Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Glass Fleet Review


"The boundless expanse of space, blanketed in darkness without sound or motion. We were raised in space, where wind did not exist, but he was different. Cleo, you were the wind. I will never forget that first fierce gust as it blew in from the far reaches of the galaxy."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scribblings of a Madman - Wolf Children

This was originally in vlog format, but the result was frankly embarrassing. I now realize I was never suited to vlogs, I tend to ramble when I go freestyle without a script or anyone to play off of, so I retconned the rant to be in text format. Anyway, down to brass tacks.

On December 16, the day after arriving home in California for winter break, I attended the final day of a relatively new event called the LA Eigafest. It was three days at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles dedicated entirely to contemporary Japanese film--and I don't just mean anime, there were a lot of live action films as well, both shorts and feature-length. When I say this event is relatively new, I mean that this was only its second annual run, but if the turnout and audience reactions were anything to go by, I'd like to believe that it'll continue to prosper for years to come, and I heartily recommend looking it up if you live in the Los Angeles area, it'll be well worth seeking out. They were serving authentic ramen outside, which was quite good; one of the two main attractions was a live action film called The Floating Castle, which is unfortunately not likely to see a proper release in the States anytime soon, due to the marker for live action Japanese entertainment being even more niche than anime. Really a shame, I loved that movie and if you ever get the chance to see it, I highly recommend giving it a chance. Just trust me when I say it's a slow burn. But that's not the movie I wanted to talk about, it falls a bit outside my area of expertise. The other film they were showing that day was one of the first showings in the U.S. of Mamoru Hosoda's Wolf Children.

For those not familiar with his work, Hosoda's first notable credit to his name was the Digimon movie Our War Game, and his later acclaimed work on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars would further his reputation to the point that some have heralded him as "the next Hayao Miyazaki" (and if you don't at least know who Hayao Miyazaki is, how the hell did you find me?). To be honest, I never saw it. Not just because of the stylistic differences between Hosoda and Miyazaki--I'll assume it's generic praise indicating his movies will be really popular and acclaimed; Makoto Shinkai is also sometimes called the next Miyazaki and he has far less in common with him than Hosoda, but that's a topic for another day. Setting all that aside, I just never felt like Hosoda's works had the same weight, the same sense of breadth or conceptual ambition that I tend to get from Miyazaki's works, even some of his weaker ones. He's a talented director, make no mistake, but his films have never been as far-reaching or artistically rich as Miyazaki at his best. Maybe I was being a little too cynical, but I've always felt that Hosoda had some maturing to do before he could stand among anime film greats like Miyazaki and Kon. That was my impression going into the film, but as it played in front of me I found myself thinking: "Huh, Hosoda's grown up."

Maybe I should've seen this coming. Hosoda's greatest strength has always been his portrayal of ordinary people with real, believable interpersonal relationships, imbuing heart and soul into the simple things we take for granted in life, and the greatest fault with his previous films has invariably been that he didn't let that aspect carry the story entirely. He's not very good at heady science fiction, the backdrop to both his previous works, and Wolf Children has none of that to distract from its core concept as a family film, so shame on me for not giving Hosoda enough credit for what he's good at. This was an excellent film, I'd readily call it his best yet, and a candidate for a perfect score on my rating scale (I'll have to watch it again to decide whether it's truly that good). I'm glad I got to see it when I did, I suspect it will become one of my favorite anime films, and it has changed my view of Hosoda as a director. And while I'm not in a position to give it an official review at this point (if any of my reviews could be called "official"), it's rare that something so simple gives you so much you want to say, so here I am talking about it, like it or not.

First off, the technical merits are bloody fantastic. Of course they would be, Madhouse these days is known for giving a solid budget to even their lesser projects, and with the death of Satoshi Kon, Hosoda might be the most high-profile director they get to work with regularly. As a result, expect nothing but the best, and I do mean the very best. The character animation is fluid and lively, the backgrounds are absolutely pristine, and event the cinematography is nothing to sneeze at. The voice acting is every bit as rock-solid, you can tell Ame and Yuki (the eponymous children) were voiced by real children, echoing Summer Wars. I'm really glad this show found its way into Funimation's hands, they're great with understated and naturalistic human-sounding dubs, and I trust them to treat it with every bit as much care as it was given in Japanese. Basically, everything good that can be said about a movie from a production standpoint can be said about Wolf Children.

The real reason the movie grabbed me, though, was the sheer scope of the narrative. It's a coming of age story for both a mother and her two children, following them from birth to adolescence as they decide who and what they want to be and she has to come to terms with their growth, over which she has no control. Like Summer Wars, it's a story we've seen a thousand times over, but that didn't matter at all, the characterization was nigh flawless and the truth to what it had to say about family, parenthood and growing up is about as close to universal as it gets. You can tell Hosoda felt a deep personal connection to this film, set in his own hometown and celebrating his own transition into fatherhood recently, and it may not be exactly new ground he's treading but he certainly added his own touch to the ideas conveyed. The highest praise I can give a narrative is to say that it's true to life, and Wolf Children is nothing if not true. Any story that can dive into the fantastic, the mystical and the otherworldly and still manage to stay in touch with those little everyday moments that make us people ("human" doesn't exactly fit in this case) is praiseworthy in my book.

This is a rock-solid example of what a family film should be. It's a bit slower than his previous works, but still caries that air of childlike wonder to keep younger audiences captivated. Hosoda knows how to make things kid-friendly, but considering he made this film to celebrate the birth of his own child I found the parts that speak to adults more prominent in this film than any of his other works. It can be subtle and profound, there are several moments that speak volumes in just one or two lines of dialogue if even, which is something I have always loved and respected in a narrative. My favorite scene in the movie was where the two children, Yuki and Ame, got into their first and only fight, and not because it was a great fight scene. The whole spectacle lasted about a minute, but that minute that I dare not spoil told us everything we needed to know about both children's values, insecurities and how they'd changed over the years. That moment honestly blew me away, and if that's what Mamoru Hosoda is capable of, then I really should tip my hat to the man for pulling through and making this film as well as he did.

So does that mean I'm convinced that Mamoru Hosoda is the next Miyazaki? Absolutely not, but not as a knock against his talent. Hosoda has found his own voice in the anime industry, and while he might not be the game-changer Miyazaki was, I for one am following his career now more eagerly than ever before. He won't replace Miyazaki, I don't think anyone could ever replace Miyazaki (especially while the man is still alive), but as to whether Hosoda could become just as powerful at his own craft, I'm inclined to say that he just might. The man is really coming into his own, and I can't wait to see what he does next and what kind of a mark he'll ultimately leave on the world of anime film.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pani Poni Dash! Review


"Rebecca Miyamoto. Born of an American father and a Japanese mother. Graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the youngest graduate in the school's history. She then returned to Japan to become a highschool teacher. However, she was only ten years old at the time."