Archive | September 2017

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Metaphysics

(To read the 1st part in this Studio Ghibli series click HERE)

Recently, Fathom events ran Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 film, Nausicaa, in the AMC theatre chain. I’ve seen the film more than two dozen times on home video releases, but hitherto I had never seen it on the big screen. Many of the scenes in this film are so elegiac and masterful in the simplicity and evocativeness of their hand-drawn style that they could make any CGI connoisseur give up the ghost and return to the old format. The film’s music score uses some powerful themes and reprises by the consummate professional Joe Hisaishi. Its deft and dizzying subtext is filled with powerful existential and ecological themes that many a writer, but few directors, have grappled with time and again. And this is all very impressive and grand, but I feel much of the response to this film has been in the form of parroting what others say. Here, I want to explore the deep structure of this tale’s world: its metaphysics.

What is metaphysics you ask? The field of philosophy dealing with a broad range of questions inaccessible (or seemingly inaccessible) to pure physical experimentation. That is to say, questions regarding the un-explainable in merely physical terms. That said, the best way to give examples is to give examples in action. Here we go.

In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the titular Valley is home to a small population of some of the earth’s last human inhabitants. The Kingdom is ruled by a beneficent ruler, King Jihl, with a strong-willed and able daughter set to take on his helm as heiress when his time is up. (This is a direct parallel to Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature-length film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro) The tale goes that centuries prior to our story, human beings unleashed the God Warriors: titanic humanoid beasts with nuclear ray capabilities and the strength to level entire cities. They were weapons meant to be harnessed and controlled for use against other nations and peoples. Their creators could not control them and thereafter they destroyed much of the planet, caused environmental catastrophe presumably be blowing up nuclear reactors, toxic waste dumps, and landfills. The earth became a wasteland with few surviving roaming humans. Then, the toxic forests sprung up.

The Toxic Forest’s plants produced spores that killed human beings. Giant bugs, including the colossal Ohmu, retreated to these forests where they could not be attacked by humans. Further, they began to protect the forests and each other through a vast hive-mind complex. The acid lake formed from run-off of pesticides and acidic materials. This tainted much of the surrounding fresh water and made it more difficult for humans to survive.

In this film, a group of technologically-advanced nations- the Tolmekians and the Pejites- are fighting a war. The Tolmekians want to consolidate their empire and unfiy all humans under one nation to better fight against the natural forces causing them trouble. They plan to burn the toxic forests, destroy the Ohmu with the use of an intact God-Warrior they excavated, and reclaim the planet. However, they succeed only in creating much unnecessary bloodshed, increasing divisiveness, enraging the Ohmu, and bringing the human race to near-extinction in a grand apocalyptic mess.

The Valley of Wind’s seer is an old, blind woman who has foretold that when such events occur and all seems lost, a strong man will rise up from among the people. He will wear blue robes, will have his bird companion in tow, and will walk among a field of golden grain. These events will presage the rebirth of the world and of humankind’s new era. But she got a few things wrong. Nausicaa, a young woman, is the prophet of the new era. Her companion, Teto, is a small fox-like creature. The fields of grain are the healing and communicating feelers of the Ohmu that miraculously bring her back to life and allow her to walk among them hundreds of feet off the ground.

That’s the text and some of the important plot points therein. Now for the subtext. The fact that a seer exists, knows of oracles and visions of the future, and that these come true- for the most part- indicates that the world of Nausicaa is invested with more than the base materialism of our own. In Miyazaki’s constructed world, fate and destiny exist on more than the level of sheer materialistic, physical determinism. This fate or destiny is oriented toward the good of human flourishing as opposed to total human destruction. It recognizes the value of human cooperation and mutual self-interest as opposed to petty tribalism and care for only one’s own nation. The seer is a religious figure who can step beyond the otherwise insuperable fourth dimension of time, through oracular vision, and see into future events. This circumventing of time seems to be beyond physical explanation.

In Nausicaa’s world, the toxic forests, the acid lake, and the mutant bugs of the world work in unison to protect one another from human meddling. Their purpose: purification of the toxins and pollution left by human beings centuries ago, both before and after the legends of the seven days of fire when their God Warrior weapons destroyed the balance of pollution and purity on the planet. The forces of nature in this world act teleologically, or toward an end. This end being the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, including the humans who do not understand their own destructive wills. The Ohmu’s are intelligent creatures, as are most of the insects in Nausicaa’s world, but they act with a unified purpose on the level of a force.

The insects and the forests do not act as they do in our own world. Here, animals act only in their own self-interest or for the interests of their offspring or familial groups. The plants on Earth don’t act volitionally at all (except in minor manners like bending toward sunlight or extending roots toward moisture). However, for Miyazaki’s world invested with a heavy dose of Japanese spirituality, or Shinto, the animals and the plants do act volitionally. They and all other beings can act morally and willfully. Not only all beings, but all objects have spirits and wills that animate them and characteristics that make them unique. As they have a stake in the world’s purity remaining relatively intact (they will suffer and die off in a too-polluted world), they can fight back against human beings when necessary (As in the Ohmu’s attempted attack on the human beings in the Valley of the Wind and the forest’s poisons). In our own world, plants and animals do not act in this way. This might be a key to Miyazaki’s ecological ethic. If all things could act, human intervention would not be necessary. Because they cannot, we are instead responsible for our world’s well-being, a world not invested with spirituality of any meaningful and metaphysically valid sort. In this world void of metaphysical agents like a God or a telos aimed toward human flourishing, only we can act to ensure that flourishing is realized.

 

Over and out,

Cody

(This series continued HERE with Castle in the Sky)

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Subzero Ice Punch (Digimon Adventure Episode 9)

(For the previous essay click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The introductory episode and the character-introducing codas are now behind us. We know our protagonists, The Digidestined and their Digimon partners, and we know the antagonist (at least for this arc) Devimon. Last time, Devimon revealed himself to the Digidestined and destroyed File Island, rending it apart and sending its landmass as islands into the distance.

Tai and Agumon arrive on an ice-covered island and find a collection of mailboxes lined up on the shore. These odd items are still popping up all over the place, but their purpose and/or reasoning for being there have not yet been established. A plausible suggestion could be that since this is the digital world, electronic objects manifest themsleves in it. This would explain the telephone booths, the telelphone wires, the refrigerators, cable cars, vending machines, and Andromon’s factory. But how do we explain the mailboxes and road signs? There’s a strong possibility that I would tell you if I knew, but I barely remember this episode or the rest of the series from when I watched them in my youth. Signs of civilization?

Nevertheless, Tai and Agumon shrug off the mailboxes and wonder aloud about their current disposition. Agumon asks, “Where will we end up Tai?” Tai is incredulous and responds, in effect, how should i know. We then discover that Agumon has never left File Island. File was his birthplace, his home, his entire world. And Devimon has destroyed it all in one fell swoop. It seems that not only the Digidestined must undergo a period of uncomfortable and difficult changes (and grow in the process), but the Digimon must now experience a similar odyssey of the mind and heart.

They meet Frigimon, a normally docile Digimon who is now infected by the black gears, shortly after their arrival to the island. They defeat him and destroy the gear. He offers the use of his subzero ice punch attack to create a frozen ice bridge to the next island. Here they will find Matt and Gabumon, and the core emotional weight of the episode.

Matt and Gabumon have been marooned on a snowy island, just like Tai and Agumon were previously. Matt is searching frantically for his brother T.K. who he imagines must be extremely scared and lonely without the others. He braves a fierce blizzard and succeeds only in getting a cold. Gabumon discovers a cave and attempts to get Matt warm by setting a fire. He goes off into the blizzard, assuring Matt that he will search for T.K. while Matt rests and regains his strength. Matt decides to go searching for T.K. again anyway, showing a distinct lack of trust in Gabumon. He only further succeeds in worsening his cold. Gabumon, whose trust has been somewhat betrayed, again nurses Matt back to health, even yielding his own Garurumon pelt to keep him warm.

The following morning, Tai and Agumon find Matt and Gabumon. Matt, now healed, nurses a sick Gabumon while Frigimon goes to collect herbs and food for the group. With its use, the Digimon will be able to Digivolve and fight off another gear-plagued foe, Mojyamon, later in the episode.

This episode seems especially light-hearted compared to some of its predecessors. However, there is a still a theme running throughout: Trust. In the initial fight against Frigimon, Agumon cannot Digivolve. So their best bet is to run a gambit. Tai will distract Frigimon, kick the curled-up Agumon like a soccer ball over Frigimon’s head, and then Agumon will latch on and attack the black gear in Frigimon’s back directly. The convoluted plan works because the two trust each other.

Matt, on the other hand, trusts only himself to find T.K. and ends up only hurting himself and his Digimon. However, Gabumon’s friendship with Matt and his willingness to go the mile (to go to the mat) for him leads Gabumon and Matt to bond more closely. Gabumon’s care for Matt also puts Matt’s mind at ease because he realizes that T.K. has his own Digimon partner, Patamon, who will look after T.K. just as Gabumon has for Matt. (I will find a way to streamline the names and decrease confusion in later entries.) Matt ends the episode on a positive note by claiming that if they can trust one another, then they can fight and surely defeat Devimon.

 

After a while,

The Digidestined Cody

[For Part 10 click HERE]

Evil Shows His Face (Digimon Adventure Episode 8)

(If you missed Part 7, check it out HERE. To go back to the beginning of this series click HERE)

Last time on Digimon Digital Monsters, the gang climbed to the top of Infinity Peak and found from this new vantage point that they had been marooned on a large island since their arrival in the Digital World. Joe and Gomamon also witnessed the black, corrupting gears emerging from within the depths of the mountain. This time around, the Digidestined climb the mountain together to investigate the black gear phenomenon more closely.

Ogremon is the guardian of Infinity Peak just as Meramon is the guardian of Mount Miyarashi. Leomon, a guardian of the digital world has been searching for the source of the black gears and has traced them to Infinity Peak where he commences to do battle with Ogremon, who is blocking his ascent. They are interrupted by Devimon who uses his touch of evil attack to corrupt Leomon and send him along with Ogremon to attack the Digidestined. Once the two reach the Digidestined, they attack and attempt to knock the Digidestined off of the mountain. But having learned the power of teamwork, the Digimon- minus Patamon who has yet to Digivolve- attack and defeat their enemies and continue their ascent up the mountain.

So far, so little subtext to write about. Now, the story gets interesting. Devimon has set a trap for the Digidestined in the form of an illusory hotel on top of the mountain. T.K. notices upon entering the hotel’s hallway that there is a painting of an angel. Patamon inquires just what an angel is and T.K. responds that an angel is “something beautiful that watches over you. Kind of like you guys! [The Digimon].” This vignette presages the later Digivolution of Patamon into Champion-level Angemon. It also calls into question the determination of Digivolved forms. Do Digimon have set forms they Digivolve into as unique species? Must an Agumon always become a Greymon? Or do the wishes of the Digimon or their Digidestined partners play a role in what they turn into? As with Gabumon who is a lizard wearing a Garurumon pelt who then becomes a Garurumon through Digivolvoing or with Patamon who doesn’t know what angels are, but nevertheless takes the form of one after realizing they have a special meaning to T.K., it seems that will plays a role in Digivolution.

However, the painting serves a dual purpose in the narrative. The first is of that above: to presage the light that will help defeat the darkness and the function the Digimon play for the Digidestined. The second, is that Devimon is hiding within the painting, only to emerge later that night to ambush the children. Once this “Overlord of the Underworld” and self-styled “Creator of Nightmares” emerges, the painting loses its image and becomes pure black. Just as Devimon’s gears corrupt the light and positive intentions, Devimon’s touch can corrupt Leomon and even efface the angels.

Back to the hotel. The rest of the place is grand to say the least. The Digidestined and their Digimon fall for the trap, eat the imaginary food in the banquet hall, bathe in the luxurious hot saunas, and sleep in their lush rooms. All the while, Devimon, Leomon and Ogremon have been lying in wait to attack the Digidestined again, this time while they are sleeping. However, just as Devimon and his cohort are staging their attack, Tai and Agumon awaken and decide to make a midnight restroom break. Ogremon attempts to ambush them and fails as they flee. Annoyed by his plan’s failure, Devimon crumbles the island he has created and sends the children flying in their beds (an image too uncannily similar to the beds flying across the sky by starlight in Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland comic to be accidental).

Tai is the only Digidestined who remains grounded and just as Leomon is about to rend him asunder after making short work of the overtired (he has Digivolved twice in one day) and hungry Agumon, the Digivice falls beside them both and emits a strange light. This light’s power removes Devimon’s spell from Leomon, who comes to his senses and  defeats Ogremon before beginning his battle with Devimon. He instructs the Digidestined to go quickly and escape into the night to fight another day. The scene ends with the seven Digidestined drifting in different directions on pieces of rock out toward sea. It seems that Digivices are for more than connecting the Digidestined with their Digimon counterparts, they must play some sort of role in banishing darkness and supporting the light as well. Soon enough, the mysteries of the Digivice will be disclosed to the Digidestined and put to good use against the forces of evil that plague the Digital World.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Ikkakumon’s Harpoon Torpedo (Digimon Adventure Episode 7)

(Catch Episode 6 HERE. And To “Go Back to the Beginning…” click HERE)

So far all of the Rookie-level Digimon have reached their Champion levels, that is all of the Digimon except for Joe’s Digimon Gomamon and T.K.’s Digimon Patamon. Joe has been a complainer and a worrier for the majority of the previous episodes, but he is about to divulge a little bit more about himself, his motivations, and his character in this episode of Digimon Digital Monsters.

The Digidestined have reached an area of the Digital World with a cold climate after weeks of wallowing in sweat in the scorched, telephone ridden deserts and tropical forests of irrelevant road signs. Joe complains about the cold and suggests that they turn back before it becomes too cold for them to camp out. Everyone else in the group, even his own Digimon- Gomamon- tell him to lighten up. Hang dog, dejected and feeling emotionally isolated from his carefree companions he says that “it is always better to be safe than sorry,” and reminds them to “think first” before acting. These opening scenes, or codas, at the beginning of the past five episodes and at the beginning this one have come to be expected, but serve a strong narrative point in introducing each character. The writers use the character’s actions, attitudes, and speech as ways to build character development instead of introducing them through narration (the weakest form of character or story development, which talks down to an audience more often than not).

Carrying on the theme of earlier episodes, they find a few odd and out of place phenomena. First, a series of boiling hot springs in the tundra standing. Second, an unplugged refrigerator filled with eggs! Having not eaten since before entering Andromon’s factory, Tai and the others immediately start collecting eggs to cook and consume. Joe chides them and warns that the eggs might not be safe for human consumption and that even if they were, they would still be stealing them. They would be thieves! The others convince him to eat the eggs, as food hasn’t been forthcoming and, in the event that their owner catches them eating the eggs, they could explain that they were desperately in need of food.

Joe relents and joins the group by helping to cook the eggs. As they sit around a campfire, they talk about all the great things they had back home when they had eggs. They talk about eggs with ketchup, eggs with jellybeans, eggs with all kinds of odd ingredients. This talk annoys Joe doubly by reminding him of his homesickness and the comforts of home, while also setting himself apart from the others. He eats eggs in a sensible manner, with salt and pepper. It seems that everyone is more wild and reckless than he is.

Later, the Digidestined tease Joe about not being able to have fun. Gomamon calls him a “stick in the mud.” He tries to resolve a fight between Tai and Matt about ascending an unwieldy dangerous mountain: Infinity Peak. But he just muddles the conversation and nothing gets accomplished. These and other examples show how careful Joe is and later we find out in his own thoughts how he takes the burden of responsibility for his younger friends upon himself: the only cautious one of the bunch. This sense of responsibility leads him to ascend the mountain by himself, though Gomamon discovers him sneaking away from the camp that night and decides to follow along and help him out.

They find a wise, old Digimon- Unimon- on the mountain who they intend to speak to for more information on the peak and their whereabouts in the Digital World. That is, until the mountain opens outward and black gears are released from inside. One infects Unimon and there is again, a fight on their hands. Tai and Sora awaken to find Joe missing and go to help, but to no avail, they cannot defeat Unimon with their Champion-level Digimon’s special attacks. Instead, Unimon’s defeat and subsequent freedom from the black gear takes a bit of bravery on Joe’s part. The resulting dangerous position he is put in spurs on Gomamon’s reaction and subsequent Digivolution into Ikkakumon to defeat Unimon.

Joe’s show of bravery is uncharacteristic and earns him respect among the other Digidestined. He bonds with Gomamon along the way up Infinity Peak and they learn to trust one another. Again, the forces- not of good per se- but of trust in each other, of bravery, and of sentimentality in the face of evil save the day.

 

Smell ya later,

The Digidestined Cody

(Continued in Part 8 HERE)

Togemon in Toy Town (Digimon Adventure Episode 6)

(For last week’s post click HERE. To go to the beginning click HERE.)

On that last post I got a long-winded and dense. Give me some feedback on whether you like the format so far. Thank you!

The Digidestined seem to be trapped in Andromon’s factory until he leads them to the only exit from the Absurd Deconstruction Factory: A Sewer! Its just like they say, only a trip the countryside or the mountains can remove that big-city industrial life ennui and malaise, only the smell of an (again) inexplicable and out of place sewer can remove one from manufactured life and reorient one back into good old-fashioned natural manure life!

Traversing the cavernous entrails of the Digital World, Sora reflects on how she misses singing back home with her family, while the others recount the things they miss most. This moment of nostalgia and yearning for a past time that they cannot currently reclaim is analogous to the yearning most of us experience as we grow older and find it difficult or impossible to lead the simple lives we once led. They will later find, upon return home, that life will be unalterably changed as their destinies continue to align them with danger and the digital world. (But enough of this for now, back to the sewers)

While in the sewers, the digidestined meet a group of sludge Digimon know as Numemon that proceed to chase them and their Digimon out by lobbing “Nume Sludge” towards them. Har har har. Once they reach the surface, they discover some more out of place sites: around 50 vending machines. Hiding inside are unfortunately not snacks and drinks, but more Numemon, who- enamored with Mimi and Palmon- give chase. The Digidestined split up and Mimi encounters a gear-infected Monzaemon who scares off the Numemon, but gives chase to them as well!

Monzaemon is a usually beneficent Digimon whose good cheer has been perverted by the black gears. He built his amusement park-like abode, Toy Town, to house toys discarded by children. And now he is using his Hearts Attack not to bring joy, but to turn the Digidestined into mindless zombies so that the toys can play with them! (Sorry for so many exclamation points, but the twists are near- M. Night levels. I digress). As with Andromon previously, this gear does not exert any real control over Monzaemon, it just rewires how he thinks. For Andromon this was literal and the gear recoded his circuitry to interpret the Digidestined and Digimon as pests, with Monzaemon it pushes him to act on his deepest, unconscious desires to enact revenge for the indecency of children who throw out their toys, by allowing the toys to play with and then discard the children instead.

The Numemon risk their hides to protect Mimi and Palmon from Monzaemon, but they fail and are trapped by Monzaemon’s Heart Attack. Palmon Digivolves to protect these one-time foes and becomes Togemon, the series iconic bipedal, boxing cactus. The battle frees Monzaemon from the spiritual-existential demoralization of the black gear, the physical manifestation of how technology makes one out of harmony with the Tao, with Wa, with nature, with their fellow beings, and with themselves.

Monzaemon apologizes to the Digidestined who then make their way onto different vistas in continuance of their journey. Another Rookie level- Palmon- has Digivolved to the Champion level and soon enough the Digidestined will discover the source of the black gears. But will they have the power to defeat it?

 

Over and out,

The Digidestined Cody

(Continued HERE)

Kabuterimon’s Electro Shocker (Digimon Adventure Episode 5)

(Part 4 HERE. Part 1 HERE)

Last episode, Biyomon saved Yokomon Village by defeating Meramon and destroying the gear that had lodged itself in his chest. The group dined and slept with their diminutive hosts and continued on their journey the following morning.

By which point, Episode 5 begins with the Digidestined lost again, and in another desert. Tai picks on Izzy for being so focused on his computer all the time, but Izzy’s obsession will bear fruit soon enough. Tai spots a factory in the distance with his binoculars and in his characteristic gung ho, quixotian fashion charges headlong in that direction. The rest of the group follows reluctantly behind and upon entering the factory, finds it devoid of people or Digimon, but oddly still running. The machines have been programmed to create odd metallic objects and then to disassemble them immediately after their construction.

Later, Mimi, Matt and T.K. will form a group and investigate part of the factory on their own. Mimi muses about the machines seeming lack of purpose and remarks that “all this deconstructionism is so ten minutes ago!” And in the history of ideas it was indeed. Deconstructionism as a philosophy of dismantling traditions and metaphysical foundations found its heyday in the 70’s and 80’s with the emergence of Jacques Derrida as the major force in continental philosophy.  By the late 90’s, artists and writers like David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest and a number of other postmodern hyper-realistic fictions, would reflect on the postmodern, disentangled condition of living in a surreal, Kafkaesque nightmare: the modern world. This world without any foundational principles, no hopes, no dreams, no God, no anything, can free us from the dark night of the soul, some dangerous forms of group-think like nationalism or religious fervor, and most isms, though it creates its own existential-psychological problems. Wallace would later claim that the only possible recourse to redressing this issue was to move back into sentimentality and the belief in provisional absolutes like enjoying oneself and the company of others, back into sentimentality and emotion. Digimon is a sci-fi fantasy romp that emphasizes human connectivity as the one way to heal the existentially demoralizing conditions of a postindustrial world. That is to say, have fun, trust in each other, and live by the lessons you learn along the way.

When questioned by Mimi where the exit to the factory is, Matt will reply, “There is no door. This thing is based on perpetual motion, nothing ever stops or leaves this place.” This dialogue is unique for a show supposedly geared only toward children as I never understood the subtext of these notions as a child. The factory of ideas (and again this animated factory is an analogue for such a conceptual factory- Mimi already mentioned Deconstructionism offhand earlier) creates new categories and conceptions and technical languages to fit the experience of the world into one big, new paradigm. As soon as this process is accomplished, other thinkers find fault in the new system’s logic or they find complex new phenomena that do not fit the system. The burden of evidence against it becomes so strong that the system tears itself apart, appearing in an organic deconstruction, until a new system is formulated. This is the history of ideas in the world. Digimon’s repudiation of this process is a call to forget systematization and schematization and to just live with mysteries and complexities of the world, while recognizing evil and trying to diminish it with the help of others. This spiritual and emotional identification with friends is the only manner in which one can escape the spiritual disintegration of our age: in other words, we can fall back on constructed communities.

Next, we have Tai, Sora and Joe. They stumble upon an Android Digimon known as Andromon who has fallen into some of the factory’s gears and is stuck. As they try to remove him, another one of the black gears- like in the last episode- falls and enters into his leg, driving him mad. This is an example of, again, how technological progress gone unchecked can lead to aporias, existential dread, the feeling of being disconnected from the world and one another, and hanging above a monstrous abyss that stares back. Here, the machine quite literally becomes corrupted and attempts to take their lives. He states, “I will punish alien intruders!” I take this to mean that the black gear’s corrupting influence has manifested itself by interpreting the other Digimon and the human Digidestined as pests in the coding of Andromon. This might parallel the future of automation and/or the possibility of hostility in AI.

Izzy and Tentomon have found a large battery powered by binary runes. Izzy manages to tap into the power source of the battery and finds an algorithm that causes his Digivice to go haywire and ultimately allows him to Digivolve Tentomon into Kabuterimon and save the day by destroying the black gear in Andromon’s leg. However, while still inside the giant battery, Tentomon remarks to Izzy that he “can’t understand this preoccupation with who you are.” And asks, “Is there some deep dark secret in your origins?” Well, I know this secret, but you may not. So go watch the series and find out while enjoying the re-watching experience alongside me!

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

 

[This series continues HERE !]

Raging Bull

I just re-watched Martin Scorsese’s 1980 boxing film on the life of Jake LaMotta, one of boxing’s greatest sluggers and one of its most resilient, durable brawlers with a chin of iron. The film uses a flash-back and flash-forward set-up, but generally follows the events of LaMotta’s life from his earliest bout as a professional boxer against Reeves in 1941 through his legendary bouts with Sugar Ray Robinson throughout the decade and into the 50s, and climaxing with his downfall, his incarceration, and his time slumming it as a second-rate comedian playing to ten people at a time in seedy dive bars.

I don’t really know what to say that hasn’t already been said about this film. It’s cinematography- by the great Michael Chapman- ranges from gritty, French new wave realism to film noir-cum Bresson compositions; from meditative, hypnotic states of transfixed awe to reflective, slow scenes emphasizing an important detail like blood dripping from the ropes after a particularly gruesome exchange. This film is a meditation on the life of a self-destructive, paranoid, abusive, but powerful, willful, and driven man whose life story serves many as both an inspiration and a warning.

In LaMotta’s fifth bout with Sugar Ray Robinson, the thirteenth unlucky bout arrives. Both fighters are battered, bruised, and beaten. Robinson is exhausted and near-defeat, when LaMotta purposefully drops his guard and lets Robinson rain down punches upon him like a force of nature and by the will of God. The noise of the crowd fades and we are left with Scorsese’s hyper-focus, his go-to method of eliciting a reflective mode of viewing in the mind’s eye of the viewer. All else behind Sugar Ray and LaMotta’s silhouettes fades to black and the figures take on titanic proportions. We watch LaMotta absorb blow after blow. His face swells, his cuts open, new ones form. Blood splatters by the pint. Robinson regards LaMotta with confusion as he regains his energy and his breath. Then with one blow he plasters LaMotta’s blood across a row of judges behind the ring. LaMotta could have beaten Robinson if he had wanted to, but he challenged Robinson to floor him, to K.O. him, and Robinson was still unable to oblige through all the destructive force of his blows. LaMotta loses by T.K.O. as the referee calls the bout to end the needless bloodshed. Robinson was unable to ever knock down his greatest opponent, though LaMotta floored Robinson many a time.

Later in life, LaMotta would open a bar where he performed a comedy bit routine and kept a host of beautiful women around. He gets in trouble with the police for letting in minors, one as young as 14, who has presumably suffered some physical-sexual abuse from some of the men LaMotta introduced to her. He spends a stint in the stockade. The scene erupts with guards dragging LaMotta, fighting all the way, into solitary confinement. Once inside, he approaches a wall. The now bloated, older, pitiful LaMotta headbutts the wall repeatedly, then proceeds to launch a steady flurry of punches. He breaks down and questions his own stupidity, his own helplessness to stop himself. In a scene bringing immediately to mind Bresson’s “A Man Escaped,” he sits in shadow, while Scorsese directs some of the most haunting chiaroscuro lighting ever put to celluloid.

The Bronx Bull, The Raging Bull, the man obsessed with proving something in the face of the nothingness and meaninglessness of dilapidated, disturbing New York Streets. The one-time boxing champion of the world. The breaker of homes and of faces. A man who not only grappled with his demons, but seemed to become one time and again. I’m just riffing and musing, there’s no great point to take away here, there’s no one lesson, because this film is a testament to the life of one who acted with no finesse, who performed all duties- fragile or otherwise- with a hammer (as in the greatest traditions of art, of music, of philosophy, of writing), and who is an example of life lived in action and opposition. And all of this is opposed to the sterility of base thought without physical extension in the world.

If you don’t yet understand, think of your own dead-end job, your own meaningless and so-so actions, your own ineffectiveness that calls upon your spirit at 6 am and cries out “Why go on?”. “Why go into work when I could end it all now and submit my trivial pains to the void?” Watch this film and think about it. Then, stop thinking. Live and fight and claim what you can. You have hopes and dreams and desires and goals. And if they’re worth their salt, they’re worth giving it all you’ve got, and leaving a little blood on the mat if you have to, even if its your own.

 

In memoriam Jake “The Bull” LaMotta (1922-2017)

 

[To check out a film that helped inspire this one click here: The Set-Up]

The Knight Errant: Lupin III in Cagliostro

Recently Hayao Miyazaki’s first film received its first U.S. theatrical release nationwide, compliments of Fathom events. Only its been 38 years since its initial release in Japan. Why this film hasn’t received a huge U.S. premiere before is beyond me, but I am very thankful to everyone involved in its release now (including Pixar’s head honcho John Lasseter-sama). Much has been said about its elegiac compositions and sumptuous photography, its frenetic chase scene, dynamic fight scenes, erratic and innovative shot compositions, and the final unveiling of the true Cagliostro treasure. This is all well and proper, these things make the film a standout in Japanese animation as the greatest animated action film ever released and among anime’s top ten most beautiful films.

What I’ve not read much about is the narrative, the story, its complexity, and how it dons specific genre codes and subverts them. How it is at once both a tale of a Knight Errant Siegfried and a Knight Errant Quixote-Jester. Just what I mean by this will become apparent in this essay and should become more obvious (and may already be) upon reviewing. So without further ado here goes something.

Lupin III is the grandson of the famous french cat burglar Arsene Lupin. And he has followed in his footsteps. Along with his friends Jigen, the world’s greatest sharpshooter; Goemon, the world’s greatest swordsman; and Fujiko, one of the world’s greatest criminal minds, Lupin travels the world in search of adventure, money, and women.

In this film, Lupin and Jigen have just made a big heist and retrieved a ton of unmarked bills. But they are all fakes. The level of counterfeiting is so advanced that Jigen and Lupin decide to seek out their source. Through following various leads, they discover that the bills come from the Duchy of Cagliostro, a small European nation with less than three thousand inhabitants. The Duchy’s political system is monarchical and the Duke of Cagliostro used to rule the land with a certain ease and beneficence (despite the illegal counterfeiting operation at the core of the country’s economic prosperity). However, seven years ago, the Castle of Cagliostro was razed to the ground, killing the Duke and Duchess, and leaving only their young daughter, Lady Clarisse, as heiress. While Lady Clarisse took education at a convent, the country was ruled by Count Cagliostro as regent.

The Count’s line have traditionally been assassins, as well as the ones in charge of the counterfeiting. But now, seeing his chance, Count Cagliostro plans to force Clarisse to marry him, become both Count and Duke of Cagliostro, and unite the family’s heirlooms- two signet rings (one held by the Duke’s line and one by the Count’s)- to fulfill an age-old prophecy: “When light and shadow are joined together. It will be restored.” Meaning, he thinks, that the great lost treasure of the Cagliostro’s will be his for the taking. To ensure this occurs, he has removed Clarisse from the convent on the eve of her birthday and prepared her for marriage. A prospect she is not all that fond about.

So now, enter Lupin. The stage is set. A small European nation with an enchanting, almost magical quality and beauty comprising its aura, adorned with rolling hills, sky blue lakes, and castles. The players have arrived. A deposed King and Queen, the evil usurper of the throne, an imperiled young princess, and the Knight Errant: Lupin III.

Lupin and Jigen are driving through the countryside of Cagliostro, when a young girl’s car approaches and speeds past their own on a narrow, mountainous pass. A group of thugs in what looks to be a Citroen pass next, in hot pursuit of the girl. Lupin, intrigued by her beauty, jumps into action, chases after the men, and with Jigen’s help, dispatches their vehicle, thereby saving the girl, who turns out to be (you guessed it) the princess. But she has fallen asleep at the wheel! Lupin switches cars in mid-stream, as it were, and stops her car from colliding with the mountainside, only to fall off the adjacent cliff. He pads her fall with his body and is knocked unconscious as a result. All the while, the princess is captured by another group of men patrolling in a tug boat near the shore.

Lupin will awaken with her signet ring in his pocket. He now holds the key to the whole puzzle. He reflects back on a time in his youth when he tried to raid the castle of the Duke of Cagliostro. He failed and was injured whilst making his escape, but managed to find a secluded spot in a nearby wooded area to hide. Clarisse, then just a young girl, found him there and nursed him back to health. Now the knight errant, the wandering and itinerant, roving Lupin must return the favor to the princess who he is bound by chivalric codes to protect. But this Knight is no heavy hitter with a broadsword and bravery bordering on recklessness. No, he is an errant knight in a twofold sense. Both the knight of wandering errancy and the knight of delinquency, of lawbreaking, and of disobedience.

Lupin will fight assassins in hand to hand combat when needed, but he will use his guile to sneak into the Count’s fortress undetected through an old, abandoned roman aqueduct. He will sneak into the Princess’ secluded tower at night to spirit her away in the darkness (though he will initially fail, his second attempt with the help of his allies will succeed), he will cheat and steal and connive until he restores the Duchy of Cagliostro to his princess Clarisse and destroys the illegal counterfeiting operation and the Count’s covert assassin ring. He will present Clarisse with a rose of his love and devotion of service, but will ultimately deny the role the traditional hero-knight quest-scripts all maintain: that the knight wed the princess in the absence of a worthy prince. Lupin instead drives off into the distance to have more adventures, to lead a life of cunning and wiles, and to save the princess the corruption she would receive through fraternizing with the debauched and criminally-damaged likes of himself.

Always the trickster and jester attempting to overturn the tables and talk truth to the powerful through whatever means available and/or necessary, always the quixotian figure running after windmills and moving purposefully through the world with an illusion of greatness, and always our favorite heroic good guy at heart, this chapter in the original saga of Lupin III was a perfect beginning to a phenomenal career for Miyazaki-san. I thank him for enriching my life, even just a little bit, by creating this film. And I hope it does the same for you.

 

Yours Truly

Cody

(Check out Part 2 of this series: Nausicaa HERE)

Biyomon Gets Firepower (Digimon Adventure Episode 4)

(For last episode’s blog click HERE. To go back to beginning click HERE.)

So far both Agumon and Gabumon have Digivolved into their Champion forms, Greymon and Garurumon. In this, the fourth episode of Digimon Adventure, it’s Biyomon’s turn to light up a hostile Digimon.

The gang is walking through the so-called “forest of irrelevant road signs” when they notice an object moving swiftly through the sky overhead. Matt mistakes the object for an aircraft, while Sora correctly identifies it as a gear. But what is a gear doing flying around in the sky?No one has the slightest clue, least of all the Digimon. They’ve been travelling for days, have seen many odd things, and have little interest in such trivial pursuits as flying gears, at least for the moment. Instead of focusing their attention any longer on this phenomenon, they investigate what looks to be a field of telephone poles, which turn out to all be disconnected from one another and lie not in a field, but in a desert.

The trip across the desert is grueling, but eventually Tai spots an oasis ahead where they meet some friendly Yokomon who offer them food, drink, and a place to stay for the night. Not all is well however. The water source derives from a nearby volcano, Mount Miyarashi, where a fiery Digimon Meramon, the guardian of the volcano, was hit by the black gear. Driven mad by pain (you would act erratically too if a metal disc cut you to the quick), he runs down the mountain to destroy the village and the Digidestined. Biyomon ultimately transforms to Birdramon, defeats Meramon, and watches as the gear ascends from his body and into the sky above, where it then disintegrates into dust. Meramon regains his senses and returns to the mountain.

The first eight episodes of the series are largely a coda to the story wherein all the heroes become strong enough to begin battling stronger enemies. In this way, these first episodes are relatively cookie cutter. In another, they are revelatory in the implications of their subtexts and arguably elevate the medium to new highs, albeit without drawing attention to itself as a high-brow narrative. So far I have discussed the process of becoming in the series, self-discovery and self-creation (that old Platonic-Nietzschian divide) , liminal journeys, bonding, and the virtue of shared experience. Now, we have a new theme: technology as a panacea. Plato or Aristotle (I forget which) wrote long ago in the Pharmacon about the panacea of writing, which cements and elongates cultural memory by allowing it take a form future generations can study: texts. Writing is a cure for memory, but a poison as well. Attention spans decrease as it becomes less necessary to train one’s memory.

Technology is a pharmicon as well to the writers of Digimon Adventure. Technology can civilize a world and make things more convenient, but the black gears of industry, of technology and progress can destroy the spirit, evaporate the will, and in the case of Meramon, who was possessed by one of these gears, cause intense pain and suffering, both physically and mentally whilst manipulating our wills and urging us to act on our darkest desires, ultimately serving the purpose of the one manufacturing the gears. Technology can elevate and also depreciate. The black gear is the first substantive clue as to what has been going on in the digital world. It is evidence of an evil force trying to control and coerce good figures into acting against their interests.

Telephone booths on the beach, a forest of irrelevant road signs, telephone wires, a trolley car on an island, and now flying, corrupting black gears. Just what exactly is going on in the digital world? I legitimately wonder as I’ve not seen the series for years. I am enthralled by the story and the implications of some of its ruminations on technology and personal transition. Did I pick up on this as a child, or were there other less subtly pieces of the assemblage that drew me in ever deeper to the stories of these Digidestined on purely emotional or spectacular grounds? I don’t yet know, but I think I may be getting somewhere finally.

 

See you on the other side,

The Digidestined Cody

 

[Catch Part 5 HERE]

Garurumon (Digimon Adventure Episode 3)

(If you missed the last installment, check it out HERE. To return to the beginning of the series click HERE)

Last time on Digimon Digital Monsters, Tai was in mortal peril in the tentacular clutches of Shellmon. Agumon, by virtue of having eaten earlier, had enough energy to Digivolve into Greymon and save Tai by defeating Shellmon. This was the first time anyone Digivolved to Champion level in the series and it established Tai as the de facto leader.

During this, the third episode of Digimon, the gang searches for food (carrying on the theme from part 2). Izzy goes fishing while Tentomon collects berries and Patamon finds some bananas. Mimi attempts to collect mushrooms, but Palmon prevents her from gathering poisonous mushrooms that would provide a bit of indigestion to say the least. Food.

The gang finds a secluded lake with a small island in the center. Resting on the island is an inexplicable trolley car whose lights turn on when the Digidestined approach. Like the phone booths in the previous episode they interpret the trolley as a sign of civilization and decide to stay the night inside in the hope that it may return them home. While in the woods foraging, they find other odd artifacts from civilization in the form of road signs. There is, however, no road to be found. As the conspicuous abandoned hierophanies of technological civilization amass, only more confusion and mystery abounds. The phones in the previous episode could not connect them with their homes, the signs point to nowhere in particular, and the trolley will not lead them back to their own world either.

Night. Tai and Matt jostle for who will get the first shift as watchman. Both are zealous and raring to prove themselves as leader of the group, but Izzy intervenes and suggests that Tai take the first watch and Matt, the second. Matt’s half-brother T.K. also expresses interest in taking on the same responsibility, but Matt demures and tells him that he is too young to stand guard. His overbearing personality and perceived need to control T.K. is interpreted by the other Digidestined as Matt being a bad brother to T.K., but the relationship between the two brothers is more complicated.

Matt and T.K. are half-brothers who used to live together in the same home. Now, their parents are separated and they see little of each other. They don’t have a particularly close bond, but Matt is extremely protective of T.K. He even sends his Digimon, Gabumon, to sleep beside T.K. to keep him warm. When a camp fire alights upon the tail of a massive monster of the loch, and awakens the beast, Seadramon, Matt swims across the lake to the island in order to protect his brother. Seadramon attacks Matt instead and puts him in mortal danger, thereby triggering Matt’s Digivice and allowing Gabumon to Digivolve into the total BAMF Garurumon, who makes short work of Seadramon. The episode ends with Matt and T.K. bonding with each other, and with Patamon and Gabumon to the sounds of blues harmonica, compliments of Matt.

The stage has been set. Tai is a strong leader, but now Matt is as well. they have both proved their bravery and will be sure to butt heads again in the future (even into Digimon Adventure Tri). T.K. and Matt are growing closer to one another and becoming the inseparable duo we will later see in the film “Our War Game!.” The Digidestined are beginning to understand some of the quirks of the Digivices (e.g. they Digivolve their partners when the Digidestined are under duress). They have begun to become self-sufficient and acclimated to their new world, while maturing at a rapid, but necessary pace. Further, they now realize that the constellations in the stars are not identical to those seen from earth (as far as they can remember at any rate) and are beginning to question whether they are on an Earth gone haywire (as they have hitherto assumed) or have left the world altogether.

 

Qua qua qua quoth Pozzo,

The Digidestined Cody

 

[Catch the next blog in this series Here]

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