Stephen reviews: Appleseed (2004)

20052694156.7577495Appleseed [アップルシード] (2004)

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Jurouta Kosugi, Mami Koyama, Yuki Matsuoka, Miho Yamada, Takehito Koyasu, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yuzuru Fujimoto

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


It took 15 years for someone to make another Appleseed film, and this one is pretty much the exact opposite of the first. They both center around Deunan and Briareos, members of Olympus’s S.W.A.T. team in the wake of World War III, facing off against terrorists and traitorous elements of their utopian society. But where the original film focused on tactical and strategic combat without any real attempt at characterization or explanation, the newer adaptation of the tale is chock full of explanation while dumbing down the action scenes to just look cool rather than have any thought behind them.

The other big difference is the animation. The original film was low-budget and looked rather dated even for its time. This version, however, came after the colossal success of Ghost in the Shell, and producers were a lot more willing to risk cash on Masamune Shirow’s other properties. So the new version has sleek CG animation, which astonishes by actually not looking like total shit. Just partial shit. Pixar this ain’t, but I have seen a good deal worse. In fact, most anime CG from the 2000s does look like total shit — anime has always lagged behind its western counterparts in terms of digital functionality — but it’s clear that Appleseed had a lot of loving care put into its production design. That doesn’t mean I like it. I still hate CG productions like this, but when you knowingly jump head first into a full CG film, there’s not much reason to rant about it being CG. So I’ll restrain myself and focus on the film’s other features instead.

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Stephen reviews: Vampire Princess Miyu (1988/1989)

737187003622Vampire Princess Miyu [Kyuuketsuti Miyu 吸血姫 美夕, Vampire Miyu] (1988/1989)

Starring Mami Koyama, Naoko Watanabe, Mayumi Shou, Katsumi Toruiumi, Ryo Horikawa, Yuji Mitsuya, Masako Ikeda, Kiyonobu Suzuki, Tesshō Genda, Kaneto Shiozawa

Directed by Toshihiro Hirano


Another series rather than film, Vampire Princess Miyu is one of my old favorites from my high school years. It was refreshing coming back to this series and finding that it still holds up pretty well. This is not the late ’90s TV series, but the decade older direct-to-video mini-series. At only four episodes the entire series is no longer than a feature film, making it easy to watch in one sitting although each episode stands on its own fairly well. They are all interconnected and combine to tell a broader story, but each episode is also a single adventure in itself.

The franchise has a rather oddly translated title. “Princess” is nowhere in the Japanese title. Miyu herself is not, and never was, a princess of anything. One can only wonder what made the translators insert that word. I guess it just sounds better than the more basic Vampire Miyu (though I do wonder if the original title might be a reference to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat). In any event, the erroneous title is the one by which the franchise is most commonly known in English (the original manga used the literal translation Vampire Miyu when it first came out in the US, but later releases apparently added in the “princess” bit).

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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: Riding Bean (1989)

ridingbean_1Riding Bean [ライディング・ビーン] (1989)

Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Naoko Matsui, Mami Koyama, Kei Tomiyama, Megumi Hayashibara, Chieko Honda

Directed by Yasuo Hasegawa


Another relic from my high school days, Riding Bean is about as action packed as you can make a movie without becoming a simple montage of action scenes. It’s short, but full of shootouts and car chases and shootouts during car chases leavened with plenty of lighthearted humor. It’s all about Bean Bandit, the Roadbuster, the best and craziest getaway driver in Chicago with a scar on his face and a jawline to make Jay Leno jealous. He’s a lot like a ’90s anti-hero, and his badassery oozes off the screen. His partner is a sexy gun expert named Rally Vincent, who knowledgeable anime fans might recognize as the main character of Gunsmith Cats, though here she is blonde instead of brunette.

Bean will take on any job as long as he gets paid, and while Rally is more of a good guy, she is still pretty much in it for the money and has no qualms about the illegal nature of their jobs. As with any rebel car chase story, there are plenty of car crashes and incompetent police for Bean to make fools out of. And trust me, these are some flat-out ridiculous car chases that could only have been brought to life in an anime. His car may not be as tricked out as James Bond’s, but has Bond ever had a car that can drive sideways? And of course it has the requisite “driving off an unfinished overpass” scene as well; you can’t have a car chase film without one of those.

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Stephen reviews: GoShogun: The Time Étranger (1985)

goshogun_1GoShogun: The Time Étranger [戦国魔神ゴーショーグン 時の異邦人(エトランゼ)  Sengoku Majin Goshōgun: Toki no Étranger] (1985)
AKA Time Stranger

Starring Mami Koyama, Daisuke Gouri, Hideyuki Tanaka, Hirotaka Suzukoi, Kaneto Shiozawa, Shojiro Kihara, Funio Matsuoka, Yumi Takada

Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama


40 years ago Remy Shimada was part of a team that saved the world from destruction. Now she is old and dying. She’s only got two days left to live. And as she lays unconscious in a hospital bed, her comrades stay with her, hoping that she will recover. In between these hospital scenes are spliced a story from the days when Remy and her friends were adventuring around the galaxy, and a smaller story from Remy’s childhood. Or perhaps they are really just fever dreams as Remy comes to terms with her impending death. This movie is very metaphysical; what is real and what is illusion will largely be up to the viewers to decide for themselves.

The bulk of the story takes place in an unknown city on an unknown planet at an unknown point in time. Remy and her pals were just passing through, but while staying at a hotel they all receive letters that predict their deaths. Mirroring the frame story in the hospital, Remy is scheduled to die in two days. The team naturally decides this is all a bunch of bullshit and tries to prove the predictions wrong. The townsfolk, however, are greatly offended by these foreigners ignoring the city’s traditions, and form massive lynch mobs to put the heroes in their place.

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Stephen reviews: One Million Year Trip: Bander Book (1978)

banderbook_1One Million Year Trip: Bander Book [100万年地球の旅 バンダーブック Hyakumannen Chikyū no Tabi – Bander Book] (1978)

Starring Yuu Mizushima, Mami Koyama, Masatō Ibu, Iemasa Ieyumi, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Directed by Osamu Tezuka


Osamu Tezuka has a large catalog of creations beyond his most famous one, Astro Boy. Bander Book may be one of the more minor entries in that catalog, but it isn’t without some significance. This was the first of a series of TV movies made once per year beginning in 1978, so it kicked off a series of films that helped bring Tezuka’s creations to a new generation of viewers.

Tezuka’s visual style takes some getting used to. Despite having defined the genre, his designs look very little like anime as we know it today. It carries a very cutesy and childish impression that reflects his own influences from western animators such as Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. Since this is a children’s film, the art style fits naturally here. Although, Western audiences will no doubt be startled by the nudity. There’s some cultural disconnect here. Japan never considered bare breasts to be particularly taboo until American influence after World War II changed things. Nowadays, I wonder just how much the nudity would surprise even Japanese viewers.

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Stephen reviews: Toward the Terra (1980)

toward-the-terraToward the Terra [地球へ… Terra e…] (1980)
AKA Chikyū e…

Starring Junichi Inoue, Masaya Oki, Kumiko Akiyoshi,  Akira Kamiya, Chiyoko Kawashima, Eiko Masuyama, Kyōko Kishida, Mami Koyama, Masako Ikeda, Tōru Furuya, Yasuo Hisamatsu

Directed by Hideo Onchi


When I first ordered this film, I had no idea just how old it was. It’s rather unusual for such an old anime to get an American release. It was probably meant to coincide with the release of the much more recent TV adaptation. At any rate, this was a pleasant surprise for me. I am very fond of older animation, and it made me want to watch the film even more. In the end I’m glad I picked this one, because it was quite a good film.

As the title implies, this is a sci-fi epic about a quest to return to good old Earth. In the future, humans exiled themselves from their homeworld once it became uninhabitable from pollution. It sounds like an environmental awareness after school special, but this is just the basic setting, rather than a major theme. The real story is about a society completely regulated by computers that stifle human emotions.

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