Cinema-Maniac: The Hateful Eight (2015) Review

Last time I wrote about anything related to Quentin Tarantino was when I reviewed Django Unchained back in 2013. I got bombarded with arguments for calling the film decent, and criticizing the writing. Like the time when I posted a negative review for the film Frozen I once again stood my post, and debated the best of my abilities on my position on the film. Unlike the arguments presented in Frozen, the counter arguments brought up were good in defense of Django Unchained, but seriously didn’t fixed what still is a broken premise movie. If you don’t believe me (speaking directly to Tarantino “fans”) that Django Unchained premise is broken; well Dr. Schultz simply could have had Django work on his, or his friend slave farm while Schultz goes off to buy Django wife. That’s a viable solution, but since the film itself never brings it up everything about the story ends up feeling convoluted as it is actively trying to ignore this huge gap in logic with several other gap of logic (like the opening scene in Django Unchained). Now once again I find myself in the same position of Quentin Tarantino writing a Western. While the setup is a not a broken premise repeats from Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight suffers from more serious issues. It is a premise that makes sure it’s a story that should be told, but not written in a way to show that conviction.

The Hateful Eight is set in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Upon entering the frame Major Marquis Warren (all rise for Samuel L. Jackson) sets up the atmosphere elegantly. His first lines of dialogue sets up the political climate of the era the film takes place in, the profession of Marquis Warren, his goal in the film, and his manner of speaking being very revealing of his personality. This same expertly done character establishment holds true when John Ruth (Kurt Russell) whose handcuffed with Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) are introduced into the film. Despite the fun personalities of these characters they do speak about each other bad deeds. These actions other characters speak on paint a grey in presentation of morality. If the film spend as much time developing the other characters like it did for John Ruth, Chris Mannix, and Marquis Warren then there would be a film worth showering with praises.

“You will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee”.

The film is set up into six chapters, and past chapter two the film fall apart from it own weight. This is mostly due to the unevenness in screentime from the characters, and the importance they hold in the story. For example, Daisy Domergue is a character whose defining characteristic is her bounty worth, and she’s a woman who killed. It takes the film over two hours to build on her character, and by the time she gets developed it’s no longer grey in presentation in the story. It gets established who is who, and why they perform the action they do by the time Daisy gets developed. The biggest shortcoming in the writing is showing favoritism in a film that intends for its audience to hate all the characters equally. For instance, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) gets very little to do in the story, and has no significant scene in the film that justified his creation. In Chapter 5, a brief moment is specifically written to present him negatively because the film story doesn’t know how else to use him. He’s simply a fodder character despite the writing claiming otherwise.

Then there’s also the character of O.B. (James Park) who despite having less lines of dialogue than Joe Gage is actually more significant to the story. O.B. is simply a background character who’s a stagecoach driver, and does not present any hateful traits even among the other characters. However, unlike Joe Gage where his hatred is force, O.B. positive presentation in the story serves as the only presence of a seemingly good, innocent person in the film. Being put to a greater use than a major character written in the film. Another fodder treated character is Bob (Demian Bichir) who’s main characteristic is he’s Mexican. His role in the story is treated like Joe Gage; no significance in any scene, and simply fodder in the cast. Now, there’s a character who doesn’t appear until around two hours into the film named Jody (Channing Tatum) who plays a far greater role in the film. He’s absent for a majority of the film, yet is given the importance of a major character. Not only does this affect the presentation of Joe Gage, and Bob as wholly useless in the film narrative, but further highlight the misusage of time spent on them.

Imagine! Squealing Pigs.

A double edge sword of the dialogue is how it’s delivered. It’s very evident that when a character reveals plenty about themselves to strangers on a whim it spells out expository dialogue. However, the flashiness of how the character speak can make the force exposition, and character development enjoyable to see unfold. What’s not is when certain plot points like Marquis’s letter from Abraham Lincoln, Daisy Domergue is a criminal worth 10,000 dollars, and fights in the civil war are repeatedly brought up. Marquis letter from Lincoln is an exception as its use to developed Marquis as a character. The significance of the letter makes Marquis three dimensional, and a complex character for how much values he places on it. It also serves an important character moment in the ending for how much value is placed on it, even after learning of its true origin.

The other topics that are brought up is the Civil War, the reputation of characters, and Daisy Domergue bounty. With plenty of characters these limited topics could fill up three hours’ worth of dialogue. Unfortunately, it becomes tedious when established facts like Daisy bounty worth, Marquis Lincoln letter, and character specific traits are repeated multiple times within the film. When no variation is applied, or adding something new to an established story element makes the viewing experience feel like it’s three hours, or longer in some scenes. Especially when seeing a small act of violence, and predicting the outcome of that scene. In order to withhold progress lengthy monologues are written into the film. Now, not the all the monologues are purposeless, but the ones that are simply prolonging the expected outcome of a scene.

It’s what you don’t see in this picture that’s important. That’s subtlety.

No other scene in the film than Major Marquis Warren suspect deduction scene can better highlight the weakness of Quentin Tarantino writing in The Hateful Eight. In this specific scene, Samuel L. Jackson does a stupendous job for around ten, or so minutes performing the scene. His delivery, and body movement is over the top like the leap in logic being presented. Now in order for Marquis Warren suspect deduction to have worked certain facts had to be established before entering the scene. However, no such thing occurs in the film as the many conversations Marquis Warren has among the characters only one foreshadows a possibility of criminals in a room. That one scene doesn’t established that Minnie (the owner) was racist towards a specific group of people, the “cooked the stew” allegation doesn’t stand on much ground since anyone else who was in the cabin could have cooked it as well, and the owner husband love for his chair is only known to Marquis. These details aren’t alluded to, nor share among the viewers. It’s withholding information for the sake of forced tension. This is singlehandedly, the most convoluted piece of writing under Tarantino name, besides the premise to Django Unchained.

“From now no I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the others curs the law is coming. You tell ’em I’m coming! And Hell’s coming me you hear! Hell’s coming with me!”

What finally makes the film come around full circle is, well, the lack of hateful characters. If I were to push my morality aside, the uneven screen time, and uneven character development of the cast hinders what could have been a complex film. If the film started in Minnie’s Haberdashery the criticism of uneven portrayal for the characters would still stand. Joe Gage would still have little to his character, Bob would still just be a Mexican in the story, but it wouldn’t be as prominent as it is now. Another issue is Tarantino to maintain his signatures marks on the film even though it works against the film. I’m expected to believe that within the same movie a revolver is strong enough to blow up someone’s head at point blank range, yet when those same revolvers are fired in different scenes the amount of force from those shots don’t cause someone leg, hand, or even chest to blow up in the same over the top manner.

When the brief moments of blood, gore, and violence do appear on screen it’s entirely out of place. The moments of violence are over the top when the entire film is restraint in presentation. While the actors are hamming, and over the top what generally is not are the characters. They talked about the Civil War repeatedly, the bad deeds of the people in the cabin repeatedly, and at no point in the film establishes a tone that would work in over the top violence. It’s sloppily written which is the biggest shame. There are ideas in place for a great movie, but after chapter two it loses it ways, and is unable to find where its original destination in the first place.

“I’m getting too old for this shit”

This film redeeming trait are the performances from its cast. Samuel L. Jackson is easily the best actor in the cast stealing the spotlight in every scene. He’s over the top in line delivery, and mannerism on screen. Balancing serious dramatic with over the top antics without breaking character, or the tone of the film. His extensive monologue is where he shins going minutes at a times speaking by himself. In one scene, Samuel L. Jackson character Marquis tells a story in glorious fashion. As any story teller would Jackson raises his excitement, and changing his tone to fit the scene of his description. Jackson is performance is plain, and simple justifies the price of admission in checking out the film.

Kurt Russell also does a good job in the film as John Ruth. However, his performance doesn’t allow him the freedom of that of Samuel L. Jackson. Russell character is more rude, and crude in his personality. He’s able to sell his unflattering character convincingly as a leading actor. His performance is also worthy of another praise since it’s capable of misleading audiences, but revealing any specifics would ruin it. All I’ll say is I didn’t see it coming given how good Kurt Russell is in the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Daisy Domergue who is handcuffed to John Ruth for virtually the entirely film. Leigh character is also the most realistic since her character is written in a more restrained manner because of the position she’s in. Despite the constraint of being handcuffed to another actor she does allot more than expected of her. Through simple gestures she’s able to reveal much of her character hateful, and playful nature. She able to come across as manipulative, sympathetic, and funny with, or without dialogue. Add to the fact she does not have the same freedom of body movements since she’s handcuffed to Kurt Russell.

Walton Goggins plays Chris Mannix in the movie. His performance is very cheesy due to his best described “country bumpkin” accent. He is mostly in the film to play up the dark humor. To his credit he’s able to deliver on the jokes despite the tonal problem the film has. His comedic timing is spot on, but sometime it won’t get a laugh. However, that’s more of a fault with the material, and not Walton Goggins as an actor. Goggins, if anything, is also a spotlight in the film for his entertaining performance. The last standout performance comes from Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray. Despite his profession of hanging people for a living Roth presents himself as a gentleman. Flamboyant in the manner he speaks he emphasizes the best aspects of Tarantino dialogue. Tim Roth is entertaining for the whole film, and was perfectly cast in the role.

I’ll be here if you need me.

Everyone else is unfortunately a victim of a thankless role. The only actor who goes mostly unscathed is Channing Tatum as Jody who mostly has to be charming in the short screen time he’s given. Michael Madsen as Joe Gage, and Demian Bichir as Bob are two actors that get short changed in their roles. Demian Bichir Mexican accent is the only noteworthy aspect of his performance. Too bad Bichir doesn’t get a scene to demonstrate his acting chops. Madsen on the other hand does get that chance when he’s introduce, but he has to stick with the tough guy persona. He’s unable to break from his mold which makes him another wasted addition in the cast. Then there’s Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers. For the character he played the less is more approach works in his favor. Dern is only in the film for his appearance working in favor of the character he is playing. Finally, there’s James Park as O.B. who does little speaking. As mentioned before with Dern, James Park role is simply for appearances purposes.

One pointless addition to the cast that was entirely unneeded was Quentin Tarantino himself. After the intermission is over he narrates a generalization of the events that led to the current event in the story. It’s about as pointless as much as it is self-indulgent. The camera shows the turning point of the story by itself, and the narration adds nothing to it. Tarantino simply states the obvious in the scene when the scene itself was all that was needed to get what he wanted across. It’s especially more self-indulgent when there’s no narration for virtually the entire film. I mean, Tarantino could simply state the obvious in every scene possible if he wanted as this brief narration proves. While on Tarantino his direction in the film is uninspired in the film. The performances show more personality than the cinematography itself. His biggest downfall is failing to use the background as part of a narrative tool. The cinematography is best at showcasing its actors’ performances, but if you’re expecting grand vistas you’ll be disappointed as the majority of the film takes place in door. Ennio Morricone (I bow down to this man’s legacy) score whenever in use is fantastic. Immediately upon hearing it sets up the atmosphere as soon as the first note hits. Morricone score isn’t used much in the film, but whenever it is the scene makes the most of its music.

The Hateful Eight is a very serious film from Quentin Tarantino who shares no serious intention to fix his shortcomings from his writing when he last venture in the Western genre. Why would he when the world of criticism, and his fans have already given him pedestal to stand on. Regardless of the criticism I, and anyone else might have with Tarantino films it will be overshadowed by those in the fan base that will accept his creation just because his name is on it. Django Unchained is a weak presentation of Tarantino writing. However, the tone of it made the leap in logic, and sometime cartoony events be forgivable. In The Hateful Eight not so much as its serious tone makes it shortcoming less forgivable. Here’s lies a film where signs of Tarantino only being able to make one of kind film shows. He wants to do a serious a film that discusses serious issues, but is unable to remove his personality in order to do so. That there is the sole reason why The Hateful Eight ends up being a film where uncertainty is prevalent throughout it.


Footnote on 70MM: Not Worth The Price of Admission

As mentioned in the review around 88% of the film takes place inside a stagecoach passover called Minnie’s Haberdashery, and the remaining 12% would roughly be outdoor scenes. Now here’s the problem, the film does not use the 70MM format to it’s advantage at all. It’s a film that emphasizes dialogue over grand vistas. The very few 3% of a three hour film (counting the 15 minute intermission) are massive shots of the frozen wilderness which not justified the format to see the film. If I were instead writing about, say, Mad Max: Fury Road in 70MM format I would say the extra cost is worth seeing (despite my thoughts on the writing) on the bigger screen because it went big on its visual. The Hateful Eight doesn’t go all the way. Instead you’ll just be paying extra to see a bunch of actor just simply talking in one location, which is unnecessary to see in its 70MM.

Anime-Breakdown: Golden Batman (Black Star and the Golden Bat (1979) Movie Review

Golden Batman is a Korean animated movie from 1979 based on a 1967 anime series called Golden Bat or Ogon Bat in Japanese. Created by Takeo Nagamatsu in the 1930s, Ogon Bat is a Japanese superhero that predates the likes of Superman, and Batman. Much to my surprise, Ogon Bat is considered to be the world’s first superhero. Borrowing more traits from Superman than the name of the 1979 film would imply having super powers that include superhuman strength, invulnerability, and the ability to fly. In the original Korean-Japanese production of the 1960s anime series (according to what little information could be found on this series), Golden Bat is apparently the last surviving Atlantean who fights crime wearing a golden skull mask. If you see the poster, or promotional art you’ll notice that the golden skull mask is nowhere in sight. Turns out in 1979 Golden Bat design was updated to resemble Batman.

Seriously though, the golden skull pimp design looks cooler.

Now, the only viewable copy of Golden Batman is a Spanish dub of the film since the film never officially received an international release in the US. Probably because the new character designs rips off Batman. You either have to search to the ends of the world to find an old VHS tape, or search desperately online. If Golden Batman was dubbed in any other language besides English, or Spanish that would be the end of the story. There’s no English subtitles either so unless you know you’re Korean, or Spanish well you’re sadly out of luck. However, that is not the case for me so I’ll discuss the actual film.

Golden Batman (or Black Star vs. Golden Bat according to the announcer in the beginning of the film) story follows a bunch of kids, and their talking pet dog trying to prove their bravery for their dying sick friend. There’s also a subplot revolving around villain Black Star who is kidnapping the world’s top scientists to develop a weapon that can make him take over the world. Pass the opening credit sequence which has cheesy music the first thing the villain, Black Star, is shown doing is watching a news broadcast. This news broadcast basically clarifies a scientist is working on “Rocket TM” which is described to be a robot for an Aerospace Science Central. Black Star after seeing the newscast decides to call the Aerospace Corporation, and announces to them in a phone call that he’s planning to steal the blueprints to “Rocket TM”. With this information you think the Aerospace Science Central would signal Golden Bat, or sing his Korean theme song to make sure Golden Bat appears at the scene in advance to stop Black Star. The Aerospace Science Central does not do that, and instead a army of clone security guards that were in charge of protecting “Rocket TM” fear at the sight of Black Star.

This event make news waves where whoever translated the script into Spanish felt the news broadcast should say (paraphrasing) “We’re living in a time of authentic danger”. Leading me to speculate that regular crime committed by normal people in this world is not considered “authentic danger”. There’s also a pointless cutaway to a child crying where the mom threaten her kid she’ll call Black Star if he doesn’t stop crying. It contributes nothing to the story, but that some hilarious cruel parenting right there. It only takes around six minutes before Golden Bat actually makes first his appearance in the film for some further nonsense. Aside from his ridiculous character design the members of the mafia show their fear by doing some sort of invisible orgy from what I could interpret from the animation. You got one mafioso thrusting the air, and another mafioso thrusting the floor repeatedly. This leads into a badly animated action scene where Golden Bat wins easily. After stripping the mafia down to their underwear, and leaving one of them a red Bat on their chest Golden Bat leaves the scene. So why did Golden Bat go to the hideout of the mafia if it wasn’t to retrieve the blueprints is never explained. Well, Golden Bat is did strip down several mafioso down to their underwear so he had a plan of some sort that wasn’t aimed at kids (the film intended demographic).

This goofy fight while entertaining sadly isn’t followed up on. Instead of following the last surviving Atlean fighting evil on Earth the film shifts focus to a bunch of annoying kids that really like Golden Bat for the majority of the film. Given the film is barely an hour, and ten minutes long the kids remain static characters. Along with the one dimensional kids, neither do Golden Bat, or the villain Black Star have much personality to them than stating the obvious between good, or evil. The movie also has a easy to follow story where you’re just meant to accept everything at face value. There’s a talking Cat, and a talking Dog that wears boxing glove in the film that everyone simply accept in their everyday normal life in this world. In one scene, there’s a kid who disguises himself as Golden Bat to scare off the mafia, yet the disguise changes his height, body structure, and voice simultaneously. I could buy the mafia falling for the disguise, and even Golden Bat flying out of a Lava pit unscrathed, but an entire costume changing a kid body structure is just pushing it.

Among various nonsense of the writing there is Toltry (the main character) father who claims it is normal for his son to break his neighbor windows. I bring this up because the film does this frequently. It shows something to the viewer that is inconsequential to the story, and goes about it business like nothing happen. So for like 40 minutes it does this until eventually the kids discover Black Star cave by accident. The film tries to setup drama by having a sick dying kid in the film, and revealing his tragic backstory through flashback. I laughed at this part in the film so that tells you how much I cared. Not only was the currently sick kid bald for some reason when his mother died, but became good friends with neighborhood kids on a whim. I would have taken the scene seriously if what sounded like bad porno music (the bad voice acting didn’t help either) wasn’t playing in the background during the flashback. Also, in the flashback a kid shed tears, and his tears goes through his glasses. That’s the kind of things you’ll notice when boring kids character are meant to carry an entire film. It’s difficult to care them too when they’re idiots. In one scene, Toltry tells his friend they should leave before they are discover by Black Star henchman. Instead of immediately leaving the evil layer the kids stand in the same place until an announcement finishes saying someone entered the evil headquarters. I know Toltry is the same character is who did animal impression to cheer up his dying friend in an earlier scene, but that was seriously stupid.

The best part of the movie is easily whenever Golden Bat appears on screen because ridiculous things happen on screen. It’s a shame he’s delegated into the background since the climax is the highlight in the movie. During the climax, the film could care less about the tiny details like logic, and rational thinking as Golden Bat beats up everyone in his path. Golden Bat fights against an army of clone henchman, a robot, and eventually the villain with just whatever came up to the animators mind. Golden Bat is so powerful that he even survives falling into a pit of Lava, and flies out of it without a scratch to fight the villain of the film. The final confrontation is entertaining seeing Golden Bat fight a villain who can seemingly shoots laser out of anything he touches. If the movie offered more cheesy superheroes antics over annoying kids than the film would have been more enjoyable, though probably just as badly written. It would make the moment where Golden Bat karate chops off Black Star arm off look less out of place given the intended audience was obviously for kids.

Animation is odd. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful in finding the studio behind this film. Then again I guess it’s for the best since the animators have a clear butt fetish in the film. Characters are slapped in the butt, kick in the butt, patted on the butt, and a couple of shots to show fat kid butt. Putting some detail into them which questions where the animators priority were at. Throughout the film there’s many examples of bad animation like a character face being colored differently from the rest of his body, a kid head going through a bed sheet even he’s a couple feet away from it, and Golden Bat flying off seemingly out of thin air from a window. My favorite pieces of bad animation is the constant jittering from all the characters in the film that never stops. It’s quite an accomplishment when the animation is so bad that still animation wasn’t done properly. However, the non stop jittering of characters make can scenes unintentionally funny when taken out of context. Usually making it seems like characters are doing something sexual like making it appear like a fat kid is giving his dog a rough time.

I saw the film with a Spanish dub, and regardless of what language you actually understand you can obviously tell this is horrible voice acting. Now I can’t list any specific voice actors since the credits are written in Korean, and the Spanish dub didn’t list any Spanish voice actors in the closing credits either. The only voice actor I would give any compliment to is whoever voiced Golden Bat did a good job in his role. His role was rather limited in screen time, but the voice actor felt self-aware of the role he was playing, and chose to ham it up. It felt appropriate with the tone of the film. Golden Bat was also the only voice actor whose performance was remotely enjoyable because he was intentionally campy. Even though Golden Bat was the hero the evil laugh of Golden Bat as he beats up people is hard not to enjoy. Every other voice actors was terrible. The whole cast simply not caring about their performances. The only things that aren’t dubbed in Spanish are the Korean song tracks. Including two moments where the kids sing Golden Bat theme in their original Korean language, and oh man it’s awful! The kids are out of sync, can’t sing those high notes, and also can’t sing.

Golden Batman is an interesting piece of animation history, as well the source material it’s based on, but there’s nothing to see here. Golden Bat takes a back seat in his own movie even though he has top billing in the film title. While unintentionally funny in parts the annoying voice acting, and the amount of time it likes to waste on pointless diversion it’s better to leave this relic of the past unseen.


Anime-Breakdown: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream (2014) Movie Review

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth was done by AIC A.S.T.A. studio which despite not being a good film I would have preferred if they continued making the films over A-1 Pictures studio. A-1 Pictures had their chance at the Persona franchise with Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Instead of refining Lerche’s earlier anime adaptation, titled Persona 4: The Animation, on the same game A-1 Picture created what is best described as a cash grab. Now they’re in charge of creating a sequel to an average video game movie adaptation. Like with Persona 4: The Golden Animation, A-1 Picture doesn’t seek out to make improvements, and instead makes sure you know it’s an A-1 Pictures product. What I find funny is during the opening sequence, Makoto says “I don’t know why, but I feel really good” looking up into the sky revealing director Tomohisa Taguchi name. Almost as a way to reassure viewers this sequel in good hands. It might seem unimportant, but this is the same director behind Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Persona fans, let that sink in as I delve into this bad sequel.

Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream continues the story of Makoto Yuki from the first film leading a group of Persona users to eliminate “The Dark Hour”. This movie opens with a shower scene in a motel room. The film is gracious enough not to provide viewers with a recap of the previous film to pad the running time, but not smart enough to provide context as to why two teenagers are in a motel seemingly about to have sex. I know what happened since I played the game, but even with that said I’m watching a movie not playing it. External knowledge should not be required to understand the first scene of a movie. Once Yukari Takeba finishes showering, putting on a towel while Makoto takes off accessories around his neck. Yukari, and Makoto stare at each other in the middle of the room for a bit before Yukari blushed from embarrassment. The opening scene ends when Yukari slaps Makoto in the face then cue in title card. No scene, can better express what it felt like to see the film. It was, in every metaphorical sense, a slap to the face as a fan of the Person 3 video game.

A-1 Pictures: We care about plot!

Now, I want to emphasize this is an A-1 Picture production because it takes 17 minutes before anything significant like story actually appears in the movie. Yes, it takes that long before anything story wise actually starts moving forward in a film that’s around an hour, and forty minutes long. The most important thing relating to story that happens within those first 17 minutes is introducing the passive villains Strega. Everything else is spend on fan service like a scene at a beach involving Junpei Iori describing the swimwear of the female characters as the camera shows them off. Granted, this also happened in the video game, but at least they (the female characters) received some characterization at that point in the video game. Since the last movie didn’t develop the cast into dynamic characters it’ll make you shake your head as this is most of the female characters’ biggest contribution in the film. Another aspect it failed to do within those 17 minutes was introduced anything meaningful to use later on in the film story. After an opening action scene, the characters are next seen on a boat heading to an island, then proceeds for around 10 minutes on the beach on non-story related activity.

Now pass those first 17 minutes the film finally provides explanations for questions that should have been answered in the first film. So now you’ll finally get an answer for why Gekkoukan High School transform into Tartarus in “The Dark Hour”, why the Shadows were released into the world, how to possibly eliminate “The Dark Hour”, and how many of the powerful Shadows that appear during a full moon need to be defeated. All of this information would have been useful in the first film! This is basically damage control for the insane decision for characters to withhold information for no good reason. Narratively it leaves the viewers with no exposure to Persona 3 wandering in the dark when information needed to understand how the film world function gets addressed in the sequel. Thankfully, the one good decision from the story was explaining the concept of artificial Personas. Explaining what makes them different from regular Personas, and the consequences they hold. It’s not a focal point in the film, but at least some attention is given to it.

Welcome to the Pointless Room. A place between padding, and filler.

Out all the material that could have been cut from the film it’s beyond comprehension why the one, and only scene in “The Velvet Room” was left in when all that was said in it was enjoy life to the fullest, and beware of Shadows. This added absolutely nothing of value to the story. The inhabitants of “The Velvet Room” don’t appear again the film besides this one scene. The film was also in need of direction, and main goal to accomplish in the story. There’s a moment in the film where Shinji cooks for a dog while wearing pink cooking apparels. Then, the camera turns around to show an expressionless Aegis staring at Shinji. This causes Shinji to sweat with hip hop music (Mass Destruction by Lotus Juice) playing in the background repeating “Baby, baby, baby”. I just described a pointless moment in the film that the creators of the film approved to animate in the film, even though the first 17 minutes does nothing to move the story forward. Choices like these are the reasons why these Persona 3 films fail to tell a story properly.  

While still discussing the first thirty minutes of the film I should get across this sequel ruined one of my favorite scene from the video game. It’s after Yukari sees footage of her father dying (plus a revelation discerning Shadows too), and Makoto goes to the beach at night attempting to make Yukari feel better. I very much like this scene allot in the video game besides being a tender moment gave Yukari more depth as a character. It also ended with a humorous note showing the group strong friendship in hard times. So, when I saw the altered scene play out it was for a different purpose. What should have been a character defining moment for Yukari ends up being the set up to an introductory action scene to show off Aegis capabilities as an Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapon killing a dozen or so shadows. I wouldn’t have mind the action scene if A.) Cell Phones were working even though the first film establishes technology doesn’t work during “The Dark Hour”, B.) The action scene happens after Yukari sees footage of her father dying which dramatically voids Yukari of a meaningful moment, and finally C.) If in the previous film a single character had no trouble fending off a powerful Shadow in his first time of combat in Tartarus what makes you think I’m going to believe two unarmed characters will be in danger from an encounter where they are surrounded by a dozen weak Shadows.

Okay, with the first 1/3 of the film problems already written about there’s the rest of the film. With newly introduce Cyborg Girl Aegis now part of the main cast the film makes sure to tell audience she has an infatuation with protagonist Makoto Yuki. A love triangle would have benefited the story if done right. Makoto pays more attention towards Aegis in the film than Yukari even though they have known each other longer. Yukari is shown being jealous whenever Aegis says her purpose in life is to be next to Makoto Yuki side. If competently written this would be used to develop Yukari instead of just being used for humor. To add insult to injury Aegis proves to be more powerful, and useful in combat than Yukari who has been fighting Shadows for a far longer time. This romance aspect of the story doesn’t go far beyond Aegis stating she wants to be next to Makoto. Our protagonist shows no interest in either of them, but spends more time with Aegis in the film.

“I can’t believe believe this goes nowhere plot point”. Now with everything you hate without the cholesterol.

Continuing what was the point of the first film if Makoto didn’t learn to be more open with his emotions! It’s like he reset as a character to learn the same thing in the sequel. However, this film ends on a tragic note which would have made sense for Makoto to be emotionless if that tragic event happened earlier, or if the film was longer. It’s headache inducing attempting to figure out why the filmmakers thought this was a good direction to take Makoto character in.

When it comes to characters instead of developing the already large cast this sequel decides to increase its number instead. With the exception of Makoto, all the characters from the previous film are delegated into the background. Including Yukari, and Junpei whom were important in the previous film don’t grow as characters in the sequel. Junpei for instance doesn’t know what he would do after “The Dark Hour” is dealt with, but there’s no exploration on it. Other characters who also pondered this same question in one scene. Beside Makoto Yuki, everyone else’s thoughts on the question feel unimportant. A negative that detracts from the whole group dynamic when its tries to get across SEES is made up of close friends. Any character that was in the sideline in the first film don’t receive better treatment except for Akihiko who receives some characterization. Unlike the first film where the climax allowed him to contribute to the story. In this entry, Akihiko ends up short as his connection with Shinjiro has to be rushed, nor is the idea that they (Shinjiro and Akihiko) are good friends is done convincingly.

A total of seven characters get added to the cast. One of them is Ken Amada who turns out the best developed of the new characters. He has a simple backstory that eventually turns into a sub-plot of revenge. This leads to Ken being more developed as a character since the reasons behind his negative feelings on living are addressed. Koromaru is a dog that can use a Persona who has no backstory to him. Ken says a single line that Koromaru got left behind, but that could mean anything from an owner who forgot his dog to a street dog with no owner. A single line won’t make me care Koromaru, even if he’s a cute dog who can use a Cerberus like Persona. Finally, there is Shinjiro Aragaki who joins SEES fifty minute into the film. Anybody who has played the game (minus maxing out Shinjiro social link in Persona 3 Portable female route) knows Shinjiro fate in the story. His late addition to SEES makes Shinjiro character be rushed, and his impact on the story overall weak. Without much time spend with him, along with other characters, there’s no reason to be invested in their story. He’s also a plot convenience in the film when he goes to the rescue of SEES.

I pronounce you Mr. and Ms. Sue.

If you complained about Makoto Yuki being overpowered in the first film; this film offers a solution by providing another overpowered character. This time in the form of Aegis who also just as powerful as Makoto. In this film, Aegis is responsible for doing most of the fighting while Makoto is given a handicapped depending on the context. The climatic fight in particular has Makoto pondering his purpose after eliminating “The Dark Hour” for most it. While on the climax, it does a disservice to Junpei, and Yukari characters as they get beaten quickly showing they had not grown stronger since the first film. As a character, Aegis is simply a robot that doesn’t blend well with other human with how she acts. Unfortunately, she doesn’t learn, or wants to seek out what it means to be human in the film. Though, given the archetype of Aegis it’s bound to happen. Her defining trait in this film is being overpowered, and being attached to Makoto Yuki allot.

Lastly for the characters there are the members of Strega. A group that only has one character who has anything to do in the story. His name is Takaya Sakaki who states his intentions, and make the heroes ponder the questions of their purpose without “The Dark Hour”. Takaya is only in this film to kill off a certain character whose death has not much impact because that specific character short screen time. The other members of Strega don’t do much beside exist. Finally, there’s the character of Pharos who also has little to do in the film. Much like the one scene in “The Velvet Room”, Pharos appearance could have been cut out since he basically states the obvious of something bad is about to happen.

I might hate this movie, but A-1 Pictures usually delivers in animation.

A-1 Pictures is in charge with the production, and thankfully at least that is carried over from previous film. A-1 Pictures doesn’t improve on the animation aspect, but there is not a decrease in quality either from film to film. There’s more variety in the settings. The majority of the movie takes place at night time with the presence of with lots of heavy shadows. Like in the previous film, it’s reliance on lighting to create an eerie atmosphere. When in “The Dark Hour” blacks into dark greens and the blues into reds. This carries in the film insistent on color saturation be it making day scenes intensely bright, or making night scenes really dark. Almost as if it’s unable to trust viewers with the time of day a scene takes place in. Particle effects are amped in the battles from the previous film as members in SEES equals to more Persona on screen using magic attack, or the characters killing shadows. When Aegis is killing a group of Shadows in her first action scene the animation is fluid as she quickly moves around the environment, the framing of shot making it clear to see what’s going on, and the effects to add to the impact of an attack be it heavy flames, or bullet piercing. There is some bad 3D animation during a major action scene that doesn’t blend with 2D animation. Besides this the 3D in the film is not jarringly noticeable through its duration.

Shoji Muguro continues to provide music for the Persona 3 films. This time around the film offers new music to listen that wasn’t in the original Persona 3 games. The hip hop track “Fate Is In Our Hands” by rapper Lotus Juice plays in the opening sequence during a battle scene. Due to the bad audio mixing the sound effect drown out the music being played, but the song itself is rather good. It’s more progressive than the actual film discussing the hardships of life, and the persistence to overcome them. There’s a stanza in the song where Lotus Juice tries to understand his foes, and quickly goes into how his actual worse enemy is himself. Subjects that are brought up in the film, but not expanded upon like in this track. Yumi Kawamura provides her vocal for the film ending theme titled “One Hand, One Heartbeat”. This melancholic, piano ballad track perfectly closes the film on a somber note. Unlike the film writing, Yumi Kawamura provide emotional vocals that can make the viewer feel something in the scene after it’s over. By itself Yumi Kawamura song is a heartfelt piano ballad about losing someone special. In general, the music itself tells a far better, and compelling story than the film writing does on its own.

Voice acting is satisfactory once again. With too many characters, and unequal screen time the majority of the main voice cast from the first film get sideline without being offered single a scene to display their talent. Giving more half of its talent the equivalent of thankless roles. New addition Kazuya Nakai who plays Shinjirou Aragaki gets the most ranged in a rush amount of time. His performance is noteworthy as despite the speed his character changes tone Kazyua Nakai always sound natural. He makes the swift change in his character easier to accept. Megumi Ogata plays Ken Amada has a more steady change in her performance. Going from uncertain scare kid, too optimistic, to gloomy is handle well through her performance. I might not like the character Ken Amada, but she makes the character convincing. Then there’s Maaya Sakamoto who plays Aegis who has plenty of screen time. Unfortunately, her character is a cyborg trying to learn emotion archetype. However, since Aegis hasn’t gotten philosophical of what it means to be human Maaya Sakamoto is monotone for the whole film. It goes with the character in this instance, but it ends up being a forgettable performance. Sakamoto monotone delivery of her lines does provide hint of a complex character making Aegis seem hollow than she might actually be.

Makoto Yuki: “I could be dynamic, but I’ll prefer to be static”

What really bothers me the most about the performances is voice actor Akira Ishida doesn’t get to expand on his character Makoto Yuki. So he once again has to play the same emotionless, broken leading character from the first film. Ishida is not allowed to be more emotional, more expressive in his portrayal of Makoto Yuki. This film does the biggest disservice to him since by not allowing Akira Ishida to gradually transition his emotionless character to a more expressive one. The film rejects Akira Ishida the opportunity to expand Makoto Yuki beyond what was presented in the first film. It feels like a retread of his performance from the first film. While his retread performance is not bad it doesn’t quite the same effect the second time around.

Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream is a bad film continuing being inaccessible for newcomers, and infuriating for Persona 3 fans for not making the appropriate changes for the material to function as a movie. None of the character are develop to care about, there’s no tension because of two overpowered characters, a large cast most of whom don’t contribute to the story, and is predictably boring for anyone who played Persona 3 as it does nothing to fans off guard. It looks, and sounds like Persona 3, but by the time the credits roll it won’t be the same emotional roller coaster the video game was.


Anime-Breakdown: Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth (2013) Movie Review

I played Persona 3 FES at a time when I started losing interest in gaming. From the opening intro, right till the end of its short post credit scene Persona 3 rejuvenated my interest in video games. While Persona 2: Eternal Punishment made me a fan of the Persona series it was Persona 3 that made me into a Shin Megami Tensei addict. Persona 3 FES was heavy on the exploration of death, the lore setup in the world was fascinating, the music was good, and finally the gameplay (while repetitive in design) kept me hooked for around the 84 hours it took me to beat it. Regardless if it’s in film, or in a tv series format anything based around video games generally end up being down right awful at worst, and just barely average at best. The amount of watchable video game adaptation can be counted on a single hand. Now, you think the film adaptation of Persona 3 would easily please a fan of the video game. Sadly, that is not the case as certain choices make the film a hindrance to see. The video game storyline was not adapted into film format properly, nor were the necessary changes made in order to create a good film. Even with my single-minded love of the video game this film ended up being average at best, and boring at it worst.

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth follows Makoto Yuki, a transfer student at Gekkoukan High School, suddenly awakened with the powers to control a Persona (a demon like manifestation of one’s personality). First order of business if you have never played any incarnation of the video game Persona 3, or know anything associated with the game you’re completely out of luck with this film. Not only does it required multiple films to solve its main course of conflict, but doesn’t offer a story that can stand alone without supplementary material to understand it. Like the fact there is no film adaptation of the first, or second Persona games in the series, nor are all the games within the series connected together to weave a single narrative. With the inclusion of No. 1 in the title should give the uninitiated an idea of what to expect. If not, the short version is a main conflict that doesn’t get resolved, characters that are underdeveloped, story elements that are underused or lack explanation, and a series of questions that serve to bait viewers instead of intrigue. Newcomers will be left in the dark on anything going on in the film.

In general, the writing ranges in good decisions, and delivery as it introduces characters, and certain story elements, but does very little with them. For example, in the film you get a random scene in what’s called “The Velvet Room”. An elegant blue colored elevator constantly going up where our protagonist, Makoto Yuki, is told by long nose proprietor Igor the power of friendship by building bonds will unlock more Persona/Demons. Within the film context, this is a pretty cheap plot device since it basically means our protagonist can be given any Persona/Demon simply through the film loose definition on the power of friendship if the plot demands it. Before that though, you’ll be wondering how in the world did Makoto Yuki entered “The Velvet Room” since the first time he enters “The Velvet Room” we last see Makoto riding on a train. The next time Makoto goes into “The Velvet Room” it’s after he fights demons referred to as Shadows on a roof top. The next time is when he’s on a train, with two of his friends fighting a powerful demon. It is explained that “The Velvet Room” is a place between mind, and matter. A place within dream, and reality. Between WTF, and helpful explanation for how Makoto enters “The Velvet Room”. Every time Makoto enters “The Velvet Room” what happened in the previous scene is different. When witnessing Igor give Makoto Yuki a key it’s natural to assume it would come into play in the film somehow. If something as minor as this key was not properly used for anything than the chances of it actually succeeding where it counts have been lowered.

Pacing is episodic like treating each act in the film as a mini-arc. The first half hour attempts to set up a normal life routine with some element of something otherworldly. Its intention is nice setting up a mystery, but when one of the first things you see is Makoto Yuki walking on a sidewalk with coffins just outside it fails immediately. This odd scene it chooses to open with only begins the series of unanswered questions. For instance, there’s a mention of Makoto Yuki parents being dead, and a couple of flashes of Makoto past that hints at a tragedy. That’s about as far as it goes in exploring his backstory.

Another is the creation of Tartarus (a giant tower filled with demons/shadows), and why Gekkoukan High School transforms into it is skipped over. At most, there’s a reference to a specific event that might have caused it, but the film doesn’t go into that detail either. Withholding information in this case makes no sense since the characters whom participate in stopping the shadows/demons should question their cause for fighting for SEES (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad) who are against these creatures. The heroes never do which seems odd when one of the main characters, Yukari Takeba, states her dislike for the protagonist fighting on missions just because, but not question herself for the cause she fights for.

Aspects in the world like “The Dark Hour” is explained by continuing a theme of vagueness in its creation which is also only referenced. One example of vague explanations being within the same scene establishing technology doesn’t work in “The Dark Hour” viewers will be shown Mitsuru Kirijo (a member of SEES) riding on a motorcycle during “The Dark Hour”, and the only explanation for it functioning is “It’s specially made”. Also in this scene, it makes sense for the newcomers who are Junpei, and Makoto not to know this fact, but Yukari who has been in SEES longer barely learning vehicles don’t work in “The Dark Hour” is questionable on character consistency.

One aspect that is done away with quickly is our main three characters Yukari, Junpei, and Makoto learning to use their abilities for the first time. Even though it’s their first time fighting, and the audience is told it has a toll on their psyche the action on screen goes against the information given. Makoto in his first time fighting against a powerful shadow in Tartarus beats it virtually by himself. Action scenes are animated nicely, but the context, and the plot armor prevents them from being exciting. The only real consequence in these battle is shown the first time Makoto fights against the Shadows resulting in him losing consciousness for several days. It shows Makoto waking up from a hospital bed which sets up the idea there is actual consequences to using your Persona. Afterwards the physical, and mental toll that can result in using a Persona become absent for the rest of the film.

This film adaptation only adapts the first three full moon incidents, which in the game is three months’ worth of story material to work with which probably equals around 20 hours of gameplay. To further highlight this problem, progression of time is shown through a calendar that goes through dates in linear fashion showing stills, or animation without dialogue of what occurred on those days. What this doesn’t get across is the characters are bonding like it wanted since every time it cuts back into telling a story there’s something upsetting the group of characters the film follows. With so much on it plate the struggle between balancing saving the world, and having a school life is ignored. During the opening sequence several characters are shown most of whom don’t make an appearance in the film. Serving as foreshadowing for the answers you’re not going to receive in the film.

Protagonist Makoto Yuki characterization in the film is a transfer student loner who learns the value of friendship, and showing more emotion. Beside the typical dead parents background, Makoto expressions is limited to being uninterested through the entire film. The journey leads up to a smile, and in terms of interaction the film decides to end before seeing the result his journey had on him. So throughout the film Makoto doesn’t have a personality, and his past is only briefly discussed. While Makoto arc is written in a typical way without surprises it’s handle competently. His lacked of any distinguishable trait from an overpowered emotionless lead makes him uninteresting as a protagonist, but his transformation is steadily done not falling victim to being an unnatural one-eighty change.

Yukari Takeba fares the best of the supporting cast. She gets developed, has an arc that gets completed, and contributes to the story. Having scenes interacting with Makoto helps develop Makoto, and herself. Her inability to trust Makoto with her life because of his lack emotion is touched on. However, she tells the strongest member of the group she doesn’t want him to go on a rescue mission because he doesn’t have an emotional input in it. If Makoto wasn’t overpowered Yukari outburst wouldn’t be idiotic. That’s not the case so Yukari looks like an idiot in this scene by being fully aware of this fact, and voicing her opinion to make SEES rescue operation more dangerous. Aside from this very plot point, Yukari develops competently as well.

Junpei Iori is delegated to being comedic relief without doing much comedy. Why the film made this decision is up in the air for debate. In the film, maybe Junpei class-clown attitude could have been used as a way for him to hide his discontent self-image, but it’s not. Junpei develops an inferiority complex at one point in the movie out of nowhere, and gets resolved minutes later. Then later on in the film, Junpei wants to redeem himself for acting irresponsibly on one of the team’s operation. What exactly his arc was trying to accomplish is sketchy. Fuuka Yamagishi who has less screen time then Junpei has a simple arc of being bullied by one of her friends, but not letting that get in the way of her friendship. Or Fuuka just has low self-esteem too. She’s not developed much as a character beyond what’s introduced about her, but her arc also gets completed even if Fuuka remain largely unchanged.

Then finally leaves the remainder of the underutilize cast. Mitsuru Kirijo has little to do in the film. Her small contribution is feeding the team information on the environment during operations. In a routine setting, she is simply in the background. It’s hinted Yukari doesn’t like Mitsuru, but that goes nowhere. Shinjiro Aragaki is only used to deliver exposition in two scenes, and helping the main cast out of trouble in one scene. Akihiko Sanada is just in the film. He’s a fodder character regardless if the film attempts to paint him as an important member of SEES. Then the oldest character in the film being Shuji Ikutsuki who is only important in one scene where he explains “The Dark Hour”, and the purpose of SEES. Beside that one scene he’s in the background not doing much either. There’s Natsuki Moriyama who is the bully/friend of Fuuka whose change is telegraphed by this description. That’s a lot of wasted room for characters who mostly do nothing in the film, and that’s not including three supernatural characters that serve as deus ex machina, and info dumping on an impending catastrophe.

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth was animated by AIC A.S.T.A. Art direction captures the game’s dark atmosphere perfectly. The usage of lighting is key since most of the film takes place in the dark. Thanks to the clever usage of moonlight, the action in the film is easy to see while the lighting still manages to keep the setting looking ominous. Locations from the game are brought to life, and given a vibrant new look, whilst also retaining the same details that any fan of the game will remember fondly. Plenty of foreboding compositions, oppressive shots, and generally solid direction help to keep things aesthetically impressive. Animations such as the school turning into Tartarus are rendered beautifully (even if the 3D in the scene is weak), and many elements of movement and action that were previously left to the imagination are now visually stunning. Action scenes while lacking excitement are nice eye candy. One thing the film fixed about the characters’ designs were the long necks from the games. All the characters look more natural in the film with some minor touches like adding more line details to the hair to update the game arts style.

Shoji Meguro returns in his role to produce the soundtrack, and as usual his work is stellar.  Crazy techno/hip-hop soundtrack creates a unique tone. The game’s soundtrack is largely reused in the movie, and fits perfectly well. If anything, the movie does a special service to the soundtrack by not playing the same tracks for several hours like in the video game. As a fan of Shoji Meguro in general, the best part of the film was the opening credits with a remixed version of “Burn My Dread”—complete with an added strings section. This film does not provide many new materials worth looking into in terms of music, but the rearrangement of familiar tracks makes it a nostalgic trip for fans. The original Japanese voice cast from the video game returns to reprise their role, and are just solid in the film adaptation. In particular Akira Ishida gets allot more to say besides some grunts and demon names. While limited in dialogue, Akira Ishida grim voice fits the broken character of Makoto. Unfortunately, with the sloppy writing grants no one else the opportunity to deliver much of a noteworthy performance from the character they play. As of this moment, there’s no English dub even though it’s licensed for North America distribution by Aniplex of America. Take that as you will if you liked the English cast from the video game.

Persona 3 The Movie: Chapter 1, Spring of Birth is a movie that I wouldn’t recommend seeing, including fans of the video games. The production side of things capture the aesthetic of Persona 3, but the writing doesn’t emulate what made fans hold the video game in their heart so dearly in the first place. For newcomers, it’ll leave them in the dark with too many unanswered questions, and the inability to work as a stand-alone feature film weakens the narrative when divided in segments. Fans of the video game might be able to enjoy it as whatever doesn’t get explained they’ll still know what’s going on. However, I would just rather say replay the video-game for a better experience. As an adaptation it’s not a train wreck since the story is interesting, and some character arc are handle well, but not enough was changed to make it work in a different medium.