Ultimate Anti-Hero (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 30)

(If you missed it check out the previous recap essay HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

In this episode, our first real big bad (the first bad ass Mega antagonist that is) of the series makes his appearance and rebels against his own would-be masters after delivering a test of his strengths to our Digimon protagonists. But before any of this happens, viewers will notice an interesting feature of this episode in the series: the animation. Characters and even backgrounds to a lesser extent are drawn with a much greater attention to line and an economy exhibiting animation mastery that has hitherto been absent from the majority of the episodes in the series. When one reads into the episode credits for writer, director, animation director, and key animators, however, we have the usual suspects who have all worked on at least a dozen episodes of Digimon prior to this one. Maybe they decided to experiment on this one. Or shopped out some of the animation away from Toei’s animation departments to a Korean animation group. Information is currently scanty on this matter.

The episode opens with Arukenimon bathing outside in a bathtub perched somewhat perilously above a cliff face. Mummymon approaches and relates the weirdness of the situation, as well as his own desire to take a bath therein as well. Preferably beside Arukenimon. In a turn that will mark much of their relationship, she will spurn his advances in the coming scenes, making him try all the more.

The Digidestined work on destroying more Control Spires, this time with Ken in tow as a member of the team. After a productive afternoon destroying the dark obelisks, T.K. and Kari go off to find some snacks for the rest of the team, much to Davis’ ire who wants to go in T.K.’s place. Yolei approaches him and acknowledges his frustrations, but alerts him to a more pressing matter: Cody and Ken have worked together all day, but haven’t spoken to each other the whole time and seem distant and distrustful of one another. Davis devises a plan to get the to work together to destroy another Control Spire that Flamedramon missed earlier that day. They readily jump into action to do the job, but only Wormmon and Digmon bond in the process. Cody’s distrust of Ken is laid bare in the following moments and Ken understandably decides to leave the group once more due to feeling that he isn’t wanted there.

Back to Arukenimon. As she plots about how to defeat the Digidestined, Mummymon gives her a body massage. She reasons that using one Spirit Needle produced Golemon, Champion-level Digimon. And that using 10 Spirit Needles on 10 Control Spires simultaneously produced Okuwamon, an Ultimate-level Digimon. She decides to track down an untouched area with plenty of Control Spires so that she can experiment and convert 100 Spires simultaneously. She throws Mummymon off of her and into the woods below the nearby cliff face. Mummymon lays bare the sado-masochistic relationship by expressing how his own desire grows with the abuse, then runs back to his mistress’ side to ride off in their car and toward an area where their plan can be completed.

When Arukenimon and Mummymon find such a place, they somehow manage to bring the Control Spires with them and then head in the direction of the Digidestined. Once there, Arukenimon pulls out a clump of her hair and uses the strands as Spirit Needles to transform the Control Spires. ExVeemon, Ankylomon, Aquilamon, Nefertimon, and Pegasusmon muscle up and ready themselves for the ensuing battle and Yolei messages Ken on her D-Terminal to try and get him to join them. As the Spires transform, the Mega-level BlackWarGreymon appears. The energy of his manifestation is enough to defeat the Digidestined’ forward guard and knocks out Pegasusmon and Nefertimon.

Ken responds that he doesn’t want to join them and disrupt their team dynamics. Yolei flies on Aquilamon’s back and meets Ken. She slaps him in the face and brings him back to his senses, urging him to join the others, which he does. Once he arrives, Stingmon DNA Digivolves with ExVeemon into Paildramon who turns out to be just as much of a pushover as the others were at the hand of this new Mega-level adversary. BlackWarGreymon implodes and produces a powerful externalization of power that defeats all surrounding Digimon. He then addresses Arukenimon and Mummymon who have been trying to boss him around and tells them that he won’t be controlled by weaker Digimon and doesn’t take orders from anyone. This faux Digimon flies off to find a worthy opponent who can test his strength and shows himself to be a heroic figure with an internally consistent moral code: self-recognition as an Ubermensch, detestation of herd morality, and a urge to fight for the sake of fighting, for the sake of determining who is truly the strongest Digimon around. In other words, a badass.

 

Later,

The Digidestined Cody

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The Burning Hell

(If you missed it, check out my previous Independent film essay on 1971’s If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?)

On 1971’s ‘Footmen’, Mississippi Baptist Minister Estus Pirkle played a much larger picture than in his 1974 film ‘The Burning Hell.’ Then, the screenplay was based on one of his books, he helped produce the film, and his preaching played a slightly larger role in the film (in regards to the film’s run-time). Now, the director, editor, screenwriter, and distributor of the ‘Footmen’, Ron Ormond, was set to adapt ideas for a story by Pirkle, which gave him more of a creative process in the film’s basis. Ormond also co-produced ‘The Burning Hell’ with his son Tim Ormond and his wife June Ormond (also known as June Carr) who also worked on the film as co-editor and make-up artist, respectively.

As the creative role of Ron Ormond in his religious co-productions with Estus Pirkle expanded from co-auteur-ship to near-sole authorship of the final work, he was able to get his family in on the projects more often. This allowed Ormond to create a core of co-creators as a troupe who would later join him on his own projects. But this man didn’t just appear out of thin air, right? No, of course not.  Ormond was born in Baldwin, Mississippi in 1910 as Vittorio Di Naro. Ormond’s career began as a stage magician who worked in local vaudeville clubs. He met his wife June, then a chanteuse and dancer, in one of these clubs in 1935. The two spent the rest of their lives together.

In the forties and fifties, Ron Ormond worked as a producer and director on Westerns. In the late fifties and sixties, he made exploitation films. Then, the late sixties,  he was involved in a plane crash he credited with making him more religious. The rest of his days, his work focused on religious themes, though the weirdness of his approach to cinematography and extremely graphic gore he used years before remained intact. Because of these elements, which are atypical of the religious propaganda of the period, Ormond’s career has a small, though devoted cult of critics and fans devoted to it. I may or may not be on the fast track to becoming one of them.

‘The Burning Hell’ is based on Estus Pirkle’s musings on what he believed the bible had to say on the subject of hell and opens onto a scene of christians singing a hymn about hellfire and brimstone. One of three preachers other than Pirkle who feature in the film (Robert G. Lee, Jack Hyles, and Bob Gray) appears onscreen and expresses his belief that a christian theology needs the concept (and supposed reality) of hell as a counterpoint to its view of heaven. Next, we see a recreation of the Israelite’s ahistorical sojourn through the desert away from an imagined captivity in Egypt. Moses’ right hand men rebel against him and call into question Moses’ divinity. Moses gets pissed off and calls upon the anger of god who showers the men and their followers with fire before opening up a pit in the ground. The fires of the pit rise and claim the lives of the people in brutal, gory, bloody fashion.

Pirkle appears onscreen after this moment and asks a critical question: “Does that shock you?” He professes that his purpose is to shock and to use brutal visual tactics to make viewers understand the roughness of hell and why they should become reconciled with god to avoid going there. His use of shock tactics and sensationalism as didactic tools to scare viewers into religiosity mirrors his use of agitprop political propaganda in ‘Footmen’ three years prior to keep viewers vigilant against Cold War fears of Communist takeover of the United States. It mirrors that earlier example not just in its intention to use fear and paranoia to achieve his ends, but in the hypocrisy of the approaches as well.

The main throughline of the film begins when a duo of new age, spiritualist, hippies visits Pirkle’s office to ask him about hell. They are religious in a bastardized manner based less on texts and established forms of religion, but equally bullshit as christianity. They hope that Pirkle will agree with them that god is good and therefore would send no one to hell. Pirkle of course disagrees. The two leave and go on a motorcycle ride that ends in the death of one of the men. His friend rides back into town and joins Pirkle’s church ceremony where he is harangued by visions of hell: of the King of Babylon assaulted by ghouls with piercing screams of pain rising all around him, of Herod being eaten by worms for all eternity, of Satan punishing the hippy youth himself, and of most importantly, of his own friend burning eternally in hell. The young hippy eventually repents and lets Jesus into his life after a pretty sickening show of Pirkle manipulating an emotionally troubled person who has just lost his friend.

The whole exercise is, quite frankly, pretty disgusting. Taken as a didactic tool for other preachers, it tells them to blindside people with the fire and brimstone message in the most visceral, disgusting, and least tasteful manner possible. Pirkle advises preachers to manipulate people when most emotionally weak, or down and out, and make them into christians under duress. Ormond’s approach is grim and gruesome and really only meritorious on those grounds as the acting and staging are pretty amateurish in this film. All the same, it’s just weird enough that if you are not one of those types who are easily impressionable, I recommend checking it out. Preferably with a friend of similar temperament. For laughs.

 

Cody Ward

Arukenimon’s Tangled Web (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 29)

(Check out part 28 if you missed it. To go back to the beginning of this series click HERE)

Ken, Cody, and Davis are stuck on Dokugumon’s web while ExVeemon fights his friends Stingmon and Digmon under thrall of Arukenimon’s insect flute song. Cody’s hands are free, so he sends out emails to Yolei, T.K., and Kari requesting aid whilst the slow-moving Dokugumon approaches along his web at less than a snail’s pace. Yolei is too busy fighting off Flymon to help out. T.K. and Kari are trapped behind some books in the Giga House’s office space and quite a few vicious Snimon are attempting to attack them at the time, so they are likewise incapacitated.

Ken devises a plan that shouldn’t work out logically. There is wooden debris at his feet and his legs are still free from the webbing. So he lifts the debris with his feet and kicks it toward Davis whose feet also just happen to still be free from the sticky webs. Davis then kicks the debris toward an air conditioner unit nearby, hits the correct button by some miracle, and turns on the fan, which not only is already directed toward the web, but has enough force to knock Dokugumon off of his web, destroys the web, and also knocks Cody, Ken, and Davis all free from the web instead of being tangled within it on the way down. The scene strains credulity even more than any other single scene I had seen previously in Digimon.

But I digress. ExVeemon has been busy fighting off Digmon and Stingmon. Too busy in fact to save his Digidestined partner and the others from Dokugumon in the first place. But now that the three are free-falling toward their possible deaths, ExVeemon is somehow able to pull himself away fro the fight, fly down, and the grab them before they plummet to the ground. The feat takes a ton of energy on his part and he consequently de-Digivolves back to Veemon. Dokugumon does not appear again to attack, presumably meaning that the fall was enough to incapacitate a full-strength Champion level Digimon. Though Stingmon can fly down to continue his assault on the Digidestined, Digmon cannot fly and had to fall down the same distance as Dokugumon did, but is somehow just fine and on the floor below running after Ken, Davis, Cody, and Veemon in the next scene. I don’t really get it, but whatever.

Next, Davis and the others find a dresser drawer that they open and climb into to escape from Digmon and Stingmon. While their two unwilling combatants dig and cut away at the drawers to get inside, Cody sends out emails on his D-Terminal once more to Yolei and the others who are now free enough to meet up in the office and fight off all opposing Flymon and Snimon. Cody and Ken brainstorm ways out of their current predicament and remember an old parable in the process: the story of the Moth and the Bat, wherein a moth is being chased by the predatory bat. The bat is following the moth through echolocation, which is based on the emission of high-pitched frequencies from the bat into the air which bounce off of objects and come back to the bat as reports on the relation of objects in space to himself. The moth realizes how the principle works and tries to replicate the frequency of the echolocation, and to great effect, as he confuses the bat and saves himself in the process.

Cody relates this information to Yolei, who as it turns out is a budding sound engineer and works for school club video projects and Matt’s band. She records the sound of Arukenimon’s flute using the recording device attached to the giant computer in the office. She then cuts the audio, modifies and distorts the signal, then loops it ad infinitum, and plays it from the computer’s speakers, which breaks the flute’s initial signal and frees all of the enchanted insect Digimon. The Flymon and Snimon break up their attack against Pegasusmon, Nefertimon, and Shurimon in the office, while Stingmon and Digmon come to their sense. Veemon Digivolves back into ExVeemon (somehow his energy has been restored even though he has eaten nothing) and the six Champion-level Digimon converge on Arukenimon.

Arukenimon then reveals herself, for the first time, in her Digimon form as a spider. She is an Ultimate-level Digimon, but the six Champions are pretty effectively routing her every attack.  Then Stingmon and ExVeemon DNA Digivolve into Paildramon and really get to beating her badly. They draw her into the dining room of the Giga House where they pour salt onto her, spray her with bug spray, and electrocute her with wires from the electrical outlets. Then, Paildramon performs the coup de grace and nearly destroys her with his Desperado Blaster attack. Just in the nick of time, before she is destroyed once and for all by Paildramon, another Ultimate-level Digimon appears: Mummymon! He ties up the Champions and momentarily blindsides Paildramon with another attack before grabbing Arukenimon with his bandages and romantically (in his mind) spiriting her away from the scene into his car in which they then ride off into the darkness to fight again another day. Though Arukenimon isn’t pleased that Mummymon didn’t finish off Paildramon when he had the chance.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

The Insect Master’s Trap (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 28)

(For part 27, click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The Digidestined are in the Digital World once more destroying Control Spires. The team makes it a challenge to destroy as many as possible before the day is through and head back. All the while, Ken is off by himself doing the same thing they were earlier in the day, though his sojourn lasts long into the night. The Digidestined back in the computer lab sit around asking DemiVeemon what it was like to fuse with Wormmon to which he replies that the experience is like being part of a the mind of a super being without a consciousness of one’s one. Davis relates that he and Ken were synchronized during the DNA Digivolution too and their heartbeats were in lockstep through the entire process. Kari imagines what the other Digimon would look like if fused with ExVeemon including ExVeemon-Angemon, ExVeemon-Gatomon, ExVeemon-Ankylomon, and ExVeemon-Aquilamon combinations.

Back in the Digital World, Arukenimon visits the area where the Digidestined last occupied. She looks out over the ruins of the old Control Spires, furious that so many opportunities to create new evil Digimon have been lost. There is a television in the middle of the desert, which was present during the Digidestined’ trip. She turns it on and plays a tape housed within the TV’s built-in VCR, which shows the Digidestined children calling Arukenimon creepy and gloating about how many Control Spires they destroyed. This incenses her and she decides to send an email to the Digidestined (including Ken) that tells them to meet her at the Giga House to pay their debt to her.

Though this is pretty obviously a trap, they return to the Digital World and head toward the Giga House anyways in the hopes of defeating Arukenimon once and for all asap. Ken and the others arrive to find a 200-foot tall scale house looming over them. Davis, Ken, and Cody enter the house first and find themselves fighting hundreds or thousands of Roachmon, which they fight as ExVeemon, Stingmon, and Ankylomon and then wash down a large sink drain in the house’s vast kitchen. Next, a group of Flymon and Snimon ambush Kari, T.K. and Yolei outside. Aquilamon, Nefertimon, and Pegasusmon try to destroy them but find the numbers of opposing enemies too high and instead flee into the Giga House as well. Back in the kitchen, an army of Rookie-level Kunemon appear and attack Ken, Davis, and Cody, knocking Ken into a dishwasher in the process. Stingmon jumps in to save him, but cannot fly out of the water.

With Ken running low on oxygen, Cody De-Digivolves Ankylomon to Armadillomon and then Armor Digivolves him into Submarimon to save Ken. Cody’s debt to Ken for saving him from Thundermon weeks prior is now paid back in full and the two seem to have become closer in the process as Cody’s suspicions of Ken are slowly dissolving. As T.K. and Kari hide in an office in the Giga House, and Yolei runs from the Flymon and Snimon who have followed her inside, Davis, Ken, and Cody hear a flute playing in a closed room. They enter an air duct and make their way to the attic where Arukenimon is playing the flute that controls insect Digimon. Stingmon and Digmon unwittingly fall into the trap and begin fighting their friend ExVeemon whilst under Arukenimon’s spell.

Arukenimon then breaks the ground from beneath Ken, Davis, and Cody, knocking them onto a giant spider web: home to one Dokugumon, a Champion-level Digimon that would normally be a push-over, but poses a much larger existential threat right now as ExVeemon is incapacitated by the enchanted Stingmon and Digmon. Things don’t look good for the gang, but I know and you know they get out of the predicament. Just how they do so is a point on which I can’t remember and currently don’t have even the foggiest clue.

 

Aufwiedersehn,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

(If you missed it, check out my previous essay on Independent American cinema: Night Tide)

Jeremiah 12:5- “If footmen tire you, what will horses do? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?”

This quote is the source of the 1971 religious propaganda film by Mississippi Baptist minister Estus Pirkle. The film first came to my attention through Nicolas Winding Refn’s press release earlier this year on his new upcoming streaming service byNWR. In the second volume of this self-funded, free access 4K restoration site, entitled “Missing Links: Restored and Rediscovered Classics of American Independent Cinema,” four films are set for release, including two produced by Pirkle: This 1971 title and 1974’s “The Burning Hell.” Notably absent is the third of Pirkle’s three religious films: 1977’s “The Believer’s Heaven.”

‘Footmen’ was originally written as a short chap-book by Estus Pirkle, who then financed its production as a film for use in theaters and Church services. Ron Ormond (whose career I will discuss in more detail in a future blog) produced the screenplay adaptation of the book, directed and edited the film, and finally, distributed the film through his and his brother’s company The Ormond Organization. As such, Pirkle’s contribution as initial creator of the project (and as the preacher-actor within the film) must be taken as an auteur relationship to the final film, but so too must Ormond’s role, which was just as central to the production.

The film begins with a young woman, Judy, who attends Church by rote and with little conviction. Her boyfriend drops her off there, but doesn’t go inside for the service as he proclaims he is “a lover, not a Christian.” As Judy tries to stay and awake and appear respectful in Church, she dreams of her future relations with her boyfriend, of drinking and doing drugs, and generally of better things she could be doing. But the preacher’s (Pirkle) vision of a future in which Communists will invade the country and persecute Christians if more people do not stand up against them, attend Church, and try to create a more religious (and in his warped mind, a more moral and free) society. Judy remembers her mother’s dying wishes for her to come to know God and accept Jesus Christ in her life, and eventually the weight of apocalyptic messages and guilt-trips from the dead compels her to repent and fall right into the ideological trap set by Pirkle.

Pirkle achieves his compelling message through a manipulation of facts and through fear-mongering in the midst of the Cold War. He claims, for example, that there were no Communists only sixty years prior and now there are communists in Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. He forgets to mention that communism as a theory had been around for almost 200 years since the theory’s initial formulation in 1777 by Victor d’Hupay. Further, even before the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels in 1848, there were the communes of New Harmony, Indiana run by Robert Owen in 1825 and Brook Farm in Massachusetts throughout the early 1840s. Pirkle’s vision of a Communist takeover of the United States is also diminished by his emotional (and surely not rational) portrayal of the Communists as Russians raping and killing Americans. If there was a Communist takeover of the United States it would surely be made up of (at least a large majority) Americans (who then might under certain circumstances decide to persecute Christians as purveyors of an ideology of fear and herd morality, of hatred and of verifiable lies).

Pirkle identifies the footmen tiring out American’s religious and traditional moral resolve as a concatenation of social forces and practices that probably do in fact have the effects he attests. Television, movies, cartoons, and other forms of visual entertainment are certainly more entertaining than the bible (with its genealogies, oldhat style, conflicting narratives, characters with no relation to one another, accounts by hundreds of authors and editors with little connection ideologically or otherwise) and encourage people to spend time watching them instead of reading. Education teaches rational thought and gives people a skeptical outlook which immediately calls into question much of the bullshit in the bible. Drive-in theatres, dancing, drinking, drug use, joyriding, magazine culture, and rock and roll also certainly lead to less conservative ways of acting in the day’s youth (a good thing in my mind).

Finally, Pirkle uses fear-mongering by showing Russian atheist communists breaking into people’s homes to rape wives, killing parents, stealing children for atheist education programs, stopping religious Church services, and forcing youth to step on the image of Jesus to renounce their faith. We are shown horrific, gory images of children’s eardrums being punctured to make sure they will never hear the word of god spoken to them by their parents. Others are beheaded for refusing to give up their faith. The litany of abuses builds in a drastic, bloody manner until the audience’s fears reach a fever pitch. Then the guilt-tripping begins as Pirkle discusses how one’s family wants them to become religious and how you will sadden their spirits if you don’t eventually convert and become saved.

Cinematically, there are only two features of the film which award to it any interest in the avid cineaste. One, the extreme gore and bloodshed in the film that is traditionally more apt for a horror production than a religious agitprop piece (a little ironic perhaps too is the fact that agitprop is originally a Communist invention, which Pirkle now uses to combat Communism). Second, whenever Pirkle appears onscreen (and occasionally when his Soviet atheist communist actor appears in the dramatic scenes), the backgrounds shake a bit. The effect isn’t really cinematic in the way in any traditional manner, just a little off-putting (which was probably intentional) and amateurish (which most certainly was not). This is one weird film which is readily available online today and only runs around 50 minutes. So, if you want to get fired up and see some odd independent cinema stuck in time, check it out.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: The Burning Hell]

Fusion Confusion (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 27)

(For part 26, click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

As the battle against the Ultimate-level faux-Digimon Okuwamon and the DNA Fusion Digimon Paildramon gets under way, the Digidestined voice their misgivings about the DNA Digivolution process. Some of the Digimon are jealous that they were unable to DNA Digivolve with ExVeemon to fight Okuwamon. Ken doesn’t like the idea of sharing a Digimon with anyone and is confused when Davis refers to Paildramon as ‘our Digimon.’ Though we can surmise that Ken would rather share a Digimon with Davis than with any of the other Digidestined who he knows less well and is less close to currently.

As Paildramon holds off Okuwamon, the team run off in the direction of Ken’s fallen base where a reactor therein is set to explode if they don’t do something quick to counteract the process. The amount of rubble in the opening is daunting and T.K. believes that it will take some minutes time to even traverse this area of the base, but Davis and Ken prove him wrong by moving headlong, and in unison, through the rubble in a few seconds, signifying their willingness to work harder than the others in this endeavor and in tandem to boot. Once the group reaches the machine conduit with the Crest of Kindness insignia, Ken places his Crest therein, which momentarily stops the distortions and slows down the reactor, before it ramps up again in a quicker fashion just moments later.

As the Digidestined wrack their brains about what to do next, Cody calls out Ken as the past Digimon Emperor and claims that if anyone knows how to fix the problem it is him. Ken does not in fact know how the base operates and didn’t even know how it functioned all that well when he was the Digimon Emperor either, but is able to put two and two together and realize that the cables strewn along the ground throughout the base must lead to the energy core of the base. As they move along the subterranean passage of cables, a small explosion occurs and knocks debris in their way. Hawkmon and Armadillomon clear up this blockade and the group continues their journey to the core of the base.

Once therein, they feel uneasy as they see dark energy flooding into the core from without the base itself. The feeling reminds Kari of her time in the Dark Ocean (in episode 13), it reminds T.K. of the Dark Whirlpool where they originally found Ken’s flying base and infiltrated it, and it reminds Ken of the World of Darkness he has traversed many a time whilst feeling emotionally weak and vulnerable within the Digital World. The dark energy flooding into the room is directed from some force within the Dark Ocean who seems likely to be a Cthulu-like figure or some form of the pre-resurrected Myotismon.

Outside, Paildramon still battles Okuwamon who has burrowed beneath the sand and dragged his foe below with him. When Paildramon forces Okuwamon to the surface, playtime is over and he dispenses his Desperado attack to destroy the faux-Digimon. Paildramon then forces his way into the base’s core reactor room where he destroys the core thereby stopping the distortions and rendering the base safe once more. To make doubly sure it never gets into the wrong hands again however, Paildramon destroys the base once everyone has exited, then reverts to his Baby forms as Leafmon and Chibomon (who we meet for the first time in this episode). Davis asks Ken to become his friend and to join the Digidestined, but Ken is still wary about the idea and decides to leave on his own to think it over once more.

Once the Digidestined return to the Real World, Izzy calls them to his home for a seminar on DNA Digivolution. He reveals that his new computer program is currently analyzing the process in depth, but that he has some provisional information about the new process already. First, DNA Digivolution has happened before in the battle against Diaboromon when WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon fused into Omnimon. Second, some time after that battle, Gennai gathered the eight Digidestined of Digimon Adventure 01 together and told them about the powers that defend the Digital World (though in not enough detail for their identities as the Four Holy Beasts to be revealed). He called upon the eight Digidestined to release their Crests, which they did and thereby created a barrier across the Digital World against evil forces. A barrier that has since been weakened somehow. Third, because the Digidestined gave up their Crests, they were no longer the Digidestined and were able to pass them on to the younger generation, which resulted in the inability for the original eight Digidestined Digimon to Digivolve to the Ultimate level (which is why Gatomon can only currently Armor Digivolve).

We know that the Digital powers that be always call upon certain children with aptitudes in times of trouble and that often the children are endowed with new abilities to overcome new obstacles. The obstacle of not having the Crests to Digivolve to Ultimate seems to have circumvented by the new power of DNA Digivolution of two Champions, which then produces a Digimon at or above normal Ultimate-level power. Prodigious! But like the power of the DigiEgg of Miracles, which only works under extreme duress, DNA Digivolution may not come as easy as Armor Digivolution…

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

United We Stand (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 26)

(To check out the previous recap, click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The repair work in the Digital World is ongoing and the Digidestined are patching up a damaged bridge. After the work is complete for the day, the group leaves the area and heads off to the next job. Lurking nearby in the forest is the white-haired woman in the red dress who has causes more trouble for the group once again. She pulls off one of her hairs, which straightens out and becomes a Spirit Needle. Once placing the Spirit Needle into a nearby Control Spire, the edifice transforms into a reproduction of a Minotaromon and begins to move in the direction of the newly repaired bridge.

Luckily, the Digidestined have not gone too far from the bridge as of yet and are able to notice the figure approaching. Raidramon, Pegasusmon, and Nefertimon jump into action and destroy the faux-Digimon, though the bridge is damaged again over the course of the fight. In order to more quickly rebuild the bridge once again, Davis suggests that they message Ken through their D-Terminals and ask for his help. Though Cody is still skeptical about asking for the help of the one-time Digimon Emperor.

Meanwhile, Ken and Stingmon have been destroying Control Spires throughout the Digital World. The two reference the white-haired woman and call her Arukenimon, revealing that she is no woman, but a humanoid Digimon instead. After the days work is complete and Stingmon is too worn out to continue much longer, the two return home to the Real World where they continue their discussions and muse over why Ken was able to create the Control Spires as the Digimon Emperor even though he knows nothing about them, their construction, or their source today. Arukenimon calls Ken on his computer terminal and explains that he was manipulated by her into creating the Control Spires and that his entire stint as Digimon Emperor only occurred through her willing it to do so. Could she have been the mysterious sender of the emails that Ken received directly before becoming the Digimon Emperor and after returning back to normal?

While Ken and Wormmon are home thinking about all of these questions, Izzy contacts Davis in the Digital World and tells him that a bizarre signal is being sent out from the area where Ken’s old base as Digimon Emperor went aground. As the Digidestined investigate, they find that the base seems set to explode soon. Davis reasons that since it was Ken’s Crest of Kindness that helped it stay afloat in the first place, and now that Ken has the Crest and is no longer near the base, that Ken must return with his Crest to solve the problem, stabilize the base, and prevent the explosion from wreaking havoc in the area (why this is important I’m not so sure, as the base ran aground in the middle of the Digital desert, far away from any civilization or Digimon who could be hurt by its destruction). So Davis sends out a message to Ken, which is not received for some reason. Davis relays this information to Izzy who phones Ken in the Real World, gets ahold of Wormmon on the other line, and urges them to join the others, which they do posthaste.

But before Ken can arrive, Arukenimon turns a Control Spire near the Digidestined into the powerful Ultimate-level Digimon Okuwamon. Aquilamon, Ankylomon, Angemon, and Nefertimon (the only one of the five to be unable to Digivolve normally and thereby forced to Armor Digivolve from Gatomon the Champion level to Nefertimon the Champion level instead of into Angewomon the Ultimate who could defeat Okuwamon. Deus ex machina?) fight and are quickly defeated by Okuwamon. ExVeemon holds off the Ultimate level Digimon until Stingmon arrives to back him up, though Ken is being stubborn and expresses his desire to fight alone. He reasons that the existence of the Control Spire that turned into Okuwamon is his fault and thereby that he should take up the fight against the product of his past evil by himself. Davis attempts to show Ken the error in his logic by making him realize that fighting Okuwamon by himself would be suicide, and then what could he accomplish if dead? Ken realizes that he indeed has a friend in Davis, his Crest of Kindness lights up, as does his D-3 and Davis’ D-3 as well. ExVeemon and Stingmon then begin to glow and undergo the series’ first DNA Digivolution into the powerful Ultimate-level Digimon Paildramon.

Can this new fusion Digimon destroy Okuwamon? And will this turn of events result in the breakdown of Ken’s stubborn attitude and his resultant joining of the other Digidestined as a team member?

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice was originally a novel by James M. Cain published in 1934. The pulp work automatically received multiple film adaptations spanning the next 12 years and cemented itself as something of a classic text within the medium. First came the 1939 French adaptation “Le Dernier Tournant” by Pierre Chenal, followed in 1943 by the Italian production “Obsessione” by the acclaimed director Luchino Visconti. This version is often pointed to as the first work of Italian neorealism in film (though this view is contested often as well). Finally, the third adaptation of the film was the classic American film noir by Tay Garnett released in 1946 under the same title as the novel.

All in all, a pretty prestigious line of adaptations, which probably contributed to the fact that no filmmaker had the guts to touch the project again from 35 years. And the man who finally did tackle the project was certainly a gutsy guy: Bob Rafelson. Rafelson’s career as a filmmaker began in the late sixties and early seventies as a proponent of the burgeoning New Hollywood cinema movement of the time. His films “Head” (1968) and “Five Easy Pieces” (1970) are classic independent works of the period that showed the man’s willingness to work within the rock and roll idiom and to create powerful arthouse features, respectively. His work as a producer on classic films from director Dennis Hopper like “Easy Rider” (1969) and “The Last Movie” (1970), and “The Last Picture Show” (1971) by Peter Bogdanovich give us a sense of his audacity and willingness to back visionary work financially which was by means assured of box office success. And all just for the purpose of creating artful, hopefully enduring work.

A decade later, Rafelson took on Postman. And he hired some pretty great figures onto to the project in an attempt to create a powerful version of the property that could potentially one day hold the cultural importance of Postman’s initial film adaptations. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet was hired on to shape the script (which should be an indication of the story’s narrative power, though it is instructive to note that all of Mamet’s great screenplay achievements like ‘The
Untouchables’, ‘Homicide’, and ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ lie ahead, not before, of this production in time). He hired Sven Nykvist as his cinematographer on the picture whose work with Ingmar Bergman made him into a legendary figure (as well as his great shooting on Louis Malle’s “Black Moon” and Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice”).

Rafelson’s chosen thespians include Jack Nicholson (who had previously worked with Rafelson on ‘Five Easy Pieces’) in the role of Frank Chambers, and Jessica Lange as Cora Papadakis. Other notable actors include Anjelica Huston as Madge Gorland, the character actors Michael Lerner and Christopher Lloyd (as Ezra Kennedy and The Salesman, respectively), and a young Chuck Liddell (Yes, the UFC champion) as a Boy Scout in a small role.

All the major roles are filled by great or at least interesting actors in the film, the cinematographer who will create the look of the film is one of the greatest to ever grace the medium, the screenwriter is a legendary dramaturgist, the property is legendary and notable, and the director is Bob ‘fucking’ Rafelson. Everything was set to go and with a rap sheet like that everything should have gone smoothly. And it probably did. A bit too smoothly I might add.

As the film opens, we get an interesting look into the character of drifter Frank Chambers as he hitchhikes his way to L.A. and finds himself in the Twin Oaks Tavern along the way. He likes the food and especially the cook, Cora Papadakis, wife to one proprietor Mr. Nick Papadakis. Likes her a little too much in fact. Nick offers Frank a job as mechanic (without any knowledge of whether or not Frank can do the work I might add) even though it is pretty obvious that Frank has taken a liking to his Nick’s wife. Frank of course takes the job and then proceeds to start up a physical relationship with Cora. His advances are accepted and the two somehow fall in love inexplicably without knowing anything about one another beyond the fact that they are both good fucks. They plot to kill Nick, get his life insurance money, and run away together, and eventually, with a few legal stumbles, they do just that.

But the entire procedure feels like a play in a boring little tavern half the time with none of the stylistic power of any of the film’s first three adaptations. Cinematographically, mise-en-scene is absent, and the film is consequently style-less. The characters are types, which can work in a film noir medium, but this is no neo-noir. The lack of character development leads to a total lack of emotional development throughout the film so that in the final, tragic scene of the picture, the viewer cannot be convinced to feel sorry for the two antihero protagonists: either for Frank who has lost something precious or for Cora who has lost something even more so. This because they ultimately deserve what happens to them as murderers.

They killed Nick! And what for? He wasn’t an evil guy, just a blustering jovial Falstaff kind of Greek immigrant guy who is really the only centre for audience identification in the film. And Rafelson has this guy constructed in this manner just to kill him, which ideologically signifies killing the audience, which then results in a lack of engagement from the audience during the film’s second half. Usually, when I approach a film and try to decide whether or not to buy a physical copy of it and then to review it for this blog, I make my choice based on the gravitas of each name in the credits. The 1981 production of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” was therefore a sure-fire safe bet one would think, but turned out to be anything but. And if that wasn’t enough of an indignity, the title of the film remains unexplained and no viewer of the film could rightly discern who the postman signifies nor what his ringing twice means without either citing an earlier film version or reading the novel.

The Cannes crowd is often enough wrong in their initial reactions to a film, and when they are they are rightly criticized for their lack of prescience. But when they booed this film in the out of competition viewing of 1981’s Cannes Film Festival, they were most certainly right to do so. And their negative reaction deserves vindication, which I give in earnest here.

 

Cody Ward

My Neighbors The Yamadas

(If you haven’t already, check out the previous Isao Takahata essay on Pom Poko!)

My Neighbors the Yamadas is the tenth film by Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, and is notable as his first film to be animated in a non-traditional manner. Previously, the careers of Takahata and his friend Hayao Miyazaki had been marked by beautiful, often poetic or elegiac animation styles created as cels by artists working in a physical medium. Takahata had always pushed farther than Miyazaki in experimental animation techniques- though 1997 Princess Mononoke was notable within Miyazaki’s oeuvre as one of his first works to incorporate elements of computer generated imagery.

On Yamadas, Takahata had his animation team create the film completely digitally in a turn that interested critics as well as annoyed Miyazaki in equal measure. The film’s animators worked with digital palettes and even the watercolor backgrounds were rendered using computers and digital processing techniques. when one first watches the film, none of this is immediately apparent however. The characters and locations look hand-drawn, even rough hewn and incomplete. The watercolor backgrounds also reveal nothing of their digital origins when seen by a viewer of the film, whether one particularly discerning or no. This is due to the digital animator’s work to program rendering programs to add in imperfections, bleed, roughness, and other naturalistic factors traditionally viewed as ‘mistakes,’ which ultimately help to create in a painting those elements we feel are human, and consequently, relatable and meaningful to us.

Miyazaki has a certain prejudice against the use of CGI in animation. He believes that CGI should look invisible if used and if one is able to render the proper effect without it, then one should dispense with the digital effects all together. As such, Takahata’s choice to go off the veritable experimental deep end on Yamadas was seen as a slap in the face by Miyazaki. When the film failed in the box office, Miyazaki took the opportunity to chastise his partner’s work whenever possible, to downplay Takahata’s creative talents and to basically call him washed up. Because of this bad press, and the quiet box office of the film (a first in Takahata’s otherwise monetarily prolific career as a director), Miyazaki was able to keep Takahata from producing another work for 14 years until 2013’s ‘The Tale of Princess of Kaguya.’

Despite Miyazaki’s critique of the film, it is closer to hand-drawn animation in style than anything Miyazaki himself has ever directed, and is more experimental in style and in the production techniques used than anything Miyazaki has ever produced. The film follows a typical Japanese family, The Yamadas, comprising a father, mother, grandmother, son, daughter, and family pet dog. They live their lives as a series of vignettes playing themselves out over the film’s 100 minute runtime running the gamut from comedic to dramatic to idyllic to surreal and fantastical. The film’s visual style bears some resemblance to Takahata’s earlier film adaptation of Miyazaki’s manga ‘Jarinko Chie’ as well as to one of the forms the Tanuki take in his previous film ‘Pom Poko,’ thought the sketchbook look and approach of ‘Yamadas’ is even less filled out with places and sets built more from the absence of objects and presence of empty space than  the proliferation of world-building technique. In this manner, the art direction is more akin to a manga work than to an animated film and its vignette structure is usually found in that medium more often as well.

As we see the lives and developments of the characters, we view their pasts as well. Takashi and Matsuko go from betrothal to wedding ceremony to snow sled trips and steam boat rides along the briskest period of their days. Through cabbage patches where they figuratively find their son Noboru and bamboo groves where their daughter Nonoko is nestled within a stalk of the thick plant (showing Takahata’s interest in the ancient Japanese story of the Bamboo Cutter that will later appear in The Tale of The Princess Kaguya). They ride atop sea slugs and delve into the seas of memory of times as a family. The vignettes begin here to show domestic life: forgetting groceries, studying for school, the trials and tribulations of life as a salary man, losing ones memory as an old woman (the grandmother Shige), and serving nabe night after night to prevent oneself from having to cook all of the time.

All this set to a soundtrack of classical music inflected with pop sensibilities ala the compositional talents of Akiko Yano, an eclectic pop musician known more for her original work than her scanty resume as a film composer. But she pulls off a big trick and created a score for this film which was as eclectic as the film itself. The comedic moments are emphasized with little farces and etudes, the dramatic with Gustav Mahler an Sturm und Drang, the poignant and affective with little pop symphonies reminiscent of the 70s music of Kaze Tachinu. The real gem of the film is a potent little scene wherein everyone recognizes the imperfections of one another, but also that each and every one of them are trying their best to be good people and work together as a family unit. Though they sometimes fail each other, they are always there to support one another. A booming rendition of Doris Day’s classic ‘Che Sera, Sera’ is sung by all as they realize that what will be, will be (a pretty Taoist notion for a Western concept, even if it is French). A sentiment all viewers can really appreciate by the end of the film as we’ve seen a family wracked by occasional minor tragedies, struggles, and arguments, but also fellow-feeling, humor, and love.

What’s more, the rough-hewn ‘hand-drawn’ manga style meets the classical score, realistic vision of life, occasional flights of fancy, and life-affirming message with chapters book-ended by relevant poetic quotations from Basho, that most elegiac and simple emotive poet of the Japanese language whose Haiku add poignancy and power to any well-constructed narrative. This eclectic vignettic portrait would have fallen apart under the observation of any other animator or filmmaker, and as such, the viewer of ‘Yamadas’ really, finally, gets a full picture of the strength of Takahata’s personal vision and unifying force as a director.

 

Cody Ward

Spirit Needle (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 25)

(To check out part 24, click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Davis and Kari are on cafeteria duty in school. While the two hang out and work, and gain work experiences that American children never do whilst in the public school system. Davis expresses his interest in having Ken join the Digidestined team. Kari thinks that Ken needs to prove himself as truly reformed first, and the prior day’s business about destroying Thundermon- even if he was acting evilly- doesn’t prove anything positive in her mind.

Later, Davis approaches the rest of the Digidestined one on one concerning their opinions on the matter. Cody is practicing Kendo strikes when Davis catches up with him, and instead of responding to Davis’ questions, he continues to practice. All the while, looking more and more pissed off, more and more resolved not to let Ken join their team. Yolei thinks that Ken was too brutal with Thundermon the previous day and wants nothing to do with him if he could act so heartless. Oddly enough, the one member who butts heads with Davis the most, T.K., believes that Ken should be a member of their team because he is a chosen Digidestined just like the rest of them.

After school, Davis meets up with Ken and asks him if he would like to join them in their quest to fix the Digital World. Ken seems willing to do so, but doesn’t feel he has proved himself good enough to join them yet. He ultimately demures, thanks Davis for asking, and heads home, where he immediately goes back into the Digital World and begins destroying evil Digimon like Snimon with Stingmon’s help. As the two look out over the horizon, rows of Control Spires are visible, and it seems that each one is protected by another evil Digimon who must be destroyed. Ken, at this point, wonders whether he and Stingmon can even destroy all of these spires and Digimon by themselves. Maybe joining together with the others is necessary after all. It would take off some of the pressure from Ken, whose grades have been poor since he returned from his stint as the Digimon Emperor.

Cut to Mimi and Palmon in the Digital World. The two are hanging out with a group of snow white Baby Digimon known as Yukimibotamon when Palmon sees something mysterious in the woods nearby. She goes to investigate and sees a woman in red uses a Spirit Needle to reactivate a Control Spire, which subsequently transforms into Digimon form as a powerful Golemon. The Digimon attacks an defeats Palmon, then heads toward the Digital city’s damn where it is hell bent on destroying the buttress and flooding the city below. Mimi calls for help on her D-Terminal and the Digidestined run to the computer lab to help out. Yolei comes from home where she has been talking with her brother and two sisters about whether she should forgive Ken or not. She has been using veiled language that makes it seem like she is talking about troubles with a boy and love. Their reactions and urgings to her to forgive him make her all the more confused, but potentially ready to forgive Ken anyway.

As Golemon climbs the side of the damn, Raidramon, Nefertimon, Pegasusmon, Digmon and Shurimon try to stop him, but without the requisite force needed to destroy him in the process. Golemon has no Dark Ring and the group believes that he is still a Digimon who is just acting erratically. Golemon knocks a hole in the wall of the damn, which is quickly closed by Nefertimon’s Rosetta Stone attack, the water which escaped is corralled into a ravine made by Digmon’s drill powers and blocked by a row of trees as a makeshift damn created by Shurimon and Raidramon and composed by Pegasusmon and Nefertimon’s golden noose to tie them together. As Golemon continues to climb the wall and looks for a better vantage point from which to damage the wall with maximum effect, Davis urges everyone to destroy him before its too late. Yolei acts foolishly and tells Davis that there must be a way to handle the situation without violence.

Finally, Mimi steps in and tells them to destroy Golemon, expresses her distaste for everyone’s prejudice against Ken, and sends Ken a message on her D-Terminal for help. The five Digidestined Champions keep wasting time and are finally defeated one by one by Golemon who has murderous intent (and is therefore, the strongest of the group), and just as he readies himself to crack the damn, Ken and Stingmon appear and destroy him. This reveals, in the process, that Golemon is not a real Digimon at all. The episode ends with everyone apologizing to Ken and asking him to join their team and with him turning down their offers, apologizing for his past, and going off on his own.

A step in the right direction has been made and strong lesson against harboring grudges has been learned. What’s next?

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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