Tag Archives: Anime

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE BOY AND THE HERON (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Kimitachi wa dô ikiru ka

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Soma Santoki, , , Aimyon, , Shōhei Hino, (Japanese); Luca Padovan, , Gemma Chan, , Karen Fukuhara, (English dub)

PLOT: A Japanese boy who has lost his mother during WWII meets a mysterious heron who guides him into a fantastic netherworld where the living and dead co-exist in a bizarre ecosystem.

Still from The Boy and the Heron (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It’s got that otherworldly Miyazaki character design, and enigmatic surprises galore. My high hopes were met in an early scene where the heron conjures a choir of fish and a cloak of frogs; once the protagonist enters the tower, the strangeness doesn’t let up.

COMMENTS: The venerable Hayao Miyazaki may be the only man alive still building new Wonderlands, making animated movies that feel like children’s literature. Disney/Pixar has a clear format: pick a clear theme—high fantasy, the four classical elements, Day of the Dead—add clear villain and clear comic relief, along with a clear moral to nod at. Miyazaki’s stories are psychologically complex and character driven, with bespoke worldbuilding that borrows from nothing but his imagination and the story’s demands. His hand-drawn animations are artistic rather than technically dazzling, and although he directs action nearly as well as his Western peers, his spectacles arise naturally rather than in response to script beats. While perhaps not quite up to the exemplary standard set by Spirited Away, The Boy and the Heron is a welcome return to the “big fantasy” genre, and sits comfortably alongside Miyazaki’s best work.

But, it must be said that The Boy and the Heron is oddly paced. The movie spends the first 45 of its 120 minutes in the real world. This drawn-out prologue is not at all unpleasant; we get to know Mahito extremely well, his relationship with his kind but distant father and his polite resentment towards his new stepmother (formerly his aunt). The seven old women who attend on the family at its estate and squabble over rare tobacco provide comic relief; whereas the other characters are drawn naturalistically, these old ladies are kindly caricatures, squat, with trademark features like bulbous red noses or eye-doubling spectacles; their cartoonish co-existence alongside the more elegant characters makes them resemble Snow White‘s seven dwarfs. Most importantly, this section develops Mahito’s relationship with the titular heron. At first, it is a rare and noble bird that takes an unusual interest in the boy. It gradually becomes an annoyance, slowly learning to speak, mocking Mahito while drawing him towards the mysterious sealed tower. The heron’s appearance also grows increasingly grotesque, as he reveals rows of Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE BOY AND THE HERON (2023)

CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Abel Góngora

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera, Satya Bhabha, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, , Brie Larson, Alison Pill, , Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong

PLOT: Slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim must defeat seven evil exes in order to win Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams… but a surprising outcome leads Ramona to investigate her own romantic past and the new world that has resulted. 

Still from Scott Pilgirm Takes Off (2023)

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was unleashed upon audiences, the entertainment world braced itself for the perfect synthesis of teen romantic comedy and arcade-style fighting action, the arrival of Edgar Wright in the big leagues, and the birth of a storytelling phenomenon. And the result was… something less than that. The film captured the spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s anime-inspired comic, Wright’s dense candy-colored melange of light and sound was groundbreaking, and the movie’s cast would ultimately be revealed as a murderer’s row of silver screen talent. But crowds did not throng to to the cinemas, and the film fell well short of breaking even at the box office. So Scott Pilgrim did the only thing it could do: it became a cult object.

The thing about cult objects is that their dedicated fan base can sometimes inspire the development of more product, but re-capturing that initial magic is often be such a fruitless pursuit that the reality is worse than the longing for more. So it’s not a question of whether the arrival of a Netflix animated series featuring nearly the entire movie cast lending their voices would produce a response from the most devoted Pilgrim-heads, but whether that series would leave diehards fulfilled, or furious. Intriguingly, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” charts a course that feeds into the nostalgia machine before almost immediately pulling the plug on it.

As if wanting to reassure faithful viewers that this is the very same material you fell in love with over a decade ago, the premier episode plays out as a near-repeat of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s first act, re-introducing all the familiar characters and playing out the meet-cute between slacker-dreamer Scott and doe-eyed dream girl Ramona. But the big twist—which is so fundamental to the miniseries’ execution that the producers begged critics to embargo the surprise during its release, so let’s just consider this a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT right now—is that Scott loses his first showdown with a member of the League of Evil Exes. Leaving nothing behind but a few coins, our ostensible hero is gone, with seven episodes to go. (Essentially, the “Takes Off” part of the title should be interpreted in the most Canadian manner possible.) And what we’re left with is the World Continue reading CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

CHANNEL 366: THUS SPOKE KISHIBE ROHAN (2017-2019)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Toshiyuki Kato

FEATURING: Voices of Takahiro Sakurai; Landon McDonald (English dub)

PLOT: Manga artist Kishibe Rohan recounts macabre tales he has encountered while researching material.

Still from "Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan"

COMMENTS: Although this macabre miniseries stands alone, a small of amount orientation may be helpful for those (like me) unfamiliar with “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” the manga/anime from which “Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan” is a spinoff. “JoJo” is a series about… well, I’m not quite sure, but it has been running for about 30 years through various incarnations. My research suggest that, other than Rohan and perhaps a few other character cameos, there are no real links in this one to the main series. There is at least one thing it’s helpful to know: like many characters in the series, Rohan has a superpower (or “Stand”): “Heaven’s Door,” which allows him to pause time and turn people into books, whom he can then read to discover personal secrets (and, occasionally, to jot his own notes inside them, altering their history or behavior). Bizarre, huh?

Originally released as standalone manga, the stories here were made for the Japanese OVA (Original Video Animation) market, then picked up by Netflix. The order of the tales is arbitrary, and the episode sequencing Netflix uses is different than the order of the OVA release (but the same as the order they appeared in the original manga, although, confusingly, the episode numbers in the manga titles are assigned randomly). You can watch them however you’d like, but if you want a suggestion, I would start with either “At a Confessional” (Netflix’s first episode, the third OVA release, and my personal favorite) or “The Run” (the wildest and final story which, based on IMDb ratings, is the fans’ favorite). The entire series is short enough to watch through without feeling like you’re wasting your time, but sampling one of those two first may help you decide whether you want to continue.

The Italy-set “At a Confessional” is a Poe-like story of callous indifference, guilt, and revenge from beyond the grave, with a demonic tongue, a popcorn-eating trial, and a twist ending. “The Run” has a more straightforward narrative; it’s a satire of male narcissism, as an actor/model takes his workout regime to unhealthy, supernatural extremes. It also features the series’ most ambitious animation, with abstract, wavering backgrounds in crazy color schemes; split screens; almost obscene, anatomically incorrect musculature; and surrealish scenes like the one where the protagonist climbs down an apartment building, Spider-man style. The other two stories are equally fantastic: “Mutsu-kabe Hill” features an eternally bleeding corpse, and “Millionaire Village” begins with an interesting premise about an ultra-exclusive suburb, then incorporates local Japanese demigods and an extremely intricate test of etiquette.  Some of the stories have ironic subtexts, but the psychology never gets too deep; the stories are dark in subject matter, but light in delivery.

I have to confess that, after watching all four episodes, I’m not sure why Rohan is such a popular, breakout character. He frankly seems a bit superhero-dull to me. With his “Heaven’s Door” power, he’s too omnipotent; there is seldom much sense of him being in jeopardy. His major character trait seems to be mild arrogance and haughtiness, which comes through in his fey, aristocratic voicing (in both the original Japanese and the English dub). This makes him seem a bit unpleasant to be around, although other characters fawn over him regularly. Perhaps Rohan doesn’t get a chance to shine here, since he is only a narrator for two of these stories, and not really the focus in any of them. Still, because he’s mostly a framing device, Rohan’s lack of charisma didn’t effect my enjoyment of the series, which is not bad, and at less than two hours to take in the whole thing, worth a shot for the curious. It didn’t make me want to explore the wider JoJo universe, though—and if you want some freaky Japanese animated horror, I’d suggest checking out “Jungo Ito Maniac” (also on Netflix) instead.

(As an odd aside, the major characters in this series always have crazy hairstyles: once has four giant bent spikes of red hair, one has random bow-like protrusions growing out of his scalp, and Rohan himself wears a strange circlet that looks like an inverted crown and is mostly covered by greenish locks that jut several inches off the side of our hero’s head.)

We may not be done with Kishibe Rohan: there are plans for a live-action adaptation of the same material.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…retains the straight-faced absurdity of its parent show… Its most tense and tragic stories hold a grim sense of humor—such as the various strange (bizarre, even) rituals throughout, tests of the mind and the body all tinged with otherworldly, life-and-death stakes.”–Kambole Campbell, Thrillist (contemporaneous)

FANTASIA 2023: APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KURAYAKUBA (2023)

クラユカバ

Wanderers in the Darkness

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Shigeyoshi Tsukahara

FEATURING: Voices of Hakuzan Kanda, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Raikou Sakamoto

PLOT: Ne’er-do-well detective Sotaro is hired to investigate a series of disappearances coinciding with a touring carnival, and descends into “the Dark,” an undercity plagued by gangs and, it is rumored, supernatural concerns.

Still from Kurayukaba (2021)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Jazzy steampunk, circus evil, and eldritch mystery shroud this animated action/noir gurgling with easy-going humor, and its big top finale makes for a wild ride of Caligari-style wonderment.

COMMENTS: There is a lot that makes sense about our protagonist, Sotaro. He’s a detective because his father was one, he’s disheveled because business is slow, and he’s got something of a sidekick in the form of a scrappy street urchin named Saki—because, frankly, a down-on-his-luck, alcoholic detective would. He also has two qualities to his credit, at least in the eyes of a newspaper man who wants an investigator: he’s broke, and takes a relaxed view of his own well being. This makes Sotaro (after some booze and cajoling) the perfect candidate to take a dive into “the Dark”, an underground labyrinth and cave system teaming with ancient shrines, modern hoodlums, renegade law enforcement aganets, and ghostly, carnivalistic evil.

Kurayukaba‘s visual style is reminiscent of a dog-eared, old comic: watercoloring bleeds, and a papery quality renders the image tactile at times. The hero’s world-weariness does a dance with his deep-seated vivacity: while he’s only shown drunk or hung-over, his quick wits and powers of observation make him the ideal “reactive protagonist” (contradiction in terms that may be). As he explores the glorious, cluttered mess of “the Dark,” the pastel-steampunk world below the surface comes alive in a confusing maze of train cars, gears, bridges, and colorful characters. The case concerns the recurring disappearance of random victims, with a chaotic muddle of black markings the only trace of evidence. Conspiracy is in the air, as these events are typically hushed by the powers-that-be. And Sotaro is on the case because—well, he’s on the case because he needs the money; he was hired because he has a long history with “the Dark.”

Rarely, if ever, before have I had the pleasure to witness this particular visual fusion found amongst the mysteries of Kurayukaba. Among the oddities to enjoy are an armored demon train reputed to haunt the labyrinth; a Greek chorus of clockwork birds on a merchant’s display stage (which reminds me of the strange behavior of our dear detective’s office parrot…); and Sotaro’s various flashbacks. His explorations continue his father’s work, culminating across the generations in a fantastical centerpiece. Kurayukaba is inspired by ’20s-era visuals and sound, with a particular bent toward German , and the film meanders along its tracks with an ongoing rota of eccentric characters and phenomena, de-layering an age old conspiracy until a vibrant, hallucinatory climax that ties the case together while resolving Sotaro’s difficulties with his father. After the explosion of light, sound, and spectacle, our tired hero can finally go top-side and have himself a well-earned drink.

Read our interview with director Shigeyoshi Tsukahara and producer Shinnosuke Yoshida.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s never a dull moment in this animation from Shigeyoshi Tsukahara, which mixes a detective story with an exuberant tale of a city’s mysterious underbelly all presented with steampunk verve.”–Amber Wilkinson, Eye for Film

36*. THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL (2017)

Yoru wa mijikashi aruke yo otome

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“I… wanted to portray the night as dream-like. This is the story of a girl who joyfully takes at face value what she observes seeing
people drinking and their relationships, so I wanted to create a feeling of the girl growing into adulthood, in other words, a fantasy for grown-ups.”–Masaaki Yuasa

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Kana Hanazawa,

PLOT: At a wedding reception, a Senpai reveals his indirect plan to win the affection of a black-haired Girl whom he loves from afar. The Girl barely notices him, however, instead following her urge to travel into the Kyoto night to experience the world as a young adult, including heroic bouts of drinking, a trip to an open-air used book festival, and an impromptu role in a traveling musical. In the end, everyone the Girl encounters over the night contracts a cold and she spends the early morning attending to them all—including the Senpai.

Still from "the night is short walk on girl" (2017)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Tomihiko Morimi (which has been translated into English). Yuasa had previously adapted Morimi’s “The Tatami Galaxy” for Japanese television.
  • Night won the 2017 Japanese Academy Film Prize Award for “Animation of the Year.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Whatever it is, it has to feature the indomitable titular “Girl.” The image of her astonished face as a crowd of onlookers, impressed by her unexpected boozing prowess, donate all of their cans of wine into her oversized goblet, is as good as any.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Sophist dance, “The Codger of Monte Cristo”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Eschewing the youthful chaos of his Canonically Weird feature Mind Game, Masaaki Yuasa proves that he can inject strangeness into the least weird of fictional genres: the romantic comedy. Tightly focused both stylistically and thematically, even while the footloose plot wanders from drinking binges to inconvenient plagues, Night walks through a flowery, hallucinogenic city straight into your heart.


Short clip from The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

COMMENTS: A cross-dresser, a man who has vowed not to change Continue reading 36*. THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL (2017)