Archive for Japan

The walls also have…

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on May 2, 2008 by dcairns

Images from BLIND BEAST. The ol’ factory.

Seriously, if you only rent one movie this year in which a blind sculptor kidnaps a young woman and imprisons her in a nose-lined warehouse, please please please MAKE SURE IT’S THIS ONE. I’m not sure how good it is, but it’s very individual.

Director Yasuzo Masumura seems like quite an eccentric figure. GIANTS AND TOYS, his shouty industrial satire, was pretty strange, BLIND BEAST lollops headlong into some apocalyptic realm of psychosexual lunacy, and I was most impressed of all with RED ANGEL, a sweatily intense, despairingly romantic doctor-nurse love story set amid the severed limbs of World War Two. I was with it all the way up until the portrayal of “comfort women” — Masumura characterises these forcibly-conscripted army prostututes as giggling imbeciles, when the reality is they were Chinese women abducted and raped by Japanese forces. It’s a bit like showing the nazi’s “Joy Division” as happy hookers.

In the UK, where veterans’ groups are forever pushing for an official apology from the Japanese government for war crimes against P.O.W.s, there’s a sort of low-level awareness that Japan hasn’t quite faced up to its past the way Germany has. One can’t imagine anyone portraying the nazi’s “Joy Division” as happy hookers, for God’s sake.

RED ANGEL is an amazing piece of cinema nonetheless, but I’m totally uncertain if I should even try to see past this colossal, shall we say, error of taste?

I mention it here because nobody else seems to have. It’s a moment that, for me, pushes the film into nasty BIRTH OF A NATION historical-revision territory, although at least the film hasn’t caused the kind of actual real-world harm Griffith’s monsterpiece provoked, and the criminal moment in the Masumura is arguably incidental to the main themes, which I don’t have such a problem with. Whereas Griffith’s problem is absolutely central.

Euphoria #22: In the middle of nowhere…

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

Vincent Ranaldi, sci-fi and movie buff extraordinaire, suggests the opening journey from Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful SPIRITED AWAY as a prime example of Cinema Euphoria, the gift that keeps on giving.

I was into this guy before anybody! Anybody in Edinburgh, anyway. Me and my friends were into him, anyway, thanks to Kiyoyuki Murakami, who was our fellow student at Edinburgh College of Art. Back around 1990, none of Miyazaki’s movies had been translated and released in the west, except for bad dubs of LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND and CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (the standard-issue Japanime Cute Girl characters always sounded like Sunset  Strip hookers). Nobody had even heard of TOTORRO.

there goes the neighbourhood

Kiyo had VHS copies of most of Miyazaki’s work up to that point (PORCO ROSSO was the latest) and it was unbelievably amazing to us. I was blown away by the variations in pacing, unheard-of in American or European animation (VERY fast + VERY slow) and I loved Miyazaki’s skewed takes on British culture and landscapes (LAPUTA is purportedly inspired by Miyazaki’s visit to Yorkshire at the time of the ’80s miners’ strike, but to British audiences it’s still a bizarre Neverland). Simon Fraser, a cartoonist himself, as well as a film student, was captivated by the design as well as the storytelling.

Kiyo even produced episodes of LUPIN THE 3RD directed by Miyazaki, including one with a giant Spruce Goose aircraft that TRANSFORMS into an IRON GIANT, prefiguring the Ted Hughes Iron Man type robots from LAPUTA. (I’m guessing the title of that one, derived from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, was altered to CASTLE IN THE SKY because the suits at Disney  realised that La Putais Spanish for “whore”). And there was really early stuff like PANDA KOPANDA, which is drawn in a completely different style from later Studio Ghibli stuff. The panda is a big friendly guy who sounds like an old wino.


None of this stuff had subtitles, so we coped with Kiyo’s minimalist live translations — as a Benshi film describer he was not quite as precise as David Wingrove, who is like a human babelfish converting European cinema into English as you watch — Kiyo would basically give a one-sentence summary of what had just passed in each scene. Miyazaki’s plots err towards the minimal and underexplained, so this was generally fine.

‘Why can’t Kiki fly anymore?’ we would ask.

‘Not, uh, really explained,’ said Kiyo.

So we would fall back on the stunning images to guide us.

The sense of place in H.M.’s films is always really strong. I’d love to visit the sparkling Mediterranean islands of PORCO ROSSO, the coastal town of KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, and especially the decayed island in the sky from LAPUTA.

swift island

SPIRITED AWAY opens with smart character intros but also a great landscape and a Lewis-Carrollian journey from everyday norm to a World of Fantasy and Strange Peril. It’s this magic evocation of place and time and noplace and notime that I think made Vince choose this sequence out of all Miyazaki’s work.

Footnote: have people out there seen GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES? Isn’t it AMAZING?