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: Twilight of the Dark Master (1997)

twilightofthedarkmaster_6Twilight of the Dark Master [支配者の黄昏 Shihaisha no Tasogare] (1997)

Starring Toshihiko Seki, Emi Shinohara, Akira Kamiya, Urara Takano, Hiroya Ishimaru, Kaneto Shiozawa, Seizo Katou, Atsuko Takahata, Takaya Hashi

Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo

Twilight of the Dark Master follows the tradition of earlier grisly demon anime such as Demon City Shinjuku or Wicked City. It tells a similar tale of conflict between good and evil in a dismal future setting invaded by demons. In terms of adult content, it lies somewhere between those other two. It has a good deal of disturbing sexual content, but it is more subtly delivered than Wicked City‘s full-frontal insanity.

The plot is too convoluted for me to summarize here. Not because it is too complex, but because it drip feeds even the basic information over the course of the film, leaving you wondering just what is going on for the first half. This makes it difficult to give much information without spoiling things, so I’ll only give you the most basic premise. It’s about a newly engaged woman named Shizuka getting mauled (and perhaps raped) by a giant demon. Shizuka then sets off on a quest to find and kill the monster that attacked her. Along the way she enlists the aid of a mysterious wizard whose job is to hunt down demons.

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Stephen reviews: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Vampire Hunter D [バンパイアハンターD] (1985)

Starring Kaneto Shiozawa, Michie Tomizawa, Seizo Katou, Satoko Kitō, Kazuyuki Sogabe, Ichirō Nagai, Keiko Toda, Yuusaku Yara

Directed by Toyoo Ashida

Like many budding anime fans of the ’90s, I first saw this film when Cartoon Network aired it on television. And while I did eventually see the unedited version, it has been many long years since I last watched it. It hasn’t been quite as long since I read the novel it was based upon, which is easily available in English these days, but it has still been quite a few years, and my memories of both are a bit fuzzy. This was also my first time seeing the film subtitled, and as distant as my previous memories are, I noticed some odd translation differences in this version. Differently spelled names are nothing new, but I was interested in the way they referred to Dracula this time. In the other versions of the tale he is called the “noble ancestor” or “sacred ancestor” of vampires, but this translation calls him “ancestor god,” which conveys a slightly different view of outright worship and prayer rather than simple respect and looking up to him as an example.

As you might have guessed by the mention of Dracula, this film takes a more traditional Bram Stoker approach to vampires. In fact, the original novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi is dedicated to the cast of the 1958 Hammer film, Dracula. The main villain of Vampire Hunter D is Count Magnus Lee, and he looks every bit the classic vampire with a black cape and elegant clothes to match his calm and regal demeanor. His first appearance at the beginning of the film is ominous and sinister, with lightning flashes giving his face a completely different appearance, and it’s hard to decide which looks more frightening. I am glad that his victim, Doris, had the presence of mind to shoot him with her laser rifle. Her role is never more than the typical damsel in distress, but at least she isn’t a pathetic and helpless idiot. Not that Lee gives a crap. Like Darth Vader, he just lets the gunshots bounce off him. And in a contest between the two, my money might not be on Vader. Right from the first you know Magnus Lee is an indomitable force of evil.

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