Archive | March 2018

The Secret World of Arrietty

(Check out my previous Studio Ghibli essay here: From Up on Poppy Hill)

In 2010, when Studio Ghibli began a heavy production schedule that would carry on into the next four years, the first film they commissioned was a film by a newcomer to the director’s chair: Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Like Yoshifumi Kondo fifteen years previous, Yonebayashi was a longtime Ghibli collaborator with an impressive resume of work with the company, beginning with work as an in-between animator and clean-up artist on Princess Mononoke under Kondo’s tutelage. Mononoke was Kondo’s final film work before his death in 1998, and in a sense, can be interpreted retroactively as a passing of the torch to a younger animator.

The year following Mononoke, Yonebayashi worked as a key animator on the acclaimed cult anime series Serial Experiments Lain (which I am currently reviewing and can be found HERE). From the late nineties on, Yonebayashi worked in multiple capacities on another ten Ghibli productions, first as an in-between animator on My Neighbors The Yamadas. Later, he worked as a key animator on the short films Ghiblies #1Ghiblies #2Mizugumo Monmon, and House-Hunting, and on the features Spirited AwayHowl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo. He also worked as animation director on the highly acclaimed and beloved short-film Mei and the Kittenbus in 2003, which eventually landed him a job as assistant animation director on Goro Miyazaki’s first feature Tales From Earthsea in 2006, and eventually as a prospect for the director’s chair for his own feature.

The film is an adaptation of a classic novel of children’s literature, The Borrowers (1952), written by Mary Norton, a British writer. It follows the life of a diminutive young girl named Arrietty who is a ‘borrower,’ one amongst a race of miniature humanoids who typically live within the walls, floorboards, and crawl spaces of their much larger homo sapien counterparts. She and her father and mother have lived within the same country home for all of Arrietty’s life and she has now grown close to full maturation as a young woman. As such, she moves from mere domestic chores and learning to the knowledge of exploration and ‘borrowing’, or stealing, of innocuous items needed for survival, which they take surreptitiously from the home’s ‘beans’ (the borrowers name for homo sapiens). She and her father travel through a dense network of nails and wall studs in the walls of the home toward the kitchen of the home to find sugar and other items helpful for survival like scraps of cloth and twine.

The home is typically occupied by the owner, an old woman of sensitive temperament and strong imagination who believes in the existence of the ‘little people’, just as did her father. The two of them built a doll house fully furnished with miniature, but functional appliances like real cloth couches and bedding, as well as a stove and kitchen full of pots and pans that could be used by the little people. She did this in the hopes that the little people would make themselves apparent to her, so that she could have friends within the home, and so that the lives of the little people could be made easier. However, the borrowers, or little people, are too careful to enter the house and live there. Thinking it a trap, they have lived in a nice makeshift home beneath the bean’s home and made it a point never to take anything from the doll house for fear that it could be poisoned.

Other than the old woman, an old maid also resides within the home. She is a trickster type who will cause problems for the borrowers later once she realizes that they actually do exist in the home. She tracks down their home and even confines Arrietty’s mother to the space of a jar (with air holes) in the hopes of calling the papers and becoming a sensation for her discovery of these little people living within the home.

As the film begins, a young boy is dropped off at the house by his parents (incidentally, during this sequence a cat resembling Muta from Whisper of the Heart, Yoshifumi Kondo’s film for the studio, fights a crow in the front yard of the home. This crow resembles Toto in Whisper of the Heart‘s spin-off The Cat Returns). He is sickly and has come to visit his grandmother’s country home for the week before he has a life or death operation on his heart. He has no real friends as he is always separated from other children and cannot play on account of his heart condition. Over the course of the film, he will come to realize the existence of the little people, befriend Arrietty, unwittingly lead the maid to uncovering their existence, and end up saving the ‘borrowers’ from her eccentric machinations. The bond that he and Arrietty develop will give him the strength to later overcome his operation, while his friendship with Arrietty will teach her parents that not all beans are bad, and will help Arrietty grow as a person as well. But they have still been found out by the maid, and by the film’s end, find it necessary to make a pilgrimage into the wilderness to find a new domicile they can call home, where they can remain unmolested by the old maid and hopefully avoid detection for a long time to come.

The film was a huge success for Studio Ghibli both commercially and critically. It is a beloved classic within their oeuvre, but also made nearly $150 million USD at the box office on the strength of a mere $23 million USD budget. This was the best return on a Ghibli film not directed by Miyazaki (it surpassed all receipts for even Takahata’s films), the fifth highest grossing film ever for the company (behind Miyazaki’s four previous films), and the highest grossing Japanese film for the year of 2010. Complete with an enigmatic score of Celtic themes from the French-Briton singer-songwriter Cecile Corbel, the film is a powerful vision of how individuals from two completely different worldviews and perspectives with different concerns and existential threats can come together in a meaningful manner emotionally through the larger context of human spirit and will. This is borne home thematically through the use of a British source novel by a Japanese Studio using traditional American animation techniques (Ghibli’s animation is not the traditional mode of production and corner-cutting associated with anime, but closer to the production modes and ethos of Disney or the Fleischer brothers) and a Celtic score written by a French woman to tell a universal story that can, and did, effectively reach children and young adults in an impactful manner worldwide. Hopefully it will continue to do so in the future.

After this film, Studio Ghibli really ramped up their production schedule with a Goro film set for release the following year, and Miyazaki and Takahata working on films simultaneously for releases in 2013. This was followed by a second chance at directing for Hiromasa Yonebayashi in 2014 (but more on that in my next installment of this Studio Ghibli blog series) as well as the studio’s first try at monetizing an animated television series in Goro’s 2014 series Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter. Six large, costly projects in a four year period, but they would somehow manage to pull it off.

 

[My Ghibli series concluded here: When Marnie Was There]

Protocol (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 09)

(Layer 08)

A woman’s voice opens the episode. Her message is, as have been all prior opening messages, quite enigmatic, even within the context of the episodic content itself. ‘If you want to be free of suffering, you should believe in God. Whether or not you believe in Him, god is always by your side.’ From the perspective of our own world, in which the existence of god is at least very highly suspect (and most likely there is no such thing as it is no longer really necessary as a theory to explain the existence of the Universe), this woman’s statements are extremely naive. But within the metaphysics of the show itself, they are likewise pretty subject to questioning as the real world may just be a hologram emitted from the hive mind of the Wired, which itself seems to have a god who is neither a creator being nor an omnipotent one, but only one who is omnipresent within the Wired and seems to cause more trouble and grief than he fixes. That god is always by the side of the denizens of the Wired whilst within the Wired, but not when they exit the Wired, and furthermore, his presence doesn’t belie the unproved assertion that he is beneficent and worth trusting, or generally a source of alleviation of suffering. He may, in fact, be causing suffering. Certainly his actions have caused suffering for Lain.

A man’s voice, giving a briefing to an unknown person or group of persons (perhaps us, the viewers, alone?) will alternate with events from Lain’s quest throughout this episode. He will explain past events and archival footage, photographs, and other materials will stream by on the screen, thereby visually aiding his explanations. He begins by explaining that on July 4th, 1947 in the desert of New Mexico, an unidentified craft crash landed. Further, ‘Conjecture has become fact, and rumor has become history.’ This incident, the Roswell Incident, has been investigated pretty thoroughly and explained through scientific analyses to have probably been the crash-landing of a weather balloon rigged with many measurement apparatuses or even possibly a spy plane. Conspiracy theorists have taken the event to signify the crash landing of an alien craft, which was recovered by the American government and hidden from the people. This is bs, but has been swallowed wholesale by much of the American public as true. The conjecture has become fact, the rumors, history. The virtuality of the Event has taken precedence over the reality behind it, and is as such, now a social fact.

Lain is next shown within her den of room sporting her kawaii bear kigurumi. someone cracks open her door and she hears steps into the space of the room as something wades into the water covering the floor, ensuring her Navi coolant system has a constant source of makeshift coolant. She asks who’s there, but receives no answer. When she moves and crawls around her equipment to locate the intruder, she comes face to face with a traditional grey alien across the room. Just as Roswell conspiracy theorists have been fooled by their curiosities and drawn into a paranoid-schizoid fantasy, so too has Lain’s normal mental functioning, her normally astute rational brain, been worn down by rumors, conjecture, and falsity on the Wired. The grey alien disappears, signifying its presence only within her mind, and Lain looks disturbed.

The scene shifts and the man’s voice begins his lecture once more. This time he speaks of a different time: 1984. A TV producer, Jaime Shandera, received a manilla envelope in the mail in which was couched a roll of undeveloped film. The envelope was from an anonymous source. Shandera developed the film and found what has come to be known as the MJ-12 Document (or Majestic 12 Document). The document stated that Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter and eleven other doctors, and military and government officials ‘concluded a secret treaty with extraterrestrials as a special organization answerable only to the President’ of the United States. Hillenkoetter was a director of the US Central Intelligence Group and the first director of the CIA (notably important in this context as he was the head of the CIA when the Roswell Incident took place. Why this is important I have no clue as that incident was a domestic incident that should have involved the FBI and not the CIA who are at least supposed to only deal with affairs pertaining to national security outside of U.S. borders).

Other individuals listed therein include the doctors Dr. Lloyd Berkner (a physicist and engineer who developed radio technologies and atmospheric measuring tools), Dr. Detlev Bronk (one of the fathers of modern biophysics), Dr. Jerome Hunsaker (aeronautical engineer of airships and flying boats), and Dr. Donald H. Menzel (one of the first theoretical astrophysicists in the United States and a notable UFO skeptic). The government officials James Forrestal (first US Secretary of Defense) and Gordon Gray (a national defense adviser for Truman and Eisenhower who replaced Forrestal after Truman asked for his resignation after the war). Finally, there are the military officials besides Hillenkoetter: Lieutenant General Robert Montague (a commander at bases in Texas and Nevada during and after the time of the Roswell Incident who conspiracy nuts believe helped cover up the ‘truth’ of the incident), Admiral Sidney Souers (one-time director of the Central Intelligence Group, an Executive Secretary to the National Security Council, and a Presidential consultant on military affairs), General Nathan Twining ( long-time head of the US Air Force), and General Hoyt Vandenberg (an air force general and the second head of the Central Intelligence Group).

Above, I purposely leave out one figure: Dr. Vannevar Bush. The man continues his explanation of MJ-12 by explaining that the signature of President Harry S. Truman written on the document is now verified as forged. And we know that the entire document was a hoax. But the conspiracy crowd has used the document since and continued to attest to its veracity based less on actual evidence and more on a need to believe outrageous things to add some sense of adventure to their lives. In this too, just as Roswell, conjecture has become fact, reality mere virtuality, at least for an idiot fringe. The man continues his speech: ‘Named as a member of the MJ-12 was Vannevar Bush, head of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering.’ He leaves us for now on this mysterious cliffhanger, but will later elaborate on who this very important individual was.

Lain enters the Wired. Unlike past avatars, all of the current ones are outlines of human forms filled with static and the occasional naturalistic detail like an eye, an ear, a nose, a mouth, or even a forearm, rendered in flesh hues realistically in a manner that contrasts sharply with its contextual background, the rest of its body. Lain asks how she could change something that happened into something that did not happen. That is to say, she is asking the group for ontological advice about how she was able to delete the memories of past events from the minds of people within the real world, how she was able to delete the event itself from the fabric of reality retroactively (as she did in the previous episode). The inhabitants do not seem to understand the thrust or content of her question and instead direct their tentative answers and further questions toward the broader question of who Lain is that she could manifest such great powers.

They all seem to know Lain, though she knows none of them. They claim that she has been present since the moment of the Wired’s inception and that within its domain, she is free. This means that she is free there as opposed to un-free elsewhere. Namely, in the real world, where her powers are limited by physical laws and the rules of the game in that space. They then begin to run off on tangential debates about whether they themselves existed first in the real world or in the Wired. Someone else tries to affirm their existence in some form through remembrance, which is a record of some form or another. A woman’s voice questions who Lain really is and claims that she cannot be coincident with the Lain of the Wired with which they are all familiar as this real world Lain is much too young to have been around since the beginning of the Wired. The voices quiet down and all of the forms disappear, leaving Lain alone to wonder after twelve things simultaneously.

The man’s voice begins again to discuss Vannevar Bush. During WWII and after, he was the head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development. He oversaw projects like Manhattan at this time. He also founded the military contractor company Raytheon, pushed for the creation of the National Science Foundation, co-created one of the first practical use analog computers from 1928-31 in the Differential Analyser, helped develop and push forward into the modern age Digital Circuit design theory, and was generally one of the pioneers of computer science. But most important to this series is his conceptual development of something called a Memex in 1945. The idea was of memory expansion device that would use a massively condensed microfilm system chock full of documents like films, audio, graphics, books, and other information that could be easily searched through in an intuitive manner much in the way human memory works, every bit of information related and branched to another by conceptual relevance. The information could be projected on a transparent screen and seen quickly by users in an intuitive, simple interface system. This should sound familiar as this was the major influence for the concept of the modern multimedia computer used today.

Lain is next in Cyberia. She catches the attention of the club DJ JJ who tells her that she forgot a manilla envelope on the club floor the previous day. This mirrors the manilla envelope of MJ-12 previously discussed. Lain doesn’t remember being there the previous day and takes the envelope, though she is noticeably perplexed by the ordeal. When she opens it, she finds a computer processor chip with The Knights logo emblazoned upon it.

The man next speaks about a different pioneer in another field of science, which is much more speculative and seems to have fewer real-world, positive applications (at least so far): sensory deprivation. The man is John C. Lilly whose experiments with sensory deprivation using ‘Native American narcotics and isolation tanks to probe the unconscious’ have had questionable scientific usefulness in subsequent years (but at least provided good material for a great sci-fi film in 1980s Altered States). Lilly supposedly believed that through his experiments he made contact with a cosmic force or group of forces who would help guide him and were known as ‘E.C.C.O., Earth Coincidence Control Office.’ Later, he began research on dolphin language and communication, which are known to be able to contact fellow individuals or pods along long distances using complex echolocation and ultrasonic waves. In a word, the guy was a bit crazy, but in some ways probably really believed he was doing valid scientific work.

Back to Cyberia, Lain approaches a table in the corner of the room where three children recline. The kids are the same ones who gave her advice on her Psyche processor in the past, and the leader of the group is a boy who earlier expressed an interest to go on a date with the wild Lain of the Wired. He also advised her earlier on the god of the Wired (but had little interesting information to give) while fighting monstrous player characters in an online virtual reality game on the Wired. Lain tells him that he promised to go on a date with her previously but he and the others at the table pretend not to remember. The boy, whose name is revealed as Taro, explains that even if he did say that, he would only want to go on a date with the wild Lain and not the real world Lain standing before him. Lain goes wild eyed at this point and claims that she and that other Lain are one and the same. The crazed look in her gaze causes Taro and his entourage to flinch and move back.

Taro decides it’s best to do what she says and follows her back to her home and her room where he admires her complex Navi system. She asks him about the computer chip she received in Cyberia, which she has somehow surmised is actually Taro’s who works with JJ and only told him to give it to Lain to somehow sabotage her. She claims that there is another Lain in the Wired, but that she is the only Lain in the real world (a claim that goes against the ending of last episode when the social Lain split off from her and interacted with her friends in the real world). Using this logic, she discerns that the Lain who wanders Cyberia and is a regular therein is actually a fabrication of Taro’s who has been manipulating the memories of those within the club to believe she was there, and was gregarious whilst there. She tells her Navi system to play ‘Track 44’, an EDM club track played within Cyberia, which is encrypted within that context to manipulate the minds and memories of the hologram-people in the club.

Downstairs, her father and mother sit on the couch in a suggestive position. He speaks aloud after hearing the music upstairs: ‘It’s almost over, isn’t it? Finally…’ His wife suggests that in the meantime they should make the best of it and begins to kiss him. The camera glides back to reveal Mika sitting within an adjacent room. She sits, nearly catatonic, mumbling in her characteristic way as the clone she is. Then, for the first time since the initial real Mika disappeared and replaced by this aberration, she speaks: ‘Beep. Beep. Beep.’ She hold an imaginary telephone to her head: ‘Roger. Now communicating. Beep. Beep. Beep.’ This behavior continues and relates nothing useful to the viewer as of yet.

Upstairs Lain approaches Taro, who has fallen to the ground in fear, and tells Navi to turn off the music, which she does. Taro explains that it wasn’t his idea to play the music in the club to alter memories, but that he was aware of the process. He explains that he is not one of The Knights, that he is too young and inexperienced to even be considered as a potential member and that he is unsure of the exact effects of what would have happened if Lain had installed the computer chip into her system, but that some part of the memory would have been destroyed: ‘It’s a non-volatile memory! It’ll override existing memories.’ He doesn’t know which ones. He does know that Lain intrigues The Knights, though they also seem to be trying to destroy her for some reason: first the parasite bomb in her coolant system and now this.

Taro explains that the purpose of The Knights is to ‘make the one and only truth there is into a reality’ because ‘the truth has power because it’s the truth, and because it’s the truth, that makes it just.’ However, when pressed, he cannot explain what this truth is as he is not a Knights member. just a brainwashed youth with a case of hero-worship. As he regains his composure and gets up off of the ground, he explains that he must return to Cyberia because his girlfriend Myu-Myu is jealous of Lain, but he kisses Lain first before he leaves. He explains his behavior as necessary as he’s a guy, Lain’s a girl, and this was a date after all. He departs the room, but leaves behind his gum in the mouth of Lain, who is dumbfounded by the experience. Kid’s got game.

The man’s voice resounds again as he begins to talk about the American philosopher, sociologist and information technology theorist Ted Nelson. The man is known particularly for coining many terms and concepts within the jargon of modern information tech theory. Some of these terms as are follows: hypertext (texts linked together in a StretchText branch by hyperlinks to other hypertext pages), hypermedia (a nonlinear information medium of audio, video, graphics, text, hypertexts, and hyperlinks), and transclusion (how information is connected within a StretchText branch of hypertexts and hyperlinks; opposed concept to transdelivery whereby information is connected by inclusion of information from other contexts, and transquotation wherein information is quoted from unconnected sources). Other concepts include virtuality (the seeming of anything as opposed to its reality, or the feel of a thing. A film is totally a virtuality to the average public, and only a reality to film buffs who study each scene or frame for the film’s actual construction) and intertwingularity (the interconnectedness of all knowledge, which cannot be artificially divided into fields of study or branches of knowledge).

Nelson also developed the concept of Project Xanadu in the early 1960s. The project was an attempt to create a memex of hypertexts and hyperlinks within a massive StretchText branch of hypermedia transcluded in a way that allows all knowledge and media within to be totally intertwingled. That is, a world wide web twenty years before the world wide web, which would be much more extensive and interconnected than the Internet we have today. A project in which all of the information could be linked back through hyperlinks to its sources, in which all information flowed in a manner like the associative mind instead of a binary of drawers that need to be rifled through individually, one at a time, to find information. Xanadu has not been developed, but if one day developed, could be much more easily usable by a human being augmented with a man-machine interface like a neural lace than the current system we have in place.

The man explains that Ted Nelson was a student of both Vannevar Bush and of John C. Lilly. The name for Xanadu, the ‘electronic library in satellites in stationary orbit which could be used at any terminal on Earth via radio or phone lines’, is derived from the Mongolian myth of a utopia wherein ‘all written cultures would never be lost.’ The element that becomes apparent in Serial Experiments Lain at this point is one similar to a vein of thought in the animated film Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa in which the development of science and chemistry  is intertwined with the occult and with alchemy. Here, the development of computer science and the Wired is intertwined, intertwingled if you will, with UFO conspiracies, eccentrics, and ancient mythology.

Lain is shown at her Navi checking her memory. She has learned a little bit about how to manipulate reality (which is, as we now know in the anime, only a mere projection from the data of the Wired) and decides to re-view her visit to Tachibana General Labs. This time, three people are inside the room: her father, mother, and sister Mika (the only one of the three that has hitherto been named in the series). The father takes Lain’s hand and guides her back through another memory, to the time when she first went home and was introduced to her room. He opens the door and the real Lain back in the real world turns as her real world door opens and a vision of her digital self and her memory father opening the door and peering inside appears before her.

The real world Lain exclaims: ‘That is me!’ The memory Lain responds, ‘Yes. This is me.’ The real Lain gets confused and asks, ‘Who are they?’. The memory Lain gets confused and responds back, ‘I’m you, so I wouldn’t know.’ The real Lain finally understands that the vision is aberrant, that it is a glitch in the real world fabric that occurred through her manipulation of data within the Wired without understanding the consequences of what would happen. But Lain has real power to change the world around her, so she claims that all of this is a lie and the memory Lain and her memory father who had moved through the past to this moment through the force of Lain’s will are just as easily dispelled by that will. They disappear.

The man begins his second to last elaboration on computer science history and the development of the Wired (as well as what amounts to a laying bare the cyberpunk influences of the creators of the anime). He explains that the Earth has an electromagnetic fingerprint unique to itself. This extremely low frequency (or ELF) band lies between the surface of the Earth and its ionosphere. The constant resonance registers at about 8 hz and is called the Schumann Resonance. It may or may not have an effect on human beings, though evidence supports the latter assumption. If any effect at all is present, it is probably pretty minor or negligible. The man calls these resonances ‘Earth Brain Waves,’ which is pretty misleading about the reality of these waves (unless one falls into the trap of Gaia theory of World-consciousness, which is relatively harmless as a metaphorical Teilhard de Chardinian concept, but just dead wrong as a reality).

The man goes on to explain that the ‘Earth’s human population is approaching that of the number of neurons in the brain.’ This is also widely off-track as there are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the average human brain, and there are not even ten percent this many humans on the planet currently (in 1998 when this anime was created, there weren’t even six billion people on Earth yet). The probability that the human population will ever exceed even fifteen percent of this 100 billion threshold is also extremely unlikely as birthrates plummet worldwide.

Next, the voice explains that the media theorist ‘Douglas Rushkoff proposes that the consciousness of Earth itself might be awakened when all humans on Earth become collectively networked.’ This sounds possible in theory, but such panpsychism has the potential to lead theorists down the rabbit hole toward conclusions such as the possibility that there are even sufficiently complex rocks and thermostats such that they would naturally generate consciousness. Neurons are neurons and not all physical phenomena have the ability to behave in the same manner. Most probably do not hold this ability and there are probably very few substrates able to generate consciousness through sufficient complexity. Rushkoff, as portrayed by the voice in this episode, seems to jump to conclusions about the whole matter (which I admit I may be wrong about in the final analysis) before anything has been fully established through actual data.

As an aside, Rushkoff as a media theorist is notable for coining a number of important terms such as viral media, social currency, and digital native (a person born into the digital age), which are intuitively understandable. Their ease of comprehension has led to wide-spread use of the terms in popular level blogs and news outlets for more than two decades. In the early nineties, Rushkoff also penned his first book on cyberculture and rave culture called Cyberia , which is notable here as the title is the name of the rave club within Serial Experiments Lain that serves as a hub of cyberculture within the real world.

In Lain’s penultimate sequence in Layer 09, she is in a thin negligee. The ‘camera’ angle is dutch, from above peering down in a slanted manner. She exclaims that there is one truth only, which she identifies as ‘God’. A voice, presumably the god of the Wired, responds: ‘Yes. Me.’

Finally, the disembodied male voice which has served as the point of elaboration throughout the episode speaks up once more. He explains that there was once a researcher for Tachibana General Labs named Masami Eiri who supposedly developed the concept of the world wide web further than even Tim Berners Lee in the eighties. Eiri theorized a system whereby individuals could be plugged into the Wired at the ‘unconscious level without the need for any device.’ He used the Schumann Resonance Factor, encoded it, and encrypted it into the IPv7. He did all of this without the directive of his company and was chastised and dismissed for it. Just a week later, his body was found, dead, near the Yamanote train line in Tokyo. (Eiri is where the series makes a clean break with reality as he only exists as a character within Serial Experiments Lain and shouldn’t be confused with a real entity).

In the episode’s final scene, Lain is shown standing in the street near her home. She is face to face with Eiri who has seemingly used his man-machine interface to download himself onto the Wired. In the process, he became the ‘god’ of that domain.

 

Ciao for now,

And if you made it this far, kudos. This is my longest blog post to date at nearly 14 pages in length based on word count alone. I’ve enjoyed the process, but hope the next one won’t be quite so lengthy, and that Serial Experiment Lain won’t give me quite so much material to work with, to unpack, and to research further and present her.

[Layer 10: Love]

The Big Sleep

(Check out my previous film noir review here: Dark Passage)

In early 1944, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall acted in their first film together: To Have and Have Not. To film was a success that continued Bogart’s reign as a top-billing actor and jump-started Bacall’s career as a movie actress (this was her first film appearance as she had previously been a model). Although that film, directed by legendary American auteur Howard Hawks, was released in early 1945, he and the two actors were already at work on a follow up as early as October 1944. Shooting was finished in January of 1945 and the film went on to the cutting room from there where it emerged ready for premiere a few months later.

However, the film would not be released in 1945 as the war drew to a close and the studio had a ton of other war and propaganda films on the shelves, which would have done badly in a peacetime filmgoing market. As such, the film was shelved until late 1946. In the interim, Bacall acted in an unsuccessful film, Confidential Agent, in 1945 for which her performance in particular was roundly criticized as thin and lacking conviction. Only two films into her career, the whole thing looked ready to crumble. the studios called for reshoots on scenes in The Big Sleep in order to give Bacall as strong of a performance as possible, and one recalling as close as possible her alluring characterization in To Have and Have Not. The reshoots compelted, the film premiered and blew away audiences at the time and critics since. It’s not established as a film noir classic.

The story was adapted from a 1939 Raymond Chandler ‘Marlowe’ novel of the same name by southern gothic author William Faulkner, as well as two other hands. It is notoriously confusing and complex. At one point the confusions surrounding a particular plot point- the cause of death of one of film’s characters- led Hawks to call Chandler for elaboration. Chandler had no immediate clue as to whether the character considered killed himself or was killed by another character. He reviewed the requisite parts of the novel and was still unable to discern just how the death occurred.

As the film is pretty complicated and one can be expected to watch it, enjoy its performances and scripting, follow each event to the next, but still be confused about the entire plot, I’ll attempt to elaborate on it here. I trust that giving away much of the plot will have little effect on viewer enjoyment for anyone who reads this then watches the film at some later point.

Marlowe is a private detective hired out on a case to the house of ex-General Sternwood, a retired old man with two paralyzed legs, whose perpetually at death’s door. The man used to have a friend who stayed with him at the house (with whom it is implied the relationship was sexual in nature) named Sean Regan. Sean left a while back, but as it turns out, disappeared due to General Sternwood’s youngest daughter, the extremely seductive minx Carmen, who shot him while on a drunken turn made worse through her intense psychosis.

Carmen’s elder sister Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (she’s a widow, and Bacall) took the fall for her sister in the mind of the one man who knew about the death: Eddie Mars. Eddie previously blackmailed the family and was paid off. But a second man, Mr. Geiger, found photo evidence of the murder and is blackmailing the family for the same thing. Marlowe has been hired to track down this second blackmailer and kill him, a wet job.

But before he can get to the guy someone else does. One Joe Brody who kills the man to appease his lover Agnes Lourzier who works for Geiger. Agnes takes the man’s vast book collection the following morning and plans to sell it off en masse to make a quick buck, and a big one at that. But another kid who works at the shop is also in on the job and loves Agnes so he kills Joe Brody and runs off. Marlowe catches the kid and knocks him out, after which point the kid disappears.

Meanwhile, tons of clues keep leading Marlowe closer to the trail of Eddie Mars and Mars, as it turns out, is on Marlowe’s trail as well. Tons of lackeys die in the process, and a few innocent bystander types, before Marlowe manages to invade Eddie Mars’ hideout where his wife is inexplicably hidden away. As it turns out, she and Geiger were going to run away and get married if they got the ransom money from the Sternwood’s. Eddie found out and is majorly pissed off and has her held by his goons in a safe house. But Vivian is there too and has been on the side of Eddie the whole time, but changes her affiliations for Marlowe, which makes sense because Eddie has blackmailed her family after all (maybe the blackmail kept her from ratting out Eddie for so long.

Eventually, Marlowe and Vivian escape the house, beat Eddie’s goons, and make way for the old house of Geiger, which Eddie Mars owned and leased out to his tenant: both of which blackmailed the Sternwood family, giving them a connection and making it clear how Geiger knew what he did. Marlowe calls Eddie, tells him he is on the way to house, and waits within the house he is already calling from until Eddie shows up with four goons. Eddie enters the house alone, with no gun, and plans to be agreeable and to let Marlowe leave first, during which point he will be shot by Eddie’s goons. Marlowe instead forces Eddie out of the house at gunpoint where he is shot by his own goons. Marlowe calls his friends at police headquarters and sirens approach, hopefully scaring off the other goons and not resulting in a gunfight and needless bloodshed. What happens in the end is unknown to the viewers of the film.

The film is labyrinthine and moves in ways much more complex than the short summary I provided above (which now that I’ve penned it am sure is wrong in some way). The complexity of the machinations of each character, each more complex than the next, make for a powerful film filled with paranoia, double-crosses, reveals, ciphers, clue-hunting, femme fatales, and close touches with death that ultimately makes it my favorite of the four pictures in which Bogart and Bacall played opposite one another from the mid- to late 40s. Because the maze at the narrative core of the film, the disorientation, and confusion, and the bare fact that the resourceful hero can negotiate this difficult terrain nonetheless inspires in me hope that in our postmodern social reality, cunning and sophistry can potentially cut to the thick and remove one from the gutters, from Being-down-and-out to Being-on-the-up-and-up. Heidegger’s rolling in his grave. Ciao

 

[Next up: Beat The Devil]

Rumors (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 08)

(Layer 07)

The episode opens in the series’ characteristic manner. Street lights, crosswalks, people, downtown life, movement through liminal spaces, way-places between work and home, life lived there though registered as non-life, as mere passing-time. A girl’s voice: ‘Do you want to be hurt, too? Do you want your heart to feel like it’s being scraped with a rasp? If you do, don’t look away, whatever you do.’

Next scene, a desolate desert wasteland. A young boy stands within this expanse of dust and mesas holding a large sword just as long as he is tall. Monsters generate and he destroys them in what is revealed to be a hack and slash virtual reality game on the Wired. He speaks about the existence of the god of the Wired and relates that no one knows if there is one or not, but that either way it doesn’t change the Wired’s functionality for users and makes little difference in the end analysis. Another monster appears and he asks Lain to give him a second while he fights the worm-demon enemy. The worm is apparently another player character in what we now find out is a multi-player game as Lain asks the boy what fun there is in beating other players in such a repetitive manner. The boy: ‘Nobody knows what’s fun and why.’ The boy appears to be the same kid who advised Lain on Psyche processors in Cyberia club in a previous episode.

Lain leaves and reflects on the door plate at the apartment complex last episode: ‘Tachibana General Laboratories.’ She goes elsewhere in the Wired and begins speaking with a knowledgeable individual about Tachibana. Lain seems to still be the same abrasive Lain from the end of Episode 7 in that she is flippant and sassy in how she delivers her remarks to both the boy and this new voice. The man’s voice explains that Tachibana is a huge corporation and probably wouldn’t do anything illegal, though he explains that he has heard some rumors. Lain asks for more information on this lead, but the voice changes topic and asks Lain, ‘Do you know how we’re able to exchange information in the Wired like this?’

Lain knows her stuff and chides the voice for testing her on such basic information. she explains that they can communicate effectively through IP addresses. The voice apologizes for underestimating Lain and explains that the current IPv6, instituted in 1995 to move IPv4 from 32-bits of information to the much more complex, and then necessary, 128-bits, was once a sufficient internet protocol to handle all devices connecting to the Wired. But now, even IPv6’s throughput has reached its limit and a move toward IPv7 is inevitable, meaning the bit information will need to be doubled to 256-bits (a doubling of bits is constant as IPv4=32, IPv5=64, IPv6=128, and so on. Note that in our real world, the one from which you, user, are reading these lines on this blog, IPv6 is still enough [in 2018] to handle all device IP’s and that IPv7 has not yet been instituted as the jump from IPv4 to IPv6 was enough to ensure plenty of IPs over the past twenty years). The man’s voice explains that large companies like Tachibana are the ones who are instituting the new IPv7, so far surreptitiously. They are battling over control of the new IPv7 infrastructure as control of this technology platform ensures control of the Wired’s economy. It seems that Tachibana is the main tech giant set to come out on top, and they’ve achieved this position through sabotage of other groups and companies.

Lain returns home from wherever she’s been to find her older sister Mika’s clone sitting in Lain’s room by her Navi. Mika isn’t disrupting anything, she just sits there mumbling, looking down at the ground, nearly catatonic. Lain leaves the room and goes into the kitchen to get a drink. Her parents are sitting at the dining room table, unusually stiff, not making a sound. She tries to gain their attention, bu they do not move a muscle or answer her. Lain relates how someone told her they were not her real parents, though she does so in a tentative manner, as the awkward and shy normal Lain we’ve grown accustomed to. They still don’t answer, but after Lain has finished drinking her green tea and washing out the glass, she turns to find them both staring at her intently with aggressive glares upon their faces. They still say nothing, Lain retreats.

Next, Lain is at school. Alice touches her shoulder as she enters the school gates. She turns to find them with angry looks on their faces. Alice asks if Lain really did it, to which Lain is confused and responds by asking what she is talking about. As Alice presses her and Reika exclaims that she of course had to have done it, tears well up in Lain’s eyes, Alice realizes that Lain has no clue what is going on, and decides to drop the whole thing. Alice: ‘I trust you, okay?’ She smiles at Lain, who begins to feel a little better about the situation but is still confused about what her Wired alter ego has done. Then a car drives by the school with a man inside that Alice recognizes before running off and into the school gates.

Lain goes to class and becomes consumed with her cell-Navi. She transports into the Wired mentally and passes rows of seated people, each with his or her own avatar of clothing without a body underneath or a head atop. Just clothing sitting on its own, and mouths appearing where they should be attached to absent heads. Each person spouts off different rumors they have heard on the Wired. Some speak of revealed sexual perversions in otherwise average people, others of the problems with protocol 6, others of some calamity that could come to the Wired as a result of the shift to protocol 7. Another woman speaks of a stalker who appears in her room as a small child, another of a hit and run confession from some pop star. Finally, a group relates rumors about The Knights and explains that they believe that the organization doesn’t actually exist and is merely an American hoax. Lain tells the voices to shut up and tells them that no one cares about any of this. The voices stop, but a new voice, the voice of a man, manifests itself above the others in importance.

The voice asks Lain why she doesn’t find their chatter interesting. Eventually, after some veiled references, Lain realizes who the voice is: ‘So God makes his grand appearance, huh?’ The voice asks how she defines “God”. If it is as creator of the world, then this figure is not god. It it is all an omnipotent ruler of the world, he is not god either. But if defined as plane-specific (in this case, the Wired) omnipresence, then he is god of the wired. Though he has admittedly a slight influence on the workings of that world. Lain presses the voice for more specific information on who he actually is, in the real world. He responds thus: ‘I am you. You must have realized that another you has always existed here in the Wired. You are merely a hologram of that other you. You are just a body.’

Lain refuses to believe this unsettling information and tells the voice that he is crazy to talk this way. He asks if she really believes that the her in the real world is the same as the Lain in the Wired. Lain merely responds that she is the only Lain, then the world around her fades and she begins to come to, once again, in the real world, in her classroom. If the God of the Wired really is an extension of Lain or another form of Lain, then the question of primacy becomes central. The god of the Wired has previously claimed that the Wired is the reality behind the real world of physical objects outside, that the data of the Wired is what generates the hologram existence of reality like a writer who creates a world in his fiction. As such, the Lain of the real world may in fact  be merely a hologram, a lesser level of reality ontologically speaking than the more sinister Lain of the Wired who is either coincident with, or another variation on, the God of the Wired.

In the classroom, Lain notices that all of her classmates are starting intently at her. No one is speaking, and when she looks up, she sees that even her teacher is staring at her. Lain closes out her cell-Navi apps and runs out of the classroom. But even there she finds no reprieve as all of the other students and teachers throughout the school seem to have stopped what they are doing to stare at Lain, to glare, and sneer, but never to speak to her. Even outside of the school, children in the playground or on the streets stare up at her through the windows of the school’s upper level and into the hallway where she walks. She receives an e-mail from an unknown sender: ‘Lain is a peeping tom.’ Then a message from Alice: ‘Don’t worry about the rumors! Don’t worry about it.’ A happy, chibi face of Alice is appended to the text. Lain leaves the school building and hides out by the sports equipment storage shed. The image of the Wired manifests itself for us, the viewers, as the Lain of the Wired turns. A portal opens behind Lain in the real world and the shed explodes. Lain is shown walking through the fire, unburned, unscathed, unaffected. A screen appears: ‘Searching…’

The scene shifts back to an earlier episode as Lain uses her power to search through yesterday’s events to find the instance in which the egregious event occurred. At an apartment complex, a girl’s room is shown. Alice sits within and her face is being touched by an older man, the man who she ran from at school on the following day when his car passed by. The scene is erotic, though only through description and not through visual elaboration. The man is a teacher and Alice is either enacting her fantasy for sexual pleasure with this man either in her mind or in some place on the Wired. As she touches herself and comes to climax, she opens her eyes and sees the Lain of the Wired on the bed adjacent to her. It is revealed that Lain of the Wired revealed Alice’s secret crush and the activities she performed in the room to the rest of the Wired, probably through video evidence, which destroyed Alice’s trust for a time. Ultimately, the event only made things awkward, though not unbearable, for Alice at school as everyone was sympathetic to her and chastised Lain for betraying Alice.

Back at home, the real Lain sits in bed tormented by this new revelation and by visions of telephone wires, of streetlights, of internet wiring, of crossing signs, and of the Wired. Then she enters that black space, the space of the Wired that is now so familiar to viewers. The real world Lain and the Lain of the Wired begin arguing. The real world Lain tries to choke the Lain of the Wired to death, but finds her data counterpart only laughs it off and exclaims, ‘I’m committing suicide!’ In the room, there are bodies seated all around. Each with the head of Lain, bobbling around, mumbling much as Lain’s older sister Mika.

Lain asks what the beings are only to be told that they are all her. The Lain of the Wired explains that Lain has always existed within the Wired, that she is omnipresent within it. Because she is everywhere, she is duty-bound to report all of the information she finds to the rest of the Wired. As such, the Lain of the Wired reveals that she was the one who hacked the Bureau of Information and also the one who told the rest of the Wired about Alice’s incident. If true, it appears that Lain is some form of artificial intelligence naturally generated by the Wired or coded into its creation by its programmers to keep the Wired open, to keep all events within it publicly available. whether it developed into its current complex form as the Wired developed and gained complexity, or if it arrived fully developed at birth, is a matter for further elaboration later. At any rate, the real world Lain seems to be a mere hologram, a second-order creation of the AI who exists in the real world as a way to extend the power of the Lain of the Wired into that plane of existence. She may be the force prompting the break between the real world and the Wired, a program or a drill or a hammer shattering the boundaries between levels of existence.

If so, she does so at the will of a large corporation or organization (not the Tachibana corporation who are competing with her parent company or organization, probably The Knights, to keep the boundaries between the world constant to solidify their own power base and control). If she is a creation of The Knights, then their attempt to destroy the real world Lain with the parasite bomb on her coolant system represents an attempt to silence an aberrant form of their Lain of the Wired who is moving beyond her programmed boundaries, Or, even more potentially problematic, an attempt to silence an aberrant form of the Lain of the Wired who has the power to stop the breaking of the boundaries between the worlds. Or even an attempt to stop this real world Lain before she becomes more powerful than they themselves.

Lain begins to act out in frustration against the dummy bobbleheaded Lains in the room as proxy for her feelings of violence toward the Lain of the Wired, which she cannot act out on directly as it would mean suicide in the process. Then she realizes something. She is not as helpless as she once thought and has power to manipulate the hologram of the real world through her will, through her very existence, through the light in her eyes, which is the power absent in her Wired counterpart. ‘If I’m really what you say I am, their memories of being seen by Lain…. I could delete that information.’ The Lain of the Wired confirms that this power is possible and prompts the real world Lain to try to delete their memories of the past day’s events. This should cause the real world Lain to pause momentarily, as it seems that by doing this she may be playing directly into the hand of the Lain of the Wired. However, the real world Lain does not think this through and instead goes forward with her attempt. A new screen: ‘Deleting…’

The next morning at school, Lain’s friends arrive and greet her warmly. When the real world Lain tries to join them, a different Lain emerges from her body and goes to her friends instead. They talk with this social Lain copy about going out together to Cyberia that night. The setting has turned into a white backdrop and a third Lain, the Lain of the Wired, appears and explains to the one-time real world Lain that ‘Lain is Lain, and I’m me.’ She smiles and disappears, then the real world Lain loses all color, becomes just the outline of Lain, and also disappears. But unlike her sister Mika who disappeared and was replaced by a clone, this Lain is resilient and reappears back at home, logs into her Navi and asks the machine: ‘I’m me, right? There’s no other me but me, right?’ Navi doesn’t respond.

Lain is split into three different aspects at this point. All three can seemingly manifest in the same spaces at once but is impossible to view as such by outside viewers. There is the real world Lain who still resides in the real world, but ventures within the Wired so often that she straddles a thin line of ontological presence and may in fact be the key to breaking down the barrier between the worlds. The Lain of the Wired seems like the original Lain manifestation who is the trickster, the shadow of Lain who commits evil deeds based on her coding and causes problems for the real world Lain. Now, there is a third Lain who represents the aspect of Lain as a social child of the real world. This Lain is, thus far, only a product of the real world, but her split from the real world Lain puts that Lain in real psychological trouble of succumbing to her feelings of inadequacy and shyness and depression and interiority, as without it, she is trapped as an emotionally troubled child. This final split could be what drives the real world Lain over the edge.

 

Cody Ward

[Layer 09: Protocol]

Society (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 07)

(Layer: 06)

The street opening, our characteristic beginning quote, this time from the vocal chords of an unseen girl: ‘I’ll tell you but it’s just between you and me. I’ll tell you what’s happening in this society, what’s beginning, just because you don’t know about it.’

Lain is shown back in her room, a new and improved coolant system is in place to replace her previous one that was blown up by a parasite bomb sent by The Knights. The machinery of the new system is too massive to fit within the confines of her space within the home itself, and as such, much of the ventilation tubing and wiring hangs outside of the room from the previously blasted out window pane (ala tech noir like Blade Runner). Lain is networking on the Wired through her terminal, as opposed to travelling within with her avatar. Her older sister Mika stands within her doorway, murmuring under her breath and looking absent-minded. Once Lain notices her and catches Mika’s attention, Mika leaves. Lain notes she that she has been acting weird lately and we know why, this Mika is a stand-in for the real Mika who was destroyed or banished from the real world two episodes prior.

In the city streets, a man wears a complex apparatus of wiring, processors, metal detectors, and a virtual reality headset that connects him with the Wired. He states that he knows the real world and the Wired are connected ‘end to end’. He also states that he can exist anywhere, even without his body, he believes, that he has the ability to send his consciousness elsewhere (a theory we know is false in reality, but works within the metaphysics of Serial Experiments Lain, which is much more mystical than the world in which you, reader, are reading this message). The man is a creep. He’s unshaven, has crooked teeth, and looks like he rarely bathes. the people who see him on the street as he passes, stop and stare in disbelief.

An upscale office building. A woman inside, a secretary enters an office. Her legs are alluring, shot in such a way as to make the audience voyeurs within the sequence. She flips her hair and sits down at a chair adjacent to her boss’s desk. ‘It’s time for the EMA Motor Consortium Banquet.’ The man, like us, is entranced, fixated on the woman’s legs. There is a Knights symbol on his laptop, very similar to the Masonic emblem. He asks the woman for three minutes time before joining her outside of the office for the upcoming meeting.

Lain is shown in class with her cell-Navi, networking in the Wired instead of paying attention to schoolwork or teacher instruction. Her friend Alice seems worried for Lain as the once interior young girl had shown some promise of becoming more socially adept and outgoing in the previous weeks, and is now spiraling back into interiority. Her obsession with the Wired seems to be blurring her distinction between the real world and the Wired, or worse, giving her a taste for the former over and above the latter.

A man is shown in his bedroom, typing vigorously upon his computer (much as I am at this moment). He has long hair and needs to shave (as do I) and is overweight (I’m getting there if I don’t do some exercises soon). The symbol of the Knights is on his computer screen (It’s currently my laptop background, what’s wrong with me?!?!), though he is obviously not one amongst their number as he states: ‘I’m better than you bozos!’ He seems to be competing with The Knights in some way.

Next, Lain is shown outside, on the roof of her school, looking down at the line of houses below, across the street. She is talking to herself: ‘The real world isn’t real at all.’ Her friend Alice appears and asks if Lain is okay, says she’s been slipping in her gregariousness, that she and her friends have been trying to take her out to make Lain happy. Alice also explains that if she is burdening Lain with their outings, that’s okay too and she’ll be fine if Lain wants to skip out in the future. Lain is overwhelmed by Alice’s concern and distraught that she has been hurting quite possibly her only close friend in the real world. The moment takes Lain out of her interiority and back into the real world she just dismissed. she apologizes to Alice and thanks her for her concern, thereby re-establishing their friendship and connection for the time-being.

The next scene is odd and hard to place spatially insofar as the only visual happenings for the viewer are animated traditional Japanese wall scrolls of birds flying about painted treetops and skies. A computerized voice speaks about a compromising of the ‘Information Bureau’s Information Control Center’ that has been cracked and destroyed by some online group. The information has been leaked to the Wired. The voice then alerts its recipient(s) that this news report will not reach the mainstream media outlets until tomorrow, or more obscurely, ‘or possibly yesterday.’

On the Wired, speculation is rife that this event, this terrorist seizing of classified documents relating to the potential safety of the Japanese public, may be the work of The Knights. The full name of the organization is revealed as The Knights of the Eastern Calculus. The group is said to have great influence within the Wired though their members are unknown. A computer voice speaks: ‘They are not only involved in mere information manipulation, they are also involved in the development and distribution of illegal information devices.’ Another voice claims that someone is after Lain, while another person mentions her absence from the Wired for some time.

Another voice describes Lain as powerful for her “Metamorphosis. Her will…. The light in her eyes. Her existence.’ We know by now that Lain has an alternate personage on the Wired. This may be her metamorphosis. Her will is evidenced by her ability to will the world into change such as when her alternate persona threw itself through time and space to the heavens above in the prior episode, or onto the Wired when she is simultaneously interacting in the real world, or when her will destroyed her window pane and the eyepiece of the man in the black suit. The light in her eyes and her existence are more vague and harder to pinpoint meaning behind at this moment within the series. Someone asks if the speaker of these lines is a member of The Knights, and the screen fades to black, revealing that the man gave no answer. Though his lack of a reply is telling in an of itself.

A delivery boy stops by the home of a young, attractive housewife. This delivery boy is the same one who delivered Lain’s Navi to her home in Episode 2, the same kid who was obsessed with Navis and explained that he would get the newest, top of the line model if he had the money. As the woman retreats further into her home to receive her stamp to sign off on the delivery, the young man admires her retreating end. when she returns, he offers to help her set up and use the new Navi she has displayed on her kitchen table. The sexual tension is obvious and the woman calls him out on it, rebuking him for making the advance. The woman’s kid comes home and begins to set up his video game system as she unwraps her package, which contains an unknown item with a Knights logo emblazoned upon it. She speaks to herself, looking more sinister than mere moments prior: ‘The Wired and the real world are one and the same.’

At this point, the businessman had a Knights logo and may be connected to the organization. A fat otaku at his home may be a Knights competitor or wanna be. This young housewife seems to have some connection with the group. The creep with the virtual reality headset could be a Knight, though an extremely eccentric one. And Lain, we know, has an antagonistic relationship with The Knights currently, as her coolant system was destroyed  by them, which would have killed her had she still been inside her room at the time it exploded.

As Lain walks home, the sky is an abrasive mix of dark reds and browns, sinister, hopeless, melancholy, dark, foreboding and very akin to the constant look of the skies in Chiaki J. Konaka’s later anime masterpiece Texhnolyze. The two men with eyepieces in black suits are standing beside their black sedan. They ask Lain to get in, making sure she knows that they only make a request, which could in principle be turned down, and that no harm will come to her if she comes with them. Lain asks who they are, they respond that she will find out if she comes with them. Lain looks indecisive as the screen fades to black. And a mystery looks close to being solved for us if she decides to be gungho and get in.

Back to the man in the virtual reality headset and odd apparel. He is speaking to someone through his headset on the Wired. Says he is breaking barriers between the real world and the Wired (though in a very modest manner that of physical cyborgification that has little to do with actually breaking metaphysical barriers between flesh and data). He wants to become one of The Knights and he receives and acceptance message on his headset. The headset allows him to see the Wired as overlayed atop the real world (much in the manner of those famed glasses by our real world lords and saviors whose names I will not mention here, but should be apparent), but suddenly his vision of the real world is obscured an blacked out. He only sees the image of Lain in his headset, but does not recognize her.

Lain is next pictured within the black sedan, she took the plunge and went on a ride with the men who have been stalking her home and her for the past few weeks. The car stops at an apartment complex and once inside, the group stops in front of a door labeled ‘Tachibana General Laboratories Shinbashi Office.’ They go inside and the businessman is there working on an old Navi system. He asks Lain to fix the machine, which she dutifully does, displaying her advanced knowledge of computer technology that she has picked up in a few short weeks or months. The Navi boots up and switches to the Wired where a voice is claiming that Lain is one of the Knights, while the virtual reality man asks the image of Lain to make him one of The Knights. these vignettes are seemingly unheard and unseen by the real Lain.

The businessman presses Lain for information. He states that online there are not usually real political orders, just otaku-anarchists and idiots that are out to cause trouble and chaos for their own sake. But The Knights are neither of these types. The businessman believes that they are planning to use Lain for something.

Back to the virtual reality man. He claims that he doesn’t believe there is a god in the Wired, though he could be convinced to believe this is he were given the opportunity to truly become a Knight and hear the information they know about the god of the Wired. Three ominous figures appear before him, one of which is the housewife from before. A perfect avatar of her real world form, meaning she has very high computing power, probably uses a Psyche processor, and may in fact be one of The Knights.

Back to Lain one last time. The businessman asks if she is one and the same with the Lain of the Wired. He asks if her parents are really her parents and if her sister is really her sister. It is revealed at this time that Lain does not know her father’s birthday, or her mother’s, or their anniversary, or how they met, or when her own birthday is, or where she was born. Lain breaks down crying, confused by this revelation that she may not be who she thin ks she is, may in fact be the fake one in relation to the Lain of the Wired. Then, she shifts. Her personality does a complete reversal into the shadow Lain, the abrasive Lain of the Wired.

The businessman tells Lain that the borders between the real world and the Wired are evaporating, and that though this may seem exciting and even liberating, it is an extremely dangerous proposition. The abrasive Lain doesn’t seem to care about this and attempts to leave the room. The second bodyguard holds her back, but is told to let her go in an unvoiced command by his boss, the businessman, who merely looks at him and utters his name: Karl. Lain leaves.

At the housewife’s home, a processor is shown in the trash. The processor bears the insignia of The Knights. The virtual reality man is shown lying in a ditch, either knocked out or dead through his encounter with The Knights, even though the encounter was seemingly only on the Wired. The power of that group is beginning to reveal itself. And through the housewife’s spent processor, she gained enough power to destroy the mind of man in the real world through force of processing power alone, through Knights technology, and probably affiliation. Brutal.

 

Cody Ward

[Layer 08: Rumors]

Dark Passage

(Check out my previous film noir essay here: Key Largo)

1947’s Dark Passage was the third out of four films in which Bogart and Bacall would co-star. And when it was released it was something of a big achievement in film history. For the first hour and one minute of the film, the audience doesn’t see the face of the protagonist and nearly everything is shot from his perspective. Such use of the subjective camera was not a novel concept as it had first been used twenty years prior on Abel Gance’s epic Napoleon, as well as in another noir, Lady in the Lake, earlier in January of 1947. But whereas the technique was used sparingly in the former example, Dark Passage uses the technique for much longer. And whereas the latter example used the subjective camera throughout the film, the camera seems to have been put to more novel use in Dark Passage, but more on that later.

The film was directed by Delmer Daves, a filmmaker who began in the classical period as a screenwriter. Under his belt before turning directing in the early 1940s include two unqualified classics in Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly (1928) and the proto-noir legend The Petrified Forest (1936): though this last designation confuses me as Fritz Lang and other emigres were pouring into the American Hollywood system since the early 1930s and producing films like Lang’s Fury (1935) and You Only Live Once (1937). Likewise, American directors like Michael Curtiz and Joseph von Sternberg had been creating films that resemble film noirs of the forties in lighting, camera work, themes, and philosophy since the late 20s. But that’s the problem with noir, or any genre, in the classification. Daves would shoot noirs throughout the forties and move strongly in the direction of Westerns in the mid-fifties with classics like Jubal (1956) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957).

The last major credit, I’ll discuss here is of the cinematographer Sidney Hickox whose career began in the 1910s, but hit its stride in the 30s with crime films, then in the forties with many noirs. A few notable titles among this latter group include To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and White Heat.

The film opens with a man hiding inside of a trash bin on the back of truck. As the vehicle climbs mountainous terrain and moves along bumpy roads, the contents of its hitch jostle to and fro. Eventually, the can falls out and rolls down an adjacent hill. The man inside incredibly survives the long spin relatively unscathed, though dizzy but no worse for the ware. His name is Vincent Parry (Bogart) and he is on the lam, just escaped from San Quentin. As sirens ring out across the hills, the man thinks about how he can get out of this jam. A car comes rolling past and he decides to hitch a ride, but his driver is awfully nosy and keeps asking Vince about why he’s wearing the odd clothing he is. After a while, the man turns on the radio and a broadcast reports that a man is on the run with the exact same appearance and clothing as Vincent has on. Vincent knocks out his driver, who has gotten wise to the situation, then parks the car on the side of the road, pulls the man into the shrubbery beside the road and steals his clothing.

Before Vincent can escape in the car, a woman, Irene Jansen (Bacall), pulls up and tells him to get in. He decides to do so and hides in the back of her car under her painting supplies. This turn of events is fortunate as a road block is in effect and he would have been caught immediately if he tried to roll through past it or bluff his way through. Irene brings Vincent back to her place in San Francisco and tells him that she was aware of his case. She believes that Vincent was innocent on the count of murder of his wife that landed him in jail, and that he was only jailed because of unfair and unscrupulous media manipulation of the masses, which made him out to be an evil figure. He stays with the woman only one day, but she gives him $1,000 bucks with which to do what he will in making his escape.

That night, as he hires a cabby to take him to his friend’s George’s house, the cabby pegs him for who he is. But the cabby ain’t hostile you see. In fact, he’s an underground figure himself who knows where to go to hide one’s identity, and for cheap. The cabby turns Vincent on to a plastic surgeon friend of his who charges only $200 for a full facial reconstruction. Vincent thanks the man who then takes him to his friend’s house who promises to let Vincent to lay up there for the next week during his recovery from the surgery. Vincent leaves and goes to place the cabby told him about, gets the surgery done, has a frightening dream sequence in which he imagines that the surgeon, a disbarred, currently unlicensed old souse, botches the job, and awakens to find instead that the old man has seemingly done a good job of it. His face is bandaged and will remain thus for a week.

Next, Vincent returns to George’s flat to find he has been killed with his prized trumpet. Vincent struggles through the city toward Irene’s flat where she takes him in with open arms. For the next week he hides out in her flat, convinces Irene that he didn’t kill George, and heals. Eventually, the bandages come off revealing Bogart’s face beneath, which is radically altered from the first look of Vincent Parry’s facial features as seen in the newspaper clippings that abound throughout the film.

The rest of the story involves most of the meat of the action, suspense, and thriller elements as Vincent seeks out the real murderer of his wife and his friend, tracks down his old lover Madge Rapf (the Mercury theatre actress Agnes Moorehead, who was incidentally one of Orson Welles’ favorite actresses), fights off the man who he beat up at the film’s opening (who, it turns out, is a crook himself and is looking to extort money from Irene using Vincent as a bargaining chip), and eventually escapes to Peru where he waits for Irene to meet him.

The result is a pretty solid film noir feature with iconic performances by Bogie and Bacall, as well as Moorehead, an all-star production team, murder, intrigue, the revelation of a cunning Femme Fatale responsible for the Wrong Man’s predicament, and the final revenge and redemption of the Wrong Man. The Wrong Man will never be able to return to America, or at least not until the memory of his ‘crimes’ are forgotten, but at least he’s in that nice seaside Peruvian town in a posh hotel, with the woman of dreams who eventually arrives. And even better, she’s loaded, rolling in it, moolah baby!

 

[Next up: The Big Sleep]

Kids (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 06)

(Layer 05)

The city streets. People walking to and from work. On sidewalks, on crosswalks. A woman’s voice: ‘If people can connect to one another, even the smallest voice will grow loud. If people can connect to one another, even their lives will become longer. So…’ So the Wired is the way to achieve this. But the pitfalls my be worse than the assumed gains. As all the tyranny of the majority invades into private spaces on the Wired and figures actively hunt other human beings for information to destroy them with. We know now of echo chambers, but this is 2018, that was 1998. The optimism and cultish mindset was in force.

Cut to Lain’s home. Her father stands in the hallway in front of her room. Lain’s door is cracked. He approaches and knocks, asks to come in, but there is no response. He enters the room to find areas of the floor are flooded and that the room is a veritable cavern of machines all working to give Lain massive computational ability. Lain sits before the computer, chatting with figures on the Wired. The father is no longer able to reach her and she can no longer hear him.

Inside the Wired, Lain is within a domain of pure white. She asks questions aloud to a group of individuals who answer in a manner incoherent to the viewer, just mumbles and growls. Each time they do so, the whiteness of the room is translated into bursts of color. Her avatar in the Wired looks identical to Lain. She is conversing about some next-gen protocol set soon for release and at the end of the sequence reveals her conversation partners to be The Knights.

In the next scene, the night has passed and Lain is on her way to school. Where she saw the two men stalking her from beneath her window earlier, she now sees a child standing there on the sidewalk with arms and face upraised directly toward the sky. He stands there, unmoving. Lain sees nothing but regular clouds in the sky and moves on to school where her friends will confront her about her growing internality and how she seems to be becoming the old, awkward Lain who keeps to herself. Lain explains that she has been more social than ever, just that most of her social experiences currently happen on the net. Reika chides her claiming that net pals are not the same as real friends, but Alice then prods Reika by claiming that she is just old-fashioned.

Later, after school, Lain will go with the girls to hang out in town and do some shopping. As they cross the walk at Shibuya, they all see a young boy on a nearby sidewalk with his arms and face upraised. The soundtrack of voices and incidental music then draws to a halt, and in utter silence Lain turns her head slowly toward two children standing in the middle of the road who suddenly stop moving, look up, and raise their hands toward the sky as well. Lain peers up into the sky to find her own face, in a spectral, ethereal white peering down from within an oval frame of clouds. Everyone else sees her as well and Alice recognizes the image as Lain. The clouds disappear and everyone is left disoriented, confused, the local newspapers and television stations will have something pretty novel to report that night.

Back at home, Mika reclines on the couch as her mother asks her why she has been coming home so early lately. The ‘camera’ pans to reveal Mika in a drugged state, either from real substance abuse or by virtue of the fact that in the previous episode the real Mika was destroyed and only a clone was left behind (for as yet unknown reasons and through unknown mechanisms). Lain arrives back home and immediately enters the Wired. Therein, the world is completely black. She tracks down someone with information who appears in the Wired as a pair of giant lips that she likens to a Cheshire Cat wannabe. She asks the user about the game grade-schoolers are playing (Phantoma), but the lips have not useful information this topic.

Lain pulls up a search query and finds the static image of a man she calls the child-killer scientist. The lips user reveals that ‘in the real world, he [the child killer scientist] is just an old man waiting to die in a private hospital ward.’ The lips depart as Lain prepares her network travel to the Wired domain of the old man, but before they do so, the lips tell Lain to ask about something called ‘KIDS.’

Lain arrives on an ancient stone veranda overlooking the mountains. The scene is majestic, beautiful, picturesque, though mysterious, epic, and Eventful (as in a stage prompting the movement of Events in being). An old man reclines in a chair on the veranda, starting into the sky. He tells Lain that she looks very lifelike (a great complement for an avatar online). Lain asks about KIDS, but the old man, who she calls Professor Hodgeson, merely prattles on about a matter more pressing to himself: his mortality. ‘It’s so peaceful here. I want to relax here until my body rots in the real world.’ The shadow of a woman stands on the veranda before them, never speaking, never moving, possibly symbolizing some great love of the man’s life.

Lain presses him again for information, but the man only responds that the view there is beautiful, ‘That time passes so beautifully here…. And quietly, as if it will last forever.’ Lain asks about some experimental data from 15 years prior and Hodgeson responds that he never meant to put any children in danger. Lain: ‘I don’t mean 15 years ago, I mean the game that all of the kids are playing now. They’re reproducing your experiment, aren’t they?’ He explains that someone must have dug out his information from the trash bin. Lain continues ans asks about the Kensington Experiment. As the scene shifts to a flashback of the experiment, Hodgeson explains that all children have Psi, or latent parasychological ability, but in very minute quantities.

In the flashback, the children are hooked up to a large machine by devices attached to their heads while sleep. Lain asks what these devices are and the man explains that they are called Outer Receptors and were used to harvest the children’s Psi. The scene moves to a large black box in the middle of the lab called KIDS. He explains that he expected something extraordinary to happen once he harvested the Psi and that he believes science was not merely about testing hypotheses. Lain appears frustrated and presses the man about his lack of worry for the children, for what would happen to them once this kernel of what seems to be their life force was drained from their bodies. He does not address this issue at all, but continues his own line of reasoning explaining that KIDS system harvested the weak electromagnetic waves from the children’s brains while also stimulating the region that produced them in the hopes of increasing the children’s latent potential, and therefore, increasing the energy harvested by the KIDS system.

The flashback image of Hodgeson explodes into blinding light and Lain sees visions of children’s limbs protruding from the ground as the dead bodies of other children float around in some liquid solution. She asks how much energy was generated  by the process as the images around her amplify in horror, and Lain eventually is unable to take any more and yells for the simulation to stop. Darkness. Back to the veranda. The man explains that he smashed the KIDS system into small pieces to ensure it could never be recreated, but that later its schematics were somehow found and spread throughout the Wired. Someone found these schematics and updated them so they could be used without the Outer Receptors. The man explains that whoever created such a new technology that could take mere hologram emulations and virtual reality headsets to recreate KIDS through Phantoma has to be extremely skilled.

Lain presses the man about his guilt in the whole process. He explains that he did what he could to eliminate the chance of this happening and that he currently has no power to do anything about it. She calls him self-centered, and then, for the first time, the man turns his face towards her and looks her in the eye: ‘Young lady…. All this talking has worn we out. It was nice meeting you. I don’t know what you plan to do in the Wired or what sort of being you’re trying to become, but you’re powerful. Incredibly powerful. If there really is a go here in the Wired, you’re a blessed child.’ He wonders aloud about where the source of the power of the rogues who have manipulated his technology into evil ends comes from. Hodgeson begins to looks faint and explains that it seems his time is up. He fades to light, then his outline dissolves, the man whose shade was produced here in the Wired dies in the real world, and the world around him fades away likewise leaving Lain in a world of darkness. Lain finds herself at a white crossroads within the darkness of the Wired and speaks one word: ‘Knights’.

Lain is next seen outside of the Wired and sitting at her computer terminal in the real world. She is talking with The Knights and asking for information about who they really are, why they are trying to tell her all of this about Phantoma and their plans, and wondering whether they are just using her as a means to some as yet unidentified end. She wonders if all of this is just a game for them when their actions have led to the deaths of children, and she asks if they are just doing it for kicks. Her computer begins to overheat, though Lain is too absorbed in her interrogation to notice.

She calls The Knights a bunch of losers who are just idiots doing anything they want just because they can. No one answers her questions. then the red beams of light from days prior enter the sanctuary of her bedroom. She goes to the window and sees the two men in suits beside their black sedan just standing there watching her. She leaves her house, goes into the street and confronts the two, and asks them if they are Knights. They do not answer her questions initially, but eventually the shorter man, the man whose eyepiece she destroyed (he has a new one) earlier, speaks: ‘Please get down.’

Her window explodes as the computer system inside continued to overheat. Lain: ‘What was that?’ The first man: ‘The coolant system in your room.’ The second man explains that ‘they’ must have planted some sort of parasite bomb in her coolant system. Lain responds, ‘It sounds almost like your’e saying you didn’t do it.’ The second man confirms that it was not them who planted the bomb. Lain asks who it was and the two men walk off and toward the car. Just before entering the car of driving off, the second man tells her it was The Knights.

KIDS has been updated to a VR game called Phantoma used to harvest the Psi of young children for some unknown purpose of The Knights. Accela and Psyche processors may also be the creations of The Knights, but their relevance to this new development is currently unknown.

 

Cody Ward

[Layer 07: Society]

Othello

(Check out some other Orson Welles essays: The Lady From Shanghai and Journey Into Fear)

It’s 1948 and Orson Welles is coming off of the bad critical and box office reception for his first film adaptation of The Bard in Macbeth. That film’s staging was eerie, mysterious, dripping in a mise-en-scene. The black backdrops and extreme chiaroscuro, the symbolism of objects and minimalism of sets and characters make it into something of a tour de force of expressionism premeditating Waiting for Godot’s stagings by more than five years. The film has since developed a strong critical appreciation and its revolutionary aspects from the artistic to the use of a Scottish brogue dialect and period-specific clothing (unlike the Elizabethan clothing oddly worn in the play’s traditional stagings, which bear little resemblance to the clothing of the highlands) are now championed pretty widely.

At the time, however, Welles figured he had to go about the production of his next Shakespeare adaptation in a different manner. And so, he did a complete about face. Othello‘s titular character (played by Welles himself, in blackface) uses no vaguely North African dialect and instead opts for the traditional British. He hired two of the Bard’s greatest living interpreters in Dublin’s Gate Theatre co-founders Michael MacLiammoir as Iago, and his partner the producer Hilton Edwards as Brabantio. Besides Desdemona who was played by Suzanne Cloutier (the third actress who played the part on the film and whose performance is the only one Welles didn’t destroy, though he did later overdub her voice with a different actress for the American cut of the film), all of the other principal actors were Italians.

Welles shot the film on locations in Italy (Venice, Milan, Rome, Viterbo, and Torcello) with an Italian Crew for the first few years of the film’s shoot (it took a notoriously long three years to make, all the while Welles moving from place to place to find funds to continue shooting). Later, he shot much of the film on location and in studios in Morocco (at Safi, Mazagan, and Mogador) with a large French crew. This allowed him to shoot in the country, which had great incentives for filmmakers, while using a very professional crew who would be more familiar with his methods. Unlike Macbeth, he rarely shot in studios for Othello, which makes the film a much brighter one, often employing available light from the sun.

Though when Welles did use sets, they were created by the legendary production designer Alexandre Trauner whose work spanned eight decades from 1929 to 1990. Trauner is known for work on sets for many another classic film like Luis Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or in 1930, Marcel Carne’s Children of Paradise in 1945, Jules Dassin’s Rififi in 1955, and Luc Besson’s Cinema du Look classic Subway in 1985. Trauner’s work on Othello is so good in fact that it is often difficult to differentiate real locations for sets, and any time I have attempted to do so, and then to check my guesses, I do worse than chance.

Whereas Macbeth lives and breathes in long takes and slow build-up of tragedy, Othello is frenetic, beginning with more than an average of 15 cuts per minute in the first hour (incidentally for young filmmakers, this is probably the fastest anyone can and should cut a film if one wants cogent material, smart audiences to stay in the theatre, and good critical reviews). The speed of the material makes the movie flow in a way much more congenial to the average moviegoer who might have found Macbeth too slow, too thoughtful, too poetic, too sustained a vision, and whatever other qualities your average viewer can’t bring themselves to appreciate about good films.

Welles’ one major thematic cut to The Bard’s material is much of the lines that exploit Othello’s racial quandary: the Moor of Venice being married to a white woman (Desdemona). He cuts many of the lines from the scripting that would later make Laurence Olivier so weak in his role, that could make a white actor in blackface appear even more unsympathetic, that could race-bait. Unlike Olivier, Welles also plays the role as any other Elizabethan role, without adding in touches of modern black culture (something Olivier attempted to do with the way he delivered his lines and the way he moved as a physical actor, which made him a laughing stock at worst and reprehensible at best). This allows his interpretation of the Moor to become universal, even more so than Shakespeare probably envisioned in the first place.

The film is truly one of the great film adaptations of Shakespeare, as are the other two Welles’ adaptations including Macbeth and Chimes at Midnight. As always, Welles adapted the screenplay, produced, directed, acted in, and edited the film. In fact, this is one of the only Orson Welles’ films we have today that was in way compromised by a studio during the editing. One of the only films by Welles that therefore reflects his vision of the project. And what’s more, he created three different versions of the film including the Italian cut for its Rome release; the original English cut for Great Britain (which included Cloutier’s voice); and his final American cut that removes three minutes from the previous versions, removing his spoken opening title sequence and adding in different shots for the same scenes but leaving the film intact as nearly the same (and removing Cloutier’s voice and re-dubbing it with that of another, more forceful British actress).

All of the work, the three years of constant moving about from location to location, the constant cutting of the film, reshaping, and restructuring, finally paid off in 1952 when premiered (as one of many premieres of the film) at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival. Welles, though an American emigre, using funds he gained by acting in British films, who filmed Othello mostly in Italy, using Italian or French camera crews, and a cast from Italy and Great Britain, ran the film under competition for the Palme d’or as a Moroccan production. Even though the first real Moroccan film would not be made until six years later: Mohammed Ousfour’s Le fils maudit. 

The festival was familiar to Welles as Carol Reed had won the Palme d’Or there in 1949 for The Third Man in which Welles starred as the titular character (this was only the third awarding of the top prize for the festival which began in 1939, stopped throughout the war, began again in 1946, and then stalled for another three years until 1949). In 1952, at the fifth awarding of a top prize for the Cannes Film Festival (again, there was no prize in 1950), Welles won the Palme d’Or (then known as the Grand Prix). This was an odd circumstance for Morocco, who had never actually created a film by this point, but won the top prize at the festival because of a technicality. The band at the festival, which is set to play the National Anthem of the winner of the top prize, did not know the Moroccan Anthem and neither did anyone at the festival. So they played some general, anthemy-sounding song instead and awarded Welles, and Morocco, the top prize. Morocco has not won the Palme d’Or since.

 

Cody Ward

Digimon Films: Digimon Adventure 02: Vol. 2: Transcendent Evolution!! the Golden Digmentals

(Check out my review of the first part of this film HERE)

Whereas the soundtrack of Vol 1. of the first Digimon Adventure 02 movie is mostly a hip blues exercise ala Trigun, the soundtrack of Vol. 2 reflects influence from another nineties anime classic through its use of urban Jazz: Cowboy Bebop. Where the blues was somber and reflective, the jazz is kinetic and moves the plot along at a much quicker pace than Vol. 1. The result is a growing pace coincident with the heightening of tensions within the film’s plot as Kokomon first disappears in a field, the older Digidestined are sent to a realm where they de-age into children, Wendigomon appears and starts making other innocent bystanders disappear, and eventually battles it out with Gargomon and Flamedramon before he himself disappears and the story moves into Vol. 2 where the pace will quicken considerably.

Davis and Willis, and Yolei and Cody, meet up in Summer Memory, Colorado, not far from Davis’ home. Davis and Willis share a heartfelt, though melodramatic, moment after Davis presses for information about Wendigomon. Davis reveals that Wendigomon was once his Digimon partner. In the American release in its truncated form alongside the first two Digimon movies, this scene was shortened considerably and Davis’ crying was made out to be a gag. The joke never really made too much sense, but the reasoning for cutting the crying scene considerably does as the original makes Davis into a melancholy character, which is almost completely out of character for him.

Wendigomon appears once again and, in this version, almost kills Willis. All the while, the Digimon appears to be experiencing a nervous breakdown and possibly going insane as he shakes back and forth unnaturally (a scene changed in the American dub and placed at the end of the film as if Wendigomon had returned back to normal and was only dancing). He Digivolves into Antylamon and begins to battle Gargomon, Flamedramon, Digmon, and Halsemon. The four Champion-level Digimon overpower him just slightly, and so, Antylamon descends into the waters of a nearby lake.

The body of water turns increasingly dark before the evil form of Cherubimon emerges from within and defeats his four adversaries using the power of his dark orbs. Unlike the American version, odd clown music is played behind the Mega-level Digimon, which makes the encounter all the more unsettling. Now, just as all looks hopeless, the four Champions have become Rookies, and the entire group looks set to be consumed by the evil Cherubimon, Angemon and Angewomon show up and lop off Cherubimon’s arms, which begin to slowly regrow. Cherubimon dissolves into pure darkness and envelopes all of them, the younger Digidestined begin to revert to even younger ages, but Angemon and Angewomon remain in their forms and continue to battle against their foe.

Then Angemon and Angewomon use some power known as the Miracles of Light and Warp-Digivolve into Seraphimon (one of the three Celestial Digimon alongside Ophanimon and the good Cherubimon in the lore) and Magnadramon (and not Ophanimon as many would suspect. Magnadramon is one of the four Great Dragons in the lore alongside Azulongmon, Megidramon, and Goldramon). The two are powerful, but inexplicably not powerful enough to defeat the evil Cherubimon. They use their strength to release the Digi-Egg of Miracles and the Digi-Egg of Destiny (associated in the lore with one of the thirteen Royal Knights Kentaurosmon), which are used respectively by Veemon and Terriermon to Digivolve into Magnamon (also one of the Royal Knights in the lore, though the Magnamon of the Adventure Universe has only three fingers instead of five and is unrelated to the historical Magnamon) and Rapidmon (Rounding out the first historical group of Digimon truly from the Adventure Universe: the Miracle Four of Seraphimon, Magnadramon, Magnamon, and Rapidmon). The two fight back against Cherubimon, but are swallowed whole by him.

As the Digidestined continue to de-age into young children, Davis and Willis yell for their knocked out friends to wake up. They eventually do so and manage to begin their exploration of the innards of Cherubimon, find his heart, which manifests itself as a Wendigo-heart (or a heart that looks like Wendigomon) and destroy it at the Digimon’s prompting. Cherubimon explodes and momentarily turns into its angelic form (one of the three Celestial Digimon in the lore who protect the ‘kernel’ or core of the Digital world where the ‘God’ of that world resides). Cherubimon disappears, all of the Digidestined return to their normal ages (and the older Digidestined presumably return back to the places where they were originally taken by Wendigomon’s wind in the first place). The kids split up with Willis and head back to Japan as Willis leaves for home, making sure to call his worried mother first as she expected him to be back ages ago. On the way, Willis and Terriermon see an egg floating in a nearby river and chase it. The end credits show a painted picture of Willis with both Terriermon and Kokomon, meaning that the egg will eventually hatch to reveal his old friend back to normal.

The weird wind that initially picked up Kokomon will never be explained in the film, and we will never be totally sure that the older Digidestined did not de-age to such young ages that they were never able to return. The wind remains a plot device, and we must just take it on faith that the film is completely canon and that therefore, the older Digidestined were returned back to their own homes. An air of mystery hovers over the film and events often call for the viewer to forget past bits of Digimon world-mechanics. For example, how did Angemon and Angewomon take on their Mega forms do easily when they had never done so before, why were they able to release the Digi-Egg of Destiny when it never made an appearance before, just exactly where does this film fit in the Digimon chronology, what was the wind (just a plot device?), why were these events never referenced later in the series, why Summer Memory, Colorado? The answers are probably out there in a Bandai press release for anyone who can translate Japanese. So if you can, please do so. And send the results my way!

 

Later,

The Digidestined Cody

[Next up: The Revenge of Diaboromon]

From Up On Poppy Hill

(Check out my previous Ghibli essay here: Tales From Earthsea)

Goro Miyazaki’s first outing as a director for Studio Ghibli in 2006 was unfortunate. He produced the only uncontroversially bad film in the studio’s output and left the only true black mark in its history with Tales From Earthsea. What’s worse is he only received the opportunity to helm the film as director in the first place because of his relationship with the studio co-founder Hayao. Pure nepotism, unqualified.

Hayao had learned his lesson. But Studio Ghibli still needed fresh young talent to help continue their legacy into the future, and as such, they were left with no real choice but to give Goro another chance just a few years later. In 2011, he would release his second film for the studio, but under the constant supervision of his father as executive producer on the film. To ensure the film’s story was cogent, streamlined, direct, and poignant, Hayao wrote the screenplay. His help ensured that the film would meet the quality of past Ghibli productions, that it would come in on time and under budget, and therefore, that the studio could support it in earnest with all of the force of its marketing tools and apparatus.

The gambit succeeded and the film went on to win ‘Animation of the Year’ from both the Japan Academy Prize Awards and the Tokyo Anime Awards. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was popular throughout the North American and European markets, driving four times stronger box office turnout in France than Earthsea did in 2006. The film, created on a $22 million budget, garnered more than $100 million in box office receipts and was one of the highest grossing Japanese films of the year of 2011.

The story is adapted from a previous manga property set in the early 1980s. However, Goro wanted to make a period piece, so he pushed back the time of the narrative to 1963. Set in Yokohama, Japan during a period of industrial growth for the nation when it was finally coming into its own as a real potential world economic power, and one year before the Summer Olympics in neighboring Tokyo in 1964, the story follows the development of a relationship between two middle school students. The boy, Shun Kazama, works on the school paper and is particularly active in school politics, especially in the drive to preserve the old clubhouse, the Latin Quarter. But the clubhouse is dilapidated and falling into continued disrepair as all of the boy’s clubs who share the space do little for the upkeep. Furthermore, the city is ramping up efforts aimed toward respectability as the Olympics approach and wishes to demolish any and all old buildings not up to snuff with modern Western architectural fashions.

The girl, Umi Matsuzaki, becomes enamored with Shun’s passion for the old building and for journalism and decides to help him in his quest to save the place. She corrals her forces and gets all of her girlfriends to come and help the boys clean and repair the clubhouse, but ultimately the school’s council of local business leaders and donors vote to demolish it anyway. Shun and Umi go along with their class representative to Tokyo to visit the chairman of the council in his architectural office. They wait there all day for a meeting and eventually gain access to the head honcho who promises, mostly because of the idealistic force of Umi’s plea to save the building as a vestige of their historical past (a sentiment of rootedness and understanding of one’s history not often held by the youth in any time or place), to visit their clubhouse before making his final decision. And when he sees all of the progress and meets all of the passionate kids involved in the restoration, he decides to preserve the building and create the new one he has commissioned elsewhere.

The second narrative driving force in the film is the relationship between Umi and Shun. Umi’s mother is in America studying for an advance degree and her father was a seaman for the Japanese Navy who died when his ship hit a mine whilst transporting supplies to American troops to Korea in the early 50s. Shun is an adopted child. Both Shun and Umi have the same picture of three naval men, friends at arms during the war. Umi knows one of the men to be her late father who looks suspiciously like a grown-up Shun. Eventually Shun deduces that he and Umi are brother and sister, and he begins to back off on the budding relationship between the two. But fortunately, the true nature of their biological relationship is unveiled as the third man’s ship passes through the city, and their father’s friend speaks to them and unveils their heredity. The two are the children of close friends and their feelings are not illicit or dangerous as they once seemed.

When I first saw the film, I remarked on the beauty of its compositions and how well the animators build a world that feels like the real Yokohama of the time. I was amazed at how much growth was achieved in Goro’s filmmaking in such a short time (a five-year span with no other temp or assistant work in the interval). And I was amazed at how much it really felt like a Ghibli film, unlike his previous endeavor for the company.

The film impressed not only audiences and critics, but also the heads of the Studio. In 2014, Goro was commissioned to create the first television series for Studio Ghibli. What resulted was the 26-episode CGI animated Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter: an adaptation of a classic 1981 children’s novel by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. The choice of an adaptation of one of Lindgrin’s works was a deliberate one insofar as Lindgrin’s seminal work Pippi Longstocking was at the centre of a fascination for Miyazaki and Takahata who had attempted to gain rights for that property in the early 70s but were turned down (they would later incorporate elements of the book into their early films Panda! Go, Panda! and Panda! Go, Panda!: The Rainy-Day Circus). This decision established a connection between Ronja and Studio Ghibli thematically, as well as carrying on Goro’s fascination with adapting works seminal to his father’s development (as in his 2006 aborted attempt to adapt Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea chronology).

Although Goro has created no other animated works since Ronja in 2014, he has developed a knack for it. If he has the desire to continue, and if Ghibli has the will to devote future resources to his productions, Goro may become the future face of the company. At this point, only time will tell. Although I hope this is the direction the studio will move toward after Hayao releases his final feature film, I’m no soothsayer and profess to know nothing definitive.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: The Secret World of Arrietty]

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