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Tonight's DVDs: Mononoke-Hime (Princess Mononoke, 1997) and Kôkaku Kidôtai (Ghost In The Shell, 1995)


Princess Mononoke
9.0 / 10

In what has to be one of the most antichronistic analogies ever to grace the film reviews page or a back-of-DVD blurb, Princess Mononoke is touted as "the Star Wars of animé". What I think the author of this synopsis meant is that this is a film that makes you "root for the rebels". Behind Hayao Miyazaki's brilliant rendering is a classic Campbellian fool's journey, with a globalist, earth-based twist. You can't fault Shintō for being what it is, anyway, without glamor or pretense. The story itself is engrossing and heavy, instilling hope and dread even though the audience "knows the ending". I think this is what gives this film the same dreamlike timelessness that Excalibur has.

What struck me most about this film was its cadence, and Miyazaki's perfect control of timing. There are quite a few moments when I found myself not breathing as time seemed to dilate or contract. As Neil Gaiman, who translated the film for the English version, noted in the featurette interviews: the original Japanese version is highly packed with dialogue. It was surely difficult to produce as a faithful rendition as he did, and the poetry of some of the scenes attests to his superior work. My only cavil is the use of the terms "god" and "demon" rather than "deer god" (forest spirit) and "cursing god", which would have elucidated the roles of the nature spirits and underscored the absence of absolute evil and good in this story. As Treebeard, the same archetype in The Lord of The Rings, put it: "I am not entirely on anyone's side, because no one is entirely on my side."

All in all, the film is more than visually stunning: it is a fluid, vibrant masterwork, significant in nearly every aspect that makes us watch animated films. The musical score, the voice acting (by the American actors in the English-dubbed version), the stylized combat, even the ethereal look that has been borrowed from Miyazaki by everyone from the makers of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to animé parodists, all combine to make this a very memorable film. I can honestly say that this movie - its message and its medium - turned me on to animé... again. It is atypical in many ways, and perhaps this uniqueness is what lends it credibility and importance. It is too early to tell for sure, but I sincerely think it will stand the test of time.


Ghost in The Shell
6.4 / 10

Cliché, cliché, cliché! Everything that Cowboy Bebop is, Ghost in The Shell seems to be - the operative word being seems. Before you fans of this film lambaste me for getting my chronology off and mistaking derivative work for the original, let me start by saying that the thing that always engrosses me about animé is original content and an original message. The visual beauty is icing on the cake, or I would be happy to watch brain candy such as The Matrix and The Animatrix all day long and go no further.

Princess Mononoke had a message. However repetitive a variant of The Hidden Fortress or the Campbellian monomyth it is, it was meaningful and thought-provoking. Ghost in The Shell? It oozes cliché. Every melodramatic and overstated visual effect that is impressive in Bebop is grating in this film. From the jarring and anachronistic late-20th century American slang of the official dubbing (something that really will not age well, which I suppose is why last year was time for a sequel) to its technological short-sightedness, from the incessant droning of Project 2501 to the sheer opacity of the story and its pseudo-AI technobabble, I found myself at times more interested in writing my thoughts about Princess Mononoke, a film I had seen earlier in the evening, than watching the whole 88-minute film. The kind of stylized violence that Bebop popularized for the American audience seemed irritating to me in this film, and I couldn't wait for it to be over. And listen, when I accuse a "classic" film about hybrid cybernetic intelligence of being obscure and filled with pointless, self-referential, metaphysical navel-gazing... trust me!

The soundtrack certainly held promise, but a repeat of the opening credits where the ghost-hacked assassin woman emerges from the lavage tank wore it just a tad thin. I sure got tired of that melodramatic ululation. And what was with the photographic backgrounds? As O. Sharp wrote of the character rotoscoping in Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, it is like watching Tony the Tiger at a pedigreed cat exhibit.

The only good thing I have to say about Ghost in The Shell is that the play of light, shadow and color are very attractive. So is the sound mixing. Those who tout this film for its beautiful stylized feel are not exaggerating: look for the scenes where the groundcar is going through the city and tunnels, or when Project 2501 is being interviewed for the first time. The cityscapes are breathtaking - both the ending, which evokes a scene Disney had done for the ending of Tron (I am not sure whether the Japanese animation team was involved in that), and the ones in the skyscrapers, which several episodes of Cowboy Bebop later imitated.


Speaking of which, I was going to add Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku No Tobira (English Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door), but I think it'd be a bit much at one sitting. ;-)
Edit, 23:30: I watched it. Review tomorrow.

The melodramatic calls of animé, indeed!

Hymns for 2004 Christmas Season

1. 25 Dec 2004 - 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
2. 26 Dec 2004 - The Old Rugged Cross
3. 27 Dec 2004 - Near The Cross
4. 28 Dec 2004 - Silver Bells
5. 29 Dec 2004 - All I Want for Christmas Is You
6. 30 Dec 2004 - Sleigh Ride Boogie
7. 31 Dec 2004 - Deck the Halls
8. 01 Jan 2005 - O Little Town of Bethlehem
9. 02 Jan 2005 - Joy to the World
10. 03 Jan 2005 - Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer
11. 04 Jan 2005 - God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
12. 05 Jan 2005 - The Holly And The Ivy

--
Banazir

Comments

( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
borgseawolf
Jan. 6th, 2005 11:18 am (UTC)
Why do you keep watching dubbed anime? You're losing half of the fun that way! '20th century American slang' - that's the weirdest accusation about anime I've ever heard :)
banazir
Jan. 6th, 2005 11:28 am (UTC)
A whole hour!
Man! It took you a whole trasking 53 minutes to reply! I was wondering how long it'd be... ;-)

Why do you keep watching dubbed anime? You're losing half of the fun that way!
I agree, only... it's that whole thing about me a) not speaking Japanese; b) not being able to find the subtitled edition on NetFlix and Blockbuster. Now, if I actually went out and bought them, I could get the subtitled versions, but did you know NetFlix and Blockbuster rentals by mail are counted by the disc and not by the film?

Oh, well. Someday I'll have (yet) more flokarini to throw at this... of course, by then I will have succumbed to this incentive to just learn Japanese. Or *kof*get neural implants*kof*

'20th century American slang' - that's the weirdest accusation about anime I've ever heard :)
About the translation, yes. Mononoke-Hime sounds faintly Muromachi-era. Ghost In The Shell sounds like early-1980s cyberpunk set in the... early 1980s. I dunno about you, but I am always surprised to see the love child of Little Orphan Annie and Duke Nukem exclaiming "Jesus Christ" in a near-future "global digitocracy". Or maybe there are just a lot of Christians in Digitopolis. Hey, could happen. :-)

Of course, after all of Major Kusanagi's drawn-out psychobabble about hybrid intelligence and the spontaneous genesis of souls, what does Duke Annie say? "*longish pause* Bullshit."

--
Banazir
borgseawolf
Jan. 6th, 2005 11:52 am (UTC)
Re: A whole hour!
Or you could always go illegal, like all the rest of non-US anime fanworld :)
banazir
Jan. 6th, 2005 12:04 pm (UTC)
What do you mean, Pradera-Shōgun?
Why, whatever do you mean - illegal?
Wot wot?

/me blinks innosently.

--
Banazir
borgseawolf
Jan. 6th, 2005 12:04 pm (UTC)
Re: What do you mean, Pradera-Shōgun?
Fansubbers...
Fansubbers - banazir - Jan. 6th, 2005 12:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fansubbers - borgseawolf - Jan. 6th, 2005 12:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fansubbers - hempknight - Jan. 6th, 2005 12:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fansubbers - banazir - Jan. 6th, 2005 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fansubbers - hempknight - Jan. 6th, 2005 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
She's Your Cocaine, Chibi-Ban - banazir - Jan. 6th, 2005 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: She's Your Cocaine, Chibi-Ban - borgseawolf - Jan. 6th, 2005 06:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
YAOI MANGAS GO TO THE DEVIL! - banazir - Jan. 6th, 2005 07:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
scottharmon
Jan. 6th, 2005 03:00 pm (UTC)
Re: A whole hour!
Digital Shelf...
banazir
Jan. 6th, 2005 05:37 pm (UTC)
PooooooTAto potato potato
Hrm, good idea. That involves... driving and stuff, though... ;-)

--
Banazir
banazir
Jan. 6th, 2005 11:31 am (UTC)
Japanese with English subtitles
Never mind, I found it.

What was it I said to wiliqueen yesterday about being a) lazy and b) oblivious? ;-)

--
Banazir
hempknight
Jan. 6th, 2005 11:51 am (UTC)
I might just have to kick your ass a little bit!
When you are dancing, a beautiful lady becomes drunken. When you are dancing, a shining moon rings. A god descends for a wedding And dawn approaches while the night bird sings. God bless you.

GitS derivative? Cliche? Pseudo-AI technobabble? Yes! But what anime isn't? Anime was always about the eye candy. Nothing else.

And you got yourself confused, hobbit-chan. The year was 1995. Only anime the western (mainstream) world was really familiar with was Akira (required viewing). Then BAM! GitS comes along, marketed as Akira 2 (which it wasn't). Deeper message is like in any anime of that genre: nature of self, meaning of life, death and the 42. Standard anime fare, really. But what sets GitS apart that it was one of the first to start the whole trend in the genre: Shooting stuff up while waxing philosophical about what it means to be human. Then it was new. Bebop didn't popularize this, KK and Akira did! Bebop is just a continuation. GitS might appear a bit dated now because so much other (often better) stuff has come along with the same basic premise so it looks like one of the many. But in 1995, it was (save for Akira) one of a kind. And if you really want to get anal about who ripped off who, GitS ripped off Blade Runner almost frame by frame. And GitS is, like many other classics, a movie for repeated viewings.

What GitS did for this particular kind of anime Evangelion did for the giant robot smashing stuff up kind. And I still hold EVA to be the best anime ever produced. Regardless of genre. Akira almost ties it as second and GitS is a close third.

As for Miyazaki, while I love his work (Spirited Away was a great and original Alice in Wonderland retelling), he is really nothing more than the Japanese clone of Disney. Making visually stunning, accessible movies with some simple message tucked in between the oohs and aahs. Truly nothing more than eye candy.

And now about that asskicking.

--
Big Jim Slade
borgseawolf
Jan. 6th, 2005 11:55 am (UTC)
Re: I might just have to kick your ass a little bit!
I don't recall any singing animals in Miyazaki...
hempknight
Jan. 6th, 2005 12:00 pm (UTC)
Re: I might just have to kick your ass a little bit!
Well, prolly because there aren't any. But you know what I mean.

--
Big Jim Slade
borgseawolf
Jan. 6th, 2005 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: I might just have to kick your ass a little bit!
Not really, no, but that won't be the first time...
banazir
Jan. 6th, 2005 12:07 pm (UTC)
Re: I might just have to kick your ass a little bit!
Pradera: I don't recall any singing animals in Miyazaki...
Madame Mysterio/Zolthar/Big Jim Slade: Well, prolly because there aren't any. But you know what I mean.

Um, ni, I dknot.
Wot do you mean?
(Gimme some context re: Japanese Disney. Who did Kimba, The White Lion? And who did Nausicaa Kaze No Tani?)

You might be the one confuzzled about Hobbit-chan, BTW. Remember, I'm thirty-one trasking yeats nold. I'll explain more when I am again conscious.

--
Banazir
Who's they? The Japanese Louis Epsteins? - banazir - Jan. 6th, 2005 08:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Only if you would-a, anyway - banazir - Jan. 6th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
banazir
Jan. 6th, 2005 08:51 pm (UTC)
Whippersnappers!
When you are dancing, a beautiful lady becomes drunken. When you are dancing, a shining moon rings. A god descends for a wedding And dawn approaches while the night bird sings. God bless you.
OK, you've got me. If security can be achieved through obscurity, you are very secure indeed.

GitS derivative? Cliche? Pseudo-AI technobabble? Yes! But what anime isn't? Anime was always about the eye candy. Nothing else.
Well, all right. I can live with that assessment. GitS purports to be more, though; or to be more precise, its fandom imputes seminality to it. All I'm saying is that it isn't so; I was there.

And you got yourself confused, hobbit-chan. The year was 1995. Only anime the western (mainstream) world was really familiar with was Akira (required viewing).
The only anime in 1995?!
Excuse me a moment...
BwahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

Ahem.
Maggie! Dude! You've forgotten who you're talking to, haven't you? I'm a hibernator. This discussion reminds me of how Arkady mistook me for a newbie in alt.fan.tolkien and rec.arts.books.tolkien back in 1999, when I was actually coming off my second AFT, third RABT, and fourth USENET hiatus since 1989. Google Groups will show you how my first RABT post was in 1993.

Try 1985, buddy... heck, try 1975. I was weaned on Uchuu Senkan Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト): Iscandar he no Tsuioku known Stateside as Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar</a>). Back in 1979 it aired in the USA on network television! Granted, I watched it in black and white, and it was dubbed, but as you said, it's all about the eye candy.

(Admittedly, I was almost equally impressed by the Rankin and Bass RoTK, but at age 6, I wasn't ready to read LoTR yet. I was a late bloomer.)

By the time Robotech came to America, I was already a little tired of the Voltron and Speed Racer-wannabes, and gave it only a half-hearted glance once or twice.

You think metaphysical wibblings about cyberwotsit were brought to the West by GiTS? Dude... you do need to read more books. I recommend:

  • The Tomorrow Makers by Grant Fjermedal (1986)

  • The Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler (1990)

  • Mind Children by Hans Moravec (1990)

  • Aaron's Code by Pamela McCorduck (1991)

  • Mirror Worlds by David Gelertner (1992)

  • The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil (2000)

  • Robo Sapiens by Faith D'Aluisio (2000)


Some of this is before even Ray Kurzweil made it big.

I used to carry a copy of that first book around in the 8th grade (1986) and explain the concept of downloading to people. Saying that anime introduced the concept of ghost-hacking, even to a popular audience, is like saying that the explanation of downloading that Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) gave Joey's erstwhile girlfriend Janelle (Ellc MacPherson) on Friends was the definitive "mass-marketing". Yes, I realize more people saw that TV moment than I might otherwise directly reach in a lifetime. So?

In the early 1990s I shared an advisor with the famous Ken Arromdee. You grokking me yet, good buddy? Do a Google Groups search if the name's not ringing a bell.

By the time serious cyberpunk anime reared its pretty head, I was ensconced in Neuromancer (I came late on the scene in 1993, but still well before the film renditions of Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix), Neal Stephenson, and such. Heck, even GURPS cyberpunk was earlier than these recent "classics".

To sum up: just because I've resisted the latest generation of animé and its melodramatic calls, as yodge terms them, don't assume I'm Ye Olde Newbie. It's old hat to me. Very old. Savvy?

--
Banazir
hempknight
Jan. 6th, 2005 09:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Whippersnappers!
OK, you've got me. If security can be achieved through obscurity, you are very secure indeed.

It's just the translation of the title song of GitS.

Maggie! Dude! You've forgotten who you're talking to, haven't you?

Banazir the Jedi Hobbit, the extremely honorable professor Hsu to some. But I call you Esteban. Eh, no I have not.

Try 1985, buddy... heck, try 1975. I was weaned on Uchuu Stateside as Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar). Back in 1979 it aired in the USA on network television!

By the time Robotech came to America, I was already a little tired of the Voltron and Speed Racer-wannabes, and gave it only a half-hearted glance once or twice.


You're the Shogun of Harlem, I'm sure. But tell me, did Star Blazers have any gratuitous nudity? Or Robotech? IIRC Star Blazers had like a nanosecond of a naked female and it was cut into pieces. Point, it-was-purely-for-kids. Not exactly comparable with the adult oriented anime which Akira, GitS and the likes are.

You think metaphysical wibblings about cyberwotsit were brought to the West by GiTS?

No. Akira did. It was an almost unknown practice in animation in the west. Pay very close attention to the word animation.

Dude... you do need to read more books

I thought we were talking anime, not books.

Saying that anime introduced the concept of ghost-hacking, even to a popular audience

I was never that specific. And not GitS but Akira. The concept was purdy animation with some quasi-existential philosophy thrown in. Not ghost-hacking. That just happened to be the plot of GitS. I never said anything about the specifics of plot of GitS. I just remarked about the general idea of the animation and plot devices. There's that pesky word again, animation.

I was ensconced in Neuromancer

Which is...yes, a book. Which we are not discussing here.

don't assume I'm Ye Olde Newbie. It's old hat to me.

Be that as it may, and it may, you kept comparing GitS with Bebop which came after the one which started it all. It's almost like saying Yeah, that 747 is a way better airplane than the Wright Flyer because it has jet engines.

Which is a very newbie thing to do.


Now, are we happy now?

--
Big Jim Slade
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )

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