Tag Archives: anime

Movie Review: Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ is a Titanic Achievement

18 Dec

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 The lights turn down, the 3-D glasses go on, and what follows is one of the most basic and honest reasons to go the cinema; pure delight. James Cameron finally unveils  his Avatar and it is one of the most entertaining and visually accomplished works of his entire career. This is the pulp sci-fi feast fans thought they were getting some ten years ago when they went walking into The Phantom Menace hoping for magic to strike. When it happens, you can hear the thunder and feel the electricity. This is why I love the movies. Continue reading

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Top 25 Animated Movies of the Decade: Part 2

10 Dec

December 10th, 2009–

Ok, here we go. The top ten animated films of the last decade. There’s not much to say here that I didn’t mention in the first installment of this article. Honestly, this was such a great 10 years for animation in general, that even limiting the choices and ranking them has been a fool’s errand. But, I guess I’m that fool and the following represent what I think are the finest accomplishments of the form. Each and every one of these could be competing for number 1. Here goes… Continue reading

Studio Ghibli Announces Their New Film! ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’!

29 Sep

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September 29th,2009–

Well, this is certainly great news, although I think it would be more surprising if we heard nothing regarding Studio Ghibli, the Japanese aimation studio that has been producing quality traditional hand-drawn films for decades. Headed by Japanese animation genius Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli is responsible for such animated masterpieces as Nausicca:Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, the recent Ponyo and Grave of the Fireflies. So, while  it’s akin to learning that tomorrow pizza will still exist and it might taste more awesome than ever, the news that Studio Ghibli is preparing another animated release for 2010 is wonderful to hear. It’s expected , but it’s still comforting to know. Continue reading

Now Playing: ‘Blood:The Last Vampire’ is anemic

10 Jul

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Blood: The Last Vampire (R) 91 min. Directed by: Chris Nahon. Written by: Chris Chow.based on characters by: Kenji Kamayama & Katsuya Terada. Starring: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Maisela Lusha, JJ Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham. Cinematography: Hang-Sang Poon Original Music by: Clint Mansell

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Looking like the bad dream half-breed of the Martial Arts Matinee and the Saturday Creature Feature, Blood: The Last Vampire comes stumbling into theaters this weekend with little of the style or atmosphere of its animated source material. Based off of a 2001 anime of the same name, Blood tells a story that horror fans could recite in their sleep. There’s a race of terrible creatures who hide themselves among the human population, feeding off of them, and in the midst of this secret tribe is a once-human warrior who rejects her monstrous pedigree. Her name is Saya and along with help from the enigmatic Council, she tracks and kills the vampires (she refers to them as either demons or bloodsuckers) wherever she finds them. Existing forever in a perpetual teenage state, Saya is searching for the head vampiress who turned her and murdered her family 400 years ago.

The culprit is Onigen, a female spirit who looks like a Geisha crossed with a pirahna, and who has most recently taken up resident at an American military base in Japan. When dead and not-so-dead bodies start turning up on base, the Council sends Saya in, undercover as a high school student, to destroy the blood suckers. With a plot like that, one could almost expect a silly gonzo comedy, like the upcoming Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl or a hard-edged super-hero thriller like the Blade films. Instead, what flops out on screen is a choppy, half-baked fantasy with so little sense or imagination that its only source of comfort is that it is at least three times as good as the overblown Transformers 2. And trust me, that is meager consolation indeed. Continue reading

Bartleby Abroad: Teen love with a ‘Chainsaw Edge’

1 Jun

 

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Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge isn’t quite the movie the title or the trailer suggests it will be. After witnessing flashy snippets of a young, female warrior doing battle with a hulking behemoth that looks like Andre the Giant wearing a holocaust cloak and lugging a massive chainsaw, I expected we were in for some zany, hyperactive silliness like Machine Girl or Tokyo Gore Police. As it turns out, NHCE isn’t remotely in the same genre as either of those movies; instead, it’s a teenage romantic comedy.

Huh? You mean it’s got a love story shoehorned into the battles with the giant chainsaw man? No, I mean it’s primarily a teen love story with the chainsaw man providing the film’s metaphorical layer and a few choice action scenes. Yea, if John Hughes moved to Japan and replaced the smug, arrogant boyfriend or the unresponsive, overbearing parent with a gigantic reaper wielding a gas-powered weapon for a hand, it would more or less look exactly like Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge.

 

  Young schoolboy Yosuke has been having a rather rough time of things ever since his friend Noto died in a motor-bike accident. Always living in his dead friend’s shadow and staging reckless stunts, Yosuke is just haphazardly cruising through life when he runs into the bewitching but somber Eri. Yosuke knows Eri has issues right off the bat, because her issues try to grind his face off the first time he meets her. See, Eri’s afterschool activities consist of essentially only one thing: dueling with a phantasmal giant with the titular chainsaw attached where his right arm should be. She employs a host of weapons in this crusade, and the giant’s attacks are always telegraphed by an unnatural snow-fall, even indoors. If Eri can withstand the monster’s assault and impale his heart, he flies away and returns, seemingly, to the moon. Yea, the moon.

 Yosuke is obviously a bit daunted by that initially, but he sees it as an opportunity to once again challenge the echoing words of his lost friend, who had a habit of calling him gutless. Eri is brooding and lonely, but she welcomes Yosuke’s presence, even if it is grudgingly at first. And then, the romance begins. What follows isn’t a polished, trite teen romp or a frenzied action pic, racing past the courtship to get to the chainsaw battles. Instead, it’s a light, and occasionally delicate teen drama about dealing with grief, loss and mortality and putting it all in a perspective that still allows one to live with joy. In fact, the chainsaw battles are an integral part of the central courtship. Yosuke and Eri ride around on Yosuke’s bike, get coffee, talk, go to the amusement park and dance around their obvious feelings for each other like any other reluctant teen movie couple. But death lurks at the center of both of their lives, even if it’s haunting Yosuke’s past and dominating Eri’s present. So, every night when Eri goes off to fight Chainsaw Man and Yosuke scurries behind to protect her, it’s really the dark aspects of their individual lives they are confronting.

Sometimes the epic battles aren’t even depicted on screen. We see Eri charging into the fray with a golf club or an umbrella, and then we see the two kids sitting in the aftermath of victory, glancing nervously at one another. It’s a nice touch in a film that plays everything light as a feather. The battles that do appear on screen are visualized with an energetic camera style that isn’t aggressive but rather playful, and the special effects create a world that is just real enough without taking away the manga-esque elements of the action sequences. Best yet, Hayato Ichihara and Megumi Seki have a quirky chemistry with each other; he manages to make bumbling look charming and she gives defensive melancholy a fetching sheen. It’s odd, but it works. And, in his own way, so does the chainsaw man.

 

It’s rather a shame that a lifeless and dull exercise like Twilight is garnering the attention of teenagers while this film, which tackles a similar theme, premise and audience will most likely never be seen by any of the vamp pic’s fans. NHCE is a strange and curious movie, and its success isn’t a massive triumph but rather a small victory. It’s entertaining and engaging and it will likely ensnare even the viewers who come to it expecting something gorier, ghastlier and more twisted. But its real strength and it’s real story will work best for those in their teenage years. Word to whoever might have the power to get this thing an American distribution. If you get it out there on dvd, I will personally promise to recommend it to every teenager I know.

 

DVD Showcase: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ director Oshii flies high with ‘The Sky Crawlers’

27 May

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The Sky Crawlers (PG-13) (2008) 122 min. directed by: Mamoru Oshii. voicework: Rinko Kikuchi, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shosuke Tanihara, Bryce Hitchcock, Ryo Kase.

 

cinemagrade b+They are known as the Kildren; eternally youthful adolescents who pilot WWII-style futuristic fighter-planes and participate in to-the-death aerial dogfights for the benefit of the mega corporations Rostock and Lautern. In the world they come from, there is no more war or conflict, and to ensure it stays that way the Kildren will compete in these global death games, filling the vacuum with an endless battle in the skies. Living like the lost boys and partaking in various adult activities including smoking and sex, the Kildren live a continuous, looping childhood; the banality of this existence is only brightened by the thrilling shooting matches they engage in while up in their planes.

That plot could be the center of a big Hollywood sci-fi picture aping Top Gun, but it’s actually the work of anime maestro Mamoru Oshii, the director responsible for films like Ghost in the Shell, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade and the live-action Avalon. Oshii, typically known for his philosophically dense dialogue and languorous, complex visual style, takes a step closer to main-stream storytelling with Sky Crawlers. The plot almost reminds one of a Howard Hawks adventure pic or even the recent French film Der Rote Baron, and while the film contains its share of thoughtful and introspective moments its primarily centered around characters and story.

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The beautiful hand-drawn animation blended together with a near photo-realistic CGI presents rolling English countryside, vast manor houses and golden-hued cloudscapes where soaring machines fire endless rounds of ammunition, shells raining down to the world below. The battle scenes recreate the daredevil antics of WWI pilots and there is even a Red Baron character called The Teacher. When I saw the stills for Sky Crawlers months ago, I was worried that those sequences would come off like video-game cut scenes. At first, thats exactly what they seem like, but Oshii frames even these images with a painters eye for composition and the zig-zagging planes, framed against either rain-clogged thunderheads or wispy white cotton balls, are almost poetic in their movements.

Visually lush and patient in regards to it’s texture and detail, set to a sometimes tranquil, sometimes thrilling score,  The Sky Crawlers works as a purely sensory experience. In fact, all of Oshii’s films do. My previous gripe with his work, and indeed most of the recent anime feature films, is that its almost too obscure in its intent and holds the audience at an unecessary arm’s length. The Sky Crawlersis the first Oshii film in, well, perhaps ever, that actually manages to cultivate a strong emotional core in addition to an aesthetic one. The general layout is still subdued, but there are humans here behaving as humans  and each of them has human issues. The Kildren do not age, and this brings its own set of problems, but ultimately they still struggle like your average person.

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Yuichi Kannami is the Kildren pilot at the center of the film and it opens with him landing his plane on the Rostock air-base in Northern England. He has no memory of the base or where he previously was, but picks up the swing of things quickly, befriending fellow pilot Tokino and starting a tension-filled relationship with his  commander, the icy Suito Kusanagi. She obviously posesses information she refuses to share with Kannami, and as the plot evolves secrets both on the ground and in the sky begin to manifest themselves. The battles in the air punctuate the human drama and the movie finds a nice balance between the action and the intrigue.

The story is speculative fiction and it’s been intelligently adapted from the novels by Japanese author Hiroshi Mori. Mori’s other novels are known as rikei mysterys because they revolve around some sort of scientific or mathematical puzzle. The Sky Crawlers novels were constructed in such a way where it was not always immediately clear what was happening or why, and as the series progressed all of the elements became available to solving the mystery.

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To a lesser extent, Oshii does that here, weaving events in and out of one another and suggesting what the flow of time must feel like to a person trapped in an endless state of youth. However, theres a clear narrative thrust and the film doesn’t fly off on too many theoretical or existential tangents as the Ghost in the Shell sequel did. Instead there is a far more natural rhythym to the drama in Sky Crawlers and the film has an almost pastoral idealism that reminded me more of Hayao Miyazaki (particularly Porco Rosso, another anime involving dog-fights) than any of Oshii’s ouvre.

I haven’t enjoyed an anime film this much in quite some time, and the market has been rather scarce with quality product. A new Miyazaki is on the way right now, and there have been a few choice entries like Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and the recent The Place Promised in Our Early Years,but that’s about it. Oshii’s Sky Crawlersis a breath of fresh air in that respect and an exciting remembrance of the potential of anime to tell thoughtful stories in detailed fantasy worlds. It’s not just a great animated film, it’s a great film period and well worth recommending to the both the hardcore anime fan and the filmgoer who could care less about little moving scribbles. Yes, it really is that good.

The Sky Crawlers was released on dvd and Bluray on May 26th, 2009.

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