Original Name: Manbiki Kazoku
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Runtime: 121 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8075192/
Original Name: Manbiki Kazoku
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Runtime: 121 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8075192/
Original Name: Beoning
Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Runtime: 148 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7282468/
Original Name: Zimna Wojna
Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
Runtime: 85 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6543652/
Original Name: Estiu 1993
Director: Carla Simón
Runtime: 97 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5897636/
Carla Simón: Enrolled at the London Film School where she directed Born Positive and Lipstick, both screening at numerous international film festivals. Las Pequeñas Cosas (Those Little Things) is her graduation film for which she received a Distinction.
“It’s my history. My mother died of AIDS when I was six years old. My father had died before. And the summer of 1993 was the first that I spent with my new family. And it was also important to keep the context because of all that happened with AIDS in Spain. It is also the time of my childhood and I have sweet memories of it and I wanted to translate them. We shot in the area where I was raised. There is a moment when I don’t know what is memory and what I have invented”
I approached Summer 1993 thinking it’s a movie about a 5 year old kid coping with the death of her parents, and in parts the film deals with it, it was never the main focus of this Catalan-set film. It’s a film that more concern about her adjusting with the new life, while at the same time never forgets that Frida (played marvouslly by Laia Artigas) was still a child who still tries to make sense of what’s going on around her. The movie approaches this tale in a slice-of-life format, and those raw emotions and heavy topic are purposely buried underneath the ground. The cause of her Mother’s death, for example, is never addressed directly, as if it’s a taboo subject that better left unmentioned. It’s a remarkable way to approach this story, considered how autobiographical tale usually dips into soapiness and self-indulgent. In fact, this is Carla Simon’s own story down to the T, not only this was exactly what happened to her when she was 5. The shooting location is the place she lived at the time as well. You can see the love and the eye for extra details in the setting, from their own festival to her secret place that has Mary statue.
Summer 1993 is ultimately a story through the perspective of a child, but with the understand and empathy of an adult. You can consistently see these two qualities running simultaneously during its runtime. The tone is that of a children’s show, with Frida is always on the centre of the screen. Then we have her foster family compose of her uncle, his wife and their toddler girl who do everything they can to live in harmony with Frida. And that goes for both side. Like every kid, her concern is not about grieving; she’s too young to know any of that. Instead, it’s about her enjoying her days and behaving as a kid, while at the same time these deeper emotions still seep through her like an oil sinks through a plain paper. She misses her mother, but she’s incapable of expressing that. Sometimes she let her frustration out to her sister, sometimes she feels like a stranger to the new family. Those scenes play out subtly, it’s more of a suggestion through their look and gestures than being a central of emotional conflicts. In fact, if there’s a usual complain of this feature, it’s the lack if heightened drama. That’s a criticism I don’t agree with, however, given that this film is designed (but not constructed) like a memory from a young girl’s point of view. There’s a sense of wonder everywhere in that world.
Carla Simon asserts that her main message for Summer 1993 is that the adults need to talk to the kid about death, because as cruel as it is, they can still able to understand death. The adults in the picture, likewise, treat this issue with total respect. Most notably is her uncle (David Verdaguer) and his wife (Bruna Cusi), who go through many different troubles of raising her as their own child, yet never give up or let out their frustration. There’s a key scene near the end of the movie, when Frida confronts her aunt about her own Mom and she handles those questions in the best possible way. This scene marks the first time Frida tackles those feeling bottled inside her and she’s clearly struggle to make sense of it, and it could be as easily for an adult to just dismisses those questions with “you’ll understand when you get older”. Yet, her aunt takes her struggle seriously and it’s the best way to let their kid experiencing it instead of locking it away. The respect for the kid’s perspective isn’t restricted only to the story, but also in the way Simon believes in her child actresses. There are many long, unbroken scenes with the two kids as the center, and it doesn’t feel like they’re acting at all. The adults are all fine by all mean but it’s the children (Laia Artigas and Paula Robles as Anna) who are the heart and soul and they carry the movie wonderfully. Summer 1993 draws a right balance between the wonderful time of a kid who coping with the death of her parents by refusing to go to the usual melodramatic route, but always respect their innocent point of view. I know that this film is the one that I’ll keep thinking back for months to come.
Original Name: Hibike! Euphonium 2
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Season: Fall 2016
MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/31988/Hibike_Euphonium_2
(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)
I must admit that out of all the series I was blogging last year, Sound Eupho 2 was the one I’m saddest to see it ends; not because it was my absolute favorite anime last year, but because the sheer amount of their attention to details and their ridiculously quest for perfection are something that out of this world, in this day and age, which I will get to that later in my review. This is a sequel to Sound Eupho last year but I will keep the comparison to the first season to minimum in terms of quality because this season is great enough to be judged by its own.
The story is a direct continuation from the end of last season, as the Kitauji high school concert band just qualified from the qualifying round, now heading to Kansai region competition and later on, the National competition. Unlike the first season where the main dramatic events like Aio pulled out from the music club to focus on her study; the audition to choose the best players for the competition or the challenge to pick the lead trumpet arise and resolved around the development of the band club itself, the second season concentrates more on the band members’ personal issues. This change of focus is more apparent in the second half, when the show completely drops the band practice, even to the point of not showing the national performance at all. I understand this bold choice can cause disappointment to many fans who want to see the band in action, and moreover focus on individual character drama can cause the lack of cohesive theme; this shift of attention, on the other hand, also brings out some of the best character developments and intimate moments the show has ever achieved.
I will get to the negative part first. When the show concentrates more on character’s heightened drama, those dramas can be uneven and doesn’t add up much to the big picture. Two of this season’s acts for example: Yoroizuka and Reina act don’t play well for me because they have the exact opposite problems. Yoroizuka (the only character that I used by surname here, as this is how Kumiko refers her) is a secondary character who was suddenly given the spotlight and while her final confrontation with Yuuko and Nozomi was effective, the drama was resolved too quickly, Yoroizuka changed so fast that I personally don’t see her grow as natural at all. Reina’s affection to Taki-sensei grow to another level this season, but I’m not alone to say that this was the show’s weakest act because almost everyone can see the outcomes. That drama isn’t much to speak of to begin with; it’s a shame because Reina was my favorite character the first season and I’d like to see other kind of developments for Reina, any other development but this.
Moreover, sometimes it does feel like Sound Eupho stumbles around those dramas in order to “create the situation”; as a result sometimes the show loses its focus because it has to cover too many grounds (like in episode 6), other times some of the conflicts feel forced and calculated (of all time, Mamiko choose she decided to tell her parents to quit college on that stormy night, and “she quited because it has to be now”. Why?). While the Mamiko act actually turns out pretty great, those issues speak to the lack of single unified theme that made the first season so tightly constructed. The last issue, which was also the show’s biggest flaw, lied in the fact that when they focus too much on one set of characters for the drama, other cast members unfortunately don’t have much roles so all they do is hanging around and making the best out of little screen time they had. Reina, before reaching her act, serves as a shadow behind Kumiko; Shuichi becomes the unluckiest guy in the world and worst of all, Hazuki and Sapphire don’t have any development anymore, given that they are still billed as the lead characters.
In contrast, if anything, this season will be remembered as the season of Kumiko and Asuka. They are the heart and the soul of this season, and it’s a blessing to see how far both of them have matured in the end. Asuka has been one of the most complex character in Sound Eupho’s universe and the show did a damn fine job to underline her struggles with both her parental figures, as well as gradually peeling off the mask to reveal her true feeling inside. The most brilliant part of it was that she never lose her strong side at all, never in many moments we are allowed to see her vulnerable side, because it’s more that she becomes honest to herself, embrace herself to what she loves most and comes out even stronger than before. In additions, most of Asuka and Kumiko moments develop into the highlights of the season. When Asuka played that Sound Euphonium piece to Kumiko in episode 9, it was one of the best moments of the whole show, period. When Kumiko poured her heart out to convince Asuka to come back to the band, it was one of the most effective drama the show could ever committed. As the two getting closer and more honest to each other, it makes a whole lot sense that we have that final confrontation between them that warmly tied up this whole season together. This show indeed ends on a high note.
Kumiko also deserved to be one of the year’s best character here as she has changed a lot from timid and passive with no real passion into the one who is really honest to what she feels. Aside from her interaction with Asuka, her moments with her sister, while soft and never overly dramatic like other acts, feel all too real ans intimate on how siblings care about each other. The last few episodes when we follow her through her quiet tears on the train, her outbursts, her confessions were a joy to watch and each step she made feel like a natural progression. I have to give extra gratitude Tomoyo Kurosawa, the saiyuu of Kumiko, for delivering such a deadpan, plain but strangely distinctive voice of our main girl.
But what make Sound Eupho stand head above the rest of the crop lies in its production values. That 10-minute performance in episode 5 simply outperformed everything else I watched in recent years. KyoAni’s always known for their gorgeous designs and their attentive to make every little detail right, but this is just another level of insanity the more you get to know what they achieved. Almost every performance you heard in the show was correctly timed to their single notes (meaning that if you hear the character hits the notes onscreen, they were the right notes), the position of their fingers, their postures, even down to the preparation of the members before hitting the notes, were all accurate. Now imagine all of these in animation with a band of thirty something characters for the whole two seasons. I can’t even think how on earth one could achieve animating all that, let alone making it all flawlessly. They even go as far as making the echo of the announcement on the firework scene in the first episode, because they wanted it to be real (the city Uji is surrounded by mountains). No, something as insane as this don’t happen often, especially on TV-anime level, so to see it finally at the end of its road suddenly make me feel a little sad.
This second season is indeed a worthy follow up to the Sound Eupho the series. Just a bit of note that the score I’m giving above is for this second season alone, if I have to give a score for the whole series it would be 93/100. Sound Eupho is an install classic and for me is up there as one of KyoAni’s best works to date. As of this writing right now, there is one more novel about our Kitauji school that is more of a collection of short stories (like the real reason Aoi quit the band, or the story of Shuichi finally confesses to Kumiko) so I think OVAs will be the most possible outcomes. Otherwise we have the spin-off novels that focus on Azusa (Kumiko’s childhood friend) and her Rikka high school marching band and for now I think there’s a high chance that in the future KyoAni will return back to that universe by adapting this spin-off. Well, they better adapt it, or on that note, why not adapting Haruhi season 3?
Original Name: Thunderbolt Fantasy
Studio: Pili International Multimedia
Season: Summer 2016
MAL Link: N/A
(Note: Originally published over psgels.net, with an updated score)
Sometimes you dread for the current state of anime: high school settings, cute girls, fan-service jokes, idol madness… that you wish for once to see something different, and out of nowhere an oddball like this just pop up: a wuxia puppetry show influenced by Taiwanese glove puppetry written by Gen Urobuchi. The sheer fact that it was greenlit at all was mind-blowing enough, but the most absurd things was the audience it aimed: the anime medium. Because no matter how you look at it: this isn’t an anime at all. Well, not even an animation to begin with. I’m not going to detail about it as I already addressed it in my weekly post. The fact that this is a wuxia puppetry show already makes it a unique show among anime world and all the more reason to watch it. But on top of all that, the show’s writing and execution are really excellent and refreshing. If the show just relies on its gimmick of being a puppetry show, it will fall apart very quickly, but Thunderbolt Fantasy understands that their characters are the real stars of the show, so they spend a huge amount of them talking to each other, explore their philosophy of life and the campy dialogues are entertaining and humorous.
Set in a fictional Eastern Asia settings, the show tells a story of a merry band in the quest to retrieve a legendary sword that was stolen by Mie Tian Hai, a skilled swordsman with a history of black magic. Our MC Shang Bu Huan is a mysterious swordsman who came from another area, that’s why he doesn’t know much about this place and thus got tagged along to the quest by Gui Niao, a cool-head strategist and the bunch of misfits including the naive guardian girl, the One-Eyed archer, the young Spear-wielder, a demon necromancer and the bloodthirsty assassin. The group, each has their own unique appearance and personalities with different set of goals head up to the Seven Sins Tower, and there were double-crossing, triple-crossing, blood-splattering, heads rolling and even demons, undead, skeleton birds join in along the way. Indeed, half of these characters here are easily villains in other story and the fun here is to see their huge ego crashing with each other.
Because this is a puppetry show, there are many elements that you won’t find in other anime. The characters, for example, have very static faces. Especially when they are in close-up, it’s hard to tell apart what they are thinking because of the lack of expression in their faces, but this issue actually works in the show’s favor, for how else would one portrait a group that double-crossing is the norm? Second, the practical effects are truly what set it apart from other anime. There is little amount of action for a true-action show, but when the action kicks in, it’s a feast to the eyes. Bloods squirming all over, bodies blowing up, heads rolling that you can actually feel the weight of the blood dripping are refreshing to say the least. Lastly, I have to highlight the costume designs because they really go all in for the costumes to make the characters as distinctive and stand out as ever.
The characters themselves is easily the show’s best strength. Each character is elegantly designed and all of them have their own unique mannerism, assisted greatly by the use of puppetry, something that ordinary anime usually lack. My favorite characters in that vein is the demon lady Xing Hai, as whenever she talks, it feels like she’s singing and whenever she walks it feels just like she’s dancing. Like Mayoiga, those characters all have interesting traits and utterly over the top but here in this show they can actually get loose and carry the story. Like for example, the show spends half an episode for Sha Wu Sheng the Roaring Killer Phoenix challenging Mie Tian Hai (and then loose despite knowing it all), simply because these characteristics are unmistakably Sha Wu Sheng. In Thunderbolt Fantasy, those characters embrace their roles to the bitter end. As a main character, Shang Bu Huan is like our blank-state who unfamiliar to this world (like ourselves) and he’s being the most sensible person in this whole madness. I particular love his stunning reactions every time something absurd happens. Moreover, he bounces off other characters very well, creating a rather great chemistry between them and the dialogues maintain the campy sense that so entertaining to watch. There are pure gold moments throughout the series like when Shang Bu Huan talks to each member of the group to find their real motives, or simple quick remarks like “the temple smells offensive” or even “it’s already a sitting fight before the sword fight” because of course they’re too awesome to fight it normal way. Like a puppetry show, these characters are just there to perform their larger-than-life roles, but they perform it so well that I have a very good time following them.
But this show is not only about characters having fun, there is a theme for the show if you want to look deeper. The notion of the sword is both mentioned various times throughout the series and the show twists that notion around quite wonderfully. In this world, swords represent power of destruction. Mie Ting Hai seeks out the most famous sword because he believes his technique deserved the best. The demon Yao Tu Li was put to sleep for 200 years because of the sword. The characters kill off hundreds of people through their swords… As long as you are good at swords, you have the ultimate power in this world. But not for our two mains Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao. In fact, the series showcases two extreme spectrums from Shang Bu Huan that go directly against with the above notion. The “sword’ that Shang Bu Huan always carries around is just a piece of wood painted silver, because he doesn’t want to cause more deadly troubles with the swords, but when in needed, he could pull out 36 legendary swords (that he said he was about to expose them, sly guy!) to send the monster to the black hole (quite literally!), Gui Niao also hates using swords as a mean of killing. The legendary sword that everyone seek in the end was destroyed meaninglessly.
Thunderbolt Fantasy is the most entertaining series you will encounter this year. Plain and simple. Urobuchi writing is excellent in this show, both leaving enough room for the group to act, and maintaining the plot that both is fast and unpredictable, but always makes sense and a lot of fun. It appears that we will have an entirely new cast on the second season, plus our mains Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao and if that’s the case then I’m totally on board. After all, Shang Bu Huan’s only weakness is his trust towards people and Gui Niao happens to be the master of manipulation; so I’m eager to see how our MC get himself dragged into Gui Niao’s little scheme next time. Like this first season already demonstrated, the world is simply too small for the two of them.
Original Name: Flip Flappers
Studio: Studio 3Hz
Season: Fall 2016
MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32979/Flip_Flappers
(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)
What makes Flip Flappers stand out from the rest of the anime field? I found a lot of people asking that question along the way. Well, first off, Flip Flappers isn’t your ordinary anime offering, that’s for sure. Its visual styles are too much and too incoherent for one thing, the narrative never really reveal anything until halfway point for another thing. At the same times, this is the one rare anime that inspired many analysis, essays trying to decode what it is actually about, drawing thematic relevance out of their visual motifs and symbolism. So, what’s all the fuss, really? Let me get into that now.
On the surface, Flip Flappers is an adventure stories between the timid, shy Cocona who was dragged by the impulsive Papika into “Pure Illusions” worlds, the alternative realities that might or might not represent the inner psyche of its human’s subjects; to collect fragments that would grant wishes. Originally billed as a magical girl, the show hops through variations of genre, settings to whatever it pleases. In one episode Papika and Cocona were in the middle of a wasteland for an action Mad Max-inspired adventure, to the next they were trapped in a Class-S circle that would actually surpass many psychological horror shows out there, to another episode where they mysteriously became one identity that would make any David Lynch’s fans proud. It’s that freedom to break the rules and pick whatever content and styles they see fit made the show refreshing and unpredictably, which actually very fitting to how adventures should be like.
Moreover, Flip Flappers is a very visually arresting show, a true “show, don’t tell” kind of series. We’re no stranger with shows that are more about styles, shows that are showcases for young, talented animators to experiment with new styles and visuals, Normally, I don’t mind those kinds of show because we do need something like this to push the boundary of anime medium, but more often than not those shows don’t have any proper storytelling at all. Great visual doesn’t mean great storytelling anyway. Flip Flappers walks that very thin line as the show seemingly try to overwhelm us with its abstract visual, vibrant imaginary; color and resonant emotions in an expense for coherent plots; but I will give the show this: while Flip Flappers not always make sense narrative, it more than makes it up thematically as those wild visuals and motifs are in service for of its adolescence themes.
In fact, if you look a little deeper behind its fun adventures, the show constantly addresses many of its coming-of-age concerns throughout its run. First and foremost is the theme of identity, as for its 13-episodes long our main Cocona had to figure out who she wants to be, whom she can be trusted. The identity theme is continuously directed in many forms, both visually and symbolically: from Cocona being a constant source of being manipulated and controlled by others, those two girls are trapped in a false, repetitive cycle of “safe” environment, the girls represent the same character or even to other extreme, Papika appears continuously as various different identities. Papika and Cocona’s relationship, on the other hand, function like two sides of the same coins of being growing up. The show is a constant adolescent journeys that make up from opposing force between the urge, freedom and emotional directness from Papika and compassion, responsibility, think before act quality from Cocona. It’s a legitimate fear of growing up and becoming an adult filled with responsibility and burden; but as the third girl Yayaka and our Cocona later figure out, maybe small steps like be honest to your feeling could be what it takes to become a fully-grown person and overcome that fear.
The show’s climax, while closing down nicely Cocona and Papika’s relationship and give Mimi just about enough development to become a fearsome antagonist; I still consider it a lackluster final arc that keep me from giving it a higher score, especially coming straight from a spectacular middle part. In fact, the only time I would consider as brilliant in this last arc was Yayaka kicks ass and getting a well-deserved transformation. The rest of the cast unfortunately don’t have much roles in the final showdown. Judging those side characters as a whole, we actually know very little about them despite the twins and the staffs from Flip Flap organization appear in nearly every single episode, which is a shame. The late addition of Nyunnyun and the very role of Bu-Chan are also hugely unnecessary, as they don’t add much to the big picture and moreover, the inclusion of them feel a bit awkward to the rest of the story. Dr. Salt, on the other hand, had a bit of development but the show still doesn’t know how to use him to full potential as his role in the show function towards Mimi only; as a result; although it’s pretty much confirmed that Dr. Salt is Cocona’s father, I have a hard time believing that because there was no chemistry between them. Maybe that’s a whole point as he felt awkward towards Cocona based from his guilt, but I have a feeling that the show doesn’t seem to try even that.
But as I said in my weekly post, judging the show by how well it plays the rule isn’t a right approach, for Flip Flappers is the show that determines to break free and walk its own path. So back to that very first question: What makes Flip Flappers special? Well, I will put it this way: the show is a sublime example of animation in its purest form. Shows like this further highlight what makes animation so unique and appealing (I’m not talking strictly about anime, but the whole animation medium) that others medium can’t be able to express. Story like this can only works in animation form and the show successfully remind us the pure magic of animation and really why we fall in love with animation in a first place. With show as confident and creative as this I have a pretty optimistic feeling for the future of animation. Cross my fingers.
Original Name: La Tortue Rouge
Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit
Runtime: 80 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3666024/
(originally published over psgels.net)
The Red Turtle is a brainchild of the director Michael Dudok de Witt and Studio Ghibli. If you never heard about the director, he’s an auteur animator who directed award-winning shorts Father and Daughter, the short was so acclaimed that many big animation studios approached him to direct their blockbuster movies, all of which he declined. Then one day he received a letter from Ghibli Studio stated that they thought his shorts looked very Japanese and they wanted to make a film with him. If you think the involvement of Ghibli could make this movie a more anime influences, you got yourself in a bind there, because this is unmistakably a Dudok de Witt film with more of European arthouse sensibility, with the slow and deliberate but confident pacing, and the film is more about sense and experience and many details are more open to interpretation than offer any precise meaning.
Looking from the outset, the film sounds like a really challenging work. This is a dialogue-free film about a man who washed away to a deserted island. He tries every opportunity to escape from the island, but always get disrupted by the giant red turtle. Then the man and the turtle form a closer relationship to each other and ultimately the man finds a way to adapt to his new life. And that was just the first 15 minutes of the film. For a full length feature film with no actual dialogue, it’s a feat that the movie maintains the attention to the very end. Indeed, trying to explain the plot of a film, or trying to recapture it in words, is already a disservice to the film. The Red Turtle is a film in its purest form, a visual storytelling that will lost its impact if it gets portrayed in any other forms.
Apparently, Dudok de Witt initially planned to have a main character to speak to himself, like what Tom Hank character did in Cast Away, but then he scrapped the idea since he felt that the dialogue (monologue?) was too unnatural. But without dialogue doesn’t mean this is a silent movie. The sound of the movie, that include both natural sound and the score, is one of its greatest achievement. The sound helps assist us to follow every steps the main character takes, really put us in his shoes as we follow him around. Those sounds create a whole surrounding very detail too, close your eyes and you can hear the wind breezes, the waves of the ocean, the steps of the man and those animals at the same time. The score is equally impressive, at most times it’s slow and tender, but other times thrilling and exciting (like the very first scene or during the flood sequence). Visually, Dudok De Witt implies a very plain character designs against a natural but well-detailed and rich world the main characters inhibit. The background is expressive, with too much details was put on it. From the bush trees, the little crabs who seems to follow the waves, the baby turtles go around the bench, all these really create an atmosphere to the island. The animation and the shot selections are all top-class, which holds much of our attention throughout its 80-minutes length.
The film maybe about a man who float in an island, but the plot never feels plotless. Everything happens contribute to the main themes, which are the connection between human and nature and the passage of time. The film chronicles the man who struggles to find a place in a nature that clearly not for him, to him having a family and has something to hold on to. As the man got older and wiser, he himself realizes he’s just a small part of the world, like every plant, animals around him. His passed away in the end is just as well a part of that cycle of life.
It’s rare today that can give a work that are original, mature and ambitious as The Red Turtle, especially against the backdrop of the dominance of computer animation in feature-length movies for the last 20 years. The Red Turtle, with its simple hand-drawn techniques, already feels like a timeless production, and the film is even more significant given the fact that this is co-produced by the beloved Ghibli, now on its semi-hiatus phase. While this film bears little resemblance to Ghibli’s original outputs, this is clearly a production of both the director Dudok De Witt and Ghibli; in a sense that The Red Turtle would not exist without those two. With so much efforts were put on this picture, it’s the more astonishing to realize that the film had achieved something so difficult to attain: simplicity.