Your Name. Review

“Who am I? No, who are YOU!”

Mitsuha and Taki are strangers living very different everyday lives that change dramatically when they start waking up in each others’ bodies at random intervals in dreams that are all too real. Getting to know each other by proxy the longer this goes on, something more is happening in the shadow of their strange situation.

 

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Your Name. is as striking and impactful as Makoto Shinkai’s previous works, with perhaps a touch more polish. As always the visuals are absolutely breathtaking, both in the gorgeous environments and backgrounds that bring the movie’s world to life and in engaging character animation that adds great emotional impact to the story through facial expressions and body language.

Such detail and precision to the animation is used to great effect to make the story engaging, which is particularly important in the body switching scenes. The film would not have the resonance it does if the audience couldn’t immediately tell the difference between Mitsuha and “Taki in Mitsuha’s body” and vice versa.

I found the pacing here interesting, with the first half of the movie having a tv feel to it. The opening sequence and certain montages particularly bring to mind the pacing and certain elements of a tv series rather than a movie. It’s executed well and works nicely to allow establishment of a specific atmosphere as the baseline of Shinkai’s tale.

Your Name. walks a fine line thematically, but does it well. It’s infused with Shinkai’s usual evocative, sometimes biting, observations of the human condition, but well balanced with light and heartwarming touches among an emotionally affecting journey. There’s of course more going on than it appears, but the story always remains strongly centered on the characters and grows from their desires and actions. Shinkai’s trademark ability to pull on his viewer’s heartstrings was also in full effect, and I certainly felt my emotions being played like a fiddle at moments (and I mean that in a positive way).

While I’ve been impressed with all of Shinkai’s movies, I’ve liked some much more than others. I feel this is one of his best, right up with Children Who Chase Lost Voices as my favorite. Add in the previously mentioned incredible animation, and Your Name. is well worth catching during its limited theater run.

 

 

Ocean Waves Review

On the verge of his high school reunion, Taku recalls how all his problems began with a transfer student’s arrival.

 

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The 20+ year old “lost” Studio Ghibli classic featuring high school love and all the awkwardness that goes with it finally sees a US release, and I had the opportunity to catch it during limited screenings in NYC.

For context, I’m a middle of the road Ghibli fan. I appreciate the general quality and have favorites among their films that I consider incredible, but I don’t go crazy for every movie they do and was lukewarm on several I’ve seen (and outright hated one).

So I had no preconceived expectations really, which made it even more interesting when this fell firmly in  the gray area of my personal opinion. Most things have high and low points, but usually there’s a predominant overall impression, be it good, bad, or indifferent.

Recently I played a video game (Zero Time Dilemma) that bucked that trend for me in that I both liked and disliked in pretty much equal measure. That same conflicting batch of feelings perfectly describes my reaction to Ocean Waves.

Given that most of the film is told as a memory, there’s a fog of “unreliable narrator” feeling that envelopes the story. It’s the epitome of a double edged sword here. It makes sense that certain things would be more vivd in his mind than others and that he wouldn’t always notice or know other’s motivations, which helps establish the drama and his personal point of view as main character, but it also presents characterization issues with regards to the rest of the cast. A big part of the problem is that the film conveys early on that most of what we’re seeing is a memory, but then presents that memory in the style of objective reality, which leads to thematic and empathy issues.

Arguably the third most important character in the film felt like nothing more than a story prop to me after a decent introduction. He acted as the plot demanded instead of naturally, and needed to come across as much more likable than he was for the themes to click properly.

The narrator’s narrow field of view also causes a particular moment that should have been meaningful and dramatic to instead end up uncomfortable and cringeworthy. I know the point is supposed to be that he doesn’t understand where the other person is coming from and acts out because of it, but without due exploration of the other person’s side of things the movie appears to be taking sides, to ill effect.  All in all I spent most of the movie wanting to like everyone more than I actually did.

Yet there’s still something incredibly captivating about Ocean Waves, particularly in the latter half. I really wanted to know what happened to Taku, Rikako, and Yutaka almost despite myself. Their reactions felt authentic even when not built up fully and the oddness of everyday life and everyday worries was captured with a deftness I’ve seldom seen. The movie shines in its small moments, when the story gets out of its own way.

I wouldn’t give Ocean Waves a strong recommendation, but again I did like as much about it as I disliked. I think overall what it does right overcomes its flaws enough to be a worthwhile watch despite my highly mixed feelings (and of course others end up loving it if their tastes and tolerances are different from mine).

 

 

Paprika Review

“Night dreams of Day, and Light dreams of Darkness.”

A groundbreaking technological advancement called the “DC Mini” aims to enable revolutionary treatments by directly interacting with patients’ dreams. However test patient Detective Toshimi Konakawa and Doctor Atsuko Chiba are caught up in much more than an experiment when the DC Mini is stolen.

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Satoshi Kon’s four movies are all excellent and form a collection of extremely diverse, impactful tales, and his final film is perhaps the most ambitious of them all. I recently had an opportunity to revisit Paprika in 35mm glory thanks to a special 1oth Anniversary screening at Japan Society. It was such a treat to see this glorious assault on the senses in that form.

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Paprika feels different in emotional resonance from Kon’s other films, perhaps due to it being an adaptation instead of original work. The characters are interesting and carry the story well, but don’t have quite the depth of those in Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers (although both Konakawa and the titular heroine do face some nice introspection and growth at points).

Here the events and action are spotlit somewhat more, with a constant barrage of weird happenings that manage to be both zany and creepy at every step. The visuals are absolutely incredible, with vivid colors and wild, semi-abstract images pouring all over the screen.

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But the genius is that there is always a framework, with repeated dream images and themes and limits to how abstract things get, as well as equally impressive environments and attention to the art during the quiet moments. It all comes together to ensure the story can always be tracked and suspense can build. There are several beautifully executed moments that are just breathtaking.

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Elevating all I’ve mentioned even further is a phenomenal score that blends seamlessly and unobtrusively accentuates the action as well as the emotional undercurrents of each scene. Pieces of music from the movie have been stuck in my head for days, which in this case I have no objections to. 😉

One last thing I’ll mention is the plethora of delightful references and Easter eggs strewn throughout, from fun characters and costumes donned by Parprika in the dream sequences to amusing nods to Kon’s other films. Filmmaking is a theme as prevalent in Paprika as the meaning of dreams is, and excellent use is made of both for both story gravity and added layers of fun.

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There’s disagreement over whether Paprika quite reaches the heights of Kon’s other movies, but either way it is a wonderful experience in its own right. Strap in for the ride, and enjoy the trippy, wild visual feast.

Miss Hokusai Review

“With two brushes and four chopsticks, we’ll get by anywhere. ”

Journey back to 19th century Edo for a look at famous painter Hokusai and his work through the perspective of his daughter O-Ei, who possesses a talent to rival his own.

 

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The trailer to this looked delightful and I enjoyed Keiichi’s Colorful, so my anticipation was high for NYAFF’s screening of Miss Hokusai. I’m pleased to say it lived up to expectations.

This look into the life of famous painter Hokusai through the eyes of his daughter is beautiful both visually and thematically. The backgrounds are gorgeous and extremely evocative of the featured period. The art being created by the characters is depicted wonderfully, feeling authentic to the styles and techniques employed. A variety of animation techniques are used here and there to enhance the atmosphere and/or illustrate a particular point. Contrast from scene to scene is used exquisitely. At one point a dark, heavy scene showing a fascination with the beauty behind the danger of fire immediately gives way to a stark, calm, white winter’s day to great effect. It all comes together wonderfully as a perfect vehicle to to tell O-Ei’s story.

The thematic and emotional core of the movie comes from it being appropriately and strongly character driven. Creativity and inspiration aren’t direct subjects of the film, but are rather the lenses that shape the main characters’ view of the world around them. The characters’ personalities and idiosyncrasies are often not directly tied to specific events, but are extensions of their emotions and overall experiences. They feel real and relatable as we receive little glimpses of their lives, which is of course exactly the goal of a good biopic. I don’t know how accurately the artists and their lives are reflected here, but the version presented is wonderfully thoughtful and poignant.

One of the the film’s greatest achievements lies in its depictions of an artist describing the world to a blind child. These moments are touching and emotionally charged, and comprise Miss Hokusai’s best scenes

This is an excellent film that provides a nuanced look at life and art via gorgeous animation. Highly recommended for anyone with any interest in anime and/or Japanese art and culture in general.

Project Itoh: Harmony Review

“Does humanity have a place in a perfect world?”

Harmony presents a wonderfully intriguing dystopian concept, namely that of a utopia. An obsession with good health has lead to a society where no one dies and everyone strives to support each other, and Tuan hates it for the loss of personal control over one’s own body that comes with it. With a past haunted by loss and a failed attempt at the ultimate act of rebellion, Tuan will face her own beliefs and doubts when someone else decides to shake up the “perfect society.”

 

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Once I’ve decided I’m going to see a movie I generally don’t do much research ahead of time. Having now seen Harmony I went back and read Funimation’s summary. I highly recommend avoiding it if you haven’t read it yet, as in my opinion it spoils some key plot reveals that were a surprise as I was watching.

Harmony raises numerous philosophical questions, and has interesting things to say about them. Concepts ranging from the natures of consciousness and happiness to what an ideal society really is are explored. The central plot and action are decent, but let’s be honest: it’s all a vehicle for the philosophical dilemmas and messages. I found it engaging, but even I disagree with a lot of the conclusions it seems to draw, and some viewers may find them off putting. And one of the twists with the most potential turned out to be largely a throwaway to set up something else.

Still, the moral and philosophical issues raised are thought provoking and will stay with me for a long while. Overall while Harmony could have been much more what’s here is good enough and it’s worth checking out.

Colorful Review

A recently departed soul is stopped on the way to what lies beyond and is given an opportunity for reformation. The soul wakes up in the body of suicide victim Makoto and must use its existence in Makoto’s life to remember the secret of the great sin it committed in its previous life and to determine why Makoto committed suicide.

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Colorful is a deep, thought-provoking work of art that examines several of the difficult truths of life via the details of everyday, mundane existence. The characters are more tragic for how genuine and flawed they seem, and realistic struggles are given clarity through the lens of “Makoto”‘s supernatural situation. The lasting effect of past mistakes is merely one of the important themes layered throughout. This was hard to watch in parts, but all the more powerful and real for it.

The animation is incredible and every bit the equal to the story. The backgrounds evoke Japan wonderfully and shine particularly during the countryside scenes. The characters match the style perfectly and are suitably expressive in facial expressions, body language, etc.

Colorful is a fantastic movie and it’s heart-wrenching, perceptive narrative well worth experiencing for yourself.