Patema Inverted

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Even though we’ve collectively logged over 1,900 hours of anime, we still consider ourselves humble tourists in the field. As such, we’ve developed and clung to assumptions more experienced and/or knowledgeable parties might find quaint. One of those is that the Miyazaki/Ghibli juggernaut has classically had the “wondrous fantasy with wide appeal” market cornered.

After this film (originally released in November), the first work we’ve seen from 34-year-old Yoshiura Yasuhiro (Eve no Jikan) which is ostensibly his magnum opus (so far), that assumption has been…inverted. SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.

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Hannah Brave (Braverade): I’m still reveling in the afterglow of this phenomenally gorgeous film. There honestly wasn’t a bad shot in the whole running time. From the opening moments depicting a wide-scale calamity to the transition to an underground world, it just kept dishing out awesome, exquisitely-detailed environments, determined to out-do Ghibli in sheer density of memorable imagery.

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Preston Yamazuka (MagicalChurlSukui): I too found myself spellbound by the sights, but even the best-looking film can be undone by subpar music or voice-acting. This had neither of those problems: the stirring orchestral score, the hauntingly beautiful theme song; the voice-acting and ambient sounds—all conspired to complete our transportation to this new world.

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Zane Kalish (sesameacrylic): The sights and sounds were spot-on (and very Ghibliesque at times, I might add), but where this film really shone was in its premise, brilliant in its elegance and almost universally approachable: what starts as a humble fish-out-of-water tale balloons into an epic tale of two worlds with opposite gravity connected by two young, open-minded representatives of said worlds, who share a passion for exploration and a yearning for the new.

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Hannah: Yeah, I sure did think this was just going to be about the Adventures of Upside Down Girl, but the film became so much more than that as it progressed. The science of what exactly happened to cause this phenomenon is wisely kept vague; it’s the impact of the phenomenon on society that really impressed.

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Preston: To returning to the genesis of the Ghibliverse, Patema sure did resemble Princess Nausicaä, and her village was the kind of individualistic egalitarian utopia ruled by a kindly king the Valley of the Wind was. Meanwhile, gravity may be “correct” in Age’s world (in that the sky is up, but more on that later), but feels like Nausicaä’s unseen Tolmekian Empire; run by a man not afraid to spill blood to validate his ideals.

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Zane: Forget just Ghibli: Aiga, a stark, authoritarian nightmareland where it’s taboo to look up, called to mind Nineteen Eighty-Four, Blade Runner, Brazil, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In any case, no where you particularly want to be. Once Patema arrives in Age’s world, the cameras favor Age’s perspective, making her inverted, but it’s Aiga world that’s “upside down” in terms of philosophy.

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Hannah: When Age (pronounced “Eiji”) hides Patema in that little shed, we knew it was only a matter of time before the “anti-invert” state got wind of her and brought the hammer down. If we had to give this film a demerit, it would be for having such a Laughably EEEEVIL Antagonist in Governor Odious Izamura, who spouts dogmatic bullshit but at the end of the day only worships the god Izamura, believing the vast power he has entitles him to keep Patema as a pet…or worse.

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Preston: I can kinda forgive the scenery-chewing arch-villain, because while this film is often broken up into extremes of good and evil or up and down, it’s just as concerned with the “in-between”, the “third way”, and in finding a way to connect the two worlds, which starts with the two kids Patema and Age. And even Izamura’s evil is diluted by his right-hand man, who operates in more of a moral gray area for most of the film.

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Zane: Izamura’s character was definitely informed by the old-school bad guy immortalized by Muska, whom even Miyazaki said he was a bit disappointed in, but when two crazy kids start makin’ eyes at each other, you need a strong, unrelenting force to break them apart in order to make their reunion that much more of an accomplishment. And I loved everything about the friendly love triangle of Patema, Age, and Porta, including how the two guys put their rivalry aside to save the girl.

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Hannah: That was one hell of a rescue…even though it technically failed! But while Patema and Age’s escape back down (or up? Oh dear…) to her world was delayed, the standoff on the roof of the skyscraper left us breathless, and led to one spectacular aerial vista after another, until they grow so close to the stars in the sky, they learn they’re actually lights from a huge network of structures. I have to say, I wasn’t expecting that.

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Preston: Actually, when Age and Patema watched the stars together for the first time, I was truly hoping against hope they were actually the lights of another city. That the film actually went there really made my evening. And in a glorious moment of continuity and coincidence edging on kismet, Patema finds her backpack, which just happened to land right beside the Age’s dad’s wrecked flying machine.

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Zane: Kismet or not, I really liked the way one life-threatening situation after another led to the Patema and Age growing to trust each other implicitly with their lives, and even becoming comfortable in their inverted hugging. The tender romance takes an important step forward up there in the “stars” where Age is the Inverted, and thus truly understands what Patema went through. As a recovering acrophobe, every instance of someone looking at their version of “down” generated a visceral response, a combination of primal fear and excitement. Unfortunately, there was no Spider-Man (or girl, in this case) kiss.

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Hannah: Part of me hoped the lovebirds could just stay up there, but not only did practical issues preclude that (it gets really hot up there during the day, plus there’s no food), they’re the hero and heroine of the story; they can’t just run away from their responsibility—and their desire—to serve as the bridge between their worlds. When they arrive at Patema’s village, it’s in the middle of her memorial service—now that right there is some Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer stuff!

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Zane: Yes, Duty Before Booty.

Preston: Please don’t type that. Also, you cut in line, it’s my turn to write something.

Zane: You going to subtract points and revoke my citizenship?

Preston: No, there’s no need to go Aiga on you. Ahem…anyway, yeah, Izamura’s plan to invade Patema’s realm with a handful of men using a flying device he has no idea how to operate seemed a bit short-sighted. You’d think someone who has that many weapons on his person would more carefully prepare for such an operation. It was akin to Dennis Hopper’s President Koopa travelling to Manhattan armed with Super Scopes in the live-action Super Mario film.

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Zane: Damn, nice reference. That was a properly nutty movie. But regarding Izamura, he was so obsessed with crushing the Inverted and taking personal possession of Patema (best illustrated by his tirade about why she chose Age – because he’s the same age and not a dick, duh!) it dulled the survival instincts he’d ostensibly cultivated as ruler of Aiga, resulting in his excellent death-by-falling-up into an endless sky.

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Hannah: Izamura’s was a Bad Guy Death you can set your watches to, made more deliciously ironic by his long-held belief the sky swallowed up sinners. By then, his right-hand man is fed up with his evil shit and saves Patema, Age, and Porta with his trusty casting-net gun. That leads to a happy ending in which the first steps towards amity between the worlds are taken. And at that point, Patema and Age have been holding each other to prevent the other from falling to their doom for so long it becomes second nature. What do you think guys: too tidy an ending?

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Preston: I don’t think so. The happy ending felt earned, after all the heavens and hells they went through together. Their success is also a handy allegory for real world conflict: Just because my up is your down and your down is my up doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. A difference of perspective, literal or not, will always lead to isolation and strife…but there will always be outliers in those groups who realize it doesn’t have to be that way, and work to unite rather than divide.

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Zane: I second Preston’s opinion. By the end, Patema and Age are sweethearts, pioneers, and diplomats, but also very important symbols of the viability, and benefits, of harmony and accord. Aiga’s hardcore Orwellian society is far more brittle than it looks when exposed to the sight of a cute couple soaring through the sky like birds. I like to imagine a sequel taking place a decade or so later, when the two societies coexist amicably in a new shared infrastructure resembling Escher’s Relativity.

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RABUJOI World Heritage List

MAL Score: 8.31

 

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Takanashi Rikka Kai: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Movie

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So, we finally got around to watching this movie, which is a suitable substitute for the first season, as it’s pretty much the first season (our reviews here) on fast-forward, complete with a few awkward cuts from one episode to the next. The conceit is that in the time before Rikka knows whether she has to move away or will be able to live alone above Yuuta, she retells her story to the audience from her perspective.

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The only problem is, aside from the sequences that bookend the film and a couple narrations, there’s nothing different from the events that take place here and the way they unfolded in the first season. It would have been interesting to see more new material from that time, rather than simply rehash it all in abridged form. Thus, this film is kind of a let-down, but only for those who went into it not knowing what it was going to be.

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For those who want to be brought up to speed on how Yuuta and Rikka fell for each other and ended up living alone together (however briefly), this film does the trick, though certainly nowhere near as efficiently as, say, Kill la Kill’s excellent cold-open recap. For those like us who thought there’d be more original material, it was still enjoyable to go back and be reminded why we liked the franchise so much we eagerly awaited its sequel, which is proving just as good.

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As for the original material, the ending, in which Yuuta (along with Touka) have to go to bat against Grandpa Takanashi, and it was great to see Rikka’s moment of jubilation upon learning they succeeded. But the star of this film is the entire pre-opening credits sequence: a gorgeous, lavishly-animated wedding-slash-battle that’s really just a Rikka daydream. If you’re not interested in a gorified season recap, we still recommend watching at least this first bit of the film, which is a great microcosm of why we love the franchise so much.

From Up On Poppy Hill

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We’ve only seen Gendo Senki (Tales from Earthsea), Miyazaki Hayao’s son Goro’s first film, once, and prior to this, it was the most recent Ghibli film we had seen, having skipped out on Ponyo and Arriety (for the time being.) While repeated viewings are not a requisite for a film’s greatness as far as we’re concerned (sometimes, watching a great film just once can be enough), suffice it to say we don’t remember much about it, other than the fact we didn’t hate it. What drew us to this film was the promise that it was a relatively straightforward slice-of-life romance, not based on any beloved epic series with defensive authors and built-in skeptical fan bases. On its face, this film reminded us of perhaps our favorite Ghibli film, Kondou Yoshifumi’s Whisper of the Heart, the review for which you can read here.

We were immediately enthralled by Whisper’s fiercely beautiful picture of West Tokyo in the nineties, the intricately-detailed, loving depiction of life for a middle class family during in that time and place, and most importantly, the touching romance that developed between Shizuku and Seiji. “This is how it’s done,” we thought as we watched it. These are the heights anime is capable of.” With that lofty praise in mind, don’t think we’re bashing Up On Poppy Hill because it didn’t quite reach the soaring heights of Whisper. In fact, we urge any romance, Ghibli, or just plain anime fans to pick up a copy of Poppy Hill (we got a deal on the Blu-Ray through Amazon) and give it a watch as soon as you can. We found it to be an exceedingly lovely film.

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While many Ghibli films are portals to fantastical dimensions, Poppy Hill is a time machine to 1963, the year before Tokyo hosts the Olympics for the first time ever—and just eighteen years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This means our protagonists—Umi and Shun—are of the postwar generation: not a party to the horrors of the past but well-versed in the scars their elders bear. To that end, old-style pre-war buildings all over the country are being torn down at a steady pace, as if they were contaminated by the past. One such building is the “Latin Quarter” – a magnificent but thoroughly-trashed French-style mansion on school grounds used as a headquarters for many of the school’s clubs. It’s the fight to save this house that brings Umi and Shun together.

From the beginning we see that Umi is a strong, hardworking no-nonsense young lady; even her bouncy little side braids suggest she’s somewhat “tightly wound”. She’s the first to wake up to cook for her family and the boarders who share her house, which is perched upon a hill overlooking the harbor. She is haunted by the loss of her father, a sailor killed aboard a supply ship in the Korean War, and raises flags every morning as a message to him that is never answered. When a poem in the school newspaper mentions her flags, she seeks out the author, just as Shizuku sought out the guy who checked out the same library books as her. Her first face-to-face encounter with the boy is when he jumps out of the house into a pool, and she reflexively offers him a helping hand, not thinking how it would look to the assembled masses of her peers.

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Umi’s grandmother is worried Umi is working too hard for everyone and not looking after her own happiness, while dwelling too much on the loss of her father. She hopes Umi will meet someone to help her find that happiness…and she does. It’s fun to watch her step into another world—at the behest of her little sister, who wants Shun’s autograph—as the two brave the appallingly filthy and chaotic Latin Quarter to find him. Where before she had been content with her studies and house duties and not interested in boys, her first taste of that world changes her mind in a hurry, and she’s smitten. For his part, Shun, while having a reputation for being a “live wire”, is never anything but respectful, warm, and chivalrous to Umi.

It’s Umi who first plants the kernel of an idea in Shun and the leaders of the Quarter that if it were cleaned up, prepare and made into a place where guys and girls alike would want to be, perhaps the demolition ball could be stayed. The film, like us, is firmly on the side of those who don’t want the building to go. Poppy Hill doesn’t just excel at portraying an utterly gorgeous slice of Japan’s past in terms of the buildings and bustling seaside vistas, but in the pulse of the youth of the moment, angered by their elders’ insistence on erasing history and culture to make themselves feel better. The debate over the Quarter is charged with passion, and Umi is in the back of the hall, soaking it all up.

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The campaign to beautify the Quarter is initiated, and like Kiki’s room at the bakery or Howl’s Moving Castle, once it’s cleaned up, it’s a much more welcoming and comfortable-looking place, rather than a dank cave. But as things look up for the Quarter, after a visit to Umi’s house when she shows Shun a photo of her father, there’s a distinct change in Shun, and he starts avoiding her. She can’t make out what’s eating him, even though we do. When she finally confronts him, he tells her: they’re brother and sister. Umi’s dejection after learning this truth may be more subtle than, say, Shizuku’s, but no less powerfully felt; as even the mundane tasks she used to take pride become a struggle with such dispiritedness hanging over her.

Siblings or no, the two remain friends and follow through with the Save the Quarter campaign, traveling to Tokyo and waiting in a hall way for many hours to speak to the man who will decide the building’s fate, and indeed already has, not knowing the transformation it’s undergone. Umi’s unassuming, earnest appeal instantly impresses the man, who agrees to an immediate inspection tour. The students pull out all the stops welcoming him, and the vastly-improved state of the building, as well as the enthusiasm of the kids themselves, compel him to change his mind.

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That same day, Shun gets word news from his adoptive father: the third man in the photo is aboard ship in the harbor, who confirms that Umi and Shun had different fathers, the two others in that photo. Umi and Shun aren’t related by blood, which is good, because they’re in love with each other. Is this ending quite neat and tidy, and all the twists and turns somewhat soap opera-y? Perhaps, but because we were so emotionally invested in Umi and Shun, and held out hope Shun was mistaken about their lineage, it didn’t bother us. We didn’t think it would’ve necessarily been a better film had they been deprived of a happy life together, any more than if the Quarter had been torn down.

A powerful idea Umi conveys in her confession to Shun on a streetcar platform stuck with us throughout the rest of the film: all the while she’d been raising those flags up on the hill, Shun was responding with flags on his dad’s tug, only she never had the angle to see them. Now that she knows about them, she decided to believe her father answered the flags too: by sending Shun into her life. Her long wait was over: no longer a girl living only for a day that would never come—the day her father returned—she found a place in her heart for someone new—someone alive—and discovered how new and exciting and nice life could be when you’re in love. We discovered that Ghibli has a bright future. This is how it’s done.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • The hallmark of every Ghibli film is a constant feeling of “I want to go to there,” and Poppy is no different.
  • While it lacked the sublime soaring orchestrations that are another Ghibli hallmark, we were really into the period-specific soundtrack. It was at times moving, soulful, joyful, and downright toe-tapping.
  • We’ll also fully admit to having our heartstrings tugged on on numerous occasions; there was nothing shallow or forced about any of the drama; we felt Umi’s pain and frustrations and often teared up when she teared up.
  • On the note of Ghibli tropes is the dream that starts with a girl walking along, crying in a golden field, which dates back to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which turns thirty this year (our review of that here.)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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We wrote a review of the first HG film, so there was precedent to write one for the second.

“Moves and countermoves”, remarks the hilariously-named head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee in the second installment of the Hunger Games film series, Catching Fire, suggesting and elegant and ultimately more effective fate for Katniss Everdeen as punishment for her act of defiance against the Capitol and President Snow in particular.

We’re reminded of the last episode of Valvrave, in which the Magius-infused Council of a Hundred and One fought a PR battle against a younger and less experienced foe. New JIOR lost and lost spectacularly. Considering the power Snow and the Capitol possess, you’d think arranging a similar frame-job for Katniss would be child’s play.

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In fact, both the wildly successful Catching Fire ($670 million-plus as of writing this) and its wildly successful predecessor hinge on the audience’s ability to believe that Katniss has a Snow-ball’s chance in hell against the oppressive regime, especially after Poison-Berrygate. On the whole, they have, as did we. The districts are a tinderbox; Snow daren’t make any overt moves against Katniss lest the explode.

Unlike the Magius’ near total-victory on Valvrave last week in turning New JIOR into a globally-loathed nation of immortal monsters, Snow and Heavensbee’s efforts to cast Katniss as “one of them”—uncaring of the poorer districts and thus undeserving of their love—results in far more mixed results, for reasons we won’t go into because of spoilers.

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Like the first HG film, we went into this one having not read the book, and thus without any possibility of being disappointed by the adaptation. But after reading the first book, we’re reasonably certain we wouldn’t have been disappointed anyway. There’s much talk about the film being better than the book it’s based on, if for no other reason than the book’s first-person perspective makes it impossible for us to see what’s going on with Snow and Heavensbee where Katniss isn’t present.

But this was also a more focused, mature, darker film than the last one. The shaky-cam is gone, there’s much more lovely world-building, the fellow tributes are less cartoonish and one-dimensional. And while both films follow similar patterns early on, we were shocked and delighted by the different turns this film takes. Unlike Star Trek Into Darkness, it broke new ground. It was one of those rare good sequels. Also, you can never go wrong with Jena Malone.

Toaru Majutsu no Index: Endymion no Kiseki

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On the streets of Academy City, Touma and Index meet Meigo Arisa, a street singer/songwriter with mysterious miracle-like powers. She wins an audition to become the “spokes-idol” for Endymion, a space elevator nearing completion. Touma protects Arisa as she’s pursued by both the church – who believe her to be a saint, and Ladylee Tangleroad, the CEO of the company that built the elevator who has been cursed with eternal life. She sends her employee, the militaristic music-deaf Shutaura Sequenzia to retirev Arisa seeking to use Arisa and the elevator to create a magical device that will end her life – destroying half the world in the process.

When Shutaura learns of Ladylee’s true plans she turns against her. With the help of his many friends, acquaintances, and one-time enemies, Touma and Index launch into orbit to reach the top of the elevator, where Arisa performs before a massive crowd. As the parties on the ground disable Endymion, Index disrupts Ladylee’s spell, while Touma convinces Shutaura not to kill Arisa, punching her in the process. It turns out Arisa was the manifestation of Shutaura’s own wish when she was aboard the doomed space plane piloted by her father. Arisa merges with Shutaura, who regains as Ladylee’s spell is destroyed, ending the crisis. Life returns to normal.

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First things first: woe betide ye who attempt to watch this film as a newbie to the Index/Railgun franchise. Aside from having no idea why a normal guy like Touma keeps shrugging off multiple blows and severe burns to his body, and has a tiny bitey nun for a roommate, all of the dozens of cameos in the film will go right over their heads. We ourselves have a certain soft spot for the franchise, and so were eager to see what they could do with a feature-length film. The results were very ambitious, and we came away from the viewing feeling it succeeded insofar as it adapted the spirit of the show – magic vs. science – and was a most entertaining romp, complete with robot fights, mecha/car chases, and space battles, all taking place in gorgeous settings.

We also dug the idea of dual heroines in Arisa and Shutaura. Looking back there were plenty of clues that they were pretty much the same person split in two: music was Arisa’s life, but Shutaura’s ears couldn’t even discern it; Arisa remembers nothing prior to three years ago; they both possess halves of the same blue bracelet. Arisa’s meteoric rise to fame reminded us of Ranka Lee’s similar arc in Macross Frontier, a series we kept thinking of due to the similar space opera-y milieu the film adopts in the second half. The film looked and sounded great, we had a lot of fun watching it. Had it run in a theater near us, we would have definitely felt we got our money’s worth.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nerawareta Gakuen

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Seki Kenji is a seemingly average, clumsy junior high student who lives with his grandfather and baby sister, and lives next door to the athletic Ryouura Natsuki, his childhood friend who harbors feelings for him. Kenji and Natsuki start the first day of school meeting their friend Kahori Harukawa, who Kenji has a crush on, but before that Kenji meets the new transfer student, Kyougoku Ryouichi, for the first time.

Ryouichi turns out to be a time traveler from a future where mankind has abandoned Earth and live on the moon. He has come to awaken the psychic powers of people in Kenji’s time. Kahori falls in love with him at first sight, leading to her rejecting Kenji, who is later confessed to by Natsuki in no uncertain terms. As Kenji, Natsuki, and Kahori struggle with their relationships, the student body is being reprogrammed by Ryouichi, and the council becomes more and more averse to cell phones. Ryouichi warns Kenji that they’ll have to fight, but agrees to put it off so the four of them can have a day at the beach.

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When it’s over, Kenji’s time on Earth is almost up, he reciprocates his feelings for Kahori, but knows her memory of him will vanish when he returns to the moon. Kenji’s psychic powers are released by his grandfather, and he uses them to return Ryouichi to his time. He goes with him, telling Natsuki to wait for him. After they’re gone, neither Kahori or Natsuki remember Ryouichi or Kenji. But one day, at the start of another school year, the two girls discuss the new transfer student, and Kenji reappears, along with Natsuki’s memories of him.

While we tend to focus nearly exclusively on television anime, we find it important to check out a film once and a while, to see what a big budget and one-and-three-quarter-plus running time can do. This film does quite a bit, transporting us into an epically gorgeous and lush seaside town and drawing us into the lives of kids who’d realize how gosh-darn lucky they are to live in such an idyllic world if they weren’t constantly pining for one another. With all kinds of jumps, flips, bounces, and blows, the fluid animation brings Kenji, Natsuki, Kahori and Ryouichi to life at a level television can’t ever match with consistency.

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The visuals are all on, all the time, a picture of otherworldly hyperrealism to reflect how Ryouichi sees the Earth after living his whole life on the moon, with unblinking eyes. Our Favorite Seiyu Hanazawa Kana lends her voice to the surface-perfect Kahori, while Natsuki is voiced by the up-and-coming Wantanabe Mayu, who knocks it out of the park in the first thing we ever heard her in. Natsuki’s incessant teasing got on our nerves at first, but before long we were rooting for her. Just as ambitious as the sights and sounds is the sprawling story of two separate worlds and a moving love polygon that resolves itself in a way that’s to our liking (there’s one kiss in particular that was stunning in its execution).

There’s a lovely recurring theme of mirrors. The teacher likens theater to a mirror through which the audience see versions of themselves. Natsuki, whose love for Kenji is (initially) one-sided – sees Kenji (who has the same one-sided feelings for Kahori) as a mirror. The moon mirrors the earth. The mechanics of time travel and the awakening and use psychic powers are handled elegantly and without too much fuss. In the end, Ryouichi may have failed the mission his father sent him on, but his presence on earth led to Natsuki’s feelings finally reaching Kenji, creating the possibility that the two needn’t remain nothing more or less than just neighbors.

In fact, one of our only gripes with this film might just be its title, translated as “Psychic School Wars” – which hardly does the film justice.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo

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14 years after third impact, Ikari Shinji awakens to a world he does not remember. He hasn’t aged. Much of Earth is laid in ruins, Nerv has been dismantled, and people who he once protected have turned against him. Befriending the enigmatic Nagisa Kaworu, Shinji continues the fight against the angels and realizes the fighting is far from over, even when it could be against his former allies. The characters’ struggles continue amidst the battles against the angels and each other, spiraling down to what could inevitably be the end of the world. (Source: ANN)

We find ourselves in a conundrum: having primarily written reviews on individual episodes lasting an average of twenty or so minutes each for nearly three years, whenever a film comes around, it’s a struggle to write a review about it. Fully aware that having just finished watching the film without even starting to absorb everything we saw and heard, we won’t be able to do our ultimate thoughts justice in this hastily written review. So instead we’re going to try to keep things as brief and simple as possible, starting with our verdict on the third Evangelion film: It was good. Very good. Everything we were hoping for, and far more than we could have expected.

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It occurs to us that back in June 2010 (about three months before we started up RABUJOI), after returning from a trip to Tokyo and having been bombarded with promotional material for the second film, we did just that: keep it simple. That review was just 465 words, back before we had written many reviews. We didn’t re-watch the first two films, but we did re-read our review of the second in preparation for the third. In hindsight, we needn’t have bothered. The third film is all-new, continuing the trend of showing us an Eva we have never seen before, drawing from a dense mythos that has endured and thrived for 16 years now.

Like the Children, the Eva franchise is a teenager, and a moody, fiery one at that. It lashes out and grabs you from the thrilling opening minutes, and as usual, even when we found ourselves as lost and confused in all the sci-fi, crypto-theological techno-babble, elaborate mechanical feats, and apotheothetic explosions as Shinji, we still loved every minute of it. But strip away all the fancy eye candy, and intentionally or not, Anno Hideaki tells a very simple story in this film. It’s about Shinji waking up after an amount of time equal to his entire life, finding that everything is different and nothing makes sense, and being totally unable to deal with that.

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With his new friend Nagisa Kaworu (AKA Seele’s Child), Shinji calms down and is able to find a purpose in this new world, only that purpose not only makes him an enemy of his friends, but also threatens to destroy the world rather than save it. Still, even when Kaworu warns him not to, Shinji follows through, makes a bigger mess, and has to be bailed out by Kaworu, who becomes the thirteenth angel. He saves Shinji, and by stopping the fourth impact, saves the world as it stands and everyone in it.

Dejected by the loss of Kaworu, with whom he had bonded so deeply, and aware that his actions have somehow been the cause of everything thus far, Shinji cowers in the darkness of his ejected and soft-landed cockpit plug. He’s afraid to move, to do anything else that will hurt others. But then Asuka finds him, pulls him out, grabs him by the hand and makes him move forward with her. Rei has also landed nearby, and what do you know, the three kids are reunited for the grand finale. After dealing with a world where everything had changed and everyone rejected him, and the only person who didn’t died, Shinji now has a little bit of stability back.

His dad is a distant ass and he never knew his mom, so these two girls, whatever else they might be, are his family.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Misato and Ritsuko looked so different and were so cold to Shinji, at first we thought he’d ended up in an alternative universe.
  • Their organization Wille seems to be a counterbalance to NERV.
  • Wille’s flagship, the Wunder, is suitably awesome. It’s the Avenger’s flying aircraft carrier on steroids, and its bridge is just nuts.
  • Mari Makinami Illustrious remains a very mysterious and somewhat one-note character. She’s just kinda around to back Asuka up and fire off quips. We get it; nothin’ fazes you!
  • Rei’s little hut is just as depressing as her old apartment, with many of the same trappings. 
  • It’s a little detail, but we like how Anno stuck with the same design for title cards as the original series, including the series of flashes at the end of the “A-part”.
  • The film was prety light on fanservice, but at this point Asuka’s entire character design is pure fanservice.
  • Turns out Rei is a cloned copy of Shinji’s mother Yui. Like we said…family!
  • Asuka has ceased calling Shinji “idiot”. She’s moved on to “brat.”
  • Gendou is willing to sacrifice everything in order to complete the Human Instrumentality Project and “kill God”. Shit’s heavy, man.
  • Man, there’s nothing quite like hearing that classic preview music at the end. That is how you do a fucking preview.
  • After our initial post-watching excitement, we’ve reduced the rating to 9. The original tv series would probably score a 10 were we to rate it, and at the end of the day none of the new films quite stand on the same level as the original.

11 Mononoke Moments

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Every couple years we like to revisit one of the first and best works of anime we’ve ever seen, to bask in its excellence and wade in the gooey nostalgia. Suffice it to say, the film gets better with each subsequent viewing, and it also gets more difficult to find satisfying and cohesive words to describe how much we adore it and why. So we won’t! Instead, we’ll list ten eleven of our favorite moments, in chronological order.

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1. The first shot after the title card, and that first Joe Hisaishi orchestral flourish: Ashitaka glides through the trees on his red elk, sensing something is amiss. Instantly, we are transported to another world, and that world already feels real by the sound of leaves rustling and the stamping of hooves on the earth.

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2. Three village girls flee from the raging demon, but one trips and falls. Do the other two run away and leave the third behind? Do they wait for Ashitaka to save them? No. Kaya draws her sword and stands fast with her fallen sister. Miyazaki wastes no time establishing that the women in this film are going to stand equally with men in all things: courage, intelligence, strength…and general badassery.

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3. Ashitaka learns his fate, from another strong woman, the village oracle. In this scene, we see the desperation of the men sitting against the wall. Ashitaka is the youngest there, the last best hope for the village; his sudden exile crushes them. But Ashitaka does not flinch from the task before him. He chooses to stand and face his fate.

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4. Ashitaka and Kaya’s farewell gets to us every time, but the sorrow of that little scene is soon put behind Ashitaka as he begins the next chapter of his life, out in the sprawling world, full of mysteries and wonders and infinite possibilities. The soaring, epic music and staggeringly vast, gorgeous vistas contribute to create one of the best traveling montages in all of cinema – and this is only the beginning.

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5. Ashitaka first spots San. When he braves the deeper parts of the ancient forest with the injured men, he finds San and her wolf tribe licking their wounds after a raid. Mononoke is sucking blood out of Moro and when she spots Ashitaka, delays spitting it out for just one brilliant moment. Ashitaka leaps up and gives a Big Dumb Hero Speech, to which the wolves respond by simply walking off. San replies with one word: “Leave.” San don’t give a shit about him…not yet, anyway.

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6. The first clash of Eboshi and San. Lady Eboshi is one of our favorite antiheroes in anime. Cunning, ruthless, and sexy, we never learn her true motivations. Perhaps she had a tough upbringing that steeled her for competing and succeeding in a male-dominated world, and wishes to carry that tradition on with other women with unfortunate pasts. She gives lepers and brothel workers honest jobs and happy lives, and makes a huge profit off of it.

San herself is a less complex but no less compelling character. We know for a fact her human parents discarded her. Whether they didn’t want her or couldn’t care for her, she was left to the wolves and raised as one. In a way, Eboshi is just as much a wolf. But she hides her wolf and her heart within, not on her sleeve. Whatever people believe about her is what she wants them to believe.

Then San slips by Eboshi’s guard and shoots at her like an arrow loosed from a bow. All speed and primal rage and chaos, Eboshi – at the last second – pulls out her thin, elegant blade of folded steel with the tiniest movements, then brandishes a tiny dagger; her first parry was a feint. All logic and discipline and careful sizing-up of her opponent. Her water meets San’s fire and a stalemate ensues, until Ashitaka’s finally had enough and subdues both.

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7. Ashitaka tells San she’s beautiful while she has his sword pointed a centimeter from his throat. San’s bashful reaction proves shee is still a human. Ashitaka doesn’t say this out of desperation; he’s not one to extend his life with wordplay. He says it because it’s the truth. He doesn’t want San’s beautiful soul irrevicably corrupted by hate. The end product of that path gave him his scar.

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8. There’s really no scene in any film we’ve seen that gives us goosebumps that last quite as long as they do when San takes Ashitaka deeper into the forest to see if the deer god will save his life. The utter majesty of their sylvan suroundings, the brief dream Ashitaka has in complete silence, the way the white noise of the forest returns when a dewdrop wakes Ashitaka up, it’s all perfect.

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9. When he’s unable to chew bark, San chews it for him and feeds him like a bird, in perhaps the best non-kiss first kiss we’ve ever seen. San is just making sure he doesn’t die, but Ashitaka is moved to tears. As are we.

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10. Ashitaka wakes up in a den, with San sleeping soundly beside him, and then the titular theme song starts up, we have perhaps the quietest, most beautiful scene in the entire film. You get the feeling this is the most comfortable and happy the two will be, as well as the last time they’re together, for some time. So bittersweet.

Shots of the contented San bookend his conversation with a testy Moro, who sits atop the stone den, contemplating her death and the death of the forest. Her speech to him about how even this place will soon be engulfed in the flames of mankind’s industry and war, and how both of them are too weak to do anything about it, is heartbreaking, but neither her cyncism or threats to bite his head off sway Ashitaka from the belief there can be a third way, and that he can find a way for him and San to live.

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11. The scenes with the rather bull-headed boar tribe and their doomed blaze of glory, as well as Jiko-bo’s strategizing aren’t our favorite of the film, and if there was a place where the film lags a bit, it’s here. But when Moro decides to use the last of her strength to help save San from being consumed by Okkoto’s corruption and hands her off to Ashitaka, who runs into the lake with her, it was a great relief. Yeah, it’s a bit Guy Saves Girl…but remember, she saved him too.

As representatives of mankind and nature, their friendship forged from mutual life-saving, trust, and love is proof that their two factions can, if not co-exist, allow one another to simply…live. Even in the present day, there are still countless places untouched by man. They are fewer than in the past, but they will always be here.

One side-effect of watching this film is it makes you want to seek out those places in nature that endure even today. Where trees have stood through ages of man, and the animals do not fear us. We will never truly defeat nature, and nature will never truly defeat us. It’s not a zero-sum game, and it never was.

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu (Retro Review)

Originally posted 19 Dec 2010 – We’ve been fans of Haruhi Suzumiya from the first episode of the original series back in 2006, and have remained fans ever since. She’s certainly a polarizing character most will either find charming or unbelievably annoying. The same goes with the Suzumiya franchise. It’s spawned dozens of imitations since it first aired. We even sat through the infamous “Endless Eight” arc, in which the producers had the audacity to recreate the very same tortured feeling of repetition that Kyon felt. Call us masochists, but we relished every excruciating, suspense-building episode (well, mostly).

One of the things we love about the series is the infinite possibilities that come from Haruhi’s apparently limitless power. A simple visual metaphor in the original series OP says it all: the camera zooms into Haruhi’s eye and the entire universe unfolds within it. That’s the potential of this series: anything can happen to Kyon, an otherwise ordinary student with no powers in an otherwise normal school in an otherwise normal city. This epic, sprawling, two-and-three-quarter-hour film met that potential…and surpassed it in ways we couldn’t have predicted.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the production values rule. This film was a masterpiece of light and color. It breathed life into its characters and settings by employing peerless care and attention to detail. Whatever this film cost, it was frankly worth every penny. From the soaring orchestral arrangements of familiar musical motifs, to portrayal of such mundane actions as applying double-stick tape or walking home at night and having headlamps cast upon you, this film simply looked and sounded badass. On some levels this film even surpassees Ghibli in rendering its utterly beautiful yet believable world.

As for the story, in the best tradition of the franchise, it weaves a tangled, complex tale, as Kyon travels across time and space, having somehow fallen out of his own. As the title suggests, Haruhi is nowhere to be found…at first. But the twists and turns the plot takes as Kyon desperately searches for someone who understands him, and the epic quest to set things right in the world – and indeed, discover what constitutes ‘right’ for Kyon, make for a satisfyingly addictive cinematic experience.

The film essentially boiled down to a choice Kyon – not Haruhi – has to make; a choice made possible by Yuki Nagano, who after living with humans so long, has reached the point where systemic “errors” cause “anomalous behavior”. Read: she’s developing emotions for her SOS Brigade-mates, slowly but surely, and decided to act upon Kyon’s outward attitude towards the world he lives in. He seems weary of all the supernatural experiences, the danger, and the hassle of dealing with Haruhi.

So Yuki remakes the world; a stable world where both she and Haruhi are powerless, and there are neither time travelers nor espers to be found. It’s a world she thought Kyon would prefer, and a world where Yuki herself would be a normal girl with feelings for him. Naturally, upon finding himself suddenly in this world, he wigs out…at first. This is where the choice comes in: will he admit he actually likes being with Haruhi and enduring her schemes, or live a quiet, safe life devoid of anything fantastical in the new, normal world Yuki made for him?

At times, this seems like a choice for Kyon between Haruhi and the ‘new’ Yuki. After much hand-wringing, he chooses the original world, not because it was the logical choice, but it was what he really wanted. Thus, he rejects the new, normal human Yuki with whom he could have had a normal romantic relationship. Even so, his later pledge to original Yuki – that he’d fight just as fiercely to get her back if anything ever happened to her – showed that his affections aren’t limited to Haruhi – or Asahina – but to Yuki too.

Well, that’s enough rambling! This is a long and engrossing film, but we almost can’t wait to see it again soon (We have. It still rocks.) We’ll simply close by saying this wasn’t simply an excellent Haruhi Suzumiya film, or anime film; it was an excellent film, full stop, and an instant favorite of ours. If Kyoto Animation wants to make another Haruhi anime series in the near future, we certainly won’t stop them.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Mimi wo Sumaseba

During summer vacation, lazy bookworm Tsukishima Shizuku observes an cat riding on the train. Intrigued, she decides to follow him. The chase leads her to Amasawa Seiji, a boy who dreams of becoming a violin maker, and The Baron, a cat figurine who, along with Seiji, inspires her to explore her own creative pursuit: a fantasy novel. Shizuku and Seiji fall for one another just as he’s headed off to Italy for two months, and Shizuku contends with the loneliness by burying herself in her novel, affecting her marks and leading to a family meeting. When her trials are over and she delivers the draft of her novel to Seiji’s grandpa, The Baron’s owner, it evokes in him memories of his own lost love. Seiji returns, and he and an elated Shizuki take his bike to the highest point in town to watch the sunrise together.

We’ve wanted to review this film for a while now. Directed by the late Kondou Yoshifumi (who died before his time) with storyboards by Miyazaki, It’s a classic and perhaps our favorite Ghibli film (our top 3 tend to fluctuate), one that focuses on the real-life struggles of young people and limits the fantasy elements to their imaginations. We take an instant liking to Shizuku, remembering the endless possibilities of summer often boiling down to goofing off (or in her case, reading books indoors) until it’s suddenly gone. It’s full of brilliant moments like the transition from the dark clouds encroaching on a summer afternoon to the first day of school when it’s pouring, enhanced by Nomi Yuuji’s stirring, soaring orchestral score (gives us goosebumps every time). Meeting Seiji requires some degree of coincidence – call it fate – but their budding romance is straightforward and expertly handled. There are times, perhaps, when a kiss is called for, but the lack of overt gestures of affection doesn’t detract from the romance here. It’s understated, mature, and feels very real.

The film takes place in beautifully-rendered, intricately-detailed, sprawling West Tokyo in 1994, which is a character in and of itself. The hum and pulse of the city, with its engines and horns and sirens, people weaving around trains and bikes and cars, it’s all so vital and alive. Shizuku’s various moods as she walks and runs through the twisting streets are all perfectly accompanied by Nomi’s score, and there’s great contrast between Shizuku’s crowded, cave-like apartment (God, we love that apartment) and the gorgeous vistas of the dramatically-perched antique store (the vistas from the deck are superb!). We also enjoyed the side characters, from the very cat-like cat Moon to Shizuku’s pushy big sister and progressive parents, who let her do what she wants as long as she takes responsibility if she fails in her creative pursuit.

We could frankly muse about how much ass this film kicks all day. It transports us back to nineties West Tokyo and drops us right in the middle of the life of a girl tentatively striking out on her own road and, while on it, meets someone she can share the journey with. Whenever we watch it, it always lifts our spirits. It even inspired us to write our own novel, while being mindful not to expect instant perfection, but starting with roughly-hewed ore from which gems can be polished through hard work and patience.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Car Cameos: In a word, tons. There are cars, trucks, buses, and bikes zooming every which way, and Shizuku has some close calls while crossing the street or walking alongside it with Seiji. Recognizable models we spotted include a BMW 5-Series (E34); Honda Legend; Hino S’elega bus; an old Mitsubishi Delica; an original Mini Cooper; a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter truck; a Toyota Corolla (E80) multiple Toyota Comfort and Nissan Cedric Y31 taxis; a civilian Toyota Crown (S130); and a  Volkswagen Golf III. We’re not sure what kind of kei van Seiji’s gramps putters around in…or the makes/models of the myriad motorbikes buzzing around.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Konno Makoto is a normal high school girl who has a bad day and ends up about to be killed by a train when she suddenly leaps back in time a few minutes to avoid the accident. Once she realizes she can literally leap through time at will, she begins using the ability to improve her life in small ways. But she learns the misfortune she’s denying herself is forced on others, and there’s a number on her arm that is counting down. Her ability only makes her life and relationships more complicated, though not necessarily for the worse…

When all’s said and done, Makoto’s trails and tribulations present a pretty good case for why having the power to change the past is not a power any person should ever possess. Humans love to look back on their choices and wonder what coulda woulda shoulda. But we have enough trouble making the choices we make, without having the opportunity to go back and constantly alter them. To be blunt, a power like that would turn us into perfectionists, and even if time travel is possible, perfection is not. Yet we wouldn’t stop trying to grasp it, and it would consume us. When you can go back and change things, you’ll never stop.

That’s why we’re glad TokiKake sets certain limits to the scope of Makoto’s powers. She doesn’t try to go back to change world history, or even Japanese history, just her own history. And while she starts out goofing off, it turns out she had a finite number of leaps, most of which she squandered. In fact, her most important leaps are her first (which saves her life), and her last (which gives Chiaki his one leap back). Let’s not harbor any illusions: if she had unlimited leaps, she probably wouldn’t stop tweaking events, so it’s a good thing she ran out. In the end, she did the right things at the right time, and everything will be fine.

Anyway, we really got a kick out of this film. It fully immersed us in its lush and detailed world – one so much like ours, but where time leaping is possible – and made us care about that world and the people in it. The ordinary, clumsy Makoto’s epic ordeal is punctuated by moments of deep regret and longing, balanced with profound contentment and joy. She takes a lot of hard licks and learns hard lessons, most important of all, that “time waits for no man” (or in her case, girl); leaping back only leaves one further behind time’s unrelenting pace.


Rating: 4

The Lion King

When we were ten years old and the Lion King came out, we thought it was the best Disney film we’ve ever seen; surpassing Aladdin the year before. From the gorgeous visuals, engrossing score, and toe-tapping songs, and relatively straightforward, strong story about redemption, duty, and family, it seemingly had everything we could possibly want in a movie. Plus, LIONS. The Lion King came out in theatres eighteen years ago. We hadn’t laid eyes on it for thirteen, until we broke out the VHS videocassette and gave it a watch to see if it was as good as we remember.

It is, and we’re not just saying that with our eyes glossed over with nostalgia; it’s a great little film. One thing we didn’t know way back when was how short it was – just 88 minutes, or three-quarters of your typical Miyazaki flick. But it uses those 88 minutes very efficiently. It never lags, and when it seems like it’s about to, we’re treated to another song. The songs themselves are just as fun and addictive as they were when we were kids; and we still remembered many of the lyrics. How couldn’t we; this is a film we must’ve seen dozens of times in our youth. The film is full of clever dialogue and plenty of rapid-fire, droll repartee among the adult characters. Mufasa , Zazu, Scar, Timon, Pumbaa and Rafiki’s voice work is top-notch.

Watching The Lion King all grown up, we gained a fresh sympathy for Scar, even if the film gives him none; he just happened to be born after his bigger, stronger brother, and a pride doesn’t need two males, so he’s just out of place in the world. It’s not surprising he’d seek solace consorting with hyenas, who seem like a lot of fun. Even when he’s pretending to show genuine concern when warning Mufasa that Simba’s in the gorge, he sells it so well we believe it. As for young Simba, well, he’s much more of a spoiled little shit than we remember. He kinda had to exile himself till he grew up anyway; there’s no such thing as a cub king. The Lion King has aged specacularly, representing the apex of non-Pixar Disney feature films.


Rating: 4

Paprika

The DC Mini, invented by the immensely obese Tokita Kosaku, is a device that allows its user to enter into others’ dreams and explore their unconscious, like a detective. It is intended for psychotheraputic use, and among the test subjects is a police detective named Konakawa, being treated by Dr. Atsuko Chiba, whose alter-ego in the dream world is a brighter, cheerier version of herselve called “Paprika.”

When a DC Mini is stolen from the research facility, the thief turns it on the staff of the facility, starting with Dr. Himuro, who almost goes mad in an overwhelming, personality-draining, nonsensical “nightmare parade”. Dr. Chiba works with the recovering Himuro, Tokita, and Konakawa to discover who stole the DC Mini and why they’re using it as a weapon of terror. The investigation turns up several surprises about their personalities – especially Chiba’s – and the mastermind is the person everyone least suspected…

Why are we reviewing a six-year-old movie? Two reasons: one, a friend of RABUJOI recommended it for weekly Movie Night; and two, we enjoyed it thoroughly. Feeling much longer and deeper than its scant 90-minute runtime, from the trippy pre-credit dream and super-trick opening sequence to the increasingly mad, epic climax, the movie always had us wondering what was real and whose dream we were in. Reality bends like pizza cheese, and the characters are never far from Alice-In-Wonderland madness.

The production values are what you would expect of a full-length movie; far higher than your average weekly anime, and have held up well in six years. The story and its aesthetic calls to mind a number of iconic films that deal with similar themes, from Blade Runner and The Matrix to Akira and the aformentioned Alice in Wonderland. There’s even a little Inception in Paprika, a film it predates. It also borrows imagery from cinema and mythology (the precursor to cinema). It takes the ideas of dreamcrime, the nature of the personality, and the positive and negative potential of groundbreaking technology, and paints a vivid and original detective mystery in which the detectives learn a lot about themselves and each other before the case is closed.

The villain – the aged, wheelchair-bound chairman of the psychiatric reseach facility – is perhaps the weakest link in a very strong picture. When it becomes known that people are being harmed by the DC Mini, he pulls the plug on the project, but his subordinates defy him in order to find answers, which leads them to the revelation that he’s behind it all, killing the chance of commercial application by exhibiting how destructive the DC Mini can be. It’s implied he doesn’t want technology interfering with the natural order of dreams, but he also wants to be young and spry again, and wants to merge the dream world with reality, thus requiring the very technology he hates.

His somewhat murky motivations notwithstanding, his downfall is artfully portrayed, as a Chiba, just shed of her Paprika-avatar skin, becomes an infant when she merges with the childlike Tokita, and gradually grows back into adulthood as she consumes the Chairman’s giant avatar and the dream around her. The side-story involving Konakawa’s case, in which he pines over an unfinished film from his youth, is nicely woven into the main plot, paralleling Chiba/Paprika’s own personality issues. It’s a deep, rich, engaging, satisfying film that we recommend for any Movie Night.


Rating: 4

Car Cameos: Paprika featured an Aston Martin DB7; an Isuzu Elf truck; a Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W210); a Piaggio Vespa PX scooter; ’64 Subaru 360; a ’94 Toyota Camry; and Toyota Crown Comfort taxi; a Toyota HiAce; and a ’65 Vanden Plas Princess 1100 Mk I. We weren’t able to pause-and-capture, so we had to rely on IMCDb.