Tag Archives: Movie

Mind Game – Review

Japanese Title: Mind Game

 

Similar: Paprika

The Tatami Galaxy

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Comedy

Length: 1 hr. 40 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Zany comedy.
  • A plethora of music and visual styles.
  • God, the ultimate troll.

Negatives:

  • May be too weird for most.
  • Slow to start.
  • Character animation is erratic in quality.

Random floppy wiener. Formula 1 racing. A couple having a picnic. A love letter passed on. Soccer player in a diaper chases a woman, Myon. She escapes to a bar with her friend Nishi. He is shot up the arse by the soccer player, separating soul from body. In limbo, god trolls Nishi through texts and recreates the bullet-up-the-rear moment with a wireframe model for Nishi to see over and over. God turns into a hippie. Then a literal shithead. Now a goldfish bowl with live fish. A fashion model. Nishi defies god to escape limbo back to just before his death. Renewed by his afterlife encounter, Nishi disarms the soccer player and caps him in the head. Yakuza. Car chase. Trapped on the city bridge. Giant whale erupts from the water and eats him and his friends. Now they live in its stomach.

This all sound too weird? Well, it should. Mind Game is one crazy anime. At some point in every scene, I had to question what I was watching. The crazy train never ends. Mind Game employs a narrative in the vein of Pinocchio, only instead of wanting to become a real boy, Nishi wants to grow into a real man that would impress Myon. He goes on a wild adventure with her and another friend, pushing their sanity to the limit.

Studio 4°C (known for the Catherine video game and Berserk remake) employs its zaniest visual techniques to deliver an energetic and spontaneous film. One moment you’re looking at roughly drawn art, almost as if the artists were in a hurry (which works), and the next moment, you’re looking at a Picasso style with random live action thrown in. It keeps changing. One would think that a dozen art directors had different ideas of what the film should look like, resulting in an amalgamation of ideas. For the most part, the splicing works to keep you captivated. Mind Game is never dull; I will concede that. However, the artistic choices are great or terrible, no in-between. Interestingly, the segment that looked most normal, Astro Boy inspired, was the dullest. By far my favourite was the encounter with god the douche-bag. Just brilliant.

Art’s only problem is the erratic animation quality. In some scenes – the climax, for example, or the car chase – animation is excellent; however, there are times where it feels as though the animation runs at five frames per second. This was probably an artistic choice, but it simply doesn’t work.

The music morphs with each scene, lest it appear too normal in this loony toon. The music’s range is incredible. An unsettling, one-note wind chime tune for a scene, Disney’s Fantasia for another. How about Bahamas holiday music? Sure, why not. Again, it works great in places, not so well in others.

If you do decide to watch Mind Game, be warned that what I have described here is only the tip of the craziness. Mind Game is an eclectic piece of work that will mess with your head, which you will either love or hate. It’s a self-aware tale that bends reality to breaking point and then keeps going.

Art – Medium

A crazy mix of art styles and techniques with random real life images thrown in. The animation quality is erratic.

Sound – Medium

Sports a new style of music every scene, some zanier than others. Like the music, the voice work changes in tone with each scene to varying degrees of success.

Story – Medium

The Pinocchio-like story is slow to start and nothing but weird from then on, possibly too weird for some. Don’t expect logic here.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Mind Game is an incoherent anime of ever-changing visual and musical styles that fans of oddity will enjoy. To everyone else, it likely isn’t worth your time.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Holy S***

Negative: 

Terrible Start

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Ninja Scroll the movie – Review

Japanese Title: Juubee Ninpuuchou

 

Related: Ninja Scroll: the Series (sequel)

Similar: Afro Samurai

Basilisk

Sword of the Stranger

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action

Length: 1 hr. 30 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Well-choreographed and brutal action.
  • A variety of cool ninja powers.
  • Dark visuals to match the grim narrative.

Negatives:

  • With the action focus, most characters have little to no development time.
  • Some awkward explanatory dialogue.
  • Weak music.

Jubei is a vagabond swordsman, hiring out his skills to those who can pay. One night, he helps a ninja woman in trouble. She is Kagero, the last of her ninja unit after an investigation into a mysterious plague led them to slaughter at the hands of a ninja who can turn to stone. He is known as one of the eight devils – eight ninja with extraordinary abilities. A government official looking into the matter hires Jubei to defeat these devils. Thus, Jubei and Kagero are drawn into a plot that threatens to overthrow the government.

Ninja Scroll is an action heavy film of blood, nudity, and cool abilities. The action scenes, Ninja Scroll’s focus, are the most exciting aspect with great choreography and variety in techniques. At only an hour and a half long, there isn’t time to drag out the action or have characters stare into each other’s eyes for episodes on end. Each fight in Ninja Scroll is sharp, intense and varied as Jubei faces the eight devils, all with interesting powers. One ninja can live in shadow, while another can summon snakes from anywhere – anywhere… The manner in which these powers are used is the anime’s most creative aspect. Unfortunately, outside of the action, these villains have no development; they are evil and must do evil things with cool powers.

The lack of development is an issue across the board except for Jubei and Kagero, whose motivations and personalities are explored beyond surface level. The government at the core of the plot doesn’t get any screen time to establish and why this overthrow could be so disastrous. Of course, if your interest lies solely with the action, then this won’t matter. The plot itself is constructed enough to support the action; it isn’t vague or full holes, but does lack depth.

Ninja Scroll is a good-looking film, especially when you consider its 1993 release date. If all you saw during its era was Dragon Ball Z, then Ninja Scroll’s gritty quality comes as a surprise. The artists went for a grim atmosphere throughout, shadows filling all corner of the screen. Even when the sun is out, jet-black shadows contrast with the light in every scene. The animation is good – the blood in particular, which there is plenty of. Each villain has interesting visual designs to fit their abilities. I particularly liked the snake woman with her intricate tattoos.

A great failing is the dialogue. There are several moments where a character will explain how someone died even though we just saw them die. Too much stating the obvious, as well. Jubei slashes the rock ninja, who says in a stilted manner, “A very skilful attack, but you must realise I cannot be cut.” Exposition by stating the obvious isn’t good writing. The dialogue in the latter half gets pretty rubbish at points.

Ninja Scroll stands on its great action and dark atmosphere. It’s a shame that they didn’t extend the airtime to allow for character exploration, and they could have hired a better dialogue writer.

Art – High

Ninja Scroll looks good, defying age, and is loaded with blood.

Sound – Medium

A variety of voices well executed; however, the Japanese takes the edge, as the plethora of ancient Japanese names sound odd in English – a minor gripe. The music is underused and weak overall.

Story – Medium

This is purely about action with a decent narrative structure to support it. The villains are cool in design, just not in development.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Ninja Scroll’s action coupled with dark fantasy art is well worth your time. Just don’t expect extensive character development.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Holy S***Riveting Action

Negative: 

No Development

Tokyo Godfathers – Review

Japanese Title: Tokyo Godfathers

 

Related: Paprika (same director)

Perfect Blue (same director)

Millennium Actress (same director)

Similar: Kurenai

Tekkon Kinkreet

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Drama

Length: 1 hr. 32 min.  movie

 

Positives:

  • A heart-warming Christmas story.
  • The protagonists are a fun trio.
  • A good amount of humour balances the heavy drama moments.

Negatives:

  • Too many of the narrative events and twists are convenient coincidences.
  • Lacks Satoshi Kon’s signature psychological style.

Tokyo Godfathers is the third of director Satoshi Kon’s anime films, a film unlike the rest of his portfolio. It is a touching Christmas story centred on a homeless trio – an alcoholic, a runaway, and a transvestite – who find a baby abandoned in a rubbish tip. With a key found by the infant as their clue, they set off through Tokyo to find her parents.

On the journey, the trio must confront their pasts, the lives they abandoned and ran away from. Baby Kiyoko acts as a catalyst to bring the trio back to reality. They are an unlikely group, always at each other’s throats, bickering and insulting one another; however, rather than hostility, you get a sense of family from them. They support each other as if they are all they have in the world while they sift through people’s trash to survive. The alcoholic lost his daughter to illness, followed by his wife who couldn’t take it any more after he was barred from professional cycling for fraud. This abandoned baby girl reminds him of his own. How can someone abandon a baby when others lose theirs to illness? The transvestite too has an emotional connection to the baby. He is the most attached of the trio, as the baby makes him feel like a mother.

While Tokyo Godfathers has a unique premise and tells an interesting overall story, it does suffer from one big problem – coincidence. Many of the events or twists occur due to coincidence. When in trouble, they coincidentally stumble into an acquaintance that can aid them. When the trail runs cold, they coincidentally find a precise clue that points them in the right direction. And so on. It wouldn’t be a problem if there were a couple of small coincidences – after all, life has coincidences – but here, every turning point is coupled with coincidence. There is a huge web of connections by the end in Tokyo, a city of 13 million, mind you. To be fair, some of them are hilarious such as the half dozen people named Kiyoko (the baby’s name). Tokyo Godfathers does a great job of balancing humour with drama. The banter among the trio is great.

Another point of note: if you are a fan of Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers may disappoint you, as it is nothing like his other work. It lacks the psychology and mind-bending found in his anime. Of course, if that doesn’t bother you, then it won’t matter.

Tokyo Godfathers is a good film with its unique setup and a mix of humour and drama that ultimately handicaps itself through convenience and coincidence. The dynamic between the homeless trio and their personal trials are worth the price of admission alone.

Art – High

Though not as creative as Paprika or as unsettling as Perfect Blue, the art still boasts high detail and solid character design. Only the ending credits crawl gets weird when the Tokyo skyline dances. Comes out of nowhere, actually…

Sound – High

The voice work for the protagonists is great. I appreciate the inclusion of actual Spanish for the Spanish characters.

Story – Medium

A unique story of a homeless trio trying to return an abandoned baby to its parents. Unfortunately crippled by overuse of coincidence to drive the narrative from point to point.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A good Christmas film I can recommend to most. Avoid if you don’t like an overuse of coincidences to push the plot forward conveniently.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Paprika – Review

Japanese Title: Paprika

 

Similar: Mind Game

Serial Experiments Lain

Paranoia Agent

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 90-minute movie

 

Positives:

  • Mind-bendingly crazy dream sequences rendered in gorgeous, detailed art.
  • Keeps you guessing on what is reality and what is a dream until the end.
  • Zany music to match the wacky visuals.

Negatives:

  • A few questions left with vague answers.

Have you ever seen the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder? You remember that scene where Wonka takes everyone on a boat ride through a psychedelic tunnel? Paprika is a feature length version of that. The dreams are surreal, music weird, characters loopy, and it’s all great. Paprika is the last in director Satoshi Kon’s anime films – Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers. If you have seen his other works, you know what kind of mind-bending and psychology to expect.

Researchers have created a device that allows therapists to enter a patient’s dreams to find the source of anxiety or neurosis. One such therapist uses her red-haired alter ego known as Paprika to explore the dream world. However, when a device is stolen and patients’ dreams start grafting onto the minds of therapists, dreams become indistinguishable from reality. Paprika must navigate the dream world to figure out how it started and who is responsible.

Though this may sound similar to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, they are far from alike outside of the common narrative device – dreams. Where Inception is grounded in the reality of oneirology (study of dreams) to craft a thrilling heist film, Paprika uses the imagination side of dreams where anything and everything can happen free of oneirology. Inception had strange things happen, certainly, but nothing truly weird. Paprika on the other hand, is nothing but weird. There is a parade of fridges, frogs, lucky cats, anatomy mannequins, the Statue of Liberty, Buddha, and whatever else they thought of, all in honour of a loony old man whose body fat absorbs baby dolls. Need I say more? In Paprika, the dreams have no rules, no boundaries, no logic. They are insane and tons of fun.

Paprika requires that you pay attention, particularly to the scene transitions, or you may miss crucial information that establishes what is dream versus what isn’t and risk losing the plot. Unfortunately, even with focus, some of the important questions remain unanswered. However, that doesn’t interfere with the overall enjoyment of the film.

The art does a brilliant job of bringing the craziness to the screen, accompanied by equally weird, yet good, music in a cacophony of electronic sounds and ever-fluctuating vocals. The artists didn’t skimp on animation. Several scenes have so much animation at once that you need to watch them several times through in order to catch everything.

If you enjoyed Inception, but thought it was too realistic and needed a few more talking guitars and nightmare fuel, then I recommend Paprika. Just don’t expect the same sort of narrative as Inception. That would only lead to disappointment.

Art – Very High

A crazy world of dreams filled with imagination brought out by surreal art.

Sound – High

Both Japanese and English voice tracks are great, though the Japanese has the edge. Paprika’s voice in English may grate on you from its ‘squirreliness.’ Love the psychedelic music.

Story – High

A fun story of insanity that breaks the mind with a smattering of horror thrown in.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Paprika is a must watch, even with a few narrative faults. Prepare to dive into some bloody weird dreams.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Holy S***Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

5 Centimetres Per Second – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Byousoku 5 Centimeter

 

Similar: Voices of a Distant Star (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

The Garden of Words (same director)

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 1 hr. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art and detail beyond what one expects in anime.
  • Good atmosphere built from snow and rain particle effects combined with excellent environmental noises.

Negatives:

  • Too limited in scope.
  • Second part feels weak compared to the rest.

5 Centimetres per second is a rather unique anime in the sense that it has so few elements to its story, instead choosing to focus on one issue at a time. This allows for a deeper look into a single question or emotion, without distraction from other things.

This single movie is split in three, following different stages of the protagonist’s life. Now, before we dive into the story and characters, I must mention the visuals, as they strike you from the outset. All visual aspects are incredible; from the gorgeous environments to the watercolour art style, they will impress. The artists have taken great care to include plenty of detail in their environments, and made sure every single frame is of the utmost quality, the skies in particular – you see many sunsets and moments of twilight.

Animation is well done, especially with how many assets are animated at once on screen, avoiding that common anime issue where most of the world seems frozen outside of the focal asset. Lighting and shading is another standout area where no shortcuts were taken, no surface neglected. Even more impressive, I find, are the reflections; again, just as much work was put into this aspect as any other.

Now, the story. We follow male protagonist, Takaki and his female friend, Akari as they try to reunite after a few years separation. When they last met, they were graduating from primary school into middle school, only Akari was moving elsewhere with her family. They kept in touch through mail and phone, and at last as they near high school, they have a chance to see each other again. Alas, problems arise when Takaki’s train experiences delay after delay from the blizzard outside.

This first episode is told through a mixture of the present – the train journey – and flashbacks detailing their primary school years. It has a slow start, and never really speeds up to be honest, but it does establish their relationship and the current situation well. You feel the desolation and sorrow faced by Takaki, enhanced by the environment and weather to great effect. I don’t know if it was because I was watching this in a Himalayan winter or if the sense of cold was done especially well, but I felt cold while watching this.

As I said earlier, this story likes to focus on one thing at a time. In this first part, it speaks of an aspect often forgotten in young romance stories, in that their lives aren’t in their control yet, no matter how much they wish otherwise.

For the second episode, we re-join Takaki as he nears high-school graduation, this time told through the eyes of a new female character, Kanae, has been in love with him for years and is desperate to tell him before they leave school. Weather and the environments to symbolise the narrator’s emotions are put to great use; the near constant twilight adds to the imminent – and inevitable – change in her life. It is another look at how little control you have in life, even when you have aged considerably. Kanae struggles to adjust with the forthcoming changes.

Unfortunately, I found this second part to be the weakest of the three, as it doesn’t tie very well into the other two. However, it does contain the most beautiful artistic qualities.

We leap a decade into the future for episode three, Takaki now in the workforce with a dreary, repetitive job and an everyday routine. And again, visuals used to superb effect here. I don’t want to give anything away, but this third part asks the most powerful question of the film: given the opportunity, would you pursue a childhood dream as an adult even though all circumstances have changed? Nothing I have said so far would be constituted as spoilers as it isn’t the set-up of each episode, but rather the characters’ responses that matter.

Overall, 5 centimetres per second is a good movie, with each area seemingly executed exactly as the director wanted; however, this does mean you see a limited scope of this story and world. It feels like the sort of film that a small team would make and enter it in a film festival with the sole purpose of leaving the audience with a question they should ask themselves – oh, and show off amazing visuals in the process.

Art – Very High

Absolutely phenomenal. Worth seeing for the visuals alone.

Sound – High

Audio is the most ordinary of the film’s qualities. With so few characters and a consistent tone throughout, there is no diversity in the voice work. That isn’t to say the acting is bad, simply ordinary. 5 centimetres per second boasts little music, preferring to have ambient sounds and atmosphere take over, which it does superbly; however, due to the constant quiet, it lessens the atmospheric impact in the crucial moments. This seems intentional, in line with the single-minded focus of the narrative.

Story – High

A focused story on romance and coming-of-age that asks deep questions, at the cost of breadth.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A film worthy of an hour of your time unless you require joy in anime. Watch 5 centimetres per second in a winter snowstorm, if able.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None