Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) Analysis — A Shared Compassion

Warning: Spoilers

This is a paper I wrote for my Japanese Film and Culture class back in early June of 2015 detailing my thematic analysis of the Japanese-British film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).

david_bowie_merry_christmas_mr_lawrence_movie_poster_b_2a

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) is a Japanese-British film which portrays the difficulties and struggles which arise from two starkly different and conflicting cultures.  The characters spend a majority of the film disagreeing with the disciplines and philosophies of a culture not of their own.  The film goes on, though, to show that the labels and definitions of “culture” are sometimes aimless, and do nothing more then promote a sort of stubbornness and adamant intolerance.  Characters such as Captain Yonoi and Captain Hicksley refuse to concede the supposed righteousness of their own culture and the apparent indignation of the other’s, and as a result, are bigoted and disdainful.  However, the film shows that such attitudes inhibit the engagement of an undeniable constant throughout all individuals:  compassion.  Even though they all express it differently through their cultures, compassion is felt and exhibited by most every character of the film.  The dichotomy shared between Captain Yonoi and Jack Celliers—as kindred spirits with mutual compassion—is never truly fulfilled because of the dogged prejudice and allegiance to “culture” which afflicts Captain Yonoi.  The relationship between John Lawrence and Sergeant Hara, however, demonstrates the potential bonds and emotional fulfillment that come with shedding the stubbornness and intolerance of “culture” and sharing within another human being the application of compassion.  Through its characters and their relationships, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence illustrates how the self-righteous intolerance sometimes exhibited by “culture” prevents individuals from realizing and understanding each other by a mutual compassion.

mcml6

All the characters of the film display a level of compassion with which they connect and relate to others; however, some individuals are too restricted by a stubbornness to their culture to share such compassion.  Captain Hicksley and Captain Yonoi are both such characters; they spend much of the film aggressively rejecting the principles and ideals of the other’s culture.  During De Jong’s execution, Captain Yonoi forces the Western prisoners to line up and spectate the event.  The ways that the Japanese and Westerners each approach and assess the moral validity of this execution speaks volumes of both their differences and similarities.  The Westerners deem the execution utterly indignant and obscene; “If you had any humanity left in you, sir, you would let us leave,” objects Hicksley.  Without so much as a second thought, Hicksley labels the execution as unethical, and believes that the Japanese are putting De Jong to death in an inhumane and barbaric manner—there is no respect or dignity in this style of death.  However, the Japanese perceive this style of death as honorable and noble, evidenced by when Sergeant Hara thought it merciful to tell De Jong “you may commit Harakiri.”  They are baffled at the apparent ignorance on the Westerners’ part of these sentiments.  This stark contrast in cultural perspective supposedly illustrates a clear conflict and opposition between the ideologies and people of these two sides.

However, more than anything else, this dichotomy expresses a great deal of similarity.  In both cases, these people are channeling an immense compassion and respect for their fellow man; it is merely their methods—the practices of their culture—which differ.  Captain Hicksley views the execution as savage and disrespectful, and is so impassioned with anger because he cares deeply for the dignity of De Jong.  The fact that he has (presumably) never met, let alone gotten to know, De Jong, and yet so fervently defends his honor and death, indicates the immense compassion with which he concerns other individuals.  To him, no man should be forcibly end his life by his own hand—left to suffer at the slowness of his subsequent death.  This same level of compassion is shared by his Japanese captors.  Such manner of execution is noble in the eyes of the Japanese—better for a man to put himself to death than the enemy to.  These two sides share a much of the same brand of compassion—however, their dogged rigidness to their respective cultures prevents them from realizing this.  Hicksley much too angrily refuses to empathize with the Japanese, labeling Lawrence a “Jap lover”—a traitor to his righteous Western culture—when Lawrence attempts to understand the ways of the Japanese, and Captain Yonoi absolutely declines any compromise with his practice, shouting “This is the right way!  I am right!” when his decisions are questioned by the Westerners.

The cinematography of the scene perfectly encapsulates this dichotomy.  With the Westerners and Japanese lined up on opposite ends of De Jong, the viewer can that these two sides connect with each other on the mutual compassion they harbor towards their fellow man—represented by De Jong.  However, the labels and self-righteousness they associate with their own cultures keep them separated and grouped on opposing sides, both figuratively and physically—unable and unwilling to share their compassion with each other.

mcml1

The sort of inability to understand each other, which assignments of culture in this film promote, is further realized in the relationship between Captain Yonoi and Jack Celliers.  Initially, these two individuals seem to come closer to sharing compassion than any other Japanese and Westerner.  Captain Yonoi—a man angrily dismissing any rejection of his righteous Japanese ways—very surprisingly displays consideration when he is told the harsh sounds of his kendo practice disturb the sick men.  “That sick officer too?…I do not want the prisoners to be upset” Yonoi inquires, showcasing his concern for Jack Celliers and the prisoners.  This is the first and one of the many few instances during the entire film which Yonoi concedes in the absoluteness of his culture.  His kendo is a manifestation of all the sort of honor and discipline enacted by his Japanese culture—the fact that its noises perturb the Westerners represents the sort of disagreement on their part with the Japanese.  It is unexpected that Yonoi does not immediately erupt in intense anger when Lawrence tells him of the sick men’s displeasure, thus indicating a seldom seen level of concession and compassion with the Westerners from Yonoi.

This sentiment, of course, is catalyzed by Celliers, and the compassion which Yonoi almost instantly feels towards him.  It is easy to call these two kindred spirits, for both are haunted by their pasts, where they were unable to express their compassion to their close ones.  For Yonoi, he agonizes over not being able to honor the deaths of his comrades by dying right with them, and Celliers anguishes over his coldness which cost his brother his passion and affections.  In both these cases, the individual harbors an unfulfilled and eager compassion—differing only in the cultural practice by which such was unused.  The two then mean to express this kindness to each other, and in turn, the people of the other’s culture.  Celliers does not understand or engage in Japanese ideals, but he never wholly disdains or disrespects them.  “What a funny face.  Beautiful eyes, though,” describes Celliers of Hara, acknowledging both the difference in superficial, cultural practices and the appeal—the exact similarity—in the soul and compassion.  Though, Yonoi remains far more stringent and adamant in his culture, yet he consistently compromises his rigorous discipline for Celliers—to the idea of sharing compassion with other cultures.  This implies a relinquishment of culture in order to empathize with individuals who only different on a cursory level.

However, he is never able to fully concede his fixation with his culture.  At the film’s climax, Yonoi, in a gesture of such cultural adamance, demands the attendance of all the prisoners—including the deathly sick ones.  Though he previously expressed his compassion for the prisoners, he stubbornly continues with this aimless parade, as some demonstration for the dogged tenacity which afflicts him, despite displaying brief but clear instances of doubt and sympathy at the sick prisoners.  Again, this indicates an inability to share compassion because of an unshakable loyalty to cultural ideals.  Yonoi clearly feels sympathy towards the sick prisoners, but is so adamant in the righteousness of his decisions that he continues mercilessly.  When Celliers breaks rank and walks up to Yonoi to kiss his cheeks, he makes one final effort to appeal to Yonoi’s compassion.  This is an unacceptable offense to Yonoi’s bushido code, yet he is utterly unable to bring his sword down on Celliers, and becomes incapacitated, leaving Celliers to be beaten by the Japanese soldiers.  The outcome of Celliers’ actions—of his last attempt to share empathy with Yonoi—is only half successful, since Yonoi makes no visible effort to save Celliers from the soldiers, remaining weighed down by the indecision and conflict between his connection with Celliers and the his cultural disciplines, resulting in Celliers’ ultimate death.  As a result, Yonoi and Celliers never appease their unfulfilled compassions with each other, and thus, to all people not of their culture.  This illustrates that culture must be substantially relinquished in order to respect and empathize with the each other.

mcml2

In this film, the labels and strict adherence to separate cultures inhibits a degree of empathy and understanding among individuals.  All characters in the film showcase the ability to feel and share compassion in one way or the other.  However, a self-righteous tenacity to their own culture prevents the mutual experience of this compassion.  Captain Hicksley and Captain Yonoi spend a majority of the film mired by a dogged tenacity to their respective cultures, seldom yielding to the sensibilities of the other, and thus never connecting or understanding each other on a deep and substantial level.  The relationship between Celliers and Yonoi, though more considerable in shared compassion, is never fully realized because of Yonoi’s unshakable faithfulness to his disciplines.  One should realize that the absoluteness and self-righteous quality of following one’s culture promotes intolerance and prevents the engagement of a shared quality in being human.  The idea and practices of culture are not inherently at fault, but the stubborn mentality and resulting bigotry towards other ways of thinking proves especially problematic.  The unlikely friendship between Mr. Lawrence and Sergeant Hara demonstrates the successful approach to culture which promotes shared compassion.  Lawrence and Hara spend a great deal of the film questioning the other’s culture, but also indulging and attempting to understand it.  Lawrence speaks Japanese and appeals to the sensibilities of Japanese culture—attempting to empathize with its beauty (“My fondest memories of Japan are of the snow”), while Hara does the same for the Westerners, searching for the true culprit of the radio to deliver a distinctly Western brand of justice (“I’m Father Christmas tonight”).  In the film’s concluding scene, Lawrence and Hara display a great deal of fondness and compassion towards one another, but are still appropriated by cultural differences—of the second war between nations.  Despite the success of their mutual understanding and empathy, the obsession of the righteousness of one’s culture keeps the widespread application of compassion at bay.  “Well if it was up to me.  I’d release you today, send you back to your family,” Lawrence tells Hara, demonstrating that such obsession must be done away with in order to fully and widely understand each other with a shared compassion.

mcml4

Advertisements

Tokyo Ghoul √A (anime) Episode 3 Review

Warning: Spoilers

This season is taking steps in the right direction, even through a few stumbles.

I’m very much in favor of the series’ renewed focus on Kaneki, as his presence hung a cloud over this episode and all of the show’s various characters and groups.  From Hinami stumbling through words while reading, Kaneki’s appearance on the news, and to the book-signing of his favorite author—even though the guy is far from Anteiku, he has certainly made an imprint on its employees.  The time spent exploring Toka’s motives for applying to Kaneki’s university are explained with just enough subtlety to come across, I think, very effectively.  It’s interesting to note that Toka only met Kaneki once he became part ghoul, and was really only exposed to that side of him.  She never got to know he who actually was before his transformation—who he was when he was human.  By applying to Kamii, she’s attempting to discover who this guy really was—what kind of life he was living, his interests—his world.  She wants to better know the person she and her friends are missing so dearly.  And as she gets to know more, so too do the viewers, for we also really don’t know much about Kaneki apart from how he’s handled his life as a ghoul.  But as her closing comments revealed, he’s not the same guy anymore (“The star of a play, huh?  It doesn’t fit him”).  The Kaneki whom she has gotten to know is special in his own right, and so too are the memories and bonds.  Perhaps by discovering what made him human, she can draw out that side of him once more to redeem him.

Nagachika also gets more screen time, as his reasons for becoming associated with CCG become more apparent.  To be honest, I didn’t fully recognize him at the season’s start—I blame the red cap, threw me off.  It’s cool, though, to see that he’s got some basic common sense, since he recognizes the eye-patched ghoul as, you know, his best friend.  Hell, the fact that he not only still accepts him as a friend, but is now actively and intelligently looking into what’s really going on speaks volumes of their friendship.

Yay friendship

Yay friendship

Speaking of CCG, now that they have a lead concerning the identity of the eye-patched ghoul, it’ll be interesting to see how this organization handles discovering that this ghoul was originally a human (which he still might be).  At the very least, it’ll certainly throw a wrench into their own personal philosophies.  More specifically, it would be interesting to see what effect it would have on Amon’s black-and-white ideals–maybe something similar to the sort of confusion he displayed during his first encounter with Kaneki.  It’s an interesting direction to go, and ties back into Kaneki quite nicely.

However, I don’t think enough screen time went to Kaneki himself, for his only significant development was that he’s still got some good left in him—or at least some level of sympathy, displayed when he helps out that poor dude spell out “Yamatori.”  Perhaps the very fact that he is still literate on some level implies his preserved humanity.

Good Guy Kaneki

Good Guy Kaneki

The mention of Yamatori, though, confuses me.  As far as I could tell, he barely played any significant role before his death, since he was deficiently developed as a character (all he really did was push the plot forward).  The fact that we’re introduced to a character who is so significantly tied to him troubles me, for if this character starts to play a larger role, the plot might suffer under the weight of its own baggage. His role in opening the door to this ghoul internment camp (which will undoubtedly play a larger role down the line) seems to imply such.  Also Tsukiyama’s resurfacing baffles me–the fact that he’s accompanied by yet another mysterious character makes me afraid that this series still means to introduce characters left and right with little to no foresight (what’s the deal behind those one-eyed girls–and the author?).  It’s troubling that there’re this many threads to follow so early on–there’s entirely too much to keep track of.  Maybe it’ll all be cleverly handled in the end, I don’t know, but these certainly aren’t missteps the series hasn’t taken before.  I mean, the fact that they’re still holding out on unpacking the mystery behind some already introduced characters alarms me.  Just how many times am I going to have to hear that bandaged girl giggle Kaneki’s name to herself.  I get it, you’re mysterious, geez.

Overall though, I would say that this episode did more to benefit the progression of this season than hinder it.  Though the series still has many issues to fix—some which it continues to exacerbate, I remain optimistic, if only for the development of Kaneki and those close to him.

-Jam

Tokyo Ghoul √A (anime) Episode 2 Review

Warning: Spoilers

That’s a little more like it.

My primary complaints with this season’s first episode was that it did nothing in the way of introducing the tone and direction of the second season.  It concerned itself primarily with clean-up duty for the last season’s finale.  Whether this was utilized as some cheap gimmick to hook viewers from the beginning, some instance of poor behind-the-scenes planning/scheduling, or whatever, I’m glad to say that this week’s episode worked especially well as an introduction to Tokyo Ghoul’s second season.

The scenes in CCG’s conference room had me at least initially worried that the series would resume an almost military/war-conflict-type tone so unlike the series thus far.  In actuality though, these scenes added at least a little bit to the motivations on either side of this Aogiri/CCG conflict.  Hopefully more will come, seeing that this war will no doubt cast a heavy shadow on this season.  I’m relieved that the series have renewed focus on a smaller, more intimate collection of characters.  The episode was primarily one of rest, following last week’s climactic battle, as various characters and groups settled back into their day-to-day lives.  But of course, not all carries on as it did before—the prior conflicts yielded very apparent consequences.  Kaneki’s absence at Anteiku is certainly felt among its staff and company, especially for Toka, who I guess now means to attend Kaneki’s old university—leaving me kind of stumped (in terms of what practical effect this will have on Kaneki’s retrieval), but perhaps it’s some emotional way to cope with his departure.  Even though the episode didn’t spend too much time on Toka, I’ve no doubt she will soon again be heavily featured.

My thoughts exactly.

My thoughts exactly.

Though, this episode especially impressed me with its treatment of CCG.  The new focus on just the members of the 20th Ward leaves the door open for some much-needed character development, so as to give me reason to give a damn about these people aside from Amon (a member of the small cast the first half of the first season spent its time fleshing out).  Some of this group’s members had previously been introduced, but in a hasty, rushed manner which left nothing in the way of character development (an issue which unfortunately afflicted a bevy of the characters introduced during the first season’s second half).  It’s relieving to see that this season will be spent developed some of them.  The introduction of Wado Akira, the daughter of Amon’s former partner (an intriguing character I felt met his end too early) is certainly a welcome addition, though it’s interesting to note her role extends far beyond the daughter of Wado.  She brings a level of arrogant and calculative cool-headedness (completely different from the sparkling charisma and wackiness of her dad) which clashes interestingly with Amon’s earnestness, and brings just enough to the table to engage me.  While her personality-type has certainly been seen before, I have hope for her development.  Her deduction of Rize’s identity is just enough to add a degree of mystique and intrigue to Rize’s past.

The same devious look as her father's.

The same devious look as her father’s.

Now, Kaneki (whom I thought to be the absolute star of the last season) was shelved for the majority of this episode—appearing only in quick, disjointed scenes—but I’m completely fine with that.  In fact, I appreciate it.  Obviously this new ghoul-Kaneki brings a completely different dynamic to the series concerning the mystery of his motivations and the lasting effects his actions will yield on those around him.  The fact that the episode barely addresses him hopefully means the season’s going to spend its time detailing this new angle.  There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m glad it’s being reserved for episodes to come (please).  The very fact that Kaneki made coffee on his downtime spawns many questions to be answered.

A remembrance of the past?

A remembrance?

The closing montage was especially powerful for me, seeing the coffee shop reopen and its staff and friends celebrate was heartwarming to see, while at the same time melancholy, seeing how Kaneki’s absence is very much felt.  The mystery surrounding the actions and motives of Kaneki’s new little task force with Toka’s brother piqued my interest.  The closing scene in which a character who came out of nowhere last season (one of many) takes private interest in Kaneki by referring to him as his actual name (he has thus so far been mentioned as “Eye-patch”) is a good enough cliff-hanger as far as I’m concerned.

Overall, this episode has certainly shown potential for a redemption of sorts for this new season.  It does exactly what good first episodes should do—plant the seeds for the plot to come.  While I’m still somewhat concerned that the series will have trouble balancing this larger cast, the series’ renewed intimacy leaves the door open for some gratifying development–both for these characters and the dynamics within their respective groups (Anteiku, CCG 20th Ward).  Hopefully, this will make the inevitable conflict among them more emotionally weighted.  Though I remain cautious, this series has renewed my interest, and I’m excited for the story to come.

-Jam

Tokyo Ghoul √A (anime) Episode 1 Review

Warning: Spoilers

This should have been the final episode of the last season.

I thought Tokyo Ghoul’s first season was for the most part, a success—surely riddled with flaws, but overall an enjoyable series.  It was most strong when it spent more time on a smaller cast of characters, as it did during the first half, and really started to go off the tracks towards the season’s conclusion, when suddenly the story thrust itself far too quickly into an expanded world—introducing far too many new characters and conflicts to keep up with in just a few episodes.  I wasn’t a fan of this direction, as the series really needed to take its time to adequately flesh out all of these new dynamics (such as Touka’s past and current relationship with her brother, and Aogiri).  As a result, that first season finale felt empty and left me almost completely uninterested, for the series had only really spent time developing a select cast of characters, and the main cast of that battle were mostly fresh, undeveloped faces.

These problems become alarmingly accentuated in the debut episode of Tokyo Ghoul’s sophomore season.  The episode showcases the final act of this large but vapid battle, with two fights occupying the majority of screen time:  that which is waged between CCG’s top fighters and Aogiri’s leader, and that which is fought between Toka and her brother.  Both these fights are fueled by empty, undeveloped conflicts, and as a result, they are utterly uninteresting.  In the first season, Aogiri’s introduction was seriously out of left field, and we got not nearly nothing of its members and purpose—they were hastily brought onto the scene to be the new baddies.  While two of CCG’s members were developed well in the first season’s first half, we saw nearly nothing of the organization itself and its other members until it far was far too late to sufficiently flesh out any of them.  When the motives and personalities of either sides of a fight are underdeveloped, it’s seriously difficult to get invested, no matter how cool their fancy new weapons and character designs may be.

What's this guy's name again?

What’s this guy’s name again?

The conflict between Toka and her brother saw practically no development in the last season.  The plot is obviously hinting at some dramatic event (presumably the death of their father) which made his personality take a complete 180, so I guess the viewer is supposed to express some semblance sympathy towards his anguish.  However, the brother, just like his organization, was completely rushed in introduction, and thus, warrants no emotional investment.  Maybe if—prior to his introduction—the audience was at least aware of his existence, and there were some hints or teases of their relationship—not even anything noteworthy or long, maybe just some subtle namedrops and flashbacks—we could’ve had something.  Sure it would have been somewhat clichéd, but at least it’s something!  Instead, we get some hackneyed grumbling about prioritizing “power” above all else and yada yada yada, we’ve seen this before.

Dude who are you

Dude who are you

Even the episode’s final twist seems cheap and undercooked.  While I doubt Kaneki is goin’ rogue for reasons besides finding out more about Rize (I could be eating my words the next episode), did Toka and Anteiku really have to left in the dark?  And was Aogori so readily accepting of his membership, especially after Toka’s brother couldn’t have put in a good word for him?  The prior season really didn’t even do much in prescribing Kaneki with enough incentive and motivation to go through such extreme means as working with the enemy.  Additionally, he didn’t get enough screen time to see what his new white-haired, full-ghoul persona will make of his character for this season (I hope Kaneki’s human side—you know, the actual character we’ve got to know hitherto—still plays a significant role).  Couldn’t this little development have gotten a bit of, i don’t know, development?

This little wordless encounter, and *boom* suddenly he's in?

This little wordless encounter, and *boom* suddenly he’s in?

And therein, I think, lies the bulk of my issue with this episode:  it should have stayed in the first season.  It’s blatantly nothing more than a continuation of the event which was started at the end of last season—a final act of last season’s finale.  All it really did was quickly sweep under the rug.  As such, all the flaws of season 1’s finale were carried over and even worsened in this episode, and this did nothing to establish the direction and tone of the second season (what good first episodes of a new season do).  So apart from the new (and somewhat disappointing, compared to last season’s) OP, I wouldn’t have known I was even watching an episode from a new season.  I’m not sure if something got botched up in production and planning or whatever, but it was a critical error to have began the new season with this impression.  I anticipate that next week’s episode will do more to introduce the tone and direction of Tokyo Ghoul √A, though honestly, it’s going to take a lot of time to really develop all the new and no doubt pertinent characters and conflicts to make a compelling story.  For the time being, my expectations remain neutral.

It was pretty to look at, though

-Jam

The Garden of Words (anime film) Analysis

WARNING:  SPOILERS

I just finished watching Garden of Words, a gorgeous and relatively short anime film directed by Makoto Shinkai, most famous for his previous work, 5 Centimeters Per Second, another beautiful and excellent work.  Here are some of my quick, raw thoughts and unedited ramblings on of some of its thematic elements.  While not organized or formally structured by any stretch of the imagination, I hope it still at least make some semblance of sense.

GardenofWords_mainvisual_S

“A faint clap of thunder,
Clouded skies,
Perhaps rain will come.
If so, will you stay here with me?

A faint clap of thunder,
Even if rain comes or not,
I will stay here,
Together with you.”

In the film, the rain, I think, comes to symbolize a shield between one’s self and the rest of the world—and all the societal pressures and expectations associated with it.  Akizuki is uncertain and worried that his passion for shoe-making won’t make for much of a future, and must constantly work part-time jobs just to finance it, while Yukino faces personal problems in her professional life.  When placed in the structure of society, and all the expectations that come with it (students should behave like this, teachers must be like such), the two must become something dishonest to their true selves.  The rain gives them excuse to escape all that and find solace in the garden.  Neither Akizuki nor Yukino are inclined to introduce themselves formally, for that would be introducing themselves as the people they are in society.  Here, the two protagonists are able to put their guard down and become their honest selves within the context of the garden—shielded off from everything else with the soft pitter-patter of rain.

They connect to each other as their real, vulnerable selves, and it is with this understanding that their relationship gains significance.  They are damaged to the core by the pressures and insecurities associated with functioning “properly” in society, for if maturity can be gauged, these two would arguably rank the same, for though Akizuki is younger, his naïveté and innocence is sparse thanks to his disorganized family and his working during holidays while other students do not; Yukino on the other hand, feels “no older than when [she] was 15 years ago.”  As such, in this haven, they help each other “walk” again—that is, overcome the emotional struggles and pain society has stricken them with (physically manifested in the symbol of the shoes, and the shoe-making (plus they help each other out with their words, hence the title (AYY)!)).  Their age gap is irrelevant, for such stigma is a characteristic of the outside world, and thus absent in their sanctuary.  Their connection is as genuine and intimate as it gets—once which heals and amends their bare selves.

However, as it turns out, society is too overbearing and ever-present to escape, as the rain stops, and Yukino’s identity and her struggles come to light.  At the realization of Akizuki’s feelings, Yukino, though obviously moved,  still feels shackled by the expectations of society (a teacher shouldn’t be romantically linked to a student//romance cannot bloom in that much of an age gap) to reciprocate.  The film’s emotional climax speaks profoundly of these ideas.  After she unrequits his confession, she ungracefully sprints and stumbles after Akizuki, with no remorse for the physical hurt she sustains, showing that she refuses to be fettered by society, instead acting on the emotional connection which she shares with Akizuki (“I think right now, this is the happiest moment in my life”).  Akizuki’s visceral and pained diatribe, however, reminds both of them that they truly cannot escape the worries and expectations of society.  As he rattles off to her how society expects her to react and behave towards him, their inability to be together becomes all the more apparent.  However, this does not mean that the healing and solace which they found in each other was in vain.  She, without a shred of conscious thought, steps forward, and they embrace, wrapping together, weeping in an anguished, pained embrace, indicating the healing effects of their relationship.  Their connection transcends the shackles and expectations of society—their intimacy is healthy and restorative to their genuine, true selves.

Though they cannot ultimately escape the burdens of the outer world, they still heal one another—the underlying beauty of their bond.  This is a message which speaks volumes on the nature of love—one outside our traditions and conventions which holds a deeply emotional satisfaction.  The tanka which Akizuki and Yukino recite to one another convey the healing nature of their relationship in the face of societal pressures.  The film thus challenges the viewer to think outside the preconceptions (and do’s and don’ts) of our society, and instead, cherish the deeply intimate and healing relationships we form with one another.

But hey, just some thoughts.

-Jam

Batman: Assault on Arkham (film) Review

Spoiler-free!

Did the title really need the “Batman” moniker?  Batman: Assault on Arkham is the latest direct-to-video release from Warner Bros. Animation, and is another excellent installment in their long line of DC Universe Animated Original Movies.  Viewers be warned, however, this is no Saturday morning cartoon—keep the kids away from this one.

125

Welcome to the Suicide Squad.

The film follows a group of C-list villains pressganged by Amanda Waller to serve in Task Force X—an off-the-books “suicide squad”—demoting the typical star Bat to the background in favor of this ragtag squad of no-gooders.  The squad is sent to infiltrate Arkham Aslyum to retrieve stolen information from the Riddler.   And what a cast we’ve got here.  Being a big fan of the DC Universe, and of Warner Bros.’s more mature and dark movies, it’s great to see such a fully-realized depiction of DC’s flagship villain ensemble.  The incendiary, belligerent chemistry shared between these guys is excellently rendered; from the power-struggle squabbles of Deadshot and Captain Boomerang to Harley Quinn’s wildcard nature, this squad is like a walking powder cake.  The clashing character dynamics and sharp tensions of this group and their lawless teamwork are loads of fun to watch unfold.  Most of all, the characters are immensely likeable in their own twisted way.  I was so invested in the antics of the Suicide Squad and their mission that I never once yearned for an appearance from Batman; in fact, I often hoped he wouldn’t interfere with their plans, so as not to interrupt the fun I was having watching them in action.  That being said, I felt that Black Tiger, while being badass and competent in his own right, just played too much of a background role, and seemed like wasted potential by the time all was said and done.  The vague semblance of a lead character the audience finds in the level-minded, rational, and empathetic Deadshot is just enough of a focal point to add some sense of direction to the relentless bedlam.  There’s enough here so that two hugely iconic characters as Batman and the Joker rarely steal the limelight.

"Ice puns, really?"

“Ice puns, really?”

The production is a notch above what Warner Bros. usually delivers—the animation is crisp and the sound design is on point.  The whole presentation is wrapped up as a stylish heist thriller—apparent from many of the adrenaline-inducing sound/music cues and title sequences as well as the nature of the plot itself.  All the deceit and subterfuge enticing, and appropriate from a barely functioning team of villains.  The action is exciting and framed well, encapsulating what a fast-paced rush of a flick this is.  The voice acting is especially on point, from Harley Quinn to the Deadshot, to the Bat himself, the voice-work is on par with the games which with it shares its universe—Troy Baker knocks it out of the ballpark with his chilling rendition of an obviously Hamill-inspired Joker.

Stylish

Stylish

And that’s another interesting thing to note—the film is set within the universe of Rocksteady’s acclaimed Arkham games (some time after Arkham Origins and before Arkham Asylum).  It’s been quite some time since I played a few of those games, so it’s likely I missed a couple of clever easter eggs and references, but the visual similarities were blatant and appropriate nonetheless.  From the batarangs, to the layout of Arkham Asylum itself (as well as many of its denizens) this film isn’t shy about showing its heritage.  Batman’s fighting style even mirrored the speedy, over-the-top acrobatic flair of the games.  The only aspect that turned out for the worse were the grayed out pupils on Batman’s cowl—they didn’t translate all that smoothly into animation, and come off as unsettling, making the guy look lifeless (but perhaps this was intentional, given the movie presents the events from the perspective of those most intimated by him as nothing more than a source of fear, and not the fleshed out human we know him to be).  Still, weird to look at whenever he’s on screen.  It’s intriguing to note that Batman comes off as significantly more powerful and competent when he’s not the star of the show—likely because we don’t see his human side struggling when looking through the eyes of his rogues gallery.

*eech*

*eech*

Even though these direct-to-video releases have never shy about showcasing more mature details such as blood and cursing, this flick was especially darker from what we usually get.  Now this is certainly appropriate, given the nature of the starring cast, but sometimes I felt the script got superfluously crass, such as with the gratuitous nudity of some of the female characters.  Still, this just adds to the shameless vulgar lovability of the flick and its villains.

"NOBODY SCREWS THE WALL"

“NOBODY SCREWS THE WALL”

This film at its core is a pop-corn flick.  It doesn’t raise any profound philosophical inquiries on the nature of the crime and the dark knight’s crusade like Batman: Under the Red Hood did.  There aren’t any totally surprising developments or character arcs.  It won’t make your head hurt thinking.  It’s just pure fun, and the unrated romp on the DC Universe that any fan of the Suicide Squad would want.  All of its characters are true to form, and fun to watch as usual.  There’s enough enjoyment and fun to be had to overlook its kinks and hiccups.  Here’s hoping that the more widely-released live-action depiction of Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn, and company will fare as well.

-Jam

"What's so dangerous this time that you had to send in the newbies?"

“What’s so dangerous this time that you had to send in the newbies?”

Tokyo Ghoul (anime) Review

Warning: Spoilers

Admittedly, I skipped out on Tokyo Ghoul’s initial run during the summer season—I mistook the anime to be one of horror, a genre I don’t particularly fancy.  After months of frequent recommendations though, I gave it a shot and I really almost missed out on something special.  While the anime didn’t blow my goddamn socks out of the water or nothin’, it is a greatly entertaining, exhilarating, and fast-paced watch.

The story follows Ken Kaneki following an organ transfer from a ghoul who attempted to feed on him and, under mysterious circumstance, died trying.  As a result, he becomes half ghoul, meaning his body runs exclusively on human flesh, is stronger, and impervious to knives and small weapons.  He is subsequently thrown into a world of macabre, revenge, and prejudice; he comes to make friends and enemies with those of a race (ghouls) which until then had played a background role in his life (only hearing about it on the news and such).  The lore of ghouls is rich and intriguing; it’s all exposited well enough, for there’s rarely any confusion with how the world of Tokyo Ghoul functions.

Kaneki awaking into his new form.

Kaneki awaking into his new form.

The production is top notch, with consistently impressive animation and superb sound design—the dark tone and atmosphere which the creators beat into the viewer rarely feel contrived or excessive, hitting all the right notes of emotion and excitement in every episode.  The action is incredibly well-directed and executed, exciting and heartbreaking in all the right places—every punch and kick carries emotional weight.  Much of the censorship was too overt and unnecessary for my tastes though—often times large portions of the screen were obscured by obnoxious splashes of black.  However, it wasn’t all that bad, and probably could have been handled far worse  The opening is breathtaking and really gets the blood goin’, perfectly capturing the dark tone and intense anguish which afflicts the anime’s characters and plot.

Kaneki proves to be a very likable and relatable character—a kindhearted bookworm whose strong heart and clearheaded morals propel him into acts of bravery and selflessness far beyond his comfort zone and physical competence.  His very apparent fear and insecurity in the wake of all these supernatural acts makes his heroism all the more commendable.  He’s a guy that’s easy to root for and who thinks rationally, and rarely naively—the final episode’s climactic ending was incredibly gratifying to watch, as Kaneki finally garners enough conviction and assertiveness to unlock an unbridled strength and badassery.  While not as well-developed, the supporting cast is still excellent and mostly three-dimensional—I particularly enjoyed Nishio and his redemption mini-arc.  Rize’s role as ghost (ha!) and crude mentor within Kaneki’s mind proved intriguing, I felt often caught between liking and hating her as a person, but also fascinated with her as a character.  As a result, her mystique extends far beyond her shrouded history.

Kaneki and Rize interacting in dreamscape.

Kaneki and Rize interacting in dreamscape.

I found the season to excel most when Kaneki and his friends were pitted against Mado and Amon, members of the CCG (an anti-ghoul investigative agency).  Some of the more profound themes of the anime arose from these conflicts, for the prejudice between human and ghouls became all the more questionable as the line separating the two species became increasingly hazy.  Sure ghouls survive off human flesh and humans don’t, but that’s pretty much where the differences end, both mentally and anatomically (Kaneki’s body is even able to function with ghoul organs).  Both species love friends and family all the same—Mrs. Ryoko’s death is no less painful to her loved ones as Mado’s is.  But just as both races are capable of love, so too can each side be consumed by revenge.  Touka and Amon are both possessed with enraged thirsts for “justice” against those who took their loved ones from them, bringing further to the light the uncanny parallels between humans and ghouls.  As such, I find myself sympathizing intensely with both sides of the conflict, and thus rooting all the more for Kaneki once he realizes he is the bridge between both halves of the fighting, and that only he can bring the two closer to mutual understanding and peace—a seemingly hopeless goal, but one which Kaneki devotes himself to nonetheless.

Ghouls // Humans

The parallels also question the validity of revenge, as Hinami concludes that the deaths of her parents do not fill her with incredible anger and thirst for revenge for the perpetrator, but intense sadness at the loss of her loved ones.  Perhaps we should cherish the memories of those we lost us more than take it upon ourselves to end those who are responsible.  As Touka found out with Amon’s bloodthirst, the chain of revenge seldom ends with one death.

That being said, I found that the anime was at its worst towards the end when for a little bit, it chose to focus more on the battle between CCG and Aogiri Tree, for both organizations were really just introduced and barely fleshed out.  This marked an overly sudden and ill-paced shift in story and purpose, for the focus deviated away from the core members of Anteiku (the coffee shop where Kaneki works at and makes his friends) to something uncomfortably bigger with little to no build-up.  As a result, the warfare came off as somewhat bland, and I found myself barely invested.  If this battle is good for anything though, it’s as dramatic and grand backdrop for Kaneki to eventually do some damage once he gets out.  Something else which suffered from this shift in tone was the introduction of Touka’s brother, which was rushed and sloppily executed—hopefully his relationship with his sister will develop more handily as the series progresses.  Additionally, I felt that parts of Kaneki’s interrogation sequence felt unnecessarily exorbitant in brutality, and went for nothing more than shock value.  Furthermore, I found the speedy progression of Kaneki’s fighting ability slightly off-putting when we barely got a glimpse of his training with Yomo.  Also, I found Tsukiyama’s introductory mini-arc somewhat uninteresting and underwhelming, given the mystique and incendiary history his debut implied.  At many times like these, I felt the series became a tad bit rushed, and could definitely have benefited from slowing down and letting the viewer digest all that was occurring.  Small issues like these abounded.

The morsel of development we got between Touka and her brother.

The morsel of development we got between Touka and her brother.

Despite its flaws though, Tokyo Ghoul is a impressively crafted work, jam-packed with intense action and emotion.  The lore and characters are rife with potential for further quality and excitement as the series heads into its second season.  While these are just my first impressions upon finishing the series, I can confidently say that I very much enjoyed this incredibly well-produced anime, and intently look forward to the series’ sophomore effort come January.

-Jam

1/8/2015

Coming 1/8/2015