The Legend of the Digidestined (Digimon Adventure Episode 13)

(For Part 12 click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

So, unlike the previous episode where very little of consequence in the fight against Devimon occurred, in this episode of Digimon Digital Monsters, many important plot points unfold.

Previously, Devimon sent Leomon to search out and destroy T.K. and Patamon. When he arrives, he has Ogremon in tow who has taken a baby Digimon hostage. Patamon tries to fight back against the two but is unable to Digivolve. The two don’t stand a chance! (Maybe they would with Elecmon’s help, but he is conspicuous in his absence. Where the hell’d he go? He was just there?!?!) Patamon reflects on their chances and airs his insecurities once again, “Gotta protect T.K. from Ogremon, but he’s so big and I’m not.”

Luckily, Matt and Tai show up with Garurumon and Greymon to save the day. that is until Devimon sends more four or five black gears their way, which find themselves lodged into the back of Leomon. He then transforms into a darker, larger form and makes easy work of the two champion level Digimon. Kabuterimon and Togemon arrive and have about as much success as Greymon and Garurumon. However, Izzy has discovered the mystery of the Digivice and realizes that they can be used to drive out the evil from Leomon (a lesson he learned previously in the Digivice Temple by freeing its guardian, Centaurumon). Tai and Matt approach Leomon with the Digivices, which emit a strange purifying light and purge Leomon of his demons. Ogremon flees.

Leomon later divulges the titular Legend of the Digidestined. He relates that it is foretold that the Digital World “will be taken over by a force that will change good Digimons into bad ones.” And that the “Digidestined will appear from another world” and manifest “special powers” to drive out the evil. These kids obviously come from another world and have been using the special powers of the Digivice to fight evil forces. They have been able to Digivolve their Digimon with the use of these devices as well. In other words, these kids are the real thing.

The Digidestined understand this prophecy to mean that they must defeat the evil force, Devimon, who has been using the black gears to manipulate and control good Digimon. This will restore the Digital World and fulfill their end of the bargain in their destiny and allow them to return home posthaste. With this in mind, and intense nostalgia and homesickness, the gang endeavors to go fight Devimon as soon as possible. And Joe doesn’t even complain! (In fact, Joe has gained quite a bit in the way toward heroic stature. On the way to Infinity Peak, Ikkakumon spurs him on thus, “Time to show your true self!” The true self being, a heroic and brave Joe Kido unlike the one we met at the show’s start.)

Back on Infinity Peak, Devimon has turned Ogremon into a series of black gears, which calls into question the nature and composition of these gears. Do they all derive from the matter of Digimon enslaved by Devimon? Are they merely amorphous code that can sequenced in any way? After this odd sequence, Devimon absorbs Ogremon’s gear-self (the sleeping [as opposed to woke] form of Ogremon as postindustrial-techno-maleficence conscious) who will help fight the Digidestined by popping out of Devimon occasionally and guarding his back. As the Digidestined approach the peak, Devimon grows in size and emerges from the mountaintop in a scene all-too-similar to The Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Walt Disney’s Fantasia, where the evil demon Chernabog emerges from the mountaintop, bat wings and all. This scene always struck me as extremely well composed when I was a child and still strikes me as a great homage to Disney’s classic fantasy film.

The Digidestined Digivolve their Digimon one by one and attempt to defeat Devimon with Leomon’s help, but they are just too weak to do the job. Devimon targets T.K. and Patamon and relates a crucial part of the Legend of the Digimon: that “the smallest will destroy” him. Patamon is almost crushed in the grip of of Devimon and pleads, “Why can’t I Digivolve,” before finally activating his Champion level and erupting from Devimon’s dark grip as Angemon, the angelic guardian hinted at earlier in Devimon’s Mirage Chateau Painting. Angemon draws upon the power of the other Digidestined and destroys Devimon and himself in the process, but not before Devimon divulges his secret: there is more than one evil Digimon beyond File Island that will be stronger and more difficult to defeat and even to reach.

Whereas Devimon was seemingly destroyed entirely, some fragments of Angemon were left and managed to reform into a DigiEgg, which will hatch at a later date. T.K. is heartbroken by the loss of his friend, but heartened by the hope of his return. File Island returns to its usual form and a secret hologram pad is unveiled. A holographic old man appears and addresses the Digidestined.

 

Smell ya later,

The Digidestined Cody

[This series continued HERE]

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Ju-On: The Grudge

Last time on this October Horror essay series, I discussed the masterful 2005 film, Reincarnation, by director Takashi Shimizu (Read it HERE). This time, I discuss a few elements from a more famous, and unfortunately less powerful, film by the same director.

2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge is the third installment in the Ju-On horror franchise, but the one most easily obtainable on home video in the United States due to the fact that an American remake was made of this film (also directed by Takashi Shimizu). The film is an anthology horror film based around the theme of a house where a number of gruesome murders took place. This theme of an anthology horror based on a supernatural theme is the first I want to discuss here.

In modern Japanese society, there are quite a few powerful artistic outlets for expression of everything from socio-political themes to philosophy to religion, etc. you name it. But the most gripping and total in the realization of the aims they move toward are, I believe, in film, in anime (or animated films), and in manga (or Japanese graphic novels). In the latter of these three, the horror manga-ka Junji Ito is the recognized master of the medium. His stories usually gravitate toward a theme, such as spirals that drive the inhabitants of a city mad, to human-shaped holes in the side of a mountain that draw their chosen human in, to robotic mechanisms that feed off of the matter of dead organisms and revivify the flesh of fish and human alike into a zombie-like state. He tends to place various characters, sometimes completely unrelated, into his narratives to spin terrifying tales about ideas (a singularly postmodern approach), rather than monsters (an old modernist approach).

Junji Ito’s influence is apparent here in Ju-On. The film is structured into six parts, each named after the victim of that episode. Most of the victims are related or are acquaintances, but each has his or her unique story of interaction with the house, manifestation of the Ju-On (or vengeful spirits) of the home’s former inhabitants, and eventual madness.

The Ju-On of the dead boy, Toshio, speaks in a manner directly parroting Danny Torrance’s character in The Shining, that is during the scenes when Danny speaks in the voice of his (imaginary?) friend Tony. In interviews, Takashi Shimizu often explains the influence of The Shining on him as a youth, and as such, this is probably no mere coincidence. The Ju-Ons of his mother and father speak in voices extremely similar to those of the Necronomicon-zombies of Evil Dead. These are slight parallels, but noteworthy because although the film takes influence from these two films, it is neither brooding and atmospheric like The Shining or campy and extremely bloody like Evil Dead. In fact, it is difficult to say just what the mood of Ju-On really is because throughout the film the mise-en-scene changes drastically from episode to episode.

Takashi Shimizu, it seems to me, was unable to establish any sort of even tone throughout the film. It plays rather long for its 91-minute run time. The scares begin as a little bit off-putting and end as a series of gags. And although I can see the influence of Junji Ito, of Stanley Kubrick, of Sam Raimi, and of the great cinematography of Michelangelo Antonioni; and I know that the great Kiyoshi Kurosawa was a creative consultant on the film; I still cannot in good conscience give this particular Shimizu film a good review or recommend it to you.

 

Cody

[This October Horror essay series continued HERE]

Digibaby Boom (Digimon Adventure Episode 12)

(For Part 11 click HERE. To go back to the beginning of this series click HERE)

T.K. and Patamon are the last of the Digidestined crew to land on an island after escaping from the clutches of Devimon on Infinity Peak. They have been flying through the air on Devimon’s enchanted beds (ala Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland) since the end of Episode 8, and now they find themselves plummeting down the sheer face of a waterfall and toward possible destruction.

Patamon manages to grab T.K. and hover long enough to soften the impact of their otherwise disastrous fall. This act on the part of Patamon demonstrates that earlier Matt was right in consoling himself with Patamon’s presence. Patamon is protecting T.K. and keeping him company in a dangerous and potentially scary experience.

Patamon’s first goal is to make it back to the others and Infinity Peak. He reasons that if the two of them could scale the waterfall they fell down, then they might be able to make it there. However, Patamon is too weak in his current Rookie-level form to carry T.K. back over the falls, so that option is out. During this vignette, Patamon muses to himself about what Biyomon would do in the same context and imagines her Digivolving into Birdramon and carrying Sora over the falls and off toward Infinity Peak. These scenes illustrate Patamon’s impotence in the face of these challenges, as well as his insecurities about being the only Digidestined Digimon that hasn’t Digivolved to Champion yet. He yearns to fly over the waterfall and deliver his friend T.K. to more familiar terrain, and his current inability emotionally scars and stings all the more because it is his destiny and duty to do so, but he still cannot. T.K. doesn’t help Patamon’s insecurity by wondering out loud what kind of pig-type Digimon Patamon will Digivolve into. He is not, Patamon assures T.K., a pig.

The narrative continues in the by-now formulaic fashion of uncomfortable terrain, character development, and now for the characteristic absurdist objects. The duo search the new territory and discover a series of railroad tracks, with a working train signal. It signals for a passing train and the two decide to hop aboard when it comes by, but are disappointed to find that Le train n’arrive pas en gare. That is to say, the train does not arrive at the station. Later, they will find a town composed of large, pillowy blocks with a trampoline ground.

This area is the Primary Village, where DigiEggs generate, are hatched, and raised from Baby, to In-training, to Rookie level Digimon (More on DigiEggs later in the series). It is also where Elecmon will mistake them for intruders and attempt to fight Patamon. T.K., in his youthful way, will ignore the Digivice’s powering up during the battle and plead with the two to quit fighting. In response, the Digivice powers down and we get a sense that not only must the Digimon be protecting its Digidestined partner to Digivolve with a Digivice, but the Digidestined must also will that the Digivolution take place. (Too much Digi? Nah.) So not only does the Digivice respond to dire need and mutual trust, but to will and desire as well. A complex machine indeed!

Here, another point can be made that T.K.s pacifism is contrary to the Us-Them mentality of modernity that has made destructive wars so prevalent. His pacifism beyond postmodernism too, however, which when dispensing with categories like good and evil, can err on the side of evil. He transgresses modernist anger, and postmodern nonchalant destruction, for a synthetic move back into the realms of sentimentality and sincerity, of humane action and other-self-identification. But enough on this point.

The two Digimon quit their fighting and T.K. suggests they compete in a tug-of-war competition instead. This way, the baby Digimon will not be under duress and no one will get hurt in the process. The two accede, compete, and Patamon comes out on top as the winner. The three make up and become friends thereafter, while Devimon watches them with his mystic eye from afar and plans to sick Leomon on T.K. and Patamon before they can Digivolve and destroy his evil plans. Can T.K. and Patamon remain pacifists in their fight against Devimon? Will “laughing” and “being friends” be enough? Can the “power of friendship” turn the tide of good against the dunes of evil? Can I make these questions any more asinine? All will be revealed next time on Episode 13 of this Digimon essay series!

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

(Continued HERE)

The Dancing Digimon (Digimon Adventure Episode 11)

(If you missed it, catch Part 10 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Previously Tai and Matt found a mass of black gears in the side of a mountain. They attacked them, which rerouted their mechanism and turned their island (that was drifting away from File Island and Infinity Peak) back toward File Island and on track to battle Devimon. Izzy and Mimi discovered the Temple of the Digivice, where Mimi kicked an exposed black gear, and somehow managed to turn their island back in the direction of File Island as well.

Now, Joe and Gomamon are drifting out to sea on a king-sized mattress and frame. A mysterious crate drifts towards them and when they prepare to inspect its contents, Ogremon pops out and attacks. Gomamon calls upon his fishy friends to attack and drive away Ogremon and while the fish are obliging Gomamon’s call, an interesting conversation occurs. Joe says to Gomamon, “What powerful force can cause this evil Digimon to be driven back and out-muscled by a bunch of small fish?” Gomamon, staring straight ahead in that most evocative of heroic poses emphasizing foreknowledge of one’s destiny, responds, “When the small and meek join forces to fight for a good purpose, they can often bring about the downfall of the big and powerful.” Prescient of the destiny of the Digidestined to battle and defeat great evil through teamwork and trust in one another this speech may be, but then Ogremon overwhelms the school of fish and begins anew his attack on Gomamon and Joe. Gomamon wryly remarks that sometimes the small and the meek “don’t have a chance.” This remark shocks the viewer out of the mode of mythic imaginings that leaves one in awe of the heroes and inserts a dose of comedic relief and realism into the episode’s narrative structure (Although a move back into sentimentality and virtue, Digimon Adventure still uses the irony and self-reflexivity characteristic of postmodern works on occasion).

Though a heroes quest the series may be- and the Digidestined will succeed in their goals ultimately- they will experience the defeats and even, total destruction, of quite a few good Digimon along the way. (Not to mention the deaths of human beings in the human world caused by Digimon running rampant later in this season and in the first of the Digimon films).

Gomamon Digivolves into Ikkakumon and carries away Joe across the waters toward the nearest island, leaving behind Ogremon, furious and seething with anger, still in his crate. Ikkakumon will grow weaker and devolve into Gomamon later due to lack of food energy needed to support the strength of his more powerful form Ikkakumon. Joe almost drowns, but a chance encounter with the Sora and Biyomon’s fishing line will save him and Gomamon from such a fate.

Worried that Joe’s ego may have taken a hit at being unable to swim himself to safety, Gomamon suggests to Sora and Biyomon that they make him the leader of their small group when he awakens. They do so, and Joe, taken aback by the suggestion, refuses at first. With some prodding, the others convince him to lead the way in the group’s expedition of the island. These actions later motivate Joe to be the first to inspect an old church they find on the island. The inhabitants turn out to be manifestations of the evil Digimon Lord Bakemon, who traps and attempts to eat the Digidestined. Through some trickery, Gomamon and Biyomon escape their prison cell in the Bakemon Manor dungeon and free their human counterparts. A battle of champion level Digimon ensues between Birdramon and Ikkakumon versus Bakemon, but to no avail. Bakemon is too powerful. However, Joe remembers an old mantra and chants it aloud: “Bakemon lose your power.” Bakemon subsequently loses confidence and retreats from his battle with Birdramon and Ikkakumon.

This last sequence of events plays out rather straightforwardly and there is nothing of the elegiac scope or breadth of those first scenes with Gomamon’s ruminations on the battle between good and evil in these. However, Joe’s use of a mantra celebrates the power of belief. This power, used here in a rather simplistic manner (Bakemon is merely susceptible to droning hypnotic suggestion and loses confidence, not real strength or power), will later show its hidden face as a real source of strength for the Digimon, who could only Digivolve in the first place because they believed it their destiny to protect the Digidestined. Later, the Digidestined must trust their Digimon and activate the power of their belief in the possibility of defeating evil, even when the odds seem drastically against their favor.

The episode concludes with the Digidestined discovering a series of black gears underneath the island, attacking and rereouting them, and a short scene of their island floating back toward File Island, Infinity Peak, and a destined confrontation between the father of nightmares, Devimon, and the Digidestined.

 

Signing out,

The Digidestined Cody.

[Continued HERE]

Reincarnation

The 2005 film, Reincarnation, is a minor J Horror masterwork by director Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On, The Grudge). The cinematography can, at times, range from straightforward modern Japanese gloss to more old-school Insomnia (The Norwegian one, not the American) or Identification of a Woman (Michelangelo Antonioni) levels of obfuscation, fog, and dreamlike-revelric sepia. This cinematographic brilliance is paired with an impressive score by Kenji Kawai of Ghost in the Shell (The original masterpiece, not the American failure) and overall Mamoru Oshii collaboration fame. His themes range from theremin-influenced voicings, to Bernard Hermann Hitchcockian traditional scorings, and even a synthesizer ode to Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack!

In other words, I really like this film!

The epilogue introduces our ghosts who take one victim after another in quick succession that builds to a crescendo before breaking into the main plot. During this epilogue, a young girl sees the face of an old man in her malfunctioning cell phone, this is her reflection. Another portly, distinctly Hitchcock-like man, in appearance, enters an elevator unknowingly populated by a ghost who drives him mad. A man enters a public restroom and sees his face distorted into a grotesque, grey zombie-like hue before his very eyes. He shrugs off the experience and drives home in the night. He hits a man on the road, gets out and sees the man unscathed and staring out from beneath his vehicle, the voice of the forest erupts in loud wailing winds, and the faces of zombified ghosts erupt from out of the shadows, ala Carnival of Souls Herk Harvey, to take him back with him to wherever they have emerged.

The main arc is a film within a film narrative. A young director, Matsumura, is making a film about a murder that occurred more than 30 years prior. One of the actresses who is auditioning claims that she is perfect for a role in the film as she is the reincarnation of a young woman who was murdered, and she claims she remembers parts of the experience. Wrongly passed over as an eccentric, as we will see later, a different young woman (Nagisa Sugiura) is chosen from among the bunch. She does not speak during the audition, but somehow her glance interests the director. Beyond the aesthetics and mise-en-scene, and the powerful driving epilogue, this third element of meta-film in the film was the straw on the camel’s back that floored me and drew me in. The postmodern techniques of irony and self-reflexivity are apparent throughout, but do not make themselves too overt as to break the viewer’s sustained gaze.

As Nagisa reads the script, blocks out the scenes, rehearses her lines and action, visits the premises of the hotel in which the events on which the script are based, and eventually makes the film, she is constantly shifting between reality, daydream, paranoid obsession, dream, flights of fancy, and temporal shifts back and forward again and again through time and location. These scenes are often invested with a powerful, low-key and subtly lower-contrast, grainier cinematography that spirit away the viewer and the viewing experience alongside Nagisa. In one poignant scene, she enters a restroom in the Ono Kanko Hotel where the murders took place, but when she leaves she crosses a liminal gateway into the world of the past. Her film companions, the actors and producers, are nowhere to be found, but she relives the experiences of her past life and witnesses some of the events of that day so long ago. We see her brother drop a red bouncy ball and as it turns a corner in the hallway, it breaks into the real world and is found by Matsumura, the director of the film, in real-time. Nagisa shies away from the murderer on one side of a two-way closet and exits the other door to find Matsumura, and not the murderer, there instead.

These details are just a few among the many that make this film a standout in the J Horror canon. It is artful and beautiful unlike many of its contemporaries in Japan and most of its American counterparts in the genre. It is constantly shifting in ways that engage audience involvement on a gut level, but on a cerebral one as well. And it is one amongst those rare breed of films that leave you with something after your viewing is over.

 

Cody Ward

[For Part 2 of this October Horror essay series click HERE]

A Clue From The Digi-Past (Digimon Adventure Episode 10)

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

Last time, Matt and Tai helped release two Digimon, Frigimon and Mojyamon, from the black gears and Devimon’s corrupting powers. They found a cluster of black gears operating in a cliff side that reversed the islands centrifugal direction when attacked by Greymon and Garurumon. The island reversed direction and headed back toward the remnants of File Island and Infinity Peak, and toward their battle with Devimon and his cronies.

Meanwhile, Izzy and Tentomon land on a tropical island and find a ruined temple that Izzy can’t pass up investigating. Mimi and Palmon land on an island parallel to the one Izzy and Tentomon landed on. Sukamon and Chuumon, the Digital World’s dumbest, alert them to Izzy and Tentomon’s presence and they go out to find them.

Meanwhile, Izzy has a found a black gear and a series of runes in the temple. When Mimi and Palmon show up, Izzy is being Izzy and remains focused on coding. He ignores them, too focused on his work, and upsets Mimi who runs off into the ruined temple with Tentomon following close behind. However, Izzy’s frantic coding has paid off it seems. He figures out that the ruins are a maze and that he can hack Mimi’s Digivice and use it as a walkie-talkie to guide them back out to safety. But not before a black-gear corrupted Centaurumon appears and attacks the two. Short story short, Izzy and Palmon find them in the maze, Palmon and Tentomon (now back with their respective Digidestined partners) Digivolve to their Champion levels, they defeat Centaurumon, destroy his black gear, and are later attacked by Leomon who they fend off as well using the power of the Digivice.

But after defeating Centaurumon and battling Leomon, Centaurumon divulges the temple’s purpose. It is a temple to the Digivice and he is its guardian. Centaurumon relates that “the Digivice is a preserver of the light. A last line of defense against the darkness that threatens existence.” Pretty heavy stuff.

Before Devimon began producing black gears, most Digimon were benevolent. They helped one another and served their proper functions in the Digital World. The light was in order and kindness. Then Devimon began corrupting the light and some world-historical force- call it Destiny, call it Fate, call it the Digimon Gods intervening in history (which is, if I remember, the right lead)- drew the Digidestined from their own world, which was already experiencing disruptions due to Devimon’s unsettling of some balance, and brought them to the Digital World. The Digidestined are more than your average kids in an odd, whimsical circumstance. They are not just going out and defeating other Digimon in battles for the fun of out and out of some crazy coincidence, but fighting for the very balance and order of the real world and its cyber analog: The Digital World.

This narrative of the warriors of light being drawn from across time and space to defend good, to defend balance, to defend order and stability, and to defend noble virtues like friendship and trust, is not new to Digimon. But by its very use of such a complex and culturally-recognizable narrative that lends itself well to metaphysics, to ethics, to myth, and to many other complex discourse areas, it transcends mere entertainment and cute/cool characters, and gives the audience much much more. Things to think about, conventional lessons and wisdoms as ways out of existential dread, out of the muck and mire of the postmodern condition and into a new sincerity and realist sentimentality defined by pathos and pragmatic approaches to life’s difficulties is at the core of this sentimental, and therefore restorative, animated series.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Paris, Texas

Last week, one of America’s greatest character actors, Harry Dean Stanton, passed away. He lived a long, full life and experienced occasional critical and commercial acclaim with his acting. The 1984 Wim Wender’s film “Paris, Texas,” was one of these critical high points and was the perfect star-feature in the art-house market. From sparse John Ford-esque vistas and grit to that night gloss we all recognize as Wender’s great contribution to the grammar of cinema, the great Robby Muller’s cinematography was perfect at every point. The script derives from the work of our greatest American playwright Sam Shepard. And there a number of great performances, but of special note are those of Dean Stockwell as Travis’ (Stanton’s) estranged brother and Nastassja Kinski as Travis’ estranged lover.

Reviewers have focused a lot on how they perceive this film to either be a deeply-moving ode to American film culture. Likewise, some critical writings, taking these former cues too seriously to grasp the emotional weight of the story at the crux of the film, have critiqued it as hollow and all exteriors. The truth has been largely missed by both camps. Paris, Texas uses codes and grammar from American cinematography and style, but the story is neither uniquely American or second to the looks.

The film begins with Travis wandering the Mojave desert, running out of water, finding a small bar, and passing out. The local M.D. finds identification in his wallet and manages to contact Travis’ brother (Stockwell) who gets on a plane, rents a car, and drives out into the middle of nowhere in Terlingua, Texas to pick him up. He hasn’t seen Travis for four years and during this absence has been raising his child, Hunter. Travis doesn’t speak until 25 minutes into the film. And then, he doesn’t disclose what he has been up to. And we won’t for the remainder of the film.

Travis travels with his brother back to his home. He bonds with his son and the two go on a trip to find the boy’s mother who gave him up years ago, but has been wiring money to his Uncle and Aunt. Travis’ brother’s wife Anne has tracked down the payments to a bank in Houston. When Travis and Hunter arrive, they wait outside the bank, spot Jane (Kinski), and follow her to her place of employment, a striptease one-way mirror joint. Travis leaves the kid outside and goes inside. What takes place over the course of the next two days in their talks is an airing out of frustrations, an examination of the ways drudgery and work and jealousy can mutilate the human spirit. Domesticity and the 9-5, and the disconnect those two things can create within a marriage. The argument that life in the modern world’s way of doing things can destroy and mar the bonds that hold people together, that it can bring tensions to a head, and generate neuroses and traumas is not just applicable to life in America, but to life pretty much anywhere in the world today.

We’re reminded throughout this film, especially by Stanton’s dialogue, how anxiety and malaise creeps up and affects all parts of life, up to and including how one perceives things. Travis’ vacant lot in Paris, Texas was to be a place the three could one day call home, but he remarks that its “empty” and chuckles at the hopelessness of it. When he asks, “is four years a long time?”, regarding his disappearance we can all reflect on how time does the same for us in hopeless situations (Have I really worked at this fast food restaurant for 7 years? Why?). When Travis wants to take over driving for his brother during their trip to his home in California, he remarks that he doesn’t know if he knows how to drive anymore on a conscious level, but “my body remembers.” The perfect statement summing up just going through the motions.

While living with his wife and child in a trailer home, working a dead end job, and spending too much time away from his family, he “didn’t realize how much rage [he] had.” Eventually his rage boiled over and he acted indecently and drank too much and pushed too hard. His wife Jane had had enough too and burned down the trailer with him in it. He escaped and ran away, and ran for five days. He ran until he found “somewhere without language or streets.” He reflected on the absurdity of his plot of land in Paris, Texas that he purchased because his demanding father prone to flights of fancy and his subservient, quiet, unassuming mother first made it there. Paris, Texas was possibly the wellspring of his being, of his conception, and it almost became his trap (as Jeffers or Bukowski might use that term).

Its absurd to work your life away and to go mad in the process. But people continue to do it because ours and other’s societies are oriented in the way they are currently. But people continue to love and to watch each other deteriorate. Paris, Texas was a triumph in film-making, in narrative art, in non-partisan social commentary, in restrained and powerhouse acting, and above all else, in laying bare the web of complexities at the heart of modern existence.

 

In memoriam to Harry Dean Stanton

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Metaphysics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Over and out,

Cody

(This series continued HERE with Castle in the Sky)

Subzero Ice Punch (Digimon Adventure Episode 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

After a while,

The Digidestined Cody

[For Part 10 click HERE]

Evil Shows His Face (Digimon Adventure Episode 8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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