Tag: anime

Movie Review: Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha (Evangelion 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance) (2009)

evangelion2_4

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s harddrive.

About two years ago we decided to finally get into Neon Genesis Evangelion. As an anime fan it’s hard not to hear about it all the time because it’s one of the bigger series. We started with the new(ish) movie, part one of a tetralogy that condenses and somewhat re-writes the whole series. Then we started watching the actual show, but it turns out it’s just ok and we got bored with the super annoying main character. AND SO we decided to just watch the movies. Whatever, you guys. Whatever. The second film in the tetralogy, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, continues this inscrutable story of whiny teenagers who pilot huge semi-organic mechs in a fight against “Angels”, who are huge monster things that attack Earth all the time. Everything is confusing but it’s really pretty. And my favorite character arrives! Well, second-favorite, after the penguin roommate obviously.

Seriously, I never know what the fuck is going on in this series but that’s part of what makes it so interesting. The greater world is weird and broken and complicated, and the larger story is only hinted at as the pieces gradually come together. The combination of Christian religious imagery and surreal military technology is bizarre but effective, and I really do love watching these robots fight. The animation is lovely, with bright colors and truly creative design, though the exploitative ladyparts factor is as high as most other anime that isn’t made by Studio Ghibli. I also liked seeing the scope and general ramifications of this future expanded upon, since the films’ overall narrative approach is more personal and at first there wasn’t much focus on the politics surrounding the Eva pilots. The greater story slowly builds on itself and now I’m actually pretty excited for the next movie since it looks like it will have to be much grander in its storytelling.

As usual, protagonist Shinji is an annoying crybaby who doesn’t really have much going on, personality-wise, but luckily he’s surrounded by characters who are actually interesting. Rei continues to be a weird blank space and basically someone’s sexy daydream, but she shows some guts toward the end. And Misato is still funny and cool and (mostly) in command. The best part is obviously newcomer Asuka, an extremely confident prodigy who doesn’t really know how to interact with people. She’s funny in her bluntness but also sympathetic in her lack of social understanding or experience. She’s mean, but I like her as a character. Plus she’s a really good pilot!

I don’t have much else to say, I guess, and I know this is impossible for anyone who doesn’t already know about Neon Genesis Evangelion. But yeah pretty good movie, definitely an improvement on the first one, and I look forward to the third film where the stakes are higher and different subplots will hopefully come together in a way that makes some kind of sense. Maybe?

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I mean it’s part of a series so it kind of has to be the first one or the third one (which just came out in the US).

Movie Review: Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) (1984)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Subtitled.

For quite some time now, Nausicaä was the main Miyazaki work I hadn’t seen. Everyone who knew about anime yelled at me about it, since its combination of strong lady protagonist and dystopian science-fiction is totally what I’m about. Based on Miyazaki’s own manga, the film is set in a bleak future where a majority of the polluted earth has become toxic to humans, and the surviving population is divided into warring kingdoms fighting for survival. The titular Nausicaä is a courageous and kind teenage princess dedicated to keeping her small farming kingdom at peace with the giant insect monsters living in the nearby poisonous forest. When a giant war ship crashes into her village, she finds herself caught in the middle of an uncertain battle with potentially world-shattering ramifications.

Part of Miyazaki’s strength is his narrative consistency with certain themes- coming-of-age, environmentalism and anti-war messages, imaginative technology, historical and fantasy elements, and, typically, awesome female lead characters. Nausicaä has all of these things, PLUS a fascinating futuristic setting. The imagery is a lot darker and weirder than I’d expected, which I loved. It looked kind of Fantastic Planet-inspired only I actually enjoyed this film. I loved the huge bug monsters, fanciful foliage, soft coloring technique, and the numerous beautifully-animated flying sequences. The spattering of 80s synth music is a little goofy, but you all know I am NEVER one to say no to 80s synth music.

While this tale of Man vs Badass Cyborg Lady vs Killer Insects vs Terrifying Ancient Giant Creature vs Super Capable Teen Princess is far from heartwarming, it still retains that adorable Studio Ghibli charm with the help of sweet characters and a super cute animal friend that looks like an Eevee. I really liked Nausicaä herself, she’s just a level-headed, compassionate, fearless young woman who Gets. Shit. Done. She’s definitely one of my new favorite ladies in science-fiction. I also liked her glider. Everybody else is cool too, including the comic relief old dudes from her village and the spunky guy who helps her out but totally isn’t a love interest.

It’s a little dated and a little on the nose in its environmental commentary, but generally this movie is just great: a compelling adventure with creative dystopian elements, strong characters, and fabulous animation. And now I’ve seen all of Miyazaki’s features! Wowee!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmm there are definitely parallels to future Miyazaki films, especially Princess Mononoke, so I’d go with that. Alternatively, some of the visuals and themes made me think of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.

Studio Ghibli Double Feature: Majo no Takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service) (1989) and Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) (1991)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (Kiki dubbed, Only Yesterday subbed).

I am very excited that the Brattle in Harvard Square has been doing a Studio Ghibli retrospective, since this time I can actually go to more than one! (When they came to the MFA last spring I could only catch Princess Mononoke.) Last weekend I caught Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, and Only Yesterday, one I hadn’t seen before and didn’t even know much about. It was nice to revisit the former, but I got more out of the latter. It was so nice to take in more anime in a theater, since I rarely have the opportunity, and I look forward to hopefully catching Nausicaä on Thursday, one of the few Miyazaki films I haven’t seen!

Set in an alternate 1950s/60s slightly askew from our own, Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the adventures of Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training who must spend a year in a big city by herself in order to attain full, er, witchhood. With her broom and talking cat in tow, she lands in a beautiful seaside town where people are unaccustomed to magical folk flying about. She starts a delivery service after befriending a kind baker who lets her stay in her extra room in exchange for help around the bakery. Kiki befriends various townspeople but feels like an outcast among kids her age, as she tries to navigate both teenagery coming-of-age stuff along with witch-related problems.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, this is definitely a Miyazaki for the younger set, with a simplistic plot, very little conflict, and at times very corny dialogue (though part of that could be the dub translation). Kiki is a spunky, determined character who’s easy to root for, and it’s fun to see her learn more about the world and its inhabitants. She meets an independent artist (voiced by Janeane Garofalo! Hello!), a kindly old lady who makes the most horrendous-sounding pie ever in existence (pumpkin with HERRING what the fuuuuuuck), and a SuperNerd who wants to romance her because he fetishizes witches as a group.

It’s cute, and at times very funny (primarily for Phil Hartman’s deadpan jokes as the sarcastic cat Jiji), and of course the animation is superb. I loved the watercolor-like backgrounds and the sort of hodgepodge Europeanism of the city’s design (though I know the bulk of it was inspired by Stockholm). But I feel the script and story leave something to be desired, and I would ultimately put this near the bottom of my Miyazaki list (which still means it’s a good film, obviously). I found I had too many questions about this world and the whole witch/magic premise, as there were a lot of ideas put forth but not explained or expanded. How can a “witch-in-training” be trained if she’s just hanging out by herself and not actually being trained? And why are some people anti-witch? Could Kiki actually do any other magic or was flying all she would ever do? I imagine the book it’s based on might have more answers, so I hope to eventually read it for a more well-rounded view of the world, as well as hopefully a stronger narrative since the film is sort of loose and episodic.

Oh and side note: the cheesy country-esque pop songs over the opening and end credits are suuuuuuuper shitty, and I don’t think they’re in the Japanese version, so be aware.

3.5/5

Brought to us by the man who made the most depressing film of all time, Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday showed promise as another introspective drama but with a lady. 27-year-old Taeko lives and works in Tokyo but has long yearned for a taste of country life. She gains extended family on a faraway farm through her sister’s husband, and spends her vacation with them for the second year in a row, helping pick crops used in a dying process. During her trip she finds herself lost in memories of her childhood, specifically her ten-year-old self, and the film moves back and forth between Taeko’s past and present as she questions some of her adult choices.

With a gorgeous visual style and a quiet, straightforward script, Takahata weaves a deceptively simple tale of love and regret that never sinks into melodrama. It’s a little slow-moving, but generally interesting enough in its characters and aesthetic to remain compelling. I’m completely in love with the faded wash effect used for the flashback scenes, juxtaposed with the intense floral colors of Taeko’s present. The characters are fun and energetic, and I was especially taken with the realistic and often quite funny portrayal of 10-year-olds. The small period touches (like the family’s confusion over an exotic pineapple) are charming, and the subtle love story that develops is sweet and not overdone, though I did find her beau’s speeches about organic farming a little grating.

While the film overall is a little too subdued for me to all-out love it, I absolutely adored the very end, it might be one of my favorite endings ever. It’s just this beautifully sweet, visually perfect scene that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Lovely.

4/5

Movie Review: Perfect Blue (1997)

perfect blue
Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

For years I was convinced I’d seen this movie, until I realized I’d been confusing it with another anime film whose name I don’t remember. How embarrassing. For my love of Satoshi Kon I knew I had to see it as soon as possible. Kon’s first feature as a director, Perfect Blue follows mildly-successful pop singer Mima as she attempts to transition into serious acting. After landing a recurring role on a dramatic crime series, her desire to distance herself from her girly bubblegum pop image leads her to more and more drastic action, such as agreeing to act in a graphic rape scene for the show and later posing for nude photos. She is plagued by visions of her former self, eventually sinking into paranoia and confusion as this “Other” Mima tries to take over her own life.

Satoshi Kon. I miss him a lot, actually, because as far as I can tell he could only create breathtaking, immersive works that continue to stun after repeated viewings. I’m grateful he left behind such beautiful, engaging films but I continually mourn the loss of such a phenomenal talent (plus it sounds like he was a good guy in real life).

Ok, sad thoughts aside, Perfect Blue is, naturally, a marvel. The effortlessly fluid blending of Mima’s actual experiences and tortured hallucinations is fantastic, and there is a constant questioning of what is real and illusion by both the character and audience. Kon utilizes animation as a medium in captivating and inventive ways, often proving what feats it can accomplish that live action cannot, and ultimately it is gorgeous to view even if some of the styling and colors are a little dated. The approach to technology dates it a bit too (there are literally scenes of a lady explaining how the internet works), but its commentary on popular media’s insensitive and exploitative tactics remains ever-relevant. Celebrity drives multiple people in this movie crazy, and no one is surprised.

The surface premise of a cute pop singer trying to be an actor is deceptively light, as the script gradually builds up elements of psycho-thriller and slasher-horror. It is always unclear to what lengths this story will go, holding me rapt as I became fully engrossed in Mima’s fracturing psyche and the obsession and death that surrounds her. It is intense and at times disturbing, and I’m still thinking about it a week later. Now I’m thinking of revisiting Paranoia Agent

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: As many have noted, Aronofsky is a big fan of this film and in fact owns the rights to an American version since he lifted shots from it for Requiem for a Dream. Its plot and themes are also incredibly similar to Black Swan, which would make a good pairing I think.

Movie Review: Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty) (2010)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ computer. Subtitled, not dubbed, hooray.

My only experience with the world of the Borrowers comes from the 1997 live-action film, which has an interesting premise and some cool visuals but wasn’t a very good movie as a whole. That’s kind of how The Secret World of Arrietty– Studio Ghibli’s newest feature based on the same novels- works out. Arrietty Clock and her parents Pod and Homily are each a few inches tall, living secretly in an isolated old house in the woods while the human “beans” who reside there unknowingly supply them with food and other necessities. When a sickly boy named Sho moves in and discovers Arrietty, they begin a tepid friendship that is troubled by her natural distrust of humans and a housekeeper’s vendetta against what she had always thought she’d just imagined.

Visually, the film is of course top-notch, with lush vegetative landscapes and a lot of adorable uses of big-sized human things by little Borrowers- ie, a tea container as a bureau, a sewing pin as a sword, a binder clip as a hair tie, etc. I really loved the way the animation swiveled around to show Arrietty’s perspective, conveying the general bigness of everything. Sound effects are put to good use in this manner as well, with Arrietty feeling every human heartbeat and footstep with deep resonance. First-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi- who served as a key animator on several Ghibli films- proves himself a capable and imaginative filmmaker.

Unfortunately, the script (co-written by Hayao Miyazaki) is what’s really lacking. It takes forever to get going, and seems uncertain what the focal point of the story should be. By the end, Arrietty and Sho’s friendship seems to be the central emotional hook, but it’s given about 10, maybe 15 minutes of screentime in total. Their cheesy tearful goodbye meant nothing to me since they didn’t have any actual relationship to be crying over. And then the whole conflict with the suddenly crazed housekeeper calling pest control comes and goes without warning, feeling completely contrived and out of place. Arrietty’s closeness with her family is better shown, but even that isn’t really given any kind of focus.

There’s very little actual narrative to go by here, leaving the audience to absorb the beautiful scenery without becoming invested in any of the film’s happenings. The introduction of a fourth Borrower in the slightly wild Spiller, who lives in the woods, was the most interesting point, since the existence of Borrowers is such a vague thing as it is. The Secret World of Arrietty is not a bad film by any means, and for me it was worth it for the lovely animation and cute premise, but I would expect more substance from Studio Ghibli, especially with Miyazaki’s input on the script.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Ummmm something else with tiny fantasy people, I guess? Thumbelina? Fern Gully? Gulliver’s Travels?