Tag Archives: Japanese anime

Steamboy (2004): February Blind Spot

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo; Main Cast (Voices): Anne SuzukiMasane TsukayamaKatsuo NakamuraManami KonishiKiyoshi Kodama;

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I must confess I found this film a little underwhelming. This is the first feature film by Otomo after his unforgettable masterpiece Akira. There are more that fifteen years between the two movies and they couldn’t be more different story wise, however they both have a boy as central character around which everything revolves. In this film Otomo goes steampunk, setting his tale in England, 1860 circa, or, more accurately, in an alternative version of it.

Young Rey Steam (Suzuki) is a gifted inventor as his father Edward (Tsukayama) and his grandfather Lloyd (Nakamura). They are all skilled engineers and have great dedication to their work. Edward and Lloyd are pursuing their research in America since they couldn’t get appropriate funding in England to achieve their goals (apparently brain drain is a problem even in sci-fi anime). They manage to design a new device called “steam ball” (not the most creative or inspired of names, I must say), which contains highly pressurized vapor of a particular type of water, and revolutionise the current state of technology. Rey receives one of these new devices in England and a mad chase ensues. The warmongering and greedy Americans want to utilise it for evil purposes while Rey and his grandfather and the British Empire have more peaceful uses in mind… well at least Rey and grandpa do, the Brits want to prosper and maintain their supremacy (my my, who would have guessed!).  The theme of technology employed in the service of mankind’s self-destruction is not a new one and applied better by Miyazaki in a few of his films. Howl’s Moving Castle, that also came out in 2004, uses magic as metaphor but it’s the same concept. In this film sadly most the characters are one-dimensional, little more than stereotypes, leaving the viewer too detached to really care what happens to them. In addition, suspension of disbelief needs to be put in high gear (pun intended) to be able to follow the story and enjoy all the complex, imaginative and original machines and inventions.

What I find very engaging is that the pace of this film never slow down. There is a lot of camera action that I’ve never seen in an anime before. Instead of quick edits, some scenes are panned, zoomed, or rotated with incredible accuracy, as if they were actually filmed rather than being drawn. This is the strongest suit of the film since the story feels rehashed and the characters are not particularly endearing. Ingenious —6/10

This is my second post in the Blind Spot Series 2016, a blogathon organised by Ryan at The Matinee

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Paprika

Director: Satoshi Kon; Main Cast (voices): Megumi HayashibaraTôru FuruyaAkio ÔtsukaKatsunosuke HoriKôichi Yamadera;

Paprika

Brilliant psychiatrist Chiba (Hayashibara) helps people with dream therapy using a new device, the D.C. Mini, designed by her genius colleague Tokita (Furuya). This new machine allows not only to enter someone else dreams but also to record them. Chiba is determined, dedicated and a little aloft and, with her boss Shima’s (Hori) blessing, she treats patients using the D.C. Mini outside a sanctioned project of the Foundation for Psychiatric Research. Her fun-loving easy-going dream alter-ego, Paprika, is currently aiding detective Kowaga (Otsuka) working through his issues, visiting a recurrent dream of his about an on-going case. Unfortunately, Chiba,  Tokita and Shiba realise that a D.C. Mini has been stolen from the research centre and the thief is using it to enter people’s minds, when awake, and distract them with their own dreams and those of others. Mayhem ensues and the boundary between dream and reality starts to fade. What follow is a desperate search for the culprit: the trio of scientists uses all their knowledge and, aided by detective Kowaga, put together the pieces of the puzzle.

The viewer is treated to incredibly rich and absolutely nuts dream sequences (as all dream are!).  They are integral part of the investigation offering both clues and red herrings. They also are more and more intertwined with reality as the film progresses. The result is stunning: it feel like a roller-coaster and a merry-go-around ride at the same time, without detracting from the smooth flow of the plot. I particularly liked Kowaga’s dreams, full of film references and homages, quite a treat for a movie buff!  The animation is nothing less than top notch and it appears to be the perfect medium for such a story. I doubt that a live-action version would have been this lavish and outlandish. I know some might say that Inception did that but we are not even close. It is interesting, however, the parallel on useful technology turned into a weapon and the need for exploring and understanding one’s subconscious.

Sadly this is the last gem of Satoshi Kon’s short filmography. I do recommend watching his other films: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Tokio Godfathers.

Mesmerizing —9/10

This is my contribution to the Movie Scientist Blogathon: the Good, the Mad, the Lonely hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings, go and check all the other entries out!

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The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

Director:  Hayao Miyazaki, Main Cast (voices): Hideaki AnnoMorio KazamaHidetoshi Nishijima;

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So this is it: Miyazaki’s swan song. He brings together his great passion for airplanes with a recurrent Studio Ghibli’s theme: the pursuit of one’s dream. At odds with all his previous works, this film is an animated feature more for adults than children, being the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft engineer who developed the Zero (fighter plane used during World War II). Although it starts with a boy and his imagination, whose dream of becoming a pilot is impeded by his myopia, it evolves into a more serious and grounded story of a young man determined to become an aircraft engineer, who, in turns, matures into a talented designer of fighter planes. Miyazaki still delights us with his magic, giving it free reins representing Jiro’s dreams and a great character, Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer who appears as mentor and adviser in the dreams. On the other hand, the film also shows, very effectively, dramatic events such as the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and firestorms that devastated the Kanto region and nearly destroyed Tokio in 1923. It is during this fateful day that Jiro, still a student at the time, crosses path for the first time with Nohoko, the girl who will become his wife years later. Miyazaki, while telling his hero’s story, only hints at the major historical events: Japan’s poverty, its race to armament (along with Germany), the rises of totalitarian governments, repression of dissent and war. It seems that the story, as well as Jiro, lives in a bubble and focuses only on making the best plane ever without really dealing with what it’s being built for. This is the major flaw of the movie and it is the drawback of telling a story grounded in reality when the author is so used to fantastic ones. The uses of planes for war is, indeed, briefly addressed and condemned but it feels like an afterthought, like Miyazaki realises too late that he cannot avoid making a statement. Anyway the film is still a pleasure to watch with its flawless animation and endearing characters. Miyazaki leaves us with a bittersweet ending, reminding us that the dream is over and it is time to wake up. Le vent se lève il faut tenter de vivre. 7.5/10

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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Director: Mamoru Hosoda, Main Cast (voices): Emily HirstAndrew FrancisAlex Zahara

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Makoto is a teenage girl going about her normal life: school, playing baseball with her best friends Chiaki and Kosuke, wondering about her future and dealing with minor set-backs. One day something weird happens to her (guess where… in the science lab… of course!) and Makoto discovers that she can leapt back in time and re-live events in a different way.  She starts using her newfound powers for rather silly things: avoiding embarrassing conversations with Chiaki, acing a math test, fixing Kosuke up with a cute but shy girl and other mundane incidents. Makoto is pretty happy with herself until something terrible happens and she finds out more about the origin of her powers. It is a nice story with a good pace and with all-round characters. The animation is quite good although not perfect, some minor details of bodies and movements are just wrong. Anyway it is a very pleasant film and a good choice if you need some anime fix (and have already seen everything from Miyazaki and Kon). —7/10

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Pacific Rim

Director:  Guillermo del Toro, Main Cast: Idris ElbaCharlie HunnamRinko Kikuchi

I completely understand del Toro for wanting to make this film, I also grew up watching tons of Japanese anime with giant robots that beat the crap out of alien monsters/robots, so my inner eight-year old was giddy at the idea. Multi-million visual and special effects notwithstanding, we were both disappointed (my inner child and I). I didn’t appreciated the weak script, the inconsistencies of the plot and the super-cliched story arc of our hero: young and over-confident fighter, brought back to the harsh reality of life by tragedy, reluctant comeback after years of obscurity and finally saving the world…well, nothing new under the sun. My inner child instead was really upset by the abysmally poor tactics and the overall strategy in fighting the monsters (kaiju = monster in Japanese filmography…as much creativity as calling the first satellite in human history “sputnik”). What’s with the fist fights and low-performing energy beams….seriously?! Where are the atomic punch, the thunder break or the double harken? Our heros remember halfway through a fight that they have a much more effective sword…what the hell? Why not use it right away instead of a freight ship as a cudgel? And why always wait for the kaiju to come and destroy cities instead of meeting them in the middle of the Pacific where the inter-dimensional portal is? I won’t even talk about the pseudoscience or the lamest speech a la “Saint Crispin’s Day” since Independence Day. Anyway, del Toro is already planning a sequel, so I hope that he will refresh his memory watching some episodes of Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger or Grendizer. Try, try again, fail, fail better.–4/10

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