Stephen reviews: Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

tokyo_godfathersTokyo Godfathers [東京ゴッドファーザーズ] (2003)

Starring Aya Okamoto, Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Kouichi Yamadera, Kyouko Terase, Mamiko Noto, Seizo Katou, Yuusaku Yara, Satomi Koorogi

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This is the most normal anime Satoshi Kon made. There’s nothing in it at all that’s confusing or mind-bending. Absurdly improbable, sure, but not flat-out bizarre. The film’s world functions in a more or less realistic way. This did leave me a bit bored with it early on. I love the more psychedelic aspects of his other films, so I was disappointed to see a relatively down-to-earth narrative here. But as the film went on, and the characters grow more depth, I too grew more attached to them.

The concept is simple enough. Three homeless people find an abandoned baby in a trash pile on Christmas Eve. Then they spend the next week until New Year’s Eve searching for the child’s parents. As a holiday film, it has its share of Christmas miracles, but it’s not just some sappy happily-ever-after fairy tale. The main characters are all homeless, and there is always a palpable sense of bleak despair hiding behind even the most cheerful scenes of the film. Kon walks a razor’s edge here as he makes a film that is both uplifting and depressing at the same time.

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Stephen reviews: Silent Möbius: The Movie 2 (1992)

mp09Silent Möbius: The Movie 2 [サイレントメビウス2] (1992)

Starring Naoko Matsui, Maya Okamoto, Chieko Honda, Hiromi Tsuru, Toshiko Fujita, Gara Takashima

Directed by Yasunori Ide


Oh boy, here we go again. I really didn’t want to dive back into Silent Möbius, but I figured that I would need to tackle the sequel before my memories of the first film faded into complete obscurity. I figured correctly, because even more than most sequels, Silent Möbius 2 absolutely requires knowledge of the first film to make any sense. It also turns out that the sequel was a vast improvement (not that that’s saying much), which I did not expect at all, and it tackles exactly the biggest problem I had with the story of the first film, which was that they had skipped over why Katsumi joins the police after discovering her powers.

The sequel begins immediately after the events of the first film, and it just assumes that you saw all that and don’t need any kind of refresher. This works out rather weird since the first film had a frame setup and after the main story it switched from Katsumi hating the police to four years later when she is a member of the police force. This film starts after the events of the flashback but still well before Katsumi became an officer. In fact, I wonder why they even bothered making the two films separate. They are so short and so integral to each other that they really would have been better had they just been edited into a single film.

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Stephen reviews: Silent Möbius (1991)

silent-mobiusSilent Möbius: The Motion Picture [サイレント・メビウス] (1991)

Starring Naoko Matsui, Chieko Honda, Gara Takashima, Hiromi Tsuru, Masako Ikeda, Toshiko Fujita, Kouji Nakata

Directed by Michitaka Kikuchi & Kazuo Tominzawa


I went into this film with a bit of trepidation since I had found the TV series to be a rather boring drag. I was more tolerant of this version, perhaps because it came in at less than an hour long, but it’s still far from a masterpiece. At first I thought it was a condensed version of the series, but the 1991 release date surprised me. I didn’t think the series was that old — mainly because it isn’t. The TV series didn’t release until 1998, which means this film was fully meant to stand on its own.

Silent Möbius tells a pretty generic tale of an all-female police squad fighting mystical monsters in the future. There’ve been tons of similar anime over the years, and Silent Möbius is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s got a typically diverse cast of girls who each have their own gimmick going on, but you won’t see much of that for this film. It centers on one particular member of the team, Katsumi Liqueur, as she first learns of her magical heritage and comes to terms with her powers. It’s a pretty traditional call-to-adventure arc that could have worked a lot better than it did. But I suppose it could have been a lot worse as well.

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Stephen reviews: WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002)

wxiii_patlabor_the_movie_threeWXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 [WX3 機動警察パトレイバー Wasted 13: Kidō Keisatsu Patlabor] (2002)
AKA Patlabor WXIII, Wasted 13: Patlabor the Movie 3

Starring Hiroaki Hirata, Katsuhiko Watabiki, Miina Tominaga

Directed by Fumihiko Takayama


Though Mamoru Oshii has left the scene, the third Patlabor film definitely inherited his influence. And although I wish I could say that it inherited his stylish visuals, oddball sense of humor, or knack for finding unique thematic content, I’m afraid that all this film inherited was his sluggish pacing. It’s clearly trying to imitate Oshii’s distinct flavor, but it learned all of the wrong lessons from him and none of the right ones. It uses a lot of Oshii’s techniques from the earlier Patlabor films, but where Oshii used them for a reason, WXIII only uses them to disguise itself as a Mamoru Oshii film.

The story centers on two police detectives (I’ve already forgotten their names) trying to figure out who or what has been wrecking all the labors, the giant robots of this particular series. One of the guys is young and inexperienced while the other guy is old and grizzled. It turns out that there is a giant monster swimming around out in the bay, and soon the creature graduates from wrecking vehicles to eating people. The investigation turns into a quest to find out where it came from and how to stop it. It has elements of a police procedural, horror film, psychological thriller, buddy cop flick, and just a dash of giant monster action. All this doesn’t mesh so much as it turns into a pile of mush. In its attempts to accommodate all of those things it winds up sabotaging all of them.

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Stephen reviews: Millennium Actress (2001)

poster_milleniumactressMillennium Actress [千年女優 Sennen Joyu] (2001)
AKA Chiyoko Millennial Actress

Starring Miyoko Shoji, Mami koyama, Fumiko Orisaka, Shozo Iizuka, Shouko Tsuda, Hirotaka Suzuoki

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This is perhaps Satoshi Kon’s least well-known film, but after watching it, I have to wonder why. Perhaps it is the PG rating, but if anyone wants a film that proves that rating has nothing to do with quality, then Millennium Actress makes a great example. The film is extremely well made, and a fascinating experience to watch. It lives up to Kon’s reputation for great filmmaking as well as his reputation for mindbending storytelling.

It begins mildly enough, with a man named Genya making a documentary about his favorite actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. He managed to get an interview with the aging, reclusive actress whose career peaked in postwar Japan. During the interview she tells the story of how she entered the business, which was all to follow a man she knew only briefly and developed a crush on. It is during these flashback scenes that the majority of the film takes place, and where the reality warping style of Satoshi Kon kicks in. Genya and his cameraman stand by in the flashbacks, recording and commenting on the events as they transpire, sometimes even interacting in the past as it unfolds before them.

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Stephen reviews: Spring and Chaos (1996)

spring_and_chaosSpring and Chaos [Ihatov Gensou: Kenji no Haru イーハトーブ幻想] (1996)
AKA Kenji’s Spring [Kenji の春]

Starring Shiro Sano, Shiho Niiyama, Mariko Kouda, Chikao Ohtsuka, Akane Tomonoga

Directed by Shoji Kawamori


Spring and Chaos is a fantastical biopic of one of Japan’s biggest literary figures, Kenji Miyazawa. Never heard of him? That’s because you’re not from Japan. He wrote a number of children’s stories and poems that make me think of Aesop’s Fables, or perhaps Hans Christian Anderson. So how many western anime fans are interested in a bizarre dramatization of the life of a poet they’ve never heard of? Probably not many. I’m not even sure why anyone bothered giving it a US release, but I am pretty sure its sales couldn’t have been very good.

I think the only reason it got a US release was because Shoji Kawamori had made it. When this film released in America, Kawamori was already a big name for his major roles in creating Macross, Macross Plus, and Escaflowne. More knowledgable anime fans would have also been aware of his smaller involvement in other big titles like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Gundam or perhaps even his importance to Transformers. So it’s no surprise that Spring and Chaos appeared right around the time Kawamori’s Arjuna series was coming out, trying to take advantage of the name recognition while the fans were buzzing over his latest work.

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Stephen reviews: Hermes: Winds of Love (1997)

hermes_1Hermes: Winds of Love [Hermes – Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku ヘルメス 愛は風の如く] (1997)

Starring Takehito Koyasu, Miki Ito, Kenji Utsumi, Chie Koujiro, Satomi Koorogi, Osamu Hosoi, Kikuko Inoue

Directed by Tetsuo Imazawa


A very loose interpretation of Greek mythology, the title character of Hermes: Winds of Love is here imagined as the king of all ancient Greece. He’s not a god in this film, except for sometimes when he is. The same can be said for his wife Aphrodite. And yet there are actual gods roaming around as well, such as the unnamed goddess of love and the father of all the gods, who is not Zeus but someone named Ophelius (I’m sure that’s not the way it was spelled in the subtitles, but I no longer have the DVD available to check on it).

This lead to a rather bizarre film that was hard to interpret. It’s obviously neither an attempt at historical accuracy, nor at mythological accuracy. I wasn’t sure if the creators were just playing with mythology that they didn’t know much about, or if they were deliberately altering things to work for their story. After a little digging, though, it turns out that the film was produced by a group called Happy Science, which appears to be Japan’s equivalent of Scientology. Suddenly it started making sense that the film made no sense. It might also explain the random spaceship orbiting Earth that appears for about five seconds and is never seen or heard of again.

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