In Search of a Distant Voice

04/09/2012 at 8:40 AM (Books, Fable, Mystery, Romance) (, , , , )

I picked up this book by chance. It was the extra book you toss in your library bag when you are running short of good selections. All the books I wanted were on reserve so my last-minute choice turned out to be a surprisingly good read. Apart from Harry Potter and LOTR, I’m not a fan of anything close to science fiction (exception being Jules Verne) or fantasy.

In Search of a Distant Voice Book Cover

Written by Taichi Yamada, In Search of a Distant Voice has a grim start with foreboding overtones. The main character, an immigration enforcement official by the name of Kasama Tsuneo, has to track down some Indian “illegals” without visas in a graveyard. Subtle references are made to his dark past in Portland, Oregon which gives the impression that there is a secret to unravel which drives the plot along for a while. It is made clear that he wants to put the past behind him and be ordinary. He was an illegal in the US himself so the job he has in Japan bothers his conscience. In the course of his work, something unusual happens – he gets overtaken by a “force of erotic pleasure” while he is about to capture his quarry in the graveyard and hears a woman’s voice in his head. I must admit that took me by surprise.

It seems some sort of telepathic connection has occurred between the mystery woman and Tsuneo. Then it starts getting bizarre but Yamada does a good job of persuading the reader to stick around to find out who the woman may be. Meanwhile Tsuneo tries to figure out whether he is crazy or if this woman actually exists and how such an occurrence can happen. In description, it sounds silly and unfathomable but the handling of punchy dialogue, prose and skillful interweaving of side plots such as an arranged marriage and the revelation of the secret bothering Tsuneo intrigues a reader enough to continue to the end. The narrative voice also switches between subjects and tenses in a clever enough way to make the content of the book seem distinctive in style since it could be either one or all of the following: a story about truth, a story about repentance or in the most basic sense, a ghost story. But when we reach the end, we are as illuminated by the identity of the woman as when we began.

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The Adjustment Bureau

03/16/2011 at 3:37 AM (Action, Books, Fable, Inspired, Movies, Mystery, Romance) (, , , , , , , , )

When I went to watch The Adjustment Bureau last night, my preconception of the film as the general suspense thriller flick was blown away. Based loosely on the Philip K. Dick short story titled Adjustment Team, the film starring Matt Damon as Dave Norris, a popular politician running for the US Senate and Emily Blunt as Elise the dancer he meets by chance after an oversight by one of the bureau’s case workers is a refreshing work with the year of the sequel phenomenon approaching.

The work of the adjustment bureau is to ensure life goes according to a plan which is traceable in a book written by the head of the organisation named the “Chairman”. It works out according to the plan, Dave and Elise were not meant to meet the way they did. So the case workers who ensure people follow their fates without diverging from their true paths do their best to put obstacles in the way of Dave. But a quick kiss in the men’s stall after Elise crashed a wedding and he was practising his concession speech connects them and manages to make their paths intertwine again because of their recurring chemistry for each other.

Thompson (John Slattery) who is built as the villain of the piece who is determined to thwart their relationship exposes the bureau to Dave and warns him that if he breathes a word of this that his will to think would cease. Interestingly, this movie raises a lot of questions about how much we have an affect on our individual fates and how much of it could be guided for us by a higher power giving it some repressed theological ground. When Dave is informed by Thompson, his chase of Elise would not only have a negative impact on his ambition but also on her dream of being a famous dancer, he abandons her feeling that he is making a sacrifice for her sake.

Later, he spots an article saying that she is to be married to her ex-boyfriend and feels in his gut something is wrong. Harry, a case worker more sympathetic to his cause than the others, provides him the use of his hat which allows him to open doors through New York without the control of his choices being affected. He finally reunites with Elise and when she is tested for her conviction in him, despite initial hesitation her trust in him is repaid with both of them allowed to use their free will.

While the film had an interesting storyline and it was directed well by George Nolfi who succeeds fairly well with his intention of creating it to raise questions but since it leaves a lot open to interpretation and deconstruction by the viewers themselves, it could either be a hit or miss depending on individual personalities and their takes on fate.

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven

02/22/2011 at 12:16 PM (Books, Educational, Fable, Inspired, Spiritual, War) (, , , , , , )

Once I accidentally happened upon Tuesdays with Morrie at my university library while searching for some course text books. So what do I do?

I promptly abandon my text hunting and sit in for a delicious tale written by Mitch Albom about his moments with the retired sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz ; it is about the lessons the author learned from the teacher who had contracted Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). So it was with joy I revisited this author’s writing in The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Unlike my first experience, this time it was fiction inspired by Eddie Beitchman, the writer’s real life uncle, who had lived a life like that of Eddie in the book.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven Book Cover

This particular narrative starts with a death – the death of the main character, Eddie the maintenance man on Ruby Pier, on his 83rd birthday to be exact. This birthday incident is notable because you realise lots of events of significance happened on his birthdays.Small little interconnected coincidences, to which readers are clued in by the narrator, lead to an accident at the Ruby Pier amusement park that finally leads to Eddie’s death as he tries to rescue a young girl. This is why the book starts with a chapter titled ‘The End’.

We are then given some insight into his journey through heaven after his passing away.Through this trip, we are treated to glimpses of five people on whom his past had a significant impact. His first encounter is with the blue man, a former circus freak, who imagines the Ruby Pier of Eddie’s childhood as his own heaven. Eddie had been indirectly responsible for his death but he tells Eddie events are not that random and lives intersect for a reason.

The second stage of heaven brings Eddie to a scene of war torn desolation during WWII. His new mentor turns out to be his war captain with whom he fought in the Philippines, where they became prisoners of war for a brief period. Eddie uses his circus skills to escape their confinement but feels too paralysed to leave at the last moment after he helps to set the war camp on fire. The captain had promised his subordinates that he would not leave anyone behind. To fulfill this promise, he shoots Eddie in the leg to make it easier to get the evacuation underway. Initially Eddie is angry with the captain who had been waiting to ask his forgiveness but realises the man suffered a worse fate than him. He teaches Eddie about sacrifice.

Next Eddie meets an elderly Ruby, a woman he has never met before. She turns out to be the namesake of the amusement park where he worked all his life. He meets her in a diner where she had worked when she was young and where she had met her husband, Emile – the creator behind Ruby Pier. She tells him the misconceptions he had entertained against his father were far from the truth despite their conflicts. She was privy to his deathbed confession because Emile was in the same room. She tells Eddie about the importance of forgiveness.

Finally Eddie comes face to face with Marguerite, the love of his life. Their marriage was happy but childless so they had put in an application for adoption. Before this can take place, Eddie is involved in betting high stakes at the track. Worried about him, she drives to meet him but meets with an accident when some drunk kids drop some whiskey bottles that land on the car. This causes unforeseen medical expenses and their application for adoption is rejected. Although the accident creates tension between them at first, they overcome this situation until tragedy strikes again taking Marguerite. He meets her in a succession of wedding parties belonging to different cultures where she teaches him their love was neither snatched too early or torn to pieces as he had thought.

His final teacher is Tala who meets a grisly fate due to his hand at war camp. This explains why he felt he could not leave but his war captain shooting him ensures his survival. Tala tells him his life as ‘Eddie Maintenance’ was an important one. His ability to keep an eye on the proper functioning of the rides meant lives were saved – both the born and unborn. Eddie is a man who feels has not achieved what he has set out to accomplish because by a set of unfortunate circumstances, he inherits a job he despises but stays because he feels obligated to continue the job his father had. Tala, who meets him near a river, teaches him the meaning and purpose of his work at the pier was to save and protect the children. Eddie’s life ends with him doing what he had done for his entire life.

Rich in symbolism, motifs and imagery of rebirth and redemption, The Five People You Meet In Heaven is a tale of inspiration about an unsung hero.

  • To watch Tuesdays with Morrie trailer, click here.
  • To watch The Five People You Meet in Heaven trailer, click here.

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Dreams Come True : The Art of Disney’s Classic Fairy Tales – Part 1

12/07/2010 at 11:57 AM (Art, Books, Fable, Family, Movies, Romance) (, , , , , )

Everybody seems to know Disney as the maker of animated films which end in happily ever after. The exhibition at ACMI that I attended on the weekend offered fascinating insight into the concept artwork , creative process and the final creation of well-known and much loved Disney animated characters that was categorised into eight separate areas.  It is apparent even the animation industry is going through a significant shift from 2D to 3D as the digital world becomes all pervasive as it ranged from Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme based animation to the new Tangled movie that is loosely based on the tale of Rapunzel.

1. The Introduction












This area was devoted to explaining who Walt Disney was and illuminating us as to what his vision was when he decided to use old folk tales, legends, mythology and European fairy tales as inspiration for his animated artwork. Even though he lacked any formal education , visits to the public library  where he read books on animation turned out to be immensely useful as they imparted the knowledge he desired. As he expressed, ” all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

This is where the audience is introduced to Mickey Mouse who happens to be an original character created by Disney to rival Felix the Cat , created by Pat Sullivan, and who arrived ahead of  the full length fairy tale features. Within the exhibition area, we are treated to a film clip about Mickey that uses the concept of Jack and the Beanstalk. This was during the time he created features like The Three Little Pigs, The Ugly Duckling and The Country Cousin.

2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White, the original tale which derives from the Brother Grimm version from Germany, has a special place in motion picture history.

  • It was the first full length cel animated feature in the world of movies.
  • It was the first animated feature film produced in America.
  • It was the first animated feature that was produced in full colour.
  • It was the first animated full length feature produced by Walt Disney.

The transformation of the Wicked Queen from her usual appearance to ugly hag in her underground laboratory was the most complex level of animation undertaken at that stage. To achieve the voice changes, the actress Lucille La Verne who voiced the Queen removed her false teeth was an interesting tidbit I picked up.

3. Cinderella

Cinderella was in the next section of the exhibit and as inspiration was taken from the narrative popularised by French writer Charles Perrault, the story is very similar. Interestingly, live action models were used for this film and they were responsible for heavily influencing many of Cinderella’s mannerisms, especially Helene Stanley.

She had an even larger influence on Aurora (Briar Rose), who is otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty. The earliest Cinderella story however comes from China and actually originated during the  Tang dynasty.

4. Sleeping Beauty

This is a favourite Disney film of mine as it has a magnificent villain in the form of Maleficent (which aptly means evil-doer). So perhaps those who believe these classic animations are simply  kiddie films and lack symbolism are in the wrong. Much of the Disney canon utilises myth and metaphor to a deeper extent if you look beyond the surface.

Aurora also happens to be my favourite princess although not my best loved Disney character . That title goes to the lovely Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame based on the novel of Victor Hugo, also the author of Les Miserables. The artwork in Sleeping Beauty happens to be amazing which comes as no surprise as it was influenced by medieval European history  especially in dress design with a touch of 1950s glamour (think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) and then topped off with a dash of Persian design in background illustration.

What I noticed from most of these were that the villains were mostly older women who had issues with other women being younger or prettier or more resourceful. If symbolism is present, what does that mean?

But then we come to the story of Beauty and the Beast which is a different affair completely.

To be Continued…

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Mao’s Last Dancer

08/05/2010 at 4:59 PM (Books, Fable, Inspired) (, , , , , , )

Having finally received the overwhelmingly popular Mao’s Last Dancer from the Port Phillip Library in St. Kilda, I started to read it and having gone in with optimistic expectations (although this is a practice I tend to avoid with a writer/director unfamiliar to me in most situations) ended up rather underwhelmed despite its obvious merits. Even the movie of the same name by Bruce Beresford seemed to lack the fanfare it could have had even though both the autiobiography of Li Cunxin and film adaptation were compelling and heartwarming.

It just seemed to touch on things that seemed to be unnecessary waffle since it could have been more engaging than it already is if it had not drifted from new topic to another so fast but considering the sales figures of global success and print runs, all’s well that ends well.

Source: Penguin

Source: Penguin

Perhaps the story was not exotic enough to me. I used to take ballet until I hit puberty and grew a generous-sized bust (Have you ever seen a ballerina with an ample chest – I didn’t think so) .Meanwhile I also grew up in a country full of poverty, political conflict and corruption so even though my homeland had nothing to do with communism, the story of the boy plucked from obscurity to be a ballet star that then found an escape in the world of te West touched on common themes and should have resonated but while i enjoyed the recollections and fables, I didn’t even shed a tear since I was not emotionally moved as I’d be by any Thomas Hardy classic.

Maybe they broke the mould when I was born or maybe its the fact I’m far too familiar with  government systems of leadership which claim to be democratic but are manipulative enough to control and confine the lives of citizens to achieve their own ends.

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The Alchemist

01/11/2010 at 9:51 AM (Adventure, Fable, Spiritual) ()

The Alchemist

Facing a long V-Line journey to Traralgon, I decided to travel from the comfort of my seat to the deserts of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

It was definitely an interesting take on spiritual reading but I think what made it so successful was the simplicity of the language and its attempt to answer the questions everyone is searching the answers to but is afraid to listen to through the travels of an Andalusian shepherd boy.

What did I learn from it?

Everyone has dreams to follow but feel held back by love, the fear of change and conditions of adversity. There are prices to pay before reaping rewards. Patience is an important skill.

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