Tag Archives: Anime

82. PAPRIKA (2006)

“I think that within human nature, and within the human heart as well, there are a ton of absurd impulses and instincts. But you can’t express those things because society has created these rules that say that things can’t ‘warp’ like that. It’s a rule that maintains a sense of balance in the world. But when you’re restricted like that you tend to release these impulses within your dreams. Everything ‘warps.’ I think that in the past you were able to spontaneously experience such things within the framework of reality. I think religious ceremonies would be a good example of that. Now we don’t really have that. I think that if someone from prehistoric times saw Paprika they’d say, ‘That’s how it is!’ I think they’d be confused. ‘Why would you make a movie about such everyday occurrences?'”– on the Paprika DVD commentary (inspired by the scene where the balcony handrail spontaneously warps)

“I do feel regret that my weird visions and ability to draw things in minute detail will be lost, but that can’t be helped.”–from “Satoshi Kon’s Last Words

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Satoshi Kon

FEATURING: Voices of Megumi Hayashibara, , Tôru Furuya, , Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Emori

PLOT: A group of scientists invent a device called the DC-mini that allows the user to enter the dreams of those who wear it; they are experimenting with the invention on mental patients as an aid to psychotherapy.  A prototype of the machine is stolen, and the team discovers that it can be used to wreak terrible mischief when one of their number starts spouting incomprehensible babble and jumps out of a window while believing himself to be dreaming.  The situation reaches an apocalyptic peak when the thief uses the machine to absorb others’ dreams, and eventually discovers how to make dreams cross over into reality.

Still from Paprika (2006)


BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui; at the time of this writing, the original novel has never been translated into English.
  • Tsutsui personally chose animator/director Satoshi Kon to adapt his work.
  • Kon began his career as a manga illustrator.  He died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, having completed only four highly regarded animated feature films and the television series “Paranoia Agent.”  Although he was working on a new project at the time of his death, Paprika was his final completed film.
  • Kon finished the storyboards before the script adaptation was completed, then wrote the story to fit the images rather than the other way around.
  • Voice cameos: Kon and writer Yasutaka Tsutsui speak for the two mystical bartenders who appear in Paprika’s dreamspace saloon.
  • The film’s soundtrack was the first to be created using a Vocaloid: all singing voices are computer generated.
  • A live action remake is in development with an estimated completion date of 2013.  Director Wolfgang Peterson has promised to tone down the weirdness for a mainstream audience, aiming to create something more like The Matrix than a surreal exploration of dream states.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The dream parade, which features marching refrigerators, a Dixieland frog band, porcelain dolls, the Statue of Liberty, confetti falling from nowhere, and more.  This toylike promenade tramps through the film, through forests and movie theaters and the streets of Tokyo, growing larger and larger as it absorbs more and more dreams—and it’s as intense an accumulation of imagination as you’re ever likely to behold.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Near the end of Paprika, two characters turn to each other and stare in stunned, silent disbelief. They’ve just seen a giant naked girl grow to womanhood by inhaling an anthropomorphic smog monster. Watching Paprika‘s nonstop cavalcade of technicolor fever dreams should fix your expression into the same mask of bewildered disbelief long before that point.


English language trailer for Paprika

COMMENTS:  Having suddenly grown butterfly wings, Paprika finds herself pinned to a Continue reading 82. PAPRIKA (2006)

CAPSULE: NINJA SCROLL [JÛBÊ NINPÛCHÔ] (1993)

DIRECTED BY: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

FEATURING: Voice actors

PLOT: Masterless samurai Jubei joins with an ancient spy and a cursed female

Still from Ninja Scroll (1993)

ninja to thwart a plot by an old enemy to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate with the assistance of the eight Devils of Kimon.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not truly weird, though the Devils of Kimon are novel and bizarre to Western eyes. Ninja Scroll is, rather, a well-made fantasy adventure set in a magical feudal Japan, with gratuitous sex and violence that make it inappropriate for the age group most likely to be entranced by it.

COMMENTS: There’s no scroll, and the main character, Jubei, is a ronin (former samurai now for hire as a mercenary) rather than a ninja; but, accuracy of title aside, Ninja Scroll is an average fantasy adventure with some shocking scenes and startling artwork. Jubei is an archetypal wandering folk hero, helping out the less fortunate out of a sense of duty to mankind rather than avarice. His eventual companions are a more interesting lot: a withered, gnomelike spy from the court of Tokugawa who’s willing to go to any lengths to trap others into working for him, and a virginal ninja woman under a sexual curse who’s even more of a loner than the ronin. The story, often the red-headed stepchild of anime, is a strong point here. The intrigues between the various feudal factions and the character’s backstories are richly detailed, yet free of plot holes and surprisingly easy to follow (although Jubei’s code of honor can be difficult to penetrate at times). Even if you don’t catch all the intricacies of the plot on a single viewing, the basic strands—a quest for vengeance on a wicked old enemy, a succession of monstrous antagonists to defeat, reluctant companions with crossed agendas, dilemmas of honor and loyalty—create a familiar heroic context for the tale that makes it easy to pick up the gist of things. The animation style is naturalistic rather than stylized (that is to say, the characters don’t have huge round eyes and bizarre hair hues). As is frequently the case in amime, which tends to be cheaply produced, the animation is not fluid— most of the time, it’s almost a series of stills, with characters standing stock-still, moving only their lips. But the frame rate picks up dramatically for fight sequences, and excellent editing creates a sense of movement that makes the fight scenes thrilling. There are points where the animation overcomes its budgetary limits and becomes magical, as when Kagero stands in the eye of a swirling cyclone of bees and rose petals. The Devils, partly drawn from Japanese mythology, are as grotesque a gallery of rogues as you could hope to find outside of the Mos Eisley cantina, and a good deal nastier. There’s a giant with stone skin and a taste for rape, a snake-woman who stashes a spare serpent in an unusual hiding place, a dwarf who births wasps from the hump hive on his back, and one Devil is even a homosexual with the hots for the archvillian. The frequent sexual content is sometimes erotic—the nude tattooed snake woman—but mostly gratuitous, as when one clan master delivers his directives while delighting himself inside a village geisha. The violence is also extreme; monster rape, daggers in eyeballs, showers of blood, limbs torn off, and a man whose head is repeatedly bashed into a bloody pulp. The strong (falling just short of ‘extreme’) content adds some cachet to the fantasy film for a certain age group (evidence that this ninjas vs. monster tale isn’t just “kid’s stuff”), but it serves little other purpose. The truth is that the younger, and more male, you are, the more likely you are to groove to Ninja Scroll’s beat. It starts out as a five-star spectacle of awesomeness in your teens and early twenties, but you can expect to subtract a full star for every decade of life that passes until it flattens out and reveals itself as nothing more special than a darn good adventure yarn. And the world could certainly use a few more of those.

Animator/director Yoshiaki Kawajiri was also responsible for the anime standout Wicked City (1987) among others. The British censors understandably cut some of the rape scene for the original UK DVD release, but unexpectedly also removed two scenes with shurikens (throwing stars), apparently believing they constituted “imitable weaponry.” The cuts were restored for the 2004 release and the movie is now uncensored.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“For those more accustomed to Anime or Japanese cinema in general you really won’t find anything new or ground breaking here… Yet it remains a solid entry essentially on all counts.”–Nakadai, Infin-tropolis

CAPSULE: EVANGELION 1.11: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE (2007/2010)

DIRECTED BY: Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Hideaki Anno

FEATURING: Voice actors

PLOT: Tokyo-3 is under assault by mysterious robot-like creatures known as “Angels”; two

Still from Evangelion1.11: You Are (Not) Alone (2010)

teenagers pilot the mechanical Evangelions that are the only things that can defeat the invaders and save humanity, while simultaneously dealing with pop quizzes and high school bullies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  How do you assess the weirdness of anime, a fantastical genre in which underage nude sexpots with powder blue hair and blood red eyes don’t raise an eyebrow?  An average anime is pretty damn weird to the uninitiated, but like other specialized subgenres (such as the kung fu film) anime follows its own conventions.  Once the seasoned viewer internalizes those rules, the resulting films don’t look quite so strange.  That means that, to be considered as a candidate for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time, an anime needs to be weird even by Japanimation’s exalted standards of oddness.  By reimagining stock giant robots as avenging angels in a mystical scenario worthy of a pop-art Book of Revelations, but embedding the messianic tale within the ordinary travails of an extremely wimpy high school freshman, Evangelion 1.11 nearly vaults over this raised weirdness bar.  The hurdle this particular film can’t quite overcome, however, is the fact that it’s incomplete, only part I of a planned “rebuild” series of four movies—and that there’s already a previous entry in the franchise it’s remaking that reputedly blows 1.11 away with its bizarreness.

COMMENTS:   Forget the plentiful, and plenty spectacular, duels between giant robots.  (Obsessive fans of the series may stress to you that neither the Angels nor the Evas are technically giant robots, but don’t be fooled: if it looks like a giant robot, clatters like a giant robot, and shoots death rays from its fingertips, it’s a giant robot).  Set aside the fantastic visions like the giant mutating cube that drops a diamond drill bit into downtown Tokyo-3.  Even overlook portentous (pretentious?) lines of dialogue like, “The Apocrypha of the Dead Continue reading CAPSULE: EVANGELION 1.11: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE (2007/2010)

CAPSULE: PONYO [Gake no ue no Ponyo] (2008)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING (AMERICAN DUBBED VERSION): Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Betty White

PLOT: In this Japanese variation on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” a goldfish with a human face escapes from the undersea lair built by her wizard father and decides she wants to become human when she washes ashore and is adopted as a pet by a little boy.

Still from Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo) (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTPonyo is an imaginative and beautifully drawn fairy tale for children that frequently sacrifices mature logic for emotional effect or visual spectacle, but it’s a bit too safe and cutesy, and more fantastic and childlike than bizarre.  Because it is told from a child’s-eye view and not simplified for adults, some grown-ups may find it weird.

COMMENTS: Ponyo begins with a descent into an ocean teeming with fish, squid and crustaceans; the picture’s frame becomes an impossibly dense and multi-layered aquarium of submarine life. When the headstrong goldfish Ponyo wanders away from this underwater Eden, her journey on the back of a jellyfish runs aground when she encounters an equally thick stratum of human detritus and garbage, stirred into a whirlpool by the propellers of passing ships, and ends up washed ashore lodged in a bottle for 5 year-old Sōsuke to find.

There’s a not so subtle ecological message at play here, but Miyazaki never gets preachy. The main focus of the film is in drawing wondrous moving images that delight a child’s imagination (and look pretty good to adults, too, even if they can’t resonate in quite the same way). The most mesmerizing of these is newly half-human Ponyo’s gallop atop tsunami waves which turn into fish and melt back into surf as she chases after Sōsuke. Visions of a luminescent sea goddess and a city of ships drawn to the horizon by an encroaching moon also ensnare the fancy. The animation is deliberately primitive, almost childlike, in style, appropriately looking like a children’s book come to life. Unfortunately, the story and tone are childlike as well, resulting in a film that entrances kids but lacks a crossover magic for adults. Grown-ups in the film accept the magic matter-of-factly, as if they were just big kids with driver’s licenses, showing no amazement when a pet turns into a little girl, or when they discover two pre-schoolers piloting their own boat unattended after a flood. Precociously cute, infatuated with her discovery of the human world, and squealing “I love ham!,” the one-note goldfish herself is a character only a mother or fellow toddler could love. With Ponyo, Miyazaki has crafted a film that will hypnotize girls aged four to seven. There’s not much of a story to engage their parents, but they can amuse themselves watching the parade of pretty pastel-colored pictures for ninety minutes, and in trying to recall what it was like when the line between reality and make-believe was as thin as the skin of a bubble.

I confess that I haven’t seen any Miyazaki films previously (everyone has some gaps in their film education). The revered animator’s most celebrated works like Spirited Away (2001) are supposed to be so fantastic as to be virtually surreal.  With the visual imagination evident in Ponyo, it’s easy to see how, working with material oriented less towards the kindergarten set, another work of his might merit a spot on the list of the 366 best weird movies ever made.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The story sounds weird, and it is weird: Like many of Miyazaki’s previous films, Ponyo is written from a child’s perspective and with a child’s sense of logic… pure fairy-tale surrealism.”–Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald (contemporaneous)