Friday, June 25, 2010

The Starry Night Of Haruhi Suzumiya

And so they came en masse. All hoping to capture a glimpse of a world without her.

What at first seemed like an undersold show at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in Hollywood, became a fankid free-for-all when Bandai unleashed the much anticipated feature film, The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya for a one-night engagement. The Jen was with me as we witnessed Haruhiism for the first time sans a convention setting, which imho served as a nice annual buffer for the madness that will be Anime Expo next week. Thankfully,(or to a detriment, depending on who's asking) the crowd is a little more subdued than the crowds that filled the New People Viz Cinema Theater in San Francisco several weeks ago. Regardless, the fandom for this show is very much an interesting variation of the atypical anime otaku. Demanding a rare craving for imagination, knowledge, and a streak of geeky humor ten miles wide, these fans were not disappointed by the festivities as well as the centerpiece...The epic-length feature, centering on the continuing tales of  the oddball high school club, the SOS Brigade, voice of sanity, Kyon, and the uber-Mary Sue club president who would be a sleeping deity, Haruhi Suzumiya.

And even before walking in, we had an opportunity to chat & get autographs with english version actors extraordinaire, Wendee Lee (Haruhi), & Crispin Freeman (Kyon), all while being lavished with some goodies courtesy of Bandai, Crunchyroll & Yen Press.

Having seen the film previously (my review on Diet), it was possibly a much richer experience watching it surrounded by friends old and new. There is an almost "slice-of-life" element to the film that becomes bolder the more I begin to think about it. As an animated work, it isn't imperative that they let the camera linger on a quiet moment. Most films just get on with it. But to take that kind of time and care in something like this shows a grand deal of dedication & heart, making it something of an anti-blockbuster. One that demands we stew in the moment, rather than hop to the next convenient plot point. The story, while at times painfully drawn out, is this way by design, and to that end makes the film have a uniquely ambitious quality that one rarely sees in films where only so little actually happens.

Kyoto Animation's work here still impresses as the film's at times glacial pace allows us to immerse ourselves it its world. Whether it be via character action, or merely the motion of the city & its outskirts, anime reaches an at times uncanny valley which works beautifully with the series' totem of playing the absurdism of anime in a slightly tweaked, but very real setting. It knocks me out to consider how exciting it was at times just to see doors open, characters running, focus shift as the camera represents the vision of our narrator.

But even greater still was the experience of discussing the film, and the story of Suzumiya thus far. I was able to listen to some great theories as to how it all will culminate in later volumes of the popular Japanese light novel series that inspired the anime. So much of it reflects a giant section of modern geekdom that longs for something not merely entertaining, but something a little more introspective & original. This is a franchise as comfortable with intimate rumination as it is with laser-precise nerd comedy.

Being able to really clock the entire package, along with the audience's reaction was a bit of a blast, personally. A part of me still wishes more people could have a chance to catch this film in a local theater before the US DVD release, but that almost always seems to be the case with films such as this. Its a film that while trapped in a myriad of genre, asks us to be patient, and just enjoy the atmospherics.

 Previous Haruhi fans or no..It is a singular experience.

(Also finally had the historic opportunity to finally meet two of the minds behind Anime Diet in the 3D! Stop on by as I'm sure there'll be coverage & video. Great stuff all around last night.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Axioms Of Change (More thoughts on Toy Story 3)

Do we even need addressing here? I suppose it might be, in order to have a record of my feelings on the ideas shared on the film while they're still fresh. But it seemed pretty clear to me that PIXAR was not only going for broke with their grand finale, but also looking to better illuminate a world that has only recently opened up toward lifestyles & solutions long ignored by the mainstream. And much like a humble parent, Unkrich, Doctor, Lassiter, and the rest of the Toy Story crew have taken great pains to spotlight a changing planet gleaming with the kind of possibilities a child has with their imagination.

- The Sunnyside Day Care tale is one of division brought about by an individual convinced of the inevitable pain brought forth by allowing unconditional emotions to reside. His solutions make sense to a population unsure of their place in the world as confused victims of whatever circumstance left them donated to the day care center. And in the hands of this leader, the aptly named Butterfly & Caterpillar rooms are an interesting play on words for divided states of maturation. A sort of, pre-emptive lifestyle designed to shield certain people from what can be considered "public service". Something a certain number of folks do not see as an enviable position.

- Ken. It's written in strokes the width of a superhighway. Despite the relationship between he and Barbie, it is clear that he is among the more misunderstood citizens of Sunnyside. And even as he had for a time attained a certain level of power before Andy's toys came, he was obviously in a relegated position with noone to really grasp what he was truly about. Much of this begins to change as the recently dejected blonde happily accepts him as a part of a "complete set". Being that they are toys, it is in the clothes-loving that things take a pretty obvious metaphor, and are upgraded by a sense of playfully adult humor without beating his thematic change into our minds. It's a sweet little subplot that ends pitch-beautifully by making him a new leader. Someone who grasps the hopes and dreams of the whole, as opposed to the fearful few.

- To a lesser degree, but no less amusing, Buzz Lightyear's Demo Mode mishap. By leaving the ever-dashing rocket man in Espanol mode, he takes on a romantic persona that comes off as a little superficial until one realizes, we're watching a big budget family film with aggressively fast subtitles. Something that could never have been considered ten years ago. A little something that only gets better as part of the Buzz/ Jessie subplot gathers steam throughout the whole film. And Jessie's growing approval of Mr. Lightyear via this technical goofup is a more than appropriate testament toward shifting cultural attitudes. It could also be argued that the switch on Buzz's back can be seen as a visual nod toward the splintering changes that are beginning to blossom in most unexpected places.

- Andy's decision in the finale & the inclusion of little Bonnie are also strong notions that change, while inevitable, do not have to remain bittersweet as long as there are new minds pouring new thoughts into the mix. After all, in the Toy Story universe, a toy's greatest joys are to be played with & to be there when a child needs them most. For Andy to keep Woody with him at college is fine and sweet. (It is indeed possible that the classic cowboy doll was a keepsake of his never seen father's) But in order for the toys to have a longevity of need, it is important that they remain in the service of the young. Hence the transition. As much as I love many of my old toys, it does pain me to merely leave them shelved. To see Woody and friends in the hands of such a spry, imaginative soul is not only evidence of the immortality of the inner child, but of all of us who long to retain the spirit of one.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Some Thoughts Regarding Toy Story 3....

Toy Story 3 will make one believe that trilogies can make perfection.

And while I'm sure there'll be a few out there willing to make this curmudgeon eat a little crow for that slice of hyperbole, but I can't really find a more subtly accurate description for Lee Unkrich's fitting swan song to PIXAR's signature franchise. But more than that, it was a franchise borne from a most unlikely milestone. 1995's Toy Story was the now-legendary studio's claim to fame, and a more than brilliant means to tap an entire cross-section of generations by way of a most universal premise. To imagine a world populated by sentient toys and their lives unbeknownst to their owners is still by and large a stroke of conceptual genius brought to life by then PIXAR pioneer, John Lasseter. And having seen all of these films in their opening weekends, it is no secret that more than a PIXAR fan, I'm a huge Toy Story lover.

So seeing how TS3 ranks alongside its predecessors prior to seeing it, I must admit to being more than a little suspicious. Since Disney acquired PIXAR after years of relative independence, it was at a point when the studio's output began to waver a little for me. The thought that they had suddenly begun to go back on their promise of not being "in the sequel business" hurt a little of my respect. Wall-E & Up! Notwthstanding, there was something brewing within the ranks that made me concerned that the very announcement of a third Toy Story film was something to be feared. How does one even consider topping two terrific family films that helped break the mold for modern fare & introduced the world to the possibilities of fully digital cinema? After the thematic upgrade of the second film, it only felt natural that the world of Andy(John Morris)'s toys would continue on without another film. And adding ten years of film trend evolution, it almost seemed destined to be little more than one last cash grab before the new PIXAR is to become something a little less cavalier, and closer in tone to ever safe Dreamworks.

Thankfully, none of this has come to pass, and the film is a beautiful summation of not only the film series itself, but a bold allegory for a world changing. From the ashes of the "look at what we've wrought" darkness of Wall-E, Toy Story 3 handles both the sorrows and joys of letting go.

Transition is all over this film. 

From the central plot involving a now 17 year old Andy's transitioning into college, and the reaction of his childhood toys now negected in a sealed toy box, possibly awaiting a lifetime in the attic. (or worse, the landfill) What in many ways seems to be the skeleton of a typical Toy Story film is cleverly twisted into an exciting and at times emotionally punishing mediation on a world divided by the simplest of mistakes.

And that's all it is...a mistake.

The film also considers opening the canvas toward new colors of thought, doing away with even ideas that perhaps even the show's creators hadn't considered before. So that in the end, it feels as if the minds at PIXAR are looking to embrace ideas once foreign to them in hopes of inspiring themselves.

So even more than letting go...The film is embracing new worlds of possibility. 

Whether we are following Woody as he has been chosen to be the only toy to accompany Andy in his dorm, or Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye, The Potatoheads, Rex & Ham, as they have been donated to a deceptively inviting day care center, (With the attraction of children to play with too powerful to resist) the film stretches the original "lost-toys on a mission home" premise to its most logical conclusion.

When home is a person who is leaving, then where is home anyway? The invisible bond between us and those that granted us warmth in quiet times & great freedom of imagination is rekindled with an added dash of the bittersweet that comes with new chapters in life.

And yet it's the bonds that we have grown to have with these characters that help deliver some unexpectedly potent scenes mixed within the already proven action acumen. In Toy Story 3, the action is as great as ever, but it is the drama of the larger dramatic questions that give it it's juice.

Pitch-perfect performances all around from the original cast, including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, & even great turns by Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, as well as a returning Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, & Jodi Benson. Also an affecting as hell final score by series regular, Randy Newman takes fulll advantage of the wrap-up proceedings leading to a most impressive of curtain calls.

So many great moments that would be a waste to spoil for anyone. All I can use to best wrap this post up is to posit what it is that most impressed me aside from the already spectacular package brought on by Unkrich, Lassiter &  folks...

 I love that we see the ultimate expression of how division happens, usually at the hands of someone who while under most circumstances seems like a pretty on the level person, creating an environment of fear & neglect in order to stave off the hurt of abandonment. This has been hinted at before, most notably in 2, but never this clearly. What could easily pass for a tale for our current global situation in metamorphosis, the film followed a new PIXAR short titled Day & Night, which also beautifully illustrates the potential change we all have within. Change is never that far away, and if there is anything that can clock those changes best from our collective's the things that we have trouble imagining living without.

Toys included.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's International Trailer Hits All Notes

The more and more I see, the more excited I get.

Edgar Wright has gone ahead and released an International Trailer for his wild adaptation of Bryan Lee O' Malley's cult comic sensation, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. And even if I have yet to make any noise about it here on the Kaijyu, it must be said that I've been following the project fervently since 2008. The new trailer gives us some more great visual gaggery, not to mention something I wnted to see more of from the books, the role of Knives Chau...Scott's ex, and hopeless stalker! There's a lot of what we've seen before in other teasers, but the spirit of the books looks as close to intact as one could hope from a movie version.

But don't take my word for it..

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rekindling The AMV Flame

One would think that with classes at an end for the semester, that things would become far more frequent online. Well yes and no. With all of the activity in the real, it's still been a challenge to keep affairs in perspective here. But as it stands, there has been many a bit of fun to have found in between. One of which has been a rekindling for my love of editing, whether it be in the form of trailers(real and fanmade), experimental shorts, and anime music videos. It still stuns me how much they've advanced as a hobby since the days of VHS, and their showings at not only cons , but local rave shows. And with the access to programs such as After Effects, they have only grown more creative, and celebratory than ever before.(perhaps even to a point of complete, comprehensive reinterpretations of favorite shows and films) It's a wonder what some can do with an idea, some great program chops, and a lot of perseverance.

As for an old favorite:

In terms of the classics mixed with a kicking rock score, this particular take on Otomo's masterpiece is damn impressive.

Flash forward several years now...

Cowboy Bebop fans, you've gotta check this one out.Very appropriate for that series, as well as the film's tone. Almost spot-on perfection.

As a longtime lover of Studio Ghibli's films, this intensely creative piece is a little godsend.

Woow..Thanks Mr.Ebert! There's just something so very right about that one. Pretty much nails many of my RL pals to a tee, it's damn funny.

Now while this one can come off as more than a little one-noted, it's just nice to show off a little more for a show which I think really received a raw deal here and aboard. Seriously. More people should look forward to the US release of Higashi No Eden (Eden Of The East) TV.

In terms of relentless, wan ton eye candy, it's been hard to shake off the trailing after effects of this dizzying piece which I'd like to winkingly dub, Anime Diet THE AMV! (Best If Viewed Loud & In The Dark)

And sometimes there comes a film that inspires someone to truly utilize all the tools accessible, creating not only an exceptional mix of sight & sound, but an almost entirely self contained narrative on its own. This one was beguiling from the first minute and continued to win me over through to the finale. Fantastic work all around celebrating the great, great Mamoru Hosoda film, Toki Wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time).

It's just awesome to be in a time where the appreciation can be seen & multiplied in endlessly new and wondrous ways. Here's hoping the creators of these works move on to create stand out works of their very own. I know I'd be curious to see what they produce.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes 2007 Review)

Have we seen this before? Sure we have, but never so succinctly. When considering all of the films concerning characters becoming lost within an endless timeloop. A neverending examination, and re-examination of previous events has been a standard of modern narrative ambition since the beginning of the medium. Never letting it past the format's ability to tantalize with hints ever complimenting our memories, as well as playing with them in an only sometimes convincing editorial sleight-of-hand. Particularly since films such as Chris Nolan's brain-racking milestone, MEMENTO (2000) and even Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day(1993) have made playing with order, and expectation a tempting enterprise. And to see spanish newcomer, Nacho Vigalondo take on the perils of time travel in the most up front fashion imaginable with Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes), to fun but in places laborious results.

On what appears to be a quiet late afternoon, seemingly mild-mannered husband, Hector (Karra Elejalde) is at rest within the lush, green yard of his & his wife's new home, relaxing on an easy-chair and viewing the scenery with binoculars in hand when he scopes something unsettling. And it isn't merely the almost faceless young woman disrobing in the trees yards away, but also the macabre figure sporting a trenchcoat, some bizarre pink bandages over his face, and a pair of scissors seemingly threatening her. Upon going into the woods to further investigate, he is quickly attacked and injured in the arm via the shears, and is sent running in terror. This peaceful day gone horrific soon becomes a surreal exercise in increasingly entangled fate as our protagonist investigates further, leading him to a seemingly abandoned home nearby containing what seems to be a prototypical time machine operated by a lone scientist (played by Vigalondo himself with intern-esque naivete) and deceptively lured into it as the bandaged fiend closes in on them. Now back one hour before the chase began, the real troubles unfold.

Taking what seems already to be a clever spin on Rear Window(1953), with a little slasher thrown into the mix, one may not figure how the theory of time paradoxes would fit into this tale, and yet somehow the film dives into it gleefully, taking full advantage of the film's location and story consisting of merely several hours in which our protagonist is forced to make startling decisions in order to undo the predicament he has fallen into, without inflicting greater damage to everything he seems to touch.

Divulging any more would be truly unfair to new viewers. And even as the film at times suffers from bogging itself down within it's own logic, and even some iffy pacing from the first-time director, the film never loses grip on the fragility of reality from Hector's perspective. Even as the time travel conceit of the film comes dangerously close to derailing the film, Vigalondo's script and sharp collaboration with Elejalde gives us a creepy, multifaceted hero whom we'd just as soon run from as work with. Also gracing the small film with solid performances are Barbara Goenaga as the mysterious girl in the woods, as well as Candela Fernandez' brief but potent work as Hector's wife. Filmed within what seems to be only a square mile, and brimming with twists, it's a piece of work that begs for multiple viewings.

And even as Hector's troubles begin to pile up via an absurd fluke to end all absurd flukes, it's hard not to see the entire nightmare logic working as a counterpoint to time travel movies of the past. In Vigalondo's world, the great minds behind our worst fortunes remain faceless as ever, while those who'd inflict it be among the most ordinary. It's a scary idea simply because it rings terribly true.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Podcast To The People! (Vote, won't you?)

Friends. Readers. Followers All. We're entering a whole new realm for the Kaijyu by diving a little deeper into podcasting, and we need your help! Contrary to what many would vehemently argue as common sense, we have decided to combine the efforts of three often kept separate fandom circles.

a) a lifelong superhero comics fan...

b) the veteran video game lover...

c) the anime/film hand...

We've decided to shoulder the responsibility of placing all three into the fray to see what comes out. Whether it be great or absolutely off-putting is not for us to say at this point. But as old friends, as well as respectively different breeds it only felt right to share these three viewpoints onto a much bigger forum proving (hopefully)once and for all that the three could in fact co-exist, and do so quite well without some kind of figurative bloodbath..

Okay...well, there may be a splat or two...

And this is where you, the readers, come in

We've thrown out some prospective titles for our show, and in the spirit of this all-inclusive concept, we're giving you a chance to vote out a winner! We've whittled a large mass of names into this small selection, and we'd love to see what you think.

The Candidates:

1. Knights Of Mythopia

2. IconoCast

3. Media Brigade

4. Combo Attack!

Be a part of Kaijyu history. Vote in the comments below, or message me at !

Days in the Badlands...

Oh wow, we're really going back for this one as my memories of this are still quite vivid. In the time between 1983 & 1985, pre-NES, console gaming had experienced a drought of sorts, and the only way many kids my age could stay out of the desert heat outside of a trip to the movies was to head out to Palm Desert's only mega-mall, the good old' Town Center on Highway 111. And one of the bigger highlights of glimmering temptation for kids was the near overblown cool that was Yellow Brick Road, which was the kind of video game arcade many would consider now to be of the golden age of arcade gaming. This place had everything from Coin-Op standards like Centipede to newer, edgier titles like Gauntlet. Covering what had to be roughly an eighth of the size of the mall itself, they place even had a working carousel dead-center!

But of the games featured there, among the ones I was most hypnotized by was a wacky new spin on the still very experimental Laser Disc animated action games. Among the most popular of these by far was Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair which featured good ol Dirk The Daring as he attempted to rescue hapless Princess Daphne from a flurry of monstrous badness. The point of all this was to help Dirk get past a number of timing based challenges whether it be slashing at beasts, or jumping through treacherous chasms. Our only controls were an Action button, and a pass button for the chickens. And depending on whether you hit the Action button at the right time, the animation would display your fate. Simple on blog screen, but at times quite frustrating as the LD technology wasn't as precise as we'd probably like it to be. Either way, Dragon's Lair, and later Space Ace would typify this short-lived, but curious piece of video game history. And yet it was Konami/Centuri's Badlands that truly captured my imagination.

Dunno. Perhaps it was a bias at childhood. Something about the clearly anime-esque visual tropes, and completely bat-shit insane events laid forth in even the intro that kept me coming back to this machine.

Take a look, and tell me what's wrong here....

Okay. Maybe now I know why I loved this game so much. When you break out not only some seriously grim introductions to the opening animation, but also what looks to be a killer Kappa & dinosaurs(!!!), you know it's a winner with me. This coupled with some classic anime sounds effects, funky music, & some of the most violent death & tonal destruction I had ever seen in a video game at that time, I was such a sucker for it all.

We played as Buck, lone rancher after his wife and family are killed senselessly by a formidably big gang of criminals for seemingly no reason! The mission? Revenge, of course? Hey, it's the mid-80s, revenge was chic! But for a game so grim in its intro, we had no idea just how crazy/goofy the whole thing would be.

The machine was often pretty abandoned in that corner, which was cool by me. I loved being able to go there with pals, and see if they could stop the railroad from being blasted, or the lady from turning she-witch and killing you. And it wasn't always reliable in trying to hit the Pass button on some of the more challenging staged either. Very often I'd just get killed, which was always a big part of the fun...

Unfortunately, games like this didn't last too long, and we eventually entered the Double Dragon era of arcade gaming. But a part of me still has a soft spot for the more experimental days of video games. And that Yellow Brick road certainly is still out there, somewhere.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

FamilyTime (Memories Of StarFleet)

Just remembered upon responding to a fellow Twitter pal that there was a time when my days growing up with cable TV brought about great surprises in strange places. Among them were often shown on afternoon blocks for kids, most notably Showtime's FamilyTime block (which ran from 3 - 5pm Monday thru Friday, I believe). Other than showing the requisite family-themed movies of the era, we also were exposed to some interesting imports.

Among the most significant was Manson Films' re-edit & dubbed version of Miyazaki's Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind. Retitled, Warriors Of The Wind, the film went on to make a great dent in the minds of both myself and brother to which we made it a habit to catch the film anytime it aired. And even though we figured the film was missing something, it hardly mattered at the time. Overall, it was still a remarkable experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.

-That said, I'm still confused by that gender bias in the ad campaign. Greh..80s..

And on the other side of strange discoveries came the live-action Gerry Anderson-esque puppet saga serial known as StarFleet. Clearly licensed and dubbed in England, with some very catchy tunes composed by Brian May, StarFleet was shockingly not only a japanese take on Star Warsism at a time when this was king, but featured design work by none other than Go Nagai!

Puppets, giant robots, Go Nagai? Heh. We were sold.

For those curious about the English revamp..

Because some of us can't get enough Brian May head!