Saturday, July 30, 2016

DVD Movie Review #186 Only Yesterday

I have loved Studio Ghibli for many years I remember starting with Princess Mononoke (though Kiki’s Delivery service was seen earlier it hadn’t been connected to Ghibli at the time). Disney had started to acquire the rights to their films and I went on the way to viewing and hoping to collect them all. Disney Dashed my hopes though by going through the Ghibli Catalogue and slashing titles they deemed “inappropriate”.  This had me sad that some titles would never make it to the rest of the world. I managed to scrounge a few of these titles like “The Ocean Waves” I was blown away when I first got hold of this film. It had been in my collection only due to being a Chinese Bootleg for years. Now GKIDS has produced a proper American release for this wonderful film so now I have had the honor of reviewing this classic again.

Taeko is a 27 year old woman who is a gainfully employed single woman living in Tokyo. She has decided that for her vacation this year she is going to volunteer working at a farm in the countryside. This trip triggers memories she had thought long forgotten of her 10 year old self and her time spent growing up with her family. Through this experience she gains new insight into her present life and finds what she would want to do in the future.

This film has quite a few layers of beauty. The colors are far more vibrant and it worth the blue ray treatment. The backgrounds are pieces of art that you could enjoy on its own transporting yourself to the Japanese countryside. The animation is also quite fluid making it an easy watch. The music is another high point of this series. It kind of has a combined fluidity felt in European and early Japanese cinema. These musical notes combines with some nostalgic elements give an extra layer of feeling. The Japanese cover that they did in the end combined with the visuals brought a tear to my eye. Finally we get to the main aspect where this piece shines, the story. This story really holds on to you from beginning to end. You get to have more respect for Taeko’s adult self, seeing her through the eyes of her 10 year old self. In the end you are hoping for her to find the self-actualization she is craving and eventually finds throughout her journey of the mind, body and soul.

Though This is probably my second favorite film of all time there are a three pieces I have a beef with (one of which only comes from the new dub). Lets start with the Dub. The English dub is well acted so I only have a minor beef with the casting of characters. I mean some of the accents almost felt as comic as “Molly” from sailor moon. That being said it is a minor issue and easily dismissed. The second aspect is the pacing. The film has an excellent story with excellent characters but the pacing makes the story drag a little at times. The final issue is why this film doesn’t get perfect ratings from me which is the art style. For the longest time I thought Taeko was in her 40s because every time she smiled she has a ton of wrinkles looking like she is starting to show the effects of old age. My first clue to this was when she was talking to a teenage character and she smiled revealing that same 40-50 year old face. I decided after that point to look up the age of the main character and found that she was 27! I mean this is an excellent film in many aspects and the other issues are able to be ignored but this one bothered me the entire film…sigh.

In the end Only Yesterday just falls short of being a flawless masterpiece. It still easily in my mind is better than any of the other Ghibli films I have seen (and I have seen many). Disney tried to shelve this title for good due to a scene where the girls are talking about periods for the first time and the boys being boys were acting ignorant about it (no this isn’t the first scene in Carrie). I am glad that Disney’s prudishness did not prevent us all from getting to see this wonderful film.
Rating:  9/10   

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DVD Movie Review #185 Genshiken: Second Generation

I am an anime nerd but I am not an Otaku. Many Americans simply do not know what an otaku is they think “oh a person likes to watch anime and read manga they must be an otaku”. They are simply a nerd. An Otaku goes above and beyond for their obsession (which many times is anime and anime related things but could be games, models, etc) at times filling anything and everything with it including their time which is why they are looked down on by many in Japan. Genshiken is about Otaku and more specifically a club of Otaku. This is an anime that has spanned two seasons, an ova and a second series. This is Genshiken: Second Generation. I picked it up as soon as it came out but unfortunately my watch list is very limited in time and it took me exceptionally long to get to it but now I have finally gotten to see it.

 Ogiue is the new president of the Genshiken Club which is dedicated to pretty much all media such as games, manga, models, anime and cosplay. This year round many of the old guard have graduated and they have added new people into the club. This new version of the club is mostly female with the exception of one crazy guy and a cross dressing guy that pretty much shares the interests of the female members so the club shifts to more cosplay and Boy Love interest than its previous roots. During this time the club member old and new have to work on sorting out their lives and many trying to deal with who they are and who they want to be. Genshiken Second Generation is if anything an exercise in character development and maturity showing that we grow as we get older but don’t necessarily have to put away childish things.

 Genshiken is one of my favorite anime series and is hands down my favorite manga series.  I have read the whole story and love the richness the series possesses. It is good to see that the series does cover certain events and close holes in many of the relationships. They did a good job not leaving loose ends untied and many of the things are resolved by the end. The best thing about this series is the ability for the characters to grow and mature throughout. Seeing many of these characters from the beginning you get to see and understand how they have evolved and the writing displays it very well. One of the main high points was when they resolved Madarame’s relationship issues. This is a great end to a good overall series.

I have been disappointed in this series as I feel that they tried too hard to push it to the end. Having read the manga it was always fun to see the characters slowly develop relationships come to fruition and where we had many mostly immature characters in the beginning we are left with more mature adults by the end. The Anime really glossed over a lot of story that had occurred between the second season and the new series with the most glaring omission being with Ogiue. It is a jarring change if you have only watched the Anime as Ogiue goes from self hating otaku working towards being fine with herself and living in her skin to being perfectly fine in her skin, mature and dating the previous president of the club, whom by the end of the second season showed hints that it might work that way but was still far off from happening. The series did manage to cover this a little through flashbacks but it is probably the most glaring example of how a smooth transition became a jarring jump with little explanation as to why. The other issues I had with the series I also had with the manga which was the increased focus on Boys Love. This is a personal peeve as I am not really into this but I will not take it from my rating as it is what a mostly female otaku group would likely be into.

In the end I really loved this series and am glad that they gave it a bookend for anime viewers to close the chapter in their viewing experience. I had some disappointments but believe that is easily enough resolved by reading the manga. So do yourself a favor go on crunchy roll or whatever your manga reader is and enjoy this series then watch the anime as together they make a good companion piece.


Rating : 7/10    

Sunday, July 10, 2016

DVD Movie Review #184 Departures

I don't know what it was I expected when I first sat down to look at this I really didn't know what to expect. I didn't look at the previews or read anything about it. I just knew it was an Oscar winner, it was on my list and it suddenly got so rare due to being out of print that it shot up to $135 in Amazon. Thank goodness for old library copies being sold on ebay. I was able to get a copy and prioritized moving on and seeing this as any film with subtitles takes extra work.

Our hero was left by his father at a young age and learned to play the Cello for an orchestra. This is what I figured the story would dwell upon but then it changed. The Cello player's orchestra was disbanded, he had to sell his Cello and move with his wife back to his old hometown and into his family home. Now he is unemployed and looking for work but sees an ad in the paper for a job requiring no experience and paying rather well. Little did he know that this job would not only be one he couldn't refuse but one that would change his life forever.

I was originally expecting a piece about a struggling musician trying to make his life work in an unforgiving society (as I said I didn't look into this much past the cover). I am first very impressed by the acting in this. When watching a lot of Japanese live action films the acting is usually over the top but in this it was remarkably on point. I know there is a little bit of lost in translation stuff here but you know there is something about even work that is loved. The story was very unique in the premise and it was very fun at first with room for situational comedy and finally ending in moments that made me tear up a little. The overarching story of the man himself is present but it isn't in your face the whole time leaving you that much more into it in the end when it all comes together. Finally we get to the music which is also a highlight in the series the places where he actually plays adds not only to the soundtrack but to the overall feel of the film. This is very much a classic.

I feel some of the issues were los tin translation. The acting was very on point for a Japanese live action but at the same time came across as over the top at times. I still am a little confused about him sitting alone at the top of the stairs staring out into Out a window? I get that he is brooding but it came across more as strange. The other issue I had was the ending, though I felt it wrapped everything up I don't know it just felt...abrupt.

This is an excellent film worthy of one of my few high ratings. For those of you hand full that do follow my reviews you know that I will give 7's with frequency but few go beyond that point. This film is worth watching and It saddens me that it is out of print and unavailable at large. Get a copy while you can.

Raging: 9/10

DVD Movie Review #183 Dollhouse Season 1

What do you get when you have a 70% off sale you end up trying new things. This is a series I have had an eye on for a while but had never been willing for fork out. For $2 is something I couldn't resist.

The Dollhouse is a place that you can make an order for anyone who can do anything and you have it. Need a hot date for the night? Expert Assassin? Pastry Chef? They have you covered. Their process is pretty simple. People sign their bodies away for 5 years and in return their bodies come back in the best shape of their life and they get a large sum of money. In exchange for these things the people get their minds wiped and become download device's for different personalities that are then sold out to the customers for a large price. What can go wrong with this? Quite a lot really. During this we have to deal with a rabidly obsessed FBI agent who's lady crush is actually one of the dolls and an evil Doll that went ape. When we put this together within different requested client situations we have the series Dollhouse.

This series is quite imaginative. When I saw the first episode I thought "here's just another police procedural with a twist" but in the end this turned out to be more like the pretender and some other shows of that type where the main character is involved in many different situations not all being police business. The Dollhouse itself is one of those types of organizations where throughout the entire season you are kept guessing weather it is evil or good when the answer falls somewhere in between. The action that takes place is pretty intense and the acting is worth making you check this one out. I loved the tension between Echo and Alpha that started as only mystery and then lead up to a climactic confrontation.

This series has a lot of detractors that kept me from fully getting involved in this series. The first thing is that the pace is uneven. You can be racing through the story at full paced then come to a screeching halt when the story goes to an episodic event such as helping a girl find her stray cat or something. The story is also very confusing. The summary I gave you took a lot from me and I'm not even certain that take is the correct one. You are constantly confused about the dolls, what they do and how they fit in on the greater scheme of things. The last episode is also one of those screeching halt type of moments.  They really could have ended the series on episode 12 but then they had to go all crazy. This stuff is still mostly forgivable but the one most unforgiving part was that FBI agent. When I say he was Rabidly obsessed I meant he was Rabid. He as pretty much abusive to everyone that might have been a friend or ally and though in the end his paranoia became justified it was a constant annoyance throughout and in the end I was hoping for his death every time he went on screen.

This series has a pretty cool and unique story that makes me happy to see writing like this in TV where everything is reused and no one seems to want to try anything new. This series still falls short due to uneven writing, confusion and a few annoying issues. Still this is a good series overall.
Minus 2 points ugh!

Rating:  6/10

Friday, July 8, 2016

DVD Movie Review #182 Route 66 The Ultimate Road Trip

The Mother road! This is a place filled with mystery and adventure that many have ventured down and once you have been there you never want to leave. My father loves Route 66 so much that he tries to collect what he can of the Mother road. I was in Costco and found this and couldn't resist it. This box set is really cool with a nice book, postcards and a map of the road.

This is a 6 hour 14 episode documentary that follows a group of Route 66 enthusiasts down the mother road from the beginning to the end. During their trip the explore the many iconic road stops and collect stories from the founders themselves. This trip is dedicated to the road's history and future as well as a step of encouragement to travel and support the road.
First off this is a wealth of information. The narrative is great, almost as if you are taking the trip yourself from one end to the other. There are good stories and people on the road and the people interviewed here were many of those who were being the original businesses. We need to preserve those stories and hearing them here makes them great. The message that this series provides are great for many who traveled the road in there youth and for future generations working to preserve the road for others.
I really feel that this was not as good a documentary as it could be. The interview were good but many were long and the imagery was kind of bland. With so much to see on the Mother road we were left with surprisingly few visuals and more static shots of individuals telling their stories. I really feel that this was a missed opportunity to showcase some of the coolest places in the world today and they only gave you the tip of the iceberg. This made the documentary slightly boring and I feel in the end a missed opportunity.
In all the premise was wonderful and this was a great topic with a great setup. I believe that Route 66 is a valuable thing to know about. My only issue here is that it is a more bland and restricted presentation than it should be.

Rating:   6/10