Anime, Movies

Spirited Away

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away at the cinema, its not my favourite Miyazaki (or Studio Ghibli) movie, that goes to Princess Mononoke, but its not often that many of us get to see these films on the big screen, especially somewhere like Bedford (there’s a showing of Princess Mononoke at the end of the month that I’m also hoping to attend).

It’s a film I’ve seen many, many times before. I bought it when it first came to the UK on DVD, and over the years its a film my partner and I have loved and shared with our children. This time round I happened to see it with the group of friends I’ve made through the book club I attend and it was awesome to see that there wasn’t an empty seat in the whole screening, (well, there was one, for a while, right next to me, then a weird guy came in half way through the film, asked me what it was called and what the time was, kept his coat on, then as the credits began to roll informed me that it was a “bit of a head fuck”).

Seeing it on the big screen was a real treat though, I’ve never had any trouble following it, but with the screen and sound system dominating your senses Miyazaki’s beautifully crafted, spiritual world is brought to life.

In this environment you really feel the pace of the film as it flies through some sections, throws gags at you and then takes some important moments to drop everything and just let you breath in this world, you really appreciate the craft thats gone into every single scene, especially during the quiet moments that are full of reflection that come at just the right moment to move onto the next act.

However, whilst most of Spirited Away is hand-drawn, there are moments of the film that have been created via computer. The most noticeable of these are when Chihiro is following Haku through the fields of flowers to get to the pig pens to see her parents. Now this might have been done on purpose, it could be to amplify the contrast in locations to the bathhouse where we’ve spent most of the film up to this point, it could be to help us appreciate the confusion and feeling of being rushed off her feet that Chihiro is no doubt going through, but the visual impact is very noticeable. Especially when blown up onto a cinema screen. Thats not to say it detracts from the film overall, its just very noticeable.

The music really has an impact here too. Maybe I’ve watched it too many times with the kids or other distractions, but I’d forgotten some moments of the music. There’s obviously the soaring moments such as when Chihiro is riding upon Haku’s back, but theres other moments such as on the bridge outside the bathhouse when we are first introduced to No-Face. There’s a few quiet notes playing, but then some really awkward sounding strings come in and the jankiness (for want of a better, maybe real, word) really sets the tone that even within this completely alien world where Chihiro is at odds with everything, theres are encounters that are stranger than others.

One last thing, I’ve been reading The Handmaids Tale for book club (more on that on Wednesday), and theres a bit of a cross over in themes between the two that I didn’t expect at all. There’s a strong conversation about the strength in ones name. In both of these stories the lead characters name is used to opress them and place them in servitude and both have their names replaced. Chihiro becomes Sen and its only through keeping the memory of her name alive, and also discovering/remembering Haku’s real name, that she is able to break out of Yubaba’s contract and leave the spirit world. In The Handmaids Tale, the protagonist also has her name taken from her, we’re never told what it is, it is forbidden for her to ever use it, but she remembers and its her name that helps her keep her memories of the world as it was before she begun telling the reader her story, but in both cases, they are given a new name, and in this case its also the narrators title Offred (Of Fred, Fred being her commander).

Both offer a commenatary on the power of words and how they can be used to control individuals and ultimately a group of people. There’s probably a lot more there to be discussed by somebody with far more intelligence than I have.

Again, I’m extremely happy that I had the opportunity to see this in a community setting, where people laughed at the funny moments and were swept along by Miyazaki’s story telling, all played out on a huge screen, and it’s thanks to the services of Our Screen that I was able to do so.

Anime, Movies

Thank fuck the Hollywood Akira is on hold again

Hah! I think that title says it all doesn’t it?

For a bit of background, Akira is one of my favourite films of all time, I have a rough top 10 of all time affair, and alot of them move around, but there are two films that are definetly at the top of that table but it’s difficult to pick between them, one is Blade Runner, the other is Akira. Besides, if you didn’t know already, this blog is named after a location in both the manga and the movie, whilst my header image is taken from the movie itself.

The Manga collection is also one of my favourite books of all time. Now that thats out of the way lets get on with this.

Thank fuck the Hollywood Akira is on hold again!

There, I said it again. But why? Because quite clearly Hollywood doesn’t understand movies not of American origin and it goes all the way back to Magnificent Seven, which isn’t a bad film, but its not a patch on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, mostly because it doesn’t really understand that films intricacies. However, it, at least, tried to be its own thing and went with a totally different name. So for a fairer comparison, look at Ghost in the Shell. Now I didn’t mind Scarlett Johansson taking on the role of Major Kusanagi, I understand the white washing criticsms but I didn’t really feel like the Kusanagi in either the original movies or the Stand Alone Complex was particularly Japanese in appearance, plus she has a cybernetic body so the original Kusanagi could have picked any physical appearance they wished. I’ve only read through the Manga on one occassion so I can’t really make comparisons there.

Onto Akira then, why am I glad its being shelved? Firstly, because it doesn’t need to be made. Go and watch Akira after reading this, it hasn’t aged at all, it still stands up today, it still feels relevant, it still blows most major animated movies, be they Ghibli, Disney Production IG, Akira stands high amongt their very best work. It. Doesn’t. Need. Remaking. Re-mastering? Maybe, I’m certainly not going to complain about Katsuhiro Otomo returning to it to do a 4k Remaster (not that I have a 4k TV and I can hardly see either of the two cinema’s in my town ever showing it). Is there stuff that can be made better? Sure, there’s loads of stuff that was important to the Manga that wasn’t in the film, mostly because Otomo hadn’t finished work on the Manga when he started and finished the movie, and I’m hoping that the new animated series he’s going to be making will address things and finally give us a completed adaptation of the Manga.

Secondly, the film would be heavily Americanised, I mean they were going to take it out of its Japan setting and set it in Neo-Manhatten. Just, No. Thats a total misunderstanding of what Akira is actually about. They’ve got the basic plot

Set in a future city environment called New Manhattan, the sci-fi epic follows the leader of a bike gang who must save his best friend, who has been experimented on by the government causing him to develop dangerous and destructive psychokinetic powers.

So, ignoring the setting, okay, thats how you’d describe Akira to someone who hadn’t seen or read it, but thats not what its actually about. The whole thing is about Japan, about its rebuild after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were rebuilt, about the American occupation and how Japanese kids were being influenced by US media and forming Bosozuku. It’s about civil unrest, politics and a country thats coming to terms with both its dark past and it being thrown into the modern world (the Edo period had only ended around 120 years before Akira’s release), its position of using nuclear power as a large source of its national energy and the difficulties the populace had with accepting that only a few decades after such power had been used against them.

I’ll admit the film doesn’t outright address these, it takes repeated viewings, reading the Manga and learning more about Otomo and his idea’s to learn all of this. But once you do know elements of this you can see it within the film (notice Tetsuo’s pattern being the same as the explosion Akira causes at the start of the film and how the latter in itself is similar to that of a nuclear explosion). Thing is, I did kind of start to come around to the idea when it was announced that Taika Watiti would be involved, and in actual face they’ve not scrapped the whole thing entirely, but I’ll be incredibly surprised if it see’s the light of day let alone if its any good. Just give me that animated series, let me keep the 1988 movie and, lastly, leave me alone to re-read my Dark Horse Manga collection.

Anime, TV

Why don’t I like Hi-Score Girl?

I’ve written this after watching all twelve episodes, plus the three OVA’s but having never read the Manga. Everything I’ve watched is available via Netflix.

At its heart Hi-Score Girl is a romantic love triangle, lead character, Haruo Yaguchi, is a videogame obsessed kid who spends every moment he’s not at school in his local arcades playing the likes of Street Fighter 2. He’s not academic, atheletic or particularly sociable, every waking moment he’s not playing a game he is thinking about and counting down the time to when he can next boot up a game. We’re introduced to Akira Ono as academically the opposite of Haruo, she’s a straight A student from a wealthy family but secretly she also loves videogames and is exceptionally good at them, especially Street Fighter 2. Like Haruo, however, she has no social skills, but whilst Haruo is awkward around other people, Ono doesn’t speak, instead she tends to display her emotions in a child like manner, usually abusing people (Haruo) who disagree or do something to annoy her.

For the opening few episodes the show lets the “relationship” between the two develop, this mostly amounts to Haruo man-splaining pretty much everything about the games he’s playing both to the viewer and to Ono. The sheer amount of dialogue that comes from Haruo is overwhelming at times and the relationship between the two is mostly friendly rivalry (Haruo seems unable to comprehend that his main competitor in the arcades is female). Soon after, Ono leaves Japan, and we’re introduced to another girl as Haruo enters Junior High. Koharu Hidaka is more sociable than Haruo, and the relationship between the two, like with Ono, develops thanks to Haruo’s love of videogames, however Hidaka (initially) prefers to watch, and once again there’s a bit of a “girls dont understand games” attitude from Haruo.

Despite watching the whole series I never really warmed to Haruo, he never really develops as a character, despite the show being set over a few years (The characters go from Elementary to Junior High to High School, I think), his attitudes and behaviour never really alters and it isn’t until Ono runs away from home that he shows any semblence of being considerate of others (and even then during his search for her he finds the time to buy a new/old console), but quickly reverts to type when Hidaka gives him an ultimatum and beating his opponent becomes priority number 1. You’re left feeling sorry for both girls by the very end of Hi-Score Girl and I was certainly rooting against Haruo developing any relationship with either of them. Essentially, like Scott Pilgrim, Haruo is a complete and utter dick who by the end of the shows run time still has not developed any character beyond being “a bit of a nerd”.

I’m probably being a bit harsh on it overall, especially as many seem to quite like it, but the constant name checking and lack of character development (which I appreciate is hard to do over 12 + 3 twenty-two minute episodes/OVA’s) and maybe I’ve gone into it expecting more than it was ever intending to do. But if all you want from a 90’s video-game scene anime is for the writers to name drop Virtua Cop, Darkstalkers, PlayStation and “TURBO GRAFX 16!!!!” then you’ll be pretty damn happy with this.


Anime, Movies

Flavors of Youth

Flavors of Youth is an anthology movie, collecting together three short tales (The Rice Noodes, A Little Fashion Show and Love in Shangai) with a core theme of love and loss. Each of the three films is set in a different part of China, although the over riding themes surrounding love and loss encompass friends, families and unrequited love.

The Rice Noodles introduces us to Xiao Ming, who reminisces about his youth, eating noodles with his Grandma and the girl he dreamed of as he grew older. In The Rice Noodles we are looking back at a time where people valued time, passion and care and this is reflected in Xiao Mings narration surrounding the creation of his favourite San Xian Noodles and the relationship he developed with his Grandmother as they spent every morning together outside the noodle shop. We follow him into his adolescence and his devotion to visiting his new favourite noodle shop, partially for the noodles, but also so he could catch a glimpse of the girl he fancied who never noticed him. As we follow him into adulthood his noodle consumption is one of convenience which he finds unsatisfying and it isn’t until his Grandmother passes away that he begins to reminisce for the noodle bars of his youth. The one element that stood out in this for me is the love and care that the author and animators have put into the scenes detailing how the San Xian Noodles were created and the reasons for the methods that the cooks would use. It left me with a hankering for Ramen, although diving into the cupboard for some instant Ramen (bought from our excellent local Chinese store) wouldn’t have been as satisfying as the chicken and sweetcorn noodle soup my other half used to make.

A Little Fashion show deals with two sets of relationships. The core focus is that between model Yi Lin and her sister Lulu who is a fashion student. The relationship between the two begins to falter as Yi Lins modelling career and relationships within that industry are suddenly challenged by new girl Shui Jing. As Yi Lin begins to push herself harder she also begins to push those that care for her further away until she ultimately becomes unwell. Upon leaving hospital, her sister and closest friend (who also happens to be her manager) have created their own fashion show especially for her and its through this that the two sisters grow closer together allowing both girls to achieve their career dreams simultaneously. There were times that I felt A Little Fashion show could have been more interesting, even within its short run time (although it felt longer than the other two), the tensions seemed to be resolved far too easily and the competition between Yi Lin and Shui Jing never really amounted to anything controversial. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the ideas here were done better in Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue which ultimately led to A Little Fashion Show being the less entertaining of the three films offered here.

Lastly we had Love in Shangai, which deals with a more standard unrequited love tale. In Love in Shangai we follow Li Mo and Xiao Yu, whom both have strong feelings for each other although neither ever fully admits it. When Li Mo tells Xiao Yu and their mutual friend that she’s applying for one of the top schools Xiao Yu becomes determined to shake his slacker image and also pass the entrance exam to attend. This he manages, unforunately Li Mo doesnt and her father beats her ultimately putting her into hospital. The budding relationship between the two falls down due to the distance between them but we’re shown just how intense their feelings are for each other due to some cassette tapes the pair record of the conversations that they have. We leave the story on a bit of cliffhanger as Xiao Yu has returned to Shangai and its inferred that Li Mo visits him at his new place of work.

Flavors of Youth as a complete package then is rather soft and fluffy, at just over an hour long theres not really room for any of the three stories to breath properly, although the foundations are there for something more. Its undoubtedly very pretty, with some wonderful landscape shots and as already mentioned the scenes of noodles being made will leave you salivating. Unfortunately the relationships are just too basic and leave the viewer wanting a little more meat on the bone. Don’t get me wrong, Flavors of Youth isn’t a bad movie, but when theres other options out there, such as the wonderful Your Name or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time that will easily fulfill any romantic itch, this is one thats best enjoyed for its visuals.