randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Fairly conventional anime with incredible design work by Madhouse, who also did the animation for Satoshi Kon's Paprika. Summer Wars has a lot of interesting elements interspersed with too much formula. The basic set-up is that a shy teenage boy math genius is invited to the country estate of a cute teenage girl, where her large traditional family is celebrating the 90th birthday of her matriarch grandmother. The girl wants him to pretend to be her fiance. There's also an all-encompassing social networking virtual world called Oz (which [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw astutely referred to as hyper-Facebook or hyper-Second Life), where all the business of the world (banking and gaming) takes place and which is suddenly invaded by a malicious artificial intelligence. Only geeks and gamers can save the day.

The design work on Oz is gorgeous and incredibly detailed, building on the sprawling phantasmagoria of Paprika to create a sense of tens of millions of avatars and icons. The large cast of characters, most of them from a family with a long, eventful history that they love to talk about, creates a sense of complexity and social depth. Unfortunately the teen romance and superheroics and family melodrama seem pretty rote and rife with wish-fulfillment. Or maybe it's just too benign for me. I prefer the uncomfortable weirdness of Paprika, which gets into some very disturbing psychosexual areas underneath the colorful design. Although Summer Wars does at least have a fairly bracing political subtext that's critical of the U.S. military (which is perhaps also reflective of its own Japanese nationalism). Also, kudos for the gratuitous Rudy Rucker reference, buried in a list of names that functions as a punchline.

Summer Wars was directed by Mamoru Hosoda, whose The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki o kakeru shôjo, 2006) has a great reputation. Anybody seen that one?
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Sad news this morning that anime director Satoshi Kon has died at 46. His 2006 movie Paprika is one of my favorite science fiction movies of recent years. It got me to track down is 13-episode TV series, Paranoia Agent (Môsô dairinin, 2004), which I also liked a lot. I was less fond of Millennium Actress (Sennen joyû, 2001).

I've seen a couple of people writing that Inception clearly took some inspiration from Paprika, but I really don't see that at all. While they share the idea of a machine that allows one person to enter another person's dream, this idea goes back much further than Paprika -- c.f. Zelazny's "He Who Shapes" (1965), and I'm guessing it goes back even further than that. Paprika is also about the irrationality of dreams, which is the opposite of Inception, where the dreams don't feel like dreams so much as like consciously constructed virtual realities. Paprika is a brilliant, surreal exploration of the imagination and the subconscious -- the parts of the mind that have a mind of their own. The visual inventiveness is a joy to behold, and he wields genre structures with great inventiveness as well. I'm very sorry that we won't be seeing more movies from Satoshi Kon (although there was one in the works that might be completed without him), but I highly recommend Paprika to anyone who hasn't checked it out yet.
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Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993)

"An unjust peace is still better than a just war."

Listless

Jun. 1st, 2010 11:00 am
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
"Listless" is an odd word, isn't it? What's the etymology? I like the idea that one is lacking a list, therefore lacking the focus to do anything.

In any event, that was my mood over the long weekend, although I actually got quite a bit done nevertheless. I worked all three days on my piece for the next Chunga, and I finished a draft. Problem is I still don't really know what the piece is about or what I'm trying to accomplish with it. I'm attempting to take the attitude that it is a process of discovery rather than a lack of anything interesting to say. It needs more work, but I hope not too much more, lazy bugger that I am.

The soggy weather was one reason for the lack of list, so I didn't get to work in the garden as much as I wanted to, although I did manage to mow the lawn in the rain. However, I've been meaning to mention that I recently bought a plant mostly for its name: bloody dock. It's actually a very pretty plant, which, I've just discovered from Jessica Amanda Salmonson's page on it, is edible. Hm. The nursery didn't say anything about that and treated it as an ornamental.

I watched Mamoru Oshii's anime Angel's Egg (Tenshi no tamago, 1985) twice over the weekend. It really is as strange as its reputation -- surrealist or symbolist, nearly wordless, non-narrative or at least non-linear narrative. Here's a good description I found at that link: 'Told with minimal dialogue and maximum Christian imagery, Angel's Egg shows a little girl living out her life in a gloomy, gothic, abandoned city. After she symbolically gives birth to the titular egg, she meets a Christ-like figure (complete with cross) who accompanies her to an ending that is beautiful, transcendental, and entirely depressing.' I found it kind of annoying the first time, less so the second time. There's one "speech" that seemed like the worst kind of pseudo-philosophical posturing (you know, like maybe we're all somebody else's memory, whoa), and the artwork is kind of a mixed bag. It's redolent of the Euro-comics style of Heavy Metal (the magazine), for better and worse. Still, there's something compelling about the imagery and the sense of dream logic it captures and the questions it raises. Why are the fish shadows of coelacanths? Why is the bird skeleton of an archaeopteryx?

And that's my little list of what I did this weekend. Sort of. I left out some interesting communications and a couple of whiskey sours.

Bliss

May. 27th, 2010 06:24 pm
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Just back from a massage, which was wonderful. The pain in my upper back had receded by yesterday afternoon, but there was still plenty of residual tension and faint achiness. Everything is a lot looser now. Mellow, man.

Then, because I was in that neck of the woods anyway, I swung by Rain City Video and discovered they had a copy of Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg: "As beautiful and enigmatic a piece of animation as you're ever likely to see." It's been on my Want List for years.

Life is good, for the moment.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
On Sunday I watched Porco Rosso for a third time, after watching The Sky Crawlers for a second time. (A good pairing in that they both center on aerial dogfights in an alternate history.) This time I watched Porco Rosso with the English dub, which features Michael Keaton as Porco. Previously I had watched it with the French dub, which features Jean Reno as Porco. The film felt less mysterious this time, although just as visually beautiful, and I wondered how much of it had to do with being able to understand what the voices were saying (and thus not straining after the meaning) and how much was a difference between the translation that the dub uses and the translation the English subtitles use.

I lean toward the latter, but on slim evidence. The one place where I know the translations were significantly different comes during the phone conversation Porco has with Gina when he tells her he's taking his plane to Milan for repairs despite the fact that the Italians have an arrest warrant out for him. Gina orders him not to go. In the dub he says, "Sorry, I've got to fly." In the subtitles he says, "A pig's gotta fly." To me the latter is infinitely wittier and more ironic, playing off of "When pigs fly." Now, I have no idea which is the more accurate translation of the Japanese script, but my sense was that the dub is far less resonant and eloquent than the subtitles. Another example, now that I think of it, is when the mechanic, Piccolo, basically tells Porco to stop lecturing him. In the dub, he says something like, "I'm a god of engineering!" In the subtitles he says, "You're preaching Buddhism to Buddha." The subtitles have an aphoristic quality that the dub is completely lacking.

Over and over again I got the feeling that the dub was spelling things out that are left ambiguous or figurative in the subtitles. I suppose I should watch it again with both the English dub and the English subtitles playing at the same time, because it's possible I'm letting my anti-Disney bias sway my perception. The dub was done for Disney's release of the movie. I'm not sure who did the subtitles.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Mamoru Oshii makes intelligent science fiction movies. My favorite is Avalon (2001) -- a live action film about a virtual reality video game -- but the cyberpunk anime Ghost in the Shell (1996) is also very good. On the other hand, the sequel to GitS, Innocence (2004) was overblown and intellectually pompous, although the visual design was utterly stunning.

While his science fiction films feature exciting action sequences, the pace of all these films is slow, repetitive, and spare. Where this became the ground for deadening exposition in Innocence, it becomes the point of the story in Oshii's latest anime, The Sky Crawlers. It's structured somewhat like Avalon in that we are thrown into a near future world that is presented as a mystery, and then we are very slowly given a wider and wider context for the strangely disturbing and alienated details of life and character behavior that we are seeing.

Another similarity with Avalon is that while it isn't set in a videogame per se, the visual design looks like a videogame, and there's a deeper reason to that than just the videogame spin-off that is an inevitable adjunct of this kind of anime film. The Sky Crawlers is set in a future where two megacorporations stage an endless war, with an emphasis on the "stage". It's a game of sorts, although people die from it, mostly the pilots who fight for the corporations. The pilots are genetically engineered humans called Kildren (the Japanese word is more like "kill-dolls") who never age beyond adolescence.

It's hard to say much more about the story without committing spoilers. The movie explores the same mood of existential emptiness and blankness as Innocence, but in a much more integrated (and less expository) way, and like Avalon it provides many mysteries to speculate about. It approaches high modernism in its fascination with memory, but it comes at it from a science fictional angle. History is a nightmare from which the characters are trying to awake, but as with the replicants in Blade Runner (1982), what they remember and don't remember is possibly a product of industrial processes. There is perhaps something Buddhist in the sense of being trapped in an endlessly repeating cycle. Yet there is always the empty sky's promise of freedom and release.

This is one of those movies that I think will grown in the mind as I think about it more. I was feeling pretty smug at guessing the identity of the young girl whose father is unknown, but reading around the web I see that others are way ahead of me with speculation about the identities of other characters in the film. In a story in which nothing much happens and everything becomes meaningless through repetition, there's a lot going on in the seemingly empty background.
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Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no takkyûbin, 1989)

"We fly with our spirit."
randy_byers: (Default)


My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988)

randy_byers: (bumble bee man)
So yesterday I had the afternoon off due to computer difficulties at work, and I watched a couple of Miyazakis. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika, 1984) I had never seen before, while Porco Rosso I watched for the second time.

Details buried for the truly curious )
randy_byers: (Default)


Porco Rosso (Kurenai no buta, 1992)

God was telling you 'not yet'.
randy_byers: (Default)


Paprika (2006)

"Don't you think dreams and the internet are similar? They are both areas where the repressed conscious mind vents."

randy_byers: (Default)


Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta, 1986)


More escapism today. More beautiful design work. More pirates, for that matter.
randy_byers: (Default)
Well, Mind Game is a head trip, there's no doubt about it. It's only available on a Japanese DVD, but as Ed Halter says in the Village Voice, "undoubtedly there are American otakus popping this one into multi-region DVD players right now amid the glorbeling of bong hits." You looking at me, Ed? I ain't no otaku, man!

The movie is based on the manga by Robin Nishi, which also happens to be the name of the protagonist, and there's an air of the confessional about some aspects of the story. I actually find the semi-autobiographical portrait of the artist as a young man aspects a bit tedious. The first half hour falls into the genre of the fantasy of excruciating humiliation, never one of my favorites. Still, there's enough clever perspective to keep things rolling, and the second half of the movie is an amazing fantasia. Opening and ending the movie are two montages of scattered imagery that are connected to the main story, but after two viewings I'm still not sure how or if it all fits together. Not sure the story is supposed to make logical sense, for that matter. It's another adventure into dreamland, like Paprika.

The plot (SPOILERS ho!), such as it is, involves a twenty-year-old otaku and manga-artist-wannabe who pines uselessly for his beautiful, breasty childhood girlfriend. An encounter with two yakuza in a restaurant ends with him getting killed (in an extremely humiliating fashion), confronting G-O-D in the afterworld, and then apparently returning to life for a second try. This is where the movie really takes off, as Robin, his beloved, and her sister embark on a wild chase that leads them into the belly of a whale and a remarkable inner world.

Whether anything in the latter part of the film is real or not is hard to say and probably beside the point. The philosophy exhorted is basically "seize the day," which is banal enough in its own way, but the sheer vital exuberance of the visual creativity on display is a winning embodiment of the idea. As in FLCL (2000) -- to which this film may well be a response -- the animation style is all over the place, changing rapidly from scene to scene and even within scenes. There is a brilliant sex scene in which the bodies turn into abstract rivers of flowing, gushing paint, intercut with shots of a cheerful cartoon train busting through barrier after barrier on the way up a mountainside. The sequence inside the whale seems to be all about the creative process, and we get the feeling that we are exploring the pre-rational depths of the artist's mind, that it is exploding onto the screen in front of us, unleashed, primal, protean, but at the same time delicate, earthy, sweet, and funny.

The main problem with the movie is that Robin is not a very interesting character to hang this all on, and the philosophy of life he develops is not very profound. But the fountain of brilliant, playful imagery and the sense of creative possibility at the core of the film more than make up for it. If I were a true otaku, I'd probably go through the final montage frame by frame to try to figure out how each image connects to the main story. Hm, that's not a bad idea ...
randy_byers: (Default)
I've been on a bit of an anime binge lately, after seeing Satoshi Kon's Paprika in the theater a couple of times and then exchanging anime suggestions with [livejournal.com profile] reverendjim. I've watched Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which is a wonderful steampunk adventure. Then I watched Kon's 13-episode series Paranoia Agent, which is a quite dark look into the psyches of a large cast of characters who are attacked by a kid with a baseball bat whenever they get stuck in an existential crisis. In the past week, I've watched Gainax Studio's six-episode series FLCL twice, after discovering that it's now available in a beautiful box set that's twenty bucks cheaper than the series was when it was first released here on three separate disks.

I first saw FLCL (pronounced Fooly Cooly or Furi Kuri) as part of an anime night that a friend used to host fairly regularly at his house. I was completely bowled over by the frenetic energy and protean imagination (not to mention terrific design) of the animation, and I instantly fell in love with the hard-rocking soundtrack by a band called the Pillows. I wasn't willing to spring for the DVDs, but I bought both disks of the soundtrack. Those two CDs, and especially the first one, remain favorites, full of punk energy and J-pop hooks. Like the show, the songs are all over the place generically and fuse all kinds of influences.

So about the only thing I took away from the series on the first viewing was that this girl kept beaning this boy with her guitar, and giant robots kept coming out of his head. Plus a lot of other weird stuff happened in rapidfire succession, causing a great deal of cultural whiplash. Now that I've seen the series a couple more times, I think I've got a better grasp on the story. It is fundamentally a coming of age story about a 12-year-old boy named Naota who lives with his father and grandfather in the nondescript city of Mabase. There is a lot of sexual innuendo and subtext as Naota is pursued for various reasons by his brother's ex-girlfriend (who is five years older than he is), the class president at his elementary school, and a crazy woman from outer space named Haruko who keeps beaning him with her Rickenbacker. Whenever he's beaned by her, a robot starts coming out of his head, and there is usually a great deal of sexual imagery involved in these emergences. Haruko and the giant robots seem to come out of a science fictional universe more typical of anime, but one of the intriguing things about FLCL is the ways that these SF elements are used to communicate issues of adolescence and the onset of puberty.

The style of the animation is all over the place, including two sequences that are done as slightly-animated manga panels, heavy use of stylized cartoon expressions, parodies of other shows such as South Park, use of photographs, etc., etc. There are a zillion references to pop culture, much of which is beyond my ken (although Wikipedia is helping), and lots of punning use of language, which makes the translation into English difficult. However, I think part of why I love this show is because of that sense of references and in-jokes gone amuck and left to entice the curious and tickled imagination. It's part of what we try to do in Chunga, too. Still, there has to be a core framework to give the madness some shape, and the coming of age story works really well for me. The sense of inappropriate feelings, of being completely out of your depth, of blind hormonal madness, of being simultaneously bored and enraptured, frustrated, confused, and cocksure, of broken hearts and heart-rending loneliness, of excitement and ecstatic discovery -- all rendered at 90 miles an hour with gears constantly shifting and the nature of the story constantly evolving and the meaning of it all always in question. And then the guitar comes down with a power chord -- kah-Chunggggg -- and your head starts to swell embarrassingly.

Almost makes me feel nostalgic for my own adolescence, which is really saying something. Boy, did I hate it back then.

Paprika

Jun. 14th, 2007 10:27 am
randy_byers: (cap)
"Does it make more sense the second time?" [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw asked.

"Yup," I said. "It actually does. Not that it necessarily adds up to anything earthshaking."

We had just seen the anime movie, Paprika (Papurika, 2006), at the Varsity. I had already seen it once over the weekend, but I was happy to see it again. The movie is apparently based on a metafictional science fiction novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, and the story reminds me to some extent of Pat Cadigan's cyberpunk novel, Mindplayers. It's about an experimental device called the DC-Mini that allows therapists direct access to their patients' dreams. Three of the devices are stolen, and suddenly dreams start popping up in the weirdest places. Paprika is the dreamland alter ego of the therapist, Dr. Chiba, and they are the composite protagonist. Paprika is a red-headed wishfulfillment superheroine with a jaunty pop song for her soundtrack.

While all of this leads to an appealing, if initially confusing and not particularly original, narrative, much of what I like about this movie is the visual phantasmagoria and general trippiness. We are never sure whether we are inside a dream or not at any given moment (story of my life!), and the narrative frame keeps shifting unexpectedly. On the second time through, it does make more sense, but in some ways that just means it makes more nonsense, because it is dream logic, which is frequently absurd. The director, Satoshi Kon, seems to be channeling his own subconscious imagery, both symbolic and narrative, and despite frequent pseudo-scientific exposition, it doesn't necessarily make rational sense. It's more of a carnival ride through dreamland, and it explicitly links the movie-watching experience to the dreamstate. (One of the wonderful throw-away bits is when characters dive into a TV screen and come out of the camera that's filming what was on the screen.)

It's a trippy visual feast, is what I've been saying -- a riot of weird, fanciful imagery. It's playing at the Varsity still tonight, but I'm not sure if it'll stick around for another week. Possibly it'll move to a smaller screen at the Metro for an additional week, because I believe it was showing at a second theater downtown somewhere, too, which means there was an expectation of an audience for it around here.

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