Sunday, 19 February 2017

Someone Else's Nostalgia: A Review of 'Mai Mai Miracle' (2009 anime film)

Full Disclosure: I backed this film’s Kickstarter. I have buyer’s remorse. Also, spoilers.

Mai Mai Miracle wants you feel things, other than boredom. Great animation veils undercooked characters and an unfocussed, unmotivated plot. Unfortunately, the film is otherwise so competent, that no especially dunderheaded artistic choice can distract you from how much of a slog the film is.

In 1950s Japan, there forms an unlikely friendship between an outgoing, rural tomboy and a shy, city girl. Our tomboy, Shinko, has a vivid imagination. She transforms the countryside into the ancient Land of Suo’s capital. She dreams of a lonely princess, who wants only to meet a girl her age. Our shy girl, Kiiko, can’t quite grasp Shinko’s fantasies, but reaches out to them regardless. Our heroines, alongside four boys, adventure through the countryside, until one of the boys has his life changed forever. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: An Analysis of Jason's 'Lost Cat' (2013 comic)

Contains Spoilers for the Entirety of Jason’s Lost Cat

You wouldn’t think a detective tale of a dead-eyed, anthropomorphised dog suffering mid-life crisis could be a tender examination of resignation. Jason tells a Chandler-esque crime story, which isn’t really a crime story. He tells a love story which isn’t really a love story. He tells an alien invasion story, that only becomes so by the end. Jason tells the story of Dan Dellon, a man who can’t change, but almost knows he should.

PI Dan Dellon finds a lost cat on leaving his office. When he returns it, he strikes up a conversation with its owner, Charlotte. He asks her on a date, which she accepts. Charlotte doesn’t show. Two men claiming to be Charlotte’s brothers come snooping. Dan smells a fish. But that’s a red herring. An old man, Dumont, hires Dan to find a nude painting of his former sweetheart. But that’s a red herring. When Dan closes Dumont’s case, and surrenders to the dead ends of Charlotte’s case, Dan lets years pass. He lives alone, accompanied only by a fantasy of him and Charlotte growing old together. During an alien invasion, Charlotte returns to Dan. She was a scout, and is just now coming to say goodbye. After Dan waves a gun at her, calling her a liar, Dan embraces his fantasy of Charlotte, the real Charlotte having left him.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

'Stars have Fallen in a Stagnant Pool': A Review of Akira Kurosawa's 'Scandal' (1950 film)

[Warning: Spoilers for the entirety of Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal]

Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal is a masterfully directed first draft. It is a potentially great film where one can see every mistake dragging it down. When writing, Kurosawa and Kikushima seemingly started with, ‘What if two innocent people got libelled in a sex scandal?’ As they continued, however, their interest shifted from the libel victims to their lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura), and his redemption story. In early drafts, such shifts of focus are fine, but the writers neglected to make the whole script fit this new focus.

The painter Ichirou Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) and the singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) vacation in the mountains, separately. A chance encounter leads Ichiro to chauffeur Miyako to their inn, where they have a platonic conversation in her room. Two tabloid photographers trailed them. They take a photo of this famous singer and her ‘paramour’. The tabloid has plastered their libel all over Tokyo’s streets when our heroes return. Help arrives in the attorney Hiruta, a poor, weasly-looking man, with a consumptive daughter. Can Hiruta save them? 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Anime Recommendation: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Sorry, something came up, so I can’t post a full-length review this week. Instead, I’ll just recommend one of my favourite anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Utena is a parody, a tragedy, a bildungsroman, a queer love story, a feminist text, a magical realist tale, a critique of ideals and seeming perfection, a fairy-tale that has outgrown fairy-tales, and most of all a thoroughly entertaining anime. Utena is a coming-of age-story, but not sentimental. It does not see the death of childhood as a sad, if necessary, fact of life.

To Utena, childhood means ignorance, self-righteousness, and received ideas. A true adult abandons false ideals, and cultivates their truest self. The show first presents our hero, Utena, as a ‘gender rebel’, a girl who dresses as a boy and aspires to be a prince. But her rebellion is not revolution, as she still operates under false ideals. As a girl, she refuses to play the role she was cast, the princess – yet she still plays a role, the prince. Even ‘rebelling’ against the gender binary, she plays into it. Her journey through the series requires her to move beyond ‘prince’ and ‘princess’, to fight not for these ideals, but for tangible things.

Here, I have shallowly dug into a single theme in this sprawling series. I could go on about the show’s exploration of self-pity, incest, the Problem of Evil, patriarchy, teenage pretension, self-delusion, etc.,etc.

When the Blu-Ray set of Utena comes out, I plan to do an analysis of it.    

Sunday, 22 January 2017

To Cairo with Laughs: A Review of 'OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies' (2006 Film)

You hear ‘parody of 60s spy films’, you think ‘Austin Powers’. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies proves the French do it better. While still camp and parodic, OSS 117 has more restraint the Anglophone alternative. As fits a parody based on a genuine exemplar of the spygenre, it feels like 21st-century comedians uncovered a mid-20th-century non-comedic script treatment. They mock the clichés and prejudices of an old form, but still weave a decent narrative around the old form  

French spy Jack Jefferson is KIA in 1950s Cairo. What does this have to do with a Soviet arms shipment? And how are the Eagle of Koep, an Islamic extremist group, involved. The French secret service sends OSS 117 to investigate, their Middle-East specialist. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear’. Or any words of Arabic. Or even the word ‘Arabic’ – But has cultural ignorance ever stopped the West? With Jefferson’s former assistant, the beautiful Larmina El Akmar Betouche, and a warehouse of chickens, OSS 117 must get the truth.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

All in the Execution: A Review of 'Emma: A Victorian Romance, Omnibus 1' by Kaoru Mori (2002 Manga)

Emma: A Victorian Romance shows it’s all in the execution. Open a compendium of stock-plots to ‘forbidden love, interclass’, and you’ll find Emma’s outline. Yet Kaoru Mori avoids going through the motions, imbuing an old story with calm life.    

When William, a member of the landed gentry, visits his former governess in London, he grows infatuated with her maid, Emma. Although Emma catches all the young men’s eyes, William may have caught her eye, too. But, as they say, in Victorian England there are two nations, the Upper-classes and the Lower, and never shall the two cross. Can William and Emma’s sapling love survive the boot of propriety and practicality?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

A Teen Witch Fights a Tank: A Review of 'Izetta: The Last Witch' (2016 Anime)

I doubt any of the staff of Izetta: The Last Witch’s thought they were making art. They aimed as high as the best of trash, and got damn close. Expect no deeply explored themes, expect no round characters, but do expect a teenage witch riding a rifle as a broom. Expect camp, WW2, action trash, with little on its mind.

In an ersatz-WW2, the Germanian Empire fights for world dominion. Hope falls to Archduchess Ortfiné, ruler of the miniscule nation of Elystadt. While fleeing Germanian agents, she finds a young witch. With the help of Izetta the last witch, Ortfiné escapes her pursuers, before taking on the Germanian Empire.