Archive | October 2017

Home Away From Home (Digimon Adventure Episode 21)

(For Ep. 20 click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Tai and Koromon are now back in what seems to be the real world. As the two become acclimated to their surroundings, Tai muses that “we must have been pulled through some dimensional opening between the Digi-World and this one, wherever this one is.” He believes that the opening must have been similar to the one that brought them to the Digital World in the first place.

As he and Koromon wonder aloud about whether the people around them are real human beings and if the landscape they are in is really Tai’s hometown, a young girl notices Koromon speaking and becomes afraid. She runs off to tell the park police while Tai and Koromon take the opportunity to get out of there as fast as they can.

This whole sequence, as well as the rest of the episode are composed very well. The cinematography of the entire episode is made up of greys and blues and off-whites. Colors fade from one to another in a natural manner different from the often blocky, clunky animation of previous episodes. There is an intense feeling of melancholia with occasional dutch angles and paranoia-inducing wobble-shots (especially during Tai’s later dramatic soliloquy in his kitchen). The fight scenes are kinetic and place a lot more attention to detail than those in The Digital World. I knew something had to be up when I saw all these drastic, dramatic, and ultimately beautiful and emotionally affecting differences. It turns out that Mamoru Hosada (The director of the first Digimon films, as well as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children) directed this one episode of the series. It makes a huge difference and leaves me wondering why the staff did not immediately hire him on to direct the rest of the series. Oh well, nothing to do about it now.

Tai and Koromon are in Highton View Terrace. They track down Tai’s home and find a calendar with the date of August 1. Tai is shocked that no time seems to have elapsed since he first went to the Digital World. His parents were supposed to be out of town that week so no one was home when Tai and Agumon arrived. At least that’s what they thought. It turns out that Tai’s younger sister Kari has been left home alone.

Kari inexplicably recognizes Koromon (which presages the first Digimon film: Digimon Adventure). On television, there are reports of strange weather occurrences throughout the world. They are caused by rogue Digimon who have appeared in the real world but are invisible to almost everyone. It seems that only Tai, Kari, and a select few other broadcast viewers can see them. We know that Tai is a Digidestined, and we find at the end of this episode that his younger sister Kari is also a Digidestined, but what of these other people who have been calling in reporting seeing these monsters? Could it be that there are many Digidestined spread throughout the world?

While Tai, Kari, and Koromon are mulling about the house, the computer turns on and a glitchy face appears. It’s Izzy! He’s distressed, but pleads with Tai to remain where he is. The Digi-World is in turmoil and Izzy is trying to look out for the safety of his friend by telling him to stay put in the safety of the real world. Tai knows better, however. The real world is not all that safe either at the moment. The three walk through the city and find Tyrannomon and Drimogemon wreaking havoc and attacking buildings ala Gojira. Ogremon appears and attacks Koromon, who puts up a decent fight before Digivolving to Agumon and activating the Digi-World’s wormhole. Agumon returns to his own world while Tai decides whether he too should go back. Tai makes the decision to return and help his friends and in one of the most heart-wrenching, beautifully animated scenes in this series (or any other for that matter), he grasps the hand of the little sister he has to leave behind as she pleads to go with him. He can’t take the risk of her getting hurt, and like a good brother, tearfully leaves her behind in the real world.

 

P.S. My big-brother senses had me tearing up writing this. I always imagined myself as Tai and my sister as Kari when we were little. Too bad we didn’t have any Digimon though.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Part 22 continued HERE]

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The Earthquake of MetalGreymon (Digimon Adventure Episode 20)

(For last episode click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Last time on Digimon Digital Monsters, the Digidestined released Datamon from his pyramidal cell just to have him run off with Sora as a hostage. In this episode, he clones Sora and attempts to use the clone and Sora’s crest (which he inexplicably has possession of) to control Biyomon, Digivolve her to her Ultimate level and take his revenge on Etemon for imprisoning him.

The Digidestined use a divide and conquer technique to distract Etemon’s guards around the pyramid, while Tai and Izzy infiltrate it. Izzy then distracts Etemon, while Tai saves Sora from Datamon’s clutches. In the rescue process, however, something pretty odd occurs. You know that whole abyssal thing I’ve been going on about? Yeah, well it happens, for real. Datamon opens up a trap door under Tai and Sora that discloses the dark energy core of Etemon’s network. This is the face of evil in its physical manifestation. The mass of wires and nodes fails to trap Tai and Sora, however, as Birdramon grabs them from the trap door’s edge before they fall into it. Again, trust in one another, despite the odds, seems to keep the Digidestined safe from the chaotic abyss that is the primal ground of their being, the postmodern truth  of their condition.

Etemon shows up and attempts to destroy Datamon who launches himself toward the abyss with Etemon in tow. He drops a virus into the dark core that draws all other dark energy in the vicinity into it as well. Etemon falls in, but remains in control of the dark core of his network (it is his network after all) and pulls a total Tetsuo: The Iron Man by becoming the mind of the machine and using it as a tool to do his bidding. The dark ball of energy now has Etemon from the waist up sticking out of it and directing its efforts. The Digidestined must defeat Etemon before he absorbs all the dark energy throughout the Digital World and becomes an unstoppable force of destruction. They all have their crests and tags, and now that Tai and Agumon have faced all their most currently pressing fears, they are ready to Digivolve to the Ultimate level.

Agumon becomes his bigger dinosaur form Greymon and then he Digivolves once again to MetalGreymon. The data and machine natures that make up Agumon, and all the Digimon for that matter, have become externalized in Greymon, who just grows larger and manifests a few new mechanical apparatuses like a metal shield head, a metal claw, metal wings, and a metal chest that shoots Giga Blasters, not unlike the one his corrupted form, Skullgreymon, launches from his back. It seems that trust in one another and sincerity and friendship can not only help the Digimon to reach the higher champion level, but they can bring about an odd change in the Ultimate level as well. By recognizing the mechanized fate or determinate future they have, their lack of freedom,  the Digidestined and their Digimon partners can externalize their mechanized internalities to strengthen themselves. As Digidestined, they are stronger when they recognize that they must accept their fate and fight to establish it: to save the Digital World by reaching progressively higher levels.

MetalGreymon manages to deflect Etemon’s attacks and to destroy Machine-Etemon, but a warp in space develops. Tai and MetalGreymon are pulled into it and find themselves back in the human world. Or is the human world after all? The people on the street pass by without the least glance toward Tai and his Digimon (now the in-training form Koromon again- I guess the Digimon do always revert to in-training after an Ultimate-level Digivolution), the world and its inhabitants seem to move slowly, and the mise-en-scene is not unlike the wabisabi aesthetic of a kaidan, a Japanese ghost story. Are these spectres real? And if so, how can Tai’s friends get out of the Digital World and return home too?

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Part 21 of this essay series HERE]

Blade Runner 2022: Blackout

As background explanation for important narrative points in Denis Villeneuve’s new film Blade Runner 2049, he commissioned two directors to create a number of short films. The first of these, chronologically, is set in 2022. Three years after the events of the first film. It is an anime short directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the acclaimed director whose works include anime classics with style and substance, beauty and brains like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. (Coincidentally my most viewed blog is about his work on Bebop)

The film begins with a figure walking through fire toward the viewer. He is holding something round in his hand. The shot segues into an animated reproduction of the opening sequence from the original Blade Runner. A sequence known affectionately by its creators as the Hades Landscape. The camera tracks out over a city in darkness and smog. Smokestacks emit fire and noxious gases into the atmosphere as a spinner zooms into frame from over the shoulder and rides into the vanishing point. We are told that Tyrell Corp. continued to run without its leader (or was the person killed by Roy Batty really only Tyrell’s clone after all?). It created a new line of replicants, The Nexus 8, with an extended lifespan.

We see avant-garde newsreel-like coverage of a new movement, the Human Supremacy movement, that began to seek out and destroy replicants using Tyrell’s public database. The scenes are kinetic and abstract. They use deep blacks and greys and depict the extra-judicial murder of a number of the replicants tracked down by the movement. I say extrajudicial here to mean beyond the law, as a mob might find and burn at the stake someone they didn’t like or thought to have committed some immoral act. However, I’m being judicious in the use of this term extrajudicial because although the replicants are like human beings in nearly all conceivable manners, barring their lack of ability to conceive, they are considered to be mere machines that probably lack human rights (hence why Blade Runners can kill them with impunity and even have the consent of the state).

There is a scene in the old LA police department of the first Blade Runner. Edward James Olmos reprises his character Gaff and remarks on the current situation. Some replicants escaped from the off-world planet of Kalantha. Their images scroll across the screen in the office, faces include Iggy, the protagonist of this short film, and Sapper Morton, Dave Bautista’s character from Blade Runner 2049.

In the city streets, Trixie, a replicant pleasure model, sits in an alleyway where she is being harassed by some human men. Iggy arrives, kills the men, and plays the character of rogue humanoid in a manner similar to Full Metal Alchemist’s Scar (staring at his hand and splattering the blood of his victims, and all).

Trixie’s backstory is as a pleasure model for a young man, Ren, who works at the city’s power generator and plays an integral role in setting off the explosion that destroys the generator and creates an EMP that will reset all digital records on the planet and wreak chaos. Trixie looks much like the android Armitage from the nineties cyberpunk OVA series of the same name. She fights like Pris from the first Blade Runner film. And when she is shot in the back and dying, she sees a dove flying across the rain-filled skies just as Roy Batty released one in the first film’s most elegiac scene.

Iggy worked on Kalantha as a combat unit. When he and his friends attempted to escape, he found out that not only was he a replicant, but the supervisors and managers of the operation who thought they were human, were also replicants. “Both sides were nexus, nothing more than toy soldiers in a sand box.” Now, back on earth, Iggy wants to not only destroy the replicant database to prevent people from discriminating on his brethren, but he also wants to give humans a taste of the fear that replicants must live with on a daily basis.

Complete with inspired experimental animation techniques and synth-chime music compliments of Flying Lotus but channeling Vangelis and Susumu Hirasawa, Blade Runner 2022 is one of the most atmospheric short films I’ve ever seen (especially at or below a fifteen minute length). It is an interesting homage to the original film that helps to transition into the new world of Blade Runner 2049. It deals with one of the core existential themes of the first film, what does it mean to be a manufactured human being as opposed to a born human being? And more than anything else, it problematizes the question of demarcation between the two types of humans by showing that all a replicant must do the erase the distinction is to remove their right eye (which has a serial number) and drop in to society unnoticed.

 

Cody Ward

(For more essays on Blade Runner 2049 click Cinematography or Set Design)

[Next up: Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn]

Kundun: Socio-Religious Dialectic

Kundun is Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film about the early life of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. With the 2016 film Silence (an adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel) and the 1988 film The Last Temptation of the Christ (an adaption of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel), Kundun completes something of a religious triptych in Scorsese’s oeuvre.

Artistically speaking, this film is less esoteric than The Last Temptation, and less brooding than The Silence.There are moments of real beauty in this film interspersed with multitudes of experimental angles and generally odd compositions. But in between these scenes, the film plays like an average drama. Roger Deakins was cinematographer on the film and managed to do some really great work in what might otherwise be a conventionally shot film. In particular, there is a scene where the teenage Lama must perform traditional burial rites for his father and watch as his body is cut into pieces and fed to the buzzards. The intense blues of the sky and the deep focus depth of field remind one immediately of many of the scenes in Last Temptation.

The real standout element of the film is the sound score written by Philip Glass whose name on a film is an automatic selling point to anyone artistically inclined. His music, while experimental and occasionally bombastic, is written in such a way as to intensify the emotions and themes of each scene. Deakins’ camerawork does likewise. This pair of artists is what makes the film better than an average drama, at least as far as the mise-en-scene goes.

Kundun seems at times a lot like Bernardo Bertolucci’s film, The Last Emperor. We have a young boy with a huge responsibility as the leader of a nation and a people. But times are changing, and in both cases, Mao’s revolution in China creates an awkward situation for the young man. Just as the Emperor of China is groomed for his responsibilities as leader of the nation only to have them taken away by a regime change, the Dalai Lama is groomed for a role as leader of Tibet only to have his country taken over bit by bit by Mao’s atheistic regime. Red and yellow are, arguably, the two most resonant and powerful images in the two films with yellow representing royal life and red, the regime change, and the blood spilled by Mao’s efforts at cultural revolution. Greys and browns are also important insofar as they represent the life of the peasants and the harsh realities they face in both China and Tibet. Further, it is arguably the fault of the Chinese emperors before the last emperor and the fault of the Dalai Lama before his current young successor that the Communist regime was so popular (at least in the beginning). If they had tried to make life easier for the peasants of their nations and had ruled in a more fair and just manner, the revolution couldn’t have taken off. It fed off of real grievances.

In Kundun, the young Dalai Lama is tested in his home village. He was born in the same year, but after, the death of the 13th Lama. He seems to be able to discern the correct artifacts of his past life when placed next to very similar artifacts. He knows which rosary was the 13th Dalai Lama’s property, just as he identifies his staff, his eyeglasses, his drum, his bell, and so on. But just as a horse can be taught to ‘do math’ by following a trainer’s stimuli (if it gets close to right number of hoof-stomps to counting the number required, the owner becomes excited, the horse picks up on it, and voila!), the young boy could have only been responding to unconscious cues to choose the right objects. Unlike the other two films in Scorsese’s Faith Triptych, there is little concrete evidence in Kundun to suggest that the Dalai Lama is really a spiritual figure with miraculous abilities.

What becomes more interesting in this film, is the change that Tenzin undergoes as the weight of responsibility for a whole people is placed on his shoulders. He begins as a precocious young child prone to tempers, and grows into a prideful and somewhat forceful youth, then into a thoughtful young man who must lead his country both politically and spiritually in a time of great turmoil. He has great difficulty in learning the core values of Buddhism until he is faced with another powerful and alluring ideology: Communism. Some of the tenets are similar to those of Buddhism such as regard for all people, the abolition of caste, and the attempt to better the lives of all people in a society. But Mao’s confession to the young Lama, who he takes under his wing during a week in Peking, reveals a more troubling aspect of Communism: its placement of religion within the Capitalist system as one of many poisons “that retard the mind of the people.” Religion gives people hope for a better world after death. These other-worldly interests can (and mostly have historically) err on the side of upholding the status quo with all of its misery and hardship for the people.

What this film does, unlike many other religious films that are real conservative poison, is to create a dialectic. The conservative religious feudal lords of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lamas, ruled politically and spiritually over a people subjected to poverty and lack of education and modern medicines and technology. The Lamas and their retinue often ignored the plight of the people while they lived in the lap of luxury. This is the thesis. The antithesis is a completely-worldly social philosophy that focuses on destroying the psychological and religious-institution barriers that subjugate the people. It is a praise-worthy attempt to create a better world for all people, but it fails due to corruption and self-interest, thereby falling back on the old capitalist traps that also prevent Capitalism from becoming anything more than croney mercantilism and Statism. The solution, or the synthesis, this film advocates, and the one that the current Dalai Lama tried to bring about in the last years of his rule in Tibet, is a society governed by peace and altruism paired with political and social policies that work to get people out of poverty and in a position to pursue happiness.

 

Cody Ward

Porco Rosso: Anime Noir

(If you missed it, check out my essay on Hayao Miyazaki’s fourth film: My Neighbor Totoro. Or go back to the beginning and read my on essay on his first: Lupin III)

Porco Rosso, or the red pig, is the Italian nickname of the protagonist in and the title of Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s 1992 film. The story is set after the Great War, but before the second, at a period when great social unrest was taking place throughout Italy. Fascism is on the rise and the once free and easily traversible Adriatic sea, with its sea pirates and bounty hunters, is becoming more and more regulated. Porco Rosso, real name Marco Rossellini, was an ace fighter pilot during the Great War. He fought for the Italians against the Austro-Hungarians and made a name for himself. Now, the Italian state has an APB out for his arrest. They don’t dig a rogue fighter using a military issue, experimental plane for private gain as a bounty hunter, especially when he could be using his skills to serve the State.

In the last months of the war, Marco and his fighter squadron were ambushed. The dogfight was intense and he passed out while making his escape. He recounts the tale as a flashback, with hard-boiled noir dialogue peppering the scene. He rode the cloud-tops, while his friends appeared beside him, ascending. Up above, a great white ring of old planes circling the earth like an ouroburos grasping its own tail. His friends, now spectres of their earthly heroic selves, ascend to join the pantheon of fighters lost through time. The scene is composed in an ethereal manner with beautiful warplanes, an empty blue sky, and the deep white embrace of the clouds. Synths swell and fall (compliments of master composer and constant Ghibli-collaborator Joe Hisaishi) and create a taut, mythic atmosphere. The mise-en-scene is more dramatic and emotionally gripping than even the scene in Christopher Nolan’s new film “Dunkirk” when Tom Hardy’s engine runs out of fuel and he glides across the beach, propeller off.

“When I came to, I was skimming just above the sea, all alone.” After that day, he was never the same. He thought himself damned to live alone with the knowledge that he was unable to help save his friends in the dogfight. Damned to not know why he alone had survived. “The good guys were the ones who died. Or maybe I’m dead and life as a pig is the same thing as hell.” The moniker, Porco Rosso, refers to the fact that his experimental plane, the Savoy S-21 is bright red, and he is cursed with a bovine facade.

Days of glory behind him, Marco is a hired gun. He is aging, a bit beyond his prime, and overweight. The woman of his dreams, Gina, is the three-time widow of three sea-plane pilots. Her desire for the pig is a secret, but every day she waits in her garden at the Hotel Adriana. She waits for him to arrive, the boy she grew up with, who thinks himself who far gone and beyond reclamation for love’s embrace, or even to deserve it.

He smokes, drinks, and frequents shady dives. He lives alone in a cavern on a deserted island in the Adriatic. a bachelor roughing it in a tent. Politics and bravery, patriotism and honor, left him as his country became infected with fascist rhetoric and his humanity became suspect. At a bank he makes the final payment on his Savoy and the teller suggests he buy some war bonds. Marco responds, “sorry, I’m a pig, I’ll leave that you humans.” Later, as he plans his trip to Milan for long-overdue repairs on his plane, a friend reminds him that he is a wanted criminal in Italy. His response: “Laws don’t mean anything to a pig.” The hardboiled, drunken one-time somebody is challenged to a fight and runs off to Italy. He doesn’t care if he’s called a chicken, he’s already a pig.

But all in all, he would rather be a pig than a fascist. He would rather eke out the little bit of living his skills and life have left to give him than subsume himself to a uniform. He doesn’t fight for honor. He fights “for a paycheck.” And his response to the whole political situation in Europe is squarely self-interested: “Farewell to freedom in the Adriatic and the days of wild abandon.” Those days are behind him and the days of working as a rogue fighter for hire, living from job to job, never secure and never safe. He mirrors the situation of another noir icon, Deckard, former Blade Runner gone rogue.

It will take severe circumstances and the youthful zeal of his mechanic and engineer Theo to light a fire under his ass and force him to fight one last great dogfight with the American ace Curtis for Marco to reclaim his honor, his face, and potentially, the girl too. Much is left ambiguous at the film’s end. We know Marco continues flying the Savoy, but for just how long can he work as a lone wolf when even sea plane pirates have become part and parcel of the fascist system: guns for hire who work only for the State, or else?

A sequel to this film was in works about a decade back. Miyazaki was working on a script and Studio Ghibli rising star Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There, The Secret of Arriety) was to direct it. Since then the two have parted ways and Miyazaki seems not long for this world. All the same, the ambiguity and mystery of Marco’s future is an element of this film that makes it more than masterful, but a master work that I consider to be Miyazaki’s chef-d’oeuvre, and probably my favorite animated film thus far. We don’t need a sequel to Porco Rosso and I don’t ask for one. The one was powerful enough to make its mark.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up Kiki’s Delivery Service! Yeah I did them out of order]

X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes

(Check out the previous essay in this October Horror essay series: The Masque of Red Death. Or the first in the series: Reincarnation)

In X, Roger Corman creates a pseudo-philosophical, oddball sci-fi that has become a cult classic. When thinking of this film, I’m always reminded of a story my father told me about when he first saw the film. The legendary Pere Ubu were putting on a show somewhere in North Carolina and my father procured a ticket. Throughout the show, the band projected the film behind them on a large screen. It seems the film’s quirks were in the same spirit of that old Orson Welles of underground music, David Thomas.

The film starred Ray Milland, the existential Cary Grant, and was released in 1963, between Premature Burial (also starring Milland) and The Masque of Red Death. both of these two films were Edgar Allen Poe Gothic films so I imagine that X was something a kitsch romp/break for the independent maestro.

In the film, Milland plays one Dr. James Xavier who is fascinated with vision. He knows all about its mechanisms and how it functions, and he laments the fact that human vision can only register around one-tenth of the total available wave spectrum. Ultraviolet and gamma are bracketed from our visionary apparatus, and as such, we miss out on over ninety percent of what the universe has to offer, visually speaking. “We are virtually blind,” he complains to his optometrist.

He has been experimenting on monkeys in his lab with various chemicals thought to increase the eye’s ability to interpret the wave spectrum. But the new data is too much and some of the monkeys die of shock at the experience. He believes that humans are more resilient and begins experimenting on himself. And the results are overwhelming. He can see into patients to better diagnose them and at parties, all his wildest, unspoken fantasies about seeing through clothing are realized.

But everything goes wrong, he challenges a senior medical professional who has misdiagnosed a patient and performs the surgery himself, successfully. The senior doctor threatens to sue him for malpractice. He then accidentally kills his friend, goes on the lam, becomes a side-show attraction at a carnival, gets exploited by a carnival barker, attempts to win money illicitly in Las Vegas, is caught after playing his hand and revealing he has a trick up his sleeve, somehow manages an escape, goes on the run from police cars and helicopters and ends up in an ecstatic tent-pole church in the desert.

His eyes have slowly deteriorated as he’s seen more and more truths of the world. He realizes the pains of all the people he passes in the street. He understands that the cities of the world are but cities of metal spires and structures hidden underneath, hidden by concrete and stone. He sees the “city unborn,” the human being unskinned, and the sun perpetually. The light of reality in all its forms is too much of an abyssal creature for human beings to contain. He confesses at the church what he has seen of the universe in all in its horror: “There are great darknesses. Farther than time itself. And beyond… a light that glows and changes. and in the center of the universe, the eye that sees us all.” The abyss, which is total reality, the thing not visible to us until we become saints or madmen is here represented in the most traditionally philosophical way possible: as the abyss we stare into that challenges and breaks us down as it stares back.

Xavier’s eyes slowly become malformed over the course of the film. They eventually become black with small golden pupils before being consumed totally by the darkness. The tent-pole preacher listens to his confession of what he has seen with his eyes and responds in the best way he knows how, and in a manner quite dramatically effective for the close of this film. He quotes scripture, “If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out!” Whether Xavier does so or no is a hard question to answer. He seems to attempt to do it, but his eyes reappear just as black as ever: either eyes or black pits where eyes used to be.

This ambiguity may just be visual and unintended. It could be my own misunderstanding, but it serves a purpose if intended. The person is either stronger or deranged by virtue of persistence in their gaze at the abyss. A third option is to stop peering into it (ie. plucking out the eyes). But is this a coward’s option? A weak decision for those without the fortitude to go the distance or the courage to try? Who knows? Roger Corman?

 

Cody Ward

[Catch the next essay in my October Horror essay series: The Serpent and the Rainbow!]

The Prisoner of the Pyramid (Digimon Adventure Episode 19)

(For Part 18 click HERE. To go back to the beginning check out HERE)

It’s the third arc and there are only two crests left to collect before the Digimon begin unveiling their Ultimate levels to defeat Etemon. They are once again in the deserts of the Digi-world, when Izzy finds a computer terminal. Once linked into the network, he receives an SOS from a mysterious Digimon who claims that he can lead them to the next crest if they come save him. Having no new leads, they decide to seek him out.

Along the way, they find TK’s crest in the side of a canyon wall (six down, one to go). Once the crest emblem turns into his crest, a cavern with hieroglyphic code is unveiled. Izzy hasn’t found one of these sorts of places for some time and now has the tools he needs to decipher the Digital World. He thinks that the Digital World is just the data analogue of the real world and that since they are there, they too are just physical manifestations of code. Joe responds, “are you telling us this entire place is just a computer game, and none of it is really real?” The others note feeling odd that they are not “flesh and blood” and Mimi responds that she still has to go to the restroom like in the real world. Izzy still isn’t totally sure why all this is so, but he believes that their real bodies are back at summer camp, while their digital analogues exist here.

Izzy manages to hack the Digi-runes to pull up a map of the Digital World to compare it to the Real world. The two have networking lines that overlap perfectly, though the continents and other landmasses differ dramatically. Because they are currently just bits of data, Izzy manages to forward their location back to the IP of the SOS. This allows the Digidestined gang to teleport right by his current location.

Back when I was more religious, I often mused on the possibility that we human beings and the universe around us didn’t exist at the same level of reality as the eternal being or force who generated us. I imagined us as cartoons drawn by a great prime mover. We just happened to be more complex than those cartoons, but the parallel seems real enough. If the Digidestined exist in the real world as a series of genetic codes and ACTG pairings, but manifest physically in a much more complex form, their bodies are already something akin to second-order existence. Now, their digital codings based on zeros and ones are replications of that earlier genetic code. The digital coding, the binary is also a second-order level of existence or being or reality. The digital binary code creates non-physical, but visible externalizations of the gang as digital beings. These are then, third-level existences. Its as if an artist painted a complex figure with enough detail as to breath life into its structure, then this figure created a cartoon. How real is the cartoon? If it thinks, it exists, but can it be programmed to respond in a manner that makes it seems like exists? The difference is vast and I’m no longer sure that the Digidestined are acting according to their own wills. But were they ever, even in the real world, acting according to their own wills? Or are we merely watching the procession of actions dictated by biological necessity and social facticity, then translated to a less complex digital code that constrains actions even further? Am I writing this now because I want to or because of forces outside of my control? Is this what it means to be human?

Biyomon expresses her concerns over Izzy’s newfound information about their ontological ordering. She wonders aloud, “does this mean that we don’t exist? That we’re really not friends?” Sora tries to comfort her, but to little avail. The friendship is real, but of what consequence is this fact if one of them isn’t? Can Siri really be called a friend? Later, Sora expresses her own concerns over being just bits of data based on real(er) forms, “it just makes us all seem so small and insignificant, like nothing we do really matters.” These concerns are valid and thoroughly postmodern. A hermeneutic of suspicion is unveiled as the knee-jerk response to the unveiling of their natures. Will it hold up? Or will sincerity, trust, friendship, and the creation of a moral-pragmatic system of action be enough to assuage the malaise and aporia of looking into the abyss to find it staring back at them?

Matt takes the first pragmatic step when he responds to Sora’s query. He confidently asserts, “Of course it matters (what we do), we can’t take the chance it doesn’t.” Izzy supports this claim through his belief that their actions have an effect on their real world analogues. They are inhabiting a shadow world where everything has an effect on the figures that produce the shadow. This is somewhat Jungian and continental in verve. That which we produce does have an oblique effect on us, but the greatest directionality of effect is from the figure to the shadow it produces. Is this claim by Izzy an admission of their extremely limited range of free action in this world nearly completely commanded by its real world counterpart?

The gang find themselves on the other side of their teleportation in a desert with pyramids and a Sphinx. The group enters an upside-down pyramid and finds Datamon, the Digimon who sent out an SOS to Izzy’s laptop. He is trapped in an upside-down translucent pyramidal lock and when released, he turns on the Digidestined and on Etemon who enters the fray just before his release. He takes Sora and Biyomon hostage and during the chase after him, Izzy realizes that not only what they do in this world has an oblique effect on the real world, but the damage they sustain may carry over as well. Tai, who has been gung-ho and careless since he learned his current form was only digital data, is now impotent in the face of the obstacles of the pyramid. He is too afraid to continue the chase through a series of potentially fatal electrified wires. The others understand his fear, but Datamon has made his escape because of Tai’s weakness.

Fear, paranoia, meaninglessness, weakness, and courage in speech only. Digimon Adventure has taken a turn for the worse. But through facing the full weight of our era’s philosophical and existential mazes head on, they might just produce the magical gift, the Aleph.

 

じゃあまた

The Digidestined Cody

The Piximon Cometh (Digimon Adventure Episode 18)

(Part 17 HERE. Part 1 HERE)

Three crests down, four more to go. The Digidestined seem to be progressing smoothly through this third arc in Digimon Digital Monsters and they manage to keep giving Etemon and his lackeys the slip. The only problem, they still don’t know how to reach the next level of Digivolution and since their encounter with Devimon on File Island, Tokomon still hasn’t been able to Digivolve back to his rookie form Patamon, let alone his champion form Angemon.

After collecting the third crest, Mimi’s Crest of Sincerity, the gang are once again travelling through Server’s desert, musing about their destinies and how they can Digivolve further. It seems that most of the group believe they will be able to Digivolve once again when all of the crests have been collected (which is in line with the whole one episode, one move toward arc-completion motif).

While they are travelling along, a mass of black wires (Etemon’s mode of corrupting Digimon as opposed to Devimon’s black gears) surface from below the sands, bringing an infected Kuwagumon with them. This time Kuwagumon is much more powerful and larger than the one they fought at the series’s beginning. Kuwagumon captures Tai and Agumon who are both too afraid to Digivolve for fear of unleashing Skullgreymon’s nihilistic, destructive power once more. Luckily for them, they have a guardian angel in the form of the diminutive ultimate-level Digimon Piximon, who appears and defeats Kuwagumon.

Piximon berates the gang for being unlike the Digidestined he had imagined. They aren’t acting too courageous, and often, it is the children who protect their Digimon instead of the other way around like it’s supposed to be. He brings them to his hideout to train with him and the gang is relieved to find his home in a space-warp hidden from Etemon. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a tropical jungle either (they’ve been sojourning much too long in the desert). Piximon gives the Digidestined menial chores to do while Tai and Agumon must find their way out of a pitch-black cave of memory.

Whilst therein, Izzy and Matt go searching for their crests, alone, and at night, without their Digimon. While on the way to the crests, Matt asks Izzy why he wants to get the crest. He replies that he is intrigued to see Kabuterimon’s next Digivolved form. Matt replies that he himself wants to Digivolve, but not literally. He reflects on his desire to learn more about himself and he wants to become stronger and more courageous. These words will, I believe, be important in the development of Matt’s arc, but also in the realization of how to Digivolve to the next level for the whole team. Not only must the Digimon grow more courageous and learn to trust in one another more, but the Digidestined must do so as well for everyone to reach the next level and defeat Etemon.

Later, when Matt and Izzy find themselves down a well that holds their crests, they manage to get themselves in trouble too as the well is outside of Piximon’s safe domain. Etemon picks up on their trail and sends Tyrannomon to engage the two in combat. The others, minus Agumon and Tai, come to rescue but are unable to overwhelm Tyrannomon. Too weak to fight back, the Digidestined hide behind Piximon’s protective shield and wait for Tai and Agumon to return from their journey into the Heart of Darkness to face their fears head on.

In the cave, Tai and Agumon awaken to find themselves in a small boat upon a river Styx between reality and memory. Tai recognizes a bridge from his youth in Highton View Terrace and engages with the memory. He and Agumon find a young Tai falling off of his bicycle and stating, “I’m never gonna learn to ride my bike.” He is afraid of falling and hurting himself. Tai and Agumon guide him along and push the bike until little Tai has gained enough speed to take over on his own. This vignette has helped Tai and Agumon to realize that their impotence in the face of Kuwagumon was due to their fear of losing control. They now know that working together and believing in one another is the key to overcoming their fear. They escape the cave, face Tyrannomon squarely, Digivolve to Greymon and leave Piximon’s domain, both of them now stronger and more self-assured than before.

As for the English title of this episode, it is a reference to Eugene O’Neill’s play, The Iceman Cometh. But I see no real parallels between the two narratives. Probably just some odd choice on the part of a producer. That book is about lost souls living their lives at the bottom of bottles of whiskey while on skid-row. They create deceptions for themselves and pipe dreams that give them meaning in their lives, even though they know these to be fictions. Seems more akin to the story of my own life than to the lives of our Digidestined. Bummer.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Next up, Datamon!]

The Masque of Red Death

(To check out my previous Roger Corman essay in this October Horror essay series, click HERE)

What to say about Roger Corman’s 1964 film The Masque of Red Death? Hmm. It’s one of his cycle of films inspired by or adapted from the works of Edgar Allen Poe, that moody master of the macabre. In the film, he works with one of his favorite collaborators, Vincent Price. Like all of his Poe pictures, this film is less of a horror film per se and more akin to a Gothic film where dramatic materials occasionally meet ethereal, other-worldly antagonists. This time, the metaphysical spectre of Death embodied and robed, traversing medieval Europe and wreaking havoc with the help of his brothers. The film is not quite a commercial picture either. It is aimed pretty directly for the art-house circuit with its Shakespearean pretensions, its literary basis, its atmospheric cinematography (for exteriors as in most Corman Gothic pictures), and its often abstruse or commercially unpalatable themes.

Just as in Premature Burial, two years prior, this film begins with a coda steeped in darkness and shadow, with beautiful greys and blues. The camera operator uses some pretty gutsy Dutch angles and expressionistic techniques, while the lighting sets the mood as one of mystery not unlike the wabisabi aesthetic of many Japanese high-art products (Think Kwaidan or Harakiri). The shot follows an old woman collecting sticks in the fog. She meets a man in a red robe under a tree, studying tarot cards and generally looking the part of supernatural force of nature. Much of this opening scene hearkens back (at least to my mind) those images of Antonius Bloch meeting Death personified on the beach in Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, The Seventh Seal. With Corman’s art-house sensibilities in this period of Gothic pictures, one can reasonably assume he had seen the picture, and that it may have influenced him somewhat.

Later, we find that this woman has contracted a plague known as Red Death. The skin on her body has turned red and the blood vessels have burst shooting red sprays of vital fluids through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and, one can imagine, other more private orifices as well. She dies, but not before delivering to her village a white rose that the spectre of death has turned red. He left her with a message, “The day of their (the village people’s) deliverance is at hand.”

With this message, the townsfolk take heart and become querulous with their feudal lord, one Prince Prospero (Price).  He takes the two most outspoken, a father and a young man, along with their daughter and young lover, respectively, (I haven’t lost you have I?) back to his castle where he attempts to force the two men to fight each other to the death, while breaking the will of the fair young maiden.

We find out that Prospero believes God to be dead. His character is a product of the post-Nietzschian world in this sense, except that he believes more than this. Not only is God dead in the lives of people in the world (the young maiden Francesca is the only truly faithful one he has ever met), but he has died a real death as well. Now, Satan is the one true god, the God of reality. In Prospero’s Black Room, he worships his deity, performs satanic rites, and attempts to become closer to “the lord of flies, the fallen angel, the devil.”

As the tale unfolds, we find that the Red Death has been making its way through the countryside, destroying many a village’s population. Prospero thinks his palace the only safe place left and invites a number of barons and aristocrats to stay with him. When Red Death comes knocking in his anthropomorphic form, Prospero is holding a Masquerade ball, a Masque. The party-goers become infected and bloodied. they perform a Dance of Death until they die of exhaustion (an artfully done scene mirroring the final scenes of Herk Harvey’s 1962 independent art-house horror film Carnival of Souls, which Corman may also have been familiar with).

Red Death appears and threatens to take the life of Prospero, who can’t believe the circumstances. He believes Red Death to be his own master, Satan. But he is sorely mistaken as Death serves no master but fate and time. The film ends on a coda-epilogue mirroring the style and mise-en-scene of the first scene’s prologue-coda. Except now, Red Death caresses the hair of a young child, one of the few souls left unharmed by his plague. His brothers, the Black Death, Yellow Fever, and others join him and the group proceed offscene and downhill to continue their deeds and administer the gruesome fates of their next victims.

All in all, the film is a little more abstract and more metaphysical than Premature Burial whose plot can be described without any recourse to true supernatural entities or forces. In this sense, The Masque of Red Death is more Gothic than its precursor. It seems to borrow more elements from previous art-house triumphs and gains a bit in the way of gravitas-presence in its characterization of Red Death. But it feels a bit more campy than that earlier film. I prefer Premature Burial and believe that Corman created a more taut thriller in that film, but for fans of true horror and of Gothic fictions, I would highly recommend this film.

 

Your Truly,

Cody Ward

[Next up: X-The Man With X-Ray Eyes!]

The Crest of Sincerity (Digimon Adventure Episode 17)

(If you missed it, check out Skullgreymon’s appearance HERE. To go back to to beginning click HERE)

The Digidestined are again travelling through the desert. I feel it’s necessary at this point to try and dissect why this is so. In more than half of the episodes in this series so far, it seems like the Digidestined wander through the scorching, empty Digital deserts of either File Island or the continent of Server. A few times they have encountered the beach, the jungle, and the tundra, but the desert seems their constant oppressor. In Robert Heinlein’s classic sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, the book’s protagonist is a native martian who comes to earth as a young man and must acclimate to his new surroundings. In Digimon Adventure, the children are spirited away to a new world totally different from their human world. This is done in a manner coincident with Alice in Wonderland as their new surroundings lack the logic of their former world. However, Alice doesn’t stay long enough to ever become truly comfortable with these surroundings. The Digidestined seem to do so, but with intense difficulty, and just like the stranger in a strange land, they are alien to their new world totally. And what’s more, for a group of Japanese children, the desert is the one ecosystem more alien than any other.

Now back to the main narrative. While in the desert, they meet their first mirage: a giant cactus they hope will provide them some much needed shade. While mulling around and complaining about the cactus’ unreality, Gennai’s hologram appears and gives the Digidestined some more cryptic information about their current situation. He relates that the tags and crests “will work together to help you create total harmony.” I don’t yet understand this phrase fully, as this episode is the point at which I can’t remember any more of the episodes I watched as a child. Gennai then chides the Digidestined for not caring for their Digimon partners properly and instructs them to learn patience. He then disappears again, leaving the gang with more unanswered questions than they had before he appeared. Leave it to Gennai to muck things up.

A little familiarity with these episodes should tell you a lot about what is going to happen next. In every episode, some odd artifact appears that is a reproduction of human culture. Then, an evil Digimon (the mon of the week if you will) appears to fight them and they defeat it using trust in one another or teamwork. In the first arc, the Digimon all Digivolved to their Champion forms one by one and level by level. In the second arc, each Digidestined found a way to turn around their drifting islands back toward Devimon on File Island to defeat him. During this arc, their strength of character and connections with their Digimon grew exponentially each episode. In this third arc, it seems that they will work together to fight off an evil Digimon, discover a tablet with a crest inscription, and one more Digidestined-Digimon pair is then equipped to Digivolve to the Ultimate level when the time comes.

As such, in this episode, a giant ocean liner appears in the desert after ‘swimming’ across the rough and sandy terrain. The Digidestined are fooled into boarding. A big chicken Digimon, Kokatorimon, who works for Etemon attacks them and tries to contact Etemon (whose dark network is experiencing technical difficulties- typical nincompoop he is) but to no avail. He turns all of the Digimon into stone using his Petrifier attack, except for Biyomon and Palmon. Then a little bit of girl power takes him out.

But not for good. He recoups (hehe) his energy and tries to run them down with the ocean liner. This time a real giant cactus saves the day by blocking the ship from hitting the children and flinging the ship far off into the distance. The cactus blooms and reveals Mimi’s Crest of Sincerity. She then realizes what her main purpose and role in the group is meant to be, that of a straight-talker who brings the rest of the group down to earth and away from troubling and occasionally dangerous philosophical musings.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

(Next up the gang encounter Piximon and Tai and Agumon begin to overcome their fears! HERE)

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