Tag Archive | cinema

Anime Update: July 2019

Hello again! Its time for another edition of Anime Update, this time detailing the cool anime-related stuff coming to North American shores for the month of July. I hope you’ll check out some of the sites discussed herein and consider buying in the otakudom through the unique merchandise and/or experiences on offer this month.

My usual go-to manga distributors for the North American market are Viz Media and Seven Seas Entertainment as they release large numbers of manga each week. Unfortunately, there is little of note coming through their stores this month. Regardless, I recommend you put their names on a list somewhere and keep them in mind for the future.

On June 1st, Kodansha Comics is releasing a new 4-volume omnibus edition of the original Sailor Moon manga entitled Sailor Moon Eternal Edition. These four volumes are each around 300 pages and of a larger size than your typical manga. So pick ’em up if you ever felt the desire to read the source manga in its entirety. On the 16th of July, Kodansha is releasing a new Ghost in the Shell graphic novel entitled Global Neural Network. Although not a new work by GITS originator Masamune Shirow, it contains four new stories by younger manga-ka inspired by Shirow’s cerebral subtexts and kitschy iconography.

Dark Horse Comics’ manga division is releasing many interesting omnibus editions of some of the most gritty manga on the market. But their coolest new release, set to hit shelves on the 31st, is Start Blazers 2199 Omnibus Vol. 1. Again, this new story is not the work of Star Blazers’ (Space Battleship Yamato) creator Leiji Matsumoto, but instead it is comprised of new stories by younger manga writers and artists inspired by Matsumoto’s monumental influence.

The boutique anime home video release company, Discotek Media, has been experiencing some major technical difficulties as of late regarding their releases. They moved warehouses earlier this year and have been having trouble getting back into the swing of things. This is very apparent during this month when a new Cutey Honey release and a new Lupin III acquisition have both been scheduled for release and subsequently shelved until late August. Bummer…

Luckily, there’s always Sentai Filmworks as an alternative for the best in home video anime releases of classic and cult anime. On the 23rd, they are releasing the Cutie Honey Universe: Complete Collection on Blu-Ray. And exactly one week later, they are releasing a definitive steelbook edition of Elfen Lied: The Complete Series on Blu-Ray complete with tons of extra features and an artbook.

Where theatrical anime is concerned, Funimation Films is really slacking off. They typically show a film in the U.S. once every two months. However, they currently have a number of films slated for release with no tentative date attached. Since February, Funimation has been touting the release of Eureka Seven: Anemone , and is no closer to releasing it now than all those months ago. In April, they announced the acquisition of a Cyberpunk anime adaptation of an Osamu Dazai story called Human Lost that seems currently lost in the fray of planned releases. And now, they’ve released information regarding the premiere of a pop idol film called Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow. The former two of these prospects are at least vaguely interesting to the common otaku, but the latter seems so asinine as to turn away any but the youngest, greenest audiences from the theater. If they ever get around to releasing any of the films theatrically that is…

But thank Ohirume-no-muchi-no-kami that we have GKIDS! Together with Fathom Events, GKIDS is screening Studio Ghibli classics’ Whisper of the Heart on July 2nd and Kiki’s Delivery Service on July 28th and 29th nationwide. Also on July 2nd, GKIDS is releasing Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn on a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. On the 16th, they will be releasing a new French animation (from the studio that brought us Ernest and Celestine) called The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Finally, as of July 1st, GKIDS has announced its acquisition of Masaki Yuasa and Studio Science Saru’s new film Ride Your Wave set for theatrical and home video release in 2020.

Although I’ve already mentioned Fathom Event’s work with GKIDS on the Studio Ghibli Fest showings above, there are two other notable anime films being release through their cinema circuit this month. The first, playing on the 11th and 15th, is Sound! Euphonium: The Movie. The film is a sequel to a popular series by Kyoto Animation and is helmed by some of the same artists in the studio who produced great films like A Silent Voice and Liz and the Blue Bird. The second film, set for release on the 23rd only, is Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Arrow of the Orion. Unlike Sound!, this second film is more kid-fare than anything else and probably not up the alley of anyone who has made it thus far into this review.

Finally, in the last section of my monthly anime update, I like to take a few sentences to introduce the anime conventions coming up this month in my region: the South-Eastern United States.

Cosplay America, July 5-7th, Cary, NC

Anime Blues Con, July 12-14th, Memphis, TN

Blerdcon (a classic), 12-14th, Arlington, VA

Banzaicon, 19th-21st, Columbia, SC. I’m a regular at this one.

GalaxyCon, 25-28th, Raleigh, NC

& Otakon, 26-28th, Washington D.C. One of the largest anime conventions in the country.

 

Ciao for now

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Anime Update: June 2019

As always, this is my update for all the notable and important goings on with manga releases, anime home video releases, and theatrical anime coming to North America this month, as well as a short rejoinder about the anime conventions happening in my own region of the USA. So without further ado…

Manga Releases:

Seven Seas Entertainment, usually a goldmine for classic collection releases by manga-ka auteurs like Go Nagai and Leiji Matsumoto, is not releasing any new manga of note this month, but are always an interesting indie to keep an eye on in the ever-increasingly-burgeoning field that is North American manga distribution. So keep them on your radar.

Kodansha Comics is releasing a very interesting compendium on June 25th: the Princess Jellyfish Complete Manga Box Set. For anyone (like myself) who watched the short-running cult classic anime series of the same name, loved it, and wanted to learn more about the story, this box set is your answer. And if I had more money, know for certain that I’d be getting this box set myself.

Viz Media is releasing, amongst a large sleight of titles, three extremely interesting items in the month of June. The first two of these are to be released on June 4th (the day of this posting): the Dragon Ball Complete Box Set and the Dragon Ball Z Complete Box Set. These are obviously classic series and the list prices ($140 and $220, respectively) are very reasonable for the sheer number of volumes in each work. The third notable release from Viz comes to us on June 11th: Evangelion Illustrations 2007-2017. Unlike many art books, which seem to be little more than cash grabs from dated franchises looking to cash in on nostalgia instead of producing new content, this book attempts to cash in by selling readers a book of pictures of past merchandise and merchandising campaigns. And because I’m a mark for anything Evangelion, I might bite this time around (don’t be like me if you can help it).

Finally, Dark Horse Comics- a name more typically associated with Western comics than manga- is releasing the first of a two-part omnibus by Gou Tanabe entitled H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Gou Tanabe is a masterful artist whose work bridges the gap between the Japanese manga style and the Western graphic novel and his adaptations of Western literary classics are known for their sumptuous artistry and attention to detail. This first half of the story will come in a 320-page book for only $20 and is set for release on June 12th. If you were to pick up only one of the manga recommendations listed here thus far, this would be the one.

Anime Home Video Releases:

Discotek Media is, as they do each month, releasing a small number of highly curated material. And in June, two of their releases deserve mention here. The first is the 1986 anime series The Wonderful Wizard of Oz set for release for the first time in North America on Standard Definition Blu-Ray Disc. The second is Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier also set for an Sd Blu-Ray Disc release. Both of these home video releases will be available through the Discotek Media website or from one of their booths at an anime convention near you on June 25th.

Sentai Filmworks is releasing a number of interesting titles in June 2019, the most important and critically-acclaimed of which is their Blu-Ray release of Studio Gainax’s classic Space Opera Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise. Hitherto, I’ve only been able to find this film on a decade-old DVD release from Sentai, so this new release (June 4th) comes as a breath of fresh air, especially since Gainax (or more correctly, their subsidiary Gaina) is currently working on the film’s sequel Uru in Blue set for a 2022 release (if we’re lucky.

The third and final company to mention here is GKID’s who are known for releasing most of Studio Ghibli’s film library to the West (minus many early Isao Takahata classics). On June 18th, they will be releasing a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the Studio Ponoc anthology film Modest Heroes. But that’s not all. GKID’s has also recently acquired the North American distribution rights to four anime films: 2 Studio 4°C anthology films entitled Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond; the coming of age story The Case of Hana and Alice; and the 2007 minor classic Summer Days with Coo by acclaimed anime director Keiichi Hara (Miss Hokusai). That said, keep an eye out in the coming weeks and months for more news about how GKID’s plans to handle these films and whether and which ones will receive home video release and theatrical releases through Fathom Events.

Theatrical Anime:

Funimation Films is one of the few distributors of theatrical anime in North America that shows its films in more than a few select cinemas. As such, it is always an interesting and promising prospect for those like myself who like to see their animated features on the largest screen possible. Unfortunately, they have no features set for theatrical release in June of 2019. Fortunately, they will have a number of interesting features set for release later this year including the Osamu Dazai adaptation Human Lost and the new Eureka Seven film Anemone. 

Fathom Events is typically the theatrical anime distributor you can trust to have at least one release in theaters in any given month. And unfortunately, they too have no films sleighted for release this month! Luckily, next month there a number of great Ghibli films and otherwise set to reach their theater distribution chain including Yoshifumi Kondo’s mesmerizingly  beautiful coming of age story Whisper of the Heart in theaters July 1st and 2nd.

Conventions:

Last but not least, there are three notable conventions in my region (the South-Eastern USA):

Gamga Con in Greensboro, NC on June 8th.

Anime Ink in Richmond, VA from the 14th-16th.

& Rangerstop and Pop Con in Atlanta, GA from the 21st-23rd.

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

Anime Update: May 2019

Normally, in this monthly anime update I discuss all notable or classic manga and home video anime releases coming to the North American market for the month. However, after an extensive search of about a dozen manga distributors and half a dozen home video anime distributors, I have come up short with suggestions for this month.

At this point I’ve seemingly become jaded and bored with much of the light novel adaptations, slice of life, kitsch, and low-brow productions offered up. My critical apparatus is somewhat dull by virtue of spending so much time away from the cinema as of late, and yet my taste remains true and my standards remarkably high. If you don’t believe me, go check out my go-tos for suggestions in this regard: Seven Seas Entertainment, Viz Media, Kodansha Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Discotek Media, Sentai Filmworks, and GKID’s. None of these companies is coming out with a new manga series of note in this particular month or releasing any classic anime either.

But I digress… for the time being. Theatrical anime is still a good prospect for the month of May. To begin, Funimation Films is releasing Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;urrection (not a typo btw) to select theaters on May 5th, 7th, and 8th. So if you’re a fan of that somewhat kiddy fair ten years after it was popular with a whole host of, shall we say, less than effete minds, then by all means go check it out.

GKID’s and Fathom Events are still partnering to present North American audiences with Studio Ghibli Fest 2019. And for the month of May, they are delivering the goods with what is quite possibly the greatest animated feature ever made: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. This film (released in 1984) was famously the impetus for the creation of Studio Ghibli (founded 1985) as Miyazaki and Takahata worked together to fund and create it along with Studio Topcraft (who they would later acquire after the bankruptcy of Topcraft’s No.1 commisioner Rankin/Bass), which established the core of Ghibli. The film will show nationwide on May 20th and 21st, and as this is the film’s 35th anniversary, expect some extra features.

GKID’s is also releasing an interesting new Ghibli home video product on May 14th: a Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition Set with a ton of extra features that more than make up for the $50 price tag. This release will be the definitive home video release of the film, potentially for decades, so I advise you to check that out here.

Fathom Events, like the champs they are, are also delivering more theatrical anime to your veritable doorstop this month. In 2017, a light novel about a Japanese Salaryman who dies and is reincarnated into an alternate reality world where World War I meets II with magic was adapted into a 12-episode anime. In 2019, the direct sequel of this beloved series was adapted into an animated feature. And now, it comes to American theatrical audiences through Fathom Events for one day only: May 16th. The series is called The Saga of Tanya the Evil, and is looks pretty phenomenal.

Finally, the convention schedule, like everything else this month, is pretty slim for the South-Eastern United States. As far as I can tell, there are only four cons going down within 12 hours of Charlotte, NC (my city). They are as follows: Carolina Anime Day in Charlotte on the 4th; Animazement (NC’s biggest anime convention) in Raleigh from the 23rd till the 26th. MomoCon (one of GA’s largest cons) in Atlanta from the 24th-26th. And GalaxyCon in Richmond, VA from the 31st until the 2nd of June.

With that, I’ll be signing off for the time being. So…

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

Anime Update: April 2019

Though I’ve been largely absent from the reader for the past month, I wouldn’t miss this day if I can help it: the first day of the month. That means it’s about time I send out an update here regarding all of the cool new things going on with theatrical anime, home video releases and manga coming to a North American audience, plus a review of my region’s best upcoming Anime and Otaku Conventions. So, without further ado, here I go.

For starters, Seven Seas Entertainment is releasing a very important Classic Collection title that all true manga nerds will want to get their hands on immediately: the Space Battleship Yamato complete collection in one volume, set for release on April 9th. This tome contains Leiji Matsumoto’s legendary space opera series in its entirety for what I believe is the first time in the West. Author of series like Galaxy Express 999 and Space Captain Harlock, Matsumoto is one amongst a godhead of classic manga-ka including names like Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), Go Nagai (Devilman), Shirow Masamune (Ghost in the Shell), and Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) who have helped to influence and shape the current form and content of manga like none other. So I hope you check out this manga when it becomes available.

Viz Media is also releasing some pretty exciting books this month such as The Art of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on the 16th and a hardcover Nausicaa Picture Book on the 30th. Most interesting, however, is the publication of a new series of everyone’s favorite horror comics artist Junji Ito. Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection is set for release on April 16th and will assuredly be filled with spine-tingling macabre art and head-trippy surreal concepts in spades.

As for home video releases, Discotek Media is back in the game this month after a short hiatus brought on by their distributor moving house. On April 30th, they have quite a few releases slated. The ones that most piqued my interest include a DVD of the 1988 Cyberpunk OVA Appleseed (based on Shirow Masamune’s classic manga) and an HD Blu-Ray of Episodes 1-26 of Lupin III Part IV The Italian Adventure. 

Sentai Filmworks has a ton of releases set for this month, but the most important of these, historically-speaking, is their Gatchaman Collector’s Edition slated for release on the 30th. This includes the entirety of the over-100 episode series, the OVAs, the film, and a large artbook. This is THE definitive version of this classic series, and thereby deserving of its $99.99 price tag.

Then we have theatrical anime to consider for April. Funimation recently released some interesting material in February and March, but is currently not announcing any films for April. However, keep them in mind for the summer as they have two interesting films already set for release during that time period: Anemone: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution (The newest Eureka Seven project) and POLYGON Pictures Human Lost based on an original story by famed Japanese author Osamu Dazai and directed by Fuminori Kizaki (Afro Samurai, Psycho-Pass). The latter of these two films looks to be an intense and arresting cyberpunk-tinged tale of future dystopian society, and thereby a film this anime reviewer will not be missing out on (if he can help it).

GKIDs is releasing two films they hold the North American distribution rights to through Fathom Events. The first is the long-anticipated 1st feature-length film by Studio Ghibli-veteran Kitaro Kosaka entitled Okko’s Inn. The film is produced by Studio Madhouse and thereby retains a high level of executive quality control in the process of choosing scripts and in releasing a film with their name on it. As Kosaka’s previous short film efforts Nasu and Nasu II were fantastic and even milestones in the history of anime (the former was the first anime filmed premiered at Cannes Film Festival), Okko’s Inn ought to be a great film. Catch it in theaters on the 22nd or 23rd of this month.

The second film being released by GKIDs through Fathom Events is the first film in this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest: Howl’s Moving CastleAs this is the 15th Anniversary of the film, expect to see some interesting bonus content about the film before or after its airing. Plan to catch this film on the 7th, 8th, or 10th at a theater near you.

And finally, GKIDs is releasing Mamoru Hosoda’s new film Mirai of the Future on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital on April 9th. So pick that up when you get a chance to continue rounding out your collection with great films by anime’s auteurs.

I’ll conclude this update with a quick run through of my region’s upcoming anime cons of consequence. The first is Nashicon in Columbia, SC from the 5th-7th. Nashicon was the first convention at which I ever presented a panel and it means a great deal to me. I would be there myself this upcoming weekend if not for the fact that my band is releasing our debut EP in Charlotte, NC on Saturday night. If you live in the area and are interested in attending that, here’s a link to The Boron Heist EP Release Show.

From the 13-14th, TigerCon is going down in Valdosta, GA. From the 19th-21st, Middle Tennessee Anime Con is happening in Nashville. And on the 20th, a one day convention entitled KiraKira Con is being held in my home city of Charlotte, NC at UNC Charlotte!

This concludes this month’s anime update. If I left out any pertinent media companies, events, or types of information you wished I had covered here, please let me know and I will do my best to incorporate said information in future Anime Updates!

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

Anime Update: March 2019

It’s about that time, in fact a few days past that time, when I review all the cool things going on in the world of anime, manga, theatrical anime, and the monthly convention schedule for the Southeast U.S.

For starters, I searched through the monthly manga releases by Viz and Seven Seas Entertainment and found no new series being released that really piqued my interest in any way this month. However, I am open to suggestions for other North American manga re-publishing houses to cover in the future (this also holds true for home video anime release companies I may not mention and groups who release theatrical anime on a nationwide scale).

That said, there are a few anime home video releases to keep an eye out for this month. The first is the classic sci-fi stop motion series Star Fleet, which is being released in full along with the complete X-Bomber series by Discotek Media on March 26th on SDBD, or Standard Definition Blu-Ray disc.

Sentai Filmworks is also releasing an important series in complete collection form this month. That series is the Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV Collection on SD DVD. So check that out and the rest of Sentai’s upcoming release schedule HERE.

This past month, the GKID’s licensed Studio Chizu film Mirai of the Future  was honored at the Academy Awards by becoming the first non-Ghibli anime film to ever compete for the Best Animated Feature Film category. To celebrate, GKID’s decided to re-run the film a second time in theaters. So if you haven’t seen Mamoru Hosoda’s fifth film on the big screen yet and thought you had missed your chance, use the opportunity asap while its still a possibility. And also keep updated on fellow Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn, set for release in April, at the GKID’s site.

As always, Funimation is an important name to keep in mind regarding monthly theatrical anime. And this month, they came through in a minor way. Funimation will be releasing the first two episodes of the new Fruits Basket anime theatrically on March 26th and 27th in select theaters nationwide. So keep that feather in your cap and stay updated on their projected release of the new Eureka Seven film later this year HERE.

Finally, I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t mention the best distributor of theatrical anime in the nation, Fathom Events. These cats were the ones who got me into watching anime in theaters in the first place and on every given month, they will have multiple titles coming to major theater chains near you like the AMC in my hometown, for example. This month you can catch Fate/Stay Night [Heaven’s Feel] II. Lost Butterfly in theaters on the 14th; as well as an edited theatrical version of the Made in Abyss series on the 20th and 25th in support of the projected second season set for release later this year.

Moreover, Fathom finally announced its 2019 Studio Ghibli Fest on Valentine’s Day last month and we’ll start off in a big way with Howl’s Moving Castle in early April. And as always, don’t fret if (like myself) you have already seen every Miyazaki film on the big screen. There will a variety of great Ghibli classics playing throughout the year like Yoshifumi Kondo’s classic Whisper of the HeartHiromasa Yonebayashi’s The Secret of Arriettyand Isao Takahata’s final film The Tale of Princess KaguyaCheck all of that out and more (like boxing events, classic film series, and operas) HERE.

Finally the con schedule for my region this month is as follows:

Agama Con from 2nd-3rd in Aiken, South Carolina.

Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon from 2nd-3rd in Murfreesboro, Georgia; Savannah Animazing Con from the 30th-31st in Savannah, Georgia.

Madicon from the 8th-10th in Harrisburg, Virginia; KigaCon from the 15-17th in Newport News, Virginia.

MidSouthCon from the 15th-17th in Memphis, Tennessee.

And finally, Triad Anime Con from the 15th-17th in Winston-Salem, of my home state North Carolina. At this convention I will hosting a panel on the ‘Other Studio Directors’ beyond the Studio’s founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. So, if you know anyone in the area, alert them to that and if you yourself are planning to attend, hit me up!

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

The Man Who Planted Trees (L’Homme qui Plantait des Arbres)

(Check out my previous Frederic Back film review here: Crac!)

Frederic Back’s eighth, and penultimate, short film was his longest to date at 30 minutes in length (nearly tripling his longest previous short film). The production took a little over five years to complete alongside his other duties at Radio-Canada and comprises over 20,000 separate drawings, with 3,000 in-between frames completed by Back’s assistant Lina Gagnon. The process improves upon earlier Back productions by using notable early techniques like Prismacolor colour pencils on frosted cels, but adds new pastel artwork for the backgrounds with fixative chemicals to stay the artworks.

Aesthetically, the film moves through multiple styles and movements in the history of art throughout its runtime from harsher Nietzschian landscapes and abysses animated ala Goya to pastoral landscapes permeated by an intense undercurrent of fear and malaise ala Bruegel. As we come to land of the man who planted trees, we find them animated more impressionistically and thereby conventionally beautifully to the modern art-goers sensibility. During this period, pastels predominate in the fields and forests of one man’s making. Finally, the wiry old man becomes less of a real figure and slowly ascends within his domain to something closer to a hermit-prophet of nature whose image becomes more serene and less distinct from his surroundings until the final close-up shot of his wizened old facade animated like a Da Vinci portrait with soft lines and intense detail.

Frederic Back was an avid environmentalist and ecologist whose work often betrayed his love for nature and of a life lived close to it. And for years, he had worked in his free time to plant trees of his own accord: more than 30,000 single-handedly at that. As a member of the Society to Overcome Pollution, he did all he could to leave his world a little better off than when he came into it. So when he came across French author Jean Giono’s 1953 allegorical tale L’Homme Qui Plantait des Arbres, the story of a man who leaves the world behind after tragedy befalls him and comes to a barrent land wherein he spends his life cultivating a forest, Back was absolutely in love. He wanted to immediately animate the story and managed to gain the rights to do so through Radio-Canada. The resultant effect was his most popular and enduring work of his career. A work that competed for and won awards in dozens of film festivals from 1987 till 1993 (including an Oscar, an Emmy, and most prestigious of all, an award at Cannes), that inspired a reprinting of Giono’s classic complete with Back illustrations, and more importantly one that inspired others to plant over one million verifiable trees throughout the world.

The story is of a young man in 1913 who is traveling across the French countryside, specifically through a barren wasteland in Provencal. The bleak landscape is populated by little more than serpents and wild lavender. Ancient villages dot the landscape, all in disrepair and total abandon with old receptacles where once water flowed from beneath ground in vast reservoirs. Now, the traveler moves from village to village and tries to prime these pumps, but finds all water absent. He runs low on his rations and begins to become dehydrated and starved, on the brink of life and death. That is, until he sees a figure above a hill. The man approaches and finds an aged shepherd with his small flock and dog.

The old man gives him some water and leads him back home after fulfilling his duties in the fields. There they sup together and the man is led to believe he will be able to spend the night before moving along the next day toward the populated villages two days aft. He watches the old man sort through a bag of hundreds of acorns, mixing them into two piles for the good acorns and the bad acorns. The old man then puts the good acorns into piles of ten and discerns the smallest or least robust amongst each pile until he has 100 perfect acorns. The young man reflects on his future trip to the cities surrounding this pleasant grotto. Those cities have people who struggle for sustenance and live lives of quiet desperation, which often reach the breaking point and erupt into violence, fear, anxiety, hatred, envy, madness, suicide, and murder. Compared to those places, where he is now is much preferred.

The next day, the young man decides to stay on for a little longer before making his trip back to civilization and its discontents. He watches the old man as he leaves in the morning to place his sheep in a dell for grazing and leaves them behind for his dog to watch while he himself climbs a nearby hill and proceeds to dig holes with his iron staff. In these holes, he plants a single acorn each. Later, the young man will ask the older man many questions about himself and learn that he is 55 years old and is called Elzear Bouffier. He lost his son and then his wife three years previously and decided to leave the world to reflect in his solitude. He found this barren patch of land and knows not who owns it, whether it is parish or common land, or whatever. But he decided to begin planting trees there. Of the 100,000 trees he has planted in those three years, only 20,000 grew and half of those were dealt the hand of providence, were killed by rodents or blight. that leaves him with a grove of 10,000 trees, but he hopes to last another 30 years so that this grove of 11 by 3 kilometers will one day become a mere drop in that veritable ocean of green.

Through two world wars, the young man continues to visit the older man on an almost yearly basis. The forest grows, springs and little rivers appear in the landscape which give birth to willows, reeds, flowers, and gardens. Wildlife returns and over the years, this place, once a wasteland, becomes a thriving world of beauty and natural peace and serenity. The inhabitants of the surrounding region become engrossed in this landscape and part of it over time. They become happier and more peaceful and less resource dependent on the big cities and on hard labor to earn their livings. The place enchants even the parliament who decide to make it a protected land, and eventually the old man dies. And in the process, the young man becomes an old man, almost the same age as when he first met Elzear in these hills. And he realizes that ‘a man’s destiny can be truly wonderful.’ But more importantly, that Elzear, one man, was able to ‘complete this task worthy of God’ and to craft a paradise for which over 10,000 people rely upon for their happiness and peace of mind.

The film was simultaneously released in English and French with two different narrators, both classically-trained highly revered Canadian actors: Philippe Noiret and Christopher Plummer. And it probably thereby had the widest commercial run of any of Back’s films in his career. The work is a beloved classic of Quebec, Canadian, and North American animation that is generally considered to be one of the finest animated works ever created, and in my books, one of the finest short films ever made in any medium whether animation or live-action. I’ve managed to leave much out of the plot of this film, and very many details in the hope that upon reading this you will go out and seek the film yourself: either on the Frederic Back complete short films DVD release through his website or online at some streaming site. You will not be disappointed, and more importantly, you may come away feeling happier, more alive in this moment, and enriched in the prospect that though small and of little weight in the calculus of world actions, you can make a difference for the better in this life. With one step at a time.

 

With love,

Cody Ward

Dallos: The Battle of Monopolis

(Check out my previous Mamoru Oshii film review here: Urusei Yatsura: Only You)

Before the premiere of Gundam in the late 1970s and the resultant Gundam Boom of the 1980s, giant robot or mecha anime in Japan were typically of the Super Robot variety. These kinds of mecha often had flexible bodies or seemingly-impossible powers that did not conform to the laws of physics and their attendant applications of strength. A good example of this type of mecha anime in the 21st is Gurren Lagann wherein the writers postulate a new type of energy called spiral power within all living beings that allows them to dominate their enemies with basically just the strength of their wills.

When Gundam roared onto the scene with its psychological realism, narratively sophisticated plots about war, terrorism, and geopolitics in a future age, and with mecha that conformed more closely to what one might be like in real life, it changed the entire landscape for the better. Studio Pierrot head producers wished to follow up the success of Studio Sunrise’s burgeoning Gundam franchise with their own philosophically and politically sophisticated Space Opera, and to this end they hired on Mamoru Oshii and his mentor Hisayuki Toriumi to co-direct the film.

In Dallos, the Earth has run extremely low on its energy and natural resource reserves and in the early 21st century scientists found that much of the needed raw materials back on Earth could be mined on the Moon. They installed colonies of people in large containment domes who progressively eked out a place for themselves within this seemingly inhospitable landscape all while mining the resources of the land and sending it back to their ever-increasingly autocratic Earthling leaders. The people of the moon, or Lunarians, realized their subjugation to this colonial power and occasionally staged revolts and rebellions. But no avail. The people were forcibly fitted with metal Id head-bands from that point forward on which all of their criminal and public information could be scanned with little effort from the military police spinners in the sky.

A dictator named Alex Leiger has been appointed the colonial ruler and during his tenure has used the levers of power to slowly limit the freedoms of the people and choke-hold them into an ideological somnambulence. But there was once a folk hero named Tatsuya Nonomura who raised an army to fight for his people. He became a martyr, but the remnants of his movement remained and continued to fight against colonial oppression, imperial aggression, and the rape of their home’s resources, which only serve to enrich the Earthlings without likewise benefiting the Lunarian extractors of those riches.

Furthermore, there is a large machine out in the craters of the Moon, called Dallos, which is worshiped as a religious icon by the old guard Lunarians. This device’s powers have been forgotten throughout the generations and is even more mysterious as it exhibits evidence of being of extra-terrestrial origin. So when the young brother of the cult hero Tatsuya reaches adulthood and somehow manages to get caught up in the anti-Earth machinations of a terrorist cell/freedom fighter unit (in civil war’s one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist and it is only the outcome of the battle that ultimately determines the popular historical designation) of his brother’s old comrades- including the charismatic and intelligent Dog McCoy- a new war for independence begins with powerful and agile makeshift mining mechas and Dallos versus the much heavier-equipped Earth nation with its deluge of fighter ships and battle suits.

Much of the influence for the events of this film comes from the classic war film by Gillo Pontecorvo called Le Bataille d’Algers or The Battle of Algiers, which portrayed the dynamics between freedom fighting and terrorism in the face of colonial and imperial forces in perhaps the best cinematic adaptation of such a conflict to ever be staged and completed. The film follows the events of the Algerian people and their freedom fighter class who use terrorist bombings and guerrilla tactics, as well as the force of international pressure to eventually secure freedom for themselves as an independent state no longer under the control and hegemony of the French State.

The socio-political dynamic between these two narratives ought to be immediately apparent despite the geological and spatial differences involved between a war over a small channel and a war between worlds. But the characters- like Dog McCoy and the Nonomura brothers- in Dallos mirror the enigmatic leaders of the Algerian War for Independence. They repatriate tools once used for their subjugation into tools for combat against a repressive regime. And like in various iconic terrorist bombing sequences in The Battle of Algiers, female Lunarians in the city of Monopolis hide guns in baskets of flowers, which they pass on to radicals at checkpoints in order to ensure the success of high-target assassinations. They use their purses to conceal hand grenades and various improvised explosive devices in an attempt to run off their oppressors. And like in the classic Italian neo-realist tale of civil war, the military police who are native eventually switch sides and aid their homelands as they ought to have been doing the entire time anyway.

Dallos was an extremely ambitious project for its time and is considered to be the first ever OVA, or Original Video Release (direct-to-video anime release), as well as the first animated work ever released direct-to-video in general. It is a landmark film for both its technical and production aspects and is unmatched in quality even by classic OVA series released by those who worked on this project like Lily C.A.T. or Venus Wars. Many of the staff on this production, including a number of artists and the head producer, would later start their own production company called Studio Gainax and for their first really ambitious project- the masterpiece Space Opera Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise- they took Dallos as their central inspiration and high water mark of an achievement to try beating.

Although typically attributed Mamoru Oshii as head director and to his mentor and teacher Hisayuki Toriumi as writer, dig a little deeper and you will find that the entire first part of this four-section OVA series was directed by Toriumi. Oshii helmed part two, but both worked together on the third and final installments of the series. Oshii felt that the film would not have been as good as it became without Toriumi’s guiding hand and presence in the work, but the two did butt heads on many an occasion during its production  as well. From this point forward, Toriumi treated Oshii as an equal and the two never worked together on a production again as Oshii’s talents had become very apparent and he was now ready to become a head director in his own right.

Dallos is a tale about the human spirit for conquest and discovery: some of the most magnificent and beautiful aspects of our human nature. And it is simultaneously a story of geopolitics, power dynamics, and the lengths to which men will go for gold: even if it means enslaving their fellow men. And it was the springboard for an OVA Boom in the anime industry, which had never realized just how lucrative the home video market could be. More importantly, it was a springboard for Oshii, who was almost immediately given the opportunity to direct another Urusei Yatsura feature-length film. And the qualitative difference between this film and his prior attempt are leagues apart as Oshii finally found his footing as a director and developed many ideas he could not use in Dallos due to his co-director role on that production.

 

Ciao for now,

Cody

Crac!

(Check out my previous Frederic Back film review here: Tout Rien)

Before the release of Crac! in 1981, Frederic Back’s career as an animator and short film director was very intermittent at best. He created less than one short film per year and continued to make the bulk of his money working on smaller, less personal projects for the Radio Canada Broadcasting Company. But after toiling away on this film for 22 months during his free time between 1979 and 1981, Back finally released this 15-minute short film to audiences. The film made it to the shortlist for the 1981 Academy Awards for Best Short Film and even won the category, scoring Radio Canada and Back their first Oscars.

However, the process of the film’s creation was pretty arduous in a number of ways. Back required the help of an assistant for around 11 weeks during the project’s production run in addition to his own 22 months of animation work and the help of his usual team of editors and sound designers who searched tirelessly for the proper traditional Quebecois music to incorporate as a soundtrack. During this production, Back continued to paint onto frosted cells with pastel for all of the major action in the film’s sequences, but continued to advance his medium by penciling in backgrounds using the new Prismacolor pencil technology. And like all great artists seem to do at some point in their careers, he poured his blood, sweat and tears into the production, giving his all by accidentally getting fixative fumes in his right eye. This painful accident would weaken and nearly blind that eye for the remainder of Back’s life, thereby giving him his signature eyepatch in the process.

The story is one of a traditional Quebecois life of the past wherein small cities existed, but most people lived by themselves in the frontier, out in the woods where they were relatively isolated with just their family units. In this social landscape where the Church was once a great social space and public square for the disparate denizens of the cold north to congregate once in a blue moon, a young Native man finds a beautiful young French-Quebec woman to his fancy. The two go out and practice the normal courting rituals and spend time together before becoming engaged.

The young man, a woodcutter and trapper by profession, steals off into the forest one day to search for the perfect tree for carpentry work. He chops it down with his ax and the tree falls with a large crack (hence the title of the short film). The man drags it back home with the help of his horse and starts to work building his wedding gift to his lovely bride to be. The result is a rocking chair that will serve them for years to come as a beautiful reminder of their place within nature as human animals and as a token of his love for the woman forevermore. They grow together and have children who occasionally rough-house and damage the progressively ageing chair, which the man- no longer a young man- repairs often with tender loving care. And each time he repairs this icon of his life’s trajectory, he repaints it and makes it feel fresh and new thereby.

But things change, they always do. The children grow up quickly and leave the nest. The young man progresses into an old man, and eventually his wife dies. The chair’s seat breaks and the old man throws it out into the harsh clime where it sits and waits for generations as the old man perishes. His old cabin is put up for sale and eventually torn down as condos and other high-rise buildings rise up around it. Gentrification and urbanization wrack this once idyllic landscape with the visual tremors of civilization: the skyscraper, the apartment block, and finally the nuclear power plant.

But this is Back’s vision of the world and it can never remain sick for long without perishing totally. He believed in our ability as rational animals to come to the logical conclusion that we should cherish this planet and serve it well as good shepherds. Protests erupt and the power plant is gutted by the regional government that actually listens to its people. The old silo is renovated into a beautiful art museum where the elite enclave go to see abstract paintings and other forms of artwork much too cerebral to tug on the heartstrings and make one feel a positive emotion like traditional art can. A curator finds the old chair after all these generations and brings it back inside a new docile for complete restoration and a new paint job.

Once there, the chair becomes the favorite seat for a friendly security guard and guide at the museum. And more than that, the children, untainted by modernity and intellect, find the colorful and ancient chair to be absolutely fascinating. It becomes a beloved object to whole hosts of people once more and feels fulfilled in its duty as a chair that is no longer abandoned and alone in this world. And in the dark of night, when the night watchman is in a different corridor, it dances to the music made by the emotions of all of the paintings in the room and revels in its newfound usefulness: a reveling we can all sympathize with in our own wishes and desires to be useful to someone else, and to be loved by someone else by proxy.

The film is a veritable love letter to the imagined Quebec of Back’s childhood and to the historical Quebec wherein people really did live such beautiful, quaint lives in nature quite often. The young man is a paean to Back’s own uncle and the story is a reminder not to trade in old values for new ones, but to cherish the old values in the hope that they can enrich our lives in the present. Crac is the sound of a falling tree and thereby of deforestation and human progress, but it is also the sound of creation through destruction. It is the sound of a rocking chair’s rasp across the floor of a room and the sound of the breakneck pace of social change in the 20th century. A change that hasn’t slackened in the slightest into the 21st. But we can always continue to derive pleasure, joy, and energy renewal from positive traditions of yore in the hopes of assuaging some of the modern pangs of conscience and dread attendant upon us in the modern age.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

[Continued here: The Man Who Planted Trees]

I want to eat your pancreas

Through Fathom Events previews online and in theaters, I’ve been hearing about this film constantly for around four or five months. And during that entire time, I was probably- like many of you- very confused about what this film was. The title’s implication brings to mind immediately concepts like cannibalism and horror, while the previews show a seemingly innocent high school romance between two kids with no violence or guro aspects at all. The film’s theme song seems cheerful, inspirational, but with a solemnity hidden deeper therein and the tears that abound throughout the trailers demonstrate this darker side of the romance hinted at therein to be true. So when I went in to watch the film a few days ago, I was definitely in for a surprise.

But first, the specs. The film was released in September 2018, so the American theatrical audience is getting this film pretty quickly for an anime. It is based on a 2014 novel by Japanese writer Yoru Sumino and has hitherto been adapted into two other mediums before becoming an animated film. These include a long-running manga adaptation from 2016-2017 and a live-action feature film in late 2017. The property proved popular and lucrative, so Studio VOLN bought the anime adaptation rights and set studio director Shinichiro Ushijima as head director on the project.

If you haven’t heard of VOLN, or ‘Visiting Old Learn New’ (a sentiment that reflects the studio’s desire to simultaneously create work within a larger tradition of anime classics while also experimenting and embracing new technology), then you’re not alone. They are a very new studio, which was founded in late 2014 by Mita Keiji, an ex-Studio Madhouse director and producer. And thus far, most of their projects were financially assisted by brother ex-Madhouse Studio MAPPA and Masao Maruyama. VOLN is just getting its legs fiscally, but with I want to eat your pancreas, they have a good first international hit critically and financially that should bode well for the studio’s future if they can keep up the quality of work and their commitment to both the future and the past of anime history.

As for the film itself, it begins in the manner any art film adaptation of the source novel might: with a funeral. By beginning in this manner, the audience is primed toward a solemn, reflective, and emotional frame of mind that carries on throughout the remainder of the film. From here, the events flash back to the time our two young protagonists first meet. The boy, whose name will not be revealed until close to end of the film for certain dramatic, thematic, and narrative reasons (a trifecta of considerations this film really nails) is at the hospital getting stitches removed from a previous surgery: an appendectomy. There, this quiet, introverted, bookish young man finds a handwritten book abandoned on a nearby seat. He picks it up and leafs through the pages of the self-titled tome ‘Living with Dying’. These are the thoughts of a terminally ill person that he has managed to accidentally enter into.

A girl flags him down and tells him that the book is hers. The two just so happen to be classmates and the girl is not known to be ill by her fellows at school. The boy originally thinks this to be some elaborate kind of prank, but she ensures him that it is not. She has a terminal pancreatic condition, a disease of the pancreas that will inevitably lead to her untimely death in a few short years from now. Only her parents, close family, and physician know about her illness, but now the boy knows and the girl feels somewhat relieved. She asks him if he will keep her secret and he agrees, especially since he has no one to tell the secret to anyway. The boy has no friends and has never had a girlfriend. He is a loner, but now this girl has entered his life.

It begins when she visits him in the library where he works part time. She bugs him all constantly to learn more about him. She even starts coming by all the time and eventually tells him the fable at the heart of the film’s title: In the past, it was said that eating the heart of an animal would help someone with a weak heart. Eating a liver would help someone with liver disease. The girl practices this ethos by consuming organ meat like hearts, livers, and offal at her favorite yakiniku, or skewered meat, restaurants in town. Playfully, she tells the boy that she wants to eat his pancreas, of course being tongue-in-cheek, but also reflecting her vitality and will to live. The friendship begins to expand as she drags the boy along with her from place to place and date to date before it eventually becomes a heartfelt friendship that transcends labels like best friend or boyfriend and girlfriend.

They enjoy each other’s company and help to build each other up. The boy by being there for her and doing things with her without an ulterior motive like sexual attraction or the more romantic view towards planning a future together. The girl by bringing the boy out of his shell and making him more outgoing, by seeing him for who he truly is and learning to love him despite his flaws. Events unfold unexpectedly time and again, before the final event which neither saw coming despite the girl’s illness and the boy is left alone once again.

I want to eat your pancreas is a beautiful little uplifting film with large-scale implications about our default modes of behavior toward other people based on the situation. It’s a portrait of love in its many vicissitudes that leaves you feeling emotionally drained, but stronger in your convictions to go forward bravely into this new world where the nexus of social relations and connections is shifting so rapidly that it can lead many to social inertia, to just dropping out of the social game (something I arguably did for around three years until late last year). And it pressures us to treasure all our benign relationships with others, no matter how fleeting, even by design (such as terminal illness, or meeting friends in a foreign country even if your stay is short, or at a local school even if you are moving soon). I loved the film, and I hope you do too.

 

With love,

Cody

Urusei Yatsura: Only You

(Catch my review of Oshii’s early career HERE)

Anime director and auteur Mamoru Oshii began his career at Tatsunoko Productions in 1977 where he was mentored under that studio’s head director before making the move along with him to Studio Pierrot in 1980. There Mamoru Oshii helmed his first anime production as head director on the critically-acclaimed and beloved Rumiko Takahashi adaptation Urusei Yatsura (for its first 106 episodes). By 1983, the Studio decided it was time to make a bold move into the feature film market with an adaptation of a new story within the Urusei Yatsura universe. And Oshii was the obvious choice to direct the film.

The film follows the exploits of Ataru Moroboshi, a young earthling, who is inexplicably the love interest for one of the universe’s most eccentric, powerful, and beautiful woman: the Oni princess Lum Invader. This film in particular begins with an art nouveau sequence in which only reds, blacks, and whites are utilized to animate a sequence from Ataru’s deep past. Therein, he and a mystery girl romp about a playground together eleven years in the past. We learn that the little girl is from an alien planet, like Lum, with its own culture and practices. One of which, and the most important in reference to the events of this film, is the engagement ritual in which a young suitor steps on the shadow of his would-be beloved. This signals his interest in the girl and thereby engages the two, and as luck would have it, Ataru is a very mediocre kid with a very unlikely past indeed as he stepped on this girl’s shadow at that time.

Years pass, and we are thrown back into the current world of Urusei Yatsura wherein Ataru runs about whimsically avoiding becoming Lum’s groom at all costs and through any gambit he can muster up (understandable for any real high school kid being pursued romantically by an alien, but infuriating for any young weebs like myself who can only dream of such a glorious fate!). Where was I again? Oh yeah: a mysterious message is sent to practically every person who knows Ataru on Earth, which relates his engagement and immanent marriage to a girl named Elle. His friends, already jealous of Lum’s affections for Ataru, are incredulous that Ataru would go behind Lum’s back and get himself engaged to another girl. Ataru is confused as he does not remember the events of eleven years ago, and anyway would most likely find them banal and not truly pact-worthy in nature.

And yet, Lady Elle has grown into a beautiful young woman who now reigns as Queen over her subjects as the ruler of the largest and most powerful planet in the galaxy system. Ataru is smitten immediately, which serves as the film’s primary conflict for most of its 100-minute run time of wily adventuring, boisterous action, wry comedy, and occasional musical sequence (which are all done surprisingly well). First Ataru willingly leaves with Elle’s entourage only for Lum and her friends to kidnap him and spirit him away to her own home planet where an impromptu wedding ceremony is planned. Elle’s spies steal Ataru back, almost causing a potentially cataclysmic war between the two planets for love on a scale far more weighty than Troy.

The spies eventually take Ataru successfully and he plans to marry Elle. But when Elle first sees the young man after 11 years, she mistakes him for one of Ataru’s friends in the group named Mendou Shintaru, which later leads to a midnight rendezvous avec les deux that results in Mendou learning about Elle’s secret cache of 99,999 frozen, handsome young men she keeps cryogenically frozen to preserve their youth and their love for her. The Queen is crazy after all. When Ataru finds all of this out, he refuses to wed with such a pernicious and seemingly evil alien broad, and is saved in the nick of time once more by Lum who is now welcomed with open arms as her entourage cause chaos on Elle’s home planet where the wedding ceremony takes place. Unfortunately for Ataru, once again, when he arrives home, he is immediately deposited within a large church where the vows are to be made between himself and Lum on the spot. Ataru runs for his life, and his freedom, out of chapel and prolongs of the saga of Urusei Yatsura once more for an indefinite period thereby.

Mamoru Oshii called Urusei Yatsura: Only You a failure of a film. However, artists in any medium are known to often be overly critical of their own work, and especially of their first work. As this was Oshii’s first feature-length project as a director, we really ought to take his admonitions of failure with a grain of salt and view the film on its own terms.

The first question is what should a film be? If the answer is taken historically and realistically in terms of what films succeed and are remembered, I would say a film is good if that film properly entertains an audience for its full run-time, if a film adaptation of a previously existing franchise fits well into that franchise, if critics like it, and if it is becomes a cult film at some future date. There are, no doubt, many other criterion one might add to this list, but these are at least important ones to reflect upon in the context of Urusei Yatsura: Only You. 

I found the film to be extremely engaging and fun at times as a mere romp, while also aesthetically pleasing and artfully made in terms of animation. While not an intellectual effort on par with later Oshii films, there is a particularly good surreal sequence in which Ataru, Elle, Lum, and various others rewatch the inciting memory of eleven years prior and even interact with its characters: the child Ataru and Elle. This is a novel and interesting melange of reality and memory that prefigures much of Oshii’s later work. The film is definitely of the spirit of the larger franchise and has received favorable critical attention in the years since its release. And while not the cult film that’s its sequel Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer is, there are few anime films from the early 1980s that regularly receive releases in the Western home video market that do not simultaneously have something to do with Studio’s Ghibli or Madhouse. Plus, if you’re really into romantic-comedy action sci-fi series and can’t find a single one other than Tenchi Muyo, here’s a film for you.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

[Next up: the first OVA Dallos]

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