Stephen reviews: Paprika (2006)

paprika-movie-poster-2006-1020689313Paprika [パプリカ] (2006)

Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Tohru Furuya, Akio Ohtsuka, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Katsunosuke Hori, Kouchi Yamadera, Toru Emori, Akio Ōtsuka, Hideyuki Tanaka

Directed by Satoshi Kon


The final film of Satoshi Kon’s is something of a combination of all his previous ones. It has the reality warping confusion that characterizes his usual style, and it blends both the lighthearted cheer of Millennium Actress with the despondent terror of Perfect Blue, then adds in quirky-but-loveable characters like Tokyo Godfathers.

The standout feature of Paprika is its sci-fi premise. The plot revolves around a new device that lets you jump into other people’s dreams (just like the later film Inception would do). It was developed by a psychiatric research team for treating patients, but someone stole the thing and is using it for mysterious terrorist activities. But the science in this film is just there to trick you into thinking Paprika is a science fiction film. Once you peel back the layers, however, you find that it’s actually compete fantasy, and the weird stuff going on by the end of the film just can’t be explained by the device alone.

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Stephen reviews: Garaga (1989)

garaga_1Garaga [ギャラガ] (1989)
AKA Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga

Starring Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Keiko Han, Megumi Hayashibara, Michie Tomizawa, Eiko Yamada. Eiji Maruyama

Directed by Hidemi Kubo


Garaga tries to deliver an action-packed sci-fi epic, and to its credit it is filled to the brim with tons of robots, aliens, and spaceships that are all in a massive tangle of conflict. Honestly, all the parts are there for a great adventure. Unfortunately, they aren’t put together well enough to make it work. It’s too jumbled to make a good story, and the action scenes come off too bland to be viscerally entertaining. Add in a few plot holes and you have a thoroughly lackluster film. A lack of any quality animation doesn’t help matters either.

It starts with the crew of the spaceship XeBeC making a special delivery. They’ve got a general’s daughter in cold sleep, and they need to take her… somewhere. It obviously isn’t all that important since the film never mentions where they are taking her or why. But the ship has been sabotaged, and they crash-land on an unknown planet (OK, not really, it’s actually the planet Garaga) filled with violent ape monsters that want to kill everyone. And this is where the original destination ceases to mean anything, especially since it seems like everyone on the ship was headed to Garaga anyway. I almost thought they were stranded at their destination.

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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: Macross Plus: Movie Edition (1995)

macrossplus_1Macross Plus: Movie Edition [マクロスプラス MOVIE EDITION] (1995)

Starring Takumi Yamazaki, Unsho Ishizuka, Rika Fukami, Mako Hyodo, Megumi Hayashibara, Tomohiro Nishimura, Kenji Utsumi, Shou Hayami

Directed by Shoji Kawamori & Shinichiro Watanabe


Shoji Kawamori is more prolific as a mechanical designer than as a director. It’s been his primary job in dozens of anime, and he even designed several of the early Transformers toys. Directing on a frequent basis has been a fairly recent development in his career, and it was 10 years between his directorial debut, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, and this, his second time as director (unless you count the short film Flashback 2012, which was mostly compiled clips from the original Macross). And it’s a good thing he decided to get back into the game, because this is a complete reversal of the bland rehash that was Macross II. We’re also lucky to have it at all. Due to a nightmare of legal red tape, the only other Macross series to see an official, unedited release in America are Macross II and an absurdly overpriced version of the original TV series.

Macross Plus wasn’t without production quandaries, though. Kawamori couldn’t secure funding for the film version he intended it to be, so he had to make it as a four-part miniseries, releasing one episode at a time. Once the series was completed, he hacked huge chunks out, added a few new scenes, redid the voice acting (or perhaps just used alternate takes), and then rearranged what was left into this movie edition. Throughout high school, the series was my favorite anime by far, so the film version always feels odd to me. The acting seems off since it has different inflection than what I’m used to, and the events feel oddly displaced. It has, however, been a long time since I last watched either version, and that has given me the distance necessary to look at the movie edition with less clouded eyes and appreciate it more as its own work.

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Stephen reviews: Slayers: the Motion Picture (1995)

Slayers [スレイヤーズ, Sureiyâzu]

Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Maria Kawamura, Osamu Saka, Tessho Genda, Minami Takayama

Directed by Hiroshi Watanabe & Kazuo Yamazaki


As you might have guessed by the title, Slayers: the Motion Picture is by no means the first product in the Slayers franchise. But unlike other anime movies, this is not a summary of a longer series or a sequel relying on previous events. It has no influence on the rest of the series, nor does the rest of the series influence it in any meaningful way, and its place in the timeline is mostly indeterminate. (Various websites assure me it’s a prequel, but there is nothing in the film to indicate that.) Therefore, it makes as good an entry point as any to the series.

Rather than the usual gang of misfits the series centers around, main character and master wizard Lina Inverse is wandering around on her own and is soon dragged off by fellow sorceress Naga to visit the famous hot springs of Mipross Island. I’m glad they kept the cast small, as the movie avoids the pitfalls of huge casts that plague many other anime films. Instead it is a classic odd couple routine where the two conflicting personalities of Lina and Naga collide.

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