Savouring the Animations of Shinkai

10/09/2017 at 11:33 AM (animation, Movies, Romance, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

It has been a while since I’ve written about Japanese animations. They came to my attention again when I was searching for a gift for my now ex-boyfriend. I know I’ve praised Miyazaki before but this time my words of adulation will be for the storytelling skills of Makoto Shinkai. His body of work has received comparison to works by the illustrious Studio Ghibli animator but the creator of 5 Centimers Per Second and Children Who Chase Lost Voices is rather self-effacing about his talents.

5 Centimers Per Second

The film consists of a triptych of acts: Cherry BlossomCosmonaut and 5 Centimeters per Second.

In the first act, Takaki Tōno, the main character, becomes friends with Akari Shinohara when she transfers to his elementary school. The classmates foster a deep friendship because they have lots of mutual interests and end up spending recesses together often; even when they talk to each other, they don’t use honorifics, a sign of closeness in Japan. When Akari moves to Tochigi after completing elementary school because of her parents’ jobs, the two friends keep in contact through post but this communication slowly fades as time passes. This part of the story is set sometime before the arrival of cellphones and email. When Takaki hears that his family will be moving to Kagoshima, he decides to visit Akari in person first because they will be living too far apart to regularly see each other. Before he visits, Takaki also composes a letter that expresses his feelings about her. On the way to see her, Takaki loses the letter and a severe snowstorm pushes the train schedule behind several hours. When the two finally meet each other again, it is a temporary, touching and bittersweet reunion during which they talk for hours. They make sentimental promises to each other and after the events of the night spent amongst the snow, Takaki decides the loss of his letter was not important. He never realises there was a letter he never got as his train leaves, because the audience see a letter from Akari addressed to Takaki that never changed hands to the addressee.

In the second act, we see Takaki attending senior high in Tanegashima and he is blind to the love shown by Kanae Sumida, who is not brave enough to admit her feelings. Despite all her efforts at winning him over, Kanae remains in the friend zone. She sees that Takaki always appears to be writing emails or looking off into the beyond. We learn these emails are sent to nobody and he often has recurring dreams that feature Akari. After an attempt to confess her love fails, Kanae decides what she could offer to Takaki will not be enough to satiate what he desires and keeps the truth of her love locked within her heart.

In the third act, Takaki has become a computer programmer in Tokyo while Akari is preparing to get married to another man. His feelings for Akari that he has been unable to shake impact negatively on his life. Eventually a depressed Takaki leaves his job, unable to cope with his unresolved feelings for Akari. Meanwhile Akari goes through her old belongings and discovers the letter addressed to Takaki. The two characters narrate in tandem, both recalling a dream depicting the events of their last meeting in the snow and hoping to watch the cherry blossoms together again.

One day walking down a road, Takaki and Akari appear to recognise each other as they walk past at a train crossing, where they had watched cherry blossoms together thirteen years ago, before Akari’s moving to Tochigi. At the opposite sides of the tracks, they begin to look back but the passing trains cut their view. Takaki waits for the trains to pass and sees Akari is gone. After a moment, he smiles to himself and continues walking.

Makoto’s film gives a realistic view of the struggles many face against: time, space, people, and love. The title 5 Centimeters Per Second comes from the speed at which cherry blossoms petals fall, the petals being a allegorical representation of humans, evoking the slowness of life and how people often start together but drift into separate ways.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Asuna is a young girl who has been forced to grow up quickly due to the death of her father, while her mother, a nurse, works long shifts at a hospital. Asuna spends her solitary days listening to the mysterious music emanating from the cat’s-whisker receiver her father gave to her as a memento.

One day, while walking to her clubhouse across a bridge, she is attacked by a fearsome creature and saved by a mysterious boy who calls himself Shun. Asuna treats Shun’s wound from fighting the creature and later they both listen to Asuna’s radio. Shun tells Asuna he is from another country called Agartha and that he came to this place to find something. He then gives Asuna a blessing in the form of a kiss to the forehead. Asuna leaves hurriedly and tells Shun she’ll be back tomorrow. Shun, now alone, looks up at the stars and falls from the ledge to his death.

The next morning, Asuna hears from her mother that a boy was found dead in the river, but refuses to believe it’s Shun. In school, Mr. Morisaki, a substitute teacher, is giving a lecture on a book which grabs Asuna’s attention when he mentions Agartha, the land of the dead. After school, she visits Morisaki and asks him about Agartha. Morisaki explains that long ago when humankind was young, it needed the guidance of Quetzalcoatls (keepers of the dead) until humans matured and no longer needed them, so they went underground along with a few humans who joined them.

Afterwards, Asuna goes to her hideout to find another mysterious boy who looks like Shun standing on the ledge. Just then, a group of armed men who the boy calls the Arch Angels, appear and attack the both of them. The Arch Angels’ commander captures Asuna and uses a crystal called the clavis to open a gateway to Agartha. The commander and Asuna enter the gateway followed by the boy. Once inside the commander reveals himself to be Morisaki and the boy also reveals himself to be Shin, Shun’s younger brother. Morisaki tells him that all he wants is to bring back his late wife from the dead. Shin leaves Asuna and Morisaki.

Morisaki tells Asuna that she can go back but she decides to accompany him. They both go into the realm via an underwater entrance. Once inside they go on a journey to the Gate of Life and Death which can bring the souls of people back from the dead.

Upon arriving in his village, Shin is told that he has failed in his mission to retrieve that clavis, because Asuna has unknowingly returned with a fragment of one. Shin re-embarks to stop Asuna and Morisaki from wreaking havoc in Agartha.

Along the way Asuna is kidnapped by a race of monsters called the Izoku. In their hideout she meets a young girl named Manna and they both try to escape. In their escape attempt, they encounter Shin who helps them but is wounded by an Izoku. Morisaki finds Asuna and Manna down the river as well as Shin. Shin tries to retrieve the clavis crystal that belongs to Asuna. However, he is too weak to put up a fight and Morisaki easily defeats him. Asuna convinces Morisaki to take him with them while Manna leads them to her village.

Once there, the villagers are, at first reluctant to help the “top-dwellers” but the village elder convinces them to let them in. The elder allows them to stay one night at the village. Meanwhile Asuna checks up on Shin but Shin yells at her telling her to leave him alone.

The next morning Asuna and Morisaki depart from Amaurot. Shin wakes up later and after hearing the villagers riding away to kill them, decides to follow in order to protect Asuna. Morisaki and Asuna are walking towards a steep cliff when they are attacked by the villagers but they are saved by Shin. Asuna, being too scared to climb down, stays while Morisaki continues, leaving her.

Meanwhile Shin is fighting the villagers and is about to be killed when the villagers sense that the clavis crystal has reached the Gate of Life and Death and leave Shin to wander aimlessly, having betrayed his country.

Asuna is walking aimlessly and asking herself why she came to Agartha and finally accepts that she came to Agartha because she was feeling lonely. She is then attacked by the Izoku but saved by Shin. Asuna and Shin return to the cliff after seeing the Ark of Life descending. They encounter a Quetzalcoatl who is about to die. Before he dies, Quetzalcoatl offers to take them to the bottom of the cliff.

At the bottom of the cliff, they both find the Gate of Life and Death and enter it. Inside they find Morisaki who tells Asuna she shouldn’t have come and she is soon possessed by Lisa, Morisaki’s late wife. However Shin is able to destroy the crystal Morisaki has used to make his wish. Before she leaves Asuna’s body, Lisa tells Morisaki to find happiness without her. Asuna is now back to her normal self but Morisaki is devastated and asks Shin to kill him but Shin tells him that he must live. Asuna heads back to the surface and saying farewell to Shin and Morisaki, who stay behind. The film ends with Asuna, looking out her window at the cliff side where she had met Shun and Shin. She then says her goodbyes to her mother as she hurries to her graduation ceremony as an older teen.

This film is his longest animation film to date and is described as a “lively” animated film with adventure, action, and romance centered on a cheerful and spirited girl on a journey to say “farewell”.

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A Room with a View

06/13/2014 at 1:40 PM (Books, Classics, Movies, Romance, Romance, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

It has been so long since I posted here. I feel like I’ve renewed a friendship with someone who had drifted away. Now the cold winter months are approaching and the sky is pitch dark by 6 PM, blogging seems like less of a geeky, couch potato activity to do on a Friday night. It also distracts me from food in the fridge because while many are increasing their waistline in winter by eating carb-piled comfort food, I’m doing the opposite by depriving myself.

In terms of reading exploits, my latest read was A Room with a View by author E. M. Forster, who also wrote A Passage to India. While the book is meant to be a comedy of manners with its cast of medieval and renaissance characters and employment of witty, humorous dialogue, I didn’t find it as entertaining as expected.

It narrates the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a free-spirited but sheltered young middle-class lady, who has her rigid, ordered life thrown off balance after visiting Florence with her chaperone and older uptight cousin Charlotte leads to a meeting with the Emersons. Other unconventional characters residing in the Pension Bertolini opens Lucy’s eyes to differences between ingrained archaic, repressed Edwardian morals and emerging liberal social values through the author’s cleverly contrasting England’s staidness with Italy’s vitality. She ultimately learns propriety can mask the truth and beauty can be found by not conforming to etiquette. This new knowledge affects Lucy’s structured plans as she has discovered that social boundaries are arbitrary. In the end with a fitting dramatic conclusion, Lucy decides to follow her own heart in regards to love and chooses her own destiny and defies convention. The most interesting thing is that while we are allowed into the minds of all the characters, save the two Emersons who remain an enigma.

I have not watched the movie adaptation of A Room with a View starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch so I cannot personally comment but here’s a film review by Roger Ebert to present some perspective on the film.

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Lolita (1962)

11/03/2011 at 2:00 AM (Books, Classics, Comedy, Drama, Movies, Romance, Romance) (, , , , , , )

I usually tend to hate black and white films (despite my love of vintage fashion) so it was a pleasant surprise when I found myself enraptured by one. This was the black and white rendition of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita by Stanley Kubrick, director and fan of the game of chess (a passion he shared in common with the author of Lolita who was also an avid lepidopterist). What a shame that Kubrick died even before editing Eyes Wide Shut properly – his films resonate with the audience so well because of his distinctive touch of style.

On opening credits, it had me spellbound on seeing a very pale and small foot having its toenails painted rather tenderly and fluffs of white cotton balls stuffed between the toes. This simple foreshadowing scene of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) painting Lolita’s (Sue Lyon) toenails is artistically composed with soothing music to match the mood. It then cuts to the first scene which has changed the order of events in the novel by putting the last event to unfold first in order to sustain interest.

The plot contains more of Kubrick’s vision despite the screenplay credit made to the original author; Vladimir Nabokov’s original content in Lolita was used sparingly in this adaptation produced in 1962. In this film, Quilty (Peter Sellers), a man similar to Humbert Humbert in Lolita’s life but lacking his naiveté, plays a more active and prominent role.

Stanley Kubrick Lolita 1962 film still

The film has been panned in the past because the eroticism was not as overt as depicted in the book and the young “nymphet” of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation looked less like a child and more like a teenager with developing curves especially when he is first tempted to stay by the sight of her in a bikini. The toning down of the sexual tension between the principal characters was mostly because the production had to be demure enough to make it by the censorship board of that time. But in doing this, Humbert Humbert is made to look less of a predator on a vulnerable young girl. This could also be due to the fact this film falls into the genre of dark comedy, hence Peter Sellers and his multiple personas. But this did make me feel uneasy and perhaps this was a clever stratagem on Kubrick’s part as this seems to be the intended feeling he wanted to evoke.

Nevertheless I found it to be an interesting interpretation that was skillfully delivered through the cinematic medium for me to remain engrossed from start to finish. For some reason, I feel that if you liked American Beauty by Sam Mendes, you will enjoy Lolita if black and white does not pose a problem for you.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge (Film)

10/13/2011 at 2:24 PM (BBC Drama, Books, Classics, Historical, Mystery, Romance, TV) (, , , , , , , , )

I first fell in love with Thomas Hardy novels after reading The Woodlanders. If you are familiar with tales by Hardy, you’ll know this guy probably would have been the master of soap opera storylines if television had been invented in his days but it really is his descriptions that you can’t go beyond due to his skill with evocative prose. Recently I watched The Mayor of Casterbridge, based on his novel of that name, adapted for the silver screen by David Thacker, starring Ciaran Hinds as Michael Henchard, who delivers a stellar, heartbreaking performance in the pivotal last scenes. The captivating and beautiful score set against the lush country backdrop does not hurt. By the way, Casterbridge is a fictional town representing Dorchester. Do note though it is a long production with a running time of almost over three hours so only start watching when you have enough time to spare.

It all begins in a small town where a young hay-trusser named Michael Henchard sells his wife and infant daughter for five guineas, in a bid that begins as a joke but turns serious, after having too much to drink. When he sobers up and realises his folly, he makes an oath not to touch alcohol 21 years, the number of years he has lived, and builds a good life for himself.

Nineteen years later he is a successful agrarian and the mayor of Casterbridge – a town not far from the fair where he sold his family. When his wife Susan (Juliet Aubrey) returns with his daughter Elizabeth-Jane (Jodhi May) because her other “husband” Newson was lost at sea, Henchard is tormented because while he has a chance to atone for his wrongdoing, he is paranoid that his past transgressions will be discovered by the townspeople. His deep-seated need to protect his reputation from past improprieties soon leads to a complex web of deceit and lies involving Henchard, his “mistress” Lucetta (Polly Walker) and his wife. Poor Elizabeth-Jane is an innocent but cannot help being caught in the middle of the ensuing drama.

Meanwhile on the same day his family returns, Henchard meets a Scotsman, Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy), who has developed a technique to restore bad grain.  The mayor persuades Farfrae to become his manager and confesses his secret to the young man. Luckily for him, although his secret is ousted later in court when he is judging a case, Farfrae is an honourable, just and trustworthy man unlike the mayor. So the mayor turns bitter and jealous when his new manager consistently outdoes him.

Like most other works by Hardy, the plot is full of secret revelations, hidden romantic entanglements, family feuds, complicated tangles of lies and business rivalries. What makes this story so interesting is that Henchard, his wife, and his mistress are not bad people but each makes terrible choices of which the aftermath is horrible. There are many themes in this story but the recurring theme is deception. In the end the people who hurt the most are the ones who give rise to it. Henchard’s behavior makes him difficult persona to admire mostly because of his hostility to Elizabeth-Jane after Susan’s letter provided the truth but because in sudden bursts he will do the right thing or tries to enables the audience to feel empathy for him especially when we hear his final will and testament.

I think that was the last straw for me because I felt stinging in my tear ducts and let out the waterworks. If you can stand tragic melodrama, enjoy classics and are able to endure the screen time, you’ll love this production if you can forgive the farfetched plot.


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Dear John

09/11/2011 at 2:01 AM (Books, Movies, Romance, Romance, War) (, , , )

Dear John Book Cover

We meet John who enlisted in the Army because he rebelled at school and then dropped out due to conflicts with his gentle and unassuming father who was unable to converse about anything except his one passion: coin collecting. He drifts on with life until he meets and falls in love with Savannah at the beach one day. Their initial spark for each other quickly blooms into love. Savannah, a special education student, alerts John up to the possibility his father may have a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome which enables him to mend bridges with his Dad (who in my opinion is the true hero of this book). But the time John has with Savannah is short lived as he is in the military and has to finish his tour of duty. This book by Nicholas Sparks points out how the lives of soldiers are so different from those of civilians and how difficult it is for love to progress normally in those circumstances.

They exchange letters that speak from the heart during his service and the time for John to reunite with his girl draws closer. They have one brief meeting before he goes on leave again but he feels the nature of their relationship has changed and then Savannah confesses she had a difficult time of it after his departure. But then tragedy strikes in the form of September 11. He feels compelled to re-enlist to display his patriotism but this time he receives a blow to the heart from the girl of his dreams – she has fallen in love with someone else during their long separation. The letter he receives makes him reel with shock and realises the life he had planned has changed course because even if Savannah has moved on, he’s still in love with her. After he returns home, he decides to visit her after making some inquiries and realises that he made a mistake when it turns out her husband is an old friend and a patient in the local hospital. Although he is permitted to have a future with her from her ill husband (which I thought was patronising even if he was sick), John decides to show his love in a more courageous manner by sacrificing it.

This is why this book often gets described as a tearjerker. I did cry once when I was reading but John and Savannah felt pretty secondary to me. Their love story was bittersweet and if I’m to be honest, I thought Savannah exhibited a lot of selfishness. So I find it a waste that John is left to pine over the girl who betrayed him after spending the money obtained by selling his father’s amassed coins on her future instead of looking after his own. I think that was not the author’s intention but that’s my interpretation. The scene during which I cried was that of John’s father’s funeral because so few people knew his true worth.

Note I know there is a film on it but I have not seen it so you have to rely on the following links for thoughts on that:

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Books I Disliked Reading

08/23/2011 at 5:17 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Movies, Romance, Romantic Comedy) (, , , , , , )

So far, I’ve reviewed books that I have enjoyed and liked but unlike most, I do slog through books that I don’t like as well. If I start reading a book, I need to finish it even if it’s awful. Getting things completed is a trait of mine – I don’t like to leave it hanging. For the same reason, I don’t like to watch a film I’ve decided to watch if all I missed was only the first five minutes. Here’s a few I found very hard to get through with patience.

 One Night at the Call Centre

One Night @ the Call Centre

This is a humorous tale by Chetan Bhagat about the events of a night at a call centre and the intersecting lives of six characters who are coworkers in a special team: Shyam Singh, Priyanka, Esha, Radhika, Vroom and Military Uncle. The first five have to pretend they are in Boston and speak with adopted fake American accents to Americans who have problems with their dishwashers, washing machines and computers using a set of scripted answers. Military Uncle deals with the emails as he does not like to talk much. Each have issues of their own.

Shyam is in love with Priyanka but has no self-confidence to stand up to their cruel, cowardly, manipulative and cunning boss Bakshi who has no issues crediting their work as his own. Vroom used to be a journalist but decided to work at the call centre for money while dealing with the stress of his parents’ separation. Priyanka struggles with her mother’s inability to accept someone less than settled for her and her wanting to get her married to Ganesh, a Microsoft employee raking in a six-figure salary. Esha compromises her morals while looking for a modelling contract as she’s an inch too short which pisses of Vroom who is in love with her. Military Uncle struggles with family conflicts as his son objects to him contacting his grandson while Radhika who patiently obeys all that her nasty mother-in-law demands finds out her husband has been having an affair and resorts to anti-depression pills. They decide to cut a shift at work one day and when they find themselves in peril, a call from God comes to the rescue and advise to heed their inner calling.

The cast is inspired to get rid of their boss and find solutions to their personal problems. This is where the story falls apart at the seams. The book starts out with the visit of a mysterious woman on a train who boards the carriage of the author and then before telling the story demands that her story is the next book he writes who is nowhere to be found after he falls asleep. Then as the book ends with the author asking who she is in the story’s cast, she denies being any of the women leaving an improbable explanation. Maybe it was supposed to be inspiring but that was a very cliché, cheap copout for me. Meanwhile bossy love interest Priyanka was not likeable at all – I wanted her to be run over by a truck.  I cheered for Shyam when he rejected her but as he crawled back to her like the subservient dog he was to her, I felt ashamed for him. It could’ve been made into a good but cheesy Bollywood movie though, which it was, but Hello failed miserably at the box office due to bad film editing.

Sex and the City

Sex and the City book

The TV show is a raging success right at portraying the lives of catty, biting fashionista snobs with man issues in New York, right? At least that’s what the book was about which is why I am confused about the show being so popular. Disclaimer: I don’t watch the TV show myself. From what I write about in my blog, you can see my tastes are different. I hope this book by Candace Bushnell is satire. It has really made me disillusioned with New York. Good thing I’m more of an Europe fan. I’ve seen the movies – the first was just eh and the second was populated with racist stereotypes which ended up with the Middle Eastern women paying homage to Western culture through designer clothing and to these rich, snobby, self-obsessed bitches. Yeah, avoid picking it up if you can unless the adjectives I used above regarding the empty characters without any friends don’t give off warning bells. It’s not told through the eyes of Carrie, by the way, so if you’re a show fan, I would also give the book a miss too as it’s a collection of articles. After reading, I identified with nobody and disliked everyone. The tagline ‘Jane Austen with a Martini’ is a complete and utter lie.

The Man Who Loved Children

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Given the fact it boldly stated that it had an introduction written by Jonathan Franzen, I tried to enjoy it but the dialogue was a real enjoyment killer. I’m not a fan of inflected dialect in books which decides to erase the letter H from the vocabulary. But I persevered and finished the book reading the story about a vile and neglectful self-indulgent father (apparently based on the author’s real father), an incompetent baby machine mother, a long-suffering aunt and several ill-used children. I’m sorry, Christina Stead but reading this was laborious and therefore it gave me no pleasure even if you came up with this tale of tedious family life in the 1940s. But for you at least, Jonathan Franzen likes your work enough to recommend it and so have many others who rediscovered you. So other readers may actually like it even if I don’t. So pick it up if your tolerance for reading dialect in prose is much better than mine.

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Books by the Bronte Sisters

06/12/2011 at 6:39 AM (Books, Classics, Movies, Romance, TV) (, , , , , , , , , )

Once upon a time there were three sisters living in Haworth called Charlotte, Emily and Anne.  These sisters each wrote a masterpiece of literature. By the way, these sisters did have other siblings who made no literary contributions but played a part in inspiring their use of characterisation.

The eldest sister, Charlotte Brontë, wrote Jane Eyre; she used the pseudonym Currer Bell to get a better reception by using a male name. The story of the orphan governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer who has a dark secret with its Gothic overtones is currently hailed as a raging success. I first remember reading Jane Eyre as a nine-year-old, tears streaming from my eyes at the cruelty endured by the poor girl and being furious on learning she could have lived with an uncle who genuinely loved her. Because I still enjoy the story in its adapted forms, I will refer you to this 2006 version of Jane Eyre starring Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester. I like the television adaptations better than the motion pictures, even the one with Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor.

wuthering-heights-by-emily-bronte

 

The middle sister, Emily Brontë, wrote Wuthering Heights; she used the pseudonym Ellis Bell for the same reason as her sisters. The tale of intrigue between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is now considered a classic tale of English literature but its reception was mixed as some regarded the depiction of their turbulent relationship as being over the top. This was something I borrowed from the public library and I had my ear chewed off as a ten-year-old for reading it during Sunday school. To be honest, this is my least favourite of the masterpieces by the sisters but to each their own. If you are interested in watching Wuthering Heights, I suggest the film in which Ralph Fiennes plays Heathcliff. It actually includes the second part unlike the one Laurence Olivier is in.

The youngest of the writing sisters, Anne Brontë, wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; she used the pseudonym Acton Bell. The sad and controversy arousing tale of the alcoholic Arthur Huntingdon, his son Arthur and pious Helen Graham/Helen Huntingdon was a phenomenal success and even outsold Wuthering Heights. It’s kind of odd it has seemed to fall into neglect now. But then in the Victorian ages, the attitude of Helen was a victory for women because she overturned some rules concerning sexist gender politics by slamming her bedroom door after being abused. This is my second favourite of the sisters’ novels and the one that moved me most emotionally.  To see it play out before your eyes, I suggest you watch the recent BBC mini-series starring Rupert Graves as Huntingdon.

Sadly all the sisters died very young. Charlotte was 38, Emily was 30 and Anne was 29. But it cannot be denied each of them has made a significant contribution to literature and has enriched it before passing on.

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