Tag Archives: 8/10

Cinema-Maniac: I Saw the Devil (2010) Review

If there’s another genre that had a bigger fall from grace it would be the horror genre. Much like the action genre, allot of fans can agree the 80s was where it peaked in popularity. However, horror can still continue to push the boundary of what is acceptable both visually, and from a creative perspective. How much is too much when it comes to blood, and gore. How in depth of an character exploration can you create before you begin thinking like a killer. Horror has the ability, more so than other genre, to put viewers in a uncomfortable situations, and even scare them in some cases. As someone who doesn’t see allot of horror movies it’s unfortunate very few horror films from the 90s, and 2000s didn’t entice me in viewing the genre without a preconceived notion. What made matter worse is despite having seen very few horror films, most of what I was exposed to by friends, and family were generally trite films within the genre. There were eventually films that won me over like 1931 Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 (the only horror movie to scare me to date), and George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead which is my all time favorite zombie film. That’s why I’m happy to write about I Saw the Devil. A modern horror film that is hybrid with a psychological thriller, and succeed for all the right reasons work as well it should have.

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Choi Min-sik: “Mmm, I could use this arm for a pie.”

I Saw the Devil is about a secret agent exacting revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases. While not entirely a horror film, one admirable trait that I Saw the Devil accomplishes far better than general horror films is contextualizing the blood, and gore. Too often do many films within this genre disregard characters, and story for the sake of bloodshed. The film is deliberately slow paced for this singular reason. For starter, it slow pacing helps it create an atmosphere of dread over it’s main Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee). What it also allows for is to display impatience within Kim Soo-hyeon witnessing him losing sleep over finding his wife’s killer. Showing Kim Soo-hyeon will do anything in his position in the name of vengeance. Splicing scenes of both Kim Soo-hyeon, and Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) current activities in the film to never lose focus of time. Showing the two men psychology are similar in certain ways, but makes it easy to determine who the film wants you to sympathize with as Kim Soo-hyeon is going after killers while Kyung-chul goes after women to kill.

Another aspect of the story that is appealing is putting a twist on a familiar premise. In some horror films, if the victim of the deceased faces with the killer it’s either save until the climax, or becomes a film where the victim tortures the killer until someone dies in both scenario. By the end of the first act, the film victim Kim Soo-hyeon confronts killer Kyung-chul in which, surprisingly a choreographed fight scene ensues. After this confrontation, the film still continues by using a hunter, and the hunted mentality for its characters. At certain points in the film, this mind game between the two characters are discussed in the film. One attempted to be persuaded to simply let up on the vengeance, and ponder if there’s any value in it. For another he receives a taste of his own medicine while also deriving pleasure of how to get under the skin of whoever chasing him. In terms of characterization enough is given about Kim Soo-hyeon to understand his action. Simple things like having a wife, and caring for his family is as deep as it goes for Kim Soo-hyeon as a person. It’s enough to give an idea of his mentality before he decides to take revenge, and seeing how his act of revenge ultimately affects eventually becomes a dynamic characterization.

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Come at me bro!

The same cannot be said for those it represent as killers since the film never bother exploring the psychological aspect of what can motivate its criminals to do the things they do. There’s a cannibal in the film who loves eating people, but that’s about as deep as it goes. All the criminals function as criminals. They’re meant to be evil for the sake of being evil in order to take pleasure in their deaths. It could be debated the intention was to to debate in the act of revenge itself is justified, but on the other hand the film does not lay down any ground work for greyness. Nothing is more evident of this than the usage of its female characters. From the victims perspectives they respect women as people, but every time a criminal interacts with a woman it’s with the intent to do whatever the criminal desire to do with them. It’s portrayal of representing both sides is one dimensional at best. Just fine for a revenge fantasy film, but when the script tacked on a family aspect to Kyung-chul character it says it wanted to be something more thought provoking. Made even noteworthy when it wants to use Kyung-chul family to get across a specific agenda that doesn’t work out since they’re only included in one before popping back up again. It hard see the film for anything other more than just a piece of revenge fantasy where viewers takes satisfaction in seeing its main character harm criminals.

Other issues within the film are specifically connected to the horror genre itself. Moments in the film required higher suspension of disbelief in order for the film to function the way it wants too. One of these problematic plot point is not Kim Soo-hyeon not killing his wife’s murderer when he’s given three good opportunities to do so. It’s given context, and established motivation for why Kim Soo-hyeon won’t simply kill Kyung-chul. What is not explained in the film is how Kyung-chul manage to find personal information of Kim Soo-hyeon within a quick span of time. There’s no mention in the film he’s connected with anyone in the police force, nor has ties with many criminals that can provide this information. Another issues comes in the form of useless police officers for the film both as characters, and narrative devices. Within the film, the police officers biggest contribution is making an arrest after Kim Soo-hyeon has another encounter with Kyung-chul. As far as usage go they give minimal remarks on how they dislike killers receiving medical treatment in a hospital despite their crimes, and does not provide additional characterization for any of the criminals. A miss opportunity for the police officers is providing a semblance of a man hunt. Rarely is there a mention of the police making progress of finding a suspect who is going after serial killers. There’s is a moment where it seems like the police are close to tracking down Kyung-chul, but it ends up being forgotten plot point. I would mention that the police did provide Kim Soo-hyeon information needed to track down his wife murderer as a positive from the police inclusion, but he’s a secret agent so information gathering wouldn’t be as difficult to obtain if he was an ordinary citizen.

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Choi Min-sik ain’t happy with this buried alive prank. 

I Saw the Devil is entirely reliant on talent of two highly regarded actors from Korea who are Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee. Choi Min-sik as the psychaotic Kyung-chul is a  performance that is show stealing. Portraying a psychopath whose proud, and takes pleasure in the accomplishment of his killings. Embodying the truest essence of a killer without going over the top. Choi Min-sik subdue portrayal makes his character much more memorable because of it. Coming off as human as possible making it believable in one moment he holds your best interest to then later on want to chop you up into pieces. Withholding any urge to exaggerate his mannerism, and body language. At the same time, despite how often the viewer will see him get abused, Min-sik is a talented actor that he’s still manage to make his character despicable. The character of Kyung-chul has remotely no essence of any likable traits, yet Choi Min-sik understanding of his character paints a clear understanding of his mentality. In the all best possible ways, Choi Min-sik delivers a performance is very impressive to see unfold as much as it is capable to make you immerse within the film.

Byung-hun Lee who plays isn’t too shabby himself in the film either. Lee does a excellent job displaying a character whom seem to have all life sucked out of him. Remaining calm in any situation, even when to face with the killer. Despite displaying a humanless exterior for most of the film when the situation demands it Byung-hun Lee, in a few scenes is able to be emotional. There’s a final moment as the film closes where in a single moment Lee be expresses how mentality broken his character has become. When it comes to the sequences that require to fight him against actor Choi Min-sik, and neither of whom are expert in martial arts their performance of these sequences can fool anyone. Especially Byung-hun Lee whose swift movement can make a viewer further believe he encompasses his perfectly. As for the rest of the cast they’re at best character actor being good at playing off that one specific trait of their characters. It’s no exaggeration when saying the film is essentially a showcase for actors Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee than. Given the film aims that’s not a negative. The (I’m surprise to have) stunts work in the film are have good work put into them, and in certain scenes amaze by its creativity.

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I’m huntin wabbits!

The film is directed by Jee-won Kim who also has a writing credit in the film. His direction in the film is basically flawless. Despite sporting a beautiful look thanks to Mo-gae Lee it still manages to create scenes that master of the horror genre would be proud off. One important tool in Kim framing of a horror sequence is lightning, and showing specific details of the environments. In the opening sequence, Jee-won Kim makes it clear how helpless one of Choi Min-sik victims is in the environment. A recurring feeling Jee-won Kim goes for is making the viewer feel trapped in certain environments. Rarely showing what’s on the outside of an car, or building when a horror set piece is in place. His usage of wide shots is minimal in the film mostly being reliant on close on medium, and close ups whenever in buildings, and cars. What it accomplishes is not showing any blind spot to where an escape route is possible. Another aspect Jee-won Kim avoids is the common horror trope of people tripping while they run. Since there isn’t a high death count that never becomes an issue. If there’s any moments where Jee-won Kim becomes indulgent it’s mostly towards horror fans. He makes up for the lack of kills by going all out in showing good practical effects of body parts, makes sure lots of blood is spilled, and doesn’t cut away from hard to watch sequences. There’s a scene there you see a character cutting off an Achilles tendon, and the viewer sees the entire process. Another standout sequence execellent direction revolves around Choi Min-sik riding in a taxi with suspicious characters. Without being specific, this particular is carefully constructed to be bloody displaying Choi Min-sik stabbing people multiple times in a taxi, and having little blood spill on the camera as it spins around taxi. Jee-won Kim is relentless where it counts, but not overboard to the point where it’s indulgent on blood, and gore.

I Saw the Devil is wonderful combination of horror, and a psychological thriller understanding the best of both genre. The horror elements allows it to go into dark places as well as be bloody in presentation. Balance elegantly with the psychological mind games of two characters who simply hate each other guts to fuel it story after its first act. It’s a wonderfully twisted cat, and mouse game even when it’s clear at points it wants to be more than just revenge fantasy entertainment. On a technical level alone it offers two great performances from two good actor which alone makes it worth viewing. If you haven’t seen a good usage of horror within films, or simply a fan of horror movies I Saw the Devil will satisfy viewers who simply want the blood, and gore, while also offering viewers who are looking something more than just meaningless bloodshed.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Revenant (2015) Movie Review

Under good hands the ordinary can seem extraordinary. In film, it has the power to make a story that is entirely set in one car surprisingly engaging (Locke). At the same time, it has the power to take something like a giant serpent, and its army wrecking Los Angeles boring (Dragon Wars). Thanks to medium like films, they have the power to share those kinds of experience that otherwise probably never would have experienced by viewers in their life. In some cases, making you feel like as if you’re right in the story. The Revenant is such a film achieving an immersive experience that makes up for it shortcomings that come up from the writing.

The Revenant follows frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s fighting for his survival. There is a narrative thread woven from Hugh Glass desire to seek revenge, but a cat, and mouse game the film is not. Choosing to focus instead on Glass struggle with nature the film is written in a way to emphasize visceral, visual experience. Dialogue heavy scenes are few in between, and the focus is hardly removed from a wounded Hugh Glass ongoing battle against nature, and to a certain extent his fellow men. Spending around a third of the film with Hugh Glass alone without monologuing on anything associated with himself. Opting to show Hugh Glass as much possible with his wounded body to carry on forward. Only hearing the sounds of the environment (the cold wind blowing, waterfalls) to create a sense of desolate. Expressing his pain in a series of grunts, and screams. Hugh Glass is a man of very few words throughout the film. Whenever he does speak Glass dialogue is written to get across the broadest idea in the least amount of words. This same notion also applies to the era where the film takes place in. It never explicitly states where, nor when the story takes place in, but just gives the minimal amount of information. As a whole the film takes itself seriously, though does offer a couple sparsely spread out brief comedic moments. These bits of humor are a rarity serving their purpose to lighten things up. However, the tone is not trying to balance itself making it serious business at all time.

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Leonardo DiCaprio: How many more Buffalo you want me to eat to get an Oscar!

In the writing department developed characters are not in full focus. Hugh Glass is not developed beyond his standard traits introduce in the beginning of the film. He’s a loving father who cares for his son, and a tough individual who can withstand what nature throws at him. There are trinkets of dialogue where characters do talk about Glass past, but never a full scene dedicated to showing it. You will get brief glimpses into the past of Hugh Glass, though the significance of them underwhelms since it never leads to anything. These glimpses of Glass past attempt to make him more of a definable character, though the only aspect of them that feels organic is Glass dedication. A common theme in the movie is his dedication to persevere through his injuries no matter how painful it is. Glass lives by the words “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight”. Demonstrating this belief in his dedication to stay alive as well as becoming a motif for narrative purposes.

One important trait of the writing that fails at is creating morally grey characters. Within the film own context, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) action are attempted to be painted as an act of necessity for survival. Showing his hesitation in Hugh Glass leadership, and lack of confidence in the group chances of survival when chased by Indians. Attempting to make his action justifiable to an extent. What’s disappointing about this element is whenever the film shows more, and more of Fitzgerald he is clearly meant to come across as the film villain. Throwing out the morally grey characters it wanted to create in the film becoming a more streamline revenge story. Two moments backing up this claim is Fitzgerald dialogue in the climax is most evident of his wholly villainous turn taunting Hugh Glass. Another is Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) who in spite of his position of Captain does not order his men to search for Fitzgerald because the film wants its protagonist to learn something from his journey.

Then, there’s a moment in the climax where Fitzgerald performs an action reminiscences of an event that scarred him. What makes little sense is that it’s established in a scene that any type of reminder of that event puts Fitzgerald on edge never wanting to think about it. However, when he performs the specific action it eliminates consistency in his character, and remove what little characterization he had. Slowly transforming the morally ambiguous action of characters into good, and evil. If there were more to Fitzgerald had more to his character than the film still would have worked with the revenge story intact as well as having the intended morally ambiguous characters, but the small moments, and important details get toss aside derailing it.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu direction while unsubtle in the tackling of the film main theme did a magnificent job in creating a visceral experience. Using breathing as a motif in his storytelling (and part of the soundtrack), and the loose visual representation of being reborn/resurrected. In the film, every time Leonardo DiCaprio character struggle through an overwhelming ordeal Alejandro Gonzalez focuses the lens on showing him getting stronger in his ordeal. Giving the proper direction to DiCaprio on movement to illustrate his growing strength. His usage of CGI is small, but made every usage is for great effect. In a noteworthy scene with heavy CG Leonardo DiCaprio is mauled, and tossed around by a Bear. Paying close attention since the Bear is CG Alejandro was smart in using practical effects hidden within the CG Bear make whatever the CG Bear makes contact with move. It’s especially noteworthy when considering most of the Bear attack scene was done in one take leaving little room for error. Under his determined direction the film always feel like it’s in good hands.

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This particular sequence early in the film is amazing. Nothing else to add.

The opening sequence of the film is a technical accomplishment that should be noted. Opening up with an Indians attacking a group of hunters doesn’t sound complicated on paper, but when you make it on a big scale it does. However, the scope of the Indian attack on the hunters isn’t the reason it’s an accomplishment for the film. Rather it’s the fact that both cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and editor Stephen Mirrione created a set piece comprised mostly of a series of one shot takes. Right when the first hunter is shown falling to the floor from arrows shot on his back Lubezki continues aiming the camera at where the viewer should be focus for a seamless shot. In this one shot, a hunter is shot in the neck with an arrow showing the arrow make contact, while another hunter is struck in the back with a wooden spear, and the sound of death scares a hunter causing him to shoot a hunter in front of him without a cut. Another compliment to Emmanuel Lubezki would be the lighting. Yes it’s an entirely random aspect of filmmaking to praise when it goes largely unnoticed. The Revenant was virtually shot entirely with natural lighting which is impressive since there are filmmakers who can’t even do fabricated lighting correctly. Only one scene in the movie uses a dash of creative artificial lighting. It was for a campfire shot in which the wind was causing the fire to behave in an unpredictable and distracting way, Lubezki used some light bulbs around the fire to make what he calls a cushion of light. Making an already beautiful looking film more technically impressive.

If there’s a possible complaint to be had with the cinematography that would be the repetitive usage of wide angle shots. It becomes noticeable before reaching the hour mark that the film love to use wide angle shots by itself, or have the shot pan in either the left, or right direction. In addition, it also has a couple of wide angle shots that spin around too. While harmless for the film intentions the visual is very noticeable when viewing it.

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Come on boys! Let look for a new angle!

Now if you’re going into the film with the idea to see a thrilling spectacle you’ll be disappointed. While the film few set pieces are excellent, and fantastically filmed with a visually large scope in mind. They will take a back seat to everything else that is shown in the film. Shots of DiCaprio crawling stay up longer than a set piece that requires DiCaprio escaping from a group of attacking Indians. The film focus is more on showing the punishment nature dishes out at Hugh Glass where he spends allot of time crawling, limping, and walking out of whatever get thrown his way. It shown with a series of wide angle shots of the cold wilderness, and the distance Glass has to travel. Whenever Glass is walking the camera pans out from a distance to illustrate how resilience Glass is in his environment. In total, it’s debatable there’s a total of actually four set pieces; the opening sequence, the Bear attack, DiCaprio running away from a band of Indians, and the climax. Of course, the quality of the set piece is far more important than the actual amount. Thankfully, all the ones the film offer are executed to their fullest effect. Another aspect are the set pieces emphasizes urgency than it does violence. Hugh Glass is in danger, and by not being in good shape he has to get away from danger as quickly as possible. Becoming more immersive than exciting upon viewing.

To date, this is Leonardo DiCaprio best physical performance to date. In terms of line delivery DiCaprio barely talks in the film. His co star, Tom Hardy, has more spoken dialogue than DiCaprio does. Back on point, DiCaprio vocal performance is a series of grunts, and screams of pains. What holds the performance together is DiCaprio performing difficult tasks, and hurting his body throughout the film. He expresses so much emotion in his facial expressions, and body movement. Tom Hardy also puts in a great a performance. Despite the script treatment of John Fitzgerald Tom Hardy performance humanizes the character. Making emotions surrounding him conflicting, even after taunting Leonardo DiCaprio character in the climax. The only criticism would be his accent in the beginning of the film makes some of his dialogue discernible. It’s an issue that doesn’t remain with Hardy performance. In one scene in particular he shares with Will Poulter regarding if the means were justified to survive Hardy is cold, yet understanding in the scene. Proving he’s a difficult person to read, especially when taking into account a prior scene where he shows desperation.

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In his time off, Max is know as the Counsel Warrior.

Supporting actors Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, and Forrest Goodluck are noteworthy since they have good amount of screen time to make an impression. Will Poulter plays Jim Bridger in the film. With the scenes Poulter is given he does an excellent job in expressing deep fear, conflict, and sorrow in his character. Sharing scenes convincingly with Tom Hardy display layer relationship on the journey. Domhnall Gleeson plays Captain Andrew Henry who presence on screen varies depending depending on what act the film is in. Gleeson puts in a strong performance commanding authority that is required to pull off his character convincingly. Forrest Goodluck speaks in a different language for most of his screen time. He’s simply fine in the role since he’s not given difficult material to portray like his other costars. While fine in portraying DiCpario son it’s not much of a showcase of talent in the actor. The score creates a atmosphere that is certainly elevated by the rousing and gloomy score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and The National’s Bryce Dessner. In some moments, it is Eno-esque while in others the sounds become erratic. Altogether, it’s a haunting collection of tearful strings, glazed synths, and engulfing bass that mirrors the scenery and action at hand with compelling results.

The Revenant is lacking in deep characters, but makes up for it good performances, an interesting story that emphasizes the visual experience of filmmaking, and is beautifully shot throughout. On a technical level it’s quite a marvel of a film. While the story does get streamlined in the final act preventing itself from being as complex as it could been it doesn’t deteriorate it from reaching it goals. Its simple characters work fine in a film where’s its protagonist is attempting to survive harsh condition succeeding in immersing the viewer to the very end.

8/10

 

Inspired By True Events

The Revenant sports the “Inspired By True Events” tagline attached to it. So how much does it stray from the actual story? Well, the filmmakers had the courtesy to use “Inspire” instead of “Based On A True Story” since the actual Hugh Glass never had a son in any sense in anything written about him. However, the confrontation with an enraged grizzly bear, the part of Glass being dumped in a shallow grave 200 miles from friendly territory and leave with all his equipment, Glass hauling his broken mess of a body out of his own grave, scraped the infection out of his wounds, set his broken leg and started crawling toward the nearest outpost, a French trapper outpost called Fort Kiowa are confirmed to be true.

All whole ordeal lasted six weeks for Hugh Glass. After successfully avoiding vengeful Arikara war parties, wolves and bears, while surviving on berries, roots, rotting carcasses, and rattlesnakes, Glass made it to the river. A Sioux hunting party came upon the living man-corpse and helped him fashion some branches into a crude raft, which he sailed to Fort Kiowa and safety. As soon as he recovered, Glass set out to hunt down Bridger and Fitzgerald. When he finally found them, he … forgave them. But only after he got his rifle back. In the case for the film while the revenge story did feel tacked on it is a good way to reward patient viewers in a film that’s over 2 hours. If the film was fateful it would ended things on a anticlimactic note, though there is more to the story.

If your interested, or just really like reading check this article by Historynet that goes into great detail on the story if you like.

Anime-Breakdown: Yuurei Sen (The Phantom Ship) (1956) Short Movie Review

Yuurei Sen in Japanese or The Phantom Ship in English is a short animated film from 1956. It’s a film both directed and written by early 20th century, Japanese silhouette animation pioneer Noburo Ofuji. Telling a simple story without dialogue in eleven minutes. It’s the definition of a visual experience with a fantastic direction creating a visually striking piece of animation despite the limitations that came with the experimental storytelling and animation style.

The short film opens with director Noburo Ofuji cutting waves out of colored cellophane. Showing first hand the method he used when creating this film. For this film, he’s inventive by the way he uses lighting, shadows, and music for capturing the purest essence of atmosphere. In one scene, on a rugged seascape combined with the low vocalizing of the choir creates a feeling of unease. Within the same scene, the shadow of a phantom ship with brightly colored background shows corpses of what appears to be a grisly aftermath of a battle at sea. The wordless chorus increases in volume and pitch as the boat magically comes back to life. With these series of images Noburo Ofuji opens the short film. From then on, the rest is a perfect culmination of animations, filming, scoring, and editing.

Ofuji usage of color creates images that strike strong in their simplicity. Everything in the foreground from characters to objects they are on or hold are dark while everything in the background is colorful. Together in sync the colorful backgrounds make simple the act of a dark figure being stabbed visceral. When inside of another ship dancers are set against a kaleidoscope a complex design pulled off successfully. In another scene, seeing the present of a white phantom ship uses an experimental technique of overlaying animated swirling lines and other shapes. These techniques make are able to make white, ghostly figures that are also transparent when interacting with the other figures. It’s an incredible scene that epitomizes best usage of silhouette animation using it to its fullest potential.

The soundtrack is composed by Kozoaburo Hirai. His score consists of choirs, strings, and percussion instruments that sound by being struck or scraped by a beater. It is powerful how foreboding of an atmosphere the score creates in a short runtime. Further increasing it gradually grows louder and becomes more menacing strengthening the impact the visuals have. How his score is used when opening the film is masterful. Never does it overtake or overshadows what occurs on screen. It’s treated an equal story tool as much as the animation.

Without a single feeling of doubt I will say Yuurei Sen/The Phantom Ship is a short film worth seeing for all lovers of animation. It’s over fifty years old, but has lost none of powerful imagery and haunting score all those years. Standing proudly over time as a testament of quality. If you have never seen silhouette animation or want to appreciate how far animation has come Yuurei Sen/The Phantom Ship is a great place to start. A masterfully made film from a pioneer of Japanese silhouette animation.

8/10

 

Anime-Breakdown: Durarara!! (2010) Series Review

Durarara!! or as I like to call it for fun DRRR!! is an interesting anime series. Putting a lot of emphasis into creating its characters and world were losing tons of time becomes a habit when watching the series. Capturing the chaos and mystery of the city in it’s version of Ikebukuro with soaring success. While the story being told is decent as a whole what makes it memorable and a great way to spend time are the characters themselves. No matter what flaws present themselves, the characters always manage to make it seem like those flaws don’t matter in the long run.

Mixed: Interesting story filled with questionable decisions

Durarara!! has a headless horseman, a girl with a demon sword that can possess people, a puppet master bent on creating chaos, gang leaders wanting gang warfare, and a person with superhuman strengths among its cast. You would think one of those characters would be the protagonist. Except that position is given to an average teen, Mikado Ryugamine, whose relevance and backstory is not given until episode eleven. Giving the other characters more than enough time to overshadow him. Despite that specific pitfall the story manages to fit in elements of teen drama without feeling inappropriate with everything else in the story. The focus on presenting Ikebukuro and Japanese youth culture through internet chat rooms, text messages, and technology in general lends itself to making the city more lively. Seeing characters talk about rumors, folklore, and their experiences make it feel like a real chaotic city. While Mikado is a weak point of interest compared to the other characters, him being in the central of the story makes sense. He is experiencing life in Ikebukuro for the first time interacting with a host of interesting characters and sometimes unknowingly being part of a bigger ordeal beyond his control. What also justifies Mikado as the lead is he’s experiencing and learning everything about Durarara!! version of Ikebukuro just like the viewer.

In every episode the narrative will rotate onto a different focused character. Shining the spotlight on the cast members when the opportunity presents itself. After the primary introduction in episode one the rest of series spends time exploring it cast. In a semi-non linear fashion it spends times on various characters each having their own conflict in a single episode like finding a kidnap friend for a single episode or looking for a missing head for the entire series. Eventually having the large cast interact with each other in various ways and form an engrossing narrative with a mystery at its heart. In the first half, the main draw is a mystery centering around the headless rider. The headless rider search of her head spans several decades trusting the viewing to piece together the information themselves. This headless rider storyline takes some unexpected directions that will keep viewers guessing on where it’ll go next.

It’s biggest strength is in telling a series of smaller stories weaving them together into a larger story. All the events shown correlate with one another in some way expertly building up to a climax. Without action, it build up is very exciting, thanks in large to wanting to see how it’ll played out once all the elements are together. The smartest choice the series made regarding its writing was being more serious than splitting half of tone balancing comedy. While it filled with fun personalities to lighten up from the darker aspects of the anime. When it times to take something seriously there’s no need to worry about transitioning between tones. Handling it expertly by having jokes every now and then, but by not at making it an equal focus like its drama.

For an anime that has a cool cast of characters how it uses them is disappointing. At times dropping characters completely from the series, though even those characters manage to have a good moment. The only time this is ever a consistent problem is with police officer Kinnosuke Kuzuhara in the second half. He’s featured in the second opening of the anime misleading viewers he has a decent size role in the second half. The fact he doesn’t do much or receive much characterization is made more noticeable because of it.

From episode thirteen and onwards it builds up is allot more rewarding than the actual resolution to the storylines. The second half of Durarara!! spends lots of time jumping back and forth between timelines where it becomes unnecessary. A linear narrative framing device would have better suited the second half. It’s constantly jumping back to earlier episodes that instead of moving the story forward take steps backwards. Halting progress in certain episodes as literally nothing has happened to progress forward. The reason it does this is because the series is bad at foreshadowing. With the exception of Masaomi Kida past, revelations on characters come out of left fields. For example, there’s a large gang called the Dollars in that no one within it knows who started the gang. Once it gets revealed who started the gang it’s seem to be there to justified following a character for long as it has. It also is a disservice to the character when he’s given a just because motivation of sorts.

Another drawback in the second half is the mystery aspect is gone when the focus is put on the three leads. What exactly is keeping Mikado, Anri, and Masaomi separated is shown to the audience as a series of misunderstanding and indecisiveness. Also, laziness on the writer part for not having the characters talk to each other because of if they did the whole ordeal would have been dealt with quickly. Having them act on assumptions throughout the second half. Compare to earlier storylines, one of which deals with a character looking for her head. Misunderstandings as a source of conflict is less interesting in comparison and executed badly when the audience is show the source before the characters discover it. Making the halt in progress more obvious when waiting patiently for it to move forward.

The ending of the series doesn’t feel conclusive leaving dangling plot threads and fate of certain characters left in the open. In no way is the ending sequel bait as some character arcs (Celty arc being the best example) have satisfying growth by the end of the series. Where it feels inconclusive are with the lead characters. Just when the viewers learn about their past there’s a desire to see how the three will interact with one another once those kept secrets are revealed to everyone. Instead of showing that it simply tidy everything up as if the secrets the lead characters kept from each other wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s a thrilling ride that ends with a whimper instead of a bang.

Good: A layered cast

The story might have a weaker second half, but the cast of characters are able to escape the same pitfall of the story. For starter, not all characters presented will have a major role or even a recurring minor role in the long run. This is made up with the writing that manages to weave together an unlikely cast of character with all sorts of different background together to compliment each other nicely. There are personalities of all types of the love-to-hate jerk Izaya Orihara, the short fuse bartender Shizuo Heiwajima, passionate Otaku Walker and Erika, and many more.

The three leads are high school students and for the duration of the first half they are overshadowed by the supporting cast. Mikado Ryugamine is the new kid with average characteristics, Masaomi Kida the best friend with a hidden past, and Anri Sonohara the bespectacled timid girl. They receive partial characterization in the series that make them good character. When the series finally goes into their past, they become more interesting than how they presented at first sight. In Durarara!! there’s always allot more to the characters than what we initially know. This partial development does backfire when they are the focus in the second half and due lazy writing it creates a force conflict between them. These characters are compelling, but how their story was told brings down what could have been another good arc.

Celty Sturluson, the Headless Rider, is a stand out in the large cast. She goes to Japan in search of her head communicating with the locals through a PDA. Throughout the series she lives with scientist Shinra Kishitani whom she shares an interesting relationship with. It develops into something romantic that, crazy as it sound, but actually sweet in execution. Both characters are playful together as well as being show being able to talk through any issue like a real couple. Whenever Celty and Shinra are on screen the writing is at it’s best.

Another memorable character is Shizuo Heiwajima. The shortfuse bartender with superhuman strength who hates to fight. His characteristic are a bit ironic since he does fight allot in the series leading being in the center of the most over the top moments in the anime. Usually tossing around any large object connected to the ground like a streetlight or vending machines like it weighs nothing. He has a rivalry with Izaya Orihara who’s also another memorable character. Leading to the two clashing heads with Shizuo using his fists and Izaya using his head in their confrontations. This leads to more great moments.

There’s also a group of four friends who are always together consisting of Kyohei, Walker, Erika, and Kyohei. Kyohei is the leader of the group, especially after all four quitting the Blue Squares. Walker and Erika are passionate Otaku and manga reader and if you’ve a large chunk of anime you will know the references all which aren’t subtle. Like in the second opening one of the manga that’s shown in their collection is Sword Art Online, there’s also a poster for the short film Cencoroll hanging outside the theater, or two characters from Baccano making cameos which are only a few references. Lastly there is Saburo, who is the driver of the group and gets mad whenever his van is wrecked. The chemistry between these characters is gold acting like actual friends acting like goofballs even in serious situations.

Good: A catchy soundtrack and a voice cast to die for make up for inconsistent animation

Animation is done by studio Brain’s Base and it’s decent. Coloring in several episodes will have large crowds of people just painted gray or black and white. This makes no sense from a production standpoint given the insane amount of time it must have taken to create Ikebukuro. The backgrounds have to take into account all the effect for neon street signs, lighting of the city at night or day time, the different material of buildings, streets have to seemingly connect to one another, and other tiny details to sell the idea of its being a living, breathing city. With that much hard work put into connecting all the backgrounds to make Ikebukuro come to life, leaving background characters gray comes across as laziness. Whenever it does anything over the top it delivers those moments spectacularly. Though, in motion some character movements (like the first fight between Izaya facial expressions when he first fights Shizuo) will have some unintentionally hilarious awkward facial expressions.

Characters design varies; if it’s an important character they are stylized though not memorable. If they are part of the background than details are spared like fully coloring them to missing some line detail on limbs. Some animation in the second half will take a noticeable dip in quality when they matter the most. In episode 17 titled “Everything Changes”, Shizuo fights a large crowd of people scraping some details like not coloring the large crowds, or rawing a giant blob instead of individuals’ bodies for a crowd. In general Durarara!! has this recurring problem with background characters lacking the same details as important character sparing details through its run. At first it comes across a neat stylistic choice and later feels like laziness.

Director Takahiro Omori makes handling a large cast seem natural. Despite some characters being under utilized Omori direction makes sure it’s never overwhelming to keep track off. While the story being told isn’t linear what events unfold in the episodes are. Omori uses a character to transit into another character to show their perspective in that specific moment or episode. No matter who he rotates the attention to he manages to have far greater success than failures in his direction.

Regardless what format you hear the audio in both cast offer a great list of voice actors. The Japanese voice cast offers Miyano Mamoru, Jun Fukuya, Miyuki Sawashiro, Hiroshi Kamiya, Daisuke Ono, Yuichi Nakamura, and the list goes on. This same rule applies to the English dub, which was produced by Bang Zoom! Entertainment and they basically gathered some of the most recognizable voice actors in anime dubbing. The English dub has a dream cast come true for anyone who watches English dubs regularly. It has the likes of Johnny Bosch Yong, Michelle Ruff, Bryce Papenbrook, Kari Wahlgren, Yuri Lowenthal, Crispin Freeman, Steve Blum, and Patrick Seitz to name a few. Quite a cast, regardless what version is heard.

Both cast have a similar issue of giving talented voice actors little material in the anime. Almost as if just gathering them up for name recognition. In the English dub, Stephanie Sheh plays Rio Kamichika who in only one episode has an important role. Her character fades away quickly after episode two. Another awesome voice actor who gets limited screen time is David Vincent who plays Seji Yagari. His performance is fine, but not varied in how to portray the character. Always having to sound concerned about his girlfriend. Cassandra Lee Morris, who plays Saki Mikajima gets to speak in very little in the anime. In the Japanese cast Keiju Fujiwara, Hochu Ostuka, Toru Okawa, Yuji Ueda, and you get the point.

The weakest link in the English dub is Darrel Guilbeau as Mikado Ryugamine. His performance is uneven and for a leading role. He easily gets overshadowed by his cast members whom deliver better performances. Darrel Guilbeau performance will take time to get used to before sounding natural in it. Toshiyuki Toyonaga who provides the Japanese voice for Mikado Ryugamine is good from the first episode. Bringing personality into an average character without sounding wooden in his portrayal of the everyguy lead. It’s a good performance that unlike Guilbeau, does not get overshadowed by his co-stars.

Kari Wahlgren has more line to deliver than Miyuki Sawashiro in the role of Celty. The way Celty talks to another character is through text on her PDA. Depending how and where you see the anime English subtitles might not appear (even on DVDs this happens) when Japanese text is displayed. This is remedied in the English dub by Kari Wahlgren reading those lines of Japanese text on her phone to the audience, though it will feel like something is missing without knowing that bit of information. Miyuki Sawashiro does equally well in portraying Celty giving her a mysterious aloof charm, warmth, and sisterly undercurrents of her character.

Bryce Papenbrook for the English dub and Mamoru Miyano in the Japanese cast both play Masaomi Kida. Aside from a couple word changes for Papenbrook dialogue (like saying boobilicous) both actors have unfettered energy and enthusiasm down. When it comes to performing the more dramatic scenes Miyano delivery is superior, though Papenbrook is not bad either.His comedic delivery is better than his dramatic voice work. Kana Kanzawa and Michelle Ruff, both play Anri with a timid low voice. Both actresses play the character similarly which, unlike the rest of the cast is difficult to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. They both do a good job in the role. Crispin Freeman and Daisuke Ono both play Shizuo Heiwajima. Freeman goes more for a perpetually rougher, grittier feel, in his portrayal contrasting Daisuke Ono’s is suave calmness into maniacal madman transitions is entertaining. Both performances portray the character differently, but both interpretations fit the character.

Johnny Yong Bosch and Hiroshi Kamiya play Izaya Orihara. Johnny Yong Bosch performance of Izaya is the definitive portrayal of Izaya. Hiroshi Kamiya is fine in the role, but Johnny Yong Bosch excessive smugness and hammy voice work serve Izaya far better. Unlike Kamiya, Johnny Yong Bosch is able to come across as a comical menace who can make you laugh and take him as a serious threat. Yuri Lowenthal and Jun Fukuyama both played Shinra Kishitani. Lowenthal performance is subtle and compose. It’s an unexpected performance with the contrast Fukuyama goes for the mad scientist route in his portrayal. Fukuyama performance is very fun in the over the top nature he acts, though Lowenthal comes across as a more likable Shinra because when he says something romantic towards Celty it sounds romantic instead of sounding insane.

There’s no wrong way to see Durarara!! since both English sub and English dub deliver the material in virtually the same way. Just a minor word or phrase changes to sound natural in their respective languages. However, the Japanese cast just barely etches out a victory as the superior audio track thanks to Toshiyuki Toyonaga in the leading role as Mikado Ryugamine. Darrel Guilbeau takes time to improve his performance before sounding natural in the role and taking a lot longer to become accustomed to hearing in a cast filled with great voice actors. Toshiyuki Toyonaga is strong from the beginning standing on his own. He provides Mikado a personality adding to the everyguy trait of Mikado. Unlike Darrel Guilbeau who starts out bland, Toshiyuki Toyonaga gets it right from episode one and is a smoother viewing experience. Whatever your preferences for viewing anime is both cast are good.

The first opening theme song, “Uragai no Yuuyake” (Sunset of Betrayal in English) by Theatre Brook is used in episode 1 – 12 is forgettable. It’s fit fine with the opening animation with light rock beats, though it’s nowhere near as memorable as it closing theme. Once the catchy R&B song with J-Pop lyrics, “Trust Me”, by Yuya Matsushita start playing in the outro it’ll be able to put anyone in good mood. The closing animation is a single image that’s pan down with color altering effects to show all the characters. Simple as it might be the track and the closing animation are oddly memorable. The fact there’s dozen of parodies of it first closing animation is a testament how memorable it is.

The second half of the anime has the opposite effect on the second opening (episode 13 – 24) and second closing tracks (episode 13 – 23). In the second half the opening track, “Complication”, by Rookiez is Punk’d is a far more memorable track building up excitement before the anime starts. It’s edgy sound combine with some vocals makes a good rock song that’s able to stand on its own even without having to see the anime. “Butterfly” by On/Off is an okay track that’s not as memorable as “Trust Me” by Yuya Matsushita. The most memorable thing about the track are it’s guitar chords at the end of the track which closes off things nicely. It’s unfortunately accompanied by an animated outro that tries to copy the closing animation of the first half, which is uncreative as it is forgettable.

The OST is composed by Makoto Yoshimori and it’s a fine soundtrack. Heavy in Jazz music it perfectly captures the mood of Ikebukuro from it thuggery environment to its more mysterious side giving off a cool and mysterious vibe. Combining Jazz with piano and violin melodies, industrial instrumental, orchestral, folklore music, and even random noises. Like inserting laughter in the middle of the track “Ikebukuro nishiguchi go mata-ro kostaten”. It’s diverse in genre and risking in composition culminating in a unique soundtrack with plenty of music of all types to offer.

Personal Enjoyment: Despite a lackluster second half I had a good time

It started out weak with it first episode doing nothing, but introducing many characters. Leading to mix feelings to how it might turn out in the long run. Episode two got rid off any and all concerns I might have had with the series. Showing it true strengths in providing an engrossing world and fantastic character moments. Another bonus for me was recognizing the character designer of the Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor series, Suzuhito Yasuda, also did the character designs for the anime in my second viewing of the series. For me personally, that added it a bit more charm to the series in being able to see more of Yasuda creations. Granted the series wasn’t smooth sailing for the entire run. Before reaching its final arc, it was starting to lose some steam which it never overcame. The ending did leave something to be desired on the story front by leaving dangling plot threads, but as a viewing experience I am completely satisfied. While the quality of the story takes a dip towards the end. The true draw of the series for me were the characters that kept me coming back episode after episode. No matter what character took focus I was more than happy to see the events unfold. Watching the series was enjoyable on so many level. Writing (and you possibly reading) this review, which turned out as long as it did not as fun.

Story: 2/3

Characters: 3/3

Production Values (animation, sound, etc.): 2/3

Personal Enjoyment: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

Durarara!! is an entertaining anime where the apparent flaws don’t ever seem to matter when viewing the anime. It’s so easy to get engrossed into the large cast of realize characters and the city of Ikebukuro that losing track of time becomes common in Durarara!!. In every area it has a strong point that stands out from the story that developed layered characters down to the memorable soundtrack that will be stuck in the viewer’s head. It’s an anime that creates a world successfully that you will want to revisit it time and time again to see a different side of what makes Ikebukuro so special.

8/10

Anime-Breakdown: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha Gaiden (2010) OVA Review

The first season of “Darker Than Black” left the exact fate of two of its central cast in an ambiguous state. This four part OVA continues the story past the first season finale while serving as the transition into the new direction second two would take in Ryuusei no Gemini. This OVA combines the strength of both season into a nice package telling a compelling story, interesting leading characters, and great action scenes.

Good: Fills the gap between seasons 1 & 2

This four part OVA can be summarized as a “couple on the run” sort of story. Hei and Yin are trying to survive daily lifewhile escaping from an organization called “The Syndicate” that is hunting them down. There is more to the story than that outline. Primarily showing the growth of Hei and Yin bond and learning why everyone wants Yin. Despite that description the tender moments Hei and Yin share together won’t come across as romantic. How it plays out is more tragic with events appearing to be much bigger than everyone within the series thinks. In just four episodes it takes a relatively small conflict progressively giving it a grander scale in every passing episode. Forcing Hei to challenge himself mentally if the greater good is more important than personal desire. The fact that this isn’t Hei first time making a decision around the same scale practically serves as an essential character moment for understanding his change in personality in season two Ryuusei no Gemini.

While short Gaiden does hint on some things to come in season two. For starter, there are brief instances of over the top powers being shown. One example being a contractor that can cause explosions by blowing bubbles. Such powers aren’t a highlighted issue because they don’t stay on screen for a long time. However, they provide the best moments of animation. In particular, the fourth episode, which is the climax of this whole story and allot things blow up literally and narratively.

Another reason to watch this OVA for fans is it will fill in the gap between season one and season two. If you go straight into Ryuusei no Gemini, there will be plot points that won’t be addressed. In particular, how Yin got in the positioned she did and why Hei personality changed drastically from the last time he was seen. Also it’s a transition from the old noir direction into the more action oriented direction in Ryuusei no Gemini in each episode. Its start like season one with a noir beginning and ending with Ryuusei no Gemini more action oriented direction.

A negative to the “Darker Than Black: Gaiden” OVA are the one-shot characters. A trait that didn’t carry over from the main series was characterization for supporting characters. So the supporting cast feel like tools to move the story forward. This can be forgiven because of the length of Gaiden. It is noticeably rushed in certain scenes. In the first episode, Hei is ambushed at a hotel he’s staying at by two contractors and it just cuts to another scene in the middle of that fight. While it’s not important in the story it is telling, a detail like that can’t be left to the viewer imagination to fill in especially considering what sort of ability that specific contractor has. In the final OVA things end with a hook leading into the second season instead of being self contained. The final scene in Gaiden can be summed up with the word destiny. It’s just a matter of time before it actually occurs because no matter how much the anime wants to stray off from that path it’s written in destiny.

Mixed: Only two characters get developed

The focus of this four part OVA is on Hei and Yin relationship growing more intimate with one another. Building on two already established becoming more individuals. Given their roles a greater sense of importance once episode 3 and 4 come around with a huge revelation. By the end of Gaiden Hei becomes a more dynamic character. Changing drastically by the end of Gaiden with it being shown with a simple visual that gets across how the following events impacted him. Yin might say little in four episodes, but it’s the simplicity of her words that has lots of meaning.

Aside from Hei and Yin the OVA doesn’t focus on any other character. Most of the supporting cast will leave something to be desired especially Mina Hazuki and Youko Sawasaki both of whom are in season two. Showing up with little explanation and no bearing on the story. If it’s not Hei or Yin, then there is nothing more to the character once they get shown.

Good: Receives the same treatment as the main series

Bones Studio is once again behind the anime series and the production values remain high. The backgrounds are diverse jumping from the industrialized cityscape, to a small tropical island, and a couple more location in its short run. Backgrounds are detailed like in the first season with distinguishable character designs for the entire cast. It does have a few notable design choices that are purely for fan service, though are not on screen for a very long time. Episode two contains the most fanservice out of all the episodes with the character Xiao Jie (whose is name not mentioned in the Gaiden’s OVA) stripping clothing as part of her payment for using her powers. Beyond that example, there’s no other fanservice moment in the same degree.

One area the four part OVA improve on from the first season are the action scenes. Like in the first season, the action scenes are restrained in how flashy they are portrayed for three episodes. In the fourth episodes it ditches the restraints it gives itself going for an explosive climax. The major upgrade in the OVA is the choreography for the action sequences are quicker. Utilizing all sorts of framing technique to capture the quick movement. They are animated smoothly displaying Bones Studio at the top of their game in these action sequences. Whenever Hei dodges any sort of projectile attacks his movement never takes any notable shortcut in the animation. The staging of them also improved thank to Hei having to think on the fly more quickly in his combat situations and no dialogue interruption during these action scenes to disrupt the flow.

Voice acting from both the Japanese and English cast remains good. Once again the English dub script remains as faithful as possible to the original Japanese script. The changes that are made are barely noticeable in the story it is telling regardless what version is seen. In both the Japanese cast and English dub voice actors reprise their previous role. Hidenobu Kiuchi and Jason Liebrecht provide the voice for Hei. Just like in season one, both actors deliver great performances of a seemingly emotionless character without coming across wooden. To both actors benefits the material allows them more range interacting with their co-stars in situations places Hei out of his element. Easily these two actors are the standout in this four OVA. Brina Palencia and Misato Fukuen both voice Yin. Both actresses do a fine job, but aren’t given much material to build on their performances that feel like a rehash portrayal.

As for choosing how to see Gaiden it’s a tie for voice work. Gaiden does not offer time to have a recurring character and allow them time to grow. Unless you’re a big fan of Tetsuya Iwanaga for the Japanese cast or Johnny Yong Bosch for the English dub playing Calude the only other character with a big enough role to take notice off. Simply go with personal preferences since nothing is lost in either version.

In the music department, it has a similar soundtrack to Ryuusei no Gemini going more for a thriller vibe. Offering a mixture of rock tracks, techno, and lighter sounding tracks for the more personal moments in the series. The melancholy ending theme “Can You Fly” by Yasushi Ishii is played in every episode. It’s the only noteworthy track in the music department. While in general the soundtrack works “Can You Fly” by Yasushi Ishii is the only memorable track that remains with you after you finish the series.

Personal Enjoyment:

After spending an entire twenty-four episode season with Hei and Yin I’ve very much appreciated how this four part OVA told an arching story and added upon two already developed characters. Unlike the first season, I immediately got hook into this four part OVA and all it took was one stellar opening action sequence. Thankfully it also had the same quality writing and storytelling that made the first season such a great anime.

Story: 2/3

Characters: 2/3

Production Values: 3/3

Personal: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

“Darker Than Black: Gaiden” combines the strong writing of season one with the upgraded action scenes of season two. It’s a must watch for any fan to make clearer sense of Ryuusei no Gemini ending and for anyone who wants to continue watching the rest the “Darker Than Black” series without getting lost in the story. Gaiden combines the best elements of both seasons even if it lasts under two hours.

8/10

Anime-Breakdown: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha Special (2008) OVA Review

Darker Than Black first season finale is nothing I would call spectacular, but the way it ended was fitting. Treating its own finale like another storyline instead of a spectacle which would have been out place in the series. This OVA doesn’t add anything more to the mythos or expand on anything in the main series. Hence, the length of this review being relatively short and to the point. This OVA instead decides to leave a good final impression on season one with a comedic episode.

The OVA takes place in a nonspecific timeline in Darker Than Black. It’s basically a comedic side story about Hei and the police looking for a stolen item with a police agent who writes fan fiction unintentionally getting thrown into the mix. It’s a simple story to keep track off. Due to the fate of a certain character a fan of the series can immediately tell it takes place before the finale of season. The comedy is built around three things; love, some sort of association with the season of spring (allergies, mating seasons for cats), and character reactions to a situation. With knowledge buildup on the cast it makes the following events hilarious. However, it’s all rather convenience how all the events are tied together within the special.

Bones Studio gives this OVA the same treatment they give the first season. Looking and sounding like an an episode in the main series. Background are drawn in detail and the animation is smooth. The voice acting from the Japanese cast and English dub cast are on par with the main series. Music remains the same with the second opening and closing songs in place. If you enjoyed the comedic episodes in Darker Than Black than this is a fun diversion.

Like stated in the opening paragraphs it doesn’t add anything or show what occurred after the finale. Let alone offer an explanation on events after the finale. It’s not essential to see this OVA, but if you it do it’ll be a good final reminder that Darker Than Black was also a fun series to see whenever it wasn’t serious.

8/10

Anime-Breakdown: Cat Soup (Nekojiru-so) (2003) Review

Cat Soup or Nekojiru-sou in its Japanese title is a lot stranger than its own name makes it out to be. It can be best described if you gave a loony philosopher, who just happened to love cats, some drugs this short film would probably be the result of what they see in their high. A series of abstract ideas presented in such a bizarre manner while seemingly nonsensical is alluring in its strange nature. It is very difficult to make any sense of it or confirm it means anything, but that’s part of what makes this short film have such a strong impression in such a small amount of time.

The story is basically about two cat siblings with Nyako, the brother, searching for some way to resurrect, Nyatta, his dead sister. The opening minutes of the short film are about as direct it’ll get. Beyond that point, it becomes a journey into the abstract. Filled with a visit to the circus involving seeing a magic act of a woman getting completely chopped into pieces, discovering an elephant made out of water in a desert, and the ocean becoming completely frozen to name few odd things you’ll see. As odd some of these descriptions are, they do get across simple ideas. For example, when the cat siblings visit the circus Nyako firmly believes he can fully resurrect his dead sister after seeing a circus act performing a seemingly impossible act. It is a simple moment that is straight to the point.

Virtually non-existent dialogue, the story is told in a way that the few lines of dialogue aren’t needed to understand the story. It’s a risky decision, but pays off to give off the vibe of being in a strange dream. Nothing is given a direct explanation when going from one event to the next. Instead of stopping in one area to explain the significance of a scene, it goes straight to the next odd scene. Its story is quite simple to get behind, but whether or not it has any meaning is never confirmed within the work itself.

It’s a single OVA meaning the protagonist motivation is kept at a basic level. Being more than enough to follow Nyako on his journey. His simplicity makes him appealing and immediately thoughtful. Simply seeing his parents’ negligence towards him and his sister in the household says allot about the bond he has with his family. With that said the story is essentially what you see is all you get. Allowing the viewer to form their own interpretation on everything that unfolded.

The supporting cast is filled mostly with anthropomorphic animals with some humans. Whenever a human character is on screen, it usually leads to trouble. They’re only given one purpose which is entirely fine since it’s going for more showing than actually telling. The only true negative to the characters is there is not much to analyze or sink into. All the characters are straightforward without ever diverting from their set path.

On the animation side J.C. Staff succeeds in creating a dreamlike feeling. Anathanpromorbic animals are given simple design that makes them look cute to greatly contrast against the cruel action. Humans are drawn like humans, though they don’t appear much in the OVA and often use a blank expression. It has a muted color palette that seems off visually making it seem as if life has been taken out of it. Emphasizing the whole surreal nature of the world where all the oddities belong can belong together. By design, it at times looks hand drawn and at one point even begins to look like a kid’s coloring book. Whatever J.C. Staff used to color their images in this OVA it looks as natural as coloring by hands instead of a computer.

There’s virtually no voice acting in the OVA. When there is dialogue it’s presented through a speech bubble that adds more to the dreamlike feeling than adding to the story. In the sound department stuff like footsteps, water flowing, ticking clocks, squeaky toys, and a dozen other effects make up the sound department. The music is split between sounding light hearted and welcoming which soon become interrupted by eerie static like noises. It fits the OVA perfectly giving an eerie, unsettling atmosphere in the darker scenes. It can also be sweet when in use during scenes where nothing out of the ordinary happens to simply show the cat siblings taking care of one another. The closing credits uses the most editing with a music box to close the OVA. Combining both childlike wonder and an eerie presence by looping the music box in at random moment.

On the DVD there’s an audio commentary track that is not exactly helpful to say the least. Director Tatsuo Sato explains that many of the scenes do not have an underlying meaning or if there was one, he forgot what it was. Admitting he had no intention in mind when putting the film together. So pretty much you make of what you see.

It was an oddity about half an hour long so even if I did dislike it the short length would be a saving grace. I like seeing strange stuff no matter how weird it gets. I’m just in shocked J.C. Staff actually made something I would call smart. In general, J.C. Staff doesn’t come across as a studio to take risks or stray off from their comfort zone with anime that are heavy on the slice of life elements or attempting to duplicate their previous success with a Shakugan no Shana clone. This short film doesn’t change my views on the studio as anything other than being average, but it has earned them more of my respect by creating something out of their comfort zone.

Cat Soup/Nekojiru-sou is like a collection of episodic shorts splice together into a 32 minute OVA with any true meaning to it left with no answer from what the material provides. It’s a short film with virtually non-existing dialogue that’s reliant on visuals alone by combining cute, simple designed characters in bizarrely dark situations to tell its story. This OVA is very much a visual experience that’s intriguing for the creativity it display in a short length. Watch it for the visuals and creativity, leave with your own meaning.

That concludes the review portion of this review. The remainder is simply a paragraph on my interpretation of the OVA. After that, it’s five paragraphs of what I learned about Chiyomi Hashiguchi, the mangaka of Nekojiru-sou. MAL has their own biography on the mangaka, but it was rather short so I wrote what I gather. With that written, continue if you like.

Bonus Passage: My Interpretation on the film (SPOILERS, SPOILERS HERE)

Based on my opinion and what I gathered. Nyako is sister is dead. Living alone with his drunkard father and mother who did not care. Nyatta was the only one who he had and he chased a miracle to rescue her. Catching god of death himself, Nyako took half of her soul, returning it back. However, she was not whole. He tried to find the other part half, and there is where the deeper part starts. The main idea of this anime is nobody can decide the lives of the others which can be seen in every person they have met. Old hag who made people from spare parts, being patched up herself. Guy who killed others, getting his again. Merciless, selfish circus which destroyed the whole world in the end and in the end Nyako never saw that his desires were actually selfish and that he opposed the God, who showed him how easily he can manipulate time and that only something like God can bring life back. When Nyako in the end saved his sister, because he was mortal it brought a total disorder to the Universe, literally canceling everything, making it vanish. This anime also brings up a topics like natural order, and that we all are part of the circle which is life and death. And that it’s nobody’s fault, that’s just how it is. In the end, God is just laid back dude who eats watermelons and sometimes turns back the time when he drops it down. Or in plain English, it’s likely represent the mangaka husband trying everything he can to save his wife by projecting his feelings onto the characters he and his wife created.

Condense Information I gather about the mangaka:

Chiyomi Hashiguchi, or Nekojiru by her pseudonymous pen name, was the author of a manga called “Nekojiru Udon” published in Garo magazine. “Nekojiru Udon” were based around her own bizarre dream experiences. In Hashiguchi diary (going by reproduced scrawls) reveals a very a fascination with communication breakdown and bodily malfunction, objectively noting every unpleasantry from vomiting dogs to accident victims.

With only the book, “Jusatsu Sarecgatta Boku” (some direct passages from the book), by Yoshiaki Yoshinaga to go on for information my knowledge on Chiyomi Hashiguchi is dense. According to those who knew Chiyomi Hashiguchi personally found her to be somewhat plain and misunderstood, but also unpredictable, mysterious and seemingly fragile if not for shadowy side of her internal personality which she expressed so vividly in her manga. According to the book Chiyomi was diagnosed with manic depressions as well in several occasions being heard saying “I’m not afraid of death”.

At the peak of her popularity in 1997-98, her once relaxed working atmosphere was no more as she had to produce large quantities of work which was out of character. Further reading reveals Chiyomi and her husband, Hajime Yamano (the artist of the manga) didn’t turn down a single offer for work meeting deadline after deadline. At this point in the book, it says many of the scenes depicted in “Nekojiru” were a blend of Chiyomi dreams and what she saw in real life. It’s rather unclear on the details of how to separate what were part of her dream and what she actually saw since she couldn’t separate it herself.

Overworked, she began to drink heavily from being overworked. It stopped being fun for Chiyomi to do her work and now was only a matter of making the deadline. Eventually Chiyomi had run out of ideas, but she had deadlines to meet, and did the best she could manage. She had a strong sense of responsibility, and always found a way of come through in the end. More than once, she found herself cornered by several deadlines and had to push herself to the brink of collapse to finish everything. Having was trying to commit suicide in the past, Nekojiru had written wills on a number of occasions. Her last extant will dated from several years prior. She committed suicide on May 10, in 1998 with the cause of her suicide unknown. The accounts of how it affected her friends were also in the book.

After some research on Chiyomi Hashiguchi doing a simple review wasn’t satisfactory for me. As depressing as it might have been reading the book knowing her tragic end I couldn’t find bring it in me to leave out what I learned about her. The book goes into detail about how she was as a person from accounts from those who her whereas I simply condensed the information I read. In turn, after learning all of this it has made me look at the short OVA in a different way. It’s depressing reading about Chiyomi Hashiguchi and what happened to her, but this OVA is proof she has not been forgotten which in a way makes me happy about its creation no matter what feeling the viewer will have after watching it.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Earthlings (2010) Review

Earthlings chronicles the day-to-day practices of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit. The documentary is not an easy one to watch especially it footage of animal cruelty. Never once shying away from showing graphic footage which can speak for itself even when taken out of context. Scenes showing factory farms, slaughterhouses, hunting, bullfights, puppy mills, and primates being used in head injury experiments will shock those who value all forms of life equally. These scenes aren’t easy to watch and powerful enough get it point across towards viewers without ever needing to complete the film. By letting the sometime graphic footage play out in its entirety it will challenge what the viewer is capable of stomaching. The footage shown in its “Food” segment can make anyone unaware of what goes on inside a slaughterhouse think differently about what they eat. Its most haunting scene is at a fur farm. A skinned animal, perhaps a fox, lies glistening with blood and white fat and muscle. The creature is still alive, lifting her skinless head and blinking at the camera. Those few seconds gets across the horrific emotion that this skinned fox is feeling, and connect a thought to the viewer of seeing its own species brutally murdered for our very own livelihood without ever telling us.

How Earthlings sets up it proposition is by it’s opening. By elaborating how over the years there existed racism, sexism, and speciesism. This is the idea of assigning different values or rights to members depending on their species, or in other words favoring one’s own species. It acknowledges its purpose, in that it is demonstrating how animals have come to serve humankind. Never does it compare these crimes in being directly connected to one another as much it attempts to draw parallels that drive those action. Instead of making a direct comparison to the Holocaust it decides to make correlations; the most significant relation being both are caused by humans with power abusing those without power. What nonsense right? There’s no way the Holocaust is similar to…well now that I think about it there’s truth to that. The target isn’t a single race or religion beliefs in this case, but instead an entire species which is being murdered for another specific purpose. Tackling different aspects of the subject in five segments; pets, food, clothes, entertainment, and scientific research. Each receive different amount of screen time and each use a similar tactic to get their point across. Drawing parallel to a crime alongside footage of that goes along with said segments.

As much Earthlings is consider the definitive animal rights film by animal rights organizations, much like PETA efforts, their delivery can be heavy handed and some aspects flimsy. One of the major flimsy aspects are it statistics on how many animals are killed by humans. Being blown over proportion to the point that makes you questioned how in the world a particular specie shown in the film hasn’t become instinct. These statistics go into the billions which holds true for fish, but with other animals just accepting the facts becomes a mind game of what’s true and fabricated. There is truth to be found in what’s it saying, but exaggerating on the facts partially fail to inform the audience and instead make them question more if the information given to them is true inspite of the footage being played. Another issue is the film becomes very heavy handed in it delivery towards the end. The film last ten minutes beats the “animals suffered for our livelihood, man is bad” point over the head that is gives off an anti-human vibe. Despite claiming that all lifeforms consider Earthlings and should not contain the mindset of speciesism. The music by Moby sets a somber tone without being intrusive, and the narration by Joaquin Phoenix is very matter of fact. Though the script at times seems a bit heavy-handed, even quoting Shakespeare’s King Lear at one point, Phoenix’s delivery is calm and measured, in contrast with the visual horrors unfolding on-screen.

Earthlings graphic footage of animal cruelty and the degree it shows it too warrant the content in this film is not for everyone. For that it message delivery becomes cloudy, but never is it point ever loss. It certainly heavy handed towards the final minutes, but even before reaching the end it’s capable of persuading.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Locke (2014) Review

With over a century of filmmaking finding many films that only have one actor on screen is a rarity. It’s also a daunting task for a single actor to basically shoulder the entire film on their own shoulders no matter the experience they have. There’s only a handful of actors that tackle going solo for a film like Robert Redford in “All Is Lost”, Philip Baker Hall in “Secret Honor”, and Ryan Reynolds in “Buried”. All these films are carried by one actor and are minimalist efforts. They are all also terrific movies and now Tom Hardy will join the very small list of actors that carried an entire film by themselves.

Locke follows Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, making phone calls that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his careful cultivated existence in one drive to the hospital. Usually if you can literally summarize everything that occurs in a film with a single sentence there’s usually not a whole lot to dissect. That isn’t the case with Locke taking place in real time and primarily consisting of dialogue to tell its story. Characterization and plot development all occurs through conversations on the phone each of which flow naturally. Each of the conversations plays around several explored ideas like being defined by your actions, the impact of fatherhood, escapism within your job, and many other ideas that serves it as a equally layered character study. The more time you spent with Lock the more you begin to doubt his good nature and begin to see a different meaning behind his words and motives. Locke is a very layered character whose words and action in certain situations will paint him in various shades. Being the only visible character in the film he’s very defined with his interactions with supporting characters telling us allot of his relationship with them. On paper the plot is basically going from point A to point B without detours of any kind, yet a lone developed character is enough to carry the film.

On a the cinematography side of things the film is visually repetitive. The camera never stays at one angle for very long. It mixes extreme close-ups with medium shots, looks at Locke from his side mirrors, and then from his rearview mirror. Headlights and the streetlights reflect on his windshield, his windows and the shine of his car itself. Occasionally, the camera switches to a first-person view; we see what Locke sees. Repeating the same exterior shots of traffic or Locke car, not-too-functional shots of reflections of traffic lights in windshields, faded car lights, and interior shots just being different variation on Tom Hardy basically driving. While the cinematography is nothing impressive or engaging Tom Hardy is a true tour de force in his performance. Stuck behind the wheel of the car the entire time, there’s very little for Hardy to do, which is both the point and what makes his performance so remarkable. Physically he can do nothing but Hardy manages to play a multitude of roles while chatting on the phone. One minute, he’s the all-business deal breaker; the next, an attentive father, assuring his son he’ll be home in the morning. After his son goes back to the game, and his colleague does his bidding, and playing the role of insubordinate employee. Playing up various aspects of the character personality through by effortlessly changing his mannerism at a moment notice.

Locke is not an interesting movie to look at with repetitive shot compositions, but it’s an intriguing experiment that works for Tom Hardy to display some strong acting in a difficult role and challenges Steven Knight as a storyteller. It’s a rare film relying primarily on a single actor to be on screen containing the usual great story and a great performance by it lone star even if visually there’s not much to latch on to.

 

8/10
 

Cinema-Maniac: Bloody Sunday (2002) Review

Paul Greengrass filmography is rooted in history. His films between 1989 to 2002 were based on true events and incidents that occurred in Britain even tackling American History later in his career. Greengrass sticks closely to true stories depicting them with as much respect as possible. Despite being a film made for British television it has the same quality of a Greengrass film.

Bloody Sunday is a dramatization of the Irish civil rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972. Unfolding in real time we’re able to see exactly how the incident went about from the views of both the protesters and British troops. Giving the exact mindset from both sides desire to avoid the worse case scenario. Jumping back between the two allows it to depict events that occurred before the incident, during the incident, and what occurred directly after the event. Seeing history unfold right before us. All the while being more than capable to challenge the action taken by British troops and protesters with some simple acts. For example, it is depicted in the film a small group of protesters reacting with violent backlash against military power going away from the large peaceful marchers. Meanwhile, on other side we hear uproar in the area as soldiers attempt to discuss on how to act to the situation. Showing the fault in the way both sides preceded to do things. It’s in the third act where some simple scenes take a turn for the politically corrupt without demonizing the British troops. While the third act does attempt to highlight the wrong of the British army it does so without eliminating from a fair view. However, pretext is never provided such as what were the exact policies of the time that would motivate a government to send in military troops to stop a march. Some area are left as is serving as an introduction to the incident rather than a film that tells the whole story. Lacking in characterization you’re familiarity with the event depicted will remain the same without explaining it’s aftermath nor the impact it had. Now if the film provided a central character to root for it could have fallen into the trap of being one sided, but that’s not the issue that arises from that. The issue with no characterization is no background is provided from those who joined the protest. A politician is just a politician, a British troop is just a troop, and a citizen is just a citizen. Almost in line with reading actual news that skims on detail without the commercialization and agenda involved.

Paul Greengrass’s direction does the job even if his signature shaky-cam is not a well like technique. The cinematography of the film is equal to that shot on a grainy, handheld camera. With the visual of the film being documentary-like imitating real footage. It’s not an easy film to watch with continual fades to black between brief segments irritate as much as they help differentiate points of view or time passage. Although the device is designed to give the impression that objective “news” footage is used to favor realism over dramatization. Causing seasickness are the dizzying hand-held sequences where the cameraman runs for his life through fast and choppy editing. Using the long takes of the jittery hand-held camera lends credibility as does the working class grainy quality of the film stock. If it had a clean look and if the camera remained still it would have come of as a traditional dramatization as oppose to directly putting viewers in the center of the action. The viewer is always in the middle of the action with it flow of chaos being unpredictable. Editing is spot on with the minimal uses of music as gunshots and the sounds of a screaming crowd populate the films. Among the cast are Gerard McSorley, Kathy Keira Clarke, Edel Frazer, Declan Duddy, Mary Moulds, Gerard Crossan, Tim Pigott-Smith, Simon Mann, and the man who carries it James Nesbitt. The performances are high caliber making it hard press that these actors. With the cast dedicated performances the line between fiction and reality fades as their performances, especially James Nesbitt, help push that real footage quality aimed to capture.

Bloody Sunday simply explores an incident that occurred in a day and nothing before or afterwards in any great detail. It gets across a strong point without the need of characterization for any of the characters it followed. Paul Greengrass brings to the true horror of “Bloody Sunday” to light with shocking realism, but without depth to further understand the true significance of its impact for Britain, politics, and those involved. It’ll certainly make you feel, but thinking might varied with results.

8/10