{film+book} howl’s moving castle

of note: in my desire to compare book and film, I have to spoil the book a bit, but only a bit.

Howl-s-Moving-Castle-howls-moving-castle-4886095-852-480

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) is inarguably one of Studio Ghibli’s finest and best-known films. Its direction/screenplay is by the masterful Hayao Miyazaki. We have seen it countless times, enjoying the unusual story of a young woman cursed with old age and a mysterious wizard who lives in a moving castle. The animation is beautiful and its magic captures the imagination.

howl's moving castle moving poster

For those unfamiliar: Sophie Hatter is a seemingly ordinary girl who is a milliner at the family shop. This is her life until the Witch of the Waste comes to the shop and curses her with old age. Unable to stay and face explanation, Sophie decides to leave home and in doing so encounters the infamous young wizard Howl’s moving castle. Striking a deal with the fire demon who mans the hearth of the castle, Sophie insists on making herself useful until each can solve the others’ problem.

Sophie had a brief but memorable encounter with Howl previously when he rescues her from a pair of overly amorous soldiers—Howl, who is rumored to seduce young women only to eat their hearts. It is Howl who is blamed for bringing Sophie to the lamentable attention of a jealous Witch of the Waste. Howl finds Sophie frustrating, but also useful, and he seems to have a soft-spot for the orphaned. As the film progresses we learn that there is more to it. In the meanwhile, Howl is a busy trying to avoid the Witch of the Waste’s scorn and hiding from his King’s war and its devastating effects.

Howl, like Sophie and others, must eventually make a decision to no longer run away from their fates. With Howl it is the war, especially as he is really the only one powerful enough to make a difference. Not one for self-sacrifice, Howl finds his purpose in Sophie. And Sophie finds her own inner daring. She finds strength in the curse, and asserts her own will in overcoming it. If for no other reason we watch Miyazaki films for their heroes. Popular to Miyazaki films, there are also observations on the destructiveness of war; the machine versus nature; and the interplay/marriage between magick and industrial innovation.

howls-moving-castleHowl's_Moving_Castle_(Book_Cover)The film is based on Diana Wynne Jones’ (DWJ) novel of the same name. DWJ’s novel was first published in 1986 with Greenwillow Books and found revival in 2001 with new editions in paperback under the same publisher. While Natalya has owned Howl’s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways (a companion written/pub. 2008), she has only recently taken to reading them in earnest. She then insisted on reading them to me. They are fantastic for the read-aloud. They are miserable for the film—which we, of course, insisted on re-watching upon completing the novel.

Miyazaki based his own work on DWJ’s, and while there is a faithfulness in the film, he does have his own storytelling intentions. There most remarkable differences are in characterization. Many of the motivations are there, just reframed—much for sake of time and Miyazaki’s focus on a kingdom at war, which is diminished in the novel. The villains are the warmongers. In the novel, it is a toss up between fear and ambition—which I suppose are really just logs in the same fire. It comes down to a matter of heart and the strength of it.

howls-moving-castle-6

As with the film, Howl and Sophie, individually, have to decide to courageously meet their fates instead of running or hiding away. However, we come to learn in the novel that Sophie has magic. She is quite powerful, but it takes her a long time to realize it. The reader learns of it long before, through subtle allusions at first. The Witch of the Waste sees Sophie not as a sexual threat per se, but a magical one. She systematically eliminates her competition as she comes across them and — well, that is a spoiler I can keep. The Witch is a woman scorned by Howl. He did what he is known to do: court a young woman and once she falls in love with him, he dumps her. He is a complicated hero…

In the film, the Witch is exorcised and some nugget of goodness surfaces from somewhere. In the book she is unrepentantly not good, and this is especially important because of the role of a fire demon in relation to their human. In the film, Howl’s fire demon Calcifer is somewhat jocular (like his voice talent Billy Crystal), and while the novel carves a soft spot in him for Sophie he kind of dark—and he is credibly mysterious (though the reader can work this one out, too). This fantasy novel is rife with good mysteries.

In the film, Howl is beautiful and charming and vain. In the novel, he is all these things to a more gloriously comedic degree. Howl is tormented by a curse (we learn) and his doom is inevitable. Maybe some of that drama is warranted. Love the use of a John Donne poem here. He is a womanizer, and the tension is incredible when we find that his sights have landed on Sophie’s sister. [Sophie has two younger sisters who are actual characters in the book.] Sophie is concerned for her sister’s heart, but by the time Howl’s “affections” seem to shift, we glimpse jealousy—something Sophie struggles to deal with rather awesomely.

howl_sophie_old

And Sophie is awesome—so pragmatic… That Sophie is aged is a stroke of genius I can appreciate in the film. Acting like an “old lady” it seems only fitting that she actually become one. The aches and pains that slow her down are frustrations. The novel touches on the more troubling aspects: she has lost ~60 years of her life, and she is vulnerable–especially in her encounters with the terrifying Radish Head (a difference in film/book). I adore that Sophie is granted a confidence in her dealings. She cares less what people think of her which makes her more assertive and allows her to take more risks. Of course, being immune to Howl at the start is all well and good, but as things change…

Sophie is a delayer, finding some excuse or another, and this plays out beautifully in so many ways. Entering the novel, I’d thought that this imaginative world was built to inhabit interesting characters who are driven by the conflicts it has acquired, but the story really is driven by these characters and their conflicts; hence the diminishing of the war Howl is keen to avoid. It is merely part of a greater thing that he is avoiding. They have their excuses which direct their actions which creates all sorts of interesting and hilarious conflicts for each other and the world about them. This isn’t to say there is not some sinister goings-on. Where has the King’s brother and the court sorcerer gotten to? Surely Howl will have to confront the Witch of the Waste eventually. And what of Sophie, and Calcifer?

The novel, though very funny, is also dark; it just keeps you laughing and turning pages for what’s next to dwell overly upon it, until that there is not running and hiding any longer.

Howls+Moving+Castle+howlsmovingcastle

As with most films based upon books, there are lost characters and casting choices. The film has the child Markl where DWJ writes a young adolescent apprentice Michael Fisher—Markl keeps the story childish and Sophie maternal; Michael is a wonderful source of humor and tension. The film collapses two characters into one (Penstemmen/Suliman; Martha/Lettie). The novel’s use of these characters lends a sense of history and family to Howl and Sophie. Howl’s background is cleverly revealed; DWJ’s black doorway is easily the better of the two (though I can understand why Miyazaki couldn’t afford the complication).

I do not believe it is a given that the book is better than the film (when it is published first). And with Howl’s Moving Castle, the film has a charm of its own, crafted in gorgeous animation and based upon the wonderful wit and imagination of two fantastic creatives Hayao Miyazaki and Diana Wynne Jones. Comparative with the book, however, it merely scratches the surface. The book is more superlative in every way.

Own both, just do not imbibe them in too close proximity to one another.

{film} Brave

There are many things to commend Brave (2012). Commentary regarding the music has run rampant. The voice talent was brilliant. And the story has you laughing uproariously, tense and dread-filled, and you very well may cry. The daughter was the only dry eye in our particular row.

<shockingly spoiler-free review to follow>

Set in Scotland in a rugged and mythical time, “Brave” features Merida, an aspiring archer and impetuous daughter of royalty. Merida makes a reckless choice that unleashes unintended peril and forces her to spring into action to set things right.~Disney’s synopsis

Many a trailer suggests that the story will be about a girl and her father. And yet there is still little surprise that this really is a film about mothers and daughters. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) are having a difficult time communicating with one another among other things. There is an amusing sequence that is quick to turn serious when the King (Billy Connolly) encourages his wife to pretend he is Merida and practice saying what it is she really wants to say. This sequence cross-cuts with Merida conversing with Angus (her horse) as if he were her mother. It is easy to sympathize with both sides, though modern-minded audiences will understand Merida better. And in the end, the film’s sympathies lie with the more modern-minded, feminist sensibilities—whether the ending actually supports said sensibilities has been opened for debate. Fortunately, however, for our deuteragonist Elinor, we see that the film is populated by many a brave and worthy character. Elinor is the source of a lot of humor, but she is also the source of a lot of the heart of the film.

Brave is a great family film. It has the silliness and the tenderness we have come to expect with a Pixar animated story. However, the story itself will tread little that is new ala its Disney association and the princess story. The animation is top-notch; that red-hair and the wilds of Scotland are mesmerizing. This film was a highly anticipated one in our house. We are happy to say we were not disappointed. It was nice to not go in with a clear understanding of what the story would be, and better still that the story is one we look forward to enjoying many times more. What makes one brave is not always the most obvious action, but it always involves the most difficult—Brave handles the many nuances nicely enough, and very entertainingly.

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of note: The rating is PG. There is a particularly intense section near the end. Notably, we actually see the death of a Disney villain (who doesn’t just “disappear” into an abyss or what-not). I know we are eager for good family movies and the theater experience with our young, but just a caution here… take your significant other and have a lovely date of it and leave the youngest ones with a sitter.

I was struck by the fact that Princess Merida has a powerful and active mother; very few Disney Princesses can claim this one, now can they? I like it. Elinor is complicated enough to play both the source of conflict and the source of healing.

Also, I find it interesting the resolution to the problem Merida is facing (pre-spell) is a good one, but one that also leaves the promise of a betrothal down the road (for when the boys and Merida have a bit more time to grow up?). The solution isn’t necessarily that she will be free to run about the wild as long as she wants, because husband or no, her mother’s lessons aren’t for naught—as we see who really runs things. And really, who else is going to be able to keep those triplets in line?

Those interested in feminist perspective in story/film, Brave has plenty of fodder. Manohla Dargis shares a few remarks on the subject in her review (linked below), but I was taken with Roger Ebert’s closing line of his review, “”Brave” seems at a loss to deal with her as a girl and makes her a sort of honorary boy.” I’ll want another go with the film before I follow any of my conclusions.

————- a bit of the music—————–

—————-Brave 2012——————-

Directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman (who had left over creative differences); written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi, based on an original story by Brenda Chapman; music: Patrick Doyle; produced: Katherine Sarafian; Disney-Pixar. Voice Talents: Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Emma Thompson (Queen Elinor), Billy Connolly (King Fergus), Kevin McKidd (Lord & Young MacGuffin), Craig Ferguson (Lord Macintosh), Robbie Coltrane (Lord Dingwall) & Julie Walters (Witch).

Running time 100 minutes | Rated PG

IMDb link Wiki Page.

Darghis’ NY Times review (kinda meh, but has a few interesting points). Roger Ebert’s Review.

LA Times article about Brenda Chapman’s–ahem–removal.

for some great concept art!

{images belong to Disney Pixar}

{film} the secret world of arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) is a sweet little Studio Ghibli film. Inspired by The Borrowers books by Mary Norton, Hiyao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa infuse their own take on the little people who live beneath the floorboards and within the walls.

Hiromasa Yonebayashi makes his directorial debut for Studio Ghibli with the telling of those that may be the very last of their kind. Arrietty and her parents Pod and Homily may be the last of the Borrowers for all they know; they are certainly the last to live in this house in the lush countryside. This is an especially difficult situation for Arrietty who at 14 is becoming a young woman. She is a good daughter and tempers her bold adventures for the sake of her worry-ridden mother, but she is a bit lonely and ready (and not) to grow up.

Arrietty is finally being allowed to learn to fend/borrow for herself within the house when Sho comes to stay. Sho is a regular sized human boy who is convalescing while awaiting his heart surgery. He catches a glimpse of Arrietty and becomes fascinated by her and the stories of the little people. His aunt shares a sadness for the apparent disappearance of the little people who’d captured their imaginations generations before. This lament, the dwindling and retreat of fantastical beings, is noticeable throughout the film as well, especially as Arrietty’s family must retreat further into the wilds. Where lonely Sho would seek a friendship with Arrietty, the housemaid has a fascination of another sort and the situation becomes untenable.

With the injury of Arrietty’s father, the provider and mainstay of the family, comes a whisper of hope—Spiller. Spiller is a wild-looking Borrower who can help the family relocate. He is also young and quickly becomes sweet on Arrietty. He makes an lovely and interesting contrast to Sho who is—well—not a Borrower, but is also more modern, refined, and delicate. A wonderfully weird triangle ensues. Manohla Dargis, in her NYTimes review “In the Realm of the Tiny, Standing Up to the Big,” writes of Arrietty and Sho (aka Shawn in the English versions)

It’s initially a letdown that Arrietty and Shawn aren’t just friends, as in the book, but also something like impossible romantic foils. Yet this disappointment proves mostly premature because Studio Ghibli and Arrietty have a way of taking you where you may not expect, whether you’re scrambling through rooms as large as canyons or clambering into the safety of an outstretched hand, a simple gesture that says it all.

I was not letdown by Arrietty and Sho’s romantic reaction to one another so much as curious as to where the creators of Arrietty were going with it. In the end, I think it facilitates a tenderness, among all the sweetness that a young romantic relationship lends to the ideas of mutual fascination and discovery (both of self and other). It comes off as charming, and it doesn’t hurt that it adds to the tension of Arrietty’s departure and the strengthening of Sho’s broken heart (both literal and figurative).

Most of the charm in the film is not only in its gorgeous rendering ala classic Studio Ghibli, but in the imagining of the Borrowers themselves. What would their home and lives and adventures look like? What would they borrow to create these things? This aspect of the film is so much fun!

Other Studio Ghibli expectations met are in the strength and magnetism of their heroine; in the rendering of landscapes; in the slow but meditative pacing at times; in the remarks on the coexistence of the ancient and the modern; and in the film’s environmental message. Those unfamiliar with Miyazaki’s preoccupation with the preservation of nature (which is oft inextricably linked to the ancient and mystical) may find Arrietty a bit awkward at points. There is a conversation between Arrietty and Sho about endangered species and a correlation is made. One can also make the leap that the loss of creatures like Arrietty as well as the environment contribute to Sho’s frail state; especially in how they appear to revitalize him. For all the bittersweet in that ending, there is a hopefulness for Arrietty and her kind, as well as the audience (us). There is not only a sense of a revitalization of our imaginations, but of a hopefulness that fantastical creatures do linger, and there are places we can go to find them and ourselves—in nature. The film does double work, of course, because in desiring to know such beings and places exist, we must strengthen our hearts and resolves to preserve them.

recommendation…The Secret World of Arrietty is a quietly endearing kind of film for any age. I cannot say I would rate it up there with Spirited Away (2001) or Princess Mononoke (1997), but I would recommend it to anyone. Of the Studio Ghibli films that do come to mind in thinking about Arrietty: My Neighbor Totoro (1998) and Ponyo (2008) for the awe in the human characters’ responses, and Whisper of the Heart (1995) in the way the story unfolds, the slow pacing.

of note…I think Arrietty would make for a fun summer film with the young’uns (you know, anyone under 104) where afterwards you could design and/or build a room for a Borrower. Of course the film would make for a nice pairing with Mary Norton’s novel The Borrowers, primarily in looking at their cultural differences. There is a distinctly Japanese influence that, I believe, creates a different experience in Arrietty–and it is an infusion I very much enjoyed.

———-The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)——————

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi; English language version directed by Gary Rydstrom [however I watched the Japanese version with English subtitles]; screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki and Meiko Niwa; based on the novels The Borrowers by Mary Norton; English language screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick; supervising animators, Megumi Kagawa and Akihiko Yamashita; director of photography, Atsuhi Okui; art direction by Yoji Takeshinge and Noboru Yoshida; produced by Toshio Suzuki; released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures in the U.S. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated G.

N and her friends saw the English-speaking version in the theater. They as well as countless others assure me that the English-speaking actors (both the American and British) and the translation under Rydstrom are excellent.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

{image: the first, a minimalist poster by Simon C. Page}

qualifies for the Once Upon a Time Challenge

{film} tales from earthsea

“It is not my book. It is your movie.” –Ursula K. LeGuin to Mr. Goro Miyazaki.

For a long while now I thought Studio Ghibli could do no wrong. Their resume is that impressive, isn’t it? I’ve seen several of their films, both subtitled and dubbed. And then I saw Tales from Earthsea (2006) last week.

When I saw Tales from Earthsea streaming on Netflix, I thought it might be a fun family Fantasy film. It wasn’t until the film began that we realized it was Studio Ghibli. Any concern over the film’s entertainment value palpably slipped away; if anything, we were more attentive.

The drawing, the compositions, the animation, the sound, all that was good. Even the voice talent was nicely matched per character. The difficulty was in the narrative. Tales from Earthsea, the film, is not pulling from Ursula LeGuin’s collection of short stories, Tales from Earthsea, but the series: A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of AtuanThe Farthest Shore, and Tehanu. The running time of the film: 115 minutes.

From Hayao Miyazaki, the question of finessing a series of books into a film isn’t much of a query at all. It is a rather exciting adventure to see how he would translate LeGuin’s classic Fantasy into cinema. But when the film finally came round, it was the son Goro Miyazaki who made the film, Hayao having been “retired.”  Tales from Earthsea was director Goro’s debut film.

Much of it was beautiful. Many corners were cut, however, in the animation of this quickly made film. It does not have the delicate accuracy of “Totoro” or the powerful and splendid richness of detail of “Spirited Away.” The imagery is effective but often conventional.–Ursula K. LeGuin

Sparrowhawk and the very young looking 17 year old Prince Arren. Love the scar, and while visually the powerful wizard and Therru coincide visually, we just have to take both their words for it that they are,  indeed, impressively powerful.

A quick summary of the film:

Something bizarre has come over the land. The kingdom is deteriorating. People are beginning to act strange… What’s even more strange is that people are beginning to see dragons, which shouldn’t enter the world of humans. Due to all these bizarre events, Ged, a wandering wizard, is investigating the cause. During his journey, he meets Prince Arren, a young distraught teenage boy. While Arren may look like a shy young teen, he has a severe dark side, which grants him strength, hatred, ruthlessness and has no mercy, especially when it comes to protecting Teru. For the witch Kumo this is a perfect opportunity. She can use the boy’s “fears” against the very one who would help him, Ged.Written by Anime News Network via Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

In the English-version. Kumo is Cob, a very effeminate softly-masculine-voiced Willem Defoe.  Yes, it is like Princess Mononoke and the shift in gender of the Wolf–bizarre (yet I’m sure is culturally relevant). Also, Ged is more often referred to as Sparrowhawk. The narrative sequence is not as suggested, but in summary makes a lot more sense, and is a helpful primer to the viewing experience (wish I had read it first).

The film begins with a prologue to store away for later. And then a quick (but effective) development of a short-lived character so as to set up young Arren’s flight and his encounter with Sparrowhawk/Ged, a wizard, the Archmage. Not unused to not understanding what is going on in a story, I patiently waited for explanations for the purpose of Arren’s actions/flight until later. Unfortunately, that brief comment, “He hasn’t been himself lately,” and the later splintering of person proved undernourished. What caused this to happen? How could Cob (the villain) be involved? And to what purpose? Arren’s “specialness” was confusing. As was Therru’s, the witch–who isn’t apparent in her witch-ness until the very unconvincing end. 

The girl, Therru was abused and abandoned, her face horribly scarred by her own parents. She lives with “Sparrowhawk’s woman” Tenar, a strong self-possessed woman who farms and is a witch. She values Life and is offended by Arren’s disregard for it. She slowly warms and they become confidantes and when it comes time to rescue everyone, the feisty versus timidity conflict continues to play out, until feisty can no longer be contained (?). Strangely, her power only reveals itself after she is strangled and declared dead. Yes, it is absurd as it sounds. But perhaps it was to give Arren the opportunity to be the hero, and to reveal his failure? To build the suspense that perhaps the evil aging inflatable Cob was going to succeed in his evil plans to cast everything into darkness? because now he can’t really live forever can he?

There is more than an incoherence in characterization and major plot points. The story has the slow unfolding that I can appreciate, mysteries undergoing the slow reveal. But then you and the film realize it is running out of time. We spent too much time frolicking on hillside listening to Therru sing. The point of the story is going to suffer, you can feel it. And it does, just not in the way most expected. Enter, heavily moralizing monologues and philosophical explanations behind still yet inexplicable action/intent.

I think the film’s “messages” seem a bit heavyhanded because,

although often quoted quite closely from the books, the statements about life and death, the balance, etc., don’t follow from character and action as they do in the books. However well meant, they aren’t implicit in the story and the characters. They have not been “earned.” So they come out as preachy. There are some sententious bits in the first three Earthsea books, but I don’t think they stand out quite this baldly.–Ursula K. LeGuin

I watch enough Japanese animation to expect some lengthy conversational explorations in there with some epic fight scenes. The off-balanced pacing and incoherence of the first 3/4s of the film were forgivable up until that ending. For one, there was no epic battle–visually. That ever present yet unexplained sword packed with cultural- not to mention heavy Freudian significance was underwhelming. Tales from Earthsea ran out of time. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, it resorted to telling the audience what it was all about. Unfortunately, it had nothing of substance to reference. I had very little to return to in the film that had me saying, “Oh right, of course, that was what was meant by that.”

Alright. So I could probably make all the leaps across all the gaps, but to that extent, I believe I would be providing too much of the work. Would it have been less work had I read Ursula K. LeGuin’s series? I don’t think so. And her letter in response to the film confirms this. But I wasn’t looking for her story, I was looking for the film’s story.

In the end, I can appreciate the debut effort to make someone else’s film, to formulate to an expectation someone else has created with their viewers. And I would love to see a Tales from Earthsea from that man himself. In the meanwhile, I wouldn’t discourage Goro another go, but with one of his own.

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Recommendation: of note, some people have responded really well to this film; few, but there are some. I would only recommend it to those who want to say they’ve seen all Studio Ghibli films. Fans of the series should likely avoid viewing, and the viewing does not inspire one to read the series, quite the opposite actually.

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Tales from Earthsea (2009); director Gorō Miyazaki; produced by Toshio Suzuki &
Tomohiko Ishii; screenplay by Gorō Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa;  inspired by the manga “Shuna’s Journey” by Hayao Miyazaki; based on Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin; music by Tamiya Terashima; editing by Takeshi Sevama; studio: Studio Ghibli. English-speaking voice talents: Timothy Dalton (Ged/Sparrowhawk), Willem Defoe (Cob), Mariska Hargitay (Tenar).

Rated PG-13 for some violent images. Running time: 115 minutes. Wiki page. IMDb linkLeGuin’s letter.

{tv} Eden of the East

Back in June, Sean and I came across Eden of the East : The King of Eden (2009) on Netflix. The film was the first of two created to finish the story captured in an 11-episode Japanese television series created, directed, and written by Kenji Kamiyama. My mini-review is here. Last week we noticed that the television series, nicely dubbed in English and since released on the FUNimation Channel in December 2010, was new to Streaming on Netflix. Sean and I started to watch the 23-minute episodes, and last night I addictively burned through the last 6.

do I look like the man you are searching for? *

Saki Morimi is already on the cusp of a big transition in life when she encounters the naked man (close in age) in front of the White House. Afterward, all her careful plans fly out the window.

Akira Takizawa has nothing but a gun and a phone—not even his memory. Saki lends him her coat in a rather humorously awkward exchange and they part ways; except her passport was in the pocket. She runs after him, and because Takizawa might as well start somewhere, he decides to go with Saki to Japan, where they are both from. A sweet friendship ensues with a cautiously daring Saki trying to figure out the mysterious and attractive Takizawa and help him uncover the intrigue behind his erased memory. For his part, Takizawa genuinely seems to care for Saki, too.

The strange phone and its concierge Juiz are all Takizawa has to link to his past. As clues accumulate, they only serve to make the plot even more labyrinthine. Why did he order his memory erased? Was he the terrorist behind Careless Monday? Did he cause the 20,000 NEETS to disappear? and if so, what did he do with/to them? And just who created this game and the Noblesse Oblige which tasked 12 people to change Japan for the better? With a sizable bank account, special phones, and a clever concierge at beck and call, their lives depend on a successful future for Japan. How the 12, or the Seleção, believe the change should happen is up to them. The rules are few, but tricky, and the players are surprising choices.

As the game and its network of 12 agents called the Seleção are slowly, yet steadily, revealed, we wonder how Takizawa as number 9 has been operating. The others want to know if he is the Supporter, a mole and assassin tasked with keeping the other Seleção in line and playing by the rules. As we discover who some of the others were before entering the game, and how some still operate in much the same way, we can only speculate and worry about Takizawa.

Saki, for all her sweetness, she is smart and loyal and good. She is also the barometer for how we should respond to Takizawa. And with Saki comes a group of friends who have developed some incredible computer software, are protective, and  prove very amusing. They cautiously become Takizawa’s support.

The episodes are comedic, psychological, romantic, and action/suspense. The writing is great and the nicely spaced revelations and humor appease compounding frustrations. One can appreciate Takizawa and others for providing moments of explosive emotion. I love when Takizawa goes into a tirade when expressing how he just really wants to punch the creator of the game in the face.

The animation is beautiful. It is so fluid and the colors and lines, and the occasional manga-like expression is fun. The films are little finer than the television series but it is still well-shot.

There is a lot of lost clothing. There is some language, and episodes 5-7 are probably the least kid-friendly, but otherwise these are easily PG-13. (Yes, I let half-11 N watch it with some cautions.)  The story is complicated, and not just the Game part. There is a lot going on and there is something for everyone to enjoy, to look forward to following as the episodes progress. The ending of the television series, while satisfactory, makes you glad for the continuation of the story. It is interesting what Kenji Kamiyama has devised and the viewer is ready for more.

I highly recommend anime viewers who like a pretty screen and intelligent story to check out Eden of the East.**

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* the white-out was done by the show. Their use of this censor rather than black bars is actually very amusing. so, naturally I couldn’t resist posting the image. The encounter with the police woman was really funny, especially after an earlier remark by Saki.

** Also, lovers of film, especially the “classics” would enjoy the references, even homages to past great films. Takisawa is a lover of films, and oddly enough, can still remember them.

television series wiki page, IMDb link.

[film] L’Illusionniste

Few backdrops are prettier than those found in Sylvain Chomet’s British-French animated film The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste, 2010). I am already planning to re-watch this lovely comedy/drama so as to not have to mind the mostly silent characters’ expressions and gestures; which, admittedly, have a captivation all their own.

Here are links to both Roger Ebert’s Review and NY Times’ Manohla Dargis’ Review “Conjuring a Magical Relationship.” Besides being excellent (as usual), they provide more information behind Sylvain Chomet’s adaptation of The Illusionist and its first creator Jacques Tati—the late French Actor and Filmmaker responsible for Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) and Mon Oncle (1958) among others.

Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff handed Sylvain Chomet (of the remarkable The Triplets of Belleville) the never-produced screenplay Tati wrote in the 1950s (pre-Mr. Hulot). The Illusionist is drawn from the inspiration of Tati’s character Mr. Hulot. Fans note this right away, but those unfamiliar will be intrigued by a late scene where The Illusionist enters a Cinema that is showing Mon Oncle. The sequence is fantastic, so beautiful done. Yes, I think I did clap in absolute delight.

Not understanding the historical situation of Jacques Tati does not harm the film. As Ebert insists (as do others) The Illusionist is a Chomet film, and it does stand on its own legs story-wise. Having viewed the film with only the knowledge that it won a Golden Globe earlier this year, I can easily agree.


The Illusionist is suffering the decline of interest in Magic Shows as the Theaters become packed with screaming female fans mad for boy bands. His failing career moves him from one Theater to the next, one city to the next until he takes a desperate gig in Scotland. He finds a crowd that loves him as well as a young fan Alice that would follow him everywhere, especially after he is mysteriously moved to buy the young woman new shoes.

Between the ragged state of Alice’s boots and her sneaking after him onto a boat south, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) came to mind. This reminiscence (likely unintentional) was aided by the silent film aspect to The Illusionist. A musical score carries the audience along; and murmurs, the occasional words, are all sound effects that support rather than dominate the film’s ability to tell a story. The result is refreshing and contextually brilliant.

There were a few French words and a few Gaelic mumbles we didn’t understand, and for a moment I thought I should have found subtitles, but I didn’t feel at a loss. Natalya (11) and I could read the film beautifully.

The Illusionist pays for Alice’s tickets and when they arrive in Edinburgh at her request, and he covers their room and board at an ‘extended stay’ where other performance artists are camped: some acrobats, a ventriloquist, and a suicidal clown. When Alice lingers over a coat in a shop window, he purchases it for her. When she sees pretty heels? the same. He even gets a ‘second’ job to support her growing desires, let alone put food on the table. His sacrifices, his humiliations are somewhat painful and I was driven to ask why? Why is helping this blossoming young woman with whom he harbors an awkward affection. Am I that jaded to think, “that’s sweet” isn’t explanation enough. He certainly doesn’t seem so lonely as to need the company, as other performers seem to embody.

The film is deft in creating a platonic relationship between Alice and The Illusionist. She is somewhat in awe of him, and she cares for their rooms, but she is also emerging from girlhood to womanhood, from the rural outliers to urban sophistication. She saw The Illusionist as a way out of her impoverished life—which sounds manipulative in a way for which her naiveté doesn’t seem to account. The Illusionist cannot provide for this girl, though he tries, and it is in the more subtle touches that the explanation for ‘why he even tries’ is revealed. It is in the photograph he lingers over, the one he places on dressing room mirrors and holds while on the train. The one left unfocused and whose revelation comes at the end.

The Illusionist is a terribly melancholy sort of film. The comedy adds the necessary balance to a film that is otherwise completely depressing. There is no place for the Illusionist and his cohorts. He is taken advantage of and robbed and set adrift. He is haunted by a loss. He is inept at practical work, and is mocked during attempts at reinventing the impractical. The young woman’s clumsy attempts to blossom into the sophisticated and romanced conclusion is sweet, but her dependence upon men is an underlying heartache.  Some will find a bit of hopefulness with the ending, with Alice especially. The world that is changing and growing gets better and better for women, we know. I just felt the uncertainty, and sadness.

Alice’s appearance and the subsequent ending felt like a fantasy the Illusionist was able to play out. That he could raise her from obscurity and hopeless repetition and deliver her into the arms of the future where she belongs, is provided for, and loved. Those arms are not his however, he is only temporal. He is old. He is a father. And he is sometimes ill-equipped. He is done before the story plays out, going so far as to hide. He is as confused as the audience members as to when the relationship should end and go its separate ways.

In the train, with the little brunette girl drawing: she loses her pencil and the illusionist is going to ignore her. The scene shifts to an envelope. We return. He picks up the stubby pencil and tucks it and his similar but less used pencil in his sleeve. For a moment you think he will gift the girl a new pencil, magically restore it. But he doesn’t. He returns the pencil they both knew to her. The Illusionist has reached a kind of conclusion. The world has moved on without him. There is little he can do about it. The Illusionist is and has been, for all his fancy, mostly pragmatic.–or was this an attempt to be so?

there is a lot of movement in the film, vehicles and traffic and traveling and such.

The juxtaposition of Illusion and Reality in The Illusionist is marvelously complex. Because there is little dialog to confirm impressions, the audience must be patient, and alert. The length of the film (80 minutes) is not an added difficulty, and the animation is perfectly suited–a perfect venue. As Ebert notes, “Chomet has drawn it with a lightness and beauty worthy of an older, sadder Miyazaki story. Animation suits it. Live action would overwhelm its delicate fancy with realism.” Chomet and company’s control, their precision, is necessary—and lovely. The effect is the production of charmingly executed content that is multi-layered visually and contextually.

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Needless to say, I highly recommend The Illustionist. It is rated PG, primarily for smoking, drinking, and near-suicide. If you read Tati into more of the characters than just the Illusionist. The film is even more heart-breaking. Regardless, the film is easily one for the 10 & up crowd who doesn’t mind beautiful animation and engaging on a few of the deeper levels. And do read Ebert’s and Dargis’ reviews, they are wonderful and insightful.

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The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste), 2010

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

Produced by Sally Chomet, Bob Last

Screenplay by Henri Marquet, Sylvain Chomet

Story by Jacques Tati

Starring the voice talents of : Jean-Claude Donda (the Illusionist), Eilidh Rankin (Alice)

Music by Sylvain Chomet

Editing by Sylvain Chomet

Language: French, English, Gaelic

Running time: 80 minutes

Rated PG for for smoking, drinking, and near-suicide.

Wiki page, IMDb link

Eden of the East and Appleseed

I will wrap up what turned out to be a week in movies with two anime that Sean and I recently found Streaming on Netflix: Eden of the East: 1 (2009) and Appleseed (2004). Both of these were found via “related” or “recommendation” in connection to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (which we highly recommend); then there is the Ghost in the Shell connections.

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Eden of the East: The King of Eden. Saki has Akira Takizawa’s special cell phone, the only thing left after he disappeared; that and assurance that she would know where to find him. But someone doesn’t want Saki to find Takizawa and she finds herself in trouble upon her visit to New York City. Takizawa appears and comes to her rescue, coincidentally–because his memory has been wiped. He and Saki try to figure out why and by whom and what should they do next while back in Japan, the company she works for East of Eden are doing what they can to learn about and protect Takizawa who has become a folk hero for the young people of Japan. It all has to do with some non-fatal missile attack months before–and a group of other special cell phone users numbered 1-12 who are part of some game, who are all referred to as saviors of Japan in their own individual ways. This last part fascinates me the most and I look forward to watching more of this story.

We didn’t know that Eden of the East is a Japanese television series created, directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama. According to some reading on their Wiki page, 11 episodes were released for television and they decided to release to films to finish up the story. Eden of the East:The King of Eden drops you in to the middle of the story. Eden of the East: Paradise Lost (2010) wraps it all up.

While it quickly became apparent that we were thrown into the middle of a series, with some patience we could pick up on enough of what was going on, but the films are by no means meant to stand alone. We should have read the plot summary of the television series before going in. So check out the Wiki plot section before watching this film (or hunt down the tv series), because I recommend watching East of Eden: The King of Eden regardless of having the beginning and real ending. Why? No, not so you might share in our sufferings. It is because the animation is just that good. It is gorgeous. I really loved the way it was put together, the composition and sequences and the painstaking rendering of the cityscape. The characters are greate, the story is compelling, and I am completely intrigued.

Note:There is some criticism that should tantalize most of you, an accusation that this series reads straight from a Robert Ludlum (of Bourne series) novel. One you could watch with your middle-graders and up (can vouch for the film at least).

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Appleseed (2004) directed by Shinji Aramaki is a science fiction anime based on the Appleseed manga created by Masamune Shirow. I believe there was a series created off the manga, but the film’s storyline is its own. The computer generated animation gives this film a different feel, obviously, but it’s animation was no less stunning.

Deunen is a soldier in a post-apocalyptic landscape still at war when she is “captured” and taken to a Utopia called Olympus. (yes, the names of some of the characters are ripped straight out of Greek Myth.) Olympus is a beautiful and well-developed city populated with equal parts human and bioroid (think replicant). Deunen had no idea this place existed. But the Utopia has some political unrest regarding fear of the bioroids and their capabilities, especially if their reproductive systems were re-enabled–as it is, their disablement keeps them in check emotionally and interferes with their life-spans. Deunen holds some key to the quandary that has arisen, but in what way could she possibly?

Besides the enjoyable animation employed, Appleseed is a nice little science-fiction, especially for those who enjoy exploring the ideas of identity, emotion, and android (bioroid). Along with the intrigue and philosophical musing is plenty of action involving heavily machine warriors; and the elders remind me a bit of Yoda.

The overall response to the bioroid is a fascinating turn in Appleseed. Traditional (American) fears and paranoia are turned on their little heads a bit. I think the film asks a valid question. Considering how destructive human beings can be, why shouldn’t they step aside for the benefit of a different and better race? –and how different and better are they?–and why can’t we just all get along?!

Anyway. Check this one out and add it to your repertoire of animated film.

Note: 1) an apology, all the trailers were a bit cheesy. 2) there is a sequel Appleseed Ex Machina (2007), which I have yet to see, but has some promise. Just the same, Appleseed does not end on a cliff-hanger, so one needn’t panic there. 3) IMDb shows MPAA’s rating at R for the violence; you may want to screen this first, before your middle-grade and up crowd as there is war zone violence to include some flinch-inducing bloody images/sequences. We now know when to cover N’s eyes, if we were to get around to watching this one together.