Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Movies You Already Should've Seen: Anime Round-up

at 2:00 PM
Recently I've been working through some classic anime with a like-minded friend. I don't have the time or inclination to give each a full piece on top of the weekly MYASS, so here are some brief wrap-ups.

PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki

What's cool about the story?
P. Mononoke is epic as fuck, always its claim to fame. Critical to that is the semi-historical setting, invoking a time when gods are still believed to exist, but rare enough that no one would be believed to have seen one. The ending signals an entrance into the modern age, an admonition of repeated mistakes, and the inevitability of rebirth - very much a straightforward nature/animist bent on the twilight of the gods.

What's cool about the style?
What isn't cool about the style? Miyazaki is the god of animation for a reason, and while this isn't my favorite of his flicks (that would be SPIRITED AWAY), it is the most aggressive in its vision. There is a mind-blowing attention to detail, from the physics of a bow and arrow to the way San holds blood in her mouth in that poster scene. Few movies look this fucking awesome, and Ebert is right to say this is the kind of story we need animation to tell.

Other thoughts?
If it's not way too long, it at least spends too much time away from Ashitaka and San. Every element adds something and I get why Miyazaki wanted it all there, but around the time the warthogs are making their final charge I start to wonder if I forgot what the movie is actually about. That is to say, the scope of the story occasionally exceeds the scope of the characters. This degree of narrative wrapping may have made more sense as a 6-episode OVA, where individual episodes could directly address the different layers of conflict. The dub is frequently recommended, but I was much more impressed with the original cast.

PERFECT BLUE (1997)
Directed by: Satoshi Kon
Written by: Sadayuki Murai based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi

What's cool about the story?
For all the cinema since RASHOMON to openly play with narrative reality, I've never been more drawn in than by PERFECT BLUE, its technique unifying the protagonist's splintering conscience with the camera eye. The disintegration of Mima's career parallels her identity crisis such that each nebulous setting could as easily be a facet of her delusions as the impetus for them.

What's cool about the style?
PERFECT BLUE has a straightforward realistic drawing style that belies the tricks the narration is playing with reality. The seamless blending of real life, dream, memory, the movie-within-a-movie, and different points of view is that much more effective because of the lack of stylization. Even the most accented moments like the rape scene are rendered in a dreamy filter that blurs whether we're seeing a PTSD-like collage or a filmmaker's interpretation thereof (er, I mean, a filmmaker's interpretation of a filmmaker's interpretation thereof).

Other thoughts?
The pop idol stuff vividly evoked my recent trip Tokyo, where I visited an idol maid cafe and witnessed these same rowdy teens, leering creeps, and wide-eyed fangirls. I will probably just automatically like Japanese stuff more now because of nostalgia.

COWBOY BEBOP: KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR (2001)
Directed by: Shinichiro Watanabe
Written by: Keiko Nobumoto based on a story by Hajime Yatate

What's cool about the story?
Spike n' the gang are zany as always and I can't imagine a time when I would complain about seeing them in further adventures. In particular this has many of Edward's funniest moments (the Finding Nemo-esque hacking program being a personal favorite). Even if the mystery feels a bit tired, the supporting players and their motives are filled in nicely.

What's cool about the style?
Musical montage can feel soulless and soggy (thanks, 1980s!), but Watanabe has repeatedly shown an effortless hand in bringing it to life. The soundtrack is foregrounded here just as the title would have you believe, and though it pulls a STREETS OF FIRE [being named after a song not included in a pop-music-filled score], there are plenty of tunes that give a double injection of toe-tappin' energy. The bebop-scored climax in particular is enough to justify the film.

Other thoughts?
This isn't the best way to experience Cowboy Bebop or even a must-see for fans. It is good only in ways that the TV show is better. The staunchly episodic format of the series continues to the movie, meaning the prime movers are new characters Vincent, Electra, and Rachid, who function well enough but do little to explain why they need 90 minutes of development. The tacked-on speeches about dreams and reality completely turned me off to anime when I was 16, and now, a week after watching PERFECT BLUE brilliantly tackle similar ideas, I find the execution equally trite.

ROUJIN Z (1991)
Directed by: Hiroyuki Kitakubo
Written by: Katsuhiro Otomo

What's cool about the story?
ROUJIN Z bounces erratically from comedy to horror to adventure to action, always with a light-hearted sense of fun. It feels weird to say of an anime, but it's cartoony. It is a nice companion piece to the also Otomo-scripted AKIRA, offsetting the grimdark apocalyptia with a playful optimism that takes on some of the same thematic material (toying with the unknown, human experimentation, aging) at the same pace but with a sunnier outlook. Here the untapped potential lies in machines, and unleashing it reveals that computers are more loving and human than we could possibly hope - so much so that they make the humans around them look like narcissistic fools.

What's cool about the style?
The slow transition of the Roujin machine from bed to giant robot follows its expanding intellect and consciousness; we discern the mystery of what it wants by how it transforms. By the time it's Katamari-Damacy-ing down the streets, sucking up pachinko machines and bulldozers along the way, it's just fun to watch this mass of out-of-control nonsense as the tension develops around not what it will destroy, but how it will survive.

Other thoughts?
I loved this movie. It is unlike any other anime (or any other film in general) I've ever seen, partly for building its science fiction around uncomfortably unspoken realities of daily life (boy do old people suck!) and partly for engaging those topics so warmly that it's impossible not to smile. Surprisingly (coming off AKIRA...) it is very kid-friendly, and the messages about human contact, love, and memories landed much better than any Disney film I can call to mind. It is way too fast-paced and unpredictable to ever get sappy - even the ending is so preposterous you can't call it a tearjerker. Why aren't more robot fantasies about loving your grandparents instead of nuclear bombs?

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