animé

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

There are movies that I am just aching to review. Where I have jokes and observations and asides all ready and planned literally years in advance. Where I am just absolutely raring to go.

And then there’s movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, a movie that almost feels engineered by some nefarious super villain to be absolutely impossible for me to review. Every tool in my critical toolbox is rendered useless by this thing. Can I rave about it? Honestly, no. It’s one of the slightest of the Studio Ghibli films, I didn’t grow up with it and I don’t have any particular affection for it.  Can I slam it? Hell no, it’s still Studio Ghibli after all and an absolute technical triumph. I can’t really do story analysis, because there’s not really much story. Is it even interestingly weird? It is quite possibly the most grounded and least weird piece of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen (low bar, I know, but still). Interesting or troubled production? Nope. Apparently it was just…like…a movie…that…got…made. No one went crazy during production. None of the animators were involved in a murder suicide pact. Nothing. Damn selfish, I call it.

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A Silent Voice (2016)

I was gonna do a whole bit. Japan showing up at my door in defiance of the restraining order I slapped on it in the last animé review I did and slowly winning me over today’s movie…

Not gonna do that. Not least because, I feel like kind of an asshole. Even if it’s just for comic effect (And it was. Mostly.), the idea of just writing off a nation’s artistic output in an entire genre because of one bad experience…or two, or three…okay look, animé hasn’t had a great batting average on this blog I’m getting off track. That was an awful thing to suggest, even if I was joking. Which I was. Mostly.


Mysterious Girlfriend X is still garbage, that will never change.

This movie is one that I’ve had on the backburner for years (I think it’s one of the Mauricio reviews? Fuck is it one of the Joanna reviews?!). And even though I had seriously intended to take a good long break from animé after the MGX review I couldn’t in good conscience put this off any more so I sat down to watch it, as they say, with a bit of a hump.

And around an hour in I’m trying to remember the last time a movie affected me this deeply on an emotional level and I’m coming up blank.

Guys, this one hollowed me out and didn’t even break a sweat. This is the real deal. Fair warning, this review deals with bullying, suicide and depression and I’m not going to be making a lot of jokes. It’ll be a bit of a gear-shift from Deadpool, put it that way. This is just going to be talking about a movie that really got to me.

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Mysterious Girlfriend X (2012)

“All rise for the Honorable Judge Claude Frollo.”

“Please be seated.”

“Good morning, your honour, my client the Unshaved Mouse is here to file a restraining order.”

“I see, and the target of this restraining order is…the state of Japan?”

“Mouse, please! This is all a big misunderstanding!”

“Don’t talk to me, criminal!”

“C’mon Mouse, we had good times! What about Miyazaki?”

“Oh, you mean your BAIT?”

“Order in the court! Plaintiff, what is the basis for your suit?”

“Well, it all began a few weeks ago…”

***

 “If you sat an alien down and screened for him all the movies made in America in any given year, their first question would be “why do most of these have close up shots of dicks going into various orifices?”  See, a huge percentage of films made in North America are hardcore porn because it’s cheap as chips to make and very lucrative. But when we think of “American cinema”, My Ass is Haunted is not usually part of the conversation. We compartmentalise porn and regular cinema, while filing Japanese hentai simply under “animé”. Japan’s porn tends to be animated, but other that there’s no real difference. The Japanese are no more “weird” or “sick” than we are.

I wrote that back in my review of Akira, the first animé I ever reviewed for this blog. It was a plea for mutual respect and understanding between nations, a plea I must now formally retract because oh my God Japan’s weird guys.

Japan is so, so, so weird.

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The Garden of Words (2013)

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Not so long ago, in the pages of this here very blog what are you reading like, I reviewed Makoto Shinkai’s 5cm per Second and my good Lord, it bored me so. It bored me like Sarah, plain and tall.

Well, Shinkai apparently took my criticisms onboard and went away and created Garden of Words, a movie that has all of 5cm per Second’s stunningly gorgeous visuals and sumptuous sound design but which actually marries them to interesting characters and some class of plot. I mean, I don’t want to take credit for this critically acclaimed film but honesty compels me.

Anyway yes. Okay. I am now on board. I am on the Makoto Shinkai train (and the dude does love his trains).   Like 5cm per SecondGarden is slow and relies heavily on atmosphere but there is a definite sense that it’s telling a story patiently and methodically and not faffing about and wasting your time. The characters are also far more distinctive and memorable, compared to the 5cm per Second’s leads who were so bland and grey you could use them to wallpaper the walls of a dentist’s office.  For instance, one of the main characters, Yukari, spends her days in the local park drinking beer and eating chocolate because her depression has dulled her sense of taste and those are the only flavours she can experience. That’s good writing, because it informs us of an important character trait (her depression) but does it in a way that’s unique and memorable and makes her stand out from all the other sadsacks (I’ve had depression, I get to use that word).

The movie begins with the two things that get Makoto Shinkai out of bed each morning; weather and trains.

“Shit’s my jam, yo.”

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5 Centimetres per Second (2007)

“Mouse-san!”

“Oh, hello Otaku Oceania.”

“I am so, so glad to hear you’ve decided to review Makoto Shinkai’s instant classic Five Centimetres per Second!”

“Oh?”

“You bet! I mean, in your last few animé reviews you’ve been beating up pretty hard on my favourite genre! In fact, I was this close to running you through with my limited edition Masashi Kishimoto autographed samurai sword! Ha ha ha!”

“Ha ha.”

“But a glowing review of 5 Centimetres per Second should smooth everything over and where are you going!?”

 

“It sucks! Soz!”

Ohhhh I’m gonna catch a beating for this one. I’ve given bad reviews to popular movies before but, holy moly, 5cmPS is a full on critical darling. It was released in 2007and received rapturous responses, with the film press instantly hailing director Makoto Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki”, an accolade I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that Hiyao Miyazaki was the only animé director any of those mouth breathers knew by name harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph!

“I didn’t get a harrumph out of that guy!”

“Give Mouse an harrumph!”

“Harrumph!”

“You watch yer ass!”

I’d never heard of the movie before I was requested to review it but I went in expecting to love it. I mean, there is a halo around this thing and all the screenshots I could see looked absolutely smurges. I mean, look at this.

  

But…it…just…movie…good…is…not…

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Avatar: The Tales of Ba Sing Se.

I’m going to be devoting a full month to Avatar and I hope I don’t have to explain to why. In terms of animated children’s series this show is about as good as it gets. It’s a classic, and an uncontroversial one, a show whose excellence rests not on being groundbreaking or having a unique premise, but on just doing everything a good TV show should do and doing it really, really well. Top notch animation, great characters, compelling story, phenomenal action, stupendous voice acting and Mako. Every show should have Mako.

Boom. Million times better.

I must be foaming at the mouth to review this, right? Right?

Slight problem. Consider the following facts.

  • Avatar is a beloved classic with a fanatically loyal fanbase.
  • I love Avatar.
  • I have been asked to review the Season 2 Episode Tales of Ba Sing Se.
  • Tales of Ba Sing Se is one of the most beloved episodes of Avatar.

Right, well, this all looks very promising I’m sure there’s not one final bullet point that’s going to blow it all…

  • I really do not like Tales of Ba Sing Se.

Dang. Okay, ready your scalpels folks.

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Endless Eight

“Hello, Mr Mouse. I’d like to make a donation to your blog.”

“MOUSE LIKE MONEY.”

“Would you be willing to do a blog post setting out your thoughts on the latest developments in the field of Quantum Chemistry?”

“Well I don’t know anything about Quantum Chemistry and in fact had never even heard of it before but I’m sure an hour or so of research on the internet should be all I need to get up to speed.”

“I’ve made a HUGE mistake.”

Replace “Quantum Chemistry” with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and that’s pretty much where we’re at, folks. I…I misjudged this one, not gonna lie. I thought “Sure, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a cartoon! I can review cartoons, I do it all the time!”. But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a cartoon show in the same way the Bible is a novel. I didn’t know what it was before, and after many hours of research I still feel like I’m missing pretty vital information. This is a show with no clearly defined genre packed with references to advanced scientific and mathematical concepts. This is the kind of stuff I was coming across when researching these episodes:

Ah. Of course.

Okay, let’s start with the facts. The Melancholy of Haruhi Susumiya is the animé adaptation of Naguro Tanigawa’s series of light novels featuring the eponymous schoolgirl. Haruhi is really bored with her everyday life and the boring people around her and founds a school club with her friend, Kyon, to find aliens and other supernatural creatures and…just…hang out with them. Oh, and Haruhi is actually an all-powerful reality warper  who has to be kept in the dark about her abilities in case she does untold damage to the world around her.

Ah, that old saw.

The TV adaptation was first broadcast in 2006 and became one of the biggest hits in the history of animé, achieving worldwide success and becoming an unstoppable cultural behemoth. Apparently. Because, as I hinted before, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING AND NOW I THINK I’M GOING CRAZY. DID I SLIP INTO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?

“WHY DOES NO ONE REMEMBER THAT NELSON MANDELA DIED IN PRISON AND WHY CAN’T I FIND SHAZAAM ON NETFLIX?!”

But apparently yes, this show was huge. So after the first season was released the show seemed unstoppable. The second season was announced in 2007 and the fandom was whipped into a frothing lathery frenzy. And then…

Hooooo boy.

What followed was one of the most spectacularly misjudged testings of fan loyalty that I have ever heard of. Within a single story arc, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya managed to piss away every last drop of audience goodwill it had accrued over the years. The franchise carried on after this for a while but it was a dead toon walking. No third season has been announced, and the franchise is now effectively dead. The arc in question was called The Endless Eight. So, what did this animé about a Japanese schoolgirl do to honk off its fanbase to the point that they abandoned it en masse? Did it involve tentacles? Surprisingly, it did not.

The Endless Eight is a story that sees Haruhi, Kyon and their friends trapped in a time loop in the last week of summer. The first episode ends with them still in the timeloop. The second episode is the first episode repeated. Because they’re still in the time loop, y’see. And each week, increasingly bewildered and enraged fans would tune in, only to be forced to watch the same episode again and again and again and again and again and again and that is not hyperbole because no lie they did this EIGHT GOD DAMNED TIMES. For real. Eight weeks of the same episode. And here’s the thing, it’s not like they just re-screened the same episode. Each episode was re-animated from scratch, each line of dialogue recorded eight times but the script remained the same with a few changes here and there. Every time.

I…just…that’s brilliant? Is it? No? I…no. It’s stupid, isn’t it? It’s real stupid. But at the same time…the balls that takes, right? But still, no. That’s just…no. But, isn’t it brilliant? But…GAWD. That’s the kind of reckless, devil-may-care creative choice that I can’t help but admire.

So here’s the thing, I know nothing about this franchise. I do not have the time to devote to exploring its mysteries and subtleties and its place in animé history. So I’m just gonna throw myself into this headfirst and review all four hours of the The Endless Eight because, fuck it. You only live once. Or eight times. Whatever.

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Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

So one day Music was walking down the street somewhere in early twentieth century America and he was feeling on top of the world. Thanks to fancy new technologies like the wireless and phonograph, and this crazy new thing called “Jasz”, more people were listening to Music than ever before and that suited Music just fine.
“Hey there Mistah Music!” the newspaper boys would call as they heard him pass by and Music would tip his hat to them courteously.
Occasionally a bum would yell “You think yer so big! With your phonygrams an’ ragtime! I remember when you was bein’ spit out of a harmonica!” And then Music would drag the loud-mouthed drunk into an alley way, knife him repeatedly, and leave his body as a warning to the other bums.
He stopped on a street corner to roll himself a ludicrously expensive old-timey cigar. It was then that Music saw a tiny, starving artform, no more than a few years old, flickering and shivering on a filthy doorstep.
“Hey kid.” Said Music “What’s eatin’ ya?”
“Golly gee!” Said the infant artform “Who said that?” (Because of course, Music cannot be seen, as Music is an eight legged dragon covered in hooks and shimmering scales that go up and down, up and down and anyone who saw him would instantly go mad.)
“What’s your name, son?” Music asked kindly.
“Animation, mistah.” said Animation “I was just born and ain’t got no cultural relevancy. And I wants cultural relevancy so bad!”
“Well Animation.” Said Music “I’ve been looking for a smart young visual medium to help me expand my business ventures. I like you kid, ya got moxie. You got razzmatazz comin’ out the hooey. You and me could do great things together, kid. Whattya say?”
And so Music and his young new protégé formed a partnership that would stand the test of time. So influential was the fusion of music and animation that it even wiped out other artforms that were hugely popular at the time but have now been almost totally forgotten, like smell sculpture, colour-dancing and Grand Schmopera.
Animation has grown up a lot since the early days and can now stand on its own two feet as a medium. But if you look at the very early animated shorts from the twenties and thirties, you see that animation was almost solely used to give a visual component to music. There’s a reason those series of cartoon shorts have names like Looney Tunes, Silly Symphonies and Merry Melodies. And the link lasted long after animation had started maturing into a more narrative based style with its own way of telling stories. At Disney, even after Snow White and Pinocchio we still had movies like Make Mine Music, Melody Time and Fantasia where the animation is very much guided by and in service to the music.
Animation and Music, to put it plainly, are tight. They go way back. They’re best buds. When Film kicks Animation out of the house, he crashes on Music’s couch. Music was the best man at Animation’s wedding, Animation is the godfather of Music’s child…Music…Junior…okay the analogies are breaking down in a big way, moving on.
 
Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem is French electro act Daft Punk’s 2003 album Discovery. Daft Punk are a band who…
Um…
Shit shit shit. Okay, I really didn’t want to do this, but I’m going to have to ask for some help from by evil brother, The Unscrupulous Mouse. See, he may be a twisted maniac, but he’s also a pretty awesome musician and he knows more about house music than anyone else I know.
"Ha" I knew the day would come when you would bow before my greatness, brother!"

“Ha! I knew the day would come when you would bow before my genius, brother!”

"Oh just get it over with."

“Oh get on with it.”

"Wait a minute, Mouse."

“Wait a minute, Mouse.”

"What is it, Nit?"

“What is it, Nit?”

"I thought The Unscrupulous Mouse was your brother Eamonn? Donal's your brother who's a musician!"

“I thought The Unscrupulous Mouse was your brother Eamonn? Donal’s your brother who’s a musician!”

"Eh...he's...look, he's a composite character. I have three younger brothers. He's based on all of them."

“Eh…he’s…look, he’s a composite character. I have three younger brothers. He’s based on all of them.”

"Younger? But TV Tropes said he's based on your OLDER brother!"

“Younger? But TV Tropes said he’s based on your OLDER brother!”

"Yes. Sometimes TV Tropes can be wrong."

“Yes. Sometimes TV Tropes can be wrong.”

"Gasp!"

“Gasp!”

"I thought The Unscrupulous Mouse was your brother Eamonn? Donal's your brother who's a musician!"

“Look, are we doing this thing or what?”

"Enlighten us, Maestro."

“Enlighten us, Maestro.”

"A person can talk endlessly about Daft Punk's music career. Their iconic house tracks revolutionised dance music in the mid 90's and their re-imagining of funk music brought it roaring back into the mainstream until pretty much right now."

“A person can talk endlessly about Daft Punk’s music career. Their iconic house tracks revolutionised dance music in the mid 90’s and their re-imagining of funk music brought it roaring back into the mainstream right up to the present day.”

"But the main reason for Daft Punk's success is that they are completely anonymous. That means that it is impossible to hate them! They have no opinions, attributes or features and so can be judged solely on the merits of their music. The hipsters can't hate them because they're earlier music can be compared to what is popular in the underground scene at the minute, and all of the main stream listeners can't dislike them because....well I honestly believe that social media has brainwashed these people so they will like anything they've heard more than fifty times in the one day (Example: Get Lucky)."

“But the main reason for Daft Punk’s success is that they are completely anonymous. That means that it is impossible to hate them! They have no opinions, attributes or features and so can be judged solely on the merits of their music. The hipsters can’t hate them because their earlier music can be compared to what is popular in the underground scene at the minute, and all of the mainstream listeners can’t dislike them because….well I honestly believe that social media has brainwashed these people so they will like anything they’ve heard more than fifty times in the one day (Example: Get Lucky). “

"You don't like Get Lucky? You monster!"

“You don’t like Get Lucky? You monster!”

"In conclusion, the only reason you can hate Daft Punk is because they're French and have silly names."

“In conclusion, the only reason you can hate Daft Punk is because they’re French and have silly names. Now if you’ll excuse, my dark genius is needed elsewhere.”

 

Interstella 5555 is certainly not the first attempt to turn an album into a full length movie (you’re got The Wall and Yellow Submarine to name two), nor is it the first time Japan and France have collaborated in animation (Uly-seeee-eeeeeeeeee-eeeee-es). You might not know this (I certainly didn’t), but manga is absolutely HUGE in France, making up around half of all comics published there.

Likewise, animé has had a big presence on French TV for many decades, with most young Frenchlings having grown up watching shows like Dragon Ball Z and Robotech. Little wonder then, when Daft Punk were looking for a studio to animate their album, they looked East, not West. Specifically, they turned to legendary animator Leiji Matsumoto (the guy behind practically every animé TV series from the seventies and eighties) and Interstella 5555 is the product of their creative union. How did it turn out? Let’s take a look.
So the movie begins with footage of an interview with Matsumoto, flanked by Daft Punk in their robot costumes, discussing the origin of the film. Although, what with the grainy black and white footage, it looks more like the bit in a fifties sci-fi movie where the mad scientist announces to the world that his robot army will destroy them all.
“Fools! You called me mad! You denied the beauty of my children! But now the whole world shall bow before the steel legions of Doctor Matsumoto!”

“Fools! You called me mad! You denied the beauty of my children! But now the whole world shall bow before the steel legions of Doctor Matsumoto!”

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Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

(DISCLAIMER: All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
I sometimes get asked for advice on writing by desperate people who’ve got nothing left to lose and I usually give them some pap about being true to your art and letting the story flow naturally and blah blah blah. If I was honest, there’s really only one rule with writing; “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” Trite? Yes. Cliché? Absolutely. But also true.
I feel I owe you all an apology. Last time I tore into From Up on Poppy Hill because of its story problems, it’s lack of payoff, its glacial pacing. And it has all of those things. But this is the truth of the matter: I watched that movie and had an emotional reaction to it. I didn’t like it. And then I used those problems I mentioned before as justification for why I didn’t like it, both to myself and to you. And this is not just me. Every critic does this. We have subjective, emotional, often illogical reactions to movies and then use film theory to present those reactions as objective, dispassionate and perfectly sound. This doesn’t mean that From Up On Poppy Hill is a good movie, it just means that when I depict the movie as being bad because it breaks Law X of good screenwriting I’m being disingenuous. On the most fundamental level, I didn’t like it because I didn’t like it.
This was brought home to me rather powerfully by today’s movie, Tokyo Godfathers. This movie breaks two rules that are supposed to be pretty ironclad. Firstly, the action of the plot is largely driven by coincidence. Secondly, the ending only misses out on being a literal deus ex machina because it doesn’t involve a machine. And yet, it works. It really works. It works like German ants.
This the third of only four moves directed by the legendary Satoshi Kon before his tragic death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. I haven’t seen any of the others (although after seeing this you can bet your left buttock I am going to check them out). Even more unusually, each film in Kon’s tiny filmography seems to be wildly different from the others; Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller, Paprika is concept-heavy sci-fi,  Millennium Actress is a time-travel historical romance and Tokyo Godfathers is a straightforward caper movie. I went into this movie fore-warned that Kon was the “David Lynch of animé”, an idea that seems to promise weirdness so potent that even staring at it would drive you to gibbering madness. Tokyo Godfathers is most definitely not the movie that I expected. It’s actually one of the least alienating and most accessible animé movies I’ve ever seen, which is impressive as my DVD has no English dub and I watched this one in subtitled Japanese. The story is actually grounded enough that there’s really no reason the movie couldn’t have been made as a live action feature (although we would have been missing out on some fantastic animation if it had been).

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From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

Remember how, ages ago, I did that list of my favourite non-Disney animated movies? Yeah, that list is probably due an update. There are so many fantastic films that I’ve discovered or re-discovered since then: Coraline, Prince of Egypt and of course Princess Mononoke. Still the highest scoring animated movie I’ve ever reviewed on this blog (or tied for first place if you count Who Framed Roger Rabbit). So when I was asked to review From Up On Poppy Hill, another Studio Ghibli film by Miyazaki that I’d never even heard of I was pumped. 

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

More

More.

Again.

Again.

Yes.

Yes.

More please.

More please.

So this is the 17th Studio Ghibli film, released in 2011 after Arrietty and before Miyazaki’s final film as director, The Wind Rises. Aaaand that’s about as much as I know about it. I’m going into this one completely cold.
I mean, c’mon. What else do I need to know? It’s a Studio Ghibli film directed by Miyazaki. The only question is; Great Movie or the Greatest Movie? Let’s take a look.

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