Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007)

tk73wZ7JF3GlIDYnhkbT9lxDJFKAppleseed: Ex Machina [エクスマキナ] (2007)
AKA Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Kouichi Yamadera, Gara Takashima, Miyuki Sawashiro, Naoko Kouda, Rei Igarashi, Takaya Hashi, Yuuji Kishi

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


I suppose Appleseed: Ex Machina is a sequel to the 2004 film, but there isn’t any carryover between the two films. They’re basically two completely unrelated stories about the same people in the same place doing the same stuff. Athena is clearly younger than before, though, so make of that what you will. Maybe plastic surgery in Olympus is really awesome. I would say that it’s a good idea to watch one of the prior films just to have an idea about the characters, but honestly things here are so unrelated and formulaic that there’s no real point. The background and setting are pretty much irrelevant in this film. It’s a future police action movie; that’s all you need to know.

They also nabbed John Woo as producer, and they’re quite proud of that fact, even blasting loose with a flock of pigeons when his name pops up in the opening credits. I’m not sure how much he was involved with things, but I can definitely see the difference his influence made. The action scenes are a lot more over-the-top and intricate than the 2004 film, despite having the same director.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007) →

Stephen reviews: A Letter To Momo (2012)

11180762_800A Letter to Momo [ももへの手紙 Momo e no Tegami] (2012)

Starring Karen Miyama, Toshiyuki Nishida, Cho, Kouichi Yamadera, Yuka, Takeo Ogawa, Katsuki Hashimoto, Kota Fuji, Daizaburo Arakawa

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura


While watching this film I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something familiar about it. I couldn’t figure it out until later when I looked up its director, at which point I realized that it was all done by the same guy who made Jin-Roh. Suddenly that familiarity made sense, and the resemblance in the character design (also Okiura’s job in both films) became apparent. But, man, you couldn’t pick two more different films if you tried, and this perhaps better than anything showcases the changes of the anime industry over the past decade. Jin-Roh is a cynical dystopian thriller filled with violence and brutality. A Letter to Momo is a sweet family film filled with sunshine and humor. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino suddenly directed a Disney film.

The ’80s saw the rise of more mature anime, and the films of the time reflected the new freedom from television censorship that theatrical and direct-to-video releases allowed. This era gave us a lot of violent classics like Fist of the North Star, Akira, and Ghost in the Shell. Now, however, the industry has realized that having a more kid-friendly rating on a film opens it up to a wider audience, and potentially larger sales. So now we’ve gotten much lighter fare like Wolf Children, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and now A Letter to Momo, which is a style that was previously rare outside of Ghibli films (unless we go way, way back to before Ghibli was even founded). I love all those old violent crazy films, but it’s kinda hard to hate on the new direction the industry is headed when they have consistently made entertaining films. A Letter To Momo may not be the greatest thing ever, but it still succeeds at being a charming family film that gives you the warm fuzzy feeling that family films are supposed to have.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: A Letter To Momo (2012) →

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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Tokyo Godfathers (2003) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)

ghostintheshell20_1Ghost in the Shell 2.0 [攻殻機動隊 2.0 Kôkaku kidôtai 2.0] (2008)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was not looking forward to the final entry in my journey through the Ghost in the Shell films. In fact, I almost decided to skip it over entirely. But in the end I decided to tough it out and watch this thing just for completion’s sake, or perhaps to give a warning to prospective viewers that might try to see this version instead of the original. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a touch-up of the 1995 film, much like what George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy just prior to the release of the prequels. (So it is strangely appropriate that Lucasfilm did the audio post-production here.) And just like Star Wars, the “upgrades” are useless at best, and obnoxious the rest of the time.

It could have been worse. I was expecting the entire thing to be redone in pure CG, but only a few scenes were desecrated that way. Most of the film does use the original cell animation. This means that most of the film is still intact and still enjoyable, even though the changes make it far less so than the original. With Star Wars you could make the argument that younger viewers would be unwilling to accept the old special effects, and maybe those retooled versions did attract some new fans that otherwise would have never watched them. But with Ghost in the Shell, there’s just no reason. The quality of animation has always had more to do with the amount of effort put into it than the technology available at the time. Just look up some of Max Fleischer’s Superman films from the ’40s; they’re extremely well animated even by today’s standards. Likewise, Ghost in the Shell is a gorgeous film already. Tinkering with it is a complete waste of time.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006)

solidstatesociety_1Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX Solid State Society] (2006)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Kazuya Tatekabe, Masuo Amada, Osamu Saka, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Toru Ohkawa, Yutaka Nakano, Yuya Uchida

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


When I started this journey through the Ghost in the Shell films I fully expected them to go straight downhill and never recover, and even though I still think the original 1995 film is the best, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the franchise has held its quality. Solid State Society keeps that tradition going with another good blend of cyberpunk thrills and intellectual depth. I think that’s what holds the series up and keeps it from grinding to a halt. It has never drifted so far into action fluff that it becomes mindless, but it has also never forgotten to keep that visceral edge honed sharp.

Unlike the previous Stand Alone Complex films, this one is actually meant to be a film. It is not a compilation, or even an adaptation. The story was intended from the start to be a movie, and that has helped it avoid the flaws that brought down Individual Eleven. I was hoping that would translate into better animation, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. It still looks about the same as the other Stand Alone series. That’s no terrible insult or anything, but it would have been nice to get a visual boost.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,593 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages