Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Anime review: Batman Gotham Knight

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Synopsis
Set between the movies Batman Begins and Dark Knight, this is a collection of 6 vaguely connected short stories about the caped crusader, written by American comic book guys and animated by some of Japan’s mightiest anime studios. As such, it is hard to summarize the entire thing. Safe to say The Bat spends his time tracking down bad guys and handing out a fair share of whoopass. Some of the stories are predictable and completely forgettable, but a couple rise above expectations and manage to inject some new flavours into this very old character.

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When I first heard about Gotham Knight, I had some pretty strong reservations. And in many ways this is the cynical jump-on-the-bandwagon that I expected. However, on the whole, the DVD impresses more than it disappoints.

I’ll start by admitting that I’m a fan of The Batman. However, I also feel that he, and all costumed superheroes, have outlived their relevance to our culture. Still, of all the American icons they could have anime-ized, Batman works remarkably well. He’s all dark and moody and mysterious. As much as these are stereotypes of anime, they’re also kinda true stereotypes.

The standout short for me is the first, Have I Got a Story For You (top picture) done by Studio 4°C, the folks behind the fabulous Tekkon Kinkreet. Have I Got shares Tekkon‘s fluid and surreal look, as well as a storytelling style that flows from a kid’s imagination. It also briefly features a mecha-Batman. Oh yeah.

The rest of the DVD goes up and down and even though I was not disappointed at the end of this ride, I still maintain that anime is more than just a “style” – using it to simply create a new take on old ideas greatly underestimates its storytelling value.

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Movie review: Lupin III – Dragon of Doom

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Synopsis
Many stories were lost with the Titanic, including that of Arsène Lupin who – according to Dragon of Doom – died trying to steal a mysterious and powerful golden statuette. Now his grandson has been hired by a Hong Kong crime boss to complete the mission by diving down to the recently discovered ship. Little does Lupin III know that capturing the dragon is only the beginning of an adventure that will eventually pit him against his oldest and most loyal friends.

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I’m not a big Lupin head – even though I’ve cosplayed as him a couple of times. I’ve only seen Castle of Cagliostro and a handful of episodes of the show, so I didn’t have many expectations for Dragon of Doom. My only concern, actually, was that since this movie is so recent – 1994 – they were going to do one of those “re-inventions” of the character, where they try to find deeper emotional motivations and backstory explanations. I’m looking at you, Dr. Who.

Thankfully, Dragon keeps it simple. It’s a thrilling heist movie with twists and turns you don’t always expect. The characters are true to themselves, fitting into their traditional roles with aplomb. The only disappointment is Zenigata, the bumbling Interpol inspector on a life-long mission to capture Lupin, who is used solely as comic relief. If he was a real threat to stop Lupin, he could have added another layer of tension to the film. Thankfully, there are enough challenges for Lupin to deal with that the movie moves along briskly and is tonnes of fun.

Another reason to watch Dragon is because it holds a special place in the Lupin universe – it is the last performance of Lupin’s classic voice actor Yasuo Yamada, who died less than a year after the film’s release. In my limited experience of his work, this is a fitting testament to his legacy.

Highly recommended for fans and newbies.

Movie review: Tekkon Kinkreet

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Synopsis
Black and White are two orphans who run the streets of Treasure Town – their hood in a megacity masala of Shanghai, Tokyo and New York. They can seem unstable but actually balance each other out – until an evil land developer shows up who will do anything to turn rusty old Treasure Town into a shiny new, family-friendly amusement park. The ensuing battle tears Black and White apart, unleashing a power that could destroy Treasure Town completely.

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Last year at this time, a friend of mine, Steve Cober, co-owner of Magic Pony (my FAVOURITE toy store in Toronto) mentioned this crazy manga that he loves was being turned into an anime and had I heard of it. Nope, not a word. Well, that didn’t last long. By the start of this year, Tekkon Kinkreet had become one of the most hyped and publicized anime in recent memory. This was partially because it’s the very first anime with a non-Japanese director. The other big reason is that Tekkon Kinkreet is unlike any anime ever produced.

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I was so impacted by this movie that I don’t want to add to the hype – and I want you to see it before you read any more said hype. Safe to say that director Michael Arias has done something other anime creators (and film producers in general) can learn from: this is a medium of boundless fantasy and imagination that can tell powerful and real human stories.

Tekkon Kinkreet is a remarkable piece of storytelling that harnesses contradiction, like the yin and yang relationship between Black and White themselves.

Movie review: Paprika

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Synopsis
A new tool has been created for psychotherapists, the “DC Mini”, which allows them to view their patient’s dreams. But as with all powerful inventions it is being misused, for both good and evil.

On the good side is Paprika herself, doing vigilante psychotherapy to help patients outside the system. On the evil side is a mystery villain who has stolen some DC Minis and is using them to intertwine his victim’s dreams and reality – leading to madness and death.

Paprika must find out who is behind this evil plot and stop them before all of reality melts into chaos.

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If you’ve ever jumped into a deep lake off a floating dock, there’s that moment – just as your feet leave the wooden edge – when you realize you’re not sure what’s going to happen. The first few seconds of Paprika go one step further, tossing you into the most surreal and frightening place there is: a circus. And that creepiness doesn’t let up for the next 90 minutes. Neither does the saturated colour and fluid animation. This movie is first and foremost a pleasure for the eyes. But true to Satoshi Kon, it is also a disturbing look at the human psyche.

This film has an incredibly small cast of characters. You get to know each one well and the film feels very intimate. But the master stroke in Paprika is that by setting the main plot device as a mechanism that allows others to witness and participate in dreams, Kon is free to blend fantasy, desire, surrealism and politics with the banality of daily life.

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The only reason I didn’t give this movie full points is that it doesn’t feel like a completely realized idea in and of itself. After watching Paranoia Agent, Kon’s previous TV project, Paprika feels like a continuation of those same thoughts on the dark side of human nature. And as opposed to Paranoia‘s fluid and almost random storytelling style, Paprika is much more conventional – a good ol’ fashioned thriller. At the end of both stories, however, Kon points out that we are all potential villains and heroes.

Highly recommended for Satoshi Kon fans as well as those looking for anime that pleases the eye while challenging the spirit.

Movie review: Solid State Society

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Synopsis
Taking place 2 years after the end of the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG TV show, Section 9 – now without Major Motoko Kusanagi – is investigating suicides by members of a radical refugee group. What they uncover, with the secret help of a freelance Kusanagi, is that a shadow character known as the Puppeteer is behind the suicides and perhaps a bigger plot involving micro machine terrorism, child abductions and an inheritance scheme. Yes, you read that right.

It’s far more complicated than that, and took two viewings to sort of figure it all out, but at its core, the plot of this film centers around taxation and bureaucracy.

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This film attempts to bridge the gap between the Stand Alone Complex TV shows and the first Ghost in the Shell movie. Unfortunately, this comes off a little too deliberate and the film suffers as a result.

But before I get any deeper into this I want to state that I am a huge fan of the whole Ghost world – although I admit I’ve never read any of the manga (too many pink bodysuits for my taste). The 1995 film started my current obsession with anime and I have watched it many, many times. I also love both seasons of Stand Alone Complex and my model Tachikoma. But this series has also faltered. I found the recent Innocence film to be one long Mamoru Oshii essay on morality, technology and god knows what else.

However, I wouldn’t say that Solid State Society is a misstep. The film is stunning to experience with fluid animation, gripping action, human drama and every kind of Tachikoma there is. But since it is so focussed on bridging two other stories, this one comes off feeling hollow.

sss_uchikoma.jpgThe saving grace for me was the “Uchikoma Days” extra on the DVD – a fantastic short in which the somewhat dimwitted replacements for the Tachikoma stand up for themselves… with a musical number! They even declare their love for Batou. Kawaii!