starlady: (crew)
Only Yesterday (1991), dir. Takahata Isao
I caught this in the second-run theater in Oakland that has beer, and I was so glad I did. It's one of only two Ghibli movies I hadn't seen (we don't talk about Gedo Senki), and it was so, so good and so Ghibli. 27-year-old Taeko takes a vacation from her office job to work on a farm in Yamagata, and maybe change her life. This release, for the 25th anniversary, was one of the ones that Disney decided to spend money on, so Taeko was voiced by Daisy Ridley, who was very, very good, and the film is still a delight, even as Japan in 1991 seems like a very bizarre and distant country from the perspective of 2016: all the sleeper trains are gone, all the train displays in Tokyo are digital, the plight of farming communities is in some ways better and in some ways worse. But Taeko's experiences and her thoughts on them, and the fact that they're presented as worthy of note and consideration, are timeless.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), dir. Miyazaki Hayao
One of my favorite Ghiblis, and the only one I could get tickets to in the Saturday matinee film series downtown. I still love this movie, and what it says about art and craft and work and life and finding yourself by getting outside your comfort zone, and the possibility of flight. Ah, Kiki. ♥
starlady: Korra looks out over Republic City (legend of korra)
I stopped writing up all the movies I'd seen for a while, with the result that I cannot remember all the movies I've seen this year. I have ticket stubs for Creed (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Love and Friendship (2016), and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) on my desk. Two of those movies are perfect and amazing; the other two are not. Oh, and I also saw X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

Zootopiadir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush
Disney has been making better Pixar movies than Pixar for about the past five years, and while this one isn't quite as amazing as Wreck-It Ralph or Big Hero 6, it more than gets the job done. It's also a Disney movie that addresses race in a not incredibly lead-footed way, although the usual problem with animation and comic specieism is not something the movie gets around: namely, once you think deeply about any aspect of the allegory, it all falls apart in spectacular fashion. (For just one example, white people here are represented as prey species…who are also the victims of the predator species, i.e. black people. Neat trick! Nor is the answer to police prejudice and violence that black people, I mean, predators, join the police force.) But the story is solid, and the chemistry between the two leads is off the charts, and the fact that the protagonist has to confront prejudice not just in other characters but also in herself is a great touch. Great animation, and great integration of Shakira and her music into the movie as well, rather than just a gratuitous add-on.

Finding Dory, dir. Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
It's been a while since Pixar has made a movie as solid as this one; it's at least as good as Brave (2012), and I suspect will come to be evaluated in similar terms. The studio continues to ignore the truth about fish biology, which is probably good; also note that the movie taking place only a year after Finding Nemo means they can ignore the issue of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. In many ways, Pixar here is playing to its strengths--the action arises organically from the characters themselves, and there is at least one zany breakout character (in this case, Hank the octopus; last time it was Dory herself) who steals the show, ably supported by a memorable secondary cast, notably Idris Elba and his pinniped companion. I could have done with more of the sea turtles, ngl, but the ongoing Sigourney Weaver joke was pretty great, as was the evocation of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Dory herself--only the second female protagonist of a Pixar movie after Merida--is great, as is the movie's gentle insistence that her being neuroatypical is not a problem, just the reason that she makes her way through the world by slightly different means. The animation isn't as good as it could be--the animation in the short "Piper," which is Pixar's best in years, is off the charts in terms of photorealism--and I hope that was to match Finding Nemo, which after all is 12 years old at this point. Still, I'm looking forward to what they do next.
starlady: Korra looks out over Republic City (legend of korra)
I finally finished this show a few weeks back, and I was really blown away by it in the end. It's easily one of the best animated shows of the past decade, and although I think Avatar was, in the end, a more polished work, to me Korra is better. Partly that's because of things like the setting (I'm a historian of modernity, and the 1920s setting was always going to be more appealing to me than Avatar's premodernity, but more on this later), and the music and the animation being better than Avatar, just because of the time that passed between them. But I also think Korra told a more complex story than Avatar did, and even if it didn't always succeed perfectly, that more complex story is the one that I think is more mature and more interesting.

I think the contrasts between the two shows are telling. )

P.S. I haven't read all of [personal profile] beccatoria's essay on Korra because it's 10K words (omg), but the parts I have read, I've liked!

ETA: Amazing post on the evolution of bending between the shows and within Korra.
starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
I went to see this with my friend B yesterday and we were, on the whole, underwhelmed. Inside Out isn't actively bad--I was entertained while I was watching it, and I never felt bored--but it's also, despite many clever concepts and a really earnest attempt at dramatizing cognition, pretty thin as a story. There are other problems, but that's one of them.

The central plot of the movie involves the anthropomorphized emotions of 11 year old Reilly, whose parents (who sure as fuck don't look like millionaires--which they must be to afford that house--but then, who in the Bay Area does) move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco, setting off the first truly extended emotional turmoil in Reilly's hitherto happy existence (dare I say, she led the life of Reilly. Har har. Har). Inside Reilly's head, Joy and Sadness get shunted out of the command center due to Joy trying to make Reilly be happy all the time, and they spend the rest of the movie trying to make it back and save the core aspects of Reilly's personality while Fear, Anger, and Disgust do a mixed bag of holding down the fort in their absence.

It certainly felt like Pixar forgot some of their own rules for compelling storytelling here; the central realization--being sad is a necessary part of life--doesn't really arise organically from the interactions between Sadness and Joy in the same brilliant way that earlier Pixar films accomplished so neatly. There's also the question of character: namely, who is a character in the movie, and who's the protagonist? Joy and Sadness are a bit too 2D to be characters, but because we see the emotions literally controlling Reilly's reactions, she doesn't really feel like a character either, and in fact the whole setup was a bit mechanistic for my taste. (Side note: Where's rationality in this model?) So the film's dramatic focus oddly lacks a center. I also don't think this is sexist; we get peeks into the mechanistic setup of other people's minds at various points, and everyone is in the same boat; the question is merely which emotion is in charge. (And maybe it is sexist that for Reilly's mom it's Sadness and for Reilly's dad it's Anger; certainly Reilly's dad doesn't actually seem like an angry guy from the movie. That was a weird choice.) 

Another problem is the question of who the movie is aimed at. There's a brilliant animation interlude when Joy, Sadness, and Reilly's forgotten imaginary friend BingBong try to take a shortcut from long-term memory to imagination via abstract thought and are reduced first to Cubist caricatures, then to 2D drawings, and finally to lines, but how many kids are going to get that visual humor? The film's final line is a joke about puberty that no child is going to get and only adults will find funny. The Japanese release was accompanied by a weird video of the director talking about how he made it because he wanted to know what was going on inside his 11 year old daughter's head, and the final lines of the credits include a plea from the animators to their kids that they "Never grow up. Ever," which may have been meant ironically (Pixar are in the Bay Area, after all) but which seemed to contradict the entire implicit point of the film about how one's emotions become more complex as one ages. We were then subjected to a schmaltzy music video in Japanese before the short started, which I did find sexist--dear Pixar, please make a short with a female protagonist, it will do wonders for you, I promise.

All that being said, I did enjoy the Bay Area humor, though as B and I agreed after the film, the end credits should have shown that the bus driver's happy place was also the Brazilian helicopter pilot, since that would have been way more San Francisco even than the running bit about putting vegetables on pizza. B and I are both transplanted East Coasters and we have our own running bit about pizza in the Bay Area (which can be very good, but isn't pizza the way pizza is pizza back East), so that was pretty hilariously apropos for us. But all in all, in terms of the animated movies I've seen that depict the Bay Area while living in Japan for the past year, Big Hero 6 is a much better movie in every way.
starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
Hosoda Mamoru's latest movie is out now in Japan, and I went to see it with some friends last night in Shibuya. This turned out to be an uncannily appropriate choice, as half of the movie is set in Shibuya and is really a love letter to the neighborhood. As Shibuya is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo, I really appreciated that aspect of it.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was a good movie, and I really loved Summer Wars despite some of my quibbles with it, so I had high expectations for Bakemono no ko. Unlike Shinkai Makoto, Hosoda hasn't made a practice of setting up his films to be in dialogue with earlier classic Japanese animated movies, which is why it was a bit of a surprise to realize that this one is definitely a call back to Miyazaki's Spirited Away in some respects. This wound up being unfortunate, as Spirited Away is a better movie.

The story concerns one Ren, who runs away to the streets of Shibuya as a child and finds his way into the world of "bakemono" (monsters, literally, but more like fairies in that they live in an otherworld which operates by its own rules, and which is very Japanese even though it looks like Istanbul), where he winds up becoming the student of one Kumatetsu, a bear-form bakemono who has never taken a disciple before and who becomes both a father figure to Ren (who goes by the alias of Kyuuta in the bakemono world, as one should always do) and something of a student of his own. Through their taking a chance on each other, they both become stronger and better people as Ren grows up, until by the time he is 17 both of them are ready to take their lives in a new direction.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie went off the rails, since Ren's new direction involves going back to Shibuya, reconnecting with his estranged father, and falling in with high school student Kaede, who gives him a crash course in the eight years of school he missed and encourages him to go to study to take the college entrance exam so he can go to a second-rate college so he…can become a white collar drone. Yeah. Before that happens, there are some masterful sequences in which the spirit world begins impinging on Shibuya in a bad way, taking the already stellar animation to new heights, but in the end, the normal world half of the story feels very conventional, which is also to say that it's very predictable. Spirited Away understood that it needed to stay in the spirit world, which is way more interesting than our world, but Bakemono no ko doesn't, which is its mistake. It's fundamentally two movies, and the spirit world one is great, while the one in our world is pretty trite, obsessively detailed representation of Shibuya notwithstanding.

All that being said, I certainly don't regret having seen it, if only for the animation--it's some of the best I've seen in this mode, and it's compelling and beautiful from the very first sequence until the very end. The voice acting, the music, and the characters (in the spirit world) were also all pretty great. It was just the plot and the overall story that needed some work.
starlady: (tomoyo magic hope)
This movie was also on the TAAF program, and since I missed it in Japan and the States the first time around, I wound up going. (If nothing else, I have to keep up my record with Ghibli films; I'm still only short Ocean Waves and Takahata's Only Yesterday.) The art is gorgeous, and as an animated film, it's a brilliant showcase of things that traditional animation can do that computer animation simply can't. But--you knew there was a but--in the end I didn't really enjoy it very much. I'll go further; I don't think it was a better movie than Big Hero 6 or Song of the Sea, both of which it was in competition with for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars. (Song of the Sea was robbed, though Big Hero 6 is great.)

My problems mostly resulted from the changes that Takahata made in the folk tale, a version of which I've actually read in the original classical Japanese. In the folktale, despite the fact that he keeps finding gold in the bamboo trees, the bamboo-cutter and his wife and Kaguya-hime stay in their house in the woods rather than moving to the capital (lolwhat) and the suitors and the emperor all come to them. Although Kaguya-hime is definitely assertive in the movie, to me she seemed to be more of a badass in the original version (not helped by her crying about how she's a fake all the time). It's probably superfluous to say that Takahata has no conception of Heian marriage practices, but because he doesn't, the story is definitely shoved into a more patriarchal frame, and the bamboo-cutter being obsessed with getting Kaguya-hime married doesn't help matters. Moreover, the Emperor's actions are both totally out of character, and in a society in which seeing a glimpse of a noblewoman's face was synecdochic for having had sexual relations with her, basically constitute sexual assault, which I really didn't appreciate. Finally, while there's plenty of ambiguity in the original story whether the moon people are aliens or just basically Buddhas, I'm really attached to my interpretation of the emotionless moon people as alien elf types, and I was disappointed to see Takahata take the other tack.

So, yeah. I'm glad I saw it, and it wasn't a bad movie on any technical level; just really not my cup of tea.
starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
I went to see Song of the Sea last night--it's playing as part of the Tokyo Anime Award Festival, which does have (as Time Out Tokyo opined) a rather weak sauce program for an animation festival in Tokyo, but they are playing this film, and that was all I cared about. Technically it's in competition for a long-form prize at the festival, but I think the fix is in; I actually went and bought my ticket on Sunday afternoon, which was good because at that point they only had six seats left, even though it's the only one they're screening twice.

Like The Secret of Kells, which was done by the same production team, Song of the Sea is set in Ireland, although this time it's present day Ireland--but there's just as much if not more Irish in this movie as there was in The Secret of Kells, and I very much enjoyed the way that Irish was used to slip a few past those who might protest the equivalent in English (viz the Daoine Sidhe's doorsigns). The Secret of Kells was a wonderful movie in many ways, and the animation was just as good if not better this time around. Seriously, the animation is so, so beautiful, and so painterly. It's absolutely the kind of film that makes you realize just how far the medium can go.

The movie tells the story of Ben and Saoirse, two siblings who live in a lighthouse on the west coast of Ireland with their father; Brona, their mother, died when Saoirse was born, and nothing has ever been quite right since. Ben blames Saoirse for the mother's death, and at six years old, Saoirse still doesn't talk, which doesn't help things. When their well-meaning grandmother prevails on their father to send them to live with her in Dublin without their dog Cù, the family's troubles become bound up with those of all the fair folk left in Ireland, for Saoirse is a selkie, like her mother before her, and their hope of Tir na Nog, the Summer Country, rests upon whether she can regain herself, and sing her song to guide them there.

Like [personal profile] owlectomy, I thought this was a marvelous movie, and I was really impressed at the way the family drama and the larger heft of the story grow out of each other organically, and the way that there aren't really even any villains in it. The owl witch Macha has her reasons for what she does, and part of Ben's journey is to realize his own shortcomings. I wept all through the climactic scene, which was totally unexpected, but an indicator of just how much heart the movie has, and how effectively Tomm Moore gets that across. In that respect, it emphatically does recall the best of Studio Ghibli's works.
starlady: Twitter quote: @magneto "come home" (my offer still stands)
Omoide no Maanii | When Marni Was There (2014), dir. Yonebayashi Hiromasa

When I realized, a few hours before I was supposed to meet my friend to see this movie in Shibuya, that the newest Ghibli movie was directed by the same guy who directed Arrietty, which I thought was basically a flaming pile of poo, I was very worried. But I actually enjoyed the movie quite a lot! It's not a major work, but I liked it a lot, and in a lot of ways it actually reminded me of Maleficent in that the most important relationship is between two female characters, and that it is chock-a-block with lesbian overtones.

The movie shares Arrietty's general concept of "Western children's literature transposed to Japan" (it's adapted from a British novel by Joan G. Robinson) and follows friendless adoptee Anna, who is put on a train to Hokkaidou to spend the summer vacation with her adopted mother's family. She's a loner whose only real pleasure is in her sketchbook, and so it's not surprising that she becomes obsessed with an abandoned Western-style mansion on the far shore of the tidal bay. Despite being told that it's uninhabited, one night she meets a girl named Marni there, and they soon become fast friends. Of course, that's when things get interesting, and to say more would be spoilery (although to be fair, the audience never entirely shares Anna's obsessive disregard for facts, so we're always waiting for the other shoe to drop for some reason).

The movie is fairly direct about Anna's loneliness and the joy she finds in her friendship with Marni; partly because Anna is a little older than most Ghibli heroine, her emotions are often quite affecting, and the supporting characters, particularly Sayaka and Hisako, are well-drawn. Quite a few people teared up at the end, which although somewhat melancholy was also very satisfying. I definitely recommend seeing it if you can, although of course I can't vouch for what horrors may or may not be inflicted on the movie in the dubbing process.
starlady: (king)
Tatsumi. Dir. Eric Khoo (2011).

This movie, which premiered at MoMA and screened at Cannes in 2011, is being released in Japan in November; I had the privilege of seeing it at a press screening this morning. The manga is the story of gekiga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi, told both through his autobiography Gekiga Hyôryû | A Drifting Life and through some of his most famous gekiga stories. The movie goes beyond the timeframe of A Drifting Life, which ends in the 1960s, and the animation is quite thoughtfully done; although it's not quite like manga brought to life, it does succeed in replicating Tatsumi's style in another medium, and at being attentive to effects like texture, color, depth and sound in bringing the manga to life on film.

Khoo is Singaporean; Tatsumi is Japanese; the animators were Indonesian; it's an international effort to bring to life something that is quite firmly rooted in the Japanese postwar. Although the criticisms of Tatsumi's work can also be leveled at the film--principally, as far as I'm concerned, both the quantity and type of female characters--it's true that unlike the characters of his more famous friend and rival Tezuka Osamu, Tatsumi's characters have interiority, and even when they're ridiculous or terrible, their stories are often quite moving. The animation is moving too. It's a very good film, warts and all, and as an added bonus, it features quite authentic Kansai-ben, which you certainly don't hear everyday.

In some ways, I was actually reminded of the excellent Studio Ghibli AMV Creating Something Beautiful. If you have the chance, both the AMV and the film are well worth watching.

starlady: Korra looks out over Republic City (legend of korra)
I promised [personal profile] unjapanologist last summer that I would finish watching Avatar: The Legend of Korra without her. I fulfilled that promise only eleven months later when I was lying on the couch after getting my wisdom teeth out. I'd stopped about halfway through, and I knew enough from other people not to expect too much.

Overall, I liked this show, but the comparisons between this first season of Korra and the first season of ATLA are instructive. The first season of ATLA didn't quite gel very well, but it did set up a good overarching plot and it introduced some great characters. Korra, on the other hand, shortchanges character development in favor of a rushed, slapdash, and deus ex machine finale. (Where is it going to go from here?)

Spoilers, though I'm probably the last person to watch this show ) But jebus, Bryan and Mike, way to fall down.
starlady: Yuna from FFX-2: "My own ending" (ending)
Wreck-It Ralph. Dir. Rich Moore, 2012.

My friend M and I saw this movie the Saturday before Christmas, and we loved it! I had heard from everyone how good it was, but it really was exactly that good. I think the last time I was so purely thrilled by and enjoying a movie may have been--well, probably the last time I saw a Pixar movie.

Wreck-It Ralph is the designated bad guy of the Fix-It Felix™ arcade game, and after 30 years of being scorned by his fellow game denizens he decides to prove that he could be a good guy if he tried. Through a series of misadventures he winds up in the racing game Sugar Rush trying to help the glitch Vanellope von Schweetz fulfill her dream of racing in the tournament while his old acquaintance Felix, and the most kick-ass female video game character since Metroid, Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, are in hot pursuit to fix what he's wrecked.

This movie was so good! The design was great, the characters were great, the graphics were amazing, the voice acting was stellar, the music was really good, and particularly after all the crap that's gone down this year about misogyny in the video game industry, it was really great to see the way that the movie subtly but definitely subverted some of the more invidious gaming gender stereotypes. The gamer in the arcade, for instance, is a girl, and while Sugar Rush has the color scheme of a game marketed to girls, boys are shown playing it in the arcade, and the actual gameplay is straight out of the podraces of The Phantom Menace (except, you know, without being deathly boring). The girl gamer is shown playing Hero's Duty, which is basically the most obvious Halo clone you could ever think of, but its badass tough lead character with the super angsty back story is…a woman. Between that and all the cameos and shoutouts to the last thirty years of games, it was so great. And, the plot and its resolution were both believable and heartfelt. Basically, it was wonderful from start to finish.
starlady: (utena myth)
Brave. Dir. Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell, 2012.

I finally saw Brave with a colleague, and…I liked it. I didn't love it, but I liked it and I thought it was a good movie overall and also Hollywood is pretty bad at interpreting what audiences want, they have to be trained in Pavolovian fashion via the application of cash, so yes, I did want to actually pay money to see this.

If you could change your fate, would you? )

I really like Pixar movies in general, and I've seen all of them except Cars and Wall-E (I know. I even own Wall-E). This one, compared with the transcendent heights of Up, or even the not quite as sublime but still excellent and moving Toy Story 3, just doesn't quite measure up - there's a spark lacking, somehow. But I'm glad it exists, and glad I went to see it, and glad it's out there for girls to see.
starlady: Sheeta & Pazu watch the world open out before them (think in layers)
Karigurashi no Arrietty | The Secret World of Arrietty. Dir. Yonebayashi Hitomasa, 2010.

This movie is so bad. The English dub is awful, the underlying movie is terrible, this movie is bad. I have seen almost every movie Studio Ghibli has made, and this has to be the worst.

There, I said it. I cannot understand how this thing had a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes! I cannot understand how it is an NYT Critics' Pick! It is a bad movie. I went with four of my friends, and all five of us independently considered (and rejected) walking out during the first third, except for my one friend who just fell asleep, because the movie is not good.

No, okay, I can be rational about this, I swear. The movie is based on Mary Norton's The Borrowers, and it was written and planned by Miyazaki Hayao himself, so it's not like it's totally without pedigree. Sickly child "Sean" goes to stay at the house of his aunt "Jessica" in the countryside of western Tokyo before his heart operation, and there he discovers the borrower Arrietty and her family living in secret inside his house. "Sean" is more or less a moron (or, to be more fair, a privileged idiot), so he manages to screw up the lives of Arrietty and her family but good in trying to "help" and "protect" them (why he thinks they need his help and protection? Because they're smaller and weaker than he is, obviously!), no thanks to the inexplicably evil creeper housekeeper Hara.

As you may have guessed from my liberal use of quote marks in the above, the English dub (directed by Gary Rydstrom) is ham-handed at best and flat-out terrible at worst. None of the characters are well done by in their translated dialogue, and whoever wrote it has a lead ear, because the dialogue is just terrible. Even worse, Disney apparently couldn't be bothered to shell out the big bucks for people who can actually voice-act this time around, so almost everyone delivers their lines in a monotone or without much affect. Combined with the ridiculous dialogue, we were cracking up at how bad it was by the halfway point, after we started being appalled enough to realize that we could laugh.

So, the dub is terrible, but the movie itself is not good either. There is no plot for the first third or so, and what plot that emerges is inexplicable and boringly predictable. Characters (Hara) have no explicable motivation for their actions, and all in all it really just feels like Ghibli is phoning it in--Hara is cribbed off Yubaba in Spirited Away, Arrietty's future husband the caveman borrower is cribbed off Ashitaka in Mononoke, and Arrietty herself is a generic retread of every other Ghibli heroine ever, without the benefit of a personality or, again, discernible motivations to explain her behaviour. I liked the cat best of all in the end, partly because the cat looks just like the Cat Bus. You thought I was joking about this movie being auto-derivative.

Ugh. We did get some good laughs out of how bad it was in the end, at least.

Massive disclaimer: Obviously I saw the U.S. version. It may well be that the U.K. version isn't atrocious! In which case, I am jealous, though as I said, I don't think even a stellar dub could rescue the movie from its underlying problems.
starlady: (obligatory japan icon)
1. What's the best but least-known (to Westerners, to Japanese people in other parts of the country, whichever) thing about Kyoto you've discovered?
Hmm, this is tough! Kyoto never ceases to throw new things into my path, but on the other hand, I've grown to know the city fairly well (partly, yes, because I had a lot of time and money and few responsibilities the last time I was here).

So, let's see. One of the things you can find in Kyoto that I love, and that even people from Kansai don't often know about, is hiyashi ame, cold ginger juice. It is SO GOOD. I've found it two places in Kyoto (actually near Kyoto technically, but close enough): at Mii-dera, across the mountains in Shiga, and at Mimuroto-ji in Uji, during the hydrangea season. I also found it at the Tenjin matsuri in Osaka last month, which was awesome.

As for places…I love just about all of the major Kyoto sites, which is good because I inevitably wind up making a circuit of them when I show people around, but some of my really favorite places are slightly more out of the way. Mimuroto-ji in Uji above, Ishiyama-dera a bit further east, Kajû-ji in Yamashina, Myôshin-ji up in the northwest (it's so cool to wander around there, just so cool; it's like a little town made up entirely of temples). I also really love the Garden of Fine Arts up on Kitayama, which bills itself as the world's first outdoor art garden and is a cheerfully bizarre little place, with architecture by Andô Tadao, who is one of my all-time favorites and luckily for me a Kansai native, so there's lots of his buildings around to explore. The Garden of Fine Arts is quirky and awesome.

It's really hard to choose, actually. I just love Kyoto, period.

2. What's your favorite thing about A:TLA (a character, a trope, an episode, etc.)?
Well, I think my favorite trope is actually the willingness of the show's creators to remix so many things from actual history and Asian cultures with such wild, though respectful, abandon. The most obvious example is the fauna (turtleducks! they are awesome!), but you see it everywhere (how awesome is the lion turtle? How awesome?).

Also, I really just unreservedly love Toph. TOPH I LOVE YOU.

And also, 3x17, "The Ember Island Players," is just golden, golden, golden.

3. Are there other quintessentially Jersey musicians you dig as much as Bruce Springsteen (like, dare I ask your feelings about Bon Jovi)?
Hmm, there aren't that many musicians that I think of as being quintessentially New Jersey! Really the only ones I can think of are The Gaslight Anthem, Titus Andronicus, and My Chemical Romance. The Gaslight Anthem really only have a few songs that I like, but I do like "High Lonesome" a lot. As for MCR, I really love their newest album Danger Days, which is ironically the least obviously Jersey-ish of their albums because it's (not) a concept album, but their older, more Jersey-ish music is less of a surefire win for me. But I really like Titus Andronicus a lot (their album The Monitor is really quite good, if you like alternative/indie rock-ish music exploring what the hell is with the States now via the Civil War), though I've been told that they don't perform live well. There's just something about their music--it's not even completely my experience of New Jersey, because just from their music I can tell that they are so, so North Jersey, and honestly the album that probably best reflects my experience of growing up in (the northern portion of) South Jersey is Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, which tells you a lot right there, but even so, Titus Andronicus have managed to tap into the core of New Jersey somehow, not just place but people. And, yeah. It doesn't have to be my experience of home to remind me of home.

I actually enjoy Bon Jovi, but only on a song-by-song basis, and usually only at parties or when driving around in a car singing along with the blasting stereo.

4. What do you want to be doing this time next year?
Well, I'm hoping to either spend the summer in China doing language study, or to get a summer fellowship at the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco. Hopefully either or both of those will actually be possible…the real question is whether I should be trying to be in the Beijing or the Shanghai area. Opinions on that question welcome!

5. What's your favorite outfit for daily wear & for fancy occasions?
Hmm. It depends on where/when I am! Here in Kyoto I have basically fallen back into what I think of as the gaijin uniform, namely Bermuda shorts, a shirt, and sandals or sneakers, though my bucket hat and umbrella-repurposed-as-parasol, and geta (wooden sandals) when I wear them, are adaptations of Japanese fashion that I couldn't live without. On the days when I actually wear a skirt or a sundress I feel much more in step with the people around me, though I just don't have the wardrobe to layer in the summer months, unlike people here.

In California my sartorial skills have also backslid; I tend to wear jeans, a shirt, and sneakers or sandals, with a scarf and a blazer or hoodie as appropriate. Given that I'll be teaching starting this year, though, I'm going to be making the effort to dress a little more professionally, again. This is basically in direct conflict with a) the campus ethos and b) the fact that I really love T-shirts, but clothes are a quick route to being taken more seriously, so there it is. When I make the effort to wear a skirt or a blazer I usually wear heels, though I also sometimes wear heels with jeans, just because I can.

For fancy occasions…I have several dresses that I wear frequently, depending on the weather, and several pairs of higher-heeled shoes that I enjoy wearing for short stretches of time, but one thing about grad school so far is that there's a dearth of fancy occasions in general, and half the time I just throw on my suit for the academic ones. Mind you, I love that suit (three-piece), and it looks good, so that's okay, but I will need another one eventually. I'd like something slightly less classic; we'll see.

I also need to get a good hat, like a straw trilby, before I come back to Japan again.
starlady: Sheeta & Pazu watch the world open out before them (think in layers)
Kokurikozaka kara | From Upon Poppy Hill, prod. Studio Ghibli, dir. Miyazaki Gorô, 2011.

I've had an embarrassment of riches in terms of anime movies this summer, and I'm happy to report that this last film, Studio Ghibli's newest, did not end my streak on a sour note. To wit, this is classic Ghibli, decidedly not very innovative within the main line of the oeuvre but warm and human and quietly beautiful in that way that life is, if we keep our hearts open for it. Certainly Miyazaki Gorô has redeemed himself in my book after the travesty that was Gedo Senki.

The internet tells me that the movie is based on a 1980 manga, set in southern Yokohama in 1963. It's very much a movie of that time, right down to the inclusion of Sakamoto Kyu's classic "Ue wo Muite Arukô" in the soundtrack not once but twice. The film follows Matsuzaki Umi, a second-year high school student, and her burgeoning relationship with her classmate Kazama Shun. Shun's a member of the student newspaper, and Umi has good penmanship, so she starts helping write out their articles to be inked and run off. Not long after that she gets the idea to clean out the old mansion that serves as a clubhouse for the student activity groups, and learns some surprising things about hers and Shun's parents.

When I put it like this it sounds horribly slight, and I suppose it is, if you think that family and love and grief are not inherently important topics. Umi and her sister and mother and the women who live with them are all finely etched, and Shun and the students--radical as all students in the 1960s were, so earnest it's painful, unaware or determinedly ignoring the fact that the nails have already been pounded into the coffin of their activism--are achingly real too, in that Ghibli sketch way. The scene where the students instantly switch from a near fist-fight debate to singing classic songs en masse to fool the school principal is brilliant.

It says something about this film, I think, and about Japan today, that it's set in the spring of 1963, when Japan's economy was starting to really lift off and everyone has the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 firmly on the brain and the war that stole Umi's and Shun's parents wasn't the Asia-Pacific but the Korean War. This is, of course, a movie soaked in nostalgia, but various sharp notes keep it from being saccharine, and if the movie's shocking plot twist is revealed in the end to be not a twist at all, that doesn't change the fact that the plot does feint where it feinted. (Yes, I'm being vague.) Fifty years later, it all seems very far out of reach, but closer in some ways than Miyazaki Hayao's Gake no Ue no Ponyo, even though that movie was aggressively set in the present.

Aside from Ponyo, I was reminded most of Mimi wo Sumaseba, which has similar themes and which, significantly, was the only film directed by Miyazaki Hayao's hand-picked successor Kondô Yoshifumi before the latter's untimely death. (I was also reminded somewhat of Kiki's Delivery Service, in that one of the women living in Umi's house is a painter, but unfortunately we never get to hear her views on art and creation.) If Miyazaki Gorô can keep this up, Studio Ghibli will be in good, if perhaps not brilliant, hands for the foreseeable future.
starlady: Aang with fire (aang can be asian & still save the world)
# One of the little things I love is all the fauna and how they're remixed rather than copied straight from our world. Turtle-seals FTW!

# Star Trek actors doing voices so far: George Takei, Rene Auberjonois (twice!). Did I miss anyone?

Minor spoilers for 1x19-20 )

# On the other hand, apparently whoever directed the voice actors was incapable of teaching them the proper way to pronounce characters' names. Case in point: everyone's favorite villain, Zhao. Even his own voice actor can't say his name correctly! Yes, this is me in my corner being pedantic, I am getting hung up on a tree, but it niggles.

# However, I am not missing the forest of awesome that is this show for that tree. This show is the best! ♥ ♥ ♥

starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
The Illusionist. Dir. Sylvain Chomet, 2010.

This is one of those movies that makes me feel out of step with the rest of the world.

I knew nothing about this movie other than that it was directed by the same person who did The Triplets of Belleville, which was an amazing, amazing movie, so I went to see it thinking that I would get…well, as [personal profile] oyceter said to me, it's not like Triplets had much plot, but to my mind, it did have a coherent, enjoyable story or premise, at least, whereas I spent the entire length of The Illusionist waiting for the movie to do things it had no interest, in the end, in doing.

The script was originally written by French comic Jacques Tati (whoever he was) for his daughter (which one is a matter of debate), and was adapted by Chomet; in the event, it follows a down-on-his-luck illusionist, Tatischeff, as the exigencies of his trade in the 1950s force him from Paris across the Channel around Britain to the furthest extremes of the Scottish Highlands. While there he meets a young girl, Alice, who brazenly decides to accompany him to Edinburgh when he leaves because, for whatever reason, while he stayed in the village he bought her a new pair of shoes.

Spoilers )

But everyone else apparently loved it, so maybe I am just a joyless curmudgeon.
starlady: don't fuck with nurse chapel (nurses are awesome)
Only three two none left, hooray. My motivation to write these up is dying by inches.

Why do we always end up like this? )

So, in order, the TAS episodes you really should watch:

1x02, "Yesteryear"
1x04, "The Lorelei Signal"
1x05, "More Tribbles, More Trouble"
1x07, "The Infinite Vulcan"
starlady: Kirk surrounded by tribbles: "What the crap is going on here?"  (kirk)
Checking things against Memory Alpha, it appears my files are misnumbered. Let's just get through this, shall we?

Space whales, evil eagles, and mermen, oh my! )
starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
So I really, really liked the first two Toy Story movies, and I really like Pixar movies. This is not the post in which I compare and contrast Ghibli and Pixar and talk about the problematic aspects of both; but that's coming! And I'm not going to give this movie a free pass by any means, but upfront, I have to say, I loved this movie.

So, yes. Toy owner Andy is all grown up and heading off to college, and his toys are faced with a dilemma: should they be hoping to go to Sunnyside Daycare, or to be put up in a box in the attic? The issue is forced when they are nearly accidentally thrown out and then are donated to Sunnyside anyway, despite Andy wanting to put them up into the attic. slight spoilers )

I loved this movie. Why can't the Hollywood studios make movies like Ghilbi and Pixar do, that are so effortlessly thrilling and involving? There's nothing like being in a packed theater full of people wearing the same 3D glasses and all having the same thrilled, terrified, and excited reactions to what's happening up on the big screen--and for a change the 3D in this movie was well done and tastefully integrated into the movie itself, which is always great. Too, what the toys go through is a real rollercoaster ride, with a lot of homages to great movies past along the way, and I really liked what the movie did with the characters.

Pixar doesn't really know what to do with girls and women, though now that computer animation has advanced enough to animate humans we pretty much have definitive confirmation that Andy's mom is a single mom, which is awesome, and some of the female characters really shine here, particularly Barbie and Bonnie. Barbie in particular is great; she chooses her friends when it matters and declaims about the rights of the governed not to be terrorized (I may or may not have shouted "Barbie I love you!" at that point) and in general is just awesome. If Barbie had been that awesome as an actual toy I would have loved Barbie. Also, Ken is great too, eventually. (All of his outfits in the movie have at one point actually been sold by Mattel, FYI.) And Bonnie is great as well, in a non-stereotypically gendered way; she doesn't have a bedroom coated in pink like Andy's sister and acts out stories that don't conform to clichés about what girls like and do. So yay!

Vocal stereotyping in animation )

Elegiac toy meta )

These reservations aside, awesome movie. If all movies were this good I would be broke from going to see them.

P.S. All the scenes with the octopus made the fandom part of my brain go some strange, wrong places. Where is the off switch for my fandom brain? Oh wait there is none.

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