Archive | January 2018

Run Yolei Run (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 18)

(To check out part 17, click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The Digidestined, and Izzy, are scouting out an area within the Digital World that has produced dozens of Control Spires. There is an odd base in the centre of a large valley and Dark Ring and Spiral enslaved Champion level Digimon like Tuskmon and Kuwagumon are battling against free DarkTyrannomon in an effort to collect more slaves for the Digimon Emperor’s burgeoning army. While the Digidestined watch the events below from a hidden vantage point, a Kuwagumon appears behind them and attacks. Digmon defends the gang while they make their escape away from the canyon and what could be life-threatening danger if they were caught (they don’t have the muscle to fight hundreds of Champion-level Digimon). Ken passes above the group during their retreat, this time no longer on the back of an Airdramon, but instead on a Devidramon mount: still of a Champion-level, but now a significantly larger, more naturally evil Digimon species.

Once the gang has reached an area far enough away from the Control Spires and Digmon has disposed of his Kuwagumon roadblock, Tentomon finally Digivolves into Kabuterimon (for the first time in Digimon Adventure 02), Digmon De-Digivolves back into Armadillomon, and the gang hop on Kabuterimon’s back to retreat.

Once back in the Real World in Tai’s bedroom, everyone endeavors to destroy the base as fast as possible, but realize that doing so will take some careful planning. Izzy analyzes the Digital landscape and finds that Ken has been creating lines of Control Spires instead of blocks of them in an attempt to block all natural Digivolution throughout the entire Digital World. This strategy makes it even more difficult for the Digidestined to overwhelm Ken with sheer power as the 6 older ex-Digidestined can no longer Digivolve anywhere in the Digital World if the gambit works. Worse yet, the plan to take out Ken’s base will likely take more than just one day, but the Digidestined have school through the week and can’t just disappear on the weekends. Tai decides that everyone should plan to go on a camping trip together and the younger kids should leave for the Digital World before the trip. This plan gives them an alibi for the time they won’t be around in the Real World.

As the gang heads out for the weekend, June Motomiya, Davis’ older sister, begs Davis to go along on the trip so she can hang out with Matt. Davis tries to let her down easy about the whole thing, but June’s stubbornness gets the best of her and she arrives outside of Matt’s house to join them on their trip. Matt tricks June into closing her eyes so he can ostensibly give her a present, and while she is waiting, he advises his father to drive away in the van. Poor June won’t catch another break in the episode as she still tries her best to make it to the campsite. She misses the local bus that heads in that direction and when she later enlists the help of her grandparents in driving her to the campsite, she finds that no one is there and Matt and Davis gave her the wrong the campsite name on purpose to keep her away. This could all be pretty tragic and mean spirited if not for June’s gullible nature and her belief that Matt might still actually like her and just gave her the wrong address.

The Digidestined return to the Digital World once more, but find that the Emperor’s base is gone. Yolei begins acting really gung-ho about the situation and whimsically climbs on top of an active Control Spire to see if the base flew away. She runs about scouting out the local area and eventually her behavior lands her in trouble when she climbs down into a cavern using a rope and finds herself face to face with a Dokugumon. Flamedramon appears in the nick of time and defeats the beast, but not before Hawkmon is injured trying to keep Yolei safe. Yolei rightly blames herself for not working together with the others as a team and asks the others to leave without her while she helps Hawkmon heal. Kari and Gatomon likewise stay behind to help Hawkmon whilst the guys head off in search of Ken’s base. A base that later appears in the sky above the canyon the group searched earlier, a base within which Ken and Wormmon are working in a computer program to create a Chimera Digimon using elements and features of Kabuterimon, Garurumon, and many other Digimon. A design that will not bode well for the Digidestined during the next few episodes.

 

Later,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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February Film Essays

For the last two months, I’ve been writing bi-weekly film essays on the career of Nicolas Winding Refn. Now that I’ve caught up with his career and managed to finish reviewing all of the works in his oeuvre, as well as all available documentaries on his work, I’m moving on to a new theme: Independent American films.

In my last essay on the future for Refn (check it out HERE) I talked a bit about a new website Refn is launching in Spring 2018 called byNWR. He’s using his own funds and the funds of his production company Space Rocket Nation to finance 4K restorations of a number of underground, lost, or rare independent American films including Vol I’s The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds, Shanty Tramp, and Hot Thrills and Warm Chills and Vol II’s Night Tide, Spring Night summer Night, and the fire and brimstone films of Estus Pirkle.

So far my search online for these materials has revealed that a few of the titles are not currently available (like Spring Night, Summer Night and The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds)and for those I will have to wait till the site’s launch. But for others (like Shanty Tramp and Hot Thrills) access to un-restored film elements comes easy. For these films as well as black and white American neorealist films like The Exiles (1961) and Killer of Sheep (1979), I’ll be writing thematic essays throughout the month. Expect exploitation films, southern gothic, and indie arthouse.

 

I hope you’ll follow along by watching the films in the series as it begins on Thursday Feb. 1st!

Ghost of a Chance (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 17)

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

This is the first episode of Digimon Adventure 02 that doesn’t take place, at least in part, within the Digital World. It begins with Television filmmakers working on cutting a new nature documentary. but every time they run the footage, a shadow appears on the screen. What’s worse, is the shadow is in a different place every time. We are not originally privy to why this is important for the plot of the episode or even how these characters are relevant and instead the scene transitions to the computer lab at the Digidestined kid’s middle school. Davis wants to go to the Digital World to slow down Ken’s progress taking it over, but Kari and T.K. have an anniversary date in their calendars. It has been three years since the Digidestined defeated Myotismon and everyone is planning to meet at the park near the TV station where it all happened.

Before the event, T.K. goes to Matt’s place to hang out and catch up with him. While they are eating lunch together, their dad shows up looking dejected and worn out. He relates that at the TV station where he works (there’s the relevance) everyone is stressed and freaked out. Some of the staff have apparently even quit due to the presence of a ghost within the TV tower complex. There are dark shadows on all of the monitors, which means that their materials cannot go on air yet and broadcasting deadlines have to pushed back. Plus, many people feel the presence of ghostly apparitions following them throughout the building. In a cut to scene at the TV tower, we see that the problems with the nature footage being unusable in their current form are continuing, but even the sound department is having difficulties as all of their tapes play back ghostly noises and heavy breathing.

After Matt and T.K. leave the apartment, they wander around town, slowing moving in the direction of the TV tower. As they do so, they inexplicably remember their friends Gotsumon and Pumpkinmon from their adventures in Digimon Adventure 01. The two diminutive Digimon were destroyed by Myotismon because they preferred to have fun and joke around with Matt and T.K. rather than attempt to destroy them. The viewer is, at this point, cued to believe that the ghosts in the TV tower have something to do with these two Digimon.

Izzy is at Tai and Kari’s home along with the other young Digidestined kids (minus T.K.). He discusses the new requisition of the computer lab at their school for detention use and the newfound access problem this creates for the Digidestined to the Digital World. Izzy believes that the D-3 may have the power to turn any computer terminal into a portal (something we realize in the first few episodes of the series, which are months in the past within the series continuity). Izzy asks Davis to use his D-3 to try and access the Digital World. The attempt pays off as a Digi-portal opens there and then. But just as the gang attempt to enter into it and test the process out, Tai and Kari’s mother comes in the front door. Everyone’s shoes are in the front hallway and she knows that the other kids are visiting, so they cannot just disappear into the Digital World at this moment. At least now, the Digidestined kids have better access to the Digital World and consequently, more of fighting chance to defeat the Digimon Emperor.

The group leaves and heads off in the direction of the park to rendezvous with the others for the anniversary of Myotismon’s defeat. Once there, the older Digidestined gang shows up, including Mimi who presumably made the expensive trip from New York to Japan just for this occasion. As the older kids explain the significance of this date to the younger group, a shadow appears outside of the TV tower and people within run away from the building, which prompts the 5 Digidestined and 6 ex-Digidestined to jump into action and enter the building. The shadow circles around the large observatory room in the tower whilst moaning out Gatomon’s name. The ghost rises from the ground before Gatomon’s feet and shows itself to be the spectre of Wizardmon.

Wizardmon then recites a long prophecy on the future of the Digidestined and Gatomon: “Your great enemy, you cannot beat him as you are now. your enemy is not just the Digimon Emperor, but a much greater darkness.” At this point, the verdict should be in for the viewer of the episode. We have seen the memories of Gotsumon and Pumpkinmon, the ghost of Wizardmon, and the day is dedicated to celebrating the defeat of Myotismon: The great enemy is some new form of Myotismon who has returned from beyond the grave.

Wizardmon continues, “It cannot be defeated by strength alone. You must return the one wrapped in darkness to his true self.” I’m just spitballing here because I do not remember much about the future events of this series beyond this episode,  but I believe that this refers to the need to return Ken to his former self as a Digidestined and as a force for good as he once was in his fight against Millenniummon alongside Ryo Akiyama.

“Kindness will release the golden radiance. Kindness alone will not prevail Gatomon. the golden radiance is also necessary.” The eight Crests are Courage, Friendship, Reliability, Knowledge, Sincerity, Love, Hope, and Light. But theoretically there are more crests, which means that there are more Digi-Eggs that correspond to these potential Crests. In the Digimon Adventure 02 movie Digimon Hurricane Landing!!/Transcendent Evolution!! The Golden Digimentals, we are shown new Golden Digi-Eggs that Digivolve the Digidestined partner Digimon to the equivalent of Mega level Digimon. The Crest of Kindness must correspond to Gatomon’s Golden Digi-Egg, which will be the one to defeat Myotismon. At least this is my theory so far in the series.

Finally, Wizardmon tells the Digidestined that they do not have much time left and he departs unwillingly from his friends, which ends the haunting of the TV tower and the stress it created for Matt and T.K.’s father. Normally, when a Digimon is destroyed, that Digimon’s data is reconfigured and the Digimon reappears as a Digi-Egg within the Primary village in the Digital World. But Wizardmon was destroyed within the Real World where he takes up physical space not as data but as a concatenation of molecules and particles with mass like everything else. Because of this, upon death, Wizardmon seems to have become subject to the metaphysics of the the Real World within the Digimon Universe and has reappeared as a ghost because his work was left unfinished and his sacrifice did not result in the total destruction of Myotismon. This metaphysics is closer to Shinto notions of the afterlife and tells us that the Digidestined must defeat the risen Myotismon for good in order to free Wizardmon from his ghostly form permanently.

How Wizardmon knows that Myotismon is not destroyed totally, we do not yet know. But we can surmise that since Myotismon was defeated within the Real World, that he too exists as a ghost of some sort in the Real World and may have been steadily gaining more power over the past three years. If this is so, then it makes sense that a spectral denizen of the in-between world (the Dark Ocean?) like Wizardmon would have Myotismon’s growing power on his radar. Ghost of a Chance is the second best episode of Digimon Adventure 02 at this point in the series and points to the potential for growth of the series in the coming episodes both dramatically and philosophically. This is the type of thing I’ve been waiting for and can really sink my teeth into as a reviewer of the series and I hope you’ll continue to follow along as the coming episode reviews and recaps become denser and more in line with my wheelhouse.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

20,000 Digi-Leagues Under the Sea (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 16)

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

The Digidestined are trapped in an underwater oil rig tower. The sections above them have been flooded and a Dark Ring enslaved MegaSeadramon roams around the waters outside, ever threatening to attack them if they manage to escape or, even worse, to destroy the entire tower. The gang were tracking down a new Digi-Egg, which led them to this tower, but they have been unable to find it so far and Cody seems especially freaked out by the experience as would many others: trapped in the vast expanse of the sea with little hope of ever stepping on dry land again. The dark depths and threatening presence of unknown creatures and forces always looming over one just like phantoms of malaise and aporia loom over our unconscious minds, ready to erupt at any moment and destroy our sense of comfort and complacency in the world.

T.K. finds an emergency ejection vehicle in a closet within the tower. There’s another problem, however, it is only big enough for one person. Because Cody is so scared of the ocean and being trapped in this confined space, Kari and Yolei decide that he should be the one to escape and to go find Joe back in the Real World as his partner Ikkakumon is the only Digidestined Digimon they know (besides Michael’s partner Betamon in America) who could help them out in this bind. Cody is being stubborn though and decides that he doesn’t want to go just because he feels like the others are making fun of him for being scared. Yolei then devises a plan to have everyone draw straws to see who will go. the person who pulls the red straw is the chosen one to pilot the escape vehicle. She of course, rigs the system and makes all of the straws have red ends, then makes Cody the first to choose. When he pulls a red straw, he knocks the others out of her hand, thereby revealing the trick and then becoming more stubborn than ever in his unwillingness to leave. Luckily Davis and T.K. are there to force Cody into the pod.

Once Cody escapes from MegaSeadramon in his capsule, he surfaces and makes his way to Real World. He then proceeds to go back home to his apartment in the Odaiba T.D.W. complex, where he finds his phone book and calls Joe. Joe’s phone goes to voicemail, so Cody goes to his school, but not before bumping into his own mother and grandfather in his apartment complex elevator. His mother asks him to run some errands, but Cody says he is too busy. When asked what with, Cody says that he cannot tell her what he is doing. His mother presses him further, but then Cody’s grandfather advises her that if Cody cannot tell her the truth about what he is doing, then he will be forced to lie, and nothing is worse than lying. Cody thanks his grandfather and then runs off to Joe’s school.

Once there, he finds that Joe is in class taking an exam. The proctor will not let Joe leave class unless there is an emergency, and there is, but not one that Cody could explain reasonably to the proctor. So, he lies and tells the man that Joe’s father is in critical condition. This ‘white lie’ allows the proctor to call Joe out of class and Joe is relieved to learn that his father is actually okay, but also relieved to know that Cody did the right thing in getting him out of class. Joe calls up Izzy before entering the Digital World and tells him to call on an old friend who turns out to be Whamon who then breaks into the oil rig tower with Joe and Cody in tow (uh, in stomach) while Ikkakumon distracts MegaSeadramon outside.

While Cody was gone, T.K. was busy digging within the oil rig tower where he eventually unearthed the Digi-Egg they had been searching for all along. Once Cody arrives, he prods him to pick it up as everyone else has already tried it and failed to lift the chosen Digi-Egg. Cody is still being stubborn and reveals his unwillingness to pick up the Digi-Egg as it was the object that brought them down there and into danger in the first place. When the Crest associated with the Digi-Egg is revealed as the Crest of Reliability, Cody is doubly against picking it up, as he believes he is not reliable due to the lie he told the proctor back at Joe’s school. He took to heart his Grandfather’s message about lying being always wrong, but fortunately has the sage wisdom of the original holder of Crest of Reliability right there in Joe. Joe explains that sometimes a lie can be used to actually help people, and that in this case Cody’s small lie allowed him to get Joe out of class and to save the lives of his Digidestined friends. Furthermore, Joe explains that he will be more than happy to go and explain what happened to Cody’s grandfather to show him that sometimes a lie can help others.

This explanation brings tears to Cody’s eyes and he decides to pick up the Digi-Egg, which allows Armadillomon to Digi Armor Energize into Submarimon, “The Guardian of the Seas”. The others escape inside Whamon as Cody takes to the control panel of Submarimon’s mecha-like interior. He and Ikkakumon then work in tandem to destroy the Dark Spiral controlling MegaSeadramon (an important point to note is that Ken’s Dark Spirals have seemingly gotten much more powerful as they can now control such a strong Mega level Digimon). As Cody and Submarimon explore a coral reef alongside Gomamon in an attempt to show Cody the beauty of the seas and to demonstrate that the ocean can be a beautiful place, Ken is scheming with Wormmon about his secret plan, which he has not unveiled as of yet, but seemingly into which the Digidestined are playing hook, line, and sinker.

 

Arrivaderci,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Blue Valentine: You Always Hurt the One You Love

Derek Cianfrance is an indie filmmaker who becries the label. He directed his first film Brother Tied in 1998, then took the next twelve years to develop the follow-up film: 2010’s Blue Valentine. During the process, his conversations with the film’s actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were instrumental to the creation of an authentic story of love and how it fades without our notice until it self-destructs and turns into hate and anger at time and life lost and what could have been. Cianfrance dislikes the term independent filmmaker because of how much he depends on everyone else working their hardest and collaborating both in the pre-planning scripting faze of the film and in the spontaneity of the moment in front of the camera.

Blue Valentine recounts the aimless youths of Dean and Cindy, two young people living life without a real goal or endgame. Dean comes from a broken home and works dead-end jobs even though he is a talented musician, singer, and artist and could have succeeded in most any artistic endeavor if he gave them the time and effort and focus. Cindy comes from a stable home where her father is a real sob and a tyrannical figure within the household. Her family wasn’t broken, merely dysfunctional. She’s in college studying to become a doctor and has a thug-jock (we all know they’re the same thing) boyfriend who knocks her up and then screws around on her. Somehow Dean and Cindy find one another and the course of both of their lives take different directions.

They end up married with a young child who is not Dean’s biological offspring, but is his jewel nonetheless. Dean works another dead-end job painting houses, which gives him the freedom and time to drink throughout the day. Cindy never made it to become a doctor and is instead a nurse within a hospital wherein her only promotion seems to hinge upon whether or not she will sleep with her head doctor. The marriage goes into a spiral after Cindy forgets to lock the dog kennel one morning, the dog gets loose, and eventually gets hit by a car. Tensions that have growing and bubbling up from below the surface for years begin to rise and the two eventually find their circumstances impossible, though Dean is reluctant to break up the family and create another broken home for his daughter like the one he himself experienced as a child. Cindy doesn’t want to live a life like her mother had wherein she was a constant victim to the unruly angry spells that her father often had. She believes that life might be better for her daughter if Dean and herself were separated.

The process of fighting and ignoring one another and reminiscing about an idyllic past when everything was more simple is shot in a straightforward manner that is stylish without making its style apparent. The acting is some of the best ever committed to celluloid as Gosling and Williams had years to grow into the characters which they eventually found hard to part with after the film’s production. The whole thing comes across as a huge experiment in in-depth character acting when you read up on the specs of the film, but whilst watching the narrative unfold, the hopes and reams and harsh realities of the characters are laid bare as in a piece of cinematic neorealism whose dramatic effect approaches the viewer more and more strongly through the invisibility of its intent and total lack of artifice. I knew that de Sica’s characters in The Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. were acting (even though they’re realism is commendable and way above average), but I could register no such thing in Blue Valentine.

The film was made on a $1 million USD budget, but ended up pulling $16.6 million in box office receipts. Plus, a ton of awards, nominations, and showings at film festivals worldwide from the Academy Awards and Golden Globes to the Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance, and under Un Certain Regard at the world’s most prestigious film festival at Cannes. From here on out Cianfrance’s career took off as well. Although he ended up making no money on the film (he deferred his pay to complete the film), his next film ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ tripled it’s budget of $15 million USD with a box office of $47 million. He has completed two films since, the first of which made a modest return at the box office and the third, which is set for release sometime this year.

I look forward to watching his other films in the future, and especially The Place Beyond the Pines, but find it inconceivable how Cianfrance could one up Blue Valentine. A testament to its power, for me, is the fact that I liked the film so much. Most love stories seem false and idiotic and formulaic, and especially those produced and created for the cinematic medium. But Blue Valentine pulls no punches and shows us love in all its forms, how it degrades, how you always hurt the ones you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all. How we all take the sweetest rose and crush it until the petals fall, but how that one instant before destruction is worth the pains and sorrow and melancholy that inevitably follows.

 

Cody Ward

Only Yesterday

(If you missed it, check out my previous essay on Grave of the Fireflies too)

Only Yesterday is Isao Takahata’s eight film and second official Ghibli release. He worked on the film for around 15 months with the help of Studio Ghibli’s TopCraft animators and his go-to character designer and animation director Yoshifumi Kondo, and under the supervision of the film’s two main producers. The first of these was designated the General Producer. This role was taken by Miyazaki who needed something to do in-between projects while Takahata’s film took all of the studio’s resources. The second producer is the real money man on the project: one Toshio Suzuki.

In the seventies, Suzuki earned himself a position on the production committee board for publishing house Tokuma Shoten. As such, he was in a key position to lobby for the works of artists within the manga medium. But his job extended far beyond this level as Tokuma Shoten was the parent company for Daiei Motion Pictures, meaning that Suzuki had the ability to negotiate production numbers for animated and live-action features as well. In the early 1980s, Suzuki was a fan of the animated television series of Miyazaki and Takahata. With Suzuki’s help, Miyazaki’s long-form epic manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was produced and released, as well as the feature length animated film version of the manga a few years later in 1984. Because of Suzuki’s adamant work on behalf of Miyazaki during this period, the film was created and was able to reach a large market, translate to tons of money for Miyazaki, which was then used to buyout Studio TopCraft and create Studio Ghibli.

Before his resignation from Tokuma Shoten in October 1989, Suzuki helped to produce Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, as well as the classic avant-garde OVA Angel’s Egg by Mamoru Oshii. Suzuki was appointed director of Studio Ghibli in 1990, then went on to direct every subsequent Ghibli film thereafter. Though he had a part in the production committees or as assistant producer on earlier Ghibli films, Only Yesterday was his first time working as the official producer.

Finally, Takahata’s musical collaboration for the film followed a theme he had been exploring for the last fifteen years and would continue to explore in the future with a new composer for each work. This time, the renowned Urusei Yatsura composer Katz Hoshi produced a unique score including folk music from Eastern European cultures like Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, as well as more traditional Western European classical pieces, rounded out by a Japanese rendition of Bette Midler’s classic pop tune ‘The Rose.’ The resultant work shouldn’t hang together as well as it does in theory, but comes across as extremely emotionally effective and often poignant in practice, carrying on a Ghibli tradition of music that not only fits the themes and feelings of the story, but enhance them in the process. This allows for greater viewer connection with a film as a total product whose hole-lessness never drags one away from the viewing experience.

The story follows the 27-year old Taeko, a young woman who was born and raised in Tokyo by parents who were likewise born and raised there. She has rarely been to the countryside, but went to her sister’s husband’s family farm the year prior to help out in the Safflower harvest and has found a unique connection with nature and the people there that she does not ever experience in the city. The film recounts her second trip back to the farm to help out in the harvest, her ruminations and memories on her past (and specifically her time in the 5th grade as a 10-year old girl whose interest in boys and the countryside was just budding), and the emotional connections she makes to a farmer, Toshio, whilst there in the rural Yamagata prefecture.

We are shown vignettes of her times as a young girl visiting the famed bathhouses of Itami, the year of 1966 when the music of The Beatles first arrived in Japan and started a group music craze, the year when she tried her first pineapple (a fruit that is still extremely expensive to import to Japan and can be nearly 10,000 yen even today) and found it wanting. We see her develop a crush on a boy Hirota, while ignoring another less athletic boy Abe, while struggling with mathematics and developing a love of acting. All of these spectres of the past follow Taeko on her trip along the Takase line to the small town of Takase at the base of the volcanic Mount Zao.

Whereas the scenes taking place 1983 and showing the adult Taeko are animated with a hyper realistic focus (one animator even spent ten months practicing animating Safflowers just to get them perfect while others studied the facial expressions of the film’s voice actors for months on end to get the creases of the face correct), the scenes of Taeko as a young girl are shown with less complete backgrounds that fade to white around the edges of the screen. The figures and clothes and objects expressed in these reflective dream and daydream sequences often show heavy use of pastels and primary colors that are apparent in few of the more realistic scenes.

All in all, the attention to detail in animation and design, the color palates and artistic decisions, and the flow of the animation are all perfectly done. The final effect is a film more beautiful than any Takahata had made before and has made since, which comes to my mind as the most beautiful animated film ever made (though I recognize there is some subjective bias and personal taste involved in this designation).

For 15 years, the film was unavailable outside of Japan even though it held a perfect critical rating on many sites and was the number one film at the box office in Japan in 1991. In 2006, Turner Classic Movies aired the film on their cable platform. Later in the same year, the film was released to theaters in Germany, the U.K., and Australia. It would be another ten years  before an English-language release of the film materialized and the film became widely available. I hope that you’ll check it out asap. Because the watch is well worth the wait.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Pom Poko]

Big Trouble in Little Edo (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 15)

(If you missed the previous blog in this series, check it out HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

This episode begins with a bit of domestic life in the households of Davis and Yolei. While Davis’s parents watch TV in the living room with the volume on full blast, Davis and Veemon take a bath and goof off. June thinks she hears voices coming from the room, but investigates no further as she believes that her family, and especially Davis, are probably just crazy. Yolei watches TV as well in her own home, but her bedtime has arrived and her father takes the remote, while her brother runs around the house drying off his hair after he himself has just taken a shower.

These moments of domesticity and normalcy could work as a counterpoint to the crazier and zanier aspects of life for the Digidestined if they were contrasted well, but life in the Digital World, though quirky and often dangerous, is often portrayed as pretty stable and uninteresting as well. This is especially obvious in Episode 14 when the gang go to the Digital World to find a new Digi-Egg, but spend half of the time eating in Digitamamon’s diner and hanging out with Mimi and the American Digidestined Michael. Instead of providing some overarching point about the series or heightening the tone, the opening scenes of Episode 1 are merely vignettes to fill time, which is okay in and of itself.

Back in the Digital World, Ken has set up a Control Spire within the town of ShogunGekomon. He and his Gekomon and Otamamon servants and friends are trying to reclaim their territory and send out an alert for help. When the Digidestined investigate, they find that most of the Digital World has now been taken over by Ken and his Control Spires and that now, he is about to send out Dark Spirals through ShogunGekomon’s town, which is heavily populated. Once the Digidestined kids arrive, they find the town infested by Dark Spiral enslaved Floramon and Mushroomon who are relative pushovers as mere rookies. But there is a powerful Champion in the form of Ninjamon who challenges Yolei’s partner Shurimon to Ninja vs. Samurai duel. Though Shurimon destroys the Dark Spiral on Ninjamon, the two fight on for the honor of the win. Shurimon proves more powerful and destroys Ninjamon’s sword and Ninjamon escapes, all the while looking forward to fighting Shurimon once more in the future.

Before the battle, Ninjamon managed to sneak into ShogunGekomon’s palace and place a Dark Spiral on the Ultimate-level Digimon. ShogunGekomon is a big clumsy Digimon who manages to destroy his own master’s Control Spire whilst fighting the Digidestined (an event that runs throughout these first episodes and has by this point become something of a tired cliche). Together, Raidramon, Nefertimon, Pegasusmon, and Digmon fight ShogunGekomon and dissolve his Dark Spiral without too much trouble, leaving the city free once more. Numerous Digimon are freed from their Dark Spirals and I would normally give a tally of how many have been freed thus far. Unfortunately, there is no way to count all of the individuals affected in this town and the jig is up. I’ve lost count.

Anyway, Ken seems totally unconcerned by the loss of this town and implies to Wormmon that the Digidestined are playing into his hand perfectly. How this is so we currently do not know, but will hopefully find out in the next episode. And hopefully, this series arc wherein the Digidestined free Digimon, but overall Ken gains more control, and in the process the Digidestined  find all of their new Digi-Eggs, will come to a quick close, and soon.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

The Future for Nicolas Winding Refn

(If you haven’t already, check out my previous Refn essay on his 2016 film The Neon Demon)

For the past two months I’ve been doing bi-weekly film essays as a retrospective of the career of Nicolas Winding Refn hitherto. We’ve learned about the rocky box office lives of his films with their occasional break-out successes and intermittent box-office failures. I’ve talked about his biggest collaborators like cinematographers Larry Smith and Morton Soborg, composers Johnny Jewel and Cliff Martinez, and actors Mads Mikkelson and Ryan Gosling. His obsessions with kitsch and arthouse film history have been laid bare through his cinephile characters in his first few films, the encyclopedic knowledge of film and its role in Bleeder, the inspiration of Italian and American horror film cinematically through how he shows gore and produces fear, and his indebtedness to figures like Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg of the Dogme 95 movement, to David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, and through his musical inspirations and stylistic attempts to Blade Runner.

The big question for anyone who has seen this retrospective and has been following along now is, what is Refn currently working on? The answer is a ton of stuff.

In 2016, after the release of the Neon Demon, Refn was offered the role of director for the upcoming 007 Bond film Spectre. He ultimately turned down the role, but began reading Ian Fleming novels on the eponymous spy and eventually created an entirely new story and script for a unique story of his own. He called it, tentatively, The Avenging Slice, and described it as a mixture between Fleming’s sixth Bond novel ‘Dr. No’ and the classic sci-fi body horror ‘The Soft Machine’ by William Burroughs, but shone through the prism of Refn’s own neuroses and interests to produce a unique product. The plot was about a European one-time spy commissioned by a Japanese CEO to seek out and destroy a troublesome Yakuza boss. I, and probably most of the people who have heard about it, want this movie.

But, like many other Refn projects in the past, nothing came of the project, and instead, he has moved on to a different story while attempting to channel themes from Avenging Slice into the new work. The work I am referencing is a project announced in late 2017 for an Amazon TV show titled ‘Too Old to Die Young.” The project began production last year and will likely take around ten months to complete the 10-episode series set ultimately for marathon release format. If anyone thought that Refn hadn’t been creating enough material on a quick enough time frame (10 films in 20 years from 1996-2016), you may be happy with this release, which will probably be of the hour-length episode order. Meaning we will get the equivalent of 5-6 Refn films of content all at one go. The series is set in L.A. and recounts the stories of killers who become honorable urban samurai who fight the forces they once followed and will star Miles Teller and Jena Malone amongst others in a world wherein The Neon Demon (and hopefully Drive) are relevant tie-ins or myths within the underground consciousness.

The second confirmed work for Refn in 2018 is his and his company Space Rocket Nation’s production of a remake of William Lustig’s 1988 film ‘Maniac Cop’. The story is about a police officer turned serial killer and the other cop within the precinct who is on the case attempting to find the guy. The film will be directed by John Hyams, son of the legendary Sci-fi Director Peter Hyams (Outland, 2010, Timecop), and is set to be a procedural action thriller instead of a horror film like its predecessor. That Refn would sign his name onto such a project in the same year that Lars von Trier is set to release his film ‘The House That Jack Built’ (about the life and development of a serial killer from his own perspective) sets Refn into a seemingly inevitable ideological conflict with von Trier. Unfortunately for Refn, with him on the conservative, hopeful side of the equation and von Trier on the stronger, more truthful, dark side of things that champions evil and recognizes its validity.

Finally, Refn’s most interesting project of the year is the launching of his self-financed 4K Film Restoration project, ByNWR. The site launches in Spring 2018 and hopes to offer viewers high quality restorations of lost films, for free, with optional commentary, extra features like interviews and essays, and yes, again, for free! The first two quarterly release titles have been titled Volume I: “Regional Renegades: Exploitation Gems from the Southeastern USA” and Vol II: “Missing Links: Restored and Rediscovered Classics of American Independent Cinema.” The titles in this first release are 1965’s ‘The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds,’ and 1967’s ‘Shanty Tramp’ and ‘Hot Thrills and Warm Chills.’ The titles in the second release are 1961’s ‘Night Tide,’ 1967’s ‘Spring Night, Summer Night,’ and two films by hellfire and brimstone preacher Estus Pirkle: 1971’s ‘If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?’ and 1974’s ‘The Burning Hell.’ These films run the gamut from horror, to poetic realism, to arthouse, and industrial, but are mostly bound by Southern Gothic and Horror themes.

This is especially interesting to me, as I am from the South, have lived here all of my life (besides a three-month stint in Kyoto, Japan in college), and have been largely molded in this atmosphere. Films like ‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’ and ‘The Night of the Hunter’ ring true and speak to me on a deeper level than those by most anyone else, and I hope that the films released in ByNWR do likewise. Though I won’t be waiting around for the 4K restorations to find out.

Refn has always gauged his own success as an artist in relation to Lars von Trier who is never known merely as “the guy who directed Breaking the Waves,” but as a creator of regard in his own right whose oeuvre is studied in film schools worldwide. Refn has alternately been known as the guy who made Pusher, and once he directed Drive, as the guy who made Drive. Hopefully his move into creating for Television, into Producing other’s films, and into the role of Film Archivist and Restorer will make Refn’s name more prestigious and eventual garner him the critical success as an auteur that he has always yearned for and hoped to get.

 

Later,

Cody Ward

The Samurai of Sincerity (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 14)

(If you missed the part 13, check it out HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The episode opens with a party that Mimi seems to have attended in the states. Back in the computer lab at the Digidestined’s school in Japan, Izzy is musing over how Kari was able to enter the Digital World without going through a computer terminal portal in the last episode. Yolei notices a new Digi-Egg on her D-3 scanner and the five Digidestined children head off into the Digital World to check it out. Just after they have left, Izzy, who has remained behind, registers a new Digi-portal on his computer. One that has apparently opened in America.

The Digidestined kids are in the Digital World looking for something to eat when they come across a Diner owned and operated by the same Digitamamon who enslaved Joe and Matt as indentured servants in Digimon Adventure 01. The Peter Lorre impersonating egg tells them, after they have eaten, that their total comes to $87 Digi-dollars. Yolei has plenty of Japanese yen, but Digitamamon won’t take their human currency and insists that they work off their bill. Luckily, Mimi and her American friend Michael show up in the nick of time and offer to the pay the bill themselves.

As the gang go back to sit down in the diner while Michael and Mimi order more food, they notice that Michael has a Digimon partner, Betamon! It turns out that a Gorillamon attacked New York City at around the same time that other Digidestined were being terrorized by a Parrotmon in Highton View Terrace. Michael, as well as other children presumably, saw the event and were later gifted with Digivices and Digimon partners of their own as they were called to defend their own areas of the Digital World. Michael’s Digivice is an old model, which means that he is probably no longer a Digidestined, just as the older kids like Matt and Tai have passed on their titles as Digidestined.

The revelation about Michael’s encounter with Gorillamon elicits memory responses from the three new Digidestined Davis, Cody, and Yolei. It seems that Cody was in the plane that was saved from Digital distortions by Garudamon in Digimon Adventure 01. Davis was in the Convention Center being held by Myotismon during his search for the Eighth Digidestined Kari. Yolei saw the battle between Omnimon and Diaboromon online in Our War Game!. These events had an effect on them similar to the events of Highton View Terrace and New York on the other older Digidestined. There were, however, many other children who were held in the convention center and there may have been a few onboard the airplane that Cody was on. Yolei was only one amongst thousands or millions who saw the battle online against Diaboromon. So why were these three chosen and not some other kids? Does this mean that there may be many, many more Digidestined children throughout the world?

When they get ready to pay for their meal, Digitamamon apologizes for his behavior and reveals that he was just cranky and didn’t mean to berate them for being unable to pay initially, but before the payment can be undergone, Gorillamon appears and threatens to destroy the Digidestined with his Energy Cannon attack fueled by a Dark Spiral! Digitamamon blocks the attack and is thrown far off into the mountain behind. Betamon Digivolves into Seadramon and tries to defeat Gorillamon by dragging him underwater, while Togemon assists and destroys the Dark Spiral while Gorillamon is grappled, thereby freeing Gorillamon.

Kari and T.K. run off to search for Digitamamon who soon returns of his own volition, but exhibits evil behavior. Mimi tries to talk sense into him and Digitamamon attacks her in response. Then, the item whose capture was the sole original purpose for their trip into the Digital World finally appears before Yolei: it is the Digi-Egg of Sincerity: the Crest once held by Mimi. Yolei takes the egg and Digivolves Hawkmon into Shurimon with its use, which gives the gang the muscle necessary to pry open Digitamamon’s shell and destroy the Dark Ring that was placed inside when he was up on the mountain.

The episode ends with Digitamamon once again becoming kind and expressing his friendship with the Digidestined. He decides that their meals are on the house too! Yolei has been crushing on Michael pretty hard, and before he and Mimi leave, Michael asks Yolei out on a date. The saved Digimon total for the series has risen to 109. But the Digidestined have been unable to destroy another Control Spire in this venture and are running behind in their quest to free the Digital World from the Digimon Emperor’s control.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

His Master’s Voice (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 13)

(If you missed the previous essay on Digimon Adventure 02, check it out HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Enter Chiaki J. Konaka. Along with Dai Sato, Konaka is widely revered as one of the two best screenwriters for anime in it’s modern epoch. And for the release of this Digimon Adventure 02 episode, released originally in Japan on June 25th, 2000, he was inexplicably called in to work.

Konaka’s works are generally psychological in thrust, with an intense focus on postmodern philosophical themes and techno-sociological analyses of possible future cultures. In this way, his interests align with writers like Manga artist Masamune Shirow (known for dense cyberpunk sci-fi works like Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell) and Dai Sato (known for his work on projects like Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, Ergo Proxy, and Eureka Seven). In the same year that Mamoru Oshii released his classic anime film adaptation of Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), Konaka’s cyberpunk classic Armitage III was also released. In the following years up to the millennium, Konaka wrote scripts for numerous other classic work of dense, thought-provoking anime like Serial Experiments Lain (1998) and Big O (1999), both of which are among my personal favorites.

So why cast Konaka for an anime geared more towards children like Digimon? First off, Digimon by this point already had a history of interacting with auteur animators and creators through their work with Mamoru Hosada. That collaboration is somewhat legendary now, but ultimately involved Hosada created the pilot episode for the anime titled Digimon Adventure, the classic paranoid thriller of Episode 21 in Digimon Adventure 01 when Tai first returns home from a long sojourn in the Digital World, and finally creating the first movie for the series in the short film Our War Game!. The creative interplay continued in the future as Hosada eventually took ideas for Our War Game! and expanded them into his 2009 film Summer Wars. Later, in Digimon Fusion/Xros Wars the team would dedicate the third to Hosada by entitling it The Boy Hunters Who Leapt Through Time, referencing Hosada’s 2006 film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Second off, Digimon Adventure 02 had been severely lacking in smart screenplays up this point in the series and the team drastically needed smarter content to catch a wider audience. This is where Konaka fit in and his contributions certainly helped to hold my attention upon rewatch of the series as it was a relative snore-fest before episode 13.

In the episode, Kari awakens from a disturbed sleep. She has been tossing and turning at night due to bad dreams. Waking in constant cold sweats and not getting enough sleep have led to much more stress for the student and Digidestined, and she seems to be developing something akin to an acute stress disorder that, if the root causes remain unaltered, could make her increasingly into a Lain-like figure, withdrawn, internal, not socially available or interested, anxious in social interactions, and prone to living a Puer Aeternus fantasy life within online culture.

While in her first period math class, she begins to feel extremely tired, the room around her fades away as a sea of fog encroaches and water ascends, reaching knee height. She feels all alone and within an odd existential void not quite within the human world and not quite within an internal world either. When T.K. looks over at Kari, she is shown blinking statically like a television set on a void channel. T.K. calls out to her and brings her out of her daze momentarily. Her teacher sends her to the nurse for a check-up to make sure she isn’t sick, but on the way there, the hallways darken and turn grey (not unlike the human world of Hosada’s Digimon Adventure 01 episode) and she imagines past times when she let others down, like her brother Tai. These feelings of insecurity and insufficiency continue to grow and then she sees it: a figure shadowing her down the hallway behind her, looking something like a spectral Goblinmon.

Later, T.K. searches for Kari and finds her sitting by herself on a bench outside of school. She claims that “they keep trying to take me to their world,” but is unable to explain who “they” are or make herself comprehensible to T.K. He tries to show his support and claims that he won’t let them take her away because he cares about her too much for that, but when Kari presses him and asks him what he means (hoping he will confess his feelings for her), he demures, becomes embarrassed, and promptly makes up an excuse to leave. This throws Kari into a deeper emotional spiral, which culminates in the other world taking her from her own. She blinks out and disappears from the Real World before Gatomon’s very eyes, leaving her backpack with her D-3 and D-Terminal behind in the process.

The world she arrives within is a deserted town by the beach. There is quai with a beautiful, but somber lighthouse emitting Dark Light out towards the sea. She has stepped over some liminal gate and been put into a state of Kamikakushi, or being Spirited Away, to a new world in-between the Digital World and the Real World that shows influence from both and has effects in both. In a dark tunnel, voices cry out for her help and when she goes therein she finds a group of Scubamon that are infested by Dark Rings. But they are not violent, they are weak and helpless and call for release from their pain by Kari who attempts to give them the release they call for, but finds herself incapable to tearing away the Dark Rings with her own measly human strength.

The tunnel begins to collapse as a group of Airdramon attack from above and Kari’s spirit cries out for assistance, resulting in the apparition of Kari appearing before T.K., Patamon, and Gatomon in the Real World. They pass through a liminal gate to her unique realm without going through the computer lab terminal, which later prompts Izzy to begin pondering metaphysics once more. Then the episode becomes straightforward once more as Pegasusmon destroys the Control Spire Lighthouse and Angewomon destroys the Airdramon (without freeing it from its Dark Ring mind you?!?!). They finally free the Scubamon with the power of the other Digimon, but the diminutive beings return to their ghastly spectral forms instead of their substantial forms, begin to recall some innate evil, and ask Kari to help them revolt against their undersea master and to become their new Queen.

The effective total of freed Digimon for the series would become 113, if the Airdramon had not been destroyed and if the Scubamon actually became good by being released from their Dark Rings. Instead, the total remains at 107. In the ending crawl, we see the outline of the Scubamon’s master in the mist: it is Cthulu! (Cthulumon?) This comes as no real surprise as Konaka is a writer for the extended Lovecraftian Cthulu Mythos and often incorporates elements of the mythos into his screenplays. Unfortunately, this story ends here as the plotline was not carried on into future episodes of Digimon Adventure 02, which is surely the series’ biggest creative sin (and there are many).

In the following years, Konaka would go on to write some of the darkest, most critically acclaimed anime of the 2000s like Hellsing (2001) and Texhnolyze (2003). All of these previously mentioned projects were ones on which he wrote the entirety of the script, but he would also go on to write one-off or short series of episodes for shows like Princess Tutu (2002) and Rehxephon (2002). And most importantly for the context of Digimon, he was the series creator and head writer for Digimon Tamers (2001), the third season of the Digimon anime franchise. This series would be acclaimed for its dark themes about the nature of neurosis, of technology, of demoralized societies, and of the dangers of postmodernity that we could one day face.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[P.S. In between each season on Digimon that I rewatch and review on this blog, I review other short anime series of twenty episodes or less. Because the next season of Digimon after Adventure 02 is Tamers, I will be reviewing a topical anime to get myself ready for Konaka’s Digimon series. This anime will be the classic Serial Experiments Lain. So look forward to that one in about two months from now!]

[Continued HERE]

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