The Rebuild of Evangelion movies, of which 3 out of 4 have been released, are a Hideaki Anno-helmed remake of the landmark 1995 television anime, and they do financially well as theatrical releases in Japan, bringing in old fans as well as a new younger generation of people.
Shortly after being released on home video the third movie hit the Internet airways with lots of fanfare. As rapidly as it was pirated a storm of complaints arose concerning how terrible this one was. Here’s the truth about not just that, but the whole shebang.
The first two Rebuild movies are glorified reanimated compilation movies based on the TV show. Anime compilation movies are always terribly paced and never function well as movies, but otaku like to be sold the same thing over and over, so they always show up for them like lemmings, no matter how pointless or lackluster they are.
The third Rebuild movie is actually paced like a movie. It goes in its own completely odd direction, sure, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, fine, but this time they finally made a real movie and not just a ninety-minute commingling of television episodes. It doesn’t matter if you can’t imagine them wrapping the story up with one final installment. It doesn’t matter if Anno is trying to bishonen the series up with the silver haired kid. They actually did something halfway interesting this time.
All three of the Rebuild movies are disappointments. You know, for all the brilliant characterization people like to credit the original series for having, in these flicks Shinji Akari doesn’t evolve or change from one movie to the next. In each one he vacillates from being afraid of everything to being a take-charge protagonist, until it blows up in his face, then he goes back to being afraid of everything. I’m not sure how people don’t get tired of that same arc being used over and over again for the same protagonist in the same series of movies without any growth or understanding implied.
These Rebuild of Evangelion movies don’t have a lot going for them outside of their lush visuals.
Himizu is a Japanese movie directed by Sion Sono in 2011 from my “good luck waiting for this to come out in North America” pile of foreign flicks. You can get it on BD from the UK but I can’t say I’d recommend it.
Himizu is supposedly based upon a manga of the same name, a manga so utterly different from this movie I intend to talk about it separately.
The movie isn’t really based on anything but the director’s interest in melding a few contemporary issues into one long, drawn out morality play encouraging the youth of Japan to preserve their hope and integrity, even as corrupt social institutions doom them to failure.
Shota Sometani plays a disillusioned student with no aspirations. He wishes to inherit the family business, a decrepit boat rental shop, and live out his life by a simple principle: he won’t bother anyone else, and no one should bother him. He shrugs off the “you’re a unique flower who can do anything” existential encouragement of his public schooling, rebuffing these notions with curt aphorisms that a quiet girl in class, played by Fumi Nikaido, transcribes and puts on her wall at home.
Eventually Nikaido’s character works up the confidence to walk Sometani home, and as she struggles to get to know him better the frail structure in his life is demolished by outside, uncaring forces. He collapses under the pressures of parental abandonment and an inherited yakuza debt. There’s only so far you can push a character like this, invested in civil society to the bare minimum, before they lash out in unpredictable ways. The rest of the movie is about Sometani alternately cry-screaming in the rain and becoming cold and unfeeling.
Both actors are talented at portraying intense mad teenagers, elevating their repetitive, melodramatic characterization into something that isn’t unbearable to watch onscreen. But the problem with this movie is that the last forty-five minutes play exactly like the first ninety. The characters don’t grow or develop, they mostly continue to be miserable, in the same ways and for the same reasons.
One last thing: this movie was released the same year as the historic 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and director Sion Sono hastily rewrote the screenplay to incorporate the aftermath into it. The result is a crass tableau of decay that doesn’t impact the story in a direct way, kind of like how Spike Lee decided maybe fifteen minutes of 25th Hour had something to do with a post-9/11 New York City, maybe.
Himizu is entirely lacking in strong ideas to compare to its strong emotions, and while there’s enough meat to make watching the entire thing not an entirely fruitless experience, I can’t recommend it to anyone. I was going to say “maybe a younger audience more accustomed to navigating the peaks and valleys of adolescence will find more power in it,” but that’s just a polite way of saying this movie is too dumb for me.
I’m looking forward to Before Midnight, Richard Linklater’s latest in a trilogy of films about a man and woman who forge a really contrived intimacy with one another solely on the basis of chance meet-ups that occur every nine years. The first film Before Sunrise is meandering and loose, the characters spilling their guts to each other about life and death and everything in between with the unpracticed tedium of a couple Freshman Seminar students.
The next film, Before Sunset, revisits the original concept with refinement, the characters just as oddly talky but more complicated, an added layer of adult “maturity” disguising the urgency that wills their encounters on. Their lived-in melancholy has aged like wine and the movie ends on an unforgettably ambiguous note.
And now Before Midnight has popped up nine years later still, debuting the same week as motherfucking Fast and Furious 6.
With Fast Five (2011) the series surrendered to the fact underground street racing isn’t interesting to people who intellectually outgrew their provisional driving license, instead developing into a steroid-infused action flick where people punch each other and things joyously explode without the willed stupidity (read that as charitably or negatively as you’d prefer) of filmmakers like Michael Bay and Neveldine/Taylor.
Fast Five isn’t a throwback to nineties-era action movies, but it has their pure, entertaining simplicity. And I’m sure Fast and Furious 6 isn’t a condemnation of modern bombastic excess, but it wasn’t shot in 3D nor was it post-converted to such, and that alone should indicate something.
For good or bad the advent of high definition Blu-ray technology has become the lens with which I come to an adult appraisal of movies from my past. They become less pieces of video entertainment and more a coordinated menagerie of crisp, clear images to actively process. I don’t use movies as background entertainment or flip through them on the teevee or watch them while I surf Facebook. I make my selections based upon a careful balance of mood and whimsy, bearing witness in a dark room with as much attention as I can afford.
I find myself reading comics and watching anime in much a similar manner. Of course the syntax is different, but this self-appointed duty of being a more thinking and feeling viewer has only increased the enjoyment I get out of these things. It’s steered me in my own eclectic directions. It’s saved me from opinions by way of social cliques.
So, when I watch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind with these eyes it seems equally exemplative of high quality eighties anime moviemaking and the European animation tradition. Most visually interesting are the Ohmu, these giant shelled bugs with carefully painted layers that shamble against each other like they were cutout pieces in René Laloux’ Fantastic Planet.
What really got to me this time around, however, is how damn effective this Nausicaa anime is. If you’re watching an animated movie with environmental themes made by someone who made a lot of those and you already saw it before so you know everything that’s going to happen, it shouldn’t resonate so deeply, but this one did.
The lightbulb in my room burnt out last week and because I’ve been too lazy to buy a new one I haven’t been reading comics as much. Instead I’ve focused on the tons of digital manga on my computer. When you’re the kind of person who easily falls into routines, the teensiest push can be enough to set you off in a refreshing direction. I’ve learned to be more welcoming of everyday inconveniences as a result.
This would be more than an everyday inconvenience. Trepanation, the ancient practice of drilling holes into the human skull for medical purposes, is the taking off point in Hideo Yamamoto’s Homunculus. It’s a manga title I avoided for a long time because I knew it as semi-plausible supernatural seinen, and semi-plausible supernatural seinen are very often terrible.
Rather than get into all the fine, concrete details of what this story is about, I want to say up front it’s demonstrable in terms of showing you what kind of things mainstream Japan does with the medium that no other country dares.Homunculus is a comic about the unconscious mind, but it’s not about it in a removed intellectual fashion. It deals with the unconscious mind by combining passionate drama with lots of symbolism.
After the protagonist undergoes trepanation treatment he begins to see people differently. Homunculi, the self-images of people projected by their unconscious minds, are visible in the physical world, reacting to the stimuli around them. The main character essentially engages with people while reading these homunculi and using their behavior to learn more about his “opponents” in real time.
As you might expect, very quickly he learns that not only are homunculi difficult to interpret, but his own biases and unconscious thoughts are shaping the way he perceives them, ie he is both having these symbols presented to him while unconsciously imprinting upon them. Someone else’s face, for example, might shift to resemble a friend from his past, even if the two people don’t know each other. This, combined with the fact homunculi may be figments of his imagination in the first place, works to maintain an almost maddening tone of uncertainty throughout the story and where it’s headed.
I guess it’s a psychological thriller? A really unique, thrilling one, brimming with sexual impulse and competing theories about the psychic apparatus.
I like Tumblr because it often gives me positive feelings without the use of a single word. For example, this random post reminded me how utterly perfect Shigurui: Death Frenzy is, and how glad I am it exists.
Shigurui was a 2007 anime put out by Madhouse Studios when they were still at the top of their game, creating television shows that struck out unique, adult areas of interest, often adapting noteworthy manga with a budget conscious yet keen visual sense.
There aren’t any places on the web that consistently talk about truly exemplative anime, and so much is focused on what’s happening right this very second, making it easy to forget about the great stuff. Using Tumblr I’ve curated a revolving door of anime awe and wonder, without getting tangled up in any of the silliness the social networking site is most often derided for. And let’s be honest, most of that deriding is done by dudebros afraid of digital spaces where females exert just as much influence as males, if not more.
Maybe it clubs you over the head with its imagery, but I like this Nick Cross cartoon short enough to loop it every once in a while. Cross is a talented animator working on his own feature length movie, but he saw fit to release this little bit of somber emptiness in between that long term project and whatever else he has going on.
If you’re watching something Star Trek-related and it isn’t named Wrath of Khan why are you even bothering?
Wrath of Khan is the only Star Trek thing anyone should subject themselves to, and the new movies know that, so they naively try to ape it with young actors. So just watch Wrath of Khan on Blu-ray, and watch the new movies if you want big dumb emotive spectacle where the villain is a terrorist analogue. (Because that’s all American big budget action movies are anymore: escapist terrorist analogues. Especially the superhero ones.)
I speak as someone who spent their whole childhood watching Next Generation and Voyager. Trust me, I’m not a better person for it.
Similar to Shane Carruth’s debut film Primer (2004), much too much of a deal has been made about the alleged impenetrable complexities of his second effort, Upstream Color, which debuted at Sundance in January and lucky for us has already been released on home video this week, less than four full months later.
I remember when Primer first came out it was pitched to me as a really interesting no-budget time travelling movie written, directed by and starring a mathematician. And understood as such it’s fucking great. But very quickly the dialogue shifted to how mind-shatteringly complicated it was, with people going so far as to pass around a diagram someone needlessly created for the movie’s wikipedia page as a kind of decoder ring. This was a movie that made people’s brains hurt. Or something.
It isn’t that you have to be smart to get Primer, it’s that “how does it all work, man… let’s focus on pedantry more than the actual movie” is one of those probably not-at-all constructive but commonly accepted social paradigms for talking about film. Now if you Google Image SearchPrimeryou mostly get stupid nerd charts. Watching the superficial buzz expand and collapse into itself was similar to how in high school my fellow teenagers went apeshit over Donnie Darko for like two weeks. Bleh.
Upstream Color is a beautiful film to watch. At over 50,000 times the budget of Primer and still less than half a million dollars, it inevitably shames Your Favorite 2013 Summer Blockbuster on a technical level, with a soft, pleasing cinematography and brief authentic moments of horror.
The most joy is to be had in it’s extremely kinetic first thirty minutes, where Carruth surrenders every bit of technical jargon that might have been running through his head (and virtually all dialogue, in fact) to instead present us with a puzzling-and-then-horrifying series of events. Those first thirty minutes, man. They don’t talk down or up to the audience, they’re just absorbing on every level.
Eventually the movie adjusts its pace, and as all the technical details start to come into focus, we watch a relationship develop between two similarly damaged lovers. Now, instead of expressing the how’s and why’s overtly, the movie falls in love with its own inward focused, fable-like conceits. I wasn’t confused by this shift, and I remained interested for the vast majority of it, but maybe the film got too storybooky, maybe the relationship between the two main characters, a mostly opaque Shane Carruth and utterly magnetic Amy Seimetz, became too prototypical, with the trappings I guess lots of independent movies about alienated lovers tend to present us with.
But fuck, the alienation in this story stems from an immortal parasitic science fiction organism, and that does count for something. Watching the characters grapple with their broken nature, which isn’t from psychological trauma or personal history but an even more imperceptible force existing outside of their understanding and control, is a total mind trip to anyone with an introspective nature. It’s genuinely unsettling to watch the characters alternately erode the connection they’ve established with one another and be brought closer through their incongruity with the real world.
So Upstream Color is a unique movie to be enjoyed and celebrated. I can’t wait to see what Shane Carruth does next. He’s making movies the way few others seem to: earnestly focused on plot and narrative, but also brimming with complex, creative ideas expressed in a mostly elliptical fashion.