Posts Tagged ‘anime’

Movies about time travel are a tricky thing to get right; there are endless possibilities of things getting too confusing, too convoluted, too full of plot holes and fridge logic. But when done right, there are just as many endless possibilities for contemplation, cleverness, and fantastic stories. The animation wonder team at Madhouse gets it right with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Taking the form of an almost too typical anime high school romance, director Mamoru Hosoda doesn’t really look to break the mold on stories about first love, but the characters are fun and interesting, and the story feels like a genuine peek at an ordinary girl surrounded by extraordinary circumstances. Like many other Japanese love stories, it’s cute and sweet and ends on a completely ambiguous but hopeful note.

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While my favorite film by Hayao Miyazaki will likely always be Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is absolutely a worthy addition to my library. Beautifully drawn and animated, the only thing holding it back is the monumental amount of source material that they tried to put into the film. For better or worse, I was introduced to Nausicaa through the original comic, which is five volumes long and astounding in scope. To try and fit such an epic tale into a two hour movie, even a three hour movie, sounds impossible. Regardless, the key moments are there, and everything still works just fine, even if I wished they had the chance to spend more time with minor characters. It certainly feels like a predecessor to Princess Mononoke, touching on similar themes of the complicated morality of war and the need to protect the natural environment. While many of the Studio Ghibli films also use explore these themes, Mononoke and Nausicaa stick out to me because of their similarities. Both feature a hero of royalty caught in the middle of a war they want no part of, but will intervene at great risk to themselves to try and stop anyway. But where Mononoke deals more with a war against nature itself, Nausicaa is much more interested in the wars between people, even in the aftermath of a war devastating enough to remake the world. Seeing the characters and cultures that survive in this post-apocalypse is definitely one of my favorite parts of the mythos, so I highly encourage you to find the original comic if you can. The film is still beautiful on its own, but the comic presents such a deeper and more involved narrative with the characters, it’s hard not to gravitate towards the source material.

MAD 01: Ghost in the Shell

Posted: December 27, 2012 in Movie-A-Day
Tags: , , ,

Deeply philosophical and full of unanswered questions, the original Ghost in the Shell is a testament to what hard science fiction can really achieve. It defies conventional genres of “action” or “thriller,” and although it incorporates elements of both, I doubt that it was meant to represent either. The dialogue is dense and the pacing is slow; it would be an understatement to say that this is not for popular consumption. It is difficult to say exactly what sort of audience it was intended for, or if it was ever intended for a specific audience at all. Rather, it feels much more like an exploration of the original author Masamune Shirow’s thoughts on self and consciousness; endless musings and possibilities without a firm answer. And it is because of those unanswered questions that the real beauty and genius of the story is revealed. We as viewers should be left to stew with our own opinions and inspirations, fuel for the hours of dialogue that must surely follow a film such as this. It is a welcome change to see a movie that doesn’t dumb itself down for its audience, one that actually challenges us to re-evaluate our own preconceived notions of identity.

With a script that really pulls no punches, the film is only aided by the beautiful hand-drawn animation of the bygone age. Combining traditional animation techniques and CGI may seem dated to us in 2012, but the art stands the test of time surprisingly well. It helps that Production IG always kept the focus on the far stronger hand-drawn elements, using CGI only as support to help flesh out the futuristic world presented.

Ghost in the Shell was a pioneer in the animation industry for both technical and creative reasons. It showed us that the potential for animated films was and continues to be far above any limits we’ve placed on it, that it is truly only limited by the scope of our imaginations. And it showed us that animated films could be just as deep and thought-provoking as any live action piece, that animated films absolutely shouldn’t be synonymous with children’s films. I would say that it’s definitely not for everyone, but it is definitely something that everyone should see. In other words, even if you end up not liking the film, I can at least say that your life will be enriched from watching it.

I went through the series in about a week, most of it today lying sick in bed. I was first tipped off to it for the bad ass spear fights, but it’s not really about that. It’s not an action or a martial arts series; it’s more like… I guess I would describe it as a political/fantasy drama with some action elements. On a whole, the story is pretty cerebral, dealing a lot with politics, culture clash, class differences, and so forth. The pitch is for a master bodyguard to protect this prince from his own father, who’s bent on assassinating him for the good of the kingdom. You could see that going in a pretty clear direction with just that, an unparalleled martial artist who needs to drag along this kid through all sorts of crazy dangerous adventures, living on the road like ruffians, all while pursued by an elite team of ninjas tracking them every step of the way. Wouldn’t that be a pretty cool show to watch? Maybe that’s a bit too typical, but I guess that’s what I thought I was getting into.

No, they decide to go a very different route than that. I can’t speak for the original fantasy novel series that the anime is based on, but the cartoon is definitely not the Samurai Champloo-style action dramedy i was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong, the series is very very good; just don’t expect it to be any kind of typical show. it’s really quite slice-of-life-y, most of the series dealing with the prince’s adaptation to commoner life, with a healthy helping of aforementioned elite team of ninjas and master martial artist trying to out-think each other tactically, and a couple of side-quests thrown in for good measure.

It’s a bit difficult to get a good sense of consistent tone throughout the series, which is one of the reasons I’m putting all my thoughts down here. The characters are mostly interesting, if a bit on the dry side, so it’s probably intended for older audiences. There are only a few brief scenes of real fighting, so probably not meant for the young male action crowd either. There’s only the barest hints of romance and complicated emotional relationships, so you can count the soap opera and love-seekers out as well. Honestly, I’m a bit at a loss as to who the story is really meant for. On paper, it’s supposed to be a story about the foster-mother/-son relationship between the bodyguard and the prince, and how that grows over time, allowing the boy to grow up into a strong young man ready to face his destiny, and allowing the bodyguard to soften her heart a little after following through for her dead mentor. Stretched over the course of 26 episodes, I don’t know who would really want to invest the time for something that, at first glance, seems incredibly slow and dull.

But if you couldn’t already tell from all this, it’s really good, and definitely worth watching. It’s a beautifully crafted character drama, with any number of different things going on at the same time, always leaving you guessing as to what’s really going on or how things are going to turn out. The ending feels a bit lackluster, but I feel like that’s usually the case with adaptations from literature. The characters are pretty deep and complex, and there’s never any black and white position on who’s good or evil. Like life, everyone is a rich blend of both, resulting in a million different shades of gray. The conflict isn’t against some big antagonist; it’s against destiny itself, a race against time and the hands of fate, pitting what we think we know about the world against the silent abyss of the unknown. The action scenes that are there are done wonderfully, with great choreography and impressive animation.

If you fancy yourself any sort of connoisseur of interesting stories, I highly recommend you check this one out. It’s not a fast and furious thrill ride done to a kickin’ soundtrack; this is a long pensive look at how we live our lives among others, both foreign and domestic. While I can’t say this is something everyone will enjoy, I think the ones who do enjoy it will do so with gusto.