The first episode of Glass Fleet throws so much at you, and explains so little of it, that I dreaded what else awaited me on that disc. It was like bolting a whole box of bonbons at once: space battles, emperors, revolutions, uprisings, all of it mounted and staged with the pomp and pretense of a widescreen Hollywood special-effects epic. Then the second episode snapped everything into focus, and while there’s a lot here that’s clichéd and obvious (or downright puzzling), I would be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch. Read more
Time is the latest film from Korea’s Ki-duk Kim, he of several genuinely great movies (The Isle and 3-Iron) and a few that aim for something that we can’t even see from here and miss completely (The Coast Guard and Address Unknown). I am not sure if other people will accept Time as completely as I did, since it traffics in the deeper and murkier recesses of people’s ids and makes no apologies for going off the deep end not just once but several times. Then again, this isn’t a movie about rational people, and Kim’s forte is compulsive, obsessive people, so perhaps we can’t demand that the movie be wholly rational either. I’d rather see Kim take chances, as he is wont to do, instead of watching someone else with smaller ambition play it safe.
Time gives us a young, slightly Yuppie-esque Korean couple, Si-hee and Ji-woo. He edits movies on his Macintosh for a film company, and has a passing eye for the ladies. Si-hee (whose job is never defined) burns with jealousy whenever Ji-woo so much as looks at another woman, and the depth of her jealousy is cemented in an early scene where she screams at a couple of women who traded phone numbers with Ji-woo when they hit his car by mistake. She’s disturbed that she should be this obsessive. So’s he, and what sane man wouldn’t be? But the movie does its best to make Si-hee’s obsession tangible, not just a given, and it does this by showing her thinking at work: If I looked like another woman, would he want me all the more? Read more
With a title like Pumpkin Scissors, I half-expected some goofy puff pastry about kids pulling pranks at Halloween. The show is anything but, though — in fact, it’s one of the more intriguing new offerings for the end of 2007, a strong mix of elements that are both audience-friendly and relatively challenging.
Call Scissors a “post-war story,” for a lack of a better term — it’s not about war itself, but how the mess left behind after the official hostilities have ended is sometimes every bit as bad, and often worse. Anyone who’s opened a newspaper anytime in the last four years knows this, but you don’t need to look to Iraq alone for an example — Japan itself will do nicely. There are plenty of grim memories of the post-WWII years, when hunger and black-marketeering and a general state of ruin prevailed*, and a lot of those feelings, however second- or third-hand, seem to have filtered into the overall mood of Pumpkin Scissors. Read more
Ghostly urban legends are all the rage in Japan right now, and they tie nicely into that country’s general appetite for supernatural weirdness. The things that fascinate them are almost quaint compared to the kinds of urban legends that fly around on this side of the Pacific, actually: they ruminate over haunted hotel rooms and ghostly tenants in apartment buildings, and we have nasty stories about people waking up in an ice-filled bathtub with one kidney missing.
Hell Girl fuses modern-day urban-legends and high technology with low-tech spooking and old-school Japanese mythology. If you have a grudge against someone, or so the whisperings go, you can enter a certain website that shows up only at midnight and punch in the name of the one you want to send to hell. Accept the covenant that the Hell Girl, Enma Ai*, offers you, and “your grievance will be avenged,” as she declaims again and again. However, as Ai points out, “Grudges come home to roost.” The cost for sending someone to the underworld will be your own soul, claimed after your death and sent to hell as well. (I’m no believer in the afterlife, but seeing something like this work out for real just might get me to change my theory.) Read more
A grotesque parade of dolls, household appliances, and stuffed
animals bustles through the city streets, turning everyone in its path
into dream monsters. People dive in and out of paintings, billboards
and movie screens. Girls sprout wings, only to be sucked into the
ocean’s depths and erupt once again from the water as mermaids.
I remained as spellbound during the third disc of Mushi-shi as I did for the first two. Isn’t it around this point in the lifecycle (as it were) of most any anime series that things begin to drop off? Not here. This show is inexhaustibly fascinating.
In my earlier reviews for this series, I mentioned how this is a story about an ecosystem — about the cycle of life and death within a world. The closest thing we have to a protagonist in the show, the wandering and taciturn mushi-master named Ginko, has been quite deliberately kept at arm’s length from us. The show wasn’t really about his personality, but about the world he walked through and did his best to understand and help people cope with.Read more
Once, when I lived in New York City, I watched two speed-chess players doing their thing a couple of tables down from me at the Wendy’s in Times Square. They set up their board and drilled their way through something like five games, possibly six, in the time it took me and my wife to finish our meal. The only sounds they made were the slap of the pieces on the board and the clack of the chess clock, and their faces were as blank as freshly-cleaned blackboards. Right then, I thought, there’s nothing else going on inside these guys except chess.
There are many moments throughout Hikaru no Go when I look at the cast and think about those two guys. Everything they are, everything that validates their worth as a human being, boils down to what happens on that board in front of them in the next ninety minutes. And when you battle one opponent, you’re not just fighting him: you’re fighting all the people that taught him, too. Read more
You could do a lot worse than DOA: Dead or Alive, believe me. Is it any good? No, not really. Is it fun? Yeah, sort of, in the splashy, stupid way the videogame it’s based on is also fun, and at least it has the sense to recognize it’s not meant to be taken the slightest bit seriously. Fine by me. Not every movie has to be The Accidental Tourist.
There was a time when I was something of a Bad Movie celebrant. Then over time I lost my taste for seeking out entertaining crap simply because a) it was, after all, crap and b) with the sheer number of genuinely good and criminally underappreciated movies out there that can now find the audiences they deserve, thanks to DVD, why bother with the bottom of the barrel? But every now and then you just got to see what sinks to the bottom, if only to have some idea of how bad it can truly get. Read more