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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002) →

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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Millennium Actress (2001) →

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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Spring and Chaos (1996) →

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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Hermes: Winds of Love (1997) →

Guest Podcast at Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

anime_superhero_projectako

I recently participated in a podcast hosted by Bubbawheat at Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights in which we compare and contrast superheroes in anime with their American cousins. I even manage to remain civil when Bubbawheat brings up that blight upon the anime world, DBZ! I feel like we barely scratched the surface, but a good time was had by all. And if you have any interest in anime or superheroes, you’ll probably have a good time listening in as well. If nothing else, you’ll finally get to hear my real voice, which has absolutely not in any way been digitally altered to conceal my true identity. The show is called Filmwhys, and the episode is Extra #12 Anime Superheroes!

So head on over here to check it out!

The show is also readily available via iTunes, Stitcher, or PodOmatic! Take a listen and let us know what you think!

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling (1991)

20140426172258113Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling [うる星やつら いつだって・マイ・ダーリン Urusei Yatsura: Itsudatte My Darling] (1991)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshi Furukawa, Naoko Matsui, Shinnosuke Furumoto, Akira Kamiya, Ichiro Nagai, Machiko Washio, Yuko Mita, Noriko Ohara, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu

Directed by Katsuhisa Yamada


What, did you think that just because the previous movie was called The Final Chapter it meant that the series was over? In fact, The Final Chapter spawned an entire 12-episode series as a sequel, of which this film in turn is a sequel. But don’t worry; this is my last review of the series (unless I go insane and decide to somehow write a coherent review of a series spanning over 200 episodes). This one really is the last Urusei Yatsura film, and it’s actually a 10th anniversary special that was meant as more of a fond nostalgia trip than a continuation of the story. By this point Rumiko Takahashi’s latest romantic comedy series Ranma 1/2, which is every bit as absurd as Urusei Yatsura, was in full swing, and two concurrent Rumiko Takahashi series was apparently too much weird even for Japan to handle.

While I would love to say that the series goes out with a bang, I’m afraid it goes out with more of a “meh” instead. Sure, I laughed enough times to justify watching it, but not enough to call it a great piece of comedy. In this tale Ataru is kidnapped by an alien princess because he is the only one in the galaxy who can navigate Indiana Jones style through an ancient temple to find a fabled love potion. Now if you’ve seen any story revolving around a love potion, you can probably predict the vast majority of the plot. Hell, even if you haven’t seen a love potion story you can probably piece much of it together.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling (1991) →

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988)

uruseiyatsura5_1Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter [うる星やつら 完結編 Urusei Yatsura – Kanketsuhen] (1988)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Kaneto Shiozawa, You Inoue, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Yuko Mita, Kazue Komiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Ichirō Nagai

Directed by Satoshi Dezaki


Once Rumiko Takahashi finished the manga of Urusei Yatsura, it of course had to be animated. So The Final Chapter is a perfectly accurate name for the fifth film in the series as it retells that final manga story arc. And finally, after all these films, Urusei Yatsura 5 actually feels like an episode from the series. It does everything that made the series so much fun, and yet it feels like something is missing. I think it’s just that after all these films I’ve come to expect something unique from them. I wasn’t expecting it to suddenly start doing what it was supposed to be doing this whole time. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. This film is a perfect rendition of what the series was always about, and that makes it different from all the other films.

What also works against it a bit is that I came to it with the expectation of seeing something major going down. This was supposed to be the conclusion of the series, so I felt like it was going to have a much bigger sense of closure than it does. Compared to the previous films which kept trying to inject drama into the story, this film feels much less momentous. It does work in a great sense of coming full circle, with Ataru and Lum once again playing a game of tag with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance, just like the first episode of the series. Compared to the TV series, this is a great way to wrap things up, and it does a great job in that respect. Compared to the other films, though, it has less emotional strength, and coming right off of watching those, it felt a little weak.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988) →

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