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Tag: Love

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.

In the Mood for Love – Review & Analysis

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“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.

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Teaching from the Heart

Teaching has always been an appealing occupation for me, because teachers have the ability to shape and influence the lives of their students. Whilst a core component of being a teacher involves passing on knowledge about a given subject, the dedication and passion of teachers can often be infectious. For myself, I was greatly inspired by a few teachers from my high school who added humour and creativity to the subjects, they became my role model during my teenage years. Two key aspects which I want to reinforce in my classroom is the need to broaden the scope of English, in a time where multi-modality and flexibility is becoming a greater focus in the workforce. Also I wish to challenge the traditional format of the classroom, allowing students greater freedom to participate in their learning whilst reducing the authority of the teacher in the classroom. For education to remain relevant and accessible it must adapt to the changing circumstances and environment of modern society.

In 2010, ACARA acknowledged the need for English teachers to incorporate different forms of literacies such as ICT, viewing and listening. However, there is a disconnect between the policies and what is being reinforced in the classroom. From my own personal experience, learning in a traditional Christian high school, I felt as if a vast majority of teachers, particularly the older ones, were reluctant to shift from their established teaching style. There was a sense of hostility as if the inclusion of ICT and the move away from essay writing had somehow tainted the purity of English. This outdated view is reflected in a small experiment performed in 2006 with English high school teachers, who were asked to elaborate upon what they defined as ‘literacy.’ Out of 56 participants, not a single teacher mentioned ICT or higher order thinking skills as examples of literacy; instead they only referenced traditional markers of literacy such as grammar and spelling.

English should challenge students and change the way they view texts and society, but it should also adequately prepare them for the work force. The next generation will be disadvantaged if English as a discipline no longer equips them with the tools and flexibility to chart through an increasingly globalized world. I think it’s a shame that most English classes never attempt to divert from essay writing. It wasn’t until I studied education at university did I realise how repetitive my English lessons were, part of me was disappointed that I never experienced the full variety of the subject. Whilst drama is often located at the bottom of the subject hierarchy, it allows students to physically engage in English, in a manner which traditional approaches like essay writing does not. An American Report named Are They Really Ready to Work, published in 2006, found that the average high school employer ranked professionalism, team work and oral communication as the three most attractive qualities in their employees. The collaborative nature of drama pedagogy more accurately reflects the reality of the work place, promoting interactions between students and portraying success as a team effort. However the Australian educational system has yet fully separate itself from ingrained theories such as social Darwinism, thus it still celebrates the success and achievements of the ‘lone wolf.’

Education should be a two way conversation between the students and the teacher, it is important that both parties contribute towards the learning process, allowing students the opportunity to develop a deeper and more personal understanding of their subject. The ascension of the internet has revealed the outdated mentality of Australian high school. Intelligence can no longer just defined by the ability to regurgitate memorized facts because of the widespread access to search engines. Instead the incorporation of ICTs, machinery and the internet has resulted in the workforce shifting towards human capital. Thus it is increasingly important to move away from the outdated teaching format, where the teacher adopts a doctorial style of teaching. The need to foster creativity is a necessary in an age where ideas are more important than physical labour, this can be cultivated by allowing encouraging students to present their opinion to challenge a superficial approach to English.

High school education in Australia seems to be constantly outdated, sacrificing innovation to preserve tradition, highlighted in the English discipline’s obvious bias towards the technical aspects. The analysis of individual sentences or visual scenes, whilst necessary, often overshadows a more comprehensive approach to the text. In my opinion, university has a more sophisticated attitude towards English and essay writing. By providing broad and open-ended questions and by shifting the focus away from English techniques, it allows for more creative and specialised responses. By diverting away from the repetitive formula of essay writing, schools are tapping into the student’s higher order thinking, giving them the opportunity to tackle an issue or question from multiple perspectives. An example of this flexibility in the classroom situation was the university tutorial where different groups had to create a story about a bird and its victim with cardboard. It was one of the most enjoyable English lessons I have ever experienced, since we were able to personalize the story by embedding our meaning and symbolism in the visual medium.

Aristotle once famously said “those who know; do, those who understand; teach” and this has become part of my teaching philosophy as well. I feel very strongly about this and I wish to become the teacher that encourages inclusive dialectic pedagogy to further increase the students’ understanding. I’ve been tutoring since early 2013; I’ve seen firsthand the importance of trusting your students and giving them the opportunity to voice their own opinion. Likewise most of the teachers I connected with attempted to incorporate the students into their lessons, for an example, implementing the use of response cards or group discussion. The common connection in both teaching methods is the break from the standard and predictable lesson format and both are also widely supported by educational research. Classrooms which employed response cards performed much better than hand rising classrooms, with 62.2% of students receiving a 80% or more on a test, a large increase from 29.7%. Langer and Close also writes that on average, group discussion significantly improved engagement and understanding, though student generated questions had the largest impact.

In the English discipline, the effects and benefits of group discussion is widely known and accepted amongst the teachers, with 95% of teachers recognizing the benefits of formative assessment. Yet despite ACARA and the Quality Teaching Framework highlighting the necessity of student opinion and feedback, 61.1% of classes had no discussion at all and only 1 out of 54 classes averaged more than 2 minutes per day. When there is only one authoritative voice in the classroom it subconsciously promotes the idea that there is a single truth, which cannot and should be challenged. This contradicts the changing nature of the modern work force, where problems often have multiple solutions, team work and higher order thinking are usually the keys to solving such problems. Likewise by only pushing one perspective in the classroom, experimentation and making mistakes, both which are natural parts of learning, become frowned upon, since it deviates from the ‘singular truth’.

Allowing students to contribute to the classroom is important because each individual brings their own set of constructed knowledge, thus giving them a chance to contextually engage a very broad and impersonal curriculum. Research has found that the biggest connection to improved academic results is the increase in active student response, yet nearly all the teachers in my high school spent most of the lesson time on academic instruction. Active student response is different to participation which is simply being present during a classroom; active student response is defined as an observable response to instruction. Yet the average high school student spends approximately 50% of the allocated lesson time being distracted and only 1% of the classroom time responding or speaking.

Personally I wish for students to speak up during my classes because that’s a big motivator for becoming a teacher, I want to continually learn from students who have experienced different environments or perspectives. The continuous dialogue is important because it provides helpful feedback, but also I think forming a connection with the students would stop me from ‘burning out’ or losing my motivation. Because I tutor students one on one, I routinely start every lesson with a few questions about their previous week and then we end the lesson with an exchange of interesting information. The information can be facts, statistics or quotes from influential people, but it allows me to glimpse at my student’s passion and if possible attempt to incorporate their experiences or knowledge as explanations or references in my lesson. I do this because it creates a sense of mutual respect, not only do I value my student’s opinion; I am also willing to learn from them.

Being fluent in English unlocks many opportunities for an individual, it allows them to decipher and decode the world around them. Like every other language, English is a discourse with its own rules and associations, students who are unable to engage in such discourse will be alienated, stigmatized and given less opportunities in life. Thus it is important to rethink how teachers approach education, we have to adapt to the changing environment, technology is now an essential part of life and this must be reflected in education. To promote multimodality, the definition of English must be expanded; teachers need to start asking for homework in the form of videos, podcast and Prezi power points. Instead of normalizing submissive and quiet participants, our students should be encouraged to speak up; because research has consistently showing doing so will result in increased academic results, but also because it is important students know their opinion is valued. I wanted to become a teacher so that I could help make an impact upon the lives of thousands, I wanted an occupation centred around human connection and relationships. Hopefully I can be a teacher that ‘teaches smarter’ rather than ‘teaching harder’, a teacher whose infectious enthusiasm spreads beyond his classroom and into the school.

Love, the Two Sided Sword

How do Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Walter Raleigh’s The Nymph’s Reply explore the theme of love through contrasting interpretations?

This essay heavily references Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis which you can read here and The Nymph’s Reply written by Walter Raleigh which you can also read here.

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“Thank you, I’ll say goodbye soon
Though it’s the end of the world, don’t blame yourself…Now
And if it’s true, I’ll surround you and give life to a world
That’s our own”

Love is an emotion which transcends all boundaries, since it is interwoven to the human experience and a foundation of humanity; many texts have tried to interpret the magnitude and consequences of love. Venus and Adonis twists Ovid’s classic tale to reflect the dance of love, the pushing and pulling between two parties, whilst The Nymph’s Reply emphasizes a cold and logical response to stifle a burst of passion.

In many respects Venus and Adonis could be read as a cautionary tale against resisting the natural temptations of passion and lust and the socially accepted practice of forming a stable relationship to create children. Adonis has reached the age of adolescent, the age where he can openly choose his future, whether that lies in the realm of hyper-masculinity or a reality where he embraces feminine emotions like love. Unfortunately Adonis’ obsession with the militant characteristics of masculinity such as being a soldier or hunting means his “heart stands armed in his ear.” Adonis views love in a logical and emotionless state and thus he is never able to understand its power to unite. He responds to Venus’ advances with more references to his violent and militaristic mentality “remove your siege from my unyielding heart/ to love’s alarms it will not ope the gate.” Adonis’ fixation on the unattractive elements of love ultimately leads to his demise, this epyllion warns about the dangers of forsaking love and delving too deeply into masculinity. On the other hand, The Nymph’s Reply pushes a different agenda, emphasising the benefits of choosing logic over love, believing that desires to reproduce or fall in love are foolish.

Unwilling and unable to succumb to the weakening effects of love, Adonis is consumed with slaying a boar, a symbol of uncontrolled masculinity and reckless passion during the Renaissance. Blinded by his need to prove himself, Adonis forsakes one of the foundational pillars of humanity; the ability to forge and maintain sophisticated and complex relationships. Another interpretation may view Adonis’ death as a warning against homosexuality since one is straying into a relationship deemed ‘unnatural’ since “thou art bound to breed.” This reading is reinforced by the description of the boar as the “loving swine” who had attempted to “nuzzle” with Adonis and merely wanted to plant a kiss on him, the sexual connotations hinting at a possible romance. The tusk “sheathed in his soft groin” emphaises how homosexuality can be dangerous. It symbolically destroys Adonis’ manhood; as homosexual relationships are inherently unable to create new life, necessary to maintain the human species.

The Nymph’s Reply explores the theme of from a different angle, unlike Venus and Adonis which warns about the dangers of isolation and failing to build a connection to others, the Nymph completely rejects the notion of love. Because human life is finite, promises of love and passion will only echo true in the moment, for the Nymph such rhetoric only serves to hide the suitor’s lust. This is echoed in the statement “If all the world and love were young/ and truth in every shepherd’s tongue” the hyperbole sorely contradicts the sombre reality of an imperfect world where the nymph and her suitors live in. An imperfect world where idealistic emotions fall on deaf ears, where promises of fidelity ring hollow.

The Nymph shares a similar opinion to Adonis, believing love to be an intrusive force, powerful enough to strip away one’s independence. The vast majority of the poem involves the Nymph scientifically and methodically refuting the shepherd’s words, “Times drives the flocks from field to fold… Rivers rage and rocks grow cold.”  In the Nymph’s Reply there is a clear focus upon winter imagery, purposely contradicting and countering the connotations of spring, hope and growth found in the shepherd’s response. This is also reflected in “The flowers do fade, and wanton fields/ to wayward reckoning yields.” The physical gifts like gowns, caps and a bed of roses promised by the shepherd “soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:” the repetition of “soon” further reinforces the fragility of love and how promises of faithfulness, which were once full of joy and gratitude will deteriorate. The decay of natural objects is a metaphor for the fading feelings that humans will inevitably experience. Unlike Venus, who tries to persuade Adonis to have sexual intercourse with her because life is short, beauty will eventually fade and thus one is charged to enjoy and relish their youth. The Nymph sees love as rather pointless, a superficial and trivial feeling which cannot and will not survive the passing of time.

The Nymph stands as the traditional symbol of the Petrarchan mistress, being virtuous and beautiful in one sense but cruel and unempathetic on the other hand. But in Venus and Adonis, this role which is typically reserved for the female is filled by Adonis, highlighting how love and passion respects no boundaries like gender, age or culture. The uncontrollable desires and consequences are shown to bringing out the animal savagery within people, transforming the noble goddess into a fierce and violent eagle. Unsatisfied with Adonis, Shakespeare gives us a gorgy description of Venus’ pursuit “Tires with her beak in feathers, flesh and bone… devouring all in haste… till gorge be stuffed or prey be gone.” The morphing of characters are poetic techniques trying to capture the selfish and destructive capabilities of unchecked lust or passion. These emotions have the ability to transform a human being into whatever it wills, where that is an animal, a flower or be the catalyst for an incestuous and borderline paedophilic relationship.

It is through these animal metaphors that, Shakespeare’s presentation of love starts to match the Nymph’s Reply, “Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey… I’ll be a park and thou shalt be my deer.” By degrading Adonis to a prey and a deer, the possessive and selfish motivators in love are revealed; Venus’ words are inspired by lust, which is inseparable from love or passion. The extended metaphor of Venus’ body as a park and Adonis as a small, insignificant animal trapped within, further reinforces the one sided nature of love, the negative qualities which the Nymph spoke off. The crippling repercussions are so strong that even the god of love and fertility has fallen victim to her own domain, as Shakespeare paradoxically writes “She’s love, she loves, yet she is not loved.”

There are many similarities and differences between the two texts, as they both try to explore the diverse topic of love from various perspectives. Venus and Adonis focuses upon the push and pull of two people. Whilst it stresses the controlling and damaging aspects of love, if Adonis embraced love, he would have been ultimately saved. The Nymph’s Reply on the other hand aims to purely point out the unreliable nature of love as it attempts to cover up lustful intentions, the Nymph’s responses pushes the belief that love is superficial in a superficial world.

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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.

Hakuna Matata.

What’s the point of life? What’s the final goal, destination or reward. This is a question that has endured since the beginning of time and humanity has long searched for an answer. Here’s where I come in, I mean who doesn’t want to hear an average teenager’s response? (Don’t answer that.)

The average life span of an Australian male is 79.5 years. I am 18, so I have approximately 61.5 years left. I will spend a few years here and there with gaining and education, chop off around 6 years. This society dictates I work and contribute towards Capitalism so slice approximately 40 years off my life. 15.5 years left, age begins to weigh upon me and soon I am a burden to the younger generation and I am quickly whisked off the stage of life. Retirement goes slowly by as the joys of life fades with your health, 15 years flies by and soon you are left with 6 months left. (For your information, I plan to spend the last 6 months of my life in Harlem Prison spitting some heavy Wu-Tang lines to war veterans, stay fresh.)

Let’s examine the regrets of the dying, those who’s brief time on this earth has expired and will fade into non-existence. Let’s see how we can learn from the past and avoid filling their empty shoes on the cycle of life.

1. “I WISH I WOULD HAD THE COURAGE TO LIVE A LIFE TRUE TO MYSELF, NOT THE LIFE OTHERS EXPECT OF ME.”

This was the most common regret of all, too many people altered themselves to fit the expectations of others. Too many times did they compromise themselves to fulfill another’s dream, people are scared of being shunned thus they accept a life of mediocrity instead of pursuing their hopes and goals. When one learns not to seek external validation for their happiness they are avoid being entrapped in a regret.

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing.
– Helen Keller.

2. ” I WISH I DIDN’T WORK SO HARD.”

There was once when I valued money more than happiness. The Asian culture places heavy focus upon wealth, education and having a stable occupation, many of you readers may recoil from this and label that culture as materialistic, backwards or wrong. But isn’t all cultures strange and bizarre to those who stand outside it’s borders? China has long been a poor nation, from the start of the 19th century, it’s been involved with in two wars with Japan, (1894-1895 and 1937-1945.) It’s had opium dumped onto it’s shores by Western nations which destroyed it’s culture and crippled it’s economy. Eight nations have invaded China since the 1900s, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, England, Russia, Japan, Germany and the United States. So obviously values such as education, wealth and money were important, how else would you feed your family? How else could you provide for your aging parents?

But thankfully, I grew as a person, wealth was important and necessary but money can’t buy love, money can’t buy a smiling household nor happy memories. Finally all the wealth in the world would be pointless when death arrives, as an Ancient Chinese proverb states, “All are equal before death.” I asked myself would I rather be on my death bed surrounded by money or my family and friends? The answer was simple, wealth is necessary but materialism shouldn’t be one’s objective.

3. “I wish I had the courage to express myself.” 

This ties heavily with the number one regret of not limiting or compromising yourself to satisfy others. Being yourself gives you a sense of freedom in life, one does not have to be chained down by lies which served to fill their insecurities, one does not have to halt their opinion because they are afraid of the consequences. When one takes a step back and realise their time on Earth is but a blink of an eye in the scheme of this universe, we begin to understand how foolish it is to act according to society’s unwritten laws.

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Once again notice, the regret isn’t I wish I had another few grand for a Ferrari  or I wish my house had a cinema room. These regrets reflect the true essence of humanity, that us humans thrive when we belong, we thrive on human connection. Technology has allowed us to communicate more and more but at the same time it has reduced human contact, no longer does one have to see a friend to maintain their relationship just Facebook them once in a while and watch as their friendship decays.

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
– Albert Einstein.

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

This is what I deem to be the key, happiness melts away all other regrets and worries. You are happy when you live a life true to your own values and beliefs. (Regret 1.) You are happy when you realise consumerism can not substitute joy. (Regret 2.) You are happy when you don’t have to hide behind a mask, when you can stand for what you believe in despite opposition. (Regret 3.) You are happy when your relationships don’t fade but grow stronger as you age. (Regret 4.) Happiness is the single counter to all the regrets.

People’s perceptions and attitudes have a funny way of changing when they embrace their morality. We are a tiny speck in this vast universe so our actions will have little consequences, even the greatest kings and scholars fall before the endless march of time. Thus I have decided that the objective of my life is not to seek fame or fortune, not to have the most exotic wife nor the fastest car. It’s too be happy because 79.5 years later I want to be on my death bed, smiling, knowing that I leave in peace, knowing that I had the courage to talk to that pretty girl down the street, knowing I lived my life with fear of judgement and knowing that I lived everyday with a single phrase in mind “Hakuna Matata.”

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

– Dr Seuss.

Stanley out.