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Errinundra's Beautiful Fighting Girl #133: Taiman Blues: Ladies' Chapter - Mayumi


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Errinundra
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Joined: 14 Jun 2008
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Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 6:54 am Reply with quote
Before I get into discussing this midweek's anime allow me to share a link with you. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is currently screening six anime films under the banner Essential Anime (the full list can be read at the start of the Buddha: The Great Departure review). As part of its promotion for the season, ACMI have posted an article on its website entitled 5 Reasons You Should Watch Anime (link). That's all well and good, but here's the terrific thing: ACMI is a public institution funded by the Victorian Government. Just think how beautiful this is: taxpayer dollars are being used to promote anime. How sweet is that!



This isn't a housekeeping review. I saw this last night. The images are from the ACMI and Madman Entertainment websites.

Boruto: Naruto the Movie

Reason for watching: Again, because I could. I've never, ever seen a Naruto episode or movie. Not once. The limit of my exposure is the occasional trailer on DVDs I've bought. I came to this film in blissful ignorance, knowing none of the characters and only able to recognise Naruto himself. Actually, if you had shown me an image of Boruto and told me it was Naruto I would have believed you. Come to think of it I probably still would. Anyway, it's the first instalment of ACMI's Essential Anime season. I'm not sure how essential Boruto is but I suppose the franchise is an integral and essential part of anime history.

Synopsis: Boruto Uzumaki is the rebellious son of legendary ninjas Naruto Uzumaki and Hinata Hyuga. Frustrated at his father's continued absence - being the 7th Hokage takes all his time, you see - he apprentices himself to Sasuke Uchiha, cheats in his ninja examinations and, with his team mates Sarada Uchiha and Mitsuki of mysterious parentage, accidentally magnifies the power of the big bad, Momoshiki Ootsutsuki. This requires the intervention of Naruto and his peers.


Father and son - it's an old, old problem.

Comments: Boruto is fun. Loud, boisterous and action-filled fun. It's also surprisingly wholesome, with its themes of family, clan, honesty and, dare I say it, team work and perseverance. (The film actually cracks a joke about the last two virtues.) There were families in the audience, despite the subtitles. Sure, it's violent, but kids can deal with violence, especially in a fantasy world that makes little attempt towards realism.

One of the surprising things for me, as a newbie to the franchise, was how easily identifiable the main characters of the film were. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, the characters have distinctive designs and readily graspable traits. Indeed, Boruto Uzumaki is almost an Edward Elric Mk II, but that's OK. The film quickly establishes those characters important to its purposes, makes clear the relationships between them and gets on with the plot and the action. The only character developments are to be seen in Boruto gaining a better understanding of his father and his father, likewise, coming to appreciate his family more. Simple stuff, but sufficient for the film's needs. There were some things about them I didn't like: Hinata's and Mitsuki's creepy eyes; Sasuke's overstated sullenness and Momoshiki's untempered viciousness and his drearily predictable anime villain's evil laugh. People do bad things for reasons, you know, not just because they're bad. The original Fullmetal Alchemist series is a great example of how to explore the motivations leading to reprehensible behaviour.


Naruto Mk II? Or Edward Elric Mk II?

Being a newbie had its drawbacks, however. There were times where it was clear that unannounced characters, who were strange to me, were actually cameo appearances of franchise favourites. In the final showdown Naruto and Sasuke are joined by a squad of comrades to help tip the balance against their adversaries. If I knew who they were I probably would have felt the appropriate elation of familiar heroes appearing at the death to turn the tide of battle. Worse was right at the end when the identity of Mitsuki's father, or perhaps mother, is revealed. I felt like I was the only person in the audience who wasn't laughing, who didn't get the joke.

Boruto's closest friends, Sarada and Mitsuki, are clear slates with the potential for copious development. I imagine that if Boruto gets to carry the torch for the franchise then these two will be doing some heavy character and plot lifting in the future. Their family backgrounds provide plenty of scope for conflict. Sarada is earnest but manages to make amends with displays of spunk while Mitsuki doesn't get to display much personality of any sort. They can only improve. As it is now they are most definitely secondary to Boruto.


Sarada, daughter of Sasuke, and Mitsuki, son of someone apparently surprising.

Visually, Boruto is a mixed bag. The character designs, while distinctive, were TV quality simple and occasionally ugly. Better were the backgrounds. The mixture of ultra-modern technology with primitive artefacts and traditions was always fun. I liked the round buildings. A friend once pointed out to me that, biologically, rectangles are completely unnatural. The only time they appear is in human construction. The appearance of the circular dwellings in Boruto gives the world an organic, living feel, something similar to be had with the titular Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which, concidentally is also showing as part of Essential Anime.

Best yet were the action sequences. They were fast, violent and loud. As with Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie, which was screened in a commercial cinema, the sound of the collisions, the explosions and the clash of metal was at a much higher volume than the rest of the soundtrack. The fight choreography was viscerally entertaining, with animation that was good without drawing attention to itself. In short, everything was subordinated to the action sequences. Happily, and I'll get back to what I said earlier, the fights were high-spirited, unselfconscious fun with the emphasis on pleasing the crowd. Mind you, I left the cinema with a headache.

Rating: decent. Boruto tells a simple story with a bunch of apealing protagonists and a couple of irritating adversaries. It doesn't dwell too long on its story telling but gets straight down into its entertaining fight sequences. It's noisy, fun and disposable. Well, maybe not entirely disposable, as it appears to be setting the stage for a rejigging of the franchise around the three new, young protagonists.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 21, 2019 2:17 am; edited 2 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 9:31 pm Reply with quote
I'm starting this post just back from watching My Neighbour Totoro this evening, which was part of the Essential Anime season at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). I'll get to that in due course but for the moment I'll be writing about yesterday's offering. First, though, some info about ACMI. Its mission is to preserve, explore and exhibit the moving image in all its forms, including film, television and digital content. It has state of the art facilities AND has become a rarity in that in can screen 35mm films. Last year they replaced the screens of their two cinemas. Here's a post they wrote about it.

ACMI wrote:
A Fond Farewell to Our Screens
Posted on: 16/09/2014

"The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle." - Stanley Kubrick

Whether you agree or not with Mr. Kubrick about the moving image attaining heights that other artistic mediums cannot hope to reach, it's true that screen culture is held close to many of our hearts. The screen acts as a mirror held up to our selves, both personally and collectively. It offers an escape into the imagination of others and impossible realities become tangible existences. It's hard not to have a deep and robust relationship with the thin white veil.

Our love for the conduit of ideas and art has ensured that we've been busy making some serious changes. Sitting down and settling into our cinemas with a glass of wine, you may not notice them at first with the naked eye, but upgrades are indeed present.

After 10 years of service, we've retired the beautiful old cloth sheets in our cinemas and are very excited to announce that we've installed two new screens!

You're probably aware that cinema screens, like anything else, require ongoing maintenance to keep them free of dirt build up and provide pristine viewing experiences. After many years of continuous projection work, the fibrous weave of the screens slowly begins to wear. Who would of thought, eh?

The replaced screens – manufactured by Harkness overseas - are in our opinion the best screens in the world. You might say "isn't a screen a screen?" Well to quote Inspector Jacques Clouseau "Wax is not just wax!" and each choice of screen can deliver a markedly different result and experience for the audience.

Screens have varying levels of brightness in that they can reflect different levels of light from matte screens – such as what we have – to highly reflective silver screens. But interestingly, certain screens provide certain results for certain kinds of screening formats. High gain screens used in 3D are not always the best for 35mm and for a venue that exhibits so many different formats and seeks to present them all at their best, we must be very astute with our weapon of choice.

What was quite fascinating to see was the size of the screen in cinema. To quote Sir Ridley Scott's film Alien – "That thing is HUGE!" – and it's got an enormous curve in it that can't be seen from the audience.

Similarly the way in which film is presented is a key part of the chain and figured in the recent work done. It is an important time in the film exhibition environment. 35mm film particularly is becoming a rare commodity, from being the only commercial format just three years ago to being increasingly difficult to access now. As a result of the changing status of the 35mm world from commercial format to artefact, film prints are now by and large required to be screened "archivally". That is, if a feature film is made up of say 5x20 minute reels, each reel is played in sequence from two projectors rather than be "made up" into a single reel that sits on a large platter and feeds through a single projector.

This archival screening style is very labour intensive, requires expert timing and compatible machines – which is what we replaced – to ensure precision delivery to the highest international standard with sometimes quite fragile artefacts. In this ACMI is one of the few venues remaining in the country that can screen in this way – and indeed that can screen 35mm film at all.

The process for replacing the screens is quite complex and intricate. Since this is something you don't see every day, we thought it'd be cool to capture the process in a time-lapse video for you. Watch the screen replacement from start to finish in this video:

We're pretty stoked with the new cinema upgrades and we hope you all enjoy the refurbished home of our Film Programs for years to come.

- Miles Openshaw (Web Marketing Coordinator) and Richard Sowada (Head of Film Programs)


The comments about 35mm films are particularly apt as the subject of today's review was a screening, using twin projectors of an original 35mm print, of:

Princess Mononoke

Reason for watching: I've long had a copy of Princess Mononoke on DVD and, while it wasn't among my Miyazaki favourites, I've always believed that, more than any of his other films, it needed to be seen at the cinema to be fully appreciated. For a start, none of Miyazaki's other works can match its grandeur, but, also, the detail of its largely forest setting loses its impact on a small sreen. Without that grandeur and that impact the film's flaws are more apparent. It had become my #1 want-to-see-at-the-cinema anime. So, when the pre-screening advertising prior to Miss Hokusai let it be known that ACMI would be showing it my heart skipped a beat, so to speak.

Synopsis: Bearing a curse from a monstrous, demonic boar, Prince Ashitaka leaves his village to travel far to the west, seeking the Forest God who may be able to change his doom. On the way he is joined by the grasping monk, Jigo, who wishes to find the Forest God for his own purposes. Eventually they arrive at remote Iron Town, which is trying to subdue the wild forest surrounding it while fending off various warlords who want the iron for themselves. The most ferocious enmity, however, is between the Lady Eboshi, the ambitious leader of the town, and San - Princess Mononoke - a wolf-girl, who may be the key to Ashitaka locating the god. When war erupts between the people of Iron Town, the armies of the warlords, troops of the mikado and the giant creatures of the forests it may be that Ashitaka is the key to its resolution.


Ashitaka and Lakul. A screenshot can only suggest the intricacies of the sequence.

Comments: I'll start off by talking about the film's visuals. Princess Mononoke has one of the grandest openings among Miyazaki's films. The misty, forested mountains and the promise of gods transforming into monsters leads into Joe Hisaishi's most grandiose theme ever playing over the mysterious film logo. From the start the film is declaring its epic ambitions. Immediately following is some of the most gorgeous animation ever from Hayao Miyazaki: Ashitaka riding his elk, Yakul, through the forest and across the fields and his battle with the demon boar. When, in a short sequence where Ashitaka and Yakul travel through dappled undergrowth, it's as if Miyazaki is challenging himself to dazzle the viewer with his technical prowess. It's precisely this sort of thing that had me so looking forward to the film.

Watching the old 35mm print was quite the experience. The film has a darker, subdued look compared with the DVD (which may have been brightened, for all I know). Film stock becomes grainy over time, however it wasn't as obvious as it was with the older, and brighter, My Neighbour Totoro. Periodically the film was beset with scratches and grit and, also periodically, it was obvious the projectionist was adjusting the focus. I imagine both problems occured whenever there was a reel change. Graininess aside, the advantage of 35mm film is the absence of pixellation. I've seen quite a few anime films in recent years and, too often with digital projectors, I could see the pixellation. It isn't ever a deal breaker, but occasionally it can be distracting.


The Nightwalker. The moon hints at one of the film's major thematic drivers.

Parts of the movie were a revelation on the big screen. The body of the Nightwalker is so much more liquid and luminous while, its deadly, headless alter ego is likewise more fluid seeming, which is a good thing as far as the latter is concerned, as it always seemed ridiculous to me on a small screen. The forest scenes all benefit enormously as there is far more detail than is apparent at home. In particular, I always felt that the watery realm of the Deer God (as it was subtitled in the movie) was comparatively plain - Miyazaki's paradisial scenes are usually ecological monocultures; I always imagine they should be teeming and profligate - but the detail, the sense of space and the magic are much more apparent. In a similar vein the volume of the theatre's sound system enhanced the battle scenes, adding to the urgency of the film and mitigating one of my concerns - it's length.

Like other Miyazaki's works Princess Mononoke is thematically loaded. It expresses his frequent theme of women's liberation, while the inclusion of the Emishi culture may be mere adornment, may be used to place the story at a particular point in time, may have a thematic purpose or, most likely, all three. Another is the motif of travelling to the west. In European/American culture the journey implies new worlds and new possibilities; for the Japanese it implies a journey to the past, to one's origins. More pervasive throughout the film is the play of opposites, of yin and yang, light and shade, civilisation and wilderness; human and beast, god and demon, altruism and greed; life and death. I won't say male and female as Miyazaki deliberately subverts that dichotomy as I'll explain shortly. Understanding the film in terms of yin and yang will explain the lack of a clear resolution at the end of the film. To see the world through "unclouded" yin and yang eyes is to see that all qualities can only exist in relation to their opposites; to define one is to define the other; shade is the absence of light; wilderness the absence of civilisation; a beast is that which isn't human; demons are another aspect of a god; death can only come to those that live; while greed and altruism are opposites on the same continuum. The yin and the yang aren't at war with each other; one cannot defeat the other; each only exists in reference to the other. Hence at the end of the film, the four protagonists lick their wounds and carry on. What they have gained is a greater understanding. Both Eboshi and San recognise their worlds are irreconcilable; Jigo learns that his ambition is unachievable, but that's all; while Ashitaka must make a choice between what he desires and where he belongs.


Lady Eboshi: unleashing the progressive and destructive forces of civilisation.

Yin and yang are most thoroughly explored through the four main characters: Eboshi opposing San; Jigo opposing Ashitaka. Note how each opposition involves the same gender. Miyazaki is playing a subversive game here, rejecting the old male/female dichotomy. I like it. That aside, Miyazaki is never arguing for one quality over another: civilisation isn't superior to wilderness; altruism isn't superior to selfishness (to use a morally loaded English term). They all have qualities, whether desirable or undesirable.

Lady Eboshi represents reason and civilisation, the notion that steady human development is desirable and possible, that the collective can improve the lot of the individual, that human welfare is best achieved though social organisation. The price of that progress is violence in the form of war and in the destruction of the environment. San represents emotion and nature, the notion that following one's instincts is the best guide for life and that the beauty of the wild transcends all else. The price of that conservation is violence in the form of "nature, red in tooth and claw" and the suppression of understandable human ambitions. What's at stake here is the future of our planet: the wild places we love so much; and the benefits of modern life that we love at least as much.


San: "nature red in tooth and claw". She may be dull but she does do some memorable poses.

Ashitaka represents altruism, the notion that the individual only exists to be in the service of others, that the self is subordinate to the other. The cost is denial of self and impoverishment. His courageous killing of the demon boar leads to his curse and subsequent banishment from his village. His sense of justice will make him an outcast in Iron Town, while he could never truly fit in with the wild world of the wolf tribe. Jigo represents selfishness. You could say he is a mediaeval equivalent of the notion that "greed is good"; that seeking wealth, eternal life and power not only benefits the self but that it also benefits others you drag along with you by introducing progress. The price is the damage that can be done to anything and everything that gets in way of the individual's greed. It's worth noting that the two axes I've defined cut across each other. Eboshi and San are each both altruistic and selfish, while Ashitaka and Jigo each contain both wild and civilised aspects to their characters. In Ashitaka's case his wild side is a result of his curse, and it's that new insight that helps him empathise with San and the beasts of the forest. The one character that embodies both yin and yang is, of course, the forest god, who administers both life and death. When its two natures are literally divided, all hell breaks loose.


Jigo: opportunistic and grasping. His fatalistic side tempers those qualities.

This loading of thematic elements onto the characters inevitably creates the film's greatest flaw. With the exception of Lady Eboshi, Princess Mononoke has Miyazaki's weakest cast of characters. In particular, Ashitaka and San are easily his dullest central couple. There isn't an ounce of wit between them. Their personalities are defined too narrowly by the thematic roles they must play. Ashitaka's major trait is altruism while his ambiguity is civilisation v nature but, because his wildness (the boar's curse) is external to him, he remains simplistic. When he declares to Eboshi that he has come to the West to see with eyes unclouded her ensuing laughter seems less because of the words' incongruity in her domain and more because it reveals how one-dimensional he is. San's nature is nature (so to speak) while her ambiguity is altruism v selfishness (Richard Dawkins immediately springs to mind at this point), but because the latter isn't all that explicitly portrayed, she remains symbolic rather than a real living, breathing person. What's more, the thematic requirements of the story will necessarily prevent Ashitaka and San from becoming an item, which will disappoint those with a romantic bent. Jigo is less of a casualty to the structure because he is so entertaining with his wry observations and sprightly behaviour.


Ashitaka and Lakul again: they share the film's most tender moments.

The star and saviour, though, is Lady Eboshi, who is among Miyazaki's greatest character creations. She exquisitely embodies one side of the conflict in all its ambiguity. She has founded a town in the wilderness to mine iron, bringing prosperity and happiness to its once downtrodden residents. She sees the forest as a barrier to the continued happiness of her people. Even though she’s not afraid to kill a god, Lady Eboshi looks after prostitutes and lepers. She has the wit and tenacity to create the town then defend it against warlords and wolf-girls. And, all the while, she has a flamboyance unmatched by any other character in the film. She spoils the film in one sense: once she appears many of the subsequent scenes without her lack the spark she delivers.

The other problem with Princess Mononoke is its length: 2¼ hours. In row five in a cinema it is an overwhelming experience; in my loungeroom it drags. Suffering from a preceding lack of sleep (I was early and actually nodded off before the film began) I feared I might be fighting off the yawns in the second half, where I often find my attention flagging at home. Not so. The grander scale had me utterly enthralled. This is one film that ought to be seen in a cinema to be fully appreciated.

Joe Hisaishi provides one of his better musical scores, even if it seems derivative. One of his musical motifs is the first theme of the opening movement of Shostakovich's fifth symphony, (you can hear a variation of the eight note (2x4) motif in the early village battle scene just as Ashitaka's arrow decapitates the bandit), while other Shostakovich influences can also be heard. That's fine: Shostakovich would borrow freely from Tchaikovsky and Beethoven in his many movie soundtracks. More importantly, the musical accompaniment always enhances the gravitas of the film. Hisaishi will display his versatility in the film I saw last night, My Neighbour Totoro, where is he is much more playful.

This screening used old subtitles, somewhat different from the version used on the the DVD, with the font being a weird, brittle, distorted thing, and with some variation in the translations. Having the DVD I'm familiar with both the American and Japanese dubs. I don't have a clear favourite between the two. Billy Crudup is passable as Ashitaka but Clare Danes is dreadful as San, only managing to emphasise how dull a character she is. Minnie Driver does a good job as Lady Eboshi, combining wit and elegance but also a coarseness when necessary. Billy Bob Thornton gives an interesting interpretation of Jigo with a world-weary, ironic slant missing in Kaoru Kobayashi's more straightforward version. While it is at odds with Jigo's thematic role, it is far more entertaining. But, then again, that exemplifies the problem at the heart of the movie. I still cannot get used to an eldely male playing Moro, San's adoptive wolf mother. That the actor, Akihiro Miwa, is notable as a drag queen, suggests that I'm not supposed to be comfortable with it. That may be, but it still doesn't work.

Rating: Borderline excellent/very good. Princess Mononoke combines Hayao Miyazaki's visual mastery, a grandiose musical score and dense philosophical musings to create an epic fantasy/adventure tale. The grandeur is undermined (one marvellous character, Lady Eboshi, notwithstanding) by dull characters who are subordinated to their thematic roles and by an extended running time, necessary to accommodate the film's many elements.

Now that I've seen Princess Mononoke in a theatre my #1 wish now is to see Satoshi Kon's Dreaming Machine completed and my #2 dream is to own an official, subtitled edition of Hyouge Mono, the most ambitious, most eccentric, most layered TV anime I've ever seen. Yeah. I'm dreaming.

****

After a sleep and completing the post today I picked up my Right Stuf order of Night on the Galactic Railroad and Satoshi Kon manga earlier this morning so shortly I'll be upgrading the images in the former's review in this thread. Life is sweet.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 21, 2019 3:10 am; edited 8 times in total
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 11:23 pm Reply with quote
Quote:
Joe Hisaishi provides one of his better musical scores, even if it seems derivative.

"The Legend of Prince Ashitaka" is one of my favorites! Very Happy
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 11:59 pm Reply with quote
nobahn wrote:
"The Legend of Prince Ashitaka" is one of my favorites! Very Happy


Likewise. I wrote,
Quote:
...leads into Joe Hisaishi's most grandiose theme ever playing over the mysterious film logo. From the start the film is declaring its epic ambitions.


I played it immediately before starting the review to get myself in the mood.
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TurnerJ



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PostPosted: Sat Dec 19, 2015 2:18 pm Reply with quote
I've always loved Princess Mononoke's dub; honestly, I can't watch this movie in Japanese. As far as I'm concerned, it's a damn good one.
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yuna49



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PostPosted: Sat Dec 19, 2015 2:50 pm Reply with quote
errinundra wrote:
When, in a short sequence where Ashitaka and Yakul travel through dappled undergrowth, it's as if Miyazaki is challenging himself to dazzle the viewer with his technical prowess.

I had never watched Japanese animation until my daughter brought home a copy of this film she had borrowed from a friend. That scene was so breathtakingly beautiful that it launched me into watching anime for over a decade now. I agree that San and Ashitaka are pretty uninteresting as leads, but Eboshi is a remarkably written character embodying the contradictions of human "progress." I'm glad Miyazaki did not feel the need to resolve the conflict between civilization and the natural world but left it up to us to determine how we feel. Nor is Eboshi some heartless villain as her concern for the lepers and former prostitutes she cares for is powerfully obvious.

Billy Bob Thornton was one of the worst casting decisions I've seen in a Miyazaki dub. His strong regional accent makes him an implausible voice for a Japanese monk. I also had a hard time ignoring the fact that Moro sounded like Agent Scully, though Gillian Anderson did try to damp down the obvious comparisons. I find it annoying that Hollywood feels compelled to use "stars" in their dubs of these films though I understand the financial incentives. I actually could appreciate Crudup's voicing of Ashitaka because I had not seen him in any roles before.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 19, 2015 5:00 pm Reply with quote
@ TurnerJ,

I most often watch Princess Mononoke with the American dub, partly because it allows me to immerse myself in the visuals without the distraction of subtitles, and also because I probably watched it that way the first couple of times - I find I get imprinted with one version and then prefer it that way.

@ yuna49,

It's funny that I find his accent tolerable. I've said before that, as an Australian, I find it weird hearing American accents in anime with a strong Japanese cultural milieu. I always imagine him as deliberately presenting himself as a provincial buffoon, with his own rustic accent. Also, like yourself, Princess Mononoke was something I first watched early in my anime experience, so I hadn't yet developed a preference for subtitling.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sun Dec 20, 2015 4:45 pm Reply with quote
Great thread. I found all the reviews very interesting.

First time I watched Princess Mononoke I didn't find it really great because I was distracted by the environmentalist ideology of the movie, second time I managed to abstract away from these issues and I watched it on the terms it's supposed to be watched. I am a big fan of big epic films and as a big epic film it's the best there is, I I was completely blown away by it. This shows actually how much the enjoyment of a film depends on the state of mind of the viewer.
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 20, 2015 5:23 pm Reply with quote
I found myself being extremely ticked off by the dub-titles (Damn you, Disney! Mad Evil or Very Mad ).
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yuna49



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PostPosted: Sun Dec 20, 2015 5:37 pm Reply with quote
errinundra wrote:
It's funny that I find [Thornton's] accent tolerable. I've said before that, as an Australian, I find it weird hearing American accents in anime with a strong Japanese cultural milieu.

Perhaps you hadn't seen him in other roles before that one. I'd seen Sling Blade, Armageddon and Primary Colors before watching Mononoke so his distinctive voice was very familiar to me. BTW, I'd recommend both Sling Blade and Primary Colors if you have not seen them.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2015 5:32 am Reply with quote
@ Jose Cruz,

Thanks for the encouragement. As you may have seen from the very first post, you were partly an inspiration for the thread. I hope you can add to yours.

I think the movie remains open-ended in the environment/civiliasation debate. Both are valuable.

@ nobahn,

Were they always dubtitles? Or have only the recent editions been dubtitles?

@ yuna49,

I've seen him in Bad Santa and he had a minor role in Dead Man, one of my favourite movies.
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2015 11:21 am Reply with quote
I dunno; all I know is that I was really excited to get it -- until I realized that that the English dub perfectly matched the "Japanese" sub!
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 25, 2015 12:37 pm Reply with quote
It had to happen. I sing the praises of ACMI, and straight after things go pear-shaped. As it turned out I never got to see Laputa: Castle in the Sky last Saturday. The temperature reached 41ºC in Melbourne (~105ºF for those still using archaic systems of measurement). When I arrived at ACMI just before 6pm it was still 39ºC. Problem was, water supply had been cut to the building, which had to be closed under health regulations. Is that what I get for being a citizen of a country still using archaic systems of water distribution? Anyway, I traipsed back across the road to Flinders Street Station. All was not lost, though: I got my money back; a cool change arrived as I stood on the platform waiting for the next train; and I did manage, however, to see one more Miyazaki film the previous night.

My Neighbour Totoro

Reason for watching: As with Princess Mononoke I finally had the chance to watch it in 35mm format at the cinema. Until I saw Princess Mononoke on Thursday night I would have told you I preferred My Neighbout Totoro, which loses less of its appeal at home.

Synopsis: With their mother in hospital, Satsuki & her younger sister Mei move with their father to an abandoned country house to be nearby. The children explore their new house and the nearby countryside, dominated by a huge camphor laurel tree, and befriend Totoro, a huge, furry creature with fantastical abilities, a ferocious roar but a gentle disposition, and a playful sense of humour. When crisis strkes, Totoro and his cat bus will come to the girls' aid.


Inside the camphor laurel: gentle giant and little monster.
I'm not sure which is the scarier.


Comments: My Neighbour Totoro is perhaps Hayao Miyazaki's simplest film structurally. That doesn't mean it isn't interesting. Far from it. It's whimsical, optimistic and carries its creator's favourite themes without diminishing the characters. Best of all, it introduces arguably Miyazaki's most iconic character - Totoro is Studio Ghibli's mascot - in a film that eschews normal narrative forms.

You could say that this is the great children's film, without a plot. Things just happen: the children explore their new, old house; they explore the garden; they meet the neighbours, including Totoro; the visit their mother; they go to school; Totoro gives them a magical gift; Mei becomes lost after a fight with Satsuki; Totoro and the cat bus help out. It sounds episodic, and it probably is, but the episodes never once feel arbitrary or disconnected. What glues it all together is the film's optimistic, explorative tone; its use of discovery - typically with either a magical or comical bent - rather than drama for entertainment; and the pleasure of seeing this world of magical events and creatures through the eyes of two amusing, young girls.

Until their fight - brought about by the girls' anxiety over their mother's health - Satsuki and Mei are characterised by their relentless enthusiasm and boundless energy. Of the two the older Satsuki is more considered in her actions while Mei is almost mulish by comparison. Mei's stalking of the small Totoro creatures is hilarious in its portrayal of childish scheming and pursuit, and loaded with visual gags, comical expressions and surprises. No wonder she so alarms the small creatures. Clearly doting on her older sister, she habitually repeats Satsuki's announcements, again to comical effect. On more than one occasion Satsuki blindsides Mei with a change of tack or unexpected decision. Mei will stop, adjust, restate the new plan and move ahead with her enthusiasm intact. This bond makes their later disagreement seem all the more shocking. One of the achievements of My Neighbour Totoro is to make a sentimental film seem anything but. We can thank the sisters' energy for that.


Mei shows childish determination in hunting down those little Totoros.
She'll soon cotton on to them.


Even more fun is Totoro. If you've ever seen either of the Panda! Go, Panda! films (directed by Isao Takahata with scripts and character designs by Miyazaki) Totoro's provenance via Papa Panda is obvious. Both are father figures. Both are powerful. Both are gentle. Totoro is the better character, though, with a clearly superior design and, thanks to his limited vocalisations, both more mysterious and more comical. His ponderous ways are a stark contrast to the girls' hyperactivity. We live in an age where the treatment of children by men is, justifiably, under the microscope. Here in Australia there is an ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which has heard so many horrible things that they have almost lost the ability to shock. (I hope that never happens.) One of the themes - and, yes, this is another Miyazaki film with "themes" - is the relationship between adult males and children. Many anime deal with absent fathers - not long ago I watched in quick succession the then recently released A Letter to Momo, From Up On Poppy Hill, Children Who Chase Lost Voices and Wolf Children. All involved girls grieving over dead fathers. My Neighbour Totoro flips this by having an absent mother. The purpose isn't flipped, however. With the mother out of the picture Miyazaki can concentrate on adult male behaviour and adult male roles. Totoro is, in some ways, an alter ego for Tatsuo, the girls' father. Tatsuo, too, is strong - in one scene he walks with a daughter hanging from each arm - and gentle. Like Totoro, he is protective, trustworthy and a pillar the girls depend upon in what is, actually, a trying time for them and a difficult emotional responsibility for him. What we are getting are dependable, cuddly men. A little bit scary and a little bit silly. Lovable however you look at it. The depictions are comfortably old-fashioned and positive. Indeed, My Neighbour Totoro has a typical Ghibli nostalgia to it, with its yearning for a time when we supposedly lived simpler, more authentic lives closer to nature before the artificial enticements of cities and modernity corrupted us.


Strength and restraint: Satsuki's and Mei's father beats his chest, a la King Kong.
The film presents a positive, sweet picture of male attributes.


(Having the mother out of the picture is also useful in that it sets up the premise for the move to the country and also sets up the crisis that leads to the film's climax and resolution, which, admittedly, are a return to more standard forms of story-telling.)

The 35mm print wasn't as impressive as Princess Mononoke's. The colour palette is brighter, which meant that the graininess was more apparent. In addition, the more domestic, intimate nature of My Neighbour Totoro would always mean that it would translate more acceptably to home viewing and, consequently, less of a revelation on a big screen. Nevertheless, it still has its share of my favourite Miyazaki sequences. Top of them is the bus stop scene, which still leaves me laughing, thanks to the good-natured humour. Totoro's fascination with water droplets on an umbrella is priceless. Miyazaki gets his timing perfect. He doesn't rush things. Each gag has its closely observed reaction from one or more of the participants (including a bemused toad). Totoro's sudden leap into the air and crashing return to earth - creating a cascade of water droplets - nicely up-ends the scene's pacing, to amusing effect. The facial expressions throughout the scene, especially the astonishment, are the best bits, though.


At the bus stop. Note Satsuki's contented smile and Totoro's astonishment.
The deliberate pacing and the reactions greatly add to the humour of the scene.


Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack is quite different from his other Miyazaki collaborations, being jaunty and childlike. All the same it still felt that I've heard the melodies before. Summer Holiday, perhaps? Whatever its provenance, the music was always apposite, if not all that memorable.

Rating: Very Good. In My Neighbour Totoro Hayao Miyazaki's presents one of his best creations in the titular character. He's big, slightly scary, very amusing and equally lovable. A series of magical discoveries replace more normal plot structures, while the energy of the girls, especially Mei, and the visual gags ensure that the underlying sentimentality doesn't overwhelm the film.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 21, 2019 3:28 am; edited 2 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 1:45 pm Reply with quote
Ergo Proxy


I had to start with the show's most iconic image. Don't be misled, though - things get metaphysical.

Reason for watching: Two years ago Sony Universal, out of the blue, released in Australia a sequence of anime series, including the classic, metaphysically inclined Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Texhnolyze and Ergo Proxy, all at moderate prices. SU typically don't keep a back-catalogue, preferring small print runs then keeping the titles on hiatus until demand re-builds (if at all). As a consumer, it's a case of grasping the opportunity when it comes along. I was familiar with and long wanted the first two, while the others were on my radar, so I snaffled all four. Initially watching the Japanese dub, Re-l Mayer's charisma quickly had me hooked while the layered philosophical musings had me intrigued, if not altogether enthralled. I later tried watching the American dub but couldn't stick with it. A week ago or so I had a yen to watch the Japanese dub again, so here we are.

Synopsis: Long after an ecological catastrophe has reduced the planet to a cold, bleak, poisonous and sunless wasteland, humanity survives in hermetically sealed, domed cities. In one such city - Romdo - people live a tightly controlled, comfortably numb existence. Androids, known as AutoReivs fill many functions in the city and each person is assigned an AutoReiv companion known as an Entourage. The Entourages assist and monitor their masters, however a virus, known as cogito, has begun to infect the AutoReivs, causing them to become self-aware and, in many cases, to rebel violently. Re-l Mayer, an inspector with the Intelligence Bureau and the grand-daughter of the city's regent, Donov Mayer, investigates a series of murders suspected to have been perpetrated by AutoReivs. She discovers something altogether more monstrous and ineffable behind them - a creature known as a Proxy. When she attempts to uncover the truth she pits herself against her grandfather and the good order of the city. She also meets the seemingly ineffectual, amnesiac Vincent Law, who has the uncanny ability to be present whenever one of the Proxies appears. Pursued by agents of Re-L's grandfather, Vincent escapes Romdo with an infected child-substitute AutoReiv, Pino. Joined thereafter by Re-L the three travel the wastelands to Mosk, Vincent's birthplace, to learn the truth about why their world is the way it is and why they exist within it. All three, and many others, will be forced to question their raison d'être.


Ergo Proxy, one of several Proxies that will be encountered over the course of the series.
They are inextricably linked to the past, present and future of the humans and the AutoReivs.


Comments: Ergo Proxy is, in some ways, emblematic of its times. Aired on satellite TV channel WOWOW in 2006 it has an ambition and profligacy that, within a short time, would become a rarity. With a tidy budget and not driven by merchandising, the director and writer were given almost complete creative freedom by Manglobe, their animation studio. "There was almost too much freedom," director Shuko Murase would later say. Perhaps overreach was part of his genetic make up. In recent times, Genocidal Organ, also to be directed by Shuko Murase, would lead to Manglobe's bankruptcy. The character designs are also typical of the time, with a more three-dimensional, more realistic structure for the faces (don't let the Proxy image above make you think otherwise), more naturalistic depiction of emotions and, in this instance, a greater range of "camera angles" framing said faces. Likewise, the deadly serious storytelling would be avoided these days. To me it seems a superior companion piece to the every bit as portentous Texhnolyze from three years earlier, even though the latter came from an altogether different creative fold. The contemporary Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya showed you could deal with sophisticated existential themes while being simultaneously funny, while the more recent Mardock Scramble and Psycho-Pass return to the same themes while ratchetting up the violence (and, presumably, the entertainment).

The series is thematically driven by the first two words of René Descartes's famous statement, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). It never once references the "sum" (I am) part of the quote, thereby reducing it to a question, "I think, therefore...?" The series then proceeds to consider the question through a variety of viewpoints. Gnosticism: I think, therefore I have been created and am imperfect; or, I think, therefore I have been awakened. Zen: I think, therefore the world exists; or, I think, therefore you exist. Artificial Intelligence: I think, therefore I am no longer limited to my previous purpose. Structuralism: I think, therefore I use symbols with an arbitrary connection to reality. And so on, and so forth. In one episode two minds think inside one head. In another cartoon characters ponder their future when they become superceded. "Cogito" (I know) designates the virus that causes the AutoReivs to become self-aware. "Ergo" is the name given to the Proxy who is the cause and the consequence of Romdo's misfortunes. The AutoReivs bear the names of philosophers: Kristeva, Lacan, Derrida et al. The human names are also redolent with meaning: Re-l and her clone Real, Vincent Law (laws will conquer), Daedalus, Raul Creed et al. Two soldiers named Officer Woof and Officer Meow suggest much of the naming is tongue in cheek. There's also an overlay of Greek myth: Daedalus was a creative chap who made wings for himself and for his son Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. He also designed the labyrinth that imprisoned the minotaur. In myth, Theseus navigated the maze with a ball of thread given to him by Ariadne. These myths will be referenced several times.

The catch with all this is obvious. Ergo Proxy is in turn clever, playful, moving and boring. If the philosophical overlay is opaque or of no interest to the viewer then much of the 23 episode runtime is going to be a chore. Where the thematic impulse limits the characters in Princess Mononoke, it harms the story telling in Ergo Proxy. To be fair, the first three episodes, with Re-l investigating the slayings and encountering the Proxies, are thrilling stuff. Once Vincent Law - the more important character thematically but less interesting character dramatically - takes the spotlight from Re-l from episode four, the story telling declines. The exiles' camp episodes could have been condensed while the flight to and return from Mosk is basically an extended, episodic road trip, except that it's done in a cool flying sailboat. Some of the middle episodes, albeit clever at times, feel like padding. Back at Romdo, the last three episodes, mirroring the first three, are again thrilling while also managing to more or less tie up all the threads of the story.


Re-l Mayer: at once beautiful and imposing.

If the themes are intimidating and the plot uneven, then Ergo Proxy is well served by several of its characters. Top of the list is Re-l Mayer, whose heavy blue eyeshadow, slanted almond-shaped eyes, arched eyebrows and horned (or, perhaps I should say, feline-eared) hairstyle make her one of the most distinctive, most recognisable female characters around. To my male gaze, she is also the most beautiful anime character I've yet seen. Only Rune Balot from Mardock Scramble would rival her. Oddly enough, she shares with Rune Balot a tendency to be variable in her appearance. Some reviews I've read have criticised this. I think it's a strength. Earlier I said that the character facial designs have a more true-to-life feel to them and that the facial view is given from a wider variety of angles compared with most anime. In real life people can look quite different from different angles. What's more, in an anime that is examining identity, I think it deliberate that, in some episodes, the set of her face departs from her norm. All that aside, she's a charismatic character. She may be a spoiled princess at first and, paradoxically, intimidating, but her raison d'être is to uncover the truth, which will bring out her best qualities: resilience, intelligence and integrity. Any character that unswervingly seeks the truth quickly gets me barracking for them. As with Mireille Bouquet in Noir, the truth will implicate her and disturb her. Like Mireille she has the strength of character to face it. She isn't entirely humourless but neither is she the life of the party. It's not until the very last scene when Pino the AutoReiv arrives with the flying sailboat that she gives a genuine, happy smile. It's a good one too.


Re-l and Vincent Law. I had to include her to compensate for him.

Vincent Law doesn't work for me. In his case, his role adversely affects the appeal of his character. His Jekyll and Hyde nature is unconvincing. As Ergo Proxy he's sufficiently bizarre and alarming but the bumbling, squinty-eyed Vincent Law diminishes pretty well every scene he appears in. Further, over the course of the series the human side of his nature slowly changes to resemble his supernatural nature, but he remains annoying for way too long. By all accounts the creators originally intended that he'd be the sole protagonist but as they developed Re-l she took over more and more. It's easy to see why.

After Re-l the most engaging characters are the AutoReivs. Best of them is Pino, the Cogito infected, child-substitute companion for Raul Creed, the Romdo security chief, and his wife. Clearly, her role in the script is to lighten the otherwise heavy-handed tone of the series. Her blythe cheeriness and, at times, ignorant fearlessness are in stark contrast to her morose travelling companions, Re-l and Vincent. Initially she seems little more than a kawaii, rabbit-costumed, mascot figure but her developing self-awareness is one of the highlights of the series. She will come to understand the concepts of happiness, sadness and love. Her realisation that her mostly villainous "father" genuinely loved her, not only enriches the viewers' appreciation of her, but goes some way towards redeeming him as well. She will in time take on an heroic aspect: her arrival in the final scene with the flying sailboat is one of those "woohoo, here comes the cavalry" moments. Unlike other infected AutoReivs she doesn't struggle to find a raison d'être: she willingly devotes herself to the godlike Ergo Proxy and, later, when she comes to appreciate and love Re-l, devotes herself to her as well.


Pino the cogito infected AutoReiv who goes from mascot character to well-rounded, unlikely heroine.
PINO was a real humanoid robot platform from the early 2000s.


Re-l's entourage, Iggy, is also a treat. Until he gets infected he amuses with his mildly camp mannerisms. Like most of the other AutoReivs he is also sinister, especially in the restrained menace he exudes and in how Donov Mayer uses him as eyes and ears to keep tabs on his grand-daughter. In Iggy's case infection creates an insoluble dilemma. Her outlaw behaviour is at odds with his role in protecting her, leading to confusion and rage. An AutoReiv that starts of creepy but ends up well is Kristeva, the very stern but highly intelligent and capable entourage to Raul Creed, the Romdo security chief. When she is finally infected she finds a raison d'être that saves her from the usual insanity that befalls her kind. She will become a sort of grandmother figure to Pino and the "family" Pino has adopted.

Of the rest of the humans that play significant ongoing roles I've already mentioned Re-l's granfather Donov, regent of Romdo and with the luxury of having four entourages in the form of statues and with the names of famous philosphers. He's an unpleasant, supercilious character who cares less for his daughter than for his self-importance but is so paralysed by indecision that he accelerates the disaster he so fears. There's also the security chief, Raul Creed, a villain who is not only likeable but who sees through the hypocrisy of Donov and Romdo. His discovery of the drawings that Pino has made of the two of them together is his bitter discovery of his raison d'être. The reverse journey is taken by Daedalus Yumeno, the medical prodigy who supports Re-l but who loses his raison d'être when she leaves Romdo. Like almost all the infected AutoReivs, though he is human, he will slide into madness.


Left to right, top to bottom: AutoReivs Kristeva and Iggy;
Raul Creed and Monad Proxy in angelic form;
Daedalus Yumeno and Donov Mayer.


The series is also notable for using Radiohead's Paranoid Android as its ending theme and retaining it in an English language release. It's highly appropriate but I have to say I've always preferred the earlier The Bends album to OK Computer. Also apposite is the opener, the rousing kiri from Monoral. It's one of my all-time favourite OPs, both musically and visually. The incidental music is effective without drawing attention to itself. The Japanese voice track on episode 6 was severely unbalanced, coming almost entirely through the left channel. It wasn't my system as the music and sound effects were fine and, besides, in other episodes the voices were placed correctly. I wonder how such a thing might happen.

Rating: Very Good. A ripper opening three episodes and an engrossing and satisfying three closing episodes bookend a series whose appeal will depend on how much you may be engaged by the characters and the themes being explored in the remaining seventeen. My rating tells you that, on balance, I was. As with the (even more) ambitious Hyouge Mono the more you understand what's going on, ie the more effort you put into it, the more rewards will come your way. A charismatic female lead character and some entertaining support characters will mitigate some of the tedium that may be encountered. Ergo Proxy is, if nothing else, brave.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 21, 2019 3:49 am; edited 3 times in total
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12skippy21



Joined: 25 Nov 2008
Posts: 785
Location: York, England
PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 2:12 pm Reply with quote
I agree with your assessment of Vincent Law, he was the only part of the show I did not enjoy. I understand his temperment at the beginning, a foriegner in a city, but they kept him at such a low energy state for so long that when it explored his character you fail to care. I also wish there were more lead female characters like Re-l.

Also, love your opening sentence for your Synopsis. Have you ever been to Middlesborough? Sounds just like a line I heard from someone who worked in their tourism office. Smile
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