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What I’ve Been Doing 15 July 2013 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jul 15th, 2013 by Dan

Pacific Rim Locandina

Giant mechs and giant monsters. I’m all in. (Photo courtesy Domenico)

You know how the saying goes, right? When the cat’s away, go see a kaiju homage movie. It was silly stupid fun and it was awesome.

Movies

Tokyo Godfathers – Min and I were looking for something to watch during dinner and I finally convinced him to check out Satoshi Kon’s fairy tale/holiday story. I love how happy this movie is and ends. Very few mind games for a Satoshi Kon flick too.

Pacific Rim – Giant robots, somewhat hammy acting, and great special effects make Dan a happy man. Go into it with your expectations properly in place and you’ll dig it too.

TV

Mad Men – Peggy’s phone conversation with the pastor is pretty awesome/hilarious. Really the only episode of the latest season I’ve seen was the premiere, but it was fantastic and I’m excited for the rest of the season that’s just hanging out on my dvr. Just gotta find the time.

Music

I don’t really have anything for you today. Maybe next week?

Books

Not this week.

Video Games

Donkey Kong ’94 – The Game Boy remake/sequel to the arcade game is so awesome I knew I had to get it from Club Nintendo. Seriously one of the best games I’ve ever played and I’m loving getting through it again.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – I bought so many turnips…I hope I get a good price.

Professional Baseball Spirits 2013 – My Hiroshima Carp are having a surprisingly solid April. The bottom third of the lineup is an out magnet, but I’ll hopefully be able to shore it up with free agents or a trade.

The Last of Us – I thought I was in the last section of the game, but it appears that another few hours are left. Almost there…

Tokyo Godfathers [FB]
Aug 30th, 2011 by Dan

We three kings

I’m shocked at how much I liked Tokyo Godfathers. By all accounts I shouldn’t be surprised. I knew I liked Satoshi Kon and I knew the basic outline of the movie, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Tokyo Godfathers is a modern-day fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, it’s almost entirely predicated on coincidence and luck, but like the best of them it ends up not feeling like contrivance. It begins with the nativity story, the salvation story of God “giving away” his only child, and ends with a reunion between father and child. Kiyoko is implied to be under God’s protection and things get implausible quick, but without seeming improbable or like the viewer is being cheated.

At this point it’s hard for me to separate my love for Satoshi Kon and how well the movie does what it does, but I do believe that the characters he creates are charismatic enough that I found myself loving all three by the end of the movie despite not expecting to. Even the random supporting roles, the taxi driver, the older bum, and the Latina housewife are all fleshed out in great ways.

Speaking of the Latina woman, that was a nice little bonus there. My ability to understand Spanish allowed me to understand what was going on there. I don’t know if the subtitlers were following the implication that a Japanese viewer wouldn’t understand Spanish either, but they didn’t subtitle her lines and I was still able to understand the communication. It’s bold when a movie does this. Just flat out tells you that you don’t get to know what a person is saying. I liked it.

It’s weird how this, the tamest and least mindscrew-y of Satoshi Kon’s works might end up my favorite of the bunch. I found myself genuinely caught up in the films moments, getting emotional at the right times, freaking out during the action scenes, and just really rolling with it. In fact, the worst part about the movie was the realization at the end that I was done. I’ve now seen all of Satoshi Kon’s movies/tv series. I do really hope that funding is found to finish his last work posthumously, but, for now, I’m glad that he did what he did. My life has been enriched by all five of his productions.

What I’ve Been Doing 29 Aug 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Aug 29th, 2011 by Dan

Hurricane Isabel

Thankfully the damage was minimal in MD.

Movies

Paprika – When the week started I didn’t realize I’d be getting back into Satoshi Kon so hardcore. I actually put off watching it two weeks ago because I thought it would be scarier, but it turned out to not be so bad (and it was awesome). Made me put Perfect Blue at the top of the queue. More here.

Perfect Blue – Definitely the freakier of the two movies. Excellent to see the roots of Satoshi Kon’s work. More here.

TV

Weeds – I was thinking that Nancy getting out of her problems would take a lot longer than one episode, wow. Still good, but wow. Silas and Nancy have always had an antagonistic relationship, but it’s weird to see them so at odds and it blowing up in Silas’ face when he trusts Harriet the Spy.

The Hour – Finished the episode. The spy elements are stupid and I don’t really understand why everyone thinks this is so great. Maybe another episode is required?

Retro Game Master – This week the Kacho tried to beat 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō. They added a nice touch where each time he entered a new area/prefecture they would give him a local delicacy. The episodes they’ve been choosing to localize have gotten funnier each week and I’m kind of bummed their “season” is about to end.

Music

Alt Latino – Mala Rodriguez was the guest on this week’s show and her brand of hip hop was pretty neat. It’s weird to hear vulgarity in Spanish music since I grew up only listening to the tamer stuff.

Cartoon Medley – This was on my tumblr, but it’s awesome, so repost:

Only criticism is during the TMNT part. They’re not “turtles in a half-shell”, they’re “heroes in a half-shell”. The other lyric makes no sense.

Books

No real reading this week, just comics.

The Ultimates – Great start to the book. They really set it up as “everything goes wrong at once!” and I’m digging it. It also helps that Hickman is a fantastic writer.

Chew – The Flambé arc comes to a close. It didn’t have as many “wow” moments as some of the earlier ones, but it’s definitely intriguing as the Avian Flu mystery deepens.

X-Men – The FF were in this book so I picked it up at Eric’s behest. Funny. Not great, but fun.

X-23 – Spidey was in this one so I grabbed it since Eric liked it. Pretty good book and I like supporting female comic talent too.

Captain America and Bucky – Chris Samnee’s art makes this book worth the cover price. The story’s just ok, but the art I love.

Incorruptible – Not the most exciting start to a new arc, but whatever just showed up seems to be really scary to everyone?

Secret Warriors – Can’t wait for the last volume. I want to see where this goes. The first parts of this series were better than the middle parts so hopefully the last book goes out with a bang.

FF – The action is back and this issue is really great. Doom pimp slapping one of the Reeds was awesome.

Video Games

Team Fortress 2 – I was worried about losing power this weekend so I tried to take advantage of as much power as possible. That resulted in too much TF2. I think I played over 20 hrs. Maybe even over 30. So much fun. I got a few new stranges that make things even better (stranges count kills).

Dragon Age 2 – Beat the game a first time this weekend. Really good stuff. I like how they narrowed down the narrative to keep things more focused. Really made me care about what happened in Kirkwall. On my second playthrough now.

Perfect Blue [FB]
Aug 26th, 2011 by Dan

Perfect Blue

It's as weird and creepy as it looks.

Idol culture is weird. I mean, bizarre. It only just hit me while I was watching the opening of Perfect Blue that the main fans of these idol groups are men! The shitty, poppy, stupid J-Pop that is peddled throughout Japan by gaggles of over-cute women doing choreographed dances have male audiences. It’s so weird. I mean, in the states we have guys who perv over girl groups and female artists, but none of them would admit to being “fans”.

Several Kotaku articles I’ve read reference the immense amount of pressure that pop idol fans have to remain “pure.” Rather like hiding John Lennon’s marriage back in the early days of The Beatles, these women aren’t allowed to express any emotional or sexual involvement with men in public and they’re quite serious about it. Fans will turn against impure idols very quickly.

Satoshi Kon, whose favorite topics seem to be obsession and dreams vs. reality, tackles this otaku culture right off the bat with Perfect Blue. It’s funny how much disdain he seems to have for the hardcore fan that seems to comprise anime fandom in Japan (at least from a western perspective). I’m not saying it’s without merit, since obsession of any kind is a little dangerous, but it’s always seemed risky to me. It also lends legitimacy to his message since he’s using their medium against them. Well, that’s not completely accurate, I mean, obsessive groups exist for every type of fandom, but the anime otaku is not exactly high on the obsessive social totem pole.

If I had to complain about one artistic decision in this movie, it’s choosing to make Me-Mania, the scary stalker-level fan of our main character, Mima, look like an absolute troll. His eyes are misshapen, his teeth are disgusting, and his hair greasily covers up half his face. It’s a cheat to make him seem so abnormal, in my eyes.

Here I am talking specifics when I haven’t even explained the plot! The aforementioned Mima was part of an idol trio, CHAM, and she’s “decided” to leave the group to go into acting. I put that in quotes because Mima seems to just do what she’s told. Her fans don’t seem to take this very well and a threatening fax and a letterbomb make their way to her.

The problem is that her new gig as an actress is in a seedy crime drama where she is immediately thrust out of the “good girl idol” light and into the “this girl is not pure” light by way of a rape scene in the drama. It’s disturbing and kind of gross to watch and Mima’s already fragile consciousness seems to snap right here. She wasn’t really raped, but the acting and scene are horrifically tough to deal with and she can’t quite cope, but her manager continues to push this darker bent.

All the while Mima has stumbled onto a webpage seemingly written by her describing her daily movements and actions to a scarily accurate degree. She knows she’s not writing it, but the psychological trauma of reinventing herself and her already fragile psyche starts to make reality and fiction start to blend. Scenes in her life seem to happen, but then are actually scenes from her drama. I won’t spoil much more past here, but this is where the movie starts to get that Satoshi Kon feel.

As a viewer, this movie was tremendously disturbing. The fake rape scene begins blending reality and the drama in scary ways and Mima’s stalker seems scarily determined to get her to return to her singing career. What I especially enjoyed was watching Satoshi Kon’s trademark shots and symbolism start to take shape here. Certain scenes and ideas are definitely explored and expanded upon in his later work and that was really cool. I also loved that this movie took things to a much scarier and weirder place than Paprika.

If you can’t handle psychological thrillers, stay away from Perfect Blue, but everyone else should check this flick out. Considering his later work, it’s an unsurprisingly solid freshman effort from Satoshi Kon, even if it’s rougher around the edges than his later work. Definitely worth watching.

AUSA Perfect Blue-13

Is cosplaying Perfect Blue missing the point? Doesn't matter, it's still pretty cool

Paprika [FB]
Aug 23rd, 2011 by Dan

Paprika 720p Trailer

The titular character

I take great joy in watching the arc of an auteur’s style and career. Take Satoshi Kon. He’s had a relatively sparse directorial career that was tragically cut short due to pancreatic cancer, but there is a clear thread running through his work that I can trace from Perfect Blue all the way to Paprika (I’ve still yet to see Perfect Blue or Tokyo Godfathers, but they’re high on my list). Like Paranoia Agent before it, Paprika deals heavily with the subconscious/unconscious mind while also tying in the cinema history/construction of Millennium Actress. Dreams, reality, and obsession were also major themes of Perfect Blue, but I can’t speak to that without having seen it.

So there’s this master arc that traces through of cinematic quirks and decisions that point to one man making all the decisions and I adore that. Movies can easily become mass market-appealing drivel with too many chefs in the kitchen, but not Kon’s work. There’s style here.

From the surreal dreamscape of the opening that transitions into my favorite opening credit sequence in an anime movie ever, this movie just never stops. Set in a world where technology allows therapists to share dreams with patients for treatment, our main character, Chiba, whose alter ego in dream therapy is Paprika, discovers that the dream hardware has been hacked, giving a malicious terrorist access to the fragile minds of any patient in therapy. The action begins after one of her coworkers minds is hijacked into the dream, causing a near-suicidal leap and plunge from a window.

I don’t want to spoil the arc this movie takes, but I will say that it’s reluctance to really get super disturbing was a shock to me. Don’t get me wrong, it still gets weird, uncomfortable, weird, and kind of scary, but it doesn’t go quite as deep as you’d expect, which was semi-disappointing to me after the way darker Paranoia Agent. I wanted to find myself unable to sleep last night, but the movie didn’t quite deliver there. Shonen Bat was a scarier villain, for sure, but I’m ok with trading him off for deep symbolism and subtle character revelation through dreams.

The rental I watched was the blu-ray release and it is absolutely gorgeous. I don’t usually fawn over the visual beauty of anime, so you know I’m being serious here. The lines are so sharp you could cut yourself while the color palette is especially varied and beautiful. If you can get your hands on a high definition cut of this film, pretend no other version exists.

Paprika is not a perfect movie. It can get a little confusing and it fails to deliver on the truly horrifying, settling for pretty damn horrifying and unsettling, but this is a movie that you should watch. Find it, watch it, and hope that Dreaming Machine finds enough financial backing to get released posthumously.

Paprika 720p Trailer

Millennium Actress [FB]
Dec 6th, 2010 by Dan

millennium 8

A cross section of Chiyoko's roles in her career

It’s weird to get back into the mental state that we were all in back in 2001. The Y2K buzz was forgotten and embarrassing, most of the retrospective documentaries had passed, and the nostalgia craze was nearing its end. It seems fitting to have a movie like Millennium Actress pop out in July of 2001. Long enough after that it doesn’t feel pandering, but also at the perfect time to look back at the prior 70 years of Japanese cinema.

The title of the movie is meant to evoke several meanings. It came out, after all, at the end of the millennium, for one, but it goes just a touch deeper. The main character, Chiyoko Fujiwara, starts her movie career in the 30s, making movies for the war effort, but by the end of her career her films span a thousand years, from the Heian Period to the scenes in outer space that bookend the film. Our last millennium reference, that I can spot, is Chiyoko’s name. With some help from TV Tropes I learned that her name means “Child of a thousand generations” in Japanese.

Shocker, I know. A Satoshi Kon production with layered meanings and significances. I’m sure I’m so far from even approaching all of the things that are going on within this movie, but it’s an absolute pleasure to watch. As I said earlier, it’s an examination of the legacy of the Japanese film industry, but it’s told through the lens of Chiyoko’s career. The movie studio she worked for is being torn down, long after she became a hermit and left acting. Our other main characters for this movie are a documentarian and his cameraman who have hiked up to Chiyoko’s house to talk to her about her career.

The movie’s story is cleverly told through scenes of Chiyoko’s actual movies, whose subjects conveniently mirror her emotional state, as we learn why she began acting and eventually why she quit. Reality and the movie narrative meld together until what is actually happening and what is just plot becomes ambiguous at times, but not so much so that the movie is unwatchable.

Given what I’ve seen of Paranoia Agent, another work by Satoshi Kon examining pop culture, memes, the Japanese obsession with kawaisa (“cuteness”), and media, it’s clear that Kon believes his art is as linked with the culture of Japan as its own history. Chiyoko’s movies mirror the war in Manchuria and the gung-ho nationalism of Japan during the Pacific War (WWII) before delving into the relatively lighthearted light historical dramas that pepper Japanese media even today. Then things go bad for the Japanese and Chiyoko’s movies turn to the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like Japan itself, eventually her movies and life begin to reflect her growing maturity and Japan’s growing prosperity post-war. It’s fascinating to me, I don’t know. I totally dug it.

There’s also a love story tied in with the whole plot. Chiyoko’s main motivation for acting is to attract the attention of a painter she met only twice in her life, but who she constantly pines for and chases. Her love for someone she barely knows is so pure and unattainable that it almost deserves to belong to the plot of one of her movies.

I’ve done an absolutely terrible job of summing this movie up, but I really liked it. Millennium Actress is many things: loving homage to Japanese cinema, an examination of how movies and culture mirror each other, a tender love story, and a look at growth, maturity, age, and the harshness of time for actresses, but most importantly it’s good. Go check it out.

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