and funny. It’s a really hard to do, especially since any of the three could easily falter, but he pulls it off: when the movie wants to be funny, it is. When it wants to be scary, it is. And when it wants to be sad, it is. I think my favourite scene is when Chihiro cries while eating rice balls in the garden: it’s funny because she’s stuffing her face, scary because you don’t know what to expect and sad because you really feel for her. If all else, it deserves credit for that alone.
But perhaps, most-importantly, I love this movie because, honestly, I probably shouldn’t. It’s very reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, which I hate because of its senseless trippiness. This movie’s the same, but it’s contained. Everything feels connected, there’s a natural progression and nothing gets left behind. It’s so tight that, contrary to popular dissention, its “closure-less ending” and “left-field reveal of Haku’s backstory” aren’t actually flaws when you think about them.
That’s not to say that the movie’s flawless, though. For one thing, the pacing takes a slight dip near the end of the second-act and becomes a little slow. It’s no deal breaker, but it’s as if the movie found that part boring and was waiting for more exciting things. And secondly, this is a “cultural context” movie, in that most of its subtext won’t make sense to non-Japanese viewers. Still, these don’t hurt the movie, they’re just slightly distracting.
It’s like taking rice balls from a stranger!
There’s no other way to say it: this movie’s a masterpiece. I say it both reluctantly and triumphantly, the former because it’s too good and the latter because I feel no shame. It has Disney’s charm, Pixar’s ambition, Studio Ghibli’s hand-drawn simplicity and anime’s cultural sensitivities. It’s got just enough balance that, young or old, West or East, anime fan or not, it has something for everyone. I even know people who consider it overrated that can’t find the energy to hate it. Therefore, it’s an absolute recommendation, quite possibly as an introductory film to the studio.
Well, that’s it for now! Feel free to watch this bumper, courtesy of Toonami’s Month of Miyazaki:
Video courtesy of YouTube user toonamikid.
Until next time, this is Whitly saying, “Read, comment and goodnight!”
“Captain Raccoon to the rescue!” *Flies off*
I like video games, books, animation, writing, movies, geeky stuff and Jewish stuff. That's about it...
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