Thursday, March 8, 2012

Japan is an Island

I was only just introduced to Mr. Murakami late last year (Wind Up Bird Chronicle was excellent, and I'm still working on 1Q84 -- also great) and a few weeks back I caught the film adaptation of his 2004 publication Norwegian Wood. Needless to say I liked it very much, caught as I am in a bit of a Japan-craze. That might sound trite, even shallow (I know too little about the culture to claim proactive fascination with it), but for months now I've craved that singular blend of frankness, humility and whimsy that seems, to my uninitiated mind, native to Japanese fiction.

tekkonkinkreet
Tekkonkinkreet
As a kid I was always fascinated by anime. I still am, but I don't spend as much time at the action end of things, anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still love Bebop as much as the next guy, and Yu Yu Hakusho is fucking sweet. Even so -- call it senioritis-induced ennui, but I've been getting much more satisfaction from the more pensive stuff lately.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence was exceedingly cerebral and focused on the ethical questions/philosophical mindscrambles inherent to its robots-are-people-too premise, rather than invisible topless boxing -- which has its own merits, of course. In the same vein, Metropolis (no, not that Metropolis) explored similar paradoxes, but presented them in a vibrant gift-wrap of candied animation and cartoony characters. Charming, and poignant too.

Just as charming and an addition to the list of anime I should have seen already is Tekkonkinkreet. It's from the studio that put out the Animatrix, which I was only slightly ashamed to admit that I loved.  Tekkonkinkreet  is by turns beautiful, disturbing, touching and harrowing. Two orphaned brothers struggle to survive in "Treasure Town," a slum put up for redevelopment by an alliance of merciless yakuza and smoothing-talking... aliens. It's weird and wonderful, and worth a viewing for its visuals alone.

Last Life In The Universe
Last Life in the Universe
Pictured is Last Life in the Universe, which is not exactly Japanese. More exactly, it's Thai, but the male lead is played by Tadanobu Asano, who is Japanese and also a very big deal. Asano paints a fantastic portrait of desperation and sympathy in Kenji, the film's suicidal protagonist, and the plot is just edgy enough to allow for the tender moments that come later. Think Eternal Sunshine with little less abstraction and a little more homicide. Highly recommended.

I have also managed to get my "shit" sufficiently together as to apply more of Akira Kurosawa's film to my eyeballs. Now, this one I know I'm really and truly behind on, so I'll just say that High and Low is one of the most emotionally potent detective stories I've encountered, and leave it at that.

I really do feel behind on the old film front, but I'm working to remedy that -- expect more belated commentary on movies you've seen a thousand times (next time -- dystopia!) and percolate your over-flowing wisdom through the comments section!

- Walt

Bonus: this post's title is also nice music
Edit: Just realized that Shinichiro Watanabe directed both Cowboy Bebop and "Kid's Story," my favorite Animatrix short. Also, he's teaming up with Yoko Kanno (again) to put together a new series.

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