The Hundred Foot Journey

10/10/2017 at 6:00 AM (Books, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I am currently in the middle of a book called The Hundred Foot Journey. It is written by Richard C. Morais and is the recipient of accolades from Joanne Harris, the writer of Chocolat (yes, the movie with Johnny Depp).

This story is about an Indian family that moves to France and sets up a rival restaurant across the road from a French restaurant that has been awarded 2 stars. Madame Mallory, the restaurateur is eagerly awaiting her third star but when Maison Mumbai goes into competition with her regarding supplies, she is very displeased because the Indian restaurant becomes quite popular with the French populace who live in the area.

 

The family was originally living in Mumbai India but then moved to the UK, after the protagonists mother passed away in the wake of a political melee. In the UK, there is far too much variety to compete with when it comes to owning a restaurant and after some not so savory dealings with his cousin, the protagonist and the rest of the family move to Lumiere in France. Unfortunately their decision to open an Indian restaurant so close to her is not palatable to Madam Mallory.

Things change later on when the main character is employed by the rival French restaurant because she realises Hassan, the protagonist, has perfect pitch on his palate when it comes to experimenting with food and bold and exotic flavours inspire him.

The book deals with the clash of cultures in different locations ( Mumbai, Lumiere, London, Paris ) involving food and in an interesting way explores people’s reactions to things that are new and foreign.

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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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Dark Places

08/20/2015 at 12:12 PM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , , )

Gillian Flynn is a master of the craft when it comes to producing extremely irritating, mentally damaged characters who are a complete mess. It is no different with the emotionally troubled, parasitic protagonist of her novel Dark Places, Libby Day. The author does a great job with Libby’s first person perspective of her struggles in the present while a third person narrative gives readers insight into the mystery of happened to her family in 1985 highlighting this story is more character-driven than plot-driven.

In the present, friendless and forgetful Libby is finding it hard to fend for herself. The fact she’s a kleptomaniac does her no favours. The primary source of income Libby has been living off, the trust fund created when donations poured in after the murders, is starting to dry up.

Back in the past in 1985, her mother, who is heavily in debt, and two sisters are brutally killed. 7-year-old Libby lives because she flees the house, and ultimately it’s her testimony that convicts her brother Ben of the crime. Allegedly, Ben is a Satanist who lost control after getting in too deep with a bad crowd. The Kill Club, a group of amateur investigators who think that her brother is innocent get in touch with Libby and she reluctantly agrees to a paid appearance because she’s desperate for cash. While she is not keen about their focus on her brother, the potential of earning money entices her into visiting people connected to the murders. Suddenly as knowledge sinks in as an adult, Libby starts having doubts as to if Ben was the killer.

The ending was a bit too tidy for my liking and kind of disappointed me after the stellar one in Gone Girl, but I won’t say much about that as it will spoil the story. This is not a true who-dun-it but explorations of the inner workings of the psychologically warped. For those who are interested, these points illustrate key changes made to the Dark Places movie adaption by Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

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Under the Greenwood Tree (Film)

08/17/2015 at 4:00 AM (Books, Movies) (, , , , , )

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the 2015 released movie Far From the Madding Crowd based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, who attracts the following characters as suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts); Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge); and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). I’ve already blogged about the adaption that features Paloma Baeza before so this post is about the consequences of me watching this re-release as it led to me to seek out another Hardy adaptation, based on the bookUnder the Greenwood Tree.

under-the-greenwood-tree-dvd2

L to R: Mr Shinar, Parson Maybold, Fancy Day & Dick Dewy (Source)

In this story, a beautiful, young and educated new schoolteacher Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) has come to live in the village of Mellstock while taking care of her sick father. Her father’s goal is to see Fancy married well because he married for love which had bad repercussions for Fanny’s mother. Like Bathsheba Everdene, Fancy is pursued by three very different suitors: poor but passionate Dick Dewy (James Murray), the mature but wealthiest man in in town Mr Shinar (Steve Pemberton) and the arrogant but educated man of the world Parson Maybold (Ben Miles). Her father believes Mr Shinar is the best of prospects for her and hides the truth from Fancy when he is rescued by one of the other suitors, whom he believes is below her station. But Fancy discovers the truth and ends up choosing simple love although she is offered wealth and the world. In the middle of romantic quandaries, a new harmonium that is to be played at the local church by Fancy Day is being introduced by Parson Maybold and the former church choir consisting of mostly simple farm parishioners aren’t taking it too well and their pranks cause her some distress and embarrassment.

Surprisingly this Hardy adaptation had a happy ending compared to his other work but I hear the book is different in character portrayal. Here’s a good in-depth review of the book as I’ve yet to read it! I like this assessment and it applies to the Under the Greenwood Tree adaption as well, “The question is not about her choice but about whether it is the right one — a question that cannot be answered by the end…”.

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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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The Collector

02/10/2012 at 12:01 PM (Books, Classics, Horror, Movies) (, , , , )

So I finally have some breathing space to actually sit down and write a review. I have been reading but just haven’t had the time to write since my reading is mostly done during my one-hour train commute to work. Well, I was fascinated by The Collector’s cover and the vintage classic which was the first effort of John Fowles (better known as the author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman) was an unexpected treat.

Here’s the basic overview of the plot: Dull and ordinary clerk Frederick Clegg has an obsession. The object of his obsession is a woman, namely a pretty art student named Miranda Grey. After lucking out on the lottery, he moves out from his aunt’s and purchases an old estate with a cellar in country England. This is where it starts getting bizarre. Deciding he has to have the company of Miranda at all costs because he “loves” her, he kidnaps the poor girl and keeps her captive in the cellar which contrasts with his hobby of collecting different butterflies. Essentially Miranda is a human specimen.

The Collector - John Fowles

The first half of the story is narrated from Frederick’s point of view while the second half is gleaned through Miranda’s diary. It is obvious that these two are far from being a perfect match because their opinions conflict and their individual perspectives are at odds with the beliefs of the other party.

but I have left the best part for last. With the last of Miranda’s diary entries, we come to a plot twist that will shock you about Frederick for whom, nine times out of ten, you would have felt sympathy so far because of his lack of social skills. Reeling with that, we are treated to an unexpected ending which is very ingenuous for book written in 1963. There was a movie made in 1965 but seriously don’t miss out on the prose. I thought Miranda’s rambling went on for a little too long for my liking since I found her own obsession with an older paramour grating but other than that I have no quibbles with it.  It is in the face of what happens, I would say, a horror story in the sense of psychological suspense.

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Welcome 2012 & Saroja Review

01/09/2012 at 11:59 AM (Culture, Drama, Historical, Movies) (, , , , )

So 2011 has said its goodbye. It was a pretty eventful year with two part-time jobs gone and a full-time job gained. So with the arrival of 2012, I’ve got that job in publishing I wanted – it’s a paid one too this time.

I kept my promise of delivering a blog post each week last year (sometimes there were even more than one in a week). Hooray for a non broken New Year resolution from last year! I’m not so sure if I’ll have time to read as much, watch movies as much or go take photos in 2012 as much given the new responsibilities I have but I’ll try.

So I have joined my company’s book club. Unlike me who reads at least one book per week, they read a book per month. So my book reviews will still remain even if my post count might drop and I’ll keep watching movies!

So now we come to the end of the formalities and I’ve even included a review of a little known film from the country I was born in.

Saroja

Saroja - Sinhala movie

Saroja is a film about the conflict that existed between the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka and the terrorist group known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). This created a lot of problems for the peaceful Tamil people not wanting to be involved in the situation but were sometimes forced into terrorism in order to survive.

Note: This civil war started in the early 80s and only ended quite recently after countless broken cease fires and two president assassination attempts – one successful, one not. My school never allowed us to go on an excursion because of the risk and we were learning what to do in case a bomb hit the school – crawl under a desk with a pencil placed in your mouth – from the time we were nine years old. My school included Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers and we all got along. It’s always the grown ups that cause the problems, huh?

Back to the film. Saroja (Nithyavani Kandasami) is a little Tamil girl who hides in the jungle with him after her father is wounded during the war and their house is burned down. When she is searching for food, she meets Varuni (Pramudi Karunarathne), a Sinhalese girl. They both become close friends and the interaction between them is absolutely touching and endearing. Varuni’s family takes in Saroja and her Tamil Tiger father despite the risk involved if they were to be discovered. Of course, the truth comes out when their neighbours pry. The Sinhalese couple harbouring the fugitives points out that Tamil people are also human in their defence with Varuni’s teacher father being the voice of reason and rationality.

While the film has a touching message at its heart, it’s not very original content but at least it wasn’t a Bollywood remake dubbed in Sinhalese like most local teledramas. Nevertheless it was a story that needed to be told and that was done quite effectively by director Somaratne Dissanayake. It comes to a sad conclusion but keeps an element of hope surviving at the finale.

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Jude the Obscure (Film)

12/07/2011 at 12:10 PM (Actors, Books, Christopher Eccleston, Classics, Drama, Historical, Kate Winslet, Movies, Religion, Romance) (, , , , , , , )

Jude is a poignant film directed by Michael Winterbottom based on the controversial novel Jude the Obscure penned by Thomas Hardy (by now you followers might have noticed I’m a big fan) starring Christopher Eccleston as Jude and Kate Winslet as his cousin (gross but legal) and love interest, Sue Brideshead.

Jude Fawley is a working class man who dreams of pursuing a university education after a heart-to-heart with a free spirited teacher but his social class and his poverty prevents him from realising his ambition. Before he attends university, he hastily marries Arabella which quickly leads into an unhappy marriage as the wedded couple realise they don’t have matching temperaments. When his wife suddenly leaves him, Jude decides to chase after his rainbow.

He becomes bitter after his university applications are rejected because of his lower class status. This is when he meets his cousin Sue, a lively and intelligent young woman who takes delight in defying convention. Jude falls for her but not before making the mistake of introducing his old teacher Mr. Phillotson to Sue; she makes the mistake of accepting his former teacher’s proposal after Jude confesses he’s married despite having no romantic chemistry with her intended husband. This eventually leads to another failed marriage.

Finally giving into her romantic urges, Jude and Sue begin to live together as they travel from place to place when he finds any work as a stonemason. In the midst of their travels, they suddenly hear from Arabella who reveals Jude has a son called Juey who seems to be a very despondent sort of child. Juey comes to stay with Jude and Sue who try and entertain him. Meanwhile Sue gives birth to two children of her own. Things come to a head when the couple is denied lodging again after Sue insists on saying she’s unmarried. She explains to Juey that they have to move because there are too many of them. This turns out to have been a fatal error on her part though Juey’s tragic reaction to her reasoning is way too dramatic – perhaps he had depression.

After this incident, Sue and Jude become severely depressed and start drifting apart. Meanwhile Sue who had turned her back on God turns her interest back into religion assuming what happened was a punishment from above. She decides to return to Phillotson because it is they who have the true marriage in divine eyes. One year later, she meets Jude as they mourn the circumstances of the past and he tries to win her back. We realise although Sue now lives with her legal husband, her true feelings have always been reserved for Jude.

The novel this film is based on was so controversial that writer Thomas Hardy stopped writing books after its publication and turned to poetry instead. Perhaps his wife may have been an influence – she thought the  tension between Sue and Jude parallelled her own relationship with Hardy. Luckily, the film version of Jude was made when it was not as bad to defy convention for love.

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Around European Cinema in Three Films

11/29/2011 at 10:34 AM (Movies) (, , , , )

While you already know about how I’m a fan of Asian cinema (despite now suffering from dumbed-down US remakes – I’m aghast about Park Chan-wook‘s Oldboy having an English remake produced; why can’t people learn to read subtitles?),  I think Europe does create some special and interesting films. I’ll just discuss three at present.

Das Experiment (2001)

I find it hard to watch violent films but if it has a good reputation, I’ll suffer the viewing experience. This was loosely based on the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. For a fortnight, 20 volunteer male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The “prisoners” are locked up and have to follow and obey  basic rules while the “guards” are told to keep order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit when they want and forfeit payment. In the beginning, both groups are insecure but as arguments come up, those with more power in their hands show off their authority by becoming high-handed with it. Meanwhile down-on-his-luck journalist Tarek who volunteered as a participant to write his experiences as an inmate realises as events go down that the experiment is going down a terrifying path it was never intended to take.

This is a great German doco-film about power and its effect on the holder. While the outcome is predictable, what is interesting is the characterisation. It is a conventional tale in the sense of the cat-and-mouse game but is interesting enough to keep you watching to the end.

Patrik, age 1.5 (2008)

The plot is based on this: Göran and Sven (Gustaf Skarsgård and Torkel Petersson) are a happily married gay couple who have moved into an idyllic new suburb with white picket fence front yards and are anxious to adopt a baby. However, no foreign country is willing to give a child to a gay couple and suitable Swedish babies are difficult to find. They are overjoyed upon hearing that an orphaned 18-month old baby is available for adoption but are shocked when their baby Patrik turns out to be a 15-year old homophobic delinquent (Thomas Ljungman) merely due to a misprint in the adoption documents. Given this is the initial premise, it’s not too hard to figure out the ending will turn out for the best ultimately after the new family battle each other’s differing opinions and the prejudices of their neighbours.

What really makes the film is the acting. The three family members are very strong in their portrayal of their relationship with each other given the backgrounds they have come from. Göran is very nurturing and loving while Sven struggles as he  has an ex-wife and daughter and is much more masculine than his partner and has his own prejudices in regards to Patrik who tends to comes across as less tough than we expect. It is also admirable that the family seems like an average family going through the trials brought on by life and avoids all cliche references to gay stereotypes.

Cinema Paradiso (1989)

This Italian film which is set in a small Italian village could almost be interpreted as a love letter to the cinema. It mainly dwells on the relationship between the cinema projectionist Alfredo and young Toto. We follow Toto on his incredible life’s journey as he works on his dreams coming true after being encouraged to follow his dreams by Alfredo. Interspersed with this is the portrayal of the development of cinema in a way that’s almost paying homage to the form. I’m not very big on art house but this if you can tolerate the sentimentality is a majestic watching experience especially due to the music by Ennio Morricone.

This is a very simple and straightforward movie, with no big name stars, on the pursuit of a dream vocation by a boy who works on making his aspiration to be a film director a reality, which chronicles his tragedies and triumphs along the way. There are no grand gestures or flourishes here with special effects but Cinema Paradiso still captivated me just with its raw emotions and feelings with its depiction of fulfillment and loss. This film has several stunning scenes with an ending that is a joy to watch and is almost a masterpiece because of its simplicity and message of love.

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Marvellous Miyazaki : Part I

08/03/2011 at 3:37 PM (Art, Fairy Tales, Inspired, Movies) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been meaning to this for a while now but it was delayed because I was working on the Burwood Bulletin since it’s due to be published in September with three of my six writers off duty. In addition, I got some extra work shifts from my second job. So I actually had to undertake the job duties of a journalist in addition to editing. When I return home, nothing seems better than a good sleep.

It was tough to hit the ground running with this one but I really wanted to share so I’ve got my butt into gear. These films meant so much to me even if they were animated and either dubbed in English or subtitled. What I am talking about are cinematic creations by Hayao Miyazaki.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Image

The first Miyazaki film I watched was Howl’s Moving Castle. Based very loosely on a book by Dianna Wynne Jones, the story is about the adventure of a young girl, Sophie Hatter, who is cursed with an old woman’s body. To break the spell cast on her by the nasty Witch of Waste, she seeks the help of a handsome but terrifying wizard by the name of Howl. His residence is a home that moves. A fire demon in the home, Calcifer, makes a deal with her that he will release her from the spell if Sophie releases him from the contract he has with Howl. The catch is he is not allowed to tell her how she can bring this about. When the disreputable wizard starts to fall for Sophie’s genuine charms, the fun begins. The characters and creatures are crafted excellently although Miyazaki has shown more strength in his character development in other productions. The animation is stunning and we are treated to a moral tale by changes of physical appearance and of character, reducing its preachiness while managing to work well as a lesson. It’s not as bad as Roger Ebert imagines.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away Movie Image

The Oscar-winning Spirited Away is another mind-blowing movie by the “Japanese Disney”. Ten-year-old Chihiro, who is moving away with her parents to a new neighborhood, is upset about leaving her old friends and school behind. Her father’s attempt to take a shortcut to their new town leads the family to an abandoned theme park where they find an unattended food stall fully laid out. Her parents dig in but Chihiro is uneasy and frightened. She encounters a spirit called Haku who warns her that she and her family have to leave before nightfall. But when she runs back to alert her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. It turns out she is stuck in a spirit world. So with the assistance of Haku, she gains a job at the bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. She’s renamed by the witch as Sen and learns if she does not hide her true identity, she’ll lose her sense of self forever.  While she is whiny at the start of the movie, the responsibility she is saddled with develops her as a character. She begins learning how to deal with difficulties and becomes a stronger person because of her trials. After her parents turn into pigs, she’s scared and lost, but by the end of her journey in this fantasy spirit world, she is confident and strong. The film is rich in cultural symbolism and was vastly popular with the Japanese audience. It didn’t do too badly in the western world either as Disney took it on board but it did lose some significance in the transition…unfortunately.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke poster

I’ve also watched Princess Mononoke, which could be considered an animated fantasy Japanese period drama. A young warrior by the name of Ashitaka is stricken by a deadly curse when he’s protecting his village from a rampaging boar-demon. To seek a cure, he goes to the forests in the west where he finds himself mixed up in a war humans are waging against the forest. The Lady Eboshi and her clan who live in a sacred area use their guns against the forests gods and a young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god.  The young warrior sees both sides are good people and the war is unnecessary and does his best to intervene. The groups each begin to think he is working for the enemy while he tries to convince them there are no sides. While this maybe an animated film, it is the adults who will gain more to learn from it. Besides the fact this is mostly hand-drawn makes it a major achievement.

The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns

A young girl called Haru saves a cat from traffic. She starts receiving gifts and favours from the King of Cats that she does not want for saving him. He wants her to marry his son, the Cat Prince Lune. Her rescue of the cat forces her to involuntarily become engaged to the cat prince in a magical kingdom.  She finds the assistance of a real but grouchy cat and an elegant cat statuette that has come to life. These two cats also made a cameo in Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart. They help her to find the way to escape from the cat kingdom. This is a more relaxing and fantasy oriented film with that can be enjoyed in its own right as a splendid example of animation.

Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart Image

Whisper of the Heart is an animation so sweet that it tugs at the heartstrings. The plot is about a budding teenage romance but this constantly explored theme is given a new veneer as it avoids typical stereotyping. This screenplay was written by Miyazaki but it’s direction was undertaken by another talented man, Yoshifumi Kondo, who died of an aneurysm in the following year. We meet the girl, Shizuku, who regularly checks out books from the library. To her annoyance, someone else is checking out the same books. Later she coincidentally meets the culprit to blame, a boy. He finds a song she’s writing for graduation and tell her the lyrics are corny. Pissed off, she leaves to bump into him again after following a curious cat. Seiji turns out to be the grandson of a violin maker and he himself wants to develop his skill in that art in Italy. When she hears him play, she is entranced and inspired to pursue big dreams of her own by writing a book in the midst of their budding affection for each other. She feels as she is uncertain of the future she wants and he has big plans, they might not suit each other. You’ll see a different ending if you watch the American version but I watched a fan dub and was not displeased with the future marriage possibility discussion by the two adolescents. There is a manga that uses this title but it is not possible to say the print and film versions are the same story.


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