Saturday, November 26, 2011

Zero-Limiter Holiday

Just a speedy mid-holiday update as trip to visit family winds down, and mere hours remain before the journey home commences. Best thoughts to all who have been able to celebrate what is indeed in our hands whether they be friends, family, or both. Aside from spending time with the desert clan, much has been watched, mostly via a pair of absurdly large screens (One plasma, and the other with True HD enabled). And while I personally would never consider screens that opulent, it is a great way to explore the limits of certain works available on Blu-ray. Of the most notable I caught were Rebuild Of Evangelion 2.22 (Which looked and sounded terrific, justifying the very project's existence.), as well as The Mist, and the recently released Evil Dead II. Again, as nice as it was to experience with such grandeur, I'm not sure I would ever go this far for my movies. There is still a part of me who prefers the theatre experience, and home is home.

Regardless, being able to be in a house where in one room, Kiki's Delivery Service is playing while Lupin III: Castle Of Cagliostro is playing in another, feels like a massive paradigm has shifted. Not only with family, but with media in general. And that's pretty exciting, despite the new challenges that seem to crop up with each new technological growth spurt. My only hope is that ease of access doesn't cheapen this love of art and story to the point where everything is mere distraction, incapable of inspiring thought or discussion. Those who are familiar with this site know full well where these concerns stem from, and as access tinkers with value, the challenge becomes ever greater to have some kind of determined amount of impact. And while it took many years to finally reach a point where Miyazaki films could be treated as something wholly mainstream on these shores (memories of working at a major local video store, virtually forcing the sole copy of My Neighbor Totoro onto confused families swiftly come to mind.), there is always the danger of being seen as just more for the pile as entertainment overflows, and submerges our minds. Quality speaks-yes, but consumers also have limits.Much like how I can be with looking at the latest array of new shows available via Crunchyroll, or another legitimate anime streaming site, it becomes something of a blurring point, making writing off to become one of the more accessible options.

That said, it's exciting to witness this latest toy era, but I often question the cost. And as the family and friends section of the weekend becomes hijacked into yet another celebration of a culture's fascination with the material (yet endlessly ephemeral), it is at least good to know that not everyone has let their monitors speak for them, and allowed their thoughts and words come across. If the culture of the real remains the focus, and the audio-visual end continues to work as an extension of it, bringing out new ideas and debate, perhaps we're all the better for it.

And speaking of discourse...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

State Of The Kaijyu: Prelude To Revolution

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and not a turkey in sight. (Lest you consider a belated session involving The X Files: I Want To Believe, anyway) With the weather bearing down on many of us in the So-Cal area, as well as an upcoming trip to the old hometown, things will likely continue to be mildly quiet around here. Which isn't in any way implying that I haven't had my hands full with new, and old stuff to watch over the last several days. In fact, true to my most recent Anime Diet post, it has quickly become a retro season of sorts for me as not only did I get another chance to look and share thoughts on an obscure 1980s favorite in California Crisis, but a healthy number of titles by way of several sweet sources. Now not initially ready to share about all of them on the Diet (after all, I find that spreading the fun around is a lot more interesting), there will be a few posts regarding a few on these pages. But for now, seriously give that AD post some loving, as I find that it's ambitious one-shot OAVs like those that helped solidify my love of the medium in those oh so physical days of the pre-wired.

In other, mildly online project related news:

Pretty exciting stuff, I feel anyway. After a year of running a show, a part of me is so ready to take it to the next logical tier. Updates as they come(via Twitter, of course!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Between Tengoku to Jigoku

Aside from spending my Saturday at Pacific Media Expo, which was quite fun for the most part, I partook another viewing of the then-underappreciated Kurosawa favorite, High and Low, which helped me formulate more thoughts concerning the current state of affairs. And as thousands continue to speak out against criminality in the corporate and governmental worlds, it rang a particularly deep chord within me this time around, especially in regards to how the film portrays nearly self-made shoe powerhouse , Kingo Gondo's shifty, negligent board members, as well as his creditors who plot to wring control, and continue to abuse their positions for greater shares of wealth. Kidnapping plot aside, which seemed more a desperate act than anything truly diabolical, it is the action of those already on the "inside" that promote an unhealthy influence upon a society's only recently begun restoration. And while the morality of the film wavers, even within the ivory walls of Gondo's home, it is easily seen as a reaction to loss of status for not only him, but his wife and family. But when everything has transpired, it remains clear that his demeanor is that of a survivor, and not of those so easily pushed to the abyss that they themselves commit crimes beyond the redeemable.

I love how the film so easily could have portrayed the hardened businessman as a model from a simpler time, with a clean rep, and white-tinted actions, but it plays on our ability to empathize with the man as he grapples with negotiating with a kidnapper. Streaks of grey are all over the place, the film lives up to the title, and we are presented with an impeccably staged, refreshingly honest look at the lives of those in places of power, without allowing the compass to lean too hard to one direction.

But when I watch the online chatter via Twitter, news video, and read the testimonies, one cannot help but feel that many of those like the ones surrounding Mr. Gondo throughout his central crisis have been on the winning team for far too long, with a public at long last ready to hold them accountable. But the largest tragedy when considering the film, is the role of the police, public servants dogged in the pursuit of not only the perpetrator, but some semblance of truth for those willing to sacrifice so much for others. Not being able to see this reflected on the streets of a number of our major cities is enough to not only sadden me, but seek to further damage the very idea of democracy and social justice.

And when the film finally takes us to hell, it serves as a reminder of how much worse the human heart can be when it feels suppressed and impotent. It is something many in the current movement are fighting to rise beyond. Further sending home that we are all capable of so much more. Now if only more in the towers were to follow suit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Uchu Senkan Yamato (2010) Movie Review

It is the year 2199,

After five years of seemingly endless attacks by an alien force known only as the Gamilas, nearly the entire surface of the Earth is rendered uninhabitable, forcing the remaining human population to retreat beneath the surface. After a major offensive by the Earth Defense Force, the Gamilas response is swift and fierce. And in the ensuing retreat, Captain Juzo Okita and his crew are saved from destruction due to the noble sacrifice of Captain Mamoru Kodai and his ship, the Yukikaze. Meanwhile, the younger Kodai, Susumu lives a life away from the military he once knew quite well, now salvaging decontaminated matter for sale back to the military. However, upon stepping out onto the desert-like surface, he is nearly hit by a falling object, which strangely contains blueprints and details regarding potential means for not only helping what remains of humanity survive, but to restore Earth to its former living glory. The catch is that this enigmatic device only exists on one planet, the planet which claims to be the source of the metorite, Iscandar, a world far beyond the Milky Way galaxy, and a journey fraught with almost insurmountable danger. And yet with this miniscule nugget of hope in hand, the EDF enlists Okita to seek volunteers for a mission that could very well decide the fate of not only the crew of the alien-technology restored space battleship, Yamato, but of the earth entire. But the Yamato is but one, and time is running out.

And so it is, one year after the initial release of one of the most anticipated live-action events of my moviegoing life, I have finally been able to catch Takashi Yamazaki's grand rendition of one of Japanese pop culture's most enduring creations.

Originally airing from 1974-1975, the brainchild of barnburning visionary, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, along with soon-to-be  anime legend, Leiji Matsumoto, Space Battleship Yamato was and remains one of the most, if not the single most important anime creation of all time. Blending a fresh mix of high romance, space opera, and historical rumination, Yamato helped usher in a wholly new form of fandom for an animated series initially geared toward younger, preteen audiences. Having initially been deemed a failure, demand by an unexpected demographic (older, college-aged fans) eventually roared new life into the series, leading to not only a feature film, and a new series, but eventually international success, as the it eventually found itself dubbed and released under the name Star Blazers. Which is how I initially experienced it as a wide-eyed grub, glued to the screen as an animated show took me places I never imagined possible by a cartoon.

And even as the series came edited, and with names & certain circumstances changed, it was clear to me that something special had been discovered, and that no matter what, one day the feeling I experienced simply by way of appointment viewing would return on my path one day. Yamato came at a time when science fiction & fantasy had suddenly shifted due to Star Wars a few years prior. However, the series' unique brand of unexpected grandeur and seriousness had affected me in ways that the Treks and Wars could not. It galvanized me into watching it, ever more curious as to how the story would unfold. Even as I was too young to fathom the series' deeper musings about Japan's feelings post WWII, it was the compelling characters and situations that kept me coming back for more. I won't lie, Susumu Kodai (Derek Wildstar) was something of an early fictional heroic foil for me as a child, and Shima (Mark Venture) was always at closer in spirit to me. And it didn't hurt that the show's most brutal hook, a continuous countdown of days remaining for our heroes to reach Iscandar and save Earth always hanged over the end of each episode like a shroud of doom. Far from subtle, it seriously played havoc with my young brain for weeks on end. And it wasn't until much later that I finally saw the series in its entirety, along with the films, each of which broke my heart time and again with bizarre ease. It is a series that embraces full emotion, and plays it to the hilt with a grand sweep most anime simply hasn't been capable of replicating.

So when speaking of this large-scale production, it may help to preface this by openly stating that up until this point, I have never been the biggest fan of Yamazaki. Upon discovering the news that he was to helm the live action duties for such a beloved series, concern was the first feeling that swept over me. Having seen several of his films, including Juvenile (2000), and Returner (2002), his brand of derivative mish-mashing can be reminiscent of a more sedate Roland Emmerich complimented by heavy digital effects work, and one-dimensional characterizations. Even his award-winning Always films tap into a more populist mindset that at times runs counter to the kind of nuanced storytelling required to handle such a grand tale. So it may surprise some to discover that at least 60% of the time, Yamazaki finds it in himself to not only do a decent job of bringing Yamato to life, but to help establish something I have always wanted to see done with live action anime; create a work that is different enough, and yet wholly reverent to the source material.

Naturally, having to tell such a sprawling tale within a 2 and a half hour running time makes for some compression issues that at times can be more than a little jarring. Oddly, what came to mind regarding story efficiency was Speed Racer(2008), where nearly the opposite took place. That film suffered from an almost unnecessary first hour, whereas with Yamato, the film virtually catapults into the central mission well within the first thirty minutes, which leaves little to no time for the viewer to get a good idea of not only who these characters are, but grant a foundation for how each individual arc will unfold throughout the film. This is easily the most auspicious issue I may have with the film as a whole, as relationships merely move, and aren't informed well enough, and far too much happens far too early to have any impact to anyone who isn't already familiar with the story. It's a clumsy start that the finale in many ways never recovers from, and yet there are so many other elements that somehow buoy the remainder. And a lot of this may be due to a sense intimacy granted in later moments where a pretty good cast rises well beyond some of Yamazaki's patently obvious direction. It is also very clear that nearly all involved know full well the world they are bringing to life, and it shows despite the at-times all-too-ripped from recent science fiction vibe emanating from much of the action. If one is able to overlook the Battlestar Galactica and JJ Abrams Star Trek, one may be able to be truly wrapped up in matters.

Some of the "new" that works:

Among the more obvious changes, are a few of the casting decisions, along with some interesting role alterations. Updating the often dismissible Yuki Mori(Meisa Kuroki) into a Black Tiger ace pilot was a particularly welcome change, although it would have been more exciting to have explored her character a little more. What winds up onscreen offers only a vague idea of who she is, and what she could bring to the mythos, especially in regards to her relationship to Kodai, which is a major lynchpin of the series. Something there was definitely needed in order to offer lasting oomph for the finale. Also, I actually rather enjoy the idea of Sado-sensei being played by Reiko Takashima. If there's any problems with her and Maiko Scorick as Communications Officer, Aihara, it's that they merely are there out of necessity. And Shima as dad to Jiro (previously his little brother) adds additional tragic punch to his backstory, which helps his role move a little faster. And then there's Analyzer...Well. The less said about Analyzer, the better.

In the "bold" department, is the representation of the Gamilas, which I will not go into too much detail here. But it is an interesting, more "alien" choice to go with, if not a wholly satisfying one since one of the original mythology's more compelling elements was that of an almost familar enemy which further blurred certain moral & emotional lines in regards to warfare. Dessler is here, just not in any way some might expect. It is another decision that in many ways isolates the Yamato crew, and keeps the threat from being anything more than an almost faceless nuisance until the final reel.

And as mentioned, despite Yamazaki's often awkward staging & blocking, there are a few notable performances that helped ground this rendition with unexpected aplomb. Most importantly, Tsutomu Yamazaki's Okita, who's frail and yet duty-hardened frame carries a burden too great to share with the crew. It's a delicate, unexpectedly effective weight he brings to the film when it often threatens to reduce itself to borderline camp when it comes time for the FX action to take center stage. And in an almost serendipitous case of casting, Takuya Kimura's Kodai is an almost dead-perfect portrayal of a young man rapidly seeing his destiny crystallize before him after years of remaining the brash, short-tempered kid with a chip on his shoulder. Seeing as how the Kodai character is pretty much the classic "hero's journey" archetype, Kimura adds just enough gravitas to make the character work. Also welcome to the proceedings is Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Ip Man) who's take on Space Commandos' leader, Saito is fun and earnest enough. As is Toshiro Yanagiba's terrific take on Sanada, the ultra-serious Chief Science officer.

Back to the bold without spoiling the film. As a single outing event piece, Yamato goes out of its way to pay tribute to numerous famous images and moments, at times to the point that it seems like Yamazaki, and writer Shimako Sato were out to cover their bases in case the film was a financial failure. And as a result, I'm afraid that there is little left to be said once the credits roll. And while much of the finale is milked for emotional impact, again, it feels as if producers were ready to cut their losses, much to the detriment of the film. Which isn't to say that the final product comes without it's own effective moments, but it does leave a void in the "what could have been" department. There is such a bar to be reached when considering the legacy and emotional potential of a grand scale (preferrably three-hour) Uchu Senkan Yamato movie, that perhaps, at least as of now, it's a dream idea near improbable to reach. But fans can still dream, can't they? A fun and welcome tribute is perhaps the best one can ask for.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Things Happening- IN SPAAACE!

The landscape has changed, but a generation has yet to be fully forgotten. The last few years have seen a decent number of revivals, some much more long-awaited than others. Can one ever truly rekindle old passionate flames borne far in the recesses of deep space? What happens when a lifelong lover of early anime space opera takes the invite, and dives into not one, but three big budget exercises in nostalgia in the hopes of "Remembering Love"? Tune into The Wandering Kaijyu & Anime Diet!