Rabbit Transit (Digimon Tamers: Episode 33)

(Check out part 32 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

As Takato, Henry, and Terriermon transport rapidly through digital space in the Digivice Ark, they find themselves unable to figure out where the machine is headed. The Ark seems to be piloting itself and may be headed straight for the domain of the Digimon Sovereign if Shibumi programmed it to do so. Henry, however, comes to a different conclusion and speculates that the device is piloting itself, though it is also guided by the laws of the ‘Digital Space-Time fabric.’ He doesn’t really elaborate on the concept, which is vague and adds little to the conversation over their current predicament beyond having the negative effect of confusing Takato and Terriermon more than ever before.

Terriermon tells Henry and Takato that he misses Suzie and is immediately poked fun at by his friends for wanting to go back to her despite Suzie’s proclivity to dress him up in ridiculous doll clothing. Back in the Real World, Suzie misses Terriermon as well, but tries to put on a brave face for her parents. Janyu has fashioned a Terriermon doll for her, though the stuffed Terriermon just isn’t the same. When her father passes through the living room, she gains his attention and convinces him to bring her to the local park to play as a gambit to hopefully take her mind off of Terriermon and her bigger brother Henry’s absences.

Once there, Yamaki appears and begins to ask Janyu about Shibumi. Yamaki has gathered that though Shibumi was a part of Janyu’s college coding group, he never quite fit in all that well. Janyu explains that this was true, as Shibumi was so much smarter than the rest of them, he was operating on his own level. He was almost too brilliant, which led to some eccentricity on his part as he worked toward the goal of creating ‘an artificial intelligence, which could exist and evolve independent of any human control.’ The rest of the group were ambitious, but knew that Digimon were not real. Shibumi was driven by a madness not to prove they were real, but to make them fully real, to cede to them life, autonomy, and moral weight. through this effort, Janyu came to believe that Shibumi was playing god and attempting to create life itself.

As the two continue to converse about Shibumi, his goals, and the current possibility of tracking him down when he can apparently disappear into a puff of smoke at the drop of a hat, Suzie continues to wander about the park. A light appears to her and guides her toward a large slide, which she climbs up. As Janyu begins to broach the topic of the Blue Card that Shibumi designed, a Digital Field manifests itself at the top of the slide, and the Ark in which Terriermon and the others are being transported can momentarily be seen. Suzie sees Terriermon through a transparent glass window at the bottom of the Ark, which prompts her to continue her ascent, eventually being drawn into the Digital World through the Digital Field’s portal, which itself manifested because of the Ark’s passage through the Real World on the way to the Realm of the Digimon Sovereign. Janyu notices her predicament too late to do anything about it and begins to blame himself for his carelessness. But Yamaki just tells him that if the Digital World drew Suzie within it, it did so with some purpose in mind, and she will be fine there.

When Suzie arrives, she finds herself within the Realm of the Digimon Sovereign. A Tapirmon passes by her and she begins to chase the Rookie-level Digimon about, only losing him once he enters his burrow. A group of DigiGnomes approach Suzie, but soon fly off and away from her, leaving her once again alone, and more and more annoyed with the situation. A Champion-level Kiwimon runs by her, snagging her coat as he attempts to attack her with his beak, which results only in the coat becoming caught on his face. After shrugging off the apparel, he attacks Suzie, but misses with his Kiwi missile, and is chided by Suzie for being so rude. Kiwimon runs away too. Finally, a bundle of data tumbleweeds approaches Suzie. She touches one and is mildly burned by it in the process, leading her to realize that this space she has arrived within is a dangerous, hostile, and unfriendly place.

Later, after walking a piece, she finds what appears to be a pond. But upon closer inspection, there is only a waterfall across from a sheer cliff making the water inaccessible. Atop the waterfall is a palace of sorts, within which most likely reside the Digimon Sovereign. The South Bridge and Gate are guarded by a giant Rabbit Deva named Antylamon whose external appearance immediately interest Suzie and reminds her of Terriermon. She approaches the Deva, who is not hostile as she recognizes that this little girl is no threat and is merely lost. The two develop an immediate affinity and eventually Suzie convinces Antylamon to help her find her friend Terriermon. The two run off in the nearby digital fields until exhaustion sets in and as Suzie runs along to find food for the two, Antylamon secretly departs the scene to return to her post as guard at the South Bridge.

At some point during all of these events, Terriermon registers the voice of Suzie from afar and decides that they need to turn the Ark around, which it does automatically as if responding to the wills of its occupants. When Makuramon appears on the scene and spies Suzie, he tries to capture her as a prize for the Digimon Sovereign. Suzie yells out and both Antylamon and Terriermon’s Ark come flying to her aid. Antylamon and Makuramon are natural allies as members of the Devas, but Antylamon feels the urge to protect Suzie as a stronger call than that of alliance with Makuramon. As she begins to fight Makuramon, the Ark arrives, drops off Takato, Henry, and Terriermon, and dissolves into thin air, leaving behind only a momentary quake and sonic boom.

However, the help of the other Tamers is not needed as Antylamon quickly scares off Makuramon herself. As Henry analyzes Antylamon on his D-Power, registers nothing, and eventually comes to the realization that the final Deva was a rabbit like Antylamon, he becomes afraid for his sister who is standing right beside her. Suddenly, a light orb floats down into Suzie’s hands, turns into a D-Power, and Antylamon is absorbed in a funnel of red light, which de-Digivolves her down to her Rookie-level as Lopmon. It seems that Suzie too is a Tamer, and luckily, the Tamer of a Deva, which means that 9 have been defeated, 1 converted, and only 2 are left to fight: Makuramon and Caturamon!

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

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Red River

(Catch my previous Western film review here: Hud)

Howard Hawks is known today as a great American film director of the classical Hollywood period. He is known particularly well for his direction of film noirs and Westerns, despite the fact that he only directed one picture that can really be called a film noir (The Big Sleep) and only five Westerns during his entire career. No, Hawks’ reputation is a bit out of line with the reality of his career as a director of mostly comedies and light-hearted dramas, with the addition of the occasional foray into genre filmmaking as in 1932 on the classic crime film Scarface and in 1951 on the classic science fiction film The Thing from Another World. Part of the reasoning for Hawk’s association with Westerns is that of the few he created, one (his first) became an immediate classic within the genre: 1948’s Red River.

Although Hawk’s filmography extends back to 1926, well within the silent era, he never directed a Western film for the first twenty years of his career. This is somewhat surprising as the genre was popular in those days and he seemed to tackle most genres at least once. But a series of bad experiences soured the Western for Hawks at a crucial early period. In 1934, he was given the opportunity to work as a director on the farcical Western musical comedy Viva Villa! after helping to pen the script, but he quickly became disillusioned with the project and left the production. The classic Western director William Wellman also worked on the project for as director for a short time before resigning as well. Nine years later, Howard Hughes hired Hawks to direct his picture The Outlaw (’43), but Hawks found the experience unbearable and resigned after two weeks.

For some reason, three years later, Hawks decided to take a third swing at the prospect of directing a Western and hired an impressive cast including John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Montgomery Clift (in his first film role), Joanne Dru (whose performance impressed fellow director John Ford to cast her in his film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1949), Harry Carey Sr. and Jr., Shelley Winters, and Richard Farnsworth. The film was shot by cinematographer Russell Harlan, in 1946, who would later go on to contribute cinematography for two more of Hawk’s five Westerns (The Big SkyRio Bravo) as well as his 1962 war film Hatari!. And then the film, completed by the end of 1946, just sat there. In 1947, it finally received a copyright, and finally, in 1948, it was released in theaters to critical and commercial acclaim, establishing Hawks a director who could marketably produce all kinds of films.

Red River follows the exploits of one Thomas Dunson (Wayne) who works as a cattle hand for years on another man’s drive. After accumulating a fair amount of money and experience, he strikes off on his own with support from his friend and confidant Nadine Groot (Brennan) to buy some cattle of his own, reclaim Texan land north of the Red River, and create a cattle dynasty. However, as he leaves his group to strike out on his own, he decides to leave behind his girl as well, for the time being, and to send for her when he’s established himself and can house her safely on the frontier.

Unfortunately, a group of Native Americans (here it comes) sacks his old employer’s caravan and kills his old friends and his girl in the process. The only survivor is a young boy named Matt Garth (Clift) who Dunson and Groot take in as their adopted kid and raise to become a fine cattle man, and a sharpshooter to boot. After fourteen years of hard labor and constant battle with Mexican ranchers south of the Red River who occasionally launch campaigns for his land, Dunson has raised his stock to nigh on nine thousand head of cattle. But there’s a problem: Texas has no need and no market for the beef, and as such, he has seemingly wasted his time and can get no more than $2 a head, if he’s lucky.

Dunson and his men set up an ambitious journey to Missouri to sell their stock and make a profit with the entire herd of Dunson beef, but along the way, they come into contact with hostile Native tribes, coyotes, and consequent mutinous activity from the men. As the plot progresses, Dunson becomes increasingly hard-headed and set in his ways, even going so far as to kill some of his own men who refuse to continue on to Missouri with hostile Natives ahead. This despite the fact that they have received multiple reports of a new railway passing through Abilene, Kansas with a nearby stock exchange and an abundant need for meat to feed the residents of the state. And most importantly and crucially, changing route to go down South to Abilene would actually save them some time and would not require them passing through hostile territory.

As Dunson and his men plod along toward potential doom, a group of hostiles attack. Dunson’s boys fight them off, but a few are wounded, a few hundred cattle are killed in the process, and Dunson is shot in the leg. At this point, everyone has had enough, including Matt Garth who decides to take command, drive the men and cattle on toward Abilene, and leave Dunson behind to recover on his own and hopefully have enough time to assuage his rage at the the mutiny of his men, of his best friend (Groot), and of the young man he considers a son (Matt).

As Matt and the group head toward Abilene, they do their best to get their before Dunson and his posse can catch up, ultimately secure a great price for their stock of more than eight thousand cattle at $20 a head, and wait for Dunson to show up, hoping all the while that the good take will keep him from exacting revenge. Along the way, Matt meets a young woman named Tess Millay (Dru) who takes his fancy and gives him a reason to fight for his life instead of merely relenting to Dunson’s oncoming punishment. The stage is set for an epic, climactic shootout between two of the fastest, most accurate guns in the West, and unfortunately, the film ends in anticlimax and near slapstick resulting in my wondering why this film of all the great Westerns produced in the classical period has become a definitive classic representative of the genre. Especially when Bud Boetticher and Raoul Walsh made so many more Westerns over the course of their careers, and so many better ones at that.

 

Cody Ward

[P.S. Don’t take me wrong, it’s a great film in its own right. However, it is undeniably average when compared to other great Westerns of the period]

Shibumi Speaks (Digimon Tamers: Episode 32)

(Catch part 31 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

At the end of the prior episode, Henry, Terriermon, and Takato are shown falling into a deep pool of water in some plane of the Digital World. As they quickly swim to the surface, they hold their breaths, and find themselves in a cavern. After collecting themselves for the task at hand, of escaping, Terriermon is tasked to swim below the water and attempt to find a way out of the area. But much to their dismay, there seems to be no other adjacent caverns, let alone one that might surface them near an exit.

As there seems to be no way out of the cavern, Takato suggests they attempt to dig out. Henry applies the ‘Digmon’s Drill’ Modify Card to Terriermon, which manifests as an oversized drill protruding from his forehead. After digging for a short time into the cavern wall, water begins to flood in revealing that their cavern is the only non-aqueous space in the area. Henry quickly applies the ‘Frigimon Sub-Zero Ice Punch’ attack attribute card to Terriermon, which allows him to freeze the water flooding into the cavern and block any more from entering. Finally, Takato notices his Com Device is working for the first time in quite a while. He reads the message from Yamaki sent some days prior: ‘I’m glad you’re alright. ~Yamaki.’

In the Real World, Yamaki has sent a Hypnos detail out to track down and bring in Shibumi Mizuno, Janyu Wong’s old friend and the mastermind behind the Blue Cards, to help figure out how to stop the Digimon Sovereign. But when the group finally finds the elusive figure, he runs from them and eventually disappears into a cloud of a smoke, revealing himself to actually be the In-training Digimon Mokumon before disappearing completely. The incident is enigmatic and not entirely explained even within the context of the episode, but will hopefully be explained in the following ones to come.

In a Tokyo restaurant, Janyu and his colleagues have gathered together all of the parents of the Tamer children. While Takato, Henry, and Jeri’s parents are well-informed about what is going, as their kids and their Digimon partners told them about the upcoming journey, the remaining parents want to know what is going on. Kenta’s parents are in the know as he left them a note about everything, but they still wish he had spoken to them directly as all of this Digimon stuff is completely new to them and worries them immensely. Kazu’s parents are freaking out because he only told them that he was going on a school trip and they are just now learning about the reality of his absence. And as for Rika, her grandmother was told everything upfront by her and Renamon, but her mother was left out of the loop as she would have freaked out upon hearing about Rika’s connection with Digimon and her planned journey into a potentially hostile land.

The biggest question of the parents seems to be why it had to be children who went on this quest in the first place. Janyu’s colleague explains that when the Digimon were developed by he and his friends in college, they based the Digimon on dreams and wishes they had as children. For some reason, this registered as a natural affinity between children, whose power of will and imagination is paramount, and Digimon, who are creatures of nearly pure will (and data). It seems that the power of belief and will is what allows children to help Digimon to Digivolve, and as such, they are a natural pair.

Later, Yamaki will join the group in the restaurant and be immediately brow beaten by Janyu for the most recent events involving Juggernaut’s re-initiation. Yamaki apologizes and tells him that it was merely an accident, and one that was not initiated by himself in the first place. He next retrieves his laptop and shows the parents the messages between himself and Takato. As Takato just happens to be in a location where his Com Device has wireless access, he and Yamaki begin to communicate live for the first time over the messenger application. Takato begins to communicate with the parents of the other children as if he was the other children, all in an effort to prevent them from becoming even more concerned and scared for their children’s well-being.

He hides the fact they are actually currently separated and explains his current predicament of being trapped in a cavern with no way out. Henry begins to reflect on the fact that the Com Device, which was so recently dragged through the water, is now working just fine. He theorizes that the Com Device did not get wet because it did not ‘know’ it was getting wet. That is to say, it is merely an object from the Real World translated from atoms into data that transferred through the data version of water, which is not, in itself, wet. So, Henry continues his line of thought, they too can travel through the water and not get wet, or for that matter, not drown if they just believe that they will be fine.

Henry asks his father to verify his theory, which he finds himself unable to do as it may very well jeopardize the well-being of his son if it proves wrong. But Yamaki, like the Tamers, has a belief in the strength of the will and tells Henry that his theory is correct, despite not knowing whether it is for sure or not. So Henry takes a dive and emerges a minute and a half later. His hair and clothes are not wet and he is not even breathing heavily as if he had to hold his breath. The gambit works and the three sign off of the conversation on the Com Device before taking a plunge and journeying to find their way out of this morass. Back in the Real World, the parents thank Yamaki for his foresight in giving Takato the Com Device, and Janyu, recognizing a change in Yamaki, invites him to become part of his group once again.

In any normal episode of the series thus far, this might just be the end of the plot for one episode as a ton of narrative development has occurred already. However, the series really starts to swing for the fences in this episode and become something more akin to a characteristic Chiaki J. Konaka work. Underwater, Takato, Henry, and Terriermon find a circular door in the wall of a rock face. Terriermon opens the door with a forceful shrug to find Otamamon inside and a hostile Ultimate-level Divermon who tries his best to protect them from what he assumes are aggressors. After a short altercation, the reality of the situation is revealed and the Divermon gives them directions to the topside, which will mean travelling up an electrified pipe toward an area he has never been to himself, and only heard about as a legend. The gang attempt the trip, but are immediately electrocuted and repelled from the pipe. But the Otamamon create a giant bubble for the Tamers to travel within, which gives them the ability to move freely through the pipe and hopefully toward the open air.

The tube eventually emerges into an open space of hundreds of parallel tunnels, all now transparent. They lead to a nexus in the form of a giant bubble in the centre where it seems safe to pop their bubble and travel freely once more. DigiGnomes fill the space and lead the Tamers toward a Floating Library. Inside, they find many Mokumon guarding the palace (bearing some as yet obscure connection to Shibumi who resides within this Library and operates in the Real World presumably through his Mokumon minions). In a large University-style classroom, they find a giant Digivice floating mid air high above the desks, and as the bottom of the room, sitting asleep at the teacher’s desk: Shibumi Mizuno!

Shibumi awakens and addresses them as if they were Digital Lifeforms of his creation. He tells them that he used to be a human, though he is now spectral and transparent (and oddly resembling the dying Doctor in Serial Experiments Lain). Takato tells Shibumi that they are real human beings, but Shibumi merely philosophizes: ‘Are you sure? Maybe you’re all dreaming like me. Maybe all beings everywhere are dreaming about what they will become! And when we all awake we will begin our evolution.’  The thought is a bit confounding, but reveals a mind-body dualism wherein the former is not merely a projection from the latter, but itself potentially the latent force that generates body and exteriorization in the first place.

Takato asks Shibumi about Digivices, and specifically about the large one literally hanging in mid-air over their heads. He reveals that the Digivices, or D-Powers, are not referred to as such by himself. Rather, Shibumi calls them Arks ‘for transporting data. Henry explains that his father is Janyu Wong, which elicits a positive response in Shibumi and convinces him that the two beings in front of him really are human beings and not just Digital constructs. Shibumi expresses his interest in helping them to escape this area and goes into an examination of all of the properties of the Arks in detail. He refers to the Arks as ‘toolboxes to store, organize, and connect data’ that aid in the connecting of ‘kindred pairs’ just like the tall tale of Noah’s Ark. In the case of the Tamers, which are a new category of human being, the Arks modified themselves to connect the Tamers with their kindred Digimon pair, and serve to bring the Real World and the Digital World into closer connection in the process.

As a duo of DigiGnomes retrieve a book from the adjacent shelf for Shibumi to analyze, Takato inquires as to what they are. The designation of Digital Gnomes to theses ethereal fairy-like creature is one thought up originally by Shibumi himself and is not insignificant. Traditionally, Gnomes are the antithesis of ethereal fairies, are cthonic in nature, and display openly their animosity to humans. However, these Digital Gnomes appear as fairies, are of the aether, and are helpful to human and Digimon alike. To warrant the designation as Gnomes they must have a dual nature, which occasionally makes them vicious and unhelpful as in the episode a few back when they appeared, led Rika to a stream when she voiced her desire for water, and then the stream produced a giant wave that threatened to drown her or kill her through its sheer force, which may have been the fault of the DigiGnomes.

Takato asks if the DigiGnomes are some form of Digimon and Shibumi responds that they are not Digimon and have not evolved from Digimon. Rather, they evolved on their own from the internal logical systems of the Digital World itself just as atoms in the Real World organized into compound chemicals and eventually organelles before becoming unicellular and eventually multicellular life. In this sense, the DigiGnomes can be compared to organic lifeforms in the Real World, while Digimon are more akin to artificial lifeforms like AI or machines as they were created consciously rather than through the sheer forces of nature in the Digital World.

Shibumi explains further that as the human body is composed of cells, each alive and functioning with its own survival instincts and self-preservation ready to hand, the Digital World is composed of Digimon and other Digital Lifeforms (like Behemoth and the DigiGnomes), which work to develop and evolve the Digital World’s complexity as a being in itself. This Gaia Hypothesis does not really bear itself logically speaking, but was philosophically in vogue from both environmental philosophers of the late 20th century and through Christian mystical theologians like Teilhard de Chardin, both of which have had some influence on the writer of Digimon Tamers: Chiaki J. Konaka.

Next, a DigiGnome passes by with a Blue Card in its arms. Shibumi explains that though the object looks like a card, it is actually an algorithm he produced which contains a complex mathematical formula that allows Digimon to evolve on their own. This means that unlike evolution in the Real World, which can take place over any length of time if the environmental stresses are strong enough to kill off entire categories of genetic variation in a species, but must occur through generations and cannot occur within a single organism over a lifetime, evolution in the Digital World can now occur within the life of a Digimon. Shibumi wanted to ‘prove that Digimon were more than just toys. That they were a true lifeform that could grow on their own.’ But evolution is often a slow process, and the proof of Digimon’s existence as real lifeforms would take generations to come to fruition naturally.

Takato explains that the Blue Cards in the Real World serve the dual function of Digivolving Digimon to the next level through Matrix Digivolution and establishing a child as a Tamer. This means that the Blue Card, which allowed Digimon to evolve in one lifetime to establish their existence as lifeforms, extended its intended function naturally, without Shibumi’s input, by connecting Digimon with Human Beings in an effort to more quickly establish them as lifeforms in the eyes of humanity. This act of reaching out, of communicating, seems to be an attempt by the Blue Card algorithm, which is sufficiently complex enough to apparently manifest some form of Artificial Intelligence at a latent level, in an effort to connect humans and Digimon quickly as possible. The purpose of which is already programmed into the Blue Card algorithm as an end in itself, but also foretells an upcoming event in which this connection between Digimon and human will be necessary.

As a DigiGnome approaches Takato, his D-Power Ark lights up and projects out an image of Takato’s Guilmon fanart schematics. Shibumi reasons that either the DigiGnomes created Guilmon through data packets based on the schematics of Takato’s drawing and specifications (the empirical theory) or Guilmon dreamed his data into existence, willed it into being from the wellspring of Nothingness itself, and Takato simply became aware of it. The possibility makes Takato’s head spin. And then Terriermon presents a third theory, just as likely as the second and just as troubling based on a purely empiricist, matter-based ontology: that Terriermon dreamed Henry into existence.

Takato finally tires of all of the information (which is enough for a good philosophy student to write a speculative PhD thesis on), and asks Shibumi how to get out of the Floating Library and back to his friends on the normal plane of the Digital World. Shibumi explains that they must emerge from this subterranean realm (which further explains the presence of cthonic DigiGnomes) by reaching the Highest Plane. Along the way, he will find the realm in which he friends reside, but to emerge from the very Digital World itself back into the Real World, they must reach the Highest Plane. At this level, the four most powerful and highest evolved (the notion of highly evolved organisms is bunk in real evolutionary biology, but is apparently not in the Tamers Universe theory of Konaka) Digimon: the ones referred to as the Digimon Sovereign by the Devas and the Tamers. On the ceiling of the room is emblazoned the aspect of the four Digimon in their respective geographical positions (North, South, East, and West) with the Digital Triforce (emblazoned also on Guilmon and Calumon’s foreheads) in the centre.

Shibumi reflects on the irony of the Devas and the Sovereign taking on the forms of Human gods in an effort to destroy humanity as they are so obviously all the more tied up with humanity in the process. However, the irony is not apparent upon further inspection as gods and religion are traditionally destructive (although also constructive) ideological forces that historically caused death and the subjugation of particular groups to others with more power. As such, the Devas and Sovereign’s use of the aspect of the heavens is in keeping with their goals. Shibumi believes that humans and Digimon will forever be inextricably linked together, but does not recognize that this connection could be merely a master-slave one. However, he foretells a future evolution that will only become possible when humans and Digimon learn to live together and to respect one another as lifeforms on equal moral footing, if not ontological footing (as either could have dreamt the other into existence, and skepticism prevents one from knowing truly which was the creator and which was the created in this exchange).

Finally, before the large Digivice Ark beams them up and out of the room toward their next destination, Shibumi foretells the existence of a being stronger than the Digimon Sovereign. One which is the cause of the Sovereign’s accelerated aims to further evolve. One which they are attempting to resist and gain the strength to destroy before it emerges from its ontological cocoon, from its deep slumber of being in Nothingness out into the world as an assassin of Digimon and Man alike. But who could defeat the Sovereign? As the Tamers depart the scene, Shibumi tires to falls back into a deep slumber, speaking Hamlet’s fateful words before succumbing to the numbing of sleep in the Floating Library: ‘Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream.’ To sleep the dreamless sleep of death in which uncertainty (which increases in proportion to the attainment of knowledge, of which Shibumi certainly holds in abundance) is no longer.

Shibumi is worried for the world and has little strength to change things any longer. He has done his duty by creating the Blue Card algorithm, which seems to potentially have the power to stop the force that will one day awaken and challenge humanity and Digimon as an existential threat. And maybe this feeling of being no longer able to contribute to the fight, no longer able to work up more than negativity in himself, is what has transformed Shibumi into his ghastly, spectral form as a near non-entity: a force of pure intellect dead to rights forever more. A man who has retreated not into the dreamless sleep of death, but of ontological uncertainty, as both a being simultaneously alive and dead, physical and digital, conscious and unconscious, human and profoundly Other to the human experience by virtue of his near Archimedian vantage point gained by exhaustive study in an endless Library, floating above the abyss of Being, at the nexus of all roads.

And Takato, riding through the Digital planes astride the Ark, contemplates the death of Guilmon wondering openly if this potential event bodes death for himself in the process, or at least a part of himself.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Kazu’s Upgrade (Digimon Tamers: Episode 31)

(Catch part 30 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The episode opens to Calumon hanging out in the fiery domain of the Digimon Sovereign Zhuqiaomon whilst trapped within a floating cage. His bindings are much more secure than the cage in which Makuramon initially brought him to the Digital World in and will make for quite a difficult escape.

His Tamer and Digimon friends are still searching for him and Jeri is worried that they won’t be able to find him again, and worse yet, that they will never escape the Digital World and return to their families in the Real World. Rika advises Jeri to toughen up and quit acting like a baby, which comes off as callous and unduly mean-spirited. However, she means the comment to hopefully affect Jeri positively, causing her to toughen up and grow stronger as a person and a Tamer in the process. Renamon chides her Tamer partner for her rudeness, and surprisingly, Rika apologizes to Jeri and explains that her intentions were not to hurt her feelings or belittle her.

Takato, Henry, and Terriermon are shown falling through some unknown digital space, and have somehow managed to end up together in their descent despite being picked up by separate Data Streams. The implication is that Data Streams are not, as we know, merely transfers of information between the Real World and the Digital World. If they were, Kazu, Kenta, Rika, Takato, and Henry would now all be back in the Real World, transposed to some kid’s living room where he’s typing a search query into duckduckgo. No, the Data Streams seem to be portals between areas in the Digital World. And when a set of Data Streams are in one area, each Stream does not send information it picks up to a specified area separate from its sister streams. They work on a hive methodology, and when grouped in the same region, send data to the another region, which is the same for all sister streams. And so, even though Takato and Henry were picked up by separate Data Streams, they are now hurtling toward the same place.

As their Tamer friends continue their dual searches for Calumon and them, Guilmon reflects on how he misses Takato. Kenta jokes around with him and tells him that he can be his Digimon partner instead (something that will become a running joke throughout the episode as Kenta pretends that Guilmon is his partner during battles and encounters with hostile Digimon). As they goof off, the Tamers pass over a trap in the desert and fall through to a jungle beneath the previous layer of the Digital World. Therein, an Andromon is busy throwing a large rock into a pond in an attempt to drive out his arch enemy: the nine-headed Ultimate-level Snake Digimon Orochimon.

When Orochimon fails to appear, Andromon turns to find the Tamers and their Digimon watching him in the adjacent wood. He takes them to be Orochimon’s thugs (even though, as flashbacks will later reveal, he has never had any thugs or help of any kind in his evil exploits and instead relies upon his own power). After a brief altercation, Andromon realizes that they are good guys on his side, and moments later, Orochimon surfaces from the pond and beats Andromon to a metallic pulp. Orochimon seems to have a keen interest in Jeri and almost abducts her. Luckily, Leomon blocks Orochimon just in time and manages to scare him off with a well placed laceration to the side of the head.

Nearby, the Tamers find a village where they decide to bring Andromon in the hopes of finding others to help nurse him back to help. What they find instead is a factory of Gekomon making sake (changed to milkshakes of all things in the English dub?!) for Orochimon’s consumption. And elder Gekomon approaches the Tamers and tells them that Orochimon appeared from out of the sky one day and began to coerce the Gekomon into making him sake on a daily basis. The Gekomon used to sing and dance throughout their days in freedom and now have little time for much else beyond industrial labor: Ah, the plight of the worker alienated from the very products of his labor! The Gekomon cannot even imbibe lest they make their capitalist leader, ruling by force and the threat of violence, angry with them. So alienated are they that they no longer enjoy life, but merely work to survive.

One day, Andromon (a machine! The irony here should be apparent) appeared and promised to save the Gekomon from their wage slavery, from the system of violence that only strips away the joy of life from the common mon. They had nothing to lose but their chains, but they had become so reliant on Orochimon that they forgot life could be lived without him. So they refused Andromon and he fought Orochimon himself, but always failed because despite his strength (being at an Ultimate-level just like Orochimon), the Gekomon’s sake (their products) contained Data Packets within it (capital) that gave him strength (power). Through his exploitation he became a force to be reckoned with that could only be defeated if the workers joined in the revolt, which they were unwilling to do, could no longer even imagine as a possibility. This despite their ancestors being the strongest, willing to fight and to kill any who would subjugate them to their will. You cannot force a Cro Mag on the Serengeti to work in a factory without incurring their wrath, but modern mon with their supposed superiority are in fact weak, part of the herd, corralled by herd morality toward a pen of complacency that allows one to tolerate the intolerable.

So Andromon fought on, alone, and failed time and again, but kept fighting like a Nietzschian ubermensch beyond good and evil, herd morality, and stupidity. Kazu understands Andromon completely and tries his best to convince the Gekomon to stand up for themselves, but is likewise unsuccessful in his attempts. Andromon, meanwhile, has had nearly enough. His last bout with the labor profiteer Orochimon weakened him so severely that he de-Digivolves back to his Champion-level as Guardromon and will now be unable to fight back even somewhat effectively against his foe. So when Orochimon appears once again, and his only combatants are the Rookies Renamon and Guilmon, and the Champion-level Leomon, Orochimon easily snags Jeri and drags her off to his secret cavern to make him more sake.

As Jeri makes tons of sake and attempts to make Orochimon drunk so he will fall asleep and she can slip away in the dead of night, the Tamers finally convince the Gekomon to help by explaining to them that keeping the peace does not mean merely slaving away, but being able to sing and dance and enjoy life. They plot a Trojan Horse siege on his domain. As Orochimon’s nine heads are all almost asleep, the Gekomon approach with their daily barrels of sake. But inside of the barrels are the Digimon Tamers, their Digimon partners, and Guardromon. The battle begins and the heads of Orochimon are being destroyed one by one in quick succession. But Orochimon merely regenerates them and reveals that all except the central head are mere simulations: the Capitalist is really a human being like the rest of us who only appears larger than he really is, but can be killed just as easily if targeted as a normal being.

Jeri then realizes that she has the ability to turn the tables on Orochimon. She activates a Digimon Assist card ‘LadyDevimon’, whose power and evil momentarily possesses Leomon and gives him the vitality and strength to fight fire with fire, evil with evil. He launches LadyDevimon’s Ultimate-level Darkness Wing attack and destroys the acquisitive snake with prejudice just as the only overthrow of an evil man comes through turning that same evil against him.

The Gekomon , now overjoyed at the reclamation of their freedom through the death of a tyrant, sing the song of their people to the Tamers (which is out of key and downright terrible). In front of Kazu, a blinding light appears and a D-Power emerges, signalling that he and Guardromon are now partners and kindred spirits in the fight against evil. And Kenta is now the only one of the kids who came to the Digital World without a Digimon partner of his own: a fact he laments before once again broaching the topic of changing Tamer loyalties with Guilmon who, naturally, refuses.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE. Buckle your seatbelts…]

The Quiet Man

(Check out my previous John Ford film review here: Fort Apache)

In the early 1940s, American director John Ford read a story in a major newspaper that elicited his interest. An American boxer killed a man in the ring and out of sheer horror at the event, he retired from boxing and left the country to return to his hometown in Ireland where he was born (though he was raised in the States. The premise interested Ford immensely as a narrative idea for a film, which he could begin with and expand upon into the story of the boxer’s new life in the idyllic Irish countryside.

Ford developed the concept and by 1944, he had written a script entitled The Quiet Man, which he hocked to Studio heads wherever he found them. His attempts at securing a cast for the film were successful and ended in John Wayne, Victor McLaglen, Maureen O’Hara, and Ward Bond, all Ford regulars, agreeing to star in major roles on the film. But Ford’s attempts to find a group to finance the picture turned up nothing. It wasn’t until early 1951 when he finally found a studio willing to fund the film, but only on the condition that he sign a two-film contract, the first of which being for a black and white Western to make money for the studio to make up for what they believed would be a box office failure in the technicolor The Quiet Man (though the film did break even at the box office).

After completing Rio Grande in 1951- the third film in John Ford’s Cavalry trilogy including Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon– he secured funding for his dream project and took his cast and crew to Ireland to shoot locations and much of the script in the idyllic countryside of the small hamlet known as Cong, as well as in Galway. For the purposes of the film, the locations and studio shot scenes were combined to create the imaginary village of Innisfree where our one-time boxer protagonist Sean Thornton (Wayne) buys his family’s ancestral home and plans to settle down.

Although Ford had shot ‘Irish’ and ‘British’ pictures before, like his classic How Green Was My Valley (set in a small Welsh mining town), he had never actually shot one of these films on location and had preferred to make them in Studios in California. Other American directors before John Ford had mostly done the same, except for on a handful of occasions when Hollywood films were shot in Irish Studios or cities as in Beloved Enemy (1936), Parnell (1937), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Little Nellie Kelly (1940), and The Luck of the Irish (1948)However, John Ford’s first time shooting a film in Ireland was different as he shot on location in the Irish countryside (a first for a Hollywood production).

This approach- shooting a film in the place it is set- seems intuitive today when travel is cheaper than ever before, but at the time, moving an entire Hollywood production from one place to another was a grueling notion and made little sense when one could merely recreate the settings on a studio set. But John Ford aimed to shoot in technicolor and to capture the vibrant colors of the flora and fauna of the Irish countryside as no one ever had before in the medium of cinema. On How Green Was My Valley he circumvented the need to shoot on location by shooting in black and white, and even if he hadn’t, few audiences would have registered any confusion about the settings if they were shot in color in the hills of California. But to Ford’s discerning eye, and to eyes of critics and fellow artists, getting the colors and shapes of the landscape correct was absolutely necessary. So off he went to his homeland in 1952, after eight years of trying to finance the picture, to finally bring to fruition one of his most personal projects, which he would later consider something of a swan song despite it being released more than decade and a dozen films before his actual retirement from filmmaking in the mid-1960s.

The film begins with Thornton’s arrival in Innisfree by train. A cabbie named Michaleen ‘Oge’ Flynn drives Thornton into town proper, and along the way, they spy a young lass named Mary Kate Danahar (O’Hara). Thornton is immediately smitten with the girl and makes romantic advances toward her the following morning after Church. Taken aback, and simultaneously excited by Thornton’s indiscretion (as Innisfree is very traditional and a girl must be courted properly whilst a go-between is present before a relationship can begin), she blushes and runs off home, staring back at Thornton from time to time along the way before she is out of sight.

When Thornton inquires at a local rich woman’s home about purchasing his family plot and home, he finds that Mary Kate’s brother Will Danahar (McLaglen) already has his sights on the property. When the man arrives to try and convince the woman to sell him the land instead of this American newcomer, a bidding war erupts. Thornton wins with a bid for the property at £1,000 (though Danahar estimates that it is worth no more than £200), or around £28,000 in 2018: the equivalent of $37,500 USD (which seems a great bargain for an Irish cottage and dozens of acres of land). However, this bidding war backfires as it leads to animosity between Thornton and the unduly acquisitive Danahar who will later forbid Thornton from courting his sister.

Thornton circumvents Danahar by betting him a large quantity of money against the chance to court Mary Kate Danahar if he can win the annual horse race in town. Danahar agrees and Thornton begins to train and race his horse over impossible obstacles at breakneck speeds to prepare himself. When the day of the race arrives, he wins it and with Michaleen’s aid as a respectable go-between, begins to court Mary Kate. Eventually, the two wed, but Will Danahar refuses to give his sister her full dowry and only sends her belongings along to the Thornton homestead after being forced to do so by the local bar crowd who have taken a liking to Thornton and wish to protect his honor as a new husband.

But there is still one more problem. Although Danahar sends his sister’s belongings, he refuses to send her monetary dowry (partially accumulated through her own work tending to sheep on the ranch throughout her formative years). The situation grows so dire for Mary Kate, who believes that her marriage cannot be legitimate until she receives her full dowry, that she refuses to sleep with Thornton until he forces her brother to hand over the cash. Eventually, Mary Kate buys a train ticket and plans to leave the village entirely to prevent her husband acquiring any more shame. Thornton finds her and drags her back into town in the nick of time and threatens to evaporate Will Danahar’s honor by returning his sister to him, as he has not held up on his end of the bargain and given the full dowry to the Thornton household (even though Thornton could really care less about the money). Will Danahar finally relents and hands over the money, which Sean Thornton immediately burns.

Will throws a punch toward Thornton as he doesn’t know what type of a man he is messing with. Thornton bobs and weaves and lands a blow to Will Danahar’s solar plexus that immediately crumples the ageing man and impresses Mary Kate who runs off back home, with pride, to make her now honorable husband a lavish dinner. After Will Danahar regains his composure, the two men recommence their fight throughout the day, often taking breaks to drink in the town pub, and finally, develop some respect for one another in the process.

The Quiet Man was a critically successful film for which John Ford won his fourth, and final, Oscar for Best Director in 1953. This win, in a certain sense, solidifies his opinion of the film as his swan song as he never again received an Oscar nod for Best Director despite the fact that two of his best films- The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance–  were yet to come. The film also won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Winton Hoch’s technicolor work. He also provided cinematography on 3 Godfathers (1948), Mister Roberts (1955), The Searchers (1956), and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) on which he received the second Oscar win in his long and esteemed career as one of the best cinematographers produced by Hollywood in its earliest period.

 

Cody Ward

American Pop

(Check out my previous Ralph Bakshi film review here: The Lord of the Rings)

After the negative critical reception of Bakshi’s last film, the production difficulties attendant upon the adaptation of an epic work of fiction to the animation medium, and a growing distaste with fantasy plots in general, Bakshi decided to go back to something more personal on his next film. He fell back on his experiences with pop music over the course of his life and decided to create what would become his own Great American Novel of sorts, following the lives and exploits of four generations of Russian Jews as they leave their homeland, come to America, and move through drastically varying social periods and places between 1890 to 1980.

In Russia, the family live in a Jewish neighborhood, which is subjected to a pogrom from the Czarist elites. The family, the Belinskys, lose their patriarch in the process as the elder Zalmie Belinsky, a Rabbi, refuses to leave the synagogue and becomes a martyr for his people. Zalmie Jr. and his mother leave the country and immigrate to America where they have high hopes of being able to succeed, to be free from prejudice and anti-Semitic pogroms, to be free to live in liberty and to pursue happiness. But the American Dream was still only a concept in progress and as the pre-teen Zalmie begins to work as a waiter in lascivious night clubs to help his mother make ends meet, she works in a textile factory. A factory that operates under the Wild West mentality of the time before the period of muckraking journalism that ushered in safe labor laws and outlawed child labor and excess worker exploitation.

One day, a fire breaks out at her place of employment. She burns to death within the plant and leaves behind Zalmie Jr. who is lucky enough to enter the care of one of the nightclub men named Louie who first introduces Zalmie to vaudeville, comedy, and dancing and singing troupes, of which he eventually becomes a part before falling in love with a hooker named Bella. The two have one child, another Zalmie Jr., the father loses his singing voice in an accident, joins the Mafia, Bella is blown up by a package bomb meant for Zalmie Sr., and all the while, the young Zalmie develops an interest in the piano. Eventually, he becomes something of a prodigy, is forced by his father to marry a girl with Mob connections to strengthen Zalmie Sr.’s position, sires a child, and enlists in the Army at the onset of World War II.

As the film moves along we are drawn through a vision of American history with the urban conditions of impoverished and working class Jews, like Bakshi’s own family background, at the center. American popular music drives the stories along thematically and contextualizes moments in time whilst simultaneously working as incidental music that heightens the emotional and dramatic effect of powerful moments in the narrative. In the film’s short 93-minute runtime, almost 80 songs are presented in full or in part. From George Gershwin, Cole Porter and The Dave Brubeck Quartet through Elvis Presley, The Mamas & The Papas, Mitch Ryder, and Bob Dylan we move through two generations. And then onward from Lou Reed, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin to Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Herbie Hancock and Heart. And finally to The Sex Pistols and Fear (Lee Ving and his bandmates also contribute as voice actors on this film).

From vaudeville and big band to personal jazz, rock and roll and folk, garage rock, hippy rock, hard rock, funk, and punk the film paints a picture of America as coincident with its culture and with the people and the movements who made it what it was. And in this manner, American Pop is an optimistic film that presents America not as merely an increasingly imperialistic aggressor against the rest of the world and its own citizens (which it has historically been), but as a country that is great for its artistic work and for the power that music specifically can have in changing lives and in making life bearable for outcasts and those on the edges of society.

Zalmie Jr. finds no, the pianist, finds no meaning in life whatsoever. He works as a musician in Mafia run joints and is constantly offered a recording contract from big league record companies like RCA, but turns them all down in favor of playing for his own personal enjoyment. And this is why it is so moving when, as a G.I. deep within enemy territory during WWII, he finds a piano and plays for the first time in months. The music flows freely as if from the very core of his being, an expression of his identity. And the beauty of the moment transcends itself as a Nazi soldier emerges from hiding in the corner of the room, is registered by Zalmie who plays him a fugue of his own country’s origins, and resigns himself to death by machine gun fire after the visibly moved Nazi remembers himself and his role, and fires into his enemy combatant, and brother.

The third Belinsky, Benny, grows up as Louie’s de facto child and without his father. He doesn’t show any musical aptitude in his childhood and eventually marries a woman, has three kids, and develops a fondness for poetry. He goes to Beat rap parties and enjoys the scene, even contributing lines himself on occasion. He rails against the machine, the banality of television culture, and with radio pop. One day, Benny has had enough and leaves his wife and kids behind, travels across the country, picks up harmonica from homeless Blues players along the way, and stops through Kansas one night where he sires a son before leaving the following morning.

Benny’s subsequent journeys upon arriving in California will lead him to a fateful encounter with a hippy group. He becomes a popular songwriter, gets hooked on drugs, eventually becomes homeless, and finally connects with his son who finds him when he and his friends pass through Kansas City for a show. The boy, named Tony (played through rotoscoping by Ron Thompson), stays with Benny for a time before his father disappears permanently from public view and from his life. Tony grows up street smart and becomes a major coke dealer with greater musical aspirations, which he finally achieves at the film’s denouement: becoming the first true superstar in the family in the process as an apotheosis of musical desire to musical fulfillment and appreciation. Four generations and ninety years in the making.

The film was a box office success, making back $6 million USD on its $1 million USD budget (an impossibility today as just the music rights alone would cannibalize the majority of this budget, if not exceed it entirely). It was a critical success and has become a cult film with an avid fanbase. However, far more important than either of these considerations it is a beautiful, enduring, personal film by Ralph Bakshi that I find myself hard pressed to not call his greatest achievement. American Pop is a social document, a human document, and a fictional account that through presenting the lives of four generations of Jewish emigres to the United States, manages to reach deeper than particularity and become a universal film about the American experience, American traumas and difficulties, and the roots of 20th century American cultural hegemony as derived from those who believe more fervently in America than any other: Immigrants.

 

Cody Ward

Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase

(Catch my review of the first Nasu film here: Summer in Andalusia)

Kitaro Kosaka, the long-time Studio Ghibli animator and animation director, created his first feature film as a full director in 2003 for Studio Madhouse. The film was an adaptation of a short story found within a three-volume manga entitled Nasu by the manga-ka Io Kuroda, recommended to Kosaka by Hayao Miyazaki, and about a professional cyclist named Pepe Benengeli who rides for the struggling Pao Pao Beer team. In that first film, he rides the Vuelta through his hometown in Andalusia and ultimately proves his merit to his team, his sponsors, and his friends and family by gaining a lead in the first half of the race and holding it till the end when he finishes first by the skin of his teeth.

From 2003 until his production began on his next OVA film in 2007, Kosaka worked sparsely providing character designs on the television series Monster for Studio Madhouse and working as animation director on Studio Ghibli’s 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle. Information is hard to come by regarding the full animation cast on Kosaka’s second Nasu picture, but it seems that he did not retain the editorial talent of Takeshi Seyama and instead used a Madhouse employee to cut the film.

However, as a trade-off of sorts, Kosaka enlisted the aid of the famed animation director Ken’Ichi Yoshida to help him create his film. He and Yoshida had worked together on many an occasion for a Studio Ghibli throughout the 1990s when Yoshida was a Ghibli employee. Before becoming freelance in 1999, Yoshida contributed in-between animation on Only Yesterday, and key animation on Porco Rosso, Ocean Waves, Pom Poko, Whisper of the Heart, the Hayao Miyazaki directed music video On Your Mark, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. After this period, he began work on numerous television series including highly esteemed modern classics like Neon Genesis EvangelionWolf’s Rain, and Eureka Seven. Needless to say, his help was indispensable and can be seen firsthand in the increase in production quality between the two films whilst keeping character designs and animation style (of the Lupin III mold) stable across time.

In Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase, a few years have elapsed since the last film. Pepe’s teammate Gilmore has since left Pao Pao Beer’s cycling team to join up with a different group in which the legendary rider Zanconi is employed. Pepe’s win at the Vuelta has since been forgotten, though his sponsorship is now relatively stable due to his constant decent performances coming in at second or third at races (and hence, racking up points in the process). But the team as a whole has suffered immensely and been unable to claim first in any race for some time, which has led Pao Pao Beer to consider disbanding the team the following year if they don’t shape up quickly.

Further, Pepe’s best remaining teammate Ciocci has been having something a third-life crisis and is questioning why he continues to race, to stay in shape, to diet, and to forego starting a family and gaining a lucrative career. His performance has begun to suffer because of his doubts and his doubts have been reinforced by his bad performance in what has become a vicious cycle leading nowhere but downhill if not stopped soon. Add to this, the complication of the great cyclist Marco Rondanini taking his own life toward the beginning of the film and becoming a legendary figure of sorts in the process of death and cultural glorification of his memory, and the immense enigma of Zanconi, and Ciocci begins to wonder whether he could even become a great cyclist in principle as all great cyclists have some je ne sais quoi that makes them almost gods among men. Ciocci worries that this is an attribute he does not possess and can never possess, and finds that it must be fueled by an almost religious drive to cycle as one’s Sisyphean end game.

All of this uncertainty in Ciocci, the second best rider on the team, and in the team’s continued existence, negatively effects all riders on the team. So, when they are flown to Japan for a big race against Gilmore and Zanconi’s team (amongst others), they seem totally demoralized. Luckily, Zanconi is no longer on a quest as a mere cyclist. He has taken up the Buddhist faith in a mystical vein, eats traditional Japanese foods when he arrives, speaks to no one (allowing himself to meditate through every waking moment and movement as the great Zen Buddhist Dogen might advise), and visits an ancient temple to the thousand armed Kannon: the Bodhisattva of Mercy derived from the Chinese Guanyin, herself derived from the male Indian Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

During the race, Zanconi stays with the pack and doesn’t make his move to leave it until the second the last lap of the race. He cycles at this point like his very life depends upon it and during that one lap manages to speed ahead not only of the pack, but of all of the those at the front of the race, more than a minute and a half ahead. He passes them all and crosses the finish line with dozens of yards of leeway between him and the second rider. And then, instead of carrying on his lead and continuing to win the race, he raises his arms to the sky as he passes the finish line in the second to last lap and seems to transform into a demigod of sorts int he process. He stops his bike and finishes the race, leaving only his teammate Gilmore to beat Pepe and Ciocci.

During the race, about the same time that Zanconi starts his drive forward to spiritual apotheosis, Pepe falls from his bike and loses his lead within a stream of rain pouring down the side of the mountain. He fights to regain the lead against impossible odds, and eventually gives Ciocci the backup to allow his partner to finish the race in first, which reestablishes Ciocci’s confidence, averts the team’s existential crisis, and gives everyone the motivation to fight harder in the future. Plus, Zanconi’s actions seem to be a goodbye of sorts to the sport of cycling, which means that with him gone and Marco Rondanini dead, there is an ego vacuum in the sport, which cries out to be filled by an enigmatic racer like Ciocci or Pepe Benengeli.

The film was a modest success in comparison to the previous Nasu film, which premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival and won tons of awards from others. This Nasu won only the Best OVA award at the 2008 Tokyo Anime Awards. In the following years, Kosaka continued to work for both Studio Madhouse and Studio Ghibli including as a supervising animation director on Ponyo; as an animation director on the short film Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess, and the features From Up on Poppy Hill and The Wind Rises; as well as a key animator on Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There and Mamoru Hosada’s film The Boy and The Beast.

When I first discovered Kitaro Kosaka for myself, it was in preparation for a panel for an anime convention in which I introduced the guests to all of Studio Ghibli’s films not directed by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki: the founders of the studio. I continued by pointing out directors who could potentially carry on the Studio Ghibli aesthetic, Ghibli themes, or their attachment to traditional animation methods. Kosaka was one amongst this group that I mentioned, but since his last film as a director was, at that time, Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase, released ten years prior, and because he had only directed two OVAs and no feature-length animations, I had little real hopes that he would become a director in his own right. But now I am happy to report that he has completed a feature, entitled Okko’s Inn, and set to premiere this year (2018) at festivals worldwide alongside Mamoru Hosada’s new film Mirai of the Future. And if that double-bill, potentially the greatest since Miyazaki-Takahata released My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies together in 1988, isn’t something worth celebrating and getting excited about, then I don’t know what is!

 

Cody Ward

The Imperfect Storm (Digimon Tamers: Episode 30)

(Catch part 29 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Takato and the others (minus Rika, Renamon, and Calumon) have camped out on a ridge high above the plains and are sleeping within a small cave whilst taking turns as lookout. Takato awakens and takes over Henry’s shift for the remainder of the night, and when the day returns, he deliberates with his fellow Tamers on the next course of action. Takato suggests they return back to the flag once again just in case Rika or Calumon come by there.

Rika and Renamon are asleep in some digital forest where they are surrounded by glowing DigiGnomes as if guardian fairies of the forest. Later, the two will awaken and Renamon will explain to Rika that these beings are friendly, but will give no more information on them at this point. Renamon leaves their camp momentarily to search for the others, and while she is gone, Rika decides that she would like some water (despite not really needing it within the Digital World). The DigiGnomes lead her to a stream where she begins to drink. But suddenly a series of waves heads straight toward her and drags her into the stream and along a quickly moving current.

The waves grow ever stronger, more violent in what was moments ago a nearly stagnant stream. They seem to have appeared from out of nowhere and may relate to some vicious double-nature of the DigiGnomes who were friendly and helpful to Calumon (a being much like themselves) and probably to other Digimon, but potentially antagonistic to human beings as the fairies of legend were thought to be. Luckily, Calumon is also within the forest. He throws out a vine for Rika to grab onto and pull herself out of the stream with just as Renamon appears to help, though running a little late. As a wave approaches the shore and threatens to drown all three of them, Renamon Digivolves into Kyubimon and gets them out of that forest as quickly as she can.

Out in the digital deserts, we find Beelzemon riding astride Behemoth complimenting himself on his new ride, his newfound strength, good looks, and his supposed intelligence. Despite all of these new attributes, he has found himself bored once again and bemoans the difficulty he has had finding the Tamers. When he runs into a pink pillar composed of Crysalimon, Champion-level Virus Digimon, he relishes the opportunity to cut his teeth fighting in his new form as a Mega-level Digimon and begins to annihilate almost all of them with his Double Impact gunshot attack. As the threat is dire, the Crysalimon left form a bond and fuse together to become Infermon, their Ultimate-level form. Unfortunately, even in this form they pose no real threat to the bully Beelzemon who rends them apart with his Darkness Claw attack. The Dog Deva Caturamon appears and warns Beelzemon to stop wasting time and to find the Tamers, and just like that, he mounts his bike and is once again off searching for his primary quarry.

When Takato, Henry, Jeri, Kazu, Kenta, and their Digimon partners finally arrive at the spot where the flag once stood, they find it absent. Guilmon smells Calumon and tells the group that he has been there recently, and they reason rightly that Calumon probably took the flag for some reason or other. Back in the Real World, the government has been rebuilding Hypnos behind Yamaki’s back and plans to re-initiate Juggernaut without his crucial support and advisement in the process. One of the underlings of the new Hypnos head chief respects Yamaki and advises his chief to re-hire him as the head of Hypnos, but his suggestions go ignored, and the juggernaut system is restarted without Yamaki.

The result is that the giant gash in the sky of the Real World, the portal between the two worlds is rent apart once more, which could possibly lead to Digimon pouring in from the Digital World and causing more problems. In the Digital World itself, a massive windstorm erupts and threatens to destroy everything. Takato and his friends narrowly miss being caught up in one of the passing Data Streams during this incident, but manage to escape by hiding away in a nearby cave. Leomon reasons that some energy disruption is causing the problems, but the disruption has the secondary effect of making Takato’s Com Device momentarily functional. He sends a message to Yamaki telling him that he arrived there in the Digital World safely and that everything still seems okay, despite the digital storm. Yamaki, at his flat eating breakfast with Riley, picks up the communication as an email and seems relieved to know that the Tamers made it to the Digital World safely.

The Hypnos underling with sympathies for Yamaki, alerts him to what is going on at Hypnos just as the effects of Juggernaut malfunctioning become apparent in the Real World (notably scaring the hell out of Janyu and Suzie, as well as probably all of the other residents of Tamer’s Universe Tokyo). Rika, Renamon, and Calumon reunite with their friends at the flag spot and the team seems ready to leave the Digital World as soon as they can find a way out. Kazu suggests they find Ryo once again and ask him how to get out of there, much to the ire of Rika. And moments later, Beelzemon appears and is recognized as the Digivolved form of Impmon by Kyubimon. He acts aggressively toward the Tamers who surmise that he has made some deal with the Digimon Sovereigns and the Devas to take his current form.

Kyubimon next Matrix Digivolves into Taomon just as Juggernaut begins to whip up a the biggest storm it has managed to build as of yet. Beelzemon inexplicably runs away from the battle for the time being as Caturamon appears and steals Calumon in the confusion. Back in the Real World, Yamaki and Riley show up at the new Hypnos headquarters just in time to shut off Juggernaut and prevent it from doing any more damage, and potentially killing the Tamers in the Digital World if it actually worked by some miracle. Finally, Takato, Henry, and Terriermon are picked up by separate Data Streams as the storm dissipates, leaving the Tamers group with three separate ongoing searches (including Takato, Henry and Terriermon, and Calumon) just after they finally reunited as a group! What a headache!

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Hud

(Check out my previous Western film review here: Fort Apache)

In the late 1950s, about ten years before the onset of the New Hollywood movement (or the American New Wave), an auteur rose up from out of theatre directing into the limelight of Hollywood productions. His name was Martin Ritt and he began what would become a long, esteemed career, during the first fifteen years of which he created a powerful body of work that prefigured the American New Wave in many ways. From the personal stamp of his vision on each film, to his grappling with traditional American genre formulations and oft-times subversion of them in favor of antiheroes and moral greyness, he quickly became an influential figure in American cinema.

Martin Ritt’s first feature was a film noir starring director-actors John Cassavettes and Sidney Poitier, each a great pioneer in his own right, entitled Edge of the City, which was released in 1957. By the next year, however, on The Long Hot Summer Ritt had found his muse in the rugged, young, vaguely James Dean type he cast for the film’s protagonist. His name was Paul Newman, and despite not being a Southerner, he went in all in for his part, moving to the South for a time to study the linguistic mannerisms of real southerners to hack his role in Ritt’s film adaptation of a handful of connected William Faulkner short stories.

Although Newman and Ritt wouldn’t collaborate together again until 1961 on Paris Blues, they would develop a close working relationship and become considered as a package deal of sorts for the studios in which Ritt funded his films. The following year, Newman contributed to Ritt’s film Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man. And in 1963, the two co-founded Salem Pictures through which they secured a three-film deal with Paramount for Martin Ritt to direct and Paul Newman to star. The first of these three films would become the Revisionist Western film Hud. 

The story was an adaptation of a 1961 novel by Larry McMurtry entitled Horseman, Pass By and followed the exploits of a teenage boy named Lonnie Bannon who works on his grandfather’s Cattle Ranch with along with his Uncle Hud Bannon whose boozing and loose ways are infamous around town. Hud is a vicious man whose encounters with the bottle caused the car crash that ended his brother’s life (Lonnie’s father) fifteen years prior. He sleeps with other men’s wives, but manages to do his fair share of the work on the ranch for the most part. Lonnie looks up to Hud and even reveres him as a potent, masculine figure with immense intrigue, almost herculean and mythic in the ubermenschian quality of his lack of morals and ability to get any thing and anyone he wants.

But Lonnie’s grandfather, Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglass), dislikes Hud immensely for what he understands to be Hud’s lack of interest or care for anything. He doesn’t seem to have any strongly held beliefs and will crush anyone, including his own father, to get what he wants. When hoof-and-mouth disease breaks out among the cattle on the farm, and a local veterinarian diagnoses it and alerts the proper authorities, the Bannon’s are told that these cows and bulls they have raised for generations into one of the best stocks in the country must all be put down, lest the scourge breaks out and infects herds throughout the country. Hud illustrates his unscrupulous manner by trying to convince his father to sell the cattle off to other ranchers before the full diagnosis comes in and all of their money dries up. And when Homer reasonably refuses him as this would be an act in bad faith to his neighbors, Hud concocts a plan to sue his father for control of the ranch under the assumption that the old man has gone off his rocker.

After a particularly egregious night in which Hud gets increasingly drunker and eventually sexually assaults the Bannon maid, Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), only to be stopped in the earliest stages of the encounter by Lonnie, the young Bannon realizes just how evil his uncle really is. By the end of the film, Lonnie has made up his mind about what position he will choose in life, finding himself staunchly within the Homer moral camp. But audiences of the time, despite this being before the full flowering of the hippie movement, before the Vietnam war, and well before the New Hollywood Movement, found Hud to be an inspiring figure, and an antihero to look up to even though he is nearly irredeemably evil.

The film was popular with young audiences for the same reasons that the American New Wave filmmakers would come to be in the following years. It was popular with critics for the beautiful, classical, almost arthouse black and white cinematography of James Wong Howe who composed some of the most beautiful shots of the Texas Panhandle ever committed to celluloid, as well as allowing his figures to swim in veritable shadows and blacks so deep during night sequences as if phantoms or condensations of character into pure typology. The effect is radical and has less in common with Westerns than with Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide, or Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. And through this artistic choice, Howe frames Hud as a primal force oozing sensuality and pure brutality as if some beast self-arising through sheer force of will into existence from the wellspring of Nothingness itself.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards. Douglass won for Best Supporting Actor, Neal for Best Actress, and Howe for Best Cinematography. And the film made its weight back in gold at the box office as well.

After Hud, Ritt and Newman would work together on two more occasions to complete their three picture deal: namely, in 1964 on The Outrage, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashoman; and the second film, in 1967, Hombre, which was another Revisionist Western. At about this time, the New Hollywood was in the early stages of emergence and Paul Newman was a hot ticket that everyone wished to obtain for their films. And despite Ritt directing 19 more films over the next 23 years, Paul Newman acted in nary a one, instead moving on to collaborate with Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, WUSA, Pocket Money, The Drowning Pool) George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot) John Huston (The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Mackintosh Man) and Robert Altman (Buffalo Bill, Quintet), among others.

 

Cody Ward

[Up next: Red River]

Goliath (Digimon Tamers: Episode 29)

(Check out part 29 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

After their journey inside of the red elevator warp box upward and out of the cave, Henry, Takato, Jeri, and their Digimon partners find themselves within an area of the Digital World that appears like an avant-garde art project. The town is devoid of all color and appears as a depressing white, black, and grey melange of art styles including the Expressionism of the Cabinet of Caligari, the isolation and angst of Kafka interpreted through some gothic variation of Le Corbusier, complete with the absurdist spatial relationships of the proto-postmodern artist M.C. Escher. But everything is drawn with charcoal as if a postwar German etching, which makes the slick animation style and colors of the Tamers and their Digimon really stand out against the backdrop of the city.

As the Tamers wander about this odd place, they hear the voices of Kazu and Kenta in the distance and eventually rendezvous with them and with their new attache Ryo Akiyama who is idolized by Takato as his Digimon Tamer hero. Henry tells Terriermon that Ryo is the ‘famous Tamer who disappeared after winning a major Digimon tournament (against Rika of all people).’ Henry also tells his partner Digimon that Ryo is widely considered to be the greatest Tamer of all time in the Digimon Card Game. As Takato begins to wonder aloud about the whereabouts of Rika, and Jeri questions Kazu and Kenta directly, Ryo takes blame for causing her to leave the group. Although he still isn’t totally sure why she dislikes him so much.

Meanwhile, Rika and Renamon are still in the cloud region of the Digital World amongst the many constantly shifting clock gears. Renamon chides her friend for not going with the others and for causing a schism within the group, but Rika ignores her and the too trudge onward through the cloudy landscape with no real aim in mind except to continue moving forward, and hopefully get out of there eventually.

Takato informs Ryo of their mission to find their friend Calumon: a Digimon who prefers not to fight (a concept that confuses Ryo as he has only met Digimon that have the will to battle). Takato explains that Calumon has some ability that helps them to Digivolve and that the Devas and the Digimon Sovereigns are trying to capture him for their own ends to take over both the Real World and the Digital World and to enslave human beings back on Earth. Ryo seems ready and willing to help out in any way he can. But suddenly, and inexplicably, a group of docile scarecrow Digimon called Nohemon (the product of Wormmon equipped with the the DigiEgg of Sincerity) appear behind the group and scare the hell out of Jeri. Ryo explains that they are perfectly harmless, though their presence remains eerie and unsettling, especially within this already off putting environment.

Out in the digital desert, Majiramon and Makuramon continue their search for Calumon while he roams about wearing the Tamers flag as a cape and becomes increasingly fatigued. A Doggymon appears and begins to bully him and chase him about the plain, threatening to destroy him and load his data, while an Otamamon and a Gekomon stand nearby atop a desert steppe, all the while watching, not helping out in any way, and not even making a remark on the situation, or appearing again in this episode.

The night quickly approaches and Ryo guides his new friends to a castle within the Surreal village where they can spend the night in comfy beds. The only catch is that after the sun sets, a massive Ultimate-level Knightmon roams the halls of the castle looking for other Digimon to battle. But as Ryo has lodged here on multiple occasions, he reassures his friends that they will probably be just fine as long as they don’t bother Knightmon or provoke him to attack them. To Kazu and Kenta, Ryo seems as if he has nerves of steel, which they surmise he had to develop whilst in the Digital World alone over this past year: a period in which he must have been extremely lonely and isolated, and during which he probably developed his self-sufficiency and devil-may-care attitude.

Ryo also alerts his friends to the reason why they have not starved to death in the Digital World: in the Tamer’s Universe, while in the Digital World, one can eat when one wants to, but they need not do so. Ryo himself hasn’t eaten in over two months and enjoys the free time he has each day by not having to consume food. This concept makes sense as individuals in the Digital World are transformed from biological beings into digital beings of pure data, and data doesn’t constantly decay in the same manner as biological beings, which constantly need to replenish their bodies with nutrients to replace dying cells and energy consumed through mobility and natural bodily functions.

Takato finds it difficult to sleep that night. He keeps ruminating on a question that Jeri asked him earlier in the night about whether he was homesick yet. Takato searches through his bag for some food to eat or some game to play to pass the time, but instead finds a note and a blessed Buddhist good luck charm in the bottom of his backpack addressed to him from his mother. The note explains that she loves him and is proud of how much he has grown up over the past few months. She wishes him a safe journey and quick return, as well as explaining how much she will miss him in the interim. Jeri awakens and sees Takato crying from afar. She talks with Takato and raises his spirits like a good friend ought to, though their real feelings for one another are readily apparent as well.

The next morning, Calumon is exhausted from constantly running away from Doggymon with no rest. He collapses upon the plains as Beelzemon pulls up beside him astride Behemoth. Beelzemon simply stares at Calumon, makes no move to capture him for his new masters, but also seems to barely recognize the little guy and appears a changed Digimon, not quite himself. He rides off, and after a few moments, Calumon collects himself once again to chase around some digital tumbleweeds rolling by. As he runs about, a group of DigiGnomes appear around him. Calumon runs in an manner, leaving behind a pattern in the dusty soil beneath his feet, which transforms into a Digivolution circle of sorts that gives three nearby Woodmon the ability to Digivolve to the Ultimate-level as Cherrymon.

Majiramon and Makuramon see the Digivolution light from afar and begin heading in Calumon’s direction just as back in the Surreal village, Ryo guides his friends down a staircase, which eventually ascends, paradoxically, to the digital plain. The Tamers also see Calumon’s light and head off in the direction of it just in time to engage in battle against the Dragon Deva Majiramon. The Ultimate-level Cyberdramon immediately leaps into action to battle this superior Dramon type and is quickly aided by his Tamer Digimon companions Gargomon, Growlmon, and Leomon. But the four have not the power to dismantle this Deva’s defenses. That is, until Ryo uses his trump card: ‘Goliath’. Once activated, this modify card increases Cyberdramon’s size to that of the Deva, and more importantly, it increases his strength in direct proportion to how much larger he becomes. With this added strength, he rends Majiramon asunder, literally tearing the Dragon Deva in two, which prompts Makuramon to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

With nine Devas down, and three to go, one might imagine that the Tamers are finally in a pretty great position. Calumon is nearby, they have a new powerful ally in Ryo who can easily help them defeat their foes, and they only have to find Rika and Renamon to be a full team. But such a situation would be too ideal, now wouldn’t it? Calumon fell down into a canyon before even Makuramon and Majiramon arrived, and as such, he is once again lost and must be found by his friends. Furthermore, Cyberdramon is still raring to go and will become impossible to control if Ryo does not find another enemy for him to let out his frustrations and rage upon. As such, Ryo departs the Tamer team to find more high-level Digimon to battle asap. However, Ryo Akiyama expresses his gratitude for the other Tamers taking him in as one of their own and voices his will to one day help them again.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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