Insights & Art

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Category: Reviews.

Before Sunrise: The Fragility of Midnight

“The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed.”

I never watched Troy (2004) by Wolfgang Peterson, but the quote above shared between a wounded Briseis and the rugged, yet tender Achilles always resonated with me. Our relationship with death gives all our experiences meaning and on a much smaller scale; all our deep connections we form add a dash of colour in our lives because those relationships are finite specks in the great dance of the universe.

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Before Sunrise (1995) directed by Richard Linklater is an ode to young love, love without restrictions, obligations or expectations; a symbol of love which stays with and haunts us even as we age. The story is comically simple, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) sums up the courage and speaks to Celine (Julie Delpy) whom he spots on the opposite isle in the train before stumbling on a crazy idea: Why shouldn’t she get off the train with him and soul search together in the dreamy streets of Vienna? The pair’s chemistry is almost immediate with so much being communicate by their flirty glances, the subtle biting of their lips and the batting of their eyelashes. Love is blooming in the city of Vienna; but only for fourteen short hours before reality tears them apart.

The shots, camera angles and editing employed in this film are all very elementary; from a technical aspect Before Sunrise is a film where you almost don’t feel the presence of a director. Instead, the camera is simply just a friendly companion documenting the discussions and kisses between the two exquisitely charming lovers. Linklater doesn’t attempt to revolutionise the art of cinematography; but he doesn’t need to, there is already enough beauty in the simple stares of affection between two doomed lovers.

Jesse and Celine banter and share their philosophies, most of which address love; the most painful, yet simultaneously exhilarating aspect of humanity. At first, both are reserved in their comments, trying to maintain their sense of autonomy against the breaking tides of affection they feel for each other. Only slowly, as the night drifts on by and the moon rises above the smoky clouds do they reveal their past scars and aspirations. The couple drift from the melancholic grey of a graveyard to the energetic bustle of an amusement park before finally laying in each other’s arms on a park, letting their pauses do as much as the talking as the actual words they utter.

What do the pair actually speak about? Nothing in particular, Jesse talks about the plot of a television show which he came up with day dreaming on a train and Celine speaks about balancing the idea of being strong and independent whilst also falling hopelessly for a man. One of the most memorable scenes occurs in a listening studio of a record store; as one stares longingly the other avoids contact, only for this role to reverse every few seconds. It’s awkward, it’s embarrassing, but so surprisingly realistic, I have been in the exact same spot dozen of times and so have you.

As the slow cloak of midnight finally descends upon the spellbinding city of Vienna, the electricity of night only intensifies the connection between the couple and the audience is only more hopelessly drawn into their romance. Everything is more mysterious and luscious under the cover of stars; the lovers are transported into a realm of seclusion, where they are freed from the demands and obligations of the day. Linklater captures this fleeting promise of eternality as the pairs wander lost in Vienna and more importantly; lost in each other’s eyes.

The most powerful shot in this film occurs near the very end, as the pair reluctantly separate; Jesse for his plane back to America and Celine on her way back to Paris. Linklater cuts back to the locations that the pair visited, a lonely bridge, the deserted cafe and the grungy underground bar. Except, this time it’s in broad day light. And there’s no love struck couple in the scenery either. The fleeting promises of eternality have also evaporated with the moon and the city wakes up from its blissful dream. The contrast between the locations during the night and day time is drastic and very jarring, and only do we realised how charming these two individuals were. Their locations were irrelevant as long as they could whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

The couple stand outside a train which Celine must board; the looming reality which they might never see each other again causes they to spill everything; their feelings for each other and a desire to preserve what they experienced for the last fourteen hours permanently in their minds and souls. They kiss and hug with such passion that Hawke and Delpy stopped being actors in a role; their eyes swam with such tenderness that it forced me to think back on past relationships that I have been fortunate enough to experience. In the spur of the moment, the couple decide to recind their past promise that they would just walk away from each other forever. The idea of them just shelving this night as a symbol for how overwhelmingly beautiful love was just not attractive enough as the possibility for a second night.

But in a world before the advent of Facebook and Whatsapp, this promise seems fragile. Will the couple honour these words uttered whilst under the influence of gripping passions? Celine asks Jesse whether or not they should keep in contact by calling or writing letters to which he dismisses it with the comment “No, it’s depressing.”

I’m afraid of watching the sequel, Before Sunset (2004), part of me doesn’t want to ruin the image of two lost lovers finding solace in the comfort of an anonymous partner. Whether or not Jesse and Celine actually meet again is beside the point, in reality it is highly likely that these two will never cross paths. But that’s okay, or at the very least I am okay with that conclusion, because this film doesn’t attempt to wrap everything neatly together; life is rarely that simplistic. The road doesn’t stop and all you can do is place one foot infront of the other.

But for a brief moment they shared something magical, something which many people will never or have never experienced. Time may roll forwards and Jesse and Celine may visit different cities and drink wine with other foreign lovers. But inevitably whether the pair are stuck in a toxic relationship or whether they are happily married with a loving partner: Once in a while, whether that’s every few months, years or even decades, the pair, whilst sleeping on opposites of the world will inevitably drift back to the first time they laid eyes upon each other; on the train passing through Vienna.

Au Revoir.

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Perfect Blue: Blurring the Worlds & Sexuality

“My father used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”
– Evey Hammond

I once heard one of my university lectures argue that a painting was infinitely better than a photograph, because the latter captures reality, whilst the former creates reality. In the hands of a master, a portrait can evoke, emphasis and whisper unspoken truths to an audience; painting is a medium where the artist can indulge and lavish in subjectivity; photography is always somewhat limited by the physical.

Satoshi Kon wholeheartedly embodies this principle and runs with it, Perfect Blue (1997) is a film to be experienced and not understood, because its priority isn’t to convey facts but rather to create a filter of insanity, loneliness and fear. Perfect Blue follows the protagonist Mima Kirigoe, a beautiful pop idol working as the lead singer in CHAM!, who after recognising the instability of the industry, attempts to become an actress, forcing her to actively ditch her ‘spotless virgin image’. Her decision angers a psychopathic fan known only by his online alias; ‘Me-Mania’, a man who has dedicated his life to punishing Mima for betraying his perceptions of her. Kon doesn’t attempt to craft a realistic villain, instead Me-Mania is hideously ugly, terrifying distorted. Just like Picasso’s postmodern works, Kon’s focus isn’t so much on an accurate depiction of life, but rather in creating a narrative through manipulating emotions.

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Kon’s works often features the concept of duality; and this is most evidently seen in the intertwining of the real and the ‘unreal’ worlds. The ‘real’ world contains all the physical matter around us, it is governed by logic, infrastructure and scientific facts. The ‘unreal’ world is one of chaos, ruled by emotion and built to metaphorically subvert the ‘real world’ through its contrast and intervention.

And the two worlds are set on a path of collision.

The one skill which separates Kon from his contemporaries is his complete mastery of editing. Kon is a film director who lets his edits dictate the tone of the film, instead of letting the plot guide the atmosphere of the film. As Mima starts losing track of reality, the editing mirrors this with the scenes bleeding into each other; where the linear progression of time is disrupted, reversed and dissected. The opening of Perfect Blue is so effective since it skilfully blends Mima’s idol dance routine into the ordinary task of purchasing goods; conveying that the two worlds she inhabits are inherently linked through her memory and consciousness. Kon’s art is one which thrives by discarding the generic restrictions imposed upon the directors and audience within the anime community.

Perfect Blue is terrifying because it refuses to follow the conventions of a linear narrative, the traditional labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ don’t exist when the very fabric of reality is uncertain. As Mima slowly becomes more consumed with the fear of leaving behind her her pop idol past and the creeping dangers of her stalker, her grip on reality completely vanishes as the last act of the film becomes a dizzying blend of life, alternate realities and fears. As Mima loses control of her public persona, she finds it increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two worlds and slowly begins to fall into a repetitive, monotonous pattern where time is subject to the passions of the heart and the terrors of the mind.

The truly terrifying aspect of this loss of reality is the inability to concretely understand what is happening around her as Mima’s mental fears and insecurities start to physically manifest. She get stabbed by a mirage of her pop idol past and later she kills Me-Mania only to find out that his body has disappeared; the audience is forced to ponder whether or not such actions actually occurred in reality. This overlapping of the two realities is also reflected in Me-Mania’s life as the pictures of Mima around his bedroom start physically interacting with him, whispering their support of his sexually preversed desire to kill Mima. What this creates is a sense of constant apprehension, where threats can materialise out of anywhere since they are not bounded to the same limitations found in the physical world. Mima’s only worse enemy is her mind, since it seems intent on conjuring up her own destruction.

Perfect Blue provides us a frightening insight into the chaotic world of Mima, a girl who has allowed the culivation of an external pop persona of sex appeal and charisma; wildly different to her calmer and more humble self she displays in the company of these she loves and trusts. Yet her public avatar has now become such an entity that it now thrives independently, riding the momentum of her fame.

Perfect Blue tackles the issue of technology and how easy it is to create, maintain and ultimately lose control of one’s public avatar. Mima stumbles onto an internet diary dedicated to recording her life and feelings through the lens of her idol persona, a website created by Me-Mania. Whilst initially finding it humourous, Mima’s naive appreciation soon turns to fear as she realises that she is being stalked and also that this website is now publishing statements which do not reflect her own feelings.

Throughout the entire film, Kon suspends the audience in a state of constant fear by alluding to the imminent sense of danger without revealing it. In the beginning, Mima’s home phone rings and she hears the slow breathing of Me-Mania, but naively hangs up, thinking it was an accidental call. Slowly this escalates to him poisoning the fishes, sending her a small explosive, killing those around her and finally even confronting her in person.

The audience is fully aware of the danger that now threatens her life but is completely unable to affect or warn her about it. The result is a nail biting ninety minutes, there were many moments where I genuinely considered pausing the film because my heart was stuck in my throat; I was terrified at what would happen to Mima.

Another one of the central themes of Perfect Blue is the objectification of a women’s body for profit, something which Kon strongly voices against. Kon portrays this relationship between Mima and the media companies who greedily consume and distribute her image as rape; the exploitation of the human body for financial benefits. The cameras (which are always held by male photographers) are phallic instruments, which pierce and unveil, ignorant to the consequences of their lust. This voyeurism peaks when Mima accepts a role where she pretends to be raped within a nightclub; we see her body through the lens of a camera and not her point of view; she is an object to be acted upon.

The power dynamic of sex is also reflected in Me-Mania’s final confrontation with Mima, where he confesses that he attempts to destroy this new ‘reincarnation’ of Mima through raping her and eventually killing her. Symbolically he attempts to commit this crime on the same film set previously mentioned, where Mima was ‘raped’ whilst acting; further blurring the lines between the two worlds. For a character who only has a few lines of dialogue throughout this film; Me-Mania’s shadow taints every interaction, every scene and location, he is truly terrifying, in an illogical manner which cannot be reasoned with.

Whilst, one certainly feels sorry that Mima gets type casted into these ‘traditionally’ female roles where are built upon her sexuality and youthful looks. Though one has to ask whether or not this depiction is ‘fair’ as Mima herself willingly enters into this relationship and she also ‘exploits’ the media to garner social capital and publicity: Regardless, Kon’s criticisms about female objectification is still a fresh breath of air in an industry universally famous for the disproportionate sizes and the overt sexualisation of their female characters.

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Me-Mania holding the public perception of Mima.

Whilst Me-Mania is unquestionably an evil, twisted rapist with little redeeming qualities, it is unsettling to be reminded that his vendetta against Mima arose out of his complete consumption and obsession with her idol persona. Financially, he was arguably everything that the media companies wanted; a fan who brought into the cultivation of this idol as a form of escapism.

At the core of Perfect Blue is the tension between a carefully crafted image and the noticeably less shiny exterior of reality and the dangers of intertwining the two. Fundamentally, all the troubles and negative consequences arise out of an inability to distinguish between these two realms; Mima cannot separate herself from her past as an idol and Me-Mania cannot see Mima as anything but a perfect little doll. Released in 1997, Kon’s work feels more relevant than ever as the internet and social media has become increasingly infused into the audience’s lives.

Perfect Blue features the traditional interpretation of fame; a person elevated to a profiting brand by the powerful media companies; reflective of stardom in the 1990s. Yet today, the internet has connected people in a way which has revolutionised our society; today, everyone has an avatar, everyone has an audience and everyone is a performer. And the concerns of Perfect Blue are more disturbing than ever.

The Collapse of Tradition

“IS THE GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES AN ANTI-WAR FILM?”

Animation produces emotional effects not by reproducing reality, but by heightening and simplifying it.
                                                                                          – Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert famously hailed Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) as one of the greatest anti-war films ever created. Since its initial release this animated classic, directed by Isao Takahata, has been associated with the dangers of militarism and the dehumanising effects of war. As Takahata and author Akiyuki Nosaka were both victims of American firebombings, there are certainly elements of pacifism which underscore the duration of the film. However it seems the real battlefield is the Japanese home front, and it is these rules and expectations which Seita and Setsuko have to navigate. The war is arguably just a trigger to explore the self-inflicted cannibalisation of Japanese society and the disintegration of ie.

Throughout many interviews Takahata has maintained that the target audience was the younger generation of the 1980s, and this film was often used as an educational video within schooling institutions. Importantly, this was also the first generation that the horrors of WWII were just figments of the past and not actual lived experiences. The importance of this shift in the public consciousness and why Takahata so outwardly addresses the youth in the film will be explained further on.

The audience is abruptly thrown into a narrative where Japan is at war, neither the enemy or the cause of this conflict is discussed. It is as if Takahata is suggesting that such details are irrelevant compared to the fact this simply forces Japanese society to change and adapt to such circumstances. Takahata does not portray the Americans as the antagonist and the Japanese as helpless casualties of foreign aggression; as most traditional anti-war films would. Paradoxically it seems it is the Japanese who are both the oppressors and the victims. The ideals of uchi and soto are dismantled as the traditional markers of Japanese identity and tribalism are abandoned in the name of self-preservation.

This is immediately highlighted in the introduction of the film, the suffering of Seita and other orphans are contrasted to the rest of Japanese society. Their decrepit statute and stationary positions accentuate the fanatic (and interestingly directionless) movement of their fellow Japanese. As if an entire generation and their memory was discarded when Japan rose to the economic powerhouse it was in the 1980s.

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However, the most obvious scene of social criticism appears near the end of the film when three Japanese girls return to their wealthy home, excitedly exclaiming “It’s so good to be home… It hasn’t changed a bit.” Whilst initially it can be seen as an optimistic comment about the future of Japan, that fact it immediately follows after the passing of Setsuko paints these adolescents as callous and ignorant.

It is clear that from their western attire and their association with western technology (phonograph) that these girls are supposed to be the representations of the Japanese youth in 1980s; opulent and painfully oblivious. The proximity of the house to the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in, is a metaphor that underneath the economic boom of the decade lie the painful memories of loss and defeat. It is not the Allied soldiers who are presented as indifferent to the suffering of the Japanese, but rather the Japanese themselves.

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In a very eye opening interview Takahata states that one of his original goals was to ‘depict the boy as a contemporary boy, rather than a boy in that time.’ It is with this new found knowledge that one must address the film and see Seita’s actions as not just as personal decisions but rather a mirroring of the ideals and values held by the Japanese youth of the 1980s.

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Seita carries Setsuko upon his back trying to find his way to the bomb shelter. However, during this journey, Seita pauses and the camera spends an usually long time lingering upon a bucket, ladder and pool; tools used to fight fires. Torn between giri and ninjo, Seita chooses to flee towards safely. Almost immediately afterwards, as if an act of divine retribution, the houses around him explode into an uncontrollable blaze of fire and the skies immediately darken. Symbolically, it would seem the reason why the city of Kobe fell to the fire was not because of the American bombings, but rather an embrace of kojinshugi over ie.

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Seita’s fire brigade uniform, iconic of Japan’s fashion during WWII serves not only to connect him towards the school attire of his modern day contemporaries, but also as a constant reminder of his failure to fill his obligation. Throughout the film as Seita becomes ever more removed from ie and the community, his uniform begins to disintegrate off his body. Yet in death, Seita’s uniform is restored, serving as an ominous warning that he (and the audience) will never be able to shake off their responsibilities to the nation, invoking some of the more fatalistic elements of Bushido.

Noting how consumerism has weakened the pillars of Japanese tradition, Takahata continues his criticism by stating ‘[Seita] doesn’t bear with hardships. When the aunt threatens him by saying “Let’s have our meals separately” he is relieved’… As a result, his life becomes harder. Such is the feelings held by today’s kids.’

The consequences of isolation is juxtaposed to the prior scene of surprising optimism as Seita rummages through his destroyed home and symbolically bathes in water spouting from a burst pipe. In a traditional anti-war film, this scene of returning to a destroyed community would have been a moment of intense emotional pain, yet Seita seems almost unreactive to the destroyed infrastructure. Seita and Setsuko may have lost their mother but they were still on good terms with their auntie, and thus the family unit survived: Japanese society was still adhering to its traditions, even after experiencing such causalities.

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The question must be asked, why Takahata was so intensely focused on having his film connect with the Japanese youth of the baburu keiki. The 1970s and 80s, falls into what sociologist Osawa Masachi terms as ‘kyoko no jidai’ or roughly translated as the ‘age of fiction’, a period marked by a public shift on tradition. Whilst the 1960s and 70s (or riso no jidai; ‘age of idealism) aimed to change society from within established perimeters. The period of Kyoko no jidai, fuelled by an explosion of capitalism combined with the radicalisation of leftist politics saw a desire to reimagine society completely, without adherence to past traditions. It is from within this context of cultural change from which Grave of the Fireflies emerges.

“… But [the youth’s] often nihilistic attitude combined with an aggressive materialism stand in distinctive contrast to their parent’s values.”
                                                                                         – Susan Napier

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(Nakanishi, 2003)

The post war years of 1979 to 1993 saw a steep rise in crime rates of juveniles, simultaneously followed by a dramatic increase in juvenile arrests. And it this troubled generation of Japanese delinquents which was the target audience of Grave of the Fireflies. The desire to rein the youth is expressed in Takahata’s comments; “Just like today’s junior high students, a 14-years old looks unemotional or grumpy.” Such comments leave very little room when it comes to addressing the objective of this film.

This is not to say that Grave of the Fireflies completely neglects to condemn war , but instead that its main focus is a close inspection on the Japanese character in times of trial. One of the most powerful scenes condemning militarism occurs after the fire bombings have ended and both Seita and Setsuko were able to escape (not with the rest of society at the shelters but rather to a sewer reminiscent of their eventual ‘ukiyo’). A hellish montage of soldiers and civilians dying is followed by a lone male feverishly screaming “Long Live the Emperor”. Situated amongst the backdrop of a burning building; his overly zealous rhetoric is the fan which fuels the self-immolation of Japanese society.

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However, in the scene above, one could just as easily interpreted it as an anti-war message or as a cautionary warning against Japanese society being swept up by the tides of far right politics. Tellingly, both Seita and Setsuko die after WWII concludes, during a period where Americans had ‘officially’ become an ally, and peace had technically been reinstated. One must question if Grave of the Fireflies is at its core an anti-war film, as it spends so much time addressing the consequences of social decisions and not exploring the horrors of international war.

This criticism of the Japanese youth is reflected in two highly emotional scenes where both Seita and Setsuko break the fourth wall and communicate directly to the audience. In the scene directly after Seita and Setsuko’s last encounter with the fireflies and the pleasant idylls of nature, Seita walks outside the cave to see Setsuko crouching in the dirt. Setsuko starts crying as she begins to bury the fireflies and in a highly emotional moment asks “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” It is important to not only note her words but the manner in which this dialogue is conveyed. The linear narrative of the story is broken and the camera shifts to a point of view shot of Setsuko’s teary face; positioning the audience as the recipient of her question.

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Analysing the exact definition of what fireflies symbolise in this piece of work is rather difficult as they cover such a large myriad of ideas. But by immediately injecting flashbacks of Seita’s and Setsuko’s mother being thrown into a ditch, combined with the previous mention that ‘[a kamikaze plane] looks like a firefly.’ I believe that Setsuko’s question forces audience to confront why they have forgotten the memories of the fallen victims, relegating their sacrifices to pointless events along the spectrum of Japanese history. Did their suffering have any meaning and if not, then why not?

This is reinforced by the following scene, which is arguably one of the most manipulative within the entire film. A wave of intrusive Japanese children carelessly trespass on the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in. After such a powerfully emotional scene just moments prior, the audience cannot but see their ignorance as anything but problematic. Regarding the previous example of the Japanese girls returning to their house, it is highly telling that Takahata constantly uses ignorant children as the symbol of those untouched by war.

Arguably the cause of Seita and Setsuko’s demise isn’t the war as apart from the opening scenes of the film, the audience is never again shown the graphic consequences of conflict. Likewise, Takahata portrays Japanese society as still intact after its surrender at the concluding moments of the film. In the scenes when Seita tries to buy charcoal for his sister’s funeral, there is an unusual amount of sunlight present and the farmer seems oddly optimistic, noticeably different to the feelings of the Seita and the audience. As someone who previously advised Seita to return to his auntie, this farmer stands as the ideological opposite to Seita, someone who did not abandon his station, even during turmoil. Life as a Japanese farmer and as a cog in the Japanese system continues, even in the face of defeat.

Likewise, Seita’s compliance in the selling of his mother’s kimonos is also used as a metaphor for the self-cannibalisation of Japan from within. In complete disregard for his mother’s memory and filial piety, Seita trades in a symbol of Japanese femininity and motherhood for instant gratification. The camera then pans to the ghost of Seita covering his ears and horrified by this ultimately pointless decision, as the children die anyway, and paradoxically due to a lack of parental care. This act is symbolic because it marks the start of the pair’s divorce from any forms of familial relationship, their relationship with their auntie rapidly decays afterwards: Seita’s pride and Setsuko’s willingness to follow her brother have made them orphans both literally and spiritually.

The final scene of this film however is arguably the most insightful look into the intentions of Takahata’s when directing this film. Having failed to receive proper Buddhist or Shinto burial rites, both Seita and Setsuko return as spirits, they’re marginalised on the outskirts of the city; disconnected to the wealth of the city. As Setsuko lays her head on her brother’s lap and the main theme begins to crescendo, Seita breaks the fourth wall and gives the audience an accusatory stare.

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Slowly the camera pans upwards, and the fireflies; symbols of the kamikaze pilots, Seita’s mother and other countless forgotten Japanese victims are drowned out by the overwhelming lights of Kobe. As audiences, it is not hard to see this futuristic city as the stark contrast to the poverty and suffering of those caught in WWII. Once again the question is asked whether or not the stories of the older generation have been forgotten, and if so then why? Nosaka’s words captures this sense of tension and discomfort with the rapidly changing Japan; “… High-rise buildings and super-highways were once just futuristic dreams… [I] cannot help but see them amidst sunlit ruins,” echoing a real fear that Japan will forget its past.

Perhaps the most conclusive proof regarding the stance of Grave of the Fireflies is found in Takahata’s continued insistence that “[The film] is not at all an anti-war anime and contains no such message.” Whilst Takahata and Nosaka’s played large roles in shaping what this film eventually became, it is fair that audiences should have the right to interpret this film however they wish. Nor does this essay wish to diminish Roger Ebert’s remarks that this film “involves war, the results of war and two victims of war.”

However, to insist that the film Grave of the Fireflies was created with a strict anti-war theme at its heart is rather dubious. I see this film as an attempt to bridge the generational gap between those who experienced and those untouched by Japan’s darkest days. Grave of the Fireflies doesn’t so much push an anti-war message but rather one cautioning against the abandonment of communal values. The fact that this story starts and ends with the death of the protagonist suggest that bloodshed, like the defeat of Japan in 1945, is unchangeable. Yet it is how a culture remembers their past which demonstrates what direction they will take in the future.

In the Mood for Love – Review & Analysis

IntheMood for Love

“Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t married how would life be…?”
“… Probably happier.”

[SPOILERS]

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy of finding the beauty in imperfection, a belief that the stories and history embedded in a frayed item reflects a deeper charm than just a pristine exterior. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form which heavily borrows upon this thinking, where broken pottery pieces are glued together with a mixture of gold, silver and platnium. This isn’t just an act of repairment but instead a transformation, where the item’s past is seen as an extension of its beauty; in many ways kintsugi is the perfect metaphor for life.

In the Mood for Love (2000) directed by Kar-Wai Wong explores the bitter loneliness and human desire for warmth which simultaneously plague our psyches. Our two protagonist; Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen move into two apartments close to each other, but are only drawn to each other when they suspect that their partners are cheating with the other’s respective spouse. In the crowded streets of Hong Kong in 1962, both Chow and Su are constantly surrounded by the faces of people never revealed to us, a clever decision to make the audience invest more heavily into the two leading protagonist. Lost in this sea of bodies, they often find themselves trapped in claustrophic spaces with only their feelings as company.

Apart from the theme of loneliness which permeates every scene, dialogue and interaction, is the question about the double edge nature of fate. Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen interact with each other for brief moments at the start of the film; meeting on the street only to politely excuse themselves from speaking to each other. Only when rains traps them both together underneath a shoddy street lamp do they finally get a chance to establish repertoire. Only thirty minutes into this film, do the audience finally see the two characters attempt to peel away the calluses around their hearts.

Yet no matter how longingly the exquisitely beautiful Su Li-zhen and the mournfully handsome Chow Mo-wan stare at each other, there is always this barrier which stifles their relationship. This uncomfortable distance which seems to repel away all human contact is cleverly reinforced in the camera work and the mise en scène. The camera seems to spy on the protagonist in the long hallways, the pair repeatly walk infront of fences which resemble a cage. The mirrors serve as a clever motif in this film, highlighting how oppressive the lack of space is in these dingy apartments, but also the duality of Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen; they crave yet fear love. This sense of melancholy acts as a barrier, and the audience is often forced to peek into their lives behind a window screen or curtain, as if the audience is physically prevented from changing their sombre destinies which have already been set in stone.

The colour palette of this film is simply stunning, draped in luscious reds and satin yellows, the time that Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen spend together in their hotel rooms usher the audience into a dream like state; where laughter is plentiful and noodles are always eaten with company. However amongst the flirtious looks and playful mannerisms, both protagonist are scared to develop feelings for the other. Both openly voice that having sex would “reduce them to the same level” as their disloyal spouses. Yet these words ring off as just a convenient excuse, in truth their lives have been sullied by infidelity and an act as passionate as sex would only leave them more vulnerable to the actions of the other party.

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“You notice things, if you pay attention.”

The fickle nature of Lady Luck is also seen at the end of the film when Chow Mo-wan asks Su Li-zhen to flee with him to Singapore; the promise of a ‘new life’ deeply alluring for both of them. Unsure of her response, Chow waits for her in a rented hotel room smirking sadly to himself before leaving, only to have Su arrive moments later; so close, but ultimately too late. And just like that our protagonist are denied the happiness they both deserve. Our hearts beat for their sadness and we curse the Gods who seem to be playing dice with their feelings. But ironically, their feelings itself was a stroke of chance, a relationship which was only nurtured through their proximity, poorly timed rain and their spouse’s infidelity.

So the protagonists try to express their feelings in methods which still maintain their self autonomy, phone calls seem to the main form of communicating in the 1960s Hong Kong landscape; a happy medium between the vulnerability of speech and the coldness of fax machines. After life has whisked Chow Mo-wan off to Singapore, Su Li-zhen calls him to hear his voice, he answers and then both remain silent on the phone, comforted by the simultaneous proximity and distance of their lover.

Chow keeps a pair of slippers that Su left in his room once as a souvenir of their love, even bringing this item to Singapore. Months later she would visit Singapore only to take back that keepsake, leaving only a smoked cigarette with lipstick on his ashtray as a sign of her presence. It’s a game of cat and mice, where the first to admit their true feelings loses, it’s not a healthy relationship, but after countless scars on their heart, it’s the best they can do.

The finale concludes with Chow Mo-wan whispering his pains, regrets and secrets into a stone hallow at a Cambodian temple before sealing it with dirt. Unable to find someone to confide in, he chooses, like those long distance phone calls, a method where he can speak his mind without hearing an answer.

Years after, both Chow and Su find themselves back in Hong Kong, they attempt to reconnect with each other a final time but are ultimately unsucessful as their communication slowly ceased, their fate once again seemingly sealed by an omnipresent force. Their future runs like parallel lines, oddly close to each other yet never capable of insecting again, their time has past and time is merciless.

But when it starts to rain, or when they pass by the noodle store where they had their first date, the lights of Hong Kong will shine a little redder and cigarette smoke will roll a little more graceful, as they both reminisce on the genuine feelings of longing which both tortured and gave them purpose in 1962.

Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen were both in the mood for love, they just won’t capable of it yet.

“Why did you call me at the office today?”
“I had nothing to do. I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Lost in Translation – Review & Analysis

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“I don’t want to leave.”
“So don’t. Stay here with me. We’ll start a jazz band.”

The title Lost in Translation captures more than just Bob Harris’ (Bill Murray) and Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) confusion in an alien land with dizzying lights and lethargic frenzy. It alludes to what people have always wanted, simply, someone to understand and to be understood in return. Bob and Charlotte are two lost souls who find themselves wandering aimlessly around this neon playground, both entranced and uncomfortable with a country that seems incapable of rest; indifferent to the stragglers.

Bob is apathetic. As a declining movie star, he is in Japan selling whiskey to an audience he is completely disinterested in. He spends his time at the hotel bar, craving genuine human contact but too weary to start the conversation. Charlotte is young and intelligent but finds herself locked in a relationship which is already starting to disintegrate; she too, seems to be trapped in a web of pessimism. Yet their chemistry is immediate, their affection for each other is displayed through a string of subtle body language, the odd glance, the brush of the cheek, and the tenderness of their voices. Lost in Translation is a smart film because it uses nuance to communicate its ideas, the cliché of star-crossed lovers would be too easy, too obvious and Sofia Coppola is much too intelligent for that.

Most of Bob’s relationships have broken down; his wife calls him frequently to discuss everything but their relationship. She tries to put their children on the phone, yet they always seem to run away. After a string of biting sarcasm from both parties, she asks Bob if she “Needs to worry about him,” Bob responds with “Only if you want to…” and seconds later she hangs, stating that she has ‘urgent matters’ to attend to. Bob could be the life of the party, he could be cracking jokes but he is too jaded to entertain someone without getting something in return. At this point, he’s damaged goods and the years of wear have chipped away at his charismatic instincts.

Similarly, Charlotte tries to communicate with her husband but he seems too preoccupied in mingling with B-grade celebrities. He insists that she won’t enjoy coming along with him to his work and naively believes that a faxed sheet of paper with a hand-drawn heart can remedy their fracturing marriage. Later that night, Charlotte longingly flips through Polaroid photos of the pair in their younger days.

Both Bob and Charlotte are ‘lost in translation’. Somewhere in the past, both of them held their tongue, their partners reciprocated and their feelings got lost in a sea of comforting neglect. And it is these feelings of isolation that unite the two. Bob sees a beautiful, witty girl, who, like him, seems to have lost her way in life and Charlotte sees an older man who actually tries to understand how lonely she is. The most insightful moments are when the pair lie together and speak about cosmic themes in vague details, the absolutes don’t matter, only that they are next to each other; together. Charlotte asks about the difficulty of marriage and Bob attempts to pass all that he has learnt onto his younger student. The pair never have sex but they do something a lot more risky; they allow themselves to develop feelings for each other.

When we are spying upon their drunken adventures, there is a real sense of energy and enthusiasm. The night is forever young and each bend in the road offers the chance of another unforgettable experience. When the two are separate, the passion evaporates, a grey filter sets in and we divert our eyes, confused at why they are wasting their dwindling time on matters of little significance.

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“I just feel so alone, even when I’m surrounded by other people.”

But context is the sharp gust of reality ready to blow away this pink glazed dream. Bob is married with children, Charlotte is also married to another man and thirty years younger. The looming end of their impending separation accelerates the urgency of their unexpected friendship. Time is merciless, despite how perfect this pairing is, the audience and the characters know that it’s impossible. Charlotte has her path she must walk and so does Bob, yet for a brief, but powerful moment, their lives do cross. And this is why this film is such an understated masterpiece, it doesn’t pretend that Charlotte and Bob have solved all their problems by meeting each other, rarely does that happen in reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte ended up dying from a drug overdose in five years, nor would I be surprised if she changes her mindset and allows her husband to share in her sadness. The same goes for Bob, maybe he divorces his wife and turns to alcoholism or maybe he returns home and holds her longingly; knowing that their relationship was once just like his and Charlotte’s.

That’s the beauty of this film, I don’t need answers. I am comfortable knowing that amongst the laughs, hugs and haunting stares of love, a genuine bond was forged in the most unexpected of locations.

Maybe one day, decades past, Charlotte will hear Bob’s name and then she’ll look down and crack a smile, or maybe even cry, or maybe not, because he is just a ghost in her past- And Bob will be on the other side of the world, attending to his own business, unaware that he had just entered the mind of a woman whom he loved, even if it was for a brief moment.

“I loved the moment near the end when Bob runs after Charlotte and says something in her ear, and we’re not allowed to hear it.

We shouldn’t be allowed to hear it. It’s between them, and by this point in the movie, they’ve become real enough to deserve their privacy. Maybe he gave her his phone number. Or said he loved her. Or said she was a good person. Or thanked her. Or whispered, “Had we but world enough, and time…” and left her to look up the rest of it.”

  • Roger Ebert, Lost in Translation Review, 2003

Genre: Romantic-Comedy
Certificate: R
USA Release Date: 3rd October 2003
Runtime: 141 minutes
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi & Fumihiro Hayashi
Synopsis: A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.

Up in the Air – Review & Analysis

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“Yes, it was pretty lonely.”
“Life’s better with company.”
“Yeah.”

You’ve made your bed, now go lie in it. Enter Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who summarises the shifting values of the 21st century, someone you see, but never meet. Tasked with the job of firing employees for ‘weak willed’ employers, Ryan travels the nation, never rooted, always moving. George Clooney delivers one of his best performances, and stars in the ‘Clooney’ role, an aging silver fox, with a seductive combination of wit and charisma, yet tragically flawed.

In this film, a young enthusiastic new employee; Natalie Kenner, played by the adorable and remarkably short Anna Kendrick, attempts to ‘revolutionise’ Ryan’s industry by introducing technology as the method of communication. Director Jason Reitman quietly brings up the moral questions of such an industry, will Skype make an already soul crushing announcement even less human? And if so, does it justify the cheaper economic cost? For Ryan, a gamophobic, he sees this decision as a direct attack on his laissez-faire state of living, ironically forgetting about the ‘real’ victims who are actually affected by the Global Financial Crisis. Already angry at Natalie for her suggestions, Ryan is tasked with the job of introducing her to the business, giving her first hand experience in this occupation, bridging the few months wait before the technology gets implemented.

This of course, cramps Mr. Bingham’s style, who personifies ‘easy come, easy go’.

On this subtle journey of self discovery, Ryan meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga); the modern day film noir love interest and a perfect combination of flirtiness, wit and unreachable allure. A self described ‘road warrior’, Ryan along with the audience is hopelessly charmed by her aura, even against their better judgement. It is with these bumps in the once smooth road, that the story starts.

[INCOMING SPOILERS]

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At the core of Jason Reitman’s film are the themes of relationships and responsibility; two dance partners who endlessly circle around the life of Ryan Bingham. Nothing reflects this like Ryan’s first encounter with Alex at a bar, both sipping on spirits, both waiting for the world to come and embrace them, but too jaded to make the first move. They start off their relationship by comparing credit cards, we as the audience are disgusted by such behaviour, but equally fascinated by their charm. They laugh and banter for a bit before going back to Ryan’s room to have sex. Casual and flirty; a quick transaction between two parties.

“We are two people that get turned on by elite status, I think cheap is our starting point.”

Apart from firing employees, Ryan Bingham also lectures about his isolationist philosophies, his message? “We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move.” The core motif of this philosophy is Ryan’s travelling bag; light, compact and ruthlessly packed to maximise efficiency. The quick series of cuts showing Ryan checking into the airport at the start of the film, immediate convey his sense of character; professional, calculated and deliberate.

When Ryan’s oldest sister (Kara) calls Ryan to discuss about their young sister’s wedding (Julie), she pleads him to participate in their ‘wedding gift’. This requires him to take a few photos holding a cardboard cut out of the newly engaged couple at iconic scenes around America. Begrudging, and after a lot of resistance, Ryan agrees. From the continuation of the bag motif we can see how disgruntled Ryan is, the cardboard cut out, is a little too wide, a little too longer to fit into the metaphor of his luggage; his indifferent lifestyle of constant movement, constant activity. We start to see and understand how detached Ryan is, an emotionally damaged man, incapable, or even worse, unwilling to maintain any relationship. A man whose definition of success is to reach a mathematical number; ten millions frequent flyer miles. It all makes sense.

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“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em?”

Yet this motif comes to a crescendo when Ryan sheepishly invites Alex as a date to his sister’s wedding. When asked to pin the photos of the cardboard cutouts on a map, he stands there, transfixed. In front of him is a map filled to the brim with photos from all of the couple’s friends and family, it’s so crowded that Ryan struggles to find space. And there lies the irony, this humble homely couple in Milwaukee, unable to afford a honeymoon and with close to no travel experience, has connections all over the nation. In contrast, Ryan can boast about all the exotic places he’s been, all the five star hotels he has stayed and all the casual sex he has engaged in… Yet can’t describe the feeling of friendship, he can’t describe holding someone out of a genuine sense of affection.

Ryan Bingham lived for his resume and not his eulogy.

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Slowly, we can begin to see Ryan’s outlook on life change, his relationships with Alex builds and builds, overwhelming his once mathematical approach to life. Maybe, she wasn’t a burden, maybe love was more than just a transaction between two people. The wedding scene stands out as my favourite in the whole film; it was just relatable, so genuinely human. Reitman switches to a shaky cam and the tinge of vintage red makes the audience feel as if we’re attending the wedding of a close cousin. The following scene, when Ryan comes back to his unglamorous Omaha house contrasts the warmth and happiness he felt when surrounded by his new relationships. There’s no music, there’s no dancing, the world has lost its musky red filter. Only cold white walls, a vacant desk and dusty couch greet him.

During the middle of his ‘backpack’ speech in Las Vegas, a speech which was has been very excited for since the beginning of the film. Ryan stops and stutters, his philosophies have changed and the spark of superiority and sureness which glinted in his eyes previously was gone. He can’t even bring himself to say these words. He steps away from the podium, offers an apology and in an act of complete vulnerability and spontaneity, he catches a flight to Alex’s house to finally speak without his cool air of invincibility, without his sense of complete assurance.

And Ryan gets his heart crushed, Alex is married. With children.

Ryan’s whole life had been predicated upon his isolation and the distancing of himself from people. Now a middle aged man with his youth quickly fading away, Ryan realises the consequences of his actions. He made his bed, now he has to lie in it.

It’s ironic that for a man whose occupation demanded a total sense of aloofness, Ryan now stands as a victim to his own game. He hangs up on Alex after what is assumed to be their final phone call, “You are an escape… You are a break from our normal lives… You are an parenthesis.” Ryan Bingham was always very detached, unfortunately for him, he met the only person in America who was even more detached. Karma? You decide.

Dejected and demoralised, he catches a plane back home, when the announcement is made that he just hit the ten million miles mark. In celebration, the airline chief sits down beside Ryan and starts making small talk, asking him “Where are you from?” to which a disheartened Ryan can only respond with “I’m from here.”

When Ryan gets back to his office, he rings the airline company and tries to transfer his miles over to his sister and her new husband, giving them the chance to experience the honeymoon they deserve. Yet the decision is interrupted by an co-worker knocking at Ryan’s door, and he hangs up the phone. The thought is there, but whether or not he completes the action, the audience will never know.

The film ends with Ryan standing in front of a large destination board, once again called to be a ‘road warrior’. His figure dwarfed by the immensity of the screen. Stunned by the enormity of the task ahead, Ryan lets go on his luggage handle, silently protesting this lifestyle which molded him into a hermit. A man who has lived in many houses, but never a home.

And this is what separates Jason Reitman from the average director, with already a string of witty and clever films under his belt. Reitman refuses to give the audience their candy. A ‘happy ever after’ ending between Ryan and Alex would have been too smooth, too unrealistic, too impractical, and at their core, both were practical people. To have this joyous ending would have absolved Ryan and Alex from their past and ultimately, this was a film about responsibility.

You’ve made your bed, now go lie in it.

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Certificate: R
USA Release Date: 23rd December 2009
Runtime: 149 minutes
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Walter Kirn & Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga & Anna Kendrick
Synopsis: With a job traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham enjoys his life living out of a suitcase, but finds that lifestyle threatened by the presence of a new hire and a potential love interest.

Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter – Review

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“Jon, a raven came from the citideal; a white raven… Winter is here.”
“Well, father always promised didn’t he?”

[MAJOR SPOILERS]

Whilst there are certainly lulls in season six of HBO’s record breaking, culture changing franchise; Game of Thrones, the final two episodes; Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Water were absolutely magnificent.

As film director Rolf de Heer famously said “Sound is sixty percent of the emotional content of the film” and the music in season six was breath taking. So whilst, the season finale was a celebration to how amazing the actors and actress are in this franchise, not enough credit gets given to Ramin Djawadi; the lead composer for Game of Thrones. Without Djawadi’s magical touch, this franchise would only reach a fraction of its true potential and the awe-inspiring scores helps elevate this piece of art so much more. Kudos to a true musical genius.

JON TARGARYEN

“Listen to me Ned, his name is… If Robert finds out he will kill him, you know he will, you have to protect him… Promise me Ned… Promise me.”

Rejoice Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark theorist, today is our day! Today our goblets shall be filled with wine, we shall sing merry songs and we shall dance in the hall of the kings!

This was perhaps my favourite scene from such a splendid, action packed, violence packed episode. For the last two seasons, Jon Snow Targaryen has been my favourite character, he is one of the only currently living characters (along with Ser Davos and possibly Daenerys) which acts as the moral compass of the franchise. Whilst Daenerys has her compassion for the slaves and her desire to liberate the Free Cities, Jon is really the only character that constantly demonstrated his beliefs through his PHYSICAL actions, to the point he was ready and willing to die for his beliefs, I always respected him for that.

So, my heart was pounding during Lyanna and Ned Stark’s final conversation. This series had been teasing out this reveal since episode one and to the disappointment of the fans, the directors seemed to have completely forgotten about this plot during the middle of the season. However, the exchange was every bit as sad, emotion and epic as I could have hoped for. The transition from the little baby opening its eyes to Jon Targaryen sitting at the head of the Stark house, as the music crescendoed, sent shivers down my spine.

I’ve also grown particularly attached with Lady Mormont of House Bear, her confidence, wit and Ayra-like charm won me over the moment she appeared on television. But the scene after Jon’s heritage was revealed, completely cemented my love for her.* In a moment which mirrored the original ‘King in the North’ christening of Robert Stark, the great Lords of the North pledge their allegiance to Jon Targaryen. However, despite the similarities, there was clearly a tonal shift from the conclusion of season one; those were simpler, more innocent times. This christening didn’t have the glamour or the glory which accompanied Robert’s affirmation, instead it foreshadowed even greater conflict and death as the North prepares for the war against the dead.

Jon Targaryen, first of his name, the King in the North, the Lord Commander, the blood of old Valyria, the Dragon and the White Wolf.

*I was nearly in tears at that point, for a character who had suffered the shame of being a bastard, the shame of being abused by Ser Alliser Thorne and even being betrayed by the Night’s Watch. It felt amazing that finally, finally, his fate was turning.

Ayra Stark is also finally in the game again, the Starks have really bolstered their position compared to the beginning of this season. As much as I enjoy Ayra’s tomboyish traits and her confrontational charms, it is slightly concerning to see a teenager display such a ruthless desire for revenge. Whilst the audience has always supported Ayra avenging her family and having a goal to work towards, it is slightly unnerving to see the awe and joy in her eyes after slitting Walder Frey’s throat.

QUEEN CERSEI LANNISTER

“This is Ser Gregor Clegane… He is quiet too… Your gods have forsaken you… This is your god now… Shame… Shame… Shame.”

A Lannister always pays their debt. After close to two whole seasons of being lurking in the shadows, Cersei is ready to become a major player in King’s Landing again. In one suspenseful scene, Cersei managed to destroy most of her opponents in one single blow with wild fire under the Great Sept of Baelor.

Cersei is back, with a vengeance, except this time she is without any of her children, her only link to sanity, the only things which were able to humanise such a vicious woman. Cersei was always power hungry, yet she always seemed to symbolically cover that up with beautiful floral dresses and sparkling jewelry, as if to distract from her less than stellar personality. But it seems Cersei has no time for such trivial fancies. As she ascends the Iron Throne dressed in a dressed in a beautiful black dress, perhaps to foreshadow her fall into madness, Cersei begins to resemble Aerys II Targaryen; the Mad King even more. Shockingly, it was not the Dragon which burnt King’s Landing with wild fire, but instead the Lion. Isn’t it even more symbolic that her most trusted adviser Qyburn was an former maester who was shunned by the order for practicing forbidden arts?

In many ways, the scene of Cersei preparing herself for the explosion at the Great Sept reminded me of the infamous baptism scene in The Godfather. Where Michael Corleone stands completely stoic at the altar after ordering the assassination of the rival families, his unflinching stare making the audience question whether or not he had become an emotionless monster. This time it was Cersei who failed her child, her kinder traits seemed to have been blackened after Tommen declared that trial by combat will be outlawed specifically to handicap his mother’s only trump card; Clegane. Cersei wasn’t at Tommen’s room trying to comfort the naive boy after he had lost his wife and his faith. In fact compared to her reactions when Joffrey and Myrcella, she seemed cold and aloof. No one crosses Cersei and lives to tell the tale, not even her own children.

The question remains, how does Mad Queen Cersei aim to keep not only her Iron Throne, but also the love of Jaime Lannister? The cold glare between the two signaled a clear shift in their relationship; she had become the very monster he killed to protect the city. How does a woman who has isolated all her allies and supporters maintain the crown against Daenerys Stormborn, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons?

Will Jaime Lannister be adding the Queen Slayer to his long list of titles?

DAENERYS TARGARYEN

“What is my heart’s desire?”
“Vengence… Justice.”
“Fire and blood.”

I am so glad that Daenerys finally got out of Meereen, she was a big fish in a small pond. It is time for Daenerys to leave her isolated world and join the rest of the cast in the battle for Westeros. It is time to announce to the world that the Dragon is back.

I thought that Meereen was rather dull this season and it was only Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Jacob Anderson (Greg Worm) and Nathalie Emmanuel’s (Missandei) performances which were keeping this narrative afloat. After all the entire point of the unrest and the emergence of the Son of the Harpies was to teach Daenerys how hard it is to rule and that the crowd is fickle, particularly if you do not know the city’s culture. I thought season five really effectively showed us the pains of leadership with Daenerys facing the first real test of her queenship; public backlash. However in season six, Daenerys was completely missing from Meereen, her absence meant that the rise in tension lead to more character development for Tyrion than the Mother of Dragons, thus I just wasn’t very emotionally invested Meeren during this season. The Free Cities always felt like a stepping stone to Daenerys’ true purpose and I’m glad she has is on her way to her true goal.

Whilst the main theme of Daenerys’ character growth has been her becoming more stern and less forgiving, changing from a beautiful, soft young lady to the authoritative and inspiring queen. It was very touching to see Daenerys display a more compassionate side of her personality with Tyrion. His emotional reaction, shows just how much his past has shaped him and despite having killed his father and been exiled from Westeros, Tyrion belongs in the western continent. He will never be able to undo his love for Shae, he will never be able to forget his brother or wash away the emotional scars caused by his father.

The ending sequence was also breath taking, the transition from Theon Greyjoy standing alone to Grey Worm standing proudly to the rest of the immense fleet was breath taking. The sheer scope of this production combined with Djawadi’s perfect composition ended the season in a manner befitting on of the greatest television series ever to grace the screens.

Valar Morghulis. Westeros, doesn’t know what is about to hit it.

CONCLUSION

In general, I find that the later seasons of Game of Thrones haven’t been as ‘lean’ or ‘sharp’ as the first three to four seasons. Part of this is because they lost George R.R. Martin as a key editor on the show and also because David Benioff and Daniel Weiss have started to drift into territory which isn’t covered by the novels. In particular I felt this season dragged on from episode six to eight (straight after Hordor’s death to before the Battle of the Bastards). There were a few questionable decisions, such as why bring Sandor Clegane back if he is not going to spar with his brother during the Trial by Combat? Why reestablish the Brother Without Banners so many seasons after they were first introduced?

So this wasn’t a ‘perfect’ season, but the final two episodes in particular was one of the best pairs of episodes I have ever seen. It reminds me of Avatar Wan’s double episode in The Legend of Korra for raising the bar in animation and television respectively. Most of all, I am hyped for season seven already and it pains me to announce that we as the fans, have to wait another ten months before we can get our weekly fix of this show.

THE KING IN THE NORTH.

5 Centimeters Per Second – Review & Analysis. (Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru)

63060 “They say it is 5 centimetres per second”
“Huh? What is?”
“The speed of falling cherry blossom petals is 5 centimetres per second”

The world is chaotic and cruel, threatening to consume us in the unstoppable waves of time, sweeping us with reckless abandon from location to location, from job to job, from family to family. Makoto Shinkai’s film 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) explores how time and the outside pressures can alter even the purest of romances, resulting in a mature, emotional and realistic depiction of humanity and our attempts to overcome loneliness.

Shinkai develops one of the most visually stunning pieces of animation ever, using soft but vibrant colours to mesmerise the audiences. Sadly, the breath taking images has come to define this film and the other aspects of the story are often neglected or forgotten. The end result is a powerful texts with many flaws, but a text which explores the themes of isolation, communication and relationships in a sophisticated manner. Personally, as someone who believes that life is and should be completely about forging relationships, this film’s messages really resonated with me and I will acknowledge that in many sense I am predisposed to connecting with film. I would still recommend this film for all who want a text to maturely explore not only the highs but the lows and the pain which can stem as a byproduct of love, a message which is often ignored. Too often narratives opt to follow the cliche romantic formula substituting predictability for creativity, 5 Centimeters Per Seconds definitely has a sorrowful ending, yet in some aspects, the ending was surprising uplifting and… human.

“The overwhelming weight of our lives to come and the uncertainty of time hung over us, but soon, all my fears began to melt away, leaving only Akari’s soft lips on mine.”

5 Centimeters Per Second spans three different story arcs, consisting of Part One “Cherry Blossoms”, Part Two “Cosmonaut” and Part Three, each narrative details the life of Tataki Tono, his journey from an innocent child to a weary and lonely adult. This film explores how the two protagonist Tataki and Akari Shinohara attempt to maintain their relationship despite the widening physical and emotional gap between the pair. “Cherry Blossoms” shows the two school children bonded over common interests, gradually developing unspoken feelings for each other, which both of them struggled to understand. The following two chapters focuses primarily upon Tataki and the repercussions of falling in love, his inability to meaningfully communicate and reveal his feelings to Akari starts to eat away at his innocence and brightness. Whilst this is ultimately a simple narrative, Shinkai’s non-linear story telling combined with his ability to embed meaning and significance in ‘trivial’ every day moments means whilst 5 Centimeters Per Second can be rather slow, this was a calculated decision to highlight the realistic journey embarked by Tataki and Akari.*

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Animation style and the accompanying soundtrack are two critical components to creating an emotional and engaging text, thus I often feel the best way to present readers with the general vibe of the film is to simply provide both. There are limits to what words from a distant stranger can convey, thankfully music and these still images have the ability to conquer such boundaries. As previously stated the animation in this film is truly stunning and breath taking, under Shinkai’s genius, all images were subtly infused with a pleasant tenderness and softness. Japanese animation is home to a few masters such as Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda and of course the great Miyazaki, but no other director can manipulate light, shadows and colours the way Shinkai can. The end product is a film where the images feel alive, where blades of grass rustle when kissed by a gentle breeze, where people and objects move independently mimicking the hurried existence of the 21st century.

Part of Shinaki’s mastery is the fact that he is willing to take artistic liberties, outlining certain characters and objects in white to give them an angelic look, something which becomes even more prominent in his latest work Garden of Words (2013). Likewise even objects in the distance are not blurry and undefined, instead they are sharp and clear creating a dreamy world, one which doesn’t completely mimic reality, but a stage so similar that it threatens to swallow the audiences, never allowing them leave this melancholy paradise.

The music composed by Tenmon (Atsushi Shirakawa) was elegant, beautiful and sincere, never dominating or imposing its will upon the film but always present to help convey the haunting emotions to the audience. As previously stated in my previous articles, music has always been a subject which I feel words can not comprehend so instead of clumsily summarising my feelings on Tenmon’s works, I will embed these pieces at the end of my article for the audience to form their own judgments.

[SPOILERS]

A simple story can be engaging if the director is able to infuse meaning into the simplicity, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a work where symbolism flourishes, revealing the unspoken truths about humanity. Love is a dangerous game, it’s a journey paved with many pit falls and dead ends, but it’s the only game worth playing. Through out this film trains are featured prominently, being the bridge that both connects Takaki and Akari but also paradoxically serving as a reminder to the vast distance between them. Likewise the trains are reflections for the main protagonist, forever set upon their lonely path predetermined by the outside world, unable to change their course because their self determination had been stripped away. The train boarded by Takaki being immobilised by the cold weather represents more than just a stagnant vehicle, it foreshadows a stagnant future paralysed by the snow (snowflakes are constantly said to be the mirror of cherry blossoms).

Whilst the two protagonist have many similarities, their approach to their past romances highlights the fickle nature of love, Akari was able to forge new connections, replace her lost love with the presence of others. Takaki; whose past defines him, scars him and leaves him unable and unwilling to create new relationships due to a nostalgic desire to preserve the past, is currently sitting in a hole of self regret. I believe that’s one of the themes of 5 Centimeters Per Second, people change, relationships change, best friends and lovers become strangers, it’s a cycle which constantly repeats, but it’s important to rebuild new connections to stop one from sinking into a pit of despair.

Time has a strange habit of dulling passions which once burnt bright and despite the fact that relationships like cherry blossoms will slowly drift apart (at a rate of 5 centimeters per second), it is important to acknowledge the influences that people have had on your life. We’re like a blank piece of canvas with every friend, event and lover lending their own brush upon the white fabric, our life story will be an accumulation of not only our personal decisions but the decisions of our friends and family.

5 Centimeters Per Second‘s mature approach to such melancholy (but strangely endearing) themes meant I really connected with this film, even more than some Ghibli films. Topics of family, relationships and love have always spoken to me deeply, echoing the life which I strive towards. But besides the film’s thematic elements, there was a lot of substance to the story with some haunting images and scenes which have left an imprint on me. As Takaki finally arrived at his destination, hours later due to the dangerous weather conditions, he sees Akari slumped against a seat, visibly shaken by sorrow and weariness. Takaki approaches slowly and anxiously, upon seeing him, Akari reaches out and grabs his hand, the pair emotionally break down, their sobs echoing in the air as words are just inadequate to express their emotions.

Akari had waited at the station for an extra four hours, hoping desperately that Takaki would show up, that their friendship couldn’t be halted by trivial matters like weather, time or distance. Akari’s relief floods over her, she’s so happy that she can’t even make eye contact with him. Takaki tries to desperately compose himself, but his feelings of inadequacy rise to the top, he is unable to protect the person he loves the most, he silently cries, reunited with Akari at long last. It’s a haunting scene, a display of pure humanity, the need to love and be loved.

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“I became unbearable sad, sad because I didn’t know what to do with her warmth against me, or what to do with that soul, or how long I should hold onto them. I also came to the realisation, we would not be able to stay together.”

Communication is the heart beat of relationships. Friendship and love are fragile bonds and they nurtured with shared experiences and moments. That’s another theme which gets addressed in 5 Centimeters Per Second, how vital expressing one’s emotion is, if we are to maintain healthy connections. The two protagonist were always physically and emotionally isolated, their inability to converse with others meant the audience never really saw Takaki or Akari bond with others. Takaki’s letter which he originally wanted to give to Akari is swept away by a sudden breeze, foreshadowing their decaying relationship and reinforcing how outside events and situations had and will and had always impede upon their relationship. Likewise when Akari fails to give her letter to Takaki, the couple’s fate is sealed, as much as they wanted to remain by each other’s side, the cruel hand of fate had coldly predetermined their future already.

Takaki’s inability to express his emotions drives away Kanae, another classmate and a potential girlfriend as he is too absorbed in the past to live in the present. Unable to form meaningful friendships in Kagoshima, Takaki develops the telling habit of writing text messages, recounting his feelings and then deleting them, too afraid to send them to Akari, in case she reacts negatively or worse, aloof. In the third chapter, Takaki and Akari have both moved back to Tokyo, physically they are as close as ever, but the emotional silence has crippled the once passionate relationship, the lack of communication has sadly stifled their chances of love. Takaki and Akari’s bonds can symbolise two completely different things depending upon one’s attitude and situation. Either Shinkai is emphasising the fragility of love or this is a harsh reminder that long distance relationships will not survive, as letters, emails and text messages will never be sufficient substitutes for physical touch and smiles. ** 321784 5 Centimeters Per Second was an enjoyable film, filled with sophisticated commentary about love and the repercussions for such passionate emotions, it still had flaws which prevents it from reaching the level of a Princess Mononoke (1997) or Cowboy Bepop (1998). The characters failed to develop beyond their initial concepts as the film was not able to expand on their defining characteristics, instead Takaki and Akari felt rather bland and forgettable. Honestly there is not a single trait that either Takaki or Akari had which I could elaborate upon, the episodic nature of the film also didn’t help in this regard as after every time skip I felt like I was dealing with an entirely different character.

It is important to note the emotional heart beat of Shinkai’s work stems from the fact that the situations that Takaki and Akari find themselves in is inherently sad and not because they were memorable or relatable characters. This is especially true for Kanae, a supporting character who features in part two “Cosmonaut”, with her only defining trait being her feelings for Takaki. She barely changes throughout her screen time and her inability to break out of her character archetype combined with the fact the audience fully knew that a relationship with Takaki would be impossible meant Cosmonaut was rather stagnant and dull.

Whilst weak characters are a sign of poor writing and possibly a director who believed the visuals took priority, the undefined personality of Takaki and Akari means the audience can easily substitute themselves in place of the two protagonists. One could argue that the lack of strong and memorable characters was a calculated decision, further allowing the audience to implant their memories and experiences into the film. Whilst I personally see credit behind this argument, I still believe that the film would of been much more enjoyable if characters showed genuine signs of evolution or maturity, and overall I still consider the characters the weakest aspect of 5 Centimeters Per Second. 110127 Takaki’s  love for Akari starts to numb him, unable to cope with these emotions, he chooses to distance himself from society, creating a cycle of misery which seeps into his personal life, his home and his body language. He enters a local shop, flips through a few magazines and then suddenly it begins to snow, not only for him but also for Akari who is silently waiting at a train station miles away. The two protagonists were not able to conquer the physical and emotional distance which separated them, they were not able to enjoy cherry blossoms together, but even now their lives are still connected as their memories with each other transcends the physical world. At that exact moment, it starts snowing for the two protagonists, not cherry blossoms but snow flakes, a reminder of the night they spent together as youth, a night where the pair realised their love for each other but simultaneously that their eventual separation was inevitable.

Near the conclusion of the film, an adult Takaki walks down through the familiar streets, reliving the distant memories of his time with Akari, it seems that after a decade, he is finally willing to confront the past that had temporarily withered away his dreams and his chance at a future… The cherry blossoms begin to fall. Slowly, Takaki approaches the train tracks from his youth and unknowingly Akari crosses from the other side and in a split second, both the protagonists subconsciously recognise each other. Both begin to turn around, just as their view is blocked off by two incoming trains, our hearts soar for a few moments at the prospect of the pair uniting… But when the trains have sped away, Akari has walked off.

As dearly as I wanted Takaki and Akari to rekindle their past love, Shinkai’s decision to keep their separate means the film was not only more emotional but more plausible. We all walk down a lonely road and our paths will occasionally intersect with others, but for our protagonist, life had stubbornly separated their journeys, only embers of their passion remained.*** Takaki turns around, a sad, nostaglic smile fixed on his face, he marches forward, signalling his decision to embrace a future not tainted by self regret and not defined by a love that never came to fruition. 295942

Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second, stands as a reminder, a reminder to the tenderness of human passion, a reminder of this chaotic and unexpected road we all walk called life and the importance of constant communication; the life blood of relationships. This film’s connections to Romeo and Juliet (1597) are numerous, from two star crossed lovers born into difficult situations to a text which explores the negative consequences sparked by uncontrolled love. The combination of spectacular animation combined with a gentle soundtrack creates a rich world for the audience to dive into. 5 Centimeters Per Second stands as one of my favourite pieces of animation, with themes and messages that resonate with me so much, I quite literally feel like Shinkai’s work was produced specifically with myself in mind.

What we are left with is a film, a film which bravely attempts to tackle the unspoken negative consequences of love without the glamour and glitz of portrayed in popular media. Is love worth so much suffering? Is love synonymous with suffering? Despite the many flaws in Shinkai’s work, it still stands as one of my favourite animated works, the pains of unrequited love is one of the hardest emotions to deal and 5 Centimeters Per Second hauntingly shows how a romance so pure can be withered away by reality.The film reflects Shinkai’s mature story telling and his dedication to crafting a realistic environment which mirrored our own.

Whoever you are, where ever you, I wish you all the best and that love never, ever falters you.

Genre: Anime, Romance Film, Animation, Japanese Movies, Drama
Certificate: G
USA Release Date: 3rd March 2007
Runtime: 63 minutes
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Johnny Yong Bosh, David Matranga, Hiliary Haag, Erika Lenhart, Tara Platt, Kira Buckland, Julie Ann Taylor Synopsis: Takaki and Akari fall in love at a young age, the pair try to understand and maintain their feeling despite the widening physical and emotional distance.

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* It is the small decisions that lead to the significant and important events, the moments where Takaki and Akari would spend time at the library, running around the playground or patting a stray cat could be considered slow and uneventful… But personally, it reflects the reality of life, most people don’t meet their loved ones by saving them from a burning building, love usually doesn’t announce itself to the world, instead it is something which most be worked upon by two people, slowly, but surely.

** This theme is furthered emphasised by Takaki’s description of his most recent relationship with a nameless girl. “We must of exchanged emails a thousand times, but I doubt our hearts got closer by even a centimeter.”

*** I love cyclical stories, it gives the impression that all the events were significant and that the story did follow an over arching plot. 5 Centimeters Per Second begins with Akari running across the train line whilst Takaki is held up on the opposing side, likewise the same scene is reenacted with the same characters but at a much older age. Originally, Akari waited for Takaki, their constant communication and their common interests meant that Takaki was important to her. Sadly, as the pair grew older and further apart, Akari chooses not to wait for Takaki anymore and unfortunately, he is no longer a part of her life. It was moments like this where the film really shone, Shinkai has the ability to embed so many emotions in such a simple action.

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Summer Wars – Review

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[AS SPOILER FREE AS POSSIBLE FOR A REVIEW]

[KOI-KOI MOTHER FUCKERS]
(however you play that game…)

If there is one picture that could sum up this film it would be this picture; the typical family, a single unit with its many quirks and personalities, all with unique character traits, imperfections and values that is found every time a large number of people unite. Summer Wars, directed by Mamoru Hosada and animated by Madhouse is one of my favourite animated films, whilst I can hardly be quoted as an authoritative source on Japanese animation, Summer Wars‘ heart warming message and plot ensures an entertaining watch for basically all demographics. If reading long articles is something you struggle with, then let me briefly give you my thoughts on this film; watch it. Watch it if you want a casual tale embedded with genuine warmth and sincerity, watch it if you want to explore a loving family whose connection to each other will touch you deeply.

The film starts with Natsuki asking our typical goofy, socially awkward high school student Kenji to accompany her to her elderly grandmother’s (Sakae Jinnouchi) 90th birthday; Kenji whilst reluctant at first eventually decides to accompany her and that’s when the chaos ensues. When the pair finally arrives, Natsuki informs Kenji that his mission is to pretend to be her boyfriend, Kenji is very hesitant and only after some pleading, does he accept. Following this he’s introduced to Natsuki’s family members, the Jinnouchi family equipped with the family staples… The drunk uncle that tends to discuss ‘taboo’ subjects after six drinks, the motherly aunties and the awkward younger cousin who just began his teenage internet rebellion phase, opting for online over physical communication. Kenji who repeatedly tells the audience that his only skill is mathematics receives an anonymous encryption during the middle of the night… And like any sane person, he decides to spend the next few hours deciphering it. From then on madness accumulates like a rolling snowball, as a mysterious virus ironically and ‘threateningly’ named ‘Love Machine’ begins to destroy the digital world which is heavily intertwined to the physical. Not only does Kenji have to juggle the complicated web of family affairs, his sense of guilt compels him to combat this deadly virus who threatens the social fabric of modern Japan.

Whilst I may of given this away in my previous paragraphs, the most endearing and likable aspect of this film was the family, it felt realistic and fluid and every time I saw little children screaming in unison or the mothers giggling amongst themselves it instantly triggered a deeply buried memory in my head. Audiences may point to the lack of a protagonist as a key flaw within this story and I will admit, I really wanted the story to focus upon the budding relationship between Natsuki and Kenji, especially since the times the film did it was usually executed with heart and passion. Surprising Kazuma, a thirteen year old cousin of Natsuki received a large amount of screen time, especially near the end, despite the fact that his character was largely undeveloped and his icy demeanour made me instantly dislike him. For the most part the box art and introduction of the film gives the impression that Natsuki and Kenji are the protagonist but both fail to develop beyond their stereotypical and cliche constructs. Kenji is the shy and timid ‘nerd’, who lacks confidence in himself and the will to widen his comfort zone, whilst Natsuki fits the ‘pretty face and bold personality’ archetype. Sadly both characters won’t given the necessary screen time to fully expand beyond their initial defining traits.

Whilst these are all legitimate flaws and in most other films I would find myself emotionally disconnected or bored of the story in Summer Wars it is somewhat and strangely forgivable. The main reason was because the entire family felt like a single unit or a single character, Kenji didn’t only need acceptance from Natsuki’s grandmother, he needed to be embraced by the whole family for his relationship with Natsuki to work. In this sense, the overall lack of protagonist or the lack of development to major and minor characters was forgiven because the audience immediately substituted their own experiences and memories into the said family members. I think for the most part Hosada purposely tried to ‘limit’ the unique traits of different family members. The story was never really about individualism, if anything the ending is an example how relationships and the will of a community will always triumph individualistic pursuits or goals. This is why I honestly didn’t mind the fact that the characters excluding the grand mother were rather simplistic they were all pieces to a puzzle, pieces to a single family, Hosada had a purpose in mind with the execution and to a large extent, Summer Wars achieved it.

I can’t talk about the family any longer without mentioning the grand mother or her English voice actor; Pam Dougherty, who simultaneously embedded the character with strength, kindness and a motherly touch. Out of all the characters, she shines the brightest and her resilience and courage serve as the pillar of the proud Jinnouchi family. Honestly watching her was quite sad as my grandmother also had a few of her traits, maybe she wasn’t as strong or clever, but she was the eldest and in an Asian household, she was the most respected for her age and knowledge. Unfortunately Amnesia withered away my grandmother’s independence and personality and her bright talkative spark is now replaced with a quiet, sad obedience. The presence of any strong female character is especially welcome in a genre where females are generally sidelined as weak or unimportant (Naruto, Bleach, Death Note) Descended from a proud samurai family, responsible for moulding her fierce personality, the grandmother’s leadership and enthusiasm is responsible for some heavy moments later on; centred around forgiveness, the importance of family and the joys of simple living.

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Apart from the familiar characteristics of the family members, the attention to detail subtly breathed life into the rather simplistic story, like Kenji lagging behind Natsuki when he first enters the Jinnouchi residence, or the slightly disgruntled family member amongst the wave of smiles, hugs and laughter. The animation created an environment which felt like it was lived in, the walls were stained with age and the character designs were realistic and believable. On top of this the background was vibrant, fluid and alive with characters and objects independently moving, once again drawing the audience into a plausible world which similarly mirrors our own.

You may be wondering why I’ve neglected to mention the digital aspects of this film in particular the world of Oz until half way into this review? I really enjoyed this film and I felt that it was important to start this review off with a positive note because generally the strengths outweighed the negatives (a first impression is a lasting impression). But my main gripe with this story how disconnected I felt from the digital scenes in contrast to the scenes with the family, honestly I didn’t care for Kazuma very much and I cared even less about his presence on the digital world. I will praise Madhouse for giving those scenes a wonderfully unique art style and simultaneously blending a minimalist 3D animation look with the traditional forms of Japanese animation, to exaggerate the barriers between the physical and the cyber world. It was very effective and the actions scenes in Oz were smooth, fluid and was basically sexual intercourse for the eyes. However this doesn’t cover up the fact, I wasn’t fully engaged during those scenes and for the most part I wished the plot had simple followed the ‘dysfunctionally-functional’ Jinnouchi family, the Oz scenes served more as a distraction. It was hard to be emotionally invested in the world wide destruction caused by Love Machine when the story was so localised and the intricate inner family relations were so much more interesting. Ironically the strength of the family unit might of been the weakness of Summer Wars as I would of much rather watched the Jinnouchis eat dinner and reminisce about the past together than a cartoon rabbit defeat a mysterious virus to protect nameless and faceless individuals.

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If Oz becomes a real internet application, I want my avatar to look like that rabbit.

[Some spoilers, though to be honest, the information I will be discussing is really, really obvious, but if you want to avoid all spoilers, I would advise you to skip the next two paragraphs and go straight to my conclusion.]

Apart from the digital aspects of the film, there were only a few other instances which I was disengaged from Summer Wars, now I will admit that most of these issues maybe the result of cultural differences, but regardless I feel like it’s necessary to lightly address them. Animation is a powerful tool allowing the creators to create a ‘realistic’ world where rules can be bent to fit the narrative, that’s why we don’t really question the alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist, nor do we frown when a single punch from Ichigo rivals the power of an atomic bomb. However there were a few times the film’s use of animation served as a detriment, one particular scene jumps to mind which involves Watisube rushing home. However the audience quickly receives flashbacks to World War II at the amount of destruction caused by Watisube parking the car. Whilst this was semi-believable, evoking a humourous atmosphere during such an emotional scene was definitely counter productive.

Likewise the final scene involving Natsuki and Kenji was also quite anti-climatic, though I will once again acknowledge that Japan’s stance on public displays of affection or sex seems rather ‘prudish’ in contrast to my western upbringing. But the fact that Kenji was not comfortable or confident enough to properly and serious confess his feelings for Natsuki was rather disappointing as those two traits were aspects to Kenji’s character that should of developed during Summer Wars. Ironically it did feel like Kenji had grown, his uplifting leadership during the final conflict validated his position within the family and honestly Kenji not returning Natsuki’s kiss was just contradictory to what growth he had experienced. I understand that Kenji was more of a concept (shy, nerdy, introverted) rather than a actual strong character, but that doesn’t erase how disappointed I was, since I honestly wanted the two of them to become a couple, surrounded by such warm family members. If the camera (or animation) had zoomed up on Kenji’s face as he seriously expressed his feelings, it would have fit the themes of communication emphasised by this film and established Kenji as a more memorable character.

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Those pesky aunties… You gotta’ love em’.

Just as I feel it is important to start a review of an entertaining text on a positive note,the same logic can be applied to the conclusion as I want you to leave this review with a desire to watch this film. The music directed Akihiko Matsumoto was superb with certain tracks like Summer Wars, Happy End, 150 Million Miracles and Everyone’s Courage standing out on such a strong album. Despite the obvious Hisaishi influence on Matsumoto’s music which included a lot of uplifting songs with light and bouncy melodies, this is an album I would definitely listen to in my spare time. Honestly describing music is one of the more difficult task, music is a language, one which communicates through feelings, memories and emotions instead of words. So instead of doing Matsumoto’s works a great injustice, I will simply embedded said pieces at the bottom of this review for the audience to personally enjoy.

In many ways, Summer Wars could be classified as a slice of life anime but without the cliche cringe worthy moments and thankfully Hosada executed this project with more soul than most other films could dream about. At its heart, this is a film which highlights the importance of family, of opening communication lines and the responsibility we have to other family members during times of opulence and meagerness. Unlike Inception or Grave of the Fire Flies, this was a film where the story served as a springboard to explore the characters and whilst the plot was rather cliche, this is forgivable as the story was ultimately a tool to unite the Jinnouchi family. During its worst moments, this film can be slightly disengaging, particularly the scenes involving Oz, but at its best, Summer Wars leaves an imprint on the audience, gently reminding the audience to value family without the message being overly intrusive.

A box of tissues is highly recommended for viewing.

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“And you always eat together as a family, even during difficult times, because being hungry and being all alone are the worst things that can happen to anyone.” 

[KOI-KOI MOTHER FUCKERS]

Genre: Anime, Romance Film, Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction, Adventure Film, Drama, Action Film,
Certificate: PG-13
USA Release Date: 1st August 2009
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: Mamoru Hosada
Writer: Satoko Okudera
Starring: Michael Sinterniklaas, Brina Palencia, Maxey Whitehead, Pam Dougherty, J Michael Tatum.
Synopsis: Kenji accompanies Natsuki to her grand mother’s birthday party, as chaos beings to affect the physical and cyber world.

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PS: [SPOILER] There was one scene in this film that made me clap out loud with joy, the scene where the Jinnouchi brothers lightly remind the over protective Shota Jinnouchi that he is not Natsuki’s boyfriend. The voice acting combined with the animation created such a memorable moments, the family is truly the best aspect of this film.

PSS: [SPOILER] I have heard many people confirm that Summer Wars is a more sophisticated and enjoyable version of Hosada’s other film; Digimon the Movie (1999). Whilst there are key similarities in plot and animation style, I am not too fused by this because… Firstly I never watched said Digimon film and secondly, it’s not exactly plagiarism since Hosada essentially copied his own ideas, though you could take points away for a lack of creativity.

The Legend of Korra: Change – Review & Analysis

[SPOILERS, PLEASE WATCH THE SEASON IF YOU HAVE YET TO COMPLETE IT]

It’s been over a month since the Venom of the Red Lotus aired, signalling the conclusion of Change and I have yet to give my input on a series that is very dear to my heart. In many ways, my attachment towards the Avatar universe has stopped me from writing up this review, since I feel like anything short of ‘perfection’ would be a great injustice to Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino and the audience. I will say I enjoyed Change, it was a ‘breath of fresh air’ after what I personally considered the weakest book in the Avatar franchise; Spirits. There is a clear distinction between the Korra seasons and the original seasons featuring Aang, Konietzko and DiMartino have matured and this is reflected within their increasingly sophisticated plots. Though this book isn’t perfect (what piece of art is?) hopefully I can explore the strengths and the flaws of Change whilst balancing my affection and rationality. Generally this review will explore themes and characters rather than give you an episode by episode summary since you can just watch the book by yourself.

It is important that the characters in a fictional world stand for themes which transcend them as individuals, personally I feel like this is especially true for the antagonist, thus giving deeper meaning to their conflict with the protagonist. When Luke Skywalker fights Darth Vader, it isn’t just a clash of lightsabers, Luke’s victory also symbolises Vader’s redemption and Luke overcoming the tempting powers of darkness. Likewise the Joker mirrors the Batman, both characters are lonely, misunderstood and margalinised by society and when Batman defeats the Joker he is also defeating his inner chaos. This is one strength of Change that I felt was lacking in Air and Spirits, Amon and Unalaq were decent antagonist in their own right. However Zaheer’s polarising set of justice and freedom meant he developed into one of the more entertaining villains in the Avatar universe, allowing the audience to empathise with him on a level that never happened with the villains of the previous books. Whilst one can argue that Amon was more intimidating since his whole identity was clouded in shadows, the ending of book one severely hurt his characterisation. It was revealed that Amon’s main objective was not equality amongst benders and non-benders but his revolutional campaign was a way to amass more power, immediately cheapening everything he stood for and thus relegating him to the role of the stereotypical power-hungry villain. This trend repeated in Unalaq’s characterisation, he hungers for power and is even willing to sacrifice the world to obtain it, once again cardboard cut outs of villains.

Enter Zaheer, slowly but surely Zaheer became my favourite character within book three, maybe it’s my natural affiliation towards air bending, but I think it was his intelligence and charisma that won me over. Zaheer represents the worst of the air nation, he took ideas like isolation and separation to the extreme and his characterisation clearly contrasts against that of Aang. In many ways, Zaheer is what Aang would have become if he passionately believed that the ends justify the means and he had failed to develop a strict moral compass. Aang’s biggest weakness arguably could be his inability to accept responsibility to his failure to fully deattach himself from ‘earthly links’ which ‘hindered’ his journey towards becoming a fully acquainted Avatar, master of the four elements and a force of stability in the world. Aang couldn’t elevate above his emotional bonds, his reluctance to let go of Katara nearly resulted in both their deaths and would have signaled the end of all resistance to the Fire Lord. However when compared to Zaheer, we can view Aang’s flaws in a new perspective, maybe his inability to shed his humanity isn’t a flaw and it was his emotional bond with his peers stopped him from becoming an emotionless robot without the ability to empathise. Through Zaheer’s characterisation this has been one of the few times the show has criticised the air nomad culture, as the original Avatar series offered a very black and white view of reality; fire nation is bad, air nations are good. I believe this shows the evolution of the creators, their texts blur the distinctions between good and bad, of justice and injustice and just like the real world, everything has positives and negatives.

It was sad that Zaheer managed to unlock weightlessness only when P’Li was killed, his last attachment to the world had been cut forever and now he was forever suspended in a state of indifference. In many ways P’Li was Zaheer’s ‘earthly tether’ their private discussion before her eventual demise showed a softer side to Zaheer which remained hidden to the audience and a few scene later that tenderness was ripped apart, Zaheer gained the world but lost his humanity in the process. Maybe that’s why it was so effective when Jinora and her fellow air benders defeated Zaheer, for me it symbolised how communal bonds of affection will always trump individualistic pursuits, that relationships are not burdens but something which gives colour to life.

This was a big reason why I was offended when Zaheer became insane at the book, it was an easy tactic on behalf to the producers to ensure that the audience sided with Korra. But in many aspects this character assassination was exactly what Konietzko and DiMartino inflicted upon Amon, it cheapened everything that Zaheer represented and this moment of insanity contradicts his calm and reversed persona. This was also seen in what I consider the most emotional moment of the book, when Tenzin refuses to submit and states he would rather die than endanger the air nation, the look on Zaheer’s face is blank and emotionless. Surely someone with that much respect for air bending values would cringe or display some sort of reluctancy before attacking someone who is willing to sacrifice everything for their beliefs.* These examples of character assassination were never found in the original three books, Azula and Ozai were both terrifying but in their final moments, they displayed a genuine sense of fear and humanity. I could only wish this was extended towards Zaheer, Ghazan and Ming-Hua.

“The question is not can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?”

Generally I feel like a major flaw of Change was the lack of back story for Ghazan and Ming-Hua, both Konietzko and DiMartino are more than capable of making the audience empathise with characters, just look at P’Li and Zaheer’s last words. Over all apart from their flashy skills, these two Red Lotus members remained fairly underdeveloped and many questions about their origins still remain. So Ghazan is tough, powerful and overly masculine but where did he develop his skills? Why does he so strongly believe in the Red Lotus? The same thing can be said for Ming-Hua who remains even more of an enigma for me. Thus when it came to their eventual deaths, I felt nothing, two unknown characters were whisked on and off the stage before the audience could properly become acquainted to them.

I have always believed that to build a believe cast of characters, their actions must have consequences otherwise the plot becomes unbelievable and redundant, characters must grow and learn from their mistakes. This was a major issue I had with the ending of Air, apart from the reveal of Amon’s hidden identity, Korra magically getting her bending powers back without struggling to recover them was a slap in the face to the fans. Like Zaheer, the creators of Korra developed her to be the complete opposite of Aang, she’s fiery, passionate and just itching to embrace her role as the avatar, whilst Aang was naive, timid and passive. A large portion of Korra’s identity is built upon her role as the avatar, from a young age she’s relished her ability to bend the elements and his ‘fight now, talk later’ mentality has gotten her in trouble many times. By removing Korra’s bending, Konietzko and DiMartino would have allowed Korra to embrace her spirituality and slowly overcome her rash and hasty personality to become a more balanced and well rounded individual. Instead Korra learns very little from her ordeal with Amon, she may of grown physically, but emotionally she’s the same and her lack of trust in her father and Tenzin at the start of Spirits reflects this. Now I don’t want to just attack Korra’s character, her passionate personality is a welcome change from Aang and it is clear that by the end of book two that she has become a more weary and careful Avatar after her legacy was literally torn away from her body. I just feel Korra would have been even more engaging if the consequences of having her bending removed would have manifested itself in previous books. A criticism of the Legend of Korra is that seasons are more ‘episodic’ with villains and events from the past seasons rarely getting any screen time in the following books. What happened to the Equalist movement? Why was there a distinct lack of spirits in Change? It would have been wise to show the consequences of these events in order to build a more realistic world where the future is intertwined with the present and the past.

Personally I loved seeing Korra in a wheel chair at the end of Change, because finally the audience can see how Korra maintains her identity when she has lost such a fundamental aspect of her personality. Already the changes to Korra were becoming more apparent, especially after book two, she was more cautious and less willing to rely upon force to solve her problems. A major strength within Legend of Korra is how the villains are reflections of a modernising world with concepts bending and the avatar being challenged. Amon’s character was a constant reminder of the inequality between the benders and non-benders, potentially pointing out the flaws behind an avatar who is basically an reincarnated deity with immense physical and spiritual power. As mentioned before Vatuu and Unalaq basically ripped out of Korra’s past, she’s arguably the most isolated avatar since Wan as she can no longer call on her past lives for guidance. Korra can still bend the four elements but her status has been weakened, her words and actions no longer hold the weight of 10,000 avatars before her. After the finale of book three, Tenzin announced that the new air benders would be filling in the role of the avatar as Korra heals, I think her single tear stems from the realisation that her worth and purpose in this world is slowly being diminished in an ever changing environment. This is one major strength that the Legend of Korra has over Aang, the villains are reflections of Korra’s flaws and society’s changing beliefs. Aang was always quite distant from Ozai and Azula and never viewed them more than enemies. Personally this is why I think Zuko is the strongest character in the series, his emotional bond with the villains makes his switch to team avatar so triumphant and rewarding.

In the second last episode Enter the Void, Korra is confronted with a hard dilemma, sacrifice herself to the protect the weak air nation or leave the novice air benders at the hands of the Red Lotus. In the first book, when Korra arrives at a similar situation, her arrogance clouds her judgement and she stupidly challenges Amon to a duel which could of potential resulted in her death. However a more mature Korra chooses to sacrifice herself, she understands that the future of an entire culture is more important than any single individual; even if they are the avatar. That’s why I can not wait to see how Korra rises from her situation, hopefully her physical impairment isn’t just brushed off in the first episode and instead we can explore other aspects of Korra’s personality apart from her overwhelming physicality and her brash personality.

Whilst I can clearly say I am in the small minority, a huge disappointment in book three was the fact that Tenzin did not die. One of my closest friend often jokes “if you want Stanley to care just kill off a few characters” and to some extent this is true. I’ve always believed that when an audience knows that characters can be removed from the plot then the audience feels a sense of urgency and attachment. One major strength of Change was the finale, I was completely absorbed in Zaheer’s plan to poison the avatar and permanently destroy it, I did not breathe for a good ten minutes because the possibility of Korra’s death seemed realistic. This perspective is partly due a fear of death which was very prominent when I was younger, I’ve experienced many sleepless nights as my mind explored my mortality. Thus I see sacrifice as one of the most noble characteristics, humans are fundamentally self fish, so when individuals are willing to perish to protect something they treasure, it’s endearing and extremely emotional.

Aang’s influence on Tenzin is highly visible, Aang’s obligations to the world was often given prioritised over his obligations to his family. Tenzin’s reverence towards the air bending culture is a constant reminder of Aang’s failure as a father, his feelings of inadequacy and regret was transferred to his son, leaving Tenzin the burden of maintaing a lost culture. Tenzin’s sacrifice to preserve the air nation would have permanently removed Aang’s shadow over his character. Instead he would have been able to see to Aang as an equal as he achieved what Aang could never do; revive the air nomads. Personally this was by far the most emotional scene of the entire book, when Korra was dying in the arms of her father, I didn’t shed a tear, she battled Zaheer out of necessity. She had no other choice, as fleeing wasn’t an option with the metallic poison pulsing through her body. In the end Tenzin was faced with a decision, but his actions showed that he was willing to forfeit his life in pursuit of goals which transcended him as an individual.

Jinora’s shadow over her father has also began to increase as she has already surpassed Tenzin in spirituality. Tenzin’s death would have been my third favourite moment in the Avatar world behind Zuko and Iroh’s reunion and Raava’s destruction at the hands of Unalaq. (Q: Have you really made a list of your favourite Avatar moments, A: Most definitely.) His swan song would have helped him escape the constraints of his flaws, which are becoming more pronounced next to Jinora. It also would have been symbolic, the responsibility of air bending being passed down to the younger generation, allowing the air nation to embrace new ideals instead of clinging onto outdated belief systems. Whilst it seems this stance isn’t very popular, it would have immortalised Tenzin; strong, magnificent and proud, much like how Achilles’ legacy resonated strongest after his death.

One major difference between The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is that the characters in the original series were a lot more engaging. Mako, Bolin and Asami whilst mildly fun and endearing (particularly Asami and the fortitude she showed after her father’s betrayal) are in desperate need of further characterisation. It seems that Mako’s character development has really taken a step back with his role diminishing rapidly within Changes. I hope he rekindles his relationship with Asami in Balance, that felt more natural and realistic then his feelings for Korra, plus I want Korra to balance herself internally before building her external relationships in book four. For me Mako really hasn’t changed or matured after book one, his physical skills have become stagnant and his relationships with the other members of team avatar have deteriorated. I think these flaws are mainly a product of the shorten seasons, The Legend of Korra will have 52 episodes compared to The Last Airbender’s 60. Whilst this has resulted in less ‘filler’ episodes with a more ‘frantic’ and an intense plot, it also means that characters are given less time to develop. Filler episodes like The Great Divide and The Runaway were redundant in terms of story and world building, but it offered insights into the mindsets of our characters. Whilst the conflict might not be connected with final objective of the series, these obstacles challenged our lovable protagonist and causing them to shift their perspective in order to overcome these hurdles.

On a more positive note the bending and animation in Changes was absolutely sublime. I have previously voiced my opinion that bending in The Legend of Korra lacked the authenticity that it had in The Last Airbender, mainly due to the fact that all elements fight like fire benders. There’s a distinct lack of sophistication behind Bolin’s attacks, which includes creating small boulders and throwing them at the opponent, a long shot from Toph’s destructive capabilities. However the bending in Changes was fantastic, I loved the additions of lava bending, octopus water bending** and flying as the sub genre of air bending. Zaheer’s fight with Kya and Tenzin’s fight with Zaheer stand out as some of the best fight scenes ever created for animation. Speaking of animation, Studio Mir really stepped up their animation during the last few episodes, particularly the scene when Zaheer is dogding an enraged Korra.*** I can only imagine the effort that the writers and animation team went through to create such memorable works of art.

I enjoyed book three; Change, in terms of plot and characterisation I felt it was a big improvement from Spirits which seemed confused and unfocused at times. For the first time in The Legend of Korra, there was a truly memorable villain, the Red Lotus were efficient, mysterious and politically active. Zaheer’s voice actor; Henry Rollins deserves recognition for his ability to embed authority and menace into his character. Zaheer also repeats one of the most memorable quotes in the Avatar franchise “Let go your earthly tether, enter the void, empty and become wind” which was responsible for my interest in meditation. Book three’s pace really picked up after the Earth Queen’s assassination (one of the most memorable moments of the Avatar franchise) and the season became noticeably darker. There were some fantastic moments in this book which were previously mentioned like Korra’s growth, the villains and the animation. On the other hand it seems like the writers of Avatar consistently struggle with maintaining the pacing and plot in the middle of the season and this was evident in Change. There’s always a drop off in quality before the finale completely stuns and enthralls the audience. Some of the flaws were more visible such as the lack of growth and development for team avatar and the Red Lotus but I don’t want to end this review on a negative note. Change built on the foundations paved in the previous two books, the plot was fluid and the ambiguity between good and evil was a satisfying change to The Last Airbender’s simplistic depictions of the world.

The Avatar world has brought a lot of emotions to my life and I can say without a doubt that it was partly responsible for fostering my love of literature. Zuko’s internal conflict, Katara’s motherly warmth and Korra’s single tear are all images and memories that carry weight and meaning to me. Whilst Change was far from perfection, similarly it had moments of ingenious and dignity founded within a beautiful Asian inspired world that The Last Airbender established. Despite all the flaws and weak points within the seasons, I can say without a doubt that Konietzko and DiMartino will continue treating their project with the love and integrity that the audience deserve.

Here’s a toast to the final season of The Legend of Korra, may it be wonderful, emotional, heartfelt and memorable.

See you space avatar.




* It is very hard if not impossible to have an ‘original thought’ since our context will always play a part in shaping our thoughts but my comments about Zaheer’s emotionless glare when he’s beating up Tenzin was stolen directly from Marshall Turner’s WordPress on Avatar. Whilst I certain disagree with some of his thoughts and generally I believe that he focuses on the minor details over than the overall picture or plot, I would recommend it for any fans who want to look at this franchise through an analytically microscope. http://avatarreviews.wordpress.com/

** I have no idea if it is really called octopus water but let’s pretend it is.

*** 
Skip to 2:15 if you want to watch the exact scene I was referring to, it also ends at 2:50.