Mirai of the Future

(Catch my previous Hosoda film review here: The Boy and The Beast)

This past Thursday, I finally got a chance to watch Mamoru Hosoda’s new film on the big screen. God knows the thing has been hyped just about all year long, and being a sucker for critical praise (especially the fact that the film premiered at Cannes) as a deciding factor in my watching a film or not, I was pretty excited to watch it. Not to mention, I have seen all of Hosoda’s previous films, enjoyed them all immensely, and thereby jump at the chance to watch anything new in his output.

And, once again, Hosoda didn’t disappoint.

Mirai of the Future tells the story of a young boy named Kun whose parents are looking forward to the birth of a new child. At the beginning of the film, Kun is pretty excited about the prospect of having a sibling to play with as well. However, soon after his little sister, Mirai, is brought into the home, Kun realizes that rearing a baby takes a ton of time and energy on the part of his parents. What’s worse is that all this excess bonding time was once spent between he and his parents, and is now reserved almost entirely by his younger sister.

Kun is intensely jealous, and as a result, he begins to retreat into a world of fantasy and imagination wherein his younger sister visits him from the future as a teenage girl. His dog, Yukko, takes on an anthropomorphic personality within Kun’s revelries as ‘The Prince’: a figure who once ruled as the sole loved object of the father and mother of the household. When Kun arrived into the world some years prior, the dog was no longer given as much attention or treated quite the same as in his heyday and now he feels a certain resentment toward Kun and Mirai, despite also serving as their companion and protector. Yukko’s presence in Kun’s imagination is as an analogue of Kun himself who feels much the same way toward his little sister who must protect whilst simultaneously disliking for diverting away his parents attentions. Having a brother in arms like Yukko who has experienced the same loss of importance in the household helps Kun to work out and resolve the minor psychological trauma of suddenly finding himself a secondary magnet for his parents attention.

Mirai’s future self appears as a didactic symbol whose purpose is to endear Kun to his younger sister and to constantly remind him to treat her fairly. Her first appearance is on the day following ‘Girl’s Day’ during which a set of decorative Japanese dolls is set out to bring good luck to the newborn baby girl in the household. However, if the dolls are put away in their ceremonial boxes on the day following Girl’s Day, each additional day will supposedly prolong the date of the girl’s eventual marriage by an entire year. As Kun and Mirai’s father is relatively absent-minded, he forgets to put the dolls away. Mirai of the Future arrives to make sure the dolls are put away by Kun instead.

Throughout the film, Kun’s imaginative episodes grow in scope and vision as he eventually catapults backward in time to visit his relatives. In one of these episodes, he visits his mother as a child and learns what she was like when she was little like him. The two bond and become bosom friends, which helps Kun to understand his mother better and to later eke out more of her free time for himself despite Mirai’s presence.

Kun also meets his great-grandfather, the calm, cool, and collected ex-Air Force engine mechanic who now runs a motorcycle repair shop. From this man, Kun learns to stay focused on the horizon ahead whilst riding a motorcycle or any fort of vehicle, which later aids him in learning to ride a bicycle without help. He also finds out that the man was injured in the war when his ship was torpedoed and smashed to smithereens. As his great-grandfather lie on his back, floating atop the waves, blood streaming from his broken leg, the man decided that he must make an effort to swim the many miles toward shore lest he die right there and then. Without this action, Kun and Mirai would never have been born.

As the imaginative episodes increase in intensity and frequency, the audience becomes less and less certain that they are mere creations of Kun’s overactive mind. Rather, the possibility of real time travel becomes pretty apparent, especially insofar as Kun had no prior knowledge of who his great-grandfather was before he met him in one of his visions. The implication eventually becomes clear that all of these generations, tied together by small choices on the part of earlier generations that made the difference between existence and non-existence for those farther down the line, are connected by something like a genetic memory or a collective unconscious, or a real time loop that allows them to visit one another when necessary.

All in all, Kun learns many important lessons throughout the course of the film and comes to appreciate and love his little sister even though her presence leaves less time for him to spend with his parents. He learns to control his temper when it flares up and to think logically about situations before making decisions, such as his final decision to stop complaining about not having his yellow shorts to wear for a family outing (they are still in the drying machine when the family is set to leave) and instead to don his less favored blue ones in order to swiftly exit the house and thereby spend as much time as possible with his family that day. A minor lesson surely, but this is a film about children. Innocent ones to whom even a minor lesson is new and fresh and vibrant and world-changing in its implications.

Mamoru Hosoda has said that this film appears to be a specific narrative about the life of one family, and more specifically, the life of one little boy within that family. However, Hosoda also expresses his belief that this explanation is a mere canard. That in fact, it is a story about family and childhood in general, with universal implications for all people in all places. I, being an adult with no children and no plans to have any at any future date, find the film compelling. I think that pretty much proves Hosoda’s point.

 

Cody Ward

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Paprika

(Catch my previous Satoshi Kon film review out here: Tokyo Godfathers)

Satoshi Kon’s fourth film, released in 2006, was also his last as four years later, at the age of 46, he would die of pancreatic cancer before completing Dreaming Machines: the projected film that would have become his fifth feature. Despite this tragic course of events, Kon’s actual final film, Paprika, would later become his most well-known work and the one for which he is most often praised (at least in Western media).

The film is an adaptation of a 1993 sci-fi novel by Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui and is unique in that regard as very few of this author’s works had ever before been adapted into the medium of animation. More interesting still is the fact that not just the one, but two of Tsutsui’s works were adapted as animated features in the same year by rising auteurs in the field: the other being Mamoru Hosoda’s breakout 2006 film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (adapted from Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name).

In addition to Tsutsui’s connection to the work are the inclusion of many greats on the production end of Kon’s film. Studio Madhouse once again provided funds for the creation and marketing of the film and Susumu Hirasawa provided one of his tautest musical scores hitherto to the production by pilfering through the best material from his previous band P-Model, his solo work and past film scores to craft a complex, rich, and often unsettling sound design. And if that weren’t enough, famed editor Takeshi Seyama provided editing on the picture. Seyama’s influence here cannot be understated as his work can and often has elevated good work to greatness and great work to legendary status. His extensive filmography includes such works as Akira, Venus Wars, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Memories, Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, Steamboy, Tetsujin 28, Elfen Lied, the previous Kon works’ Tokyo Godfathers and Paranoia Agent, as well as many pre-Ghibli Miyazaki and Takahata works and most films in the Studio Ghibli canon.

So what’s the film about you ask? The film is a sci-fi in which advances in depth psychology and cognitive science are at the centre. Scientists have developed a new field of study called Dream Therapy wherein the therapist enters the dreams of a sleeping patient in order to help guide them through the traumas and anxieties preventing them from living life to its fullest. The technology associated with such a process is called the DC Mini and when worn by a patient, it records the memories of patients and allows them to later be analyzed or even revisited by the patient or the psychologist present. Furthermore, when the psychologist wears a DC Mini along with the patient and both simultaneously fall asleep, the DC allows the psychologist to enter the dreams of the patient and thereby provide more hands-on therapy to better lead the patient toward recovery.

However, Dream Therapy is still highly controversial and any experimental psychologists planning to test it out must do so surreptitiously and without being caught by the government, lest they lose all funding for engaging in a therapy whose safety has not yet been assessed. Nonetheless, a doctor named Atsuko Chiba is a close colleague of the creator of the DC Mini: Kosaku Tokita. As such, Chiba has made it her duty as a scientist and a friend (and quite more as we will later learn )of Tokita to test the DC Mini on patients who experience debilitating anxiety or trauma and respond to no other therapy options.

The story from here is that a detective named Torataro Shima is one of Chiba’s clients. He has grown enamored with Chiba’s DC Mini alter ego Paprika and rather enjoys his therapy sessions. But in the background, a luddite force is trying to prevent the DC Mini from passing safety inspections to allow the free domain of dreams to remain thus. Although the goal is noble enough, it is a regressive step in the face of technology and one that could prevent many a person from overcoming their psychological problems to consequently live a better life. After the director of the program begins to experience dreams in waking life and act erratically and dangerously thereby, the detective’s dreams are slowly taken over by an outside force. It is up to Paprika-Chiba to dig deep within herself to unlock the power necessary to dispel all of the insidious forces at play and restore normalcy to the world before the realms of dream and of reality merge indefinitely.

Paprika is a heartfelt film that calls on its viewers to never forget or forego their goals (their ‘dreams’) in life and to accept their feelings in order to find happiness. It is a narrative of eventual success of the progressive spirit over against the reactionary forces in society. It is an exercise in meta-cinema (as are most Kon films). And it is an arthouse film with more imagination and visual splendor than anything live-action or CG cinema could even aspire to in that time or today. And I earnestly hope that in the coming years, this and all the works of Satoshi Kon continue to grow in cultural relevance and push filmmakers to press onward creatively into new meta-cinematic and hyper-visual territories.

 

Cody Ward

The Big O: Final Act- The Show Must Go On

(Act 25: The War of Paradigm City)

The episode opens within the cafe-bar Roger once frequented whenever he was really down and out. Therein, The Big Ear reclines in his favorite seat, seemingly addressing Roger. As the man recites his oration, the camera pans out and we see that he has been injured, that most of his face has been seared off, revealing a metallic facade beneath the exterior. He is malfunctioning and by the end of his speech, the club will collapse around him and end his life indefinitely.

But first, his words: ‘Understand Roger, this city was created to be a stage with no memory of forty years ago. It’s nonsense to ask if memories exist. I just thought I would let you know. By the way, aren’t you going to be the knight in shining armor and rescue the maiden?’

The speech is addressed to Roger although he is absent. As The Big Ear is an android programmed to behave in certain ways, one can only properly surmise that he is reciting a piece of oration programmed into his memory circuits that would have, under different circumstances, have been delivered to a present Roger during these last moments of Paradigm City’s existence. However, something has gone awry in this simulation of the city and a choice was made that has led Roger to no longer seek out wisdom through The Big Ear, but through himself instead.

In The Big Ear’s hands is, as always, a newspaper. This time, however, we are privy to contents of this paper: An image of Big O and Big Fau fighting and a headline indicating that one of the two will win in the end (The headline is missing a ripped section indicating the victor of this battle). It seems that The Big Ear was given his information through these papers, which foretold future events. The rip in the paper serves as a narrative device to prevent the viewer from knowing the outcome of the battle, but may also serve as a symbolic cue signifying Big Ear’s current inability to divine future events.

As the final battle commences, Big O launches an all-out barrage of physical attacks and heavy artillery, none of which bypass Big Fau’s built-in force-field technology. Dan Dastun notices that Military Police have trained their howitzers and tanks onto Big O. And though he protests this action, he finds himself unable to sway the decision of his troops as he has been stripped of his command by higher ups in the administration acting on directives from Alex Rosewater himself to aid Big Fau in this battle. Dastun then decides to pilot a tank himself and direct its attacks towards Big Fau, which precipitates a mass-mutiny of his past troops from the Military Police’s command. They aid Dastun in his attempt to help Big O and roger, but don’t manage to put a single dent in Fau’s defenses, and eventually, all men are laid waste by a powerful barrage of laser attacks by Big Fau instead.

Events continue to unfold in quick succession as Big Fau grapples with Big O and eventually tosses him into the ocean. However, Big O latches onto Big Fau with a chain weapon and drags his enemy Megadeus below with him. Unfortunately, Big Fau can swim well and uses his own weapons to cut the chains and then cut and run out of there, leaving Roger a sitting duck within the rapidly flooding cockpit of Big O. Dorothy awakens at this moment and heads off toward the Ocean with Norman and a wt suit in order to save Roger’s life. Topside, Big Fau uses its cable tendrils to tap into the vital systems of Alex Rosewater and strengthen itself in the process, which somehow awakens the ‘memories’ of Angel. Her scars begin to glow as Gordon Rosewater advises her on her destiny and role as the coordinator who can destroy memories and reset the simulation at will.

Back to Roger. As he asphyxiates beneath the waves, he has a flashback to his time as a combat Dominus in a Big O in some past Paradigm City (perhaps the original in which the first Event took place?). Dorothy arrives and revives him with an oxygen tank, Big O awakens, and Dorothy hacks herself into the Megadeus’ operating system, thereby activating Big O’s Final Stage. The machine piston punches the ocean floor and propels itself out of the sea back into conflict with Big Fau just as Angel departs the world below Paradigm City, all of those things she passes dissolving and disappearing behind her in the process.

And then, the truly final confrontation begins as Big O uses all of his power to launch a powerful laser weapon that passes through Big Fau and destroys an entire Dome behind him. But the weapon only destroys half of big Fau, who manages to stay on his foot, standing. Just as Alex charges up his final barrage, Angel transmogrifies into the powerful Meta-Megadeus Big Venus. She passes through the city and the sky disappears. She passes Dastun and he fades into nothingness. Then, she passes Big Fau and Big O is no longer in mortal danger from that foe.

Roger reasons with Big Venus: ‘Angel! Memories are very important to people’s lives. They give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we exist. If we lose them, we have an unrelenting deep feeling of uncertainty…. But the humans that are living here and now in the present are made up of more than their memories of the past. I myself don’t even know who I am…. But I don’t believe anyone took my memories from me. I most likely erased them of my own free will. I was the one who made that choice so I could live in a present and in the future. I must go on believing there is a me! Angel. I know that I will never lose the you that is now a part of my memories…. You must stop denying your own existence. You have to live as a human being.’

Momentarily the illusion is broken. Angel, sitting in her operating booth in front of her master control panel, is visited by both Roger and Dorothy. Angel is crying, but Roger consoles her by putting his hand on her shoulder and Dorothy speaks in a manner affirming Roger’s existence as more than a simulation, more than a mere program in some computer: ‘Negotiator!’ A poster is visible on the wall in the room. It is a poster of the Big O series with a large shadowed Megadeus standing behind Roger.

And then the series begins anew. Roger rides through town in his Griffon. He is still a Negotiator. But this time, Angel and Dorothy are standing beside each other, signifying that they’re memories may remain intact (Otherwise how could Dorothy know Angel?). and more interesting yet: Roger’s wrist is bare. With no Megadeus communicator, is he still a Dominus? Do Megadeuses still exist in this simulation? How much has changed and how much has remained the same, and of the changes, what are their inherent qualities? None of this information is clear and none of it will probably ever be truly elucidated.

But I personally prefer The Big O remain an enigma, a mystery, a Gordian knot resistant to all critical blades. I revel the uncertainty for that uncertainty reflects that present in my own life and in the questions of metaphysics and ontology that remain quarries far outside my reach. The simulation theory says that one can imagine a computer advanced enough to simulate a world in perfect 1:1 correspondence to our own. In our own world, there are thousands of games. Given the proper technology, why not thousands of simulated reality games? And if this is possible, then there are many thousands more simulated realities than real, lived ones. Thus, it makes more sense to assume that we are in one of these abundance of simulated realities as simulated persons or as real persons hooked up to the simulated games than the perhaps 1 in 10,000 chance that we live in the real world, simulated.

Occam’s razor seems to lay waste to this theory. But it has been wrong before. Darwinian evolution certainly, on its face, its much more complex than the teleological Lamarckian viewpoint. That the sun orbits us is a simpler proposition than the more complex cosmology we accept today. The difference is in evidence. A simulated reality like The Big O is revealed as simulation through a glaring omittance: namely, the fact that one had memories before the simulation began. And like a video game wherein out of bounds play can reveal unmapped sectors, some theories in quantum mechanics point to fundamental incompleteness in our world as possible evidence of its simulated nature.

Roger serves as an archetype or a model for heroic action of individuals under similar circumstances. In the face of determinism, act. When facing nihilism, believe. And when approaching despotism, fight.

 

In the Name of God,

Ye Not Guilty

WordPress Anniversary

Hey everyone,

Just got the internal message today and found out that this is my 6 year anniversary on the platform.

Not every year has been particularly productive on my end, but this last year has been. With over 400 blog posts in the past year, and nearly 40,000 views, this blogspace has grown tremendously and I want to thank each and every one of you for continued support and motivation to continue on.

I also want to use this post to update you on a important Film and Anime related pieces of news for the upcoming months. If you haven’t yet, check out NetFlix for the new Orson Welles picture The Other Side of the Wind and accompanying documentary They’ll Love Me when I’m Dead. On November 20th, the Criterion Collection is also releasing a number of Upcoming Titles including Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, a 100-year Birthday Retrospective Boxset of Ingmar Bergman’s films, and David Byrne (or The Talking Heads) sole feature film True Stories. 

As for Anime, Fathom Events is bringing a number of films to the big screen throughout the U.S. in the coming months. Studio Ghibli’s first official feature Castle in the Sky (Nov. 18th-20th), the new Pokemon feature (Nov. 24th, 26th, and 28th), Mamoru Hosoda’s most recent feature Mirai of the Future (Nov. 29th, Dec. 5 and 8th), and the Studio Ghibli documentary Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki (Dec. 13th and 18th).

I don’t typically follow Manga releases, but Seven Seas Entertainment has been on point with retrospective classic collection releases this year. Already, they have released a one-volume Cutie Honey compendium and the 1st and 2nd of a projected 3-volume compendium of the Devilman the original manga. And in the upcoming months they plan on rounding out these Go Nagai releases with the final volume of Devilman. Seven Seas has also released the first two volumes of Space Captain Harlock and has plans to release the final compendium of this as well as a one-volume complete collection of Space Battleship Yamato to round out their new Leiji Matsumoto line. If these volumes are successful enough, they could even release manga like Galaxy Express 999, Gun Frontier, and Arcadia of My Youth (Matsumoto) or Mazinger Z and Getter Robo (Nagai) in the coming years.

As always, thanks for the support. And catch you next time when I finish up my long-running review series of Chiaki J. Konaka’s classic Mecha anime The Big O. As for now, I’m off to Oven’s Auditorium in my home-city of Charlotte, NC to see Bob Dylan in concert for the first time!

 

Smell ya later,

Cody

The Big O: Act 25- The War of Paradigm City

(Act 24: The Big Fight)

The structure of Paradigm City is beginning to unravel before its heroes very eyes. The center has begun to slacken  and can seemingly no longer hold together the tenuous reality of the world. Lieutenant Dan Dastun has ventured into an old movie theatre only to find a younger version of himself and the Winter Night Phantom sitting together enjoying a film that itself recounts the recent events of Dastun’s life. There is no explanation of these events that cohere without recourse to the simulation theory I’ve expounded upon previously within this series.

That is to say, the world is rebooting like some sort of complex simulated game. However, the events of the previous game (Dastun’s reality) have not yet reached their conclusion, and as such, end-game events are beginning to overlap with beginning game events from the newly booted game. This explains why a young Dastun has been booted up alongside a young Winter Night Phantom to begin anew their journey toward the Paradigm Corp. Police Department and The Union, respectively.

To make things weirder still, Big Duo reappears high above the city. Schwarzwald’s ghost still sends us orations from beyond the pale, but the meaning of these pronouncements have become more obscure than ever before, more disjointed and lacking in clear sense: ‘The giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are in truth the causes of its life and the sources of all activity. But the chains are the cunning of the weak and tame minds, which have power to resist energy.’ My best guess here is that it is the power of the Megadeus’ themselves that brought this state of affairs into being, but in the process they intertwined their destinies with those of mere human beings who must sync together with a Megadeus as their Dominus to give the Megadeus the power to function. These are the chains that the Megadeus’ have become enslaved by and the weak and tame minds are the minds of those humans who have reigned in the gods, have cloned perfect Dominus subjects who have the willpower to control the machines and not vice versa as was originally intended.

Later, Big Duo and Schwarzwald will continue to ascend above the clouds of Paradigm City and will find a series of oversized rafters holding aloft the sky of their world. There they will also find a series of stage lights affixed to the rafters as illuminating points for the constructed reality of the world below. And like Icarus, when the Black Forest philosopher-journalist ascends to all-too lofty heights and approaches the ontological truth of his world and himself, that world reacts by scorching him and his Megadeus, causing them to explode in the process.

In the city itself, Big O is still being restored to fighting capacity by Norman’s mysterious cohort of old men, each with intimate knowledge regarding the repair of a Megadeus despite having no memories from before 40 years ago. Alex Goldwater, the Oedipus who razed his father’s farm to the ground in an attempt to silence the old man and to take his life, pilots Big Fau and targets, specifically, those within the city he deems undesirable: The poor. Dastun’s theatre is bombed in the process, injuring his younger self therein. He manages to get the young boy and girl to safety before approaching his troops and ordering them to cease firing artillery and bombardments of incendiary weapons on their own people. However, they have direct orders from Alex Goldwater himself and thereby refuse Dastun’s pleas.

Meanwhile, below the city, Angel has found the cabin wherein she was born and raised. But she finds that the room is a mere set complete with cameras and props outside of the open-faced room. Vera Ronstadt and Gordon Rosewater, once thought dead, are also within the room. Roger descends beneath the city to try to finally face his fears head on one last time. though he manages to leave exactly at the wrong time as Dorothy, reclining back at the mansion, awakens and calls out for Roger. This despite no longer having a core memory within her. What’s more unsettling is that Beck arrives on the scene to hear Dorothy’s words that were meant for Roger. Beck’s presence is not explained.

Angel questions Vera about her heritage and whether Vera is truly her mother or if the current situation is merely a convoluted joke. Gordon Rosewater breaks into the conversation and tells the girls that they are not related, that they are merely his ‘tomatoes’, or replicants who were created to serve some ulterior motive. However, both Angel and Vera are defective units, as are all Union members, all those who have been exiled to the wastes outside of Paradigm City. Vera Ronstadt knows this much already and has decided that the purpose of The Union will be to overthrow the genetic prejudice of the Goldwater-Paradigm cohort, rewrite the memories of the city’s people, and begin anew in a more just world.

Angel refuses to accept that she is a defective person and brandishes a pistol toward Vera, which is quickly repelled with Vera’s whip. As she lashes about Angel’s back, her shirt is torn revealing the scars on her back. Roger appears and binds Vera with a thin wire tool before knocking her unconscious with a well placed punch to the solar plexus. A move he performs with some reticence in lieu of his final rule: ‘Something else that goes against my policies– using violence against women.’ He has seen enough of Vera’s brutality, but has also heard enough of her fatalist philosophy of identity wherein one is supposedly caged and trapped forever by their social facticity (something that is probably true): ‘I am who I am. the way in which you were given life has nothing to do with the way you live your life as a human being.’ True enough too, and certainly a message emphasizing self-creation and self-responsibility that much of the modern political left ought to hear more often.

And then for the bombshell. As Vera awakens and begins to mouth off about making Paradigm’s denizens atone for their sins from before 40 years ago, Gordon Rosewater pipes up: ‘You’re wrong! Of all my cherished tomatoes, Negotiator, you aren’t one of my beloved ones. And neither is this young lady [Angel]. And the words in that book [Metropolis] don’t belong to me either. It’s a story that a dream commanded me to put down. No one ever had memories of the world prior to 40 years ago, including myself. but memories themselves have existed in unexpected forms…’

This means that out of all of the people in the world, Roger and Angel are aberrant forms in a sea of replicants. Constructs that exist outside of the parameters of this world and are uncreated and eternal. This is why Roger does not age whilst other androids and replicants do. This is why Angel has scars on her back despite there being no events before forty years ago that could have produced them. This all means that there was no world before forty years ago, except for the kind of world that will be revealed in the series’ denouement.

Rosewater continues on and claims that because of this truth, there never was any such thing as The Union. There are merely a small group of defective replicants who live in the wastes outside of Paradigm and just so happen to be good at tracking down Megadeuses and operating them. If this is all true, then another question arises with crazy implications: Who is attacking the city now, other than Alex Rosewater? Who is it that has apparently been dropping incendiary weapons into the center of the city from high above in the clouds?

As Gordon continues to explain that Angel is not a person at all, but merely a memory construct from a previous incarnation of this world, the roar of a great beast can be heard within the depths of the city. Roger calls Big O and minutes later, ascends to the city exterior with a massive Megadeus beast, known as Behemoth, held aloft by Big O’s relatively minuscule arms. Debris falls from the ceiling, lands on and crushes the Behemoth, which is good fortune as this beast would surely be indestructible even with the help of Big Fau. And now, face to face, Big O and Big Fau are set to begin one final confrontation on this eschatological plane.

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Ye Guilty

[Final Act: The Show Must Go On]

The Creation of Birds (La creation des oiseaux)

(Check out my review of Frederic Back’s previous film here: Abracadabra)

Frederic Back was a Quebecois animator whose career as an animator and as a graphic artist in the stained glass medium goes back to the late 1940s. That is, a full twenty years or more before he began directing his own animated short films in 1970 with his debut Abracadabra. That film was a paltry 9 minutes in length, despite taking Back many months to make. But those were the demands of the medium before digital assistance techniques and when one was producing works on a shoe-string budget with few fellow collaborators.

His second film, The Creation of Birds, would not be released on syndicated Canadian TV until 1972 though it only clocked in at 11 minutes. However, the film is interesting insofar as it continues to lay bare Back’s ideological commitment to ecology through its personification of nature as a mythic force to be revered and respected. The more central focus of the piece is to present a past narrative, however. In this case, a classic Native American tale about the cycle of the seasons. The short length of the animation, in addition to its nature as a mere recounting, means that Back relinquished any inclination toward didacticism and instead merely presented an interesting- albeit obviously pre-modern and pre-scientific myth- in order to entertain a young audience.

The story begins with a group of Native American (I use this term broadly here as the particular Nation or Tribe to which they belong is not made explicit in the text)  children as they romp about in an idyllic world. Here, the deer, the birds, and men roam together throughout the eternally virgin land wherein the cold of frost has never once killed off any living creature, and presumably, wherein no animal finds it necessary to consume one another for sustenance. A Chieftain smokes a pipe and sits happily upon a tree log in a small dell. The children approach and knock the man off of his seat, whereupon he drops his pipe and loses his composure momentarily. But these are good times and the man immediately forgives the children for their indiscretion just as they recognize the error in their tomfoolery and begin to help the man reclaim his pipe and reposition himself upon his perch.

However, this idyllic scene cannot remain eternally so after all. A large wolf spirit descends from the heavens and brings along with him a strong wind that transforms the foliage into a glorious assemblage warm colors. A cool breeze appears, which subsequently forces the people to retire beneath structures for warmth during the night. Later, a polar bear spirit appears and wards off the wolf. With the bear comes a blanket of white snow that covers the domiciles of the land, forces trees to become bare and lose their leaves, and drives off birds whilst killing other animals unaccustomed to the change in temperatures.

Just as the people begin to feel the pressure of the new state of things and begin to become malnourished, one of the girls breaks out in tears. The depth of her dread projects these tears toward the heavens wherein a god decides to send along a message to the sun using smoke signals from his pipe. Then, the sun awakens and thaws out the land. The god descends and breathes life back into the world. Birds lay eggs and chicks hatch and begin their incessant chirping as flowers bloom and new fawn and human children are born. The cycle of seasons becomes a yearly phenomena as this mythological procession of spirits and personified celestial objects giveth and then taketh away in equal measure.

The film is animated mostly through the use of cut-out animations on painted backdrops. The form is reminiscent of methods employed in the graphic works of French artist Henri Matisse augmented with a then-modern liberal application of color palette associated with the late-1960s counterculture. However, the animation lacks a fluidity that Back’s works would later gain and retains an amateurish, experimental quality one might expect of such a green director, though decidedly not of someone who had been working in the field for decades already.

I can’t really say that I recommend viewers watch these first two early Frederic Back animations. However, for the cineastes and cinephiles of this platform who find themselves studying animation history, these animations are a must-view. At very least insofar as they can help one better understand how an obscure Quebecois animator making shorts for TV syndication became the auteur of The Man Who Planted Tree/ L’Homme qui Plantait des Arbres, and eventually influenced figures as important as Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

The Big O: Act 24- The Big Fight

(Act 23: Twisted Memories)

Toward the denouement of the previous outing, another Big Megadeus appeared from beneath the city to challenge Roger the Negotiator and Big O. As the titan ascends from the bowels of the city without toward the dome’s artificial light of day, its designation is revealed as Big Duo. However, this machine has been extensively modded with parts from destroyed Union Megadeuses and is now known as Big Duo Inferno.

Roger wonders aloud whether the machine might still be piloted by Schwarzwald from beyond the grave. This seems the only real possibility as Big Duo is a true Big, which means it can only be operated by its true Dominus (in this case, Schwarzwald). Roger imagines what Schwarzwald would say to him in this moment, or at least the show seems to present this interpretation. However, it’s also highly probable that the ensuing narration in Schwarzwald’s voice is a message from beyond the dead, addressed not to Roger, but directly toward the audience. If this latter possibility is the correct one, then we might do well to heed these words: words crafted expertly by the show’s creator Chiaki J. Konaka, a man intensely interested in understanding the human condition who has spent much of his life studying psychology, philosophy, evolutionary theory, religion, and sociology all toward this end.

‘Truth. Those who seek it out unknowingly become obsessed with this grand illusion that they are able to control this world…. The incomplete book of Gordon Rosewater’s, written in his younger days, depicts the final days of humanity. And the foolish humans who use the power of God.’

The claim seems inconsistent with the character of Schwarzwald, the archetypal Black Forest philosopher journalist who gave his very life to uncover the truths of this world. He became obsessed with the truth and with the thought that he could force a paradigm shift within Paradigm City. And in the end, what did his work accomplish? Few citizens took his pamphlets for little more than the ravings of a mad man and he was left dead, a corpse out in the wastes beyond the metropolis of Paradigm.

However, no fool to forsake knowledge totally, Schwarzwald includes in this narration a powerful invective against technocracy and its ability to lead toward techno-fascism. Against the hubris of humanity for charging heaven’s gates only to plunder her armaments for tools and weapons to kill and subjugate one another. No conservative, traditionalist, he understands how some social truths can be mutable and contradictory in nature, as well as how the search for truth at the expense of all else can lead one to ruin. But no postmodern, he rejects the logic of power dynamics and hegemonic social control as well. As these forces can also corrupt the soul and lead nations and peoples to ruin. As such, we can square Schwarzwald here, once again, as an intermediary figure, an iconoclastic outcast from all established doctrine whose neither A nor B analyses figure as the example that destroys the rule and deconstructs the binary in lieu of more balance in the world.

The fight commences as one might imagine. The two mechas crush each other handily. And just as Big Duo gets the drop on Big O, the machine revolts. We see that the operator of Big Duo is Alan Gabriel and not Schwarzwald after all. But the machine is haunted by a spectral presence, by the ghost of its one-time and true Dominus Schwarzwald. And as the machine surrounds Alan with its tendrils of cable, ensnaring and eventually crushing him in the process, Schwarzwald speaks once more: ‘The Megadeus chooses its Dominus…. You possess the foolishness of both man and machine. It chooses one who controls the power of God, created by man. One who is able to arrive at one truth. that’s not the case with you!’

The phrase, like much of Schwarzwald’s orations throughout the series, is intensely vague. If the Megadeus chooses its own Dominus, then how is it that men like Roger Smith were once programmed to operate these monolithic machines? Would that not be man choosing the Dominus for each Megadeus? Or do the specifications of each Megadeus warrant a particular makeup in each replicant, meaning scientists wishing to create a Dominus must do so according to the Megadeus’ implicit rules? Who is really in charge in this case? And this matter of one truth? Is this a specific truth one must discover or any sort of  over-arching monolithic worldview one accepts, generally speaking? We may never know as Big Duo immediately ascends toward the sky and flies off toward the wastes, never to return.

When the battle ends, Roger returns the heavily damaged Big O to its track beneath the city for return back to the Mansion. He searches the city in his black sedan, Griffon, and eventually finds Dorothy standing atop a building in a nearby sector of the city. But when he reaches the roof of the building, she falls into his arms, her eyes emotionless and cold, her body un-moving, and her forehead cd-rom memory core interface totally removed. Roger brings her back to the Mansion in the hopes that Norman can do something to fix her, but the old hand can do nothing without the core memory. He even believes its return would not necessarily awaken her. And if it did, the memories might be corrupted.

Norman gives Roger the option of installing a new core memory into Dorothy’s braincase, which would undoubtedly awaken her. However, with a clean slate and no past memories, would he really be awakening ‘her’, or just resetting her back to a time when she did not know Roger or Norman, before she began emoting and before her love for Roger began to flower?

In the meantime, a letter arrives to the Mansion, addressed to Roger from Michael Seebach (Schwarzwald) in the event of his death. Inside is the final page of Gordon Rosewater’s messianic tome Metropolis: ‘ The power of God, created by man…. Divine thunder raining down from the heavens…’ Along with this page is a torn photo of a young Gordon Rosewater shaking hands with a man whose white pale hands, white dress shirt, and black shoes, pants, and suit jacket are obliquely visible. The man is obviously Roger Smith, though only we know this intuitively. That Roger Smith has not aged in the more than forty years since the photo was taken is one more signifier that he is more than a mere mortal man.

As Roger leaves the Mansion for one final confrontation, he speaks with the unresponsive Dorothy: ‘Since you first came to live here, I felt like I knew you forever…. I never answered that question you asked a while ago, did I? You asked if you were human, instead of an android, would you and I have fallen in love?… Maybe we would have…. Please don’t tell me that I’m dodging the issue. Right now I can’t seem to commit to one truth. but I know I won’t waver in doing what needs to be done. Or in going down the path that I have to take. Wait for me.’

As Roger departs his sweetheart, and leaves her with that precious line, Angel approaches her final confrontation deep in the subway system of Paradigm City, below the areas that create panic and terror in all it’s denizens. She finds therein a television set of an old cabin, with an old kitchen whereupon something is cooking in a pot on the stove. She recalls her past and realizes that her childhood memories were forged in this place, and that either she contains false memories of another person and is merely a copy of the original, or worse, that the one real memory she has of her childhood is really only a memory of an acting gig she once held as some sort of child star. The latter meaning that she has no substantive memories whatsoever. What’s worse is that the ‘mother’ she remembered from her childhood was in fact Vera Ronstadt, a brutal, vicious leader who never treated Angel like her child later in life, but instead merely as a pawn for The Union.

Finally, out in the streets of Paradigm, the dejected Police Chief Dan Dastun wanders about feeling helpless to aid his friend Roger in his battles against The Union and Paradigm Corp. Two children flit across the screen and catch his eye as they enter a movie theater with the Marquee Winter Night Phantom. The stars of the picture featured on the theater’s large poster for the attraction: the Union girl from his dreams and himself. As he enters the place, the lights in the room dim and Dastun’s own memories begin to play out on the screen before him.

The stage is set, the players are in position, but before the climactic final battle could begin in earnest, they have all realized something horrible about their ontological states: That they are merely players in a program, in a large simulation. Programs with no virtuality, existing in a plane without imminence as mere bodies with organs. But can their self-knowledge of these roles affect the outcome and bring to them some semblance of free action, or are they destined, nay determined toward a specific end result in this play?

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Ye Guilty

[Act 25: The War of Paradigm City]

The Big O: Act 23- Twisted Memories

(Act 22: Hydra)

The central theme in Episode 23 (and arguably the rest of the series as well) of Chiaki Konaka’s classic The Big O is the interplay between programming and freedom, determinacy and action.

Many events unfold themselves within this episode, from the off-screen battle between Vera Ronstadt of The Union and the killer android (or is it cyborg?) Alan Gabriel, which results in no real damage done to the latter whilst the former is dealt a wound in the side. She is visibly in pain when, later in the episode, she turns up and delivers a message to Roger, one she wishes him to relay to Angel: ‘A bird whose wings have been plucked will shed all it’s feathers and will return into the beast it was before it evolved into a bird.’

The meaning of the statement is obscure and never quite spelled out through the context of the show. We know only that Angel, named after a celestial being donning wings, has large scars on her back, presumably where a set of wings once lie. Or is the visual merely a symbolic signifier of her role within the events of the story, of her role as a fallen being whose presence is more a portent of doom than divine care? And as the obscure quote alludes to, has she only become a portent of doom by virtue of losing her wings? Wings that once elevated her above the moral speciousness of human action and whose absence make her little more than another primitive homo sapien beast in comparison?

The strict, narrative purpose of Vera’s quote will later be revealed as a memory from Angel’s past, a memory of her mother and of the cabin she was presumably raised within as a young child. But when she finds the cabin… and in that place of all places…. Well, that’s a tale for next time.

Alan Gabriel escapes his battle with Vera, though not unscathed. He was previously playing both sides in the struggle for Paradigm City’s fate: fighting as a spy and counterspy for The Union and Paradigm Corp. Now, Alan Gabriel has to throw in all of his chips behind Paradigm to remain a player of import in the ongoing game. For the time, he raises the ante and heightens the tensions by freeing Beck from prison once more and, using an execution order, and the promise of freedom and money, Alan twists the inventor into working to restore Big Fau’s memory core. The plan? To once again abduct Dorothy using a horde of mechanical scorpion machines and then to use the power of her programming to rig Big Fau back into operation, thereby allowing Alex Rosewater to resume his helm as the Dominus of the Big Fau Megadeus.

The Dominus of Megadeus. A role one is destined for, a role none but a true Dominus can perform without being expelled from the machine, perhaps violently so. We know that Alex Rosewater is the son of Gordon Rosewater and the rightful heir as CEO of his father’s company Paradigm Corp. However, at the farm, before Alex Alex dispatches his father, we learn that Gordon considers Alex to be just like all those other people working on his farm. He considers Alex and these large, humanoid working machines to be his sons. The question becomes whether Alex is like them in other ways. Whether he too has been programmed for a job. In this case, the job of running the corporation and operating a Megadeus.

Unlike Alex Rosewater who has seemingly accepted his fate and his programming by deciding to follow his father’s wishes, Roger the Negotiator, also almost certainly a replicant-like being, a created, not born, human being complete with emotions and all, is grapples with his fate. He knows he has been programmed to fulfill a social role, but has a rebellious nature. In the past, he was a police officer, but he quit that job and moved on to become a Negotiator who could help the people without answering to the Police Department’s head company: Paradigm Corp.

He was programmed to pilot a Megadeus and has innate operating knowledge of its systems thereby. However, instead of merely protecting the city from The Union and supporting the goals of Paradigm Corp., he has been tempted by the Black Forest Philosopher-Dominus Schwarzwald and realizes now just how corrupt the city really is. Roger knows of the existence of peoples beyond the domes of the city, people who have been systematically discriminated against and marginalized until their kind were expelled from the city or killed. People whose memory in the minds of Paradigm’s denizens have eventually faded into obscurity. But Roger knows Angel, and he knows, deep down, that she is not wrong for wanting to live a peaceful life in the city, and that The Union is not totally evil for wanting to destroy Paradigm Corp. to install a more friendly regime that would allow their people access to the city’s comforts.

Roger now pilots the Big O Megadeus as a rogue Dominus who has abandoned his programming and fights both the terrorist activity of The Union and the hegemonic totalitarian regime of Paradigm Corp. Though, just like all anti-fascist in modern history, his work only heightens the tensions between the most extreme factions. He has only served to bring more turmoil to the city by exposing the city’s people to the existence of outsiders. And what’s worse, he may now be relatively free from the dictates of his programming, but he has not gone far enough beyond good and evil to recognize a need for a new system, let alone to begin formulating it as a positive force in opposition to The Union and to Paradigm Corp.

When Dorothy is taken by the scorpion machines, Roger makes it back home just in time to watch helplessly while his love is removed once more from his abode and turned over to Beck for use in his Megadeus modification experiments. As she departs, Dorothy stops fighting back and calls out to Roger: ‘I am what I am. I am not like you Roger. I will always have this same body and this same heart.’ Time and again, the reference to a Jewish mythos, to the Leviathan and the Behemoth, to Angels, and to an end-times prophecy of destruction is brought into discussion. Here, Dorothy defines herself as YHWH does: ‘I am what I am.’ The effect in this context is of an orthodoxy burrowed deep into her psyche. An orthodoxy of stasis, of oneself as what one is born into. A Socratic truth delivered upon pondering oneself and coming to know oneself and in contradistinction to a Nietzschian truth of self-creation and becoming.

Roger recognizes this orthodoxy as the false god it is, as he too once believed it and has managed to come toward the light of truth and shake off the shackles of his programming to become more human than human in the process of accepting his manufactured nature and denying its maxims. He tells Dorothy not to give up, tells her that she must take control of her own destiny rather than resigning herself. The meaning is twofold in that she must take control now and escape the clutches of her enemies no matter how much she feels she belongs with them, rather than with humans like roger and Norman. The second meaning, and I may be reaching a bit here, is that she ought to try and take hold of her destiny to also overthrow her mere programming: that she should try to love him and live alongside him despite their anatomical differences: Roger the organic android and Dorothy the mechanical being.

At the last moment, Dorothy’s eyes open wide and we realize that she has picked up on the latter message all too well, though she is now physically incapable of following the first. Before I get too sappy here, I’ll stop. Especially since the next episode is there waiting in the wings to swoop down and upend our expectations, just as the final two ring the death knell and put the nail in the coffin, respectively, regarding the philosophical dialogue between determinism and free action. The result? A stance staunchly astride the former.

 

Cast In the Name of God,

Ye Guilty

[Act 24: The Big Fight]

Ride Lonesome

(Catch my previous Western film review out here: Buchanan Rides Alone)

The fifth installment of director Budd Boetticher and actor Randolph Scott’s Ranown Cycle of Westerns, Ride Lonesome, is a return to form after two relatively low quality dramas immediately preceding it: Decision at Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone. Although the film was scripted by Burt Kennedy (who scripted five out of seven of the films in the cycle) and was executive produced by Harry Joe Brown (who served in this role on a total of four out of the seven pictures), Ride Lonesome was the first move toward a producer credit for director Budd Boetticher who took this aforementioned credit presumably because he offered up some money toward the film’s budget or sacrificed some of his director’s fee to create it to his own artistic specifications. On future productions, Boetticher would realize he could retain more creative control in such a position and as such, Harry Joe Brown’s involvement would later be discarded in lieu of Boetticher producing and directing the remaining films in the cycle himself.

The film is also notable for the first reoccurring actor in the series besides the Ranown lead Randolph Scott. This actor was one Karen Steele who had previously played the character of damsel in distress and heroine Lucy Summerton in Decision at Sundown. Steele would later appear in one more film of the cycle, Westbound, before appearing in Budd Boetticher’s 1960 gangster film The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond. 

Ride Lonesome begins as a bounty hunter named Ben Brigade (Scott) sulks through a deep rocky gorge looking for his quarry: a man named Billy John who killed someone in cold blood back in Santa Cruz. Billy John and his ilk represent unrepentant evil throughout the film and threaten, at the film’s opening coda, to make the picture into another stale classical Western exercise in form. Brigade tracks the young man down, but is surrounded immediately by Billy John’s brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) and posse who threaten to kill the ageing bounty hunter if he tries to take the youth in. Brigade is crazed, however, now a man seemingly with nothing left to lose. He tells the posse that if they shoot at him, Billy John will die immediately as well, and aims his rifle toward the boy’s head. They relent and Brigade’s long trip toward Santa Cruz begins.

Along the way, Brigade runs into a woman named Carrie Lane (Steele) whose husband has been missing for some time. As there are roving Mescalero Apache Indians about and out for blood in the territory, Brigade believes her husband has been killed, and his gut reactions are later vindicated when a group of Mescalero approach and try to trade a couple of horses to Brigade for the young woman, one of which belonged to her late husband.

In addition to angry Mescalero Indians and the nihilistic evils of Frank’s posse trying to kill Brigade and get their hands on Billy John, there is the duo of Sam Boone and Whit (James Coburn) who are old friends of Brigade’s, but are found in an abandoned stagecoach stop where they seemed to have set themselves up to rob the next unsuspecting passerby. Instead, they latch onto Brigade’s crew and offer their help in warding off Frank’s gang, with the implicit knowledge between the two parties that Sam and Whit will rebel and take Billy John for themselves when the opportunity comes. Sam and Whit own a large ranch out in the Western territories and wish to work the soil and live upright moral lives, but they both have committed crimes in their pasts and therefore must turn in a criminal of Billy John’s caliber to receive absolution in the name of the law, clear their names, and once again build their reputations as upstanding members of society.

By the film’s denouement, we learn the true reasoning behind Brigade’s quarrel with Billy John. We learn of the untimely, unnatural death of his late wife at the hands of Frank who killed her out of purely psychotic reasoning. But the two have their day in the sun, and the our hero barely scrapes by once again. Brigade’s methods are extra-judicial, and as a bounty hunter he is a figure both outside of civil society and necessary for its continuation in the Old West’s social system. He is a heroic figure who represents the forces of moral law whilst often breaking with the strict rules of legal dictum, and thereby he is an antihero. His foils are the unrepentant totally evil Frank who hung Brigade’s wife only to wound Brigade’s pride and emotional stability, as well as the upstanding and moral Sam Boone who is loyal to his friends and wishes to live a life of good moral virtue but has a dark past that he is always running away from: a dark past he may only be able to escape through one final, fatal confrontation with his friend Brigade. A confrontation against the basic tenets of Sam’s nature. But hell, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Ride Lonesome is a classic Revisionist Western before the term became vogue, and a refined Classical Western at a time when the genre was becoming stultified and stagnant. It is a very basic tale of one man’s justifications up against the justifications of numerous other actors, all with their ‘own reasons’ (to borrow a Jean Renoir-ian comment on the banality of evil and human action). It is a story told a hundred times made all the more potent and powerful through its broaching of postmodern morality, or anti-morality as it were, attendant within the post-World War II world wherein the bountiful fruits of human rationality gave way to the wasteland:

‘A heap of broken images, where the sun beats.                                                                              And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,                                                          And the dry stone no sound of water.’

A West with no moral sentiments recognized as anything greater than human invention. An innocence lost, squandered, needlessly slaughtered at the sacrificial table under the knife of a father working the miracles of man, for the sake of man, but in the name of his God. And only to one end: to leave the world ignoble, stripped of all honor, dignity, and fellow feeling. To leave behind a realm wherein there is surely no revelation at hand.

 

Cody Ward

Tokyo Godfathers

(Catch my previous Satoshi Kon film review here: Millennium Actress)

In 2003, Satoshi Kon released another one of his magnum opuses. This time a loose adaptation of a 1913 novel by Peter B. Kyne entitled 3 Godfathers that had previously been adapted for live-action cinema in the States on three different occassions (the most famous of which being John Ford’s 1948 version). Together with screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto (Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain), Satoshi Kon adapted the screenplay into an equally cinematic work par excellence and modified its characters and settings to a world more familiar and close to home for himself. The three men became a group of homeless people who happen upon a child that has seemingly been abandoned. Their world: modern-day Japan’s Megalopolis and Capitol city.

The three godfathers are interesting figures in Kon’s film that all have very unique, distinct personalities and identities. There is Hana, a transgender woman who once lived a life of elegance and camp as a singer in a bar for queens. She found love in a conventional manner with her husband Ken who unfortunately died in an accident. Distraught, Hana took to the streets and stopped finding joy in life. Together with her two friends, however, she has created a lifestyle on the streets as a homeless person with some semblance of a family.

Her counterpart, steadfast friend, and would-be emotional lover is Gin. A gruff man who enjoys ribbing Hana for her queerness, but does so in good fun typically. He took to the streets supposedly after his daughter died and he lost his career as a professional bike racer for purposely losing a match to make more money through a gambler friend of his. We later learn that his reasoning for leaving behind his family was much more banal, and thereby Gin loses much of his tragic quality over the course of the film, finally becoming an absurd figure of sorts. Luckily, he manages to reconnect with his daughter, who actually never died, as well as strengthening the ties between himself and Hana through their fleeting foster parent status of the young Kiyoko (the abandoned baby found at the film’s beginning).

Finally, the third of the ‘godfathers’ is Miyuki, a young girl who has run away from home and become a delinquent. She used to be an obese young girl when she lived at home, but has since lost a ton of weight due to the oft-time difficulty finding food and the constant need to move around to find trash to recycle for money throughout the city. She thinks of herself as an adult, as an equal in the ‘family’ she has established with Gin and Hana. However, it is clear that the others see her as a daughter figure, and for Gin in particular as a proxy for his own daughter. When the three find a baby in a pile of trash, they take her in and try to find her real parents, which serves as the plotline for the majority of the film and leads the trio into many interesting scenarios. Gin decides to call her Kiyoko, the name of his own real daughter, and thereby this new child becomes the new proxy for that lost child and Miyuki’s status is lowered somewhat.

After acquiring the child, the three godfathers follow up every lead they can to track down the real parents of the child rather than merely turning her in to the police or to a local hospital. This goes directly against the wishes of Gin initially to rid themselves of the child quickly, but Hana wants to feel motherly for a time and as such, the group goes along with her plan. They search the trash near where the child was found and collect a photo with a picture of a young couple and a card to a fancy club downtown. The picture also features the front of a house wherein the young couple pictured therein most likely lived, and locals in the area directly surrounding that house give more vital details.

In every new lead, the group find themselves in some form of mortal danger but always manage to escape harm (except for when Gin is attacked by a group of teenagers looking to ‘clean up’ the city). When their leads begin to dry up, they always spectacularly find a new one to continue the search. And when all looks hopeless, the miraculous occurs. This theme of miraculous events in their search during the Christmas season for Kiyoko’s parents is ubiquitous throughout the picture and lends to it an artful veracity that helps to raise the film above the level of your typical anime film fare. Though the story is particular, it reaches toward the universal through its themes and toward the timeless through its relation to cinema history and to a Western tradition of filmmaking that links it to one of America’s greatest auteurs in John Ford. All of these features of the film as well as the compelling visual style common to Satoshi Kon’s works make Tokyo Godfathers another classic work in Kon’s oeuvre. An oeuvre of only five anime works that unarguably contains five classic, top-form works that will remain seminal in Japanese animation history for decades and generations to come.

This film, like all of Kon’s anime works, was created through funding by Studio Madhouse. Like most of his works at the Studio, it was produced by the legendary co-founder of the Studio Masuo Maruyama. And again, like all of his films, this one received many accolades upon its premiere including Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Festival and the Excellence Prize from the Japan Media Arts Festival. But most importantly, it has a reputation as a great film that transcends the medium of animation and should be counted amongst the greatest films in any medium, or at least the top 1000 you should watch at some point before you die, leave this earth, and return back to the void of nothingness from whence you arose.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Paprika]

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