Tag Archives: Movie

Perfect Blue – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Perfect Blue

 

Similar: Paranoia Agent (same director)

Paprika (same director)

Millennium Actress (same director)

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Horror Thriller

Length: 1 hr. 20. min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Tense, psychological narrative.
  • Great use of music to enhance the tension further.
  • Brilliant editing.
  • Disturbing to powerful effect.

Negatives:

  • Could have been a little longer. Act 2 jumps to Act 3 too quickly.

Perfect Blue is the first in Satoshi Kon’s line-up of films, and what a directorial debut it is. It tells the story of a woman pushed to the edge of her wits under the fanaticism of celebrity worship culture, taking the audience to increasingly disturbing places.

Mima is a pop star in an idol group, but after moderate success, she wishes to try something new, reach greater heights as an actress. However, her more rabid fans don’t take kindly to her change in direction. It isn’t long before the dead calls start. Then the threatening faxes (only in Japan would it be fax instead of email) and creepy letters. An online blog chronicles her every action, even impersonating her.

For the longest time, whenever I hear of a fan stalking a celebrity, Perfect Blue is what I think of. The feel of the show starts quite tame, by design, but one can always sense that unease, that certain something which indicates there is more below the surface. And sure enough, it isn’t long before Mima’s mind begins to break. She gets cast in a sexually charged crime drama, blurring the lines between reality and psychosis. Each scene seems somehow more disturbing that the last. Truly, if you are one who dislikes disturbing films such as A Clockwork Orange and Silence of the Lambs, this anime isn’t for you.

As the scenes grow more disturbing, so too does the editing; Kon, as a genius of editing, knows exactly when to cut the camera for maximum effect, his transitions on a skill level few directors can match. In several scenes, the narrative and music builds and builds, leading us to the scene’s zenith, but just before it reaches that point, Kon suddenly cuts to the next scene, yanking us in a different direction. This isn’t like a jump scare. Rather, it’s a shock to the emotions, yet well crafted that it doesn’t lose the audience. Each edit blurs reality further and further.

After I bought all that the store had of the anime Orphen, I had enough credit left for one more DVD and didn’t want just one DVD of another series, so I bought Perfect Blue, the one anime film they stocked. I was a fourteen maybe fifteen-year-old kid and I had no idea what I was getting into. With its sexual and violent nature reliant on psychology instead of gratuitous shock, Perfect Blue disturbed me and I couldn’t appreciate how good it was until years later. Now, I see it as one of the all-time greats.

Art – High

Though Perfect Blue doesn’t have the vibrancy of Kon’s later works, it is excellently animated and rendered. The editing is outstanding, an exemplar in how editing makes a difference to storytelling.

Sound – High

Great acting in Japanese. The English is decent, but not great. Some lines sound stilted – the actors recorded one at a time can be noticeable and the depth of voice placement in the scene is off at times. Little music outside of the idols’ pop tracks, unless in times of tension. The transition from silence to sudden, Hitchcock-like music is jarring in the right way.

Story – Very High

A commentary on celebrity obsession as an idol faces the worst her career has to offer. Tense, disturbing, excellent.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t enjoy being disturbed. Also make sure to check out Kon’s other anime films, Paprika and Millennium Actress.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHoly S***Phenomenal VillainStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Escaflowne the Movie – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Escaflowne

 

Related: Vision of Escaflowne (original series)

Similar: Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Romance

Length: 1 movie

 

Positives:

  • A dark and imposing atmosphere makes for a menacing Escaflowne machine.
  • Action is more brutal and gory than the original series.
  • Great soundtrack with new and returning tracks.

Negatives:

  • Minimal characterisation and character development.
  • The romance is sudden with no validity.
  • The magitech is all but gone, the best part of the lore.

Note: while this review is spoiler-free, I do recommend watching the original series before the movie.

In my previous review, I said Vision of Escaflowne was a character piece with its drama, flawed personalities and tenuous alliances. Escaflowne the Movie, on the other hand, is far from. In the process of cutting down a twenty-six-episode series to a single movie, the creators decided on sacrificing the characters in favour of the war angle.

The premise of Escaflowne is still the same. Hitomi is summoned to Gaea where she meets Van and his allies as they fight to protect the machine Escaflowne, hoping to use its power to defeat the enemy.

The greatest change is with Hitomi. She is depressed, dropped out of the track team, and doesn’t like her place in life. Her power of precognition from the series is gone, as is the theme of fate and fighting destiny; this makes her even more passive than before, if you can believe it. Replacing her future sight, is her role as the Wing Goddess, whose power coupled with the blood of a Draconian like Van gives mastery over the god of war, Escaflowne. Van starts as a war veteran, savage, gladiatorial in appearance, having already lost everything he holds dear at the hands of his brother. Van and Hitomi’s relationship is shallow, void of subtleties that made it work in the series. She is suddenly interested in him with little interaction, and he reciprocates later after a single conversation. Not exactly Pride & Prejudice, is it?

Much of the cast is back, though like Hitomi, they take a lesser role in the proceedings. Allen is still the leader of the allies from countries decimated by the Black Dragon Empire (Zaibach in the series). He doesn’t teach Van caution and battle strategy this time, losing what made him a good character – this applies to all characters really. They contribute to the war effort, but they don’t affect the character of the narrative. Dilandau is still bloodthirsty, yet without his emotional dependencies, he’s just a psycho, not a complex character. I get the impression that the writers assumed you had seen the series to fill in the character complexities for yourself.

The greatest disappointment is the replacement of magic technology with simple magic. Escaflowne is organic, powered by blood; gone are the intricate mechanics of the machines, all those whirring gears and taut cables. Yes, Escaflowne’s increased size and beating heart makes for an imposing figure, but it would have been nice if they hadn’t sacrificed so much in the process.

Forgetting comparisons to the original, Escaflowne the Movie is still a decent fantasy war film and worth a watch for fans of the series to see a different take on the world. The heavy atmosphere as the music swells during the action with Escaflowne is a sight to behold, at the very least.

Art – High

The dark visuals and less stylised characters (spearhead noses are gone) give the Escaflowne movie a more adult look. Improved animations for the smaller details. The loss of magitech reduced visual creativity and variety, however.

Sound – High

Keeps the same iconic chants while bringing several new hymns and oriental instrumental pieces to the dire setting. Awkwardness is fixed from the series’ English dub.

Story – Medium

While the savage nature of Van and Gaea is an interesting take on Escaflowne, without the character arcs and drama, this story has less to offer than the series.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch this if you liked the series and want an alternate take. Escaflowne the Movie brings a darker, adult look to the tale of Van and Hitomi with some heavy and imposing moments.

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

Positive: 

Great Music

Negative: 

No Development

The Garden of Words – Review

Japanese Title: Kotonoha no Niwa

 

Related: 5 Centimetres per Second (same director)

Voices of a Distant Star (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

Similar: Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance

Length: 45-minute movie

 

Positives:

  • Heartbreakingly beautiful art in every aspect.
  • Rain and thunder ambience that creates an absorbing atmosphere.
  • A subtle soundtrack of piano and violin to fit the emotions.
  • The details in the animations.

Negatives:

  • Too short, making for an abrupt ending.

The Garden of Words is the latest in visual master Makoto Shinkai’s library of anime. Just like 5 Centimetres per Second, The Garden of Words more than lives up to Shinkai’s legacy of pushing art to the limits in anime.

This time we see Takao, a high school student, who skips school during the rainy season to sketch under a gazebo in a Japanese garden park, where he meets older woman Yukino. She drinks beer all day and mountains of chocolate. The two start meeting in the park regularly, knowing that the other will be there when it rains and slowly begin to talk to each other. She has problems at work to deal with while he wants to become a shoemaker, hoping to have a more fulfilling life. Though what will they do when the rainy season ends?

I can’t get the art out of my head – it’s so incredibly beautiful. To see how much attention to detail the artists put into the work is mind-blowing. There are no shortcuts here. Greens and greys dominate the colour pallet, invoking beauty and a sense of sorrow at the same time, a loneliness in pursuing what one finds precious. Everything from the rain to lightning is stunning. When the wind hits the rain…chills, my friend…chills.

The little things make this art a cut above the rest. My favourite detail is the reflective distortion for every single raindrop hitting the water. There are even things that most people wouldn’t pay attention to like clouds of different sizes and distance moving at varying speeds. Even the lightning has full animation; rather than flashing a single frame, the artists animated the growth of the lightning across the sky. Phenomenal.

The sound effects match the visuals with an orchestra of rain, thunder and wind, one of the most pleasant sounds on Earth. A few music pieces accompany the ambience to great effect. Piano plays in an agitated manner, getting faster with the rising desperation of Takao, until violin comes in for the uplifting moments. The only flaw in terms of audio is the voice work. It isn’t bad by any means – good, in fact – but the limited scope of the narrative and sombre mood doesn’t allow for much range or a variety of expressions.

The Garden of Words is very much a short story in scope; two protagonists, each with a thread, entwine their lives with one another. Takao’s brother is ancillary to Takao himself, acting as a father figure simply to avoid Takao being a lone child. If Takao were older, I believe Shinkai would have cut the brother – that’s how small a part the supporting cast plays. Shinkai is known for stripping his stories down to the bones, which is great when wanting to focus on a single topic, but does result in a limited scope. Here, the focus is on loneliness and finding comfort in an unlikely place with unexpected results. We don’t see a whirlwind of emotion, two strangers caught up in a romanticised drama woven from their desire to find comfort in the company of a stranger. No, these two are subtle in their interactions, slowly building up to heightened drama as they deal with their problems. In short, for the narrative to grip you, this focused storytelling has to be your cup of tea. Takao and Yukino will either captivate you or bore you – nothing in between.

If I had to level a complaint against The Garden of Words, it would be towards its length. The story feels like it ends much too soon. It needed at least another fifteen minutes to get the full message out – ideally, twice the total length for some in-depth exploration of the characters and their lives. (Or am I just saying that as an excuse to feel more of the atmosphere?)

The Garden of Words nails atmosphere at a master class level with its art and audio mixing, and is a must watch for any pluviophile, even if the story isn’t particularly to your tastes.

Art – Very High

One of the most beautiful pieces of art put to screen.

Sound – High

I could listen to the stormy ambiance forever. Good voice work as well.

Story – High

A heartfelt story of moving forward in life. Shame about the length.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for 45 minutes of your life. The Garden of Words is a film for those looking to relax and listen to the sound of rain.

(Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

Voices of a Distant Star – Review

Japanese Title: Hoshi no Koe

 

Related: 5 Centimetres per Second (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

The Garden of Words (same director)

Similar: Pale Cocoon

Gunbuster

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance

Length: 25 min. OVA

 

Positives:

  • The tragic narrative hits the right emotional notes with its interesting premise.
  • Beautiful environmental art, especially the grand shots of the cosmos and planets.

Negatives:

  • The use of CG for aliens and mechs looks out of place, never mind the ugly designs.
  • Character art looks unfinished.
  • Little is established. How did the girl become an elite pilot so quickly? Where are the aliens from? What does the boy actually do?
  • The voice work in English is monotone for much of the time. Japanese isn’t much better.
  • Prediction of flip phones as the standard in 2046. I jest, I jest.

Having recently watched Nolan’s Interstellar, I was reminded of Voices of a Distant Star, first anime feature of director Shinkai Makoto (of Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres per Second fame). Both Interstellar and Distant Star make use of time dilation to create drama with its characters. Distant Star tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who joins the space fleet in the fight against aliens, leaving her boyfriend behind on Earth with text messages as their only means of communication. The further she travels into deep space, the longer messages take to transmit – days, months, even years – and because of relativity in light speed travel, a couple of days for her is equivalent to years for him.

This story is a tragic one dealing with love separated, literally, by time and space. Distant Star is a powerful piece when it hits its emotional highs; I felt for these two characters. Unfortunately, the side story of the galactic conflict distracts from these heartstring moments. The writer needed a catalyst to launch the girl into deep space, there’s no disputing that; however, a galactic war isn’t a small plot point. It needed more time and space, so to speak, to develop into a full-fledged plot line. We get no backstory on the war, no information about the aliens, and nothing on how the girl became an elite pilot so quickly. (Aside: How is she allowed to wear her school uniform in the mech? I am guessing that it’s a metaphor for her wanting to be back with him during their school days.)

 

Shinkai could have chosen a simpler premise such as the exploration of distant stars to act as the catalyst rather than a war. This would allow more time to focus on the relationship. All we know about these characters is that they are in love. We know nothing about their interests, strength or weaknesses – who they are, really. Then again, they could have extended the runtime to explore each aspect in depth; at 25 minutes, Distant Star is too short for what it tries to achieve.

When it comes to the art, the war causes more problems. Poor CG was used for the mechs and their alien opponents, which is nothing but jarring, and it doesn’t help that their designs are awful. The cockpit view is cool though, using a lone seat with controls floating in a holographic interface.

Despite all that I have said against Voices of a Distant Star, I enjoyed my time here. The premise alone was worth a watch, and even if you don’t enjoy it, the short length means little time is wasted.

Art – Medium

Beautiful environments and lighting unfortunately tarnished by jarring CG for the hideous alien and mech designs. The character art seems to be in its draft stage.

Sound – Medium

Decent voice work in Japanese, monotone in English. I understand that when people are sad, they speak in sombre tones, but full monotone sounds dull. There are no moments of negative energy, no passion in the words. Half the music doesn’t fit the theme. Also something off about the Foley sounds at times.

Story – Medium

A tragic story of long distance love amid a galactic conflict, which results in neither aspect getting the development they deserve.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Worth 25 minutes of your time for what it does right. Voices of a Distant Star is a nice piece of anime that could have done with a longer runtime to develop the relationship and the war further.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingShallow

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