[Review] Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

An Australian Zombie movie classic in the making? Check out our review...

[Anime] Assassination Classroom

Dan gives his quick thoughts on the surprisingly funny new anime series, ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM.

[Opinion] The Uncertain Future of Studio Ghibli

What is the fate of Studio Ghibli? Dan chimes in his thoughts

[Review] SNOWPIERCER

Dan Gives His Take on Joon Ho-Bong's Snowpiercer

[Early Review] When Marnie Was There

Dan returns from Japan and chimes in his thoughts on Ghibli's latest film

Sunday, 14 August 2016

[Thoughts] A Bizarre Large Serving of Nikuko-chan...or How I Gained New Found Respect for Translators


As some of you may or may not know, I’ve been studying Japanese for the best part of two and a half years now. Within that two years I have learned a staggering amount of new vocab and grammar. Sometimes it hurts my head just thinking about it, other times it leaves me feeling accomplished that I can actually remember most of what I’ve learned. Every Saturday for the last two and a half years, I’ve made the hour long trip from my home in the suburbs into the sprawling maze of unorganized streets that is Sydney and have studied under the tutelage of my sensei, Fumiko. During our most recent lesson, I was told a Japanese joke by one of my fellow students and the joke goes as such:

どうしてハワイ人は歯医者に全然行かないの?
歯はいいよ


Why do people from Hawaii never have to visit the Dentist?
Hawaii


Didn’t find it funny? Don’t worry, I don’t blame you nor do I feel offended that you didn’t find it funny. For those interested as to why the punchline is “Hawaii”, I’ll give you a quick break down of the sentence


歯 (ha) means “tooth”
は (wa) is the subject marker
いい (ii) means “good”


Put the whole thing together and say it in Shinkansen speeds of Japanese and you get something that sounds close to “Hawaii.” So if you couldn’t tell, it’s a play on words and that’s what make its funny. However, when translated directly to English the punchline loses its punch. Therefore, say a translator were to read this joke in a Manga and then interpret it into English, what would they do? Probably re-write the joke all together since it’s kind of a dud joke in English, or find something that approximates it. Kind of interesting, isn’t it?

But why am I talking about a somewhat corny Japanese joke, you ask? Where is this all going? For the past year, I’ve undertaken a project of sorts. I decided to test my knowledge of the language and do something that can only be described as somewhat insane. I decided to read and translate a Japanese written manga and what do you know? I actually finished reading it!


The manga in question is titled Kaiki Oomori!! Nikuko-chan, which roughly translates to A Bizarre Large Serving!! Nikuko-chan. Written and drawn by a friend of mine, Miyako Cojima, the book is a collection of five short stories centered around a plump naive but kindhearted pre-teen girl named Nikuko.


The first two stories play as moral tales in which our plump heroine Nikuko is bullied by two girls whom are hiding demons in their closets. The third story starts off in the same mold as the first two stories, but takes a surprising left turn and reveals itself as a rather touching love story. The fourth story is a Norman Bates/Psycho type tale of a mother’s overbearing methods of nurture towards her daughter. While the final story is an amusing little caper detailing Nikuko’s first love.
The book largely deals with the theme of obsession. Be it the obsession of attaining an ideal body image, the obsession of gaining fame, the obsession of fitting in with one's fellow peers, or even just Nikuko’s strange obsession to eat anything and everything in-sight. The book plays as a wonderful mix of absurd comedy, drama, social commentary and horror all mixed into one delicious serving of Niku (meaty) goodness.


Nikuko’s demeanor is that of a sweet and kindhearted girl who just happens to have a huge appetite. As a child, she was bullied without mercy and grew up never having a single friend. In a never ending spree of violence and hate, her goal remains the same. She’s simply looking for someone to call a friend. But unfortunately for her, she is ridiculed and subjected to some pretty cruel and unusual torment.


But no matter how low her tormentors stoop, she endures on with her relentless upbeat take on life. There is one line of dialog from the book that best sums up Nikuko and it goes as so: “It’s pointless to hate someone, even if I desperately want a friend.” She’ll never stoop down to their level in return. Granted, the tormentors in question do get their comeuppance in the most unusual (and hilarious) of ways, but Nikuko remains the sweetheart of a girl who just so desperately wants a friend. That’s not to say Nikuko gets off lightly. In fact, writer Miyako makes it a point to slyly criticize Nikuko’s unhealthy lifestyle choices just as much as she criticizes the actions of Nikuko’s thoughtless peers. Particularly in the fourth story where Nikuko’s supposed dieting method is to eat a four course banquet to herself. It goes without saying that such a lifestyle is far from great as well.


There is a running gag throughout the book. Every time Nikuko is introduced to a new group of people they instantly mistake her name by using the wrong kanji. Which has become something of a nightmare to translate for reasons mentioned above. It should be an easy joke, right? A common mixup of understanding. Well, not quite so when you’re trying to keep the original names in-tact.


Which I guess leads me back to the intro of this blog post. This little translation project has been one of the hardest projects that I’ve ever had both the joy and misery of working on. Oh don’t get wrong, when I say misery, I mean misery in a good way (if there is even such a thing.) I guess pain and joy go hand in hand.

I have written well over 30 pages of basic translations, which now I have to go back to and double read, double check my translations, re-write certain segments, make sure I actually did get some of the trickier sentences down pat, make sure I didn’t misinterpret jokes or puns as literal translations, do a final pass on the script and then, finally, doctor in those translations to the original panels in Photoshop and actually make the thing into a book as a gift for myself and my friend.


But in the end, I can say without hesitation that it’s been entirely worth it. I’ve had a blast doing this little project and I had a blast reading this book. It’s a wonderful little slice of absurd horror, comedy and drama. The artwork is clearly influenced by the likes of the great Kazuo Umezu of The Drifting Classroom fame, but with it’s own feminine sensibility. I was endeared by Nikuko and was very impressed with the broad range of topics discussed in each story. It’s a smart, well written, well drawn and thoughtful little book that deserves more attention.  

So what have I learned from this little project of mine? I’ve learned to respect translators a hell of a lot more. It’s quite the undertaking and you really only begin to appreciate exactly what goes into it once you do it for yourself. I guess in my younger years I was always a bit naive and thought it was just a matter of switching out Japanese words with English words, but that simply isn’t the case. It’s a difficult job that requires a lot of thought, a lot of patience and a fair bit of rewriting. So here’s to you translators, you have my utmost respect for the hard work you do in helping to bring foreign text to our door steps (salute; or is that kanpai in this case?)


I can’t say my current translations are perfect. After hearing that joke in class, I grew a little fearful that maybe I did translate some things a little too literal for their own good. I feel somewhat confident with the first draft that I have so far...but as we all know, first drafts don’t mean much. Maybe it will take even greater shape with the second draft? I hope that one day more people have the ability to read this manga and enjoy it as I did. Who knows if anything will come of this translation project of mine. Maybe it will get seen by a wider audience, or maybe it will remain on my shelf (and Miyako’s) as a simple kind gesture. Who knows in this crazy world of ours?


Anyways, that was something different, until next time we meet.
-Daniel M.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

[Review] The Handmaiden (2016)


After making his English-language debut with the critically divisive Southern gothic thriller Stoker, South Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook returns to his native language to bring us a slice of erotica with his new film, The Handmaiden.

Taking its cues from the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, with the setting changed from the Victorian era to 1930's Korea under Japanese rule, The Handmaiden tells the intricately woven story of a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) who seeks to take advantage of the beautiful and wealthy Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim min-hee).

The con man enlists the help of a lowly pickpocket by the name of Nam Sock-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to pose as a maid to the heiress. Sock-hee's task is simple enough; to gain the trust of the fair lady and help convince her to fall for the con man so he can inherit said fortune. However, complications arise as the Handmaiden finds herself falling for the fair lady. Thus begins a complicated tale of who's screwing who, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Director Park wisely splits this lurid tale into three separate chapters, each of which exemplifies a different perspective. The first chapter told from the perspective of Sock-hee as she infiltrates the lavish manor and gains the fair maiden's trust.  Initially, she is all about the task at hand, but as time progresses, she begins to feel a palpable sexual tension between herself and the fair lady. As such, a new found sense of guilt and jealousy arise as the handmaiden grows both resentful and remorseful towards the conman's end game.



Through the eyes of Sock-hee, we initially perceive Lady Hideko to be a naive child trapped in a woman's body. However, the second chapter switches perspectives to Hideko, where Director Park fills in the blanks of her traumatic upbringing under the tutelage of her perverted uncle. Having been exposed from a young age to her uncle's love of BDSM, she is frequently made to regale the written works of Marquis de Sade to seedy-looking men of wealth in the manor's library.

Meanwhile, the third chapter brings it all home through the perspective of the conman, which is ripe with revelations and plot turns best left unspoiled.


At its core, The Handmaiden is a rather simple tale of deceit, love, and vengeance. But perhaps most importantly, it is a tale of sexual liberation. Since I'm not the first to mention this, yes, the film does feature scenes of explicit lesbianism. And yes, Park definitely pulls no punches when it comes to showing. However, he doesn't just show just for the sake of showing, or for mere titillation.

Rather, the budding sexual tension shared between both women is the central key to their shared plight. At its core, The Handmaiden is a tale of two women who came from less than pleasant upbringings who long for a sense of freedom. Kim Tae-Ri and Kim Min-hee both give incredible performances and do very well to sell a palpable amount of friction.

The Handmaiden features all of Park Chan-Wook's usual flourishes. It is visually stunning in every inch of its design. From the sense of foreboding decadence that haunts every inch of the manor to the impeccable framing choices employed by cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon.

Although it's not without flaws. Unusually so, Director Park annoyingly feels the need to over-explain every last plot detail by spinning the plot wheel one too many times. However, there's no denying the denouement's cleverness, nor can one deny the overwhelming sense of satisfaction gained. In the end, The Handmaiden is both a well-crafted character study and a captivating erotic thriller that leaves its mark.



★★
(out of five)

Monday, 3 August 2015

[Japanese Stuff] Common Daily Phrases

Hello everyone. So for the past year I have been studying Japanese. It's a passion that quite frankly has taken over a big chunk of my life and has left me with less time to write for this blog since I started. Seeing that I've neglected this blog, I've decided to start a little trial experiment and impart some of my new-found gained knowledge with anyone who might be interested. That's right, I'm going to teach those of you who are interested some basic Japanese.

Not only will it help me by keeping my mind sharp and agile, but maybe someone out there will (hopefully) learn something as well. So without further ado let's jump on in and start with a simple introduction. We're going to keep this really light and simple today by giving a few simple phrases. Yes, you may have seen postings like this elsewhere, but trust me, for now we want to keep it simple. So here's a few useful daily expressions to get you started.

おはようございます // Ohayou Gozaimasu // "Good Morning"

"Ohayou Gozaimasu" is a friendly greeting meaning "Good Morning," It's commonplace to hear it shortened down to "Ohayou" and it is something you might hear until about 11am or 12pm.

こんにちは // Konnichiwa // "Hello"

"Konnichiwa" is the most common greeting you will hear. Simply is "Hello."

いらっしゃいませ // Irrashaimase // "Welcome"

If you have ever had the pleasure of being in Japan and have walked into any place of commercial business then chances are you've heard "Irrashaimase." It's extremely common to hear this "welcome" greeting in Japan courtesy of cheerful company employees.

こんばんは // Konbanwa // "Good Evening"

"Konbanwa" is something one might say to greet friends or relatives in the evening.

おやすみなさい // Oyasuminasai // "Good Night"

"Oyasuminasai" is used when parting ways with friends in the evening or said before going to bed.

さようなら // Sayonara // "Good Bye"

"Sayonara" is one method to say "Good Bye" however, there is a subtle finality to "Sayonara." "Sayonara" is something you might say to someone who you're not going to see for a while. Otherwise, another more casual way of saying "farewell" would be to say....

じゃ また // Jaa, mata // "Well then..."

"Jaa, mata" is a far more casual (and common) way to bid farewell among friends and relatives. The subtle difference being that it implies that one will see the person again sooner rather than later.

おさきに  しつれいします // Osaki ni shitsureishimasu// "Excuse Me" (but I'm going to be rude)

Said when leaving the office or a business meeting before other people.  "Shitsureishimasu" literally translates to "I'm going to be rude" but don't fret, it's not considered rude to use when excusing oneself. It's one of those "best not to question it too much" moments that one will run into when learning this language.

いってらっしゃい // Itterasshai // "Have a Safe Trip" (lit. go and coming back)

Usually said to friends, family and cohorts as they leave for an extended period; be it a holiday, business trip or other variation. Think "Bon Voyage" and you get "Itterasshai."

行ってきます // Ittekimasu // "I'm going" (lit. go and coming back)

"Ittekimasu" is actually made up of two parts. It combines the ~te form of the verb "Ikimasu" (to go) and "kimasu" (to return) to make "Ittekimasu." As you can sort of probably already guess, it means that "I will go and return." It's something one might say when leaving the household to run errands." For example:

郵便局に行ってきます

"Yuubinkyouku ni ittekimasu."
I'm going to the Post Office (and I will return shortly)

or maybe you're going to Japan on vacation

日本に行ってきます。
"Nihon ni ittekimasu."
I'm going to Japan (and will return)

ただいま // Tadaima // "I'm back"

Said by a person on returning home, which is paired with the response...

おかえりなさい // Okaerinasai // "Welcome Home"

いただきます // Ittadakimasu // Said Before Eating a Meal

Said before eating a meal. To keep "Ittadakimasu" in memory, I like to think that it sounds kind of like "Eat-a-ducky-masu", as corny as it is, it works. "Ittadakimasu" is, of course, paired with the follow-up response upon completion of a meal...

ごちそうさまでした // Gochisousama deshita // Said after Eating a Meal

おめでとうございます // Omedetou Gozaimasu // "Congratulations"

"Omedetou Gozaimasu" (Congratulations) or for short, "Omedetou."

どうも ありがとうございます // Doumo Arigatou Gozaimasu // "Thank You Very Much"

Or casually one can shorten it to "Doumo" by itself.

どういたしまして // Dou Itashimashite // "You're Welcome"

すみません // Sumimasen // "Excuse Me"

ちょっとまってください // Chotto Matte Kudasai // "Wait just a moment, please"

もういちどおねがいします // Mou ichido onegaishimasu // "Once more, please"

どうぞおさきに // Douzo Osakini // "Please, go ahead"

気をつけて // Ki o tsukete // "Be Careful"

Or alternatively

気をつけてください
Ki o tsukete kudasai
"Please be careful"

おだいじに // Odaiji ni // "Take Care of Yourself"

Commonly used towards an ill or injured person.


Now, if you're like me and you're a bit of a social drinker then these next three phrases are absolutely mandatory to know for when you hit up a bar in Japan.

ビールをひとつください // Biru o hitotsu kudasai // "One Beer, please"

もう一つください // Mou hitotsu kudasai // "Another, please"

トイレはどこですか?// Toire wa doko desu ka? // "Where is the toilet?"


Hopefully you've learned something today. Happy trails and I'll see you shortly with another lesson.

-Daniel M 
(ダニエル)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

[Feature] E3 2015 -- Dan's Highlights



10.) South Park: The Fractured But Whole

South Park: The Stick of Truth was a downright successful love note to fans of the TV series. The Fractured But Whole (heh, heh) looks to provide just as much love for the fans. I trust that Matt and Trey will deliver the goods once again.





9.) Sea of Thieves

We don't really know too much about this based on the trailer alone other than to say it's a Pirate game, but it is being made by Rare so it has my attention.






8.) Recore

Recore came out of nowhere and definitely was one of the bigger surprises at Microsoft's conference. The game is being directed by famed Megaman creator Keiji Inafune and developed by a team consisting of people who previously worked on the Metroid Prime series. Fantastic, you have my complete and utter attention. Can't wait to see more of this in the near future.





7.) Unravel

Very much has a LittleBigPlanet aesthetic going for it and it looks kind of adorable. Cool, I'm intrigued.





6.) Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

I'm just going to let the video below do the talking since it says everything that needs to be said way better than I ever could...





5.) Super Mario Maker

LittleBigPlanet by the way of Mario...only it looks far more accessible to build levels and features Nintendo characters instead...fantastic!!! An instant must-buy for me.






4.) Final Fantasy VII Remake

Oh Square-Enix, what masters of trolling you have become. Talk about your "Holy S**t" moments, well this was one for the ages. Let's call it redemption after that horrible disappointment from last year's PlayStation Experience event where Square-Enix trolled us all. It's happening Final Fantasy fans, it's finally happening. I feel your glee.





3.) Horizon

Of all the new IP's announced this past week, it was Guerilla's Horizon that stood out the most. The best way to describe it based on the first trailer is to call it Monster Hunter. Only the monsters have been replaced with Robot-Dinosaurs. What struck me the most is just how polar opposite this game looks in tone by comparison to Guerilla's prior franchise, Killzone. The drab grey tone of dour-industrialism is gone and in its place is a focus on rich colour where nature has reclaimed its domain in this distant post-apocalyptic setting. Where human survivors battle Robot-Dinosaurs in what looks to be an epic fight for survival. Bring on 2016 as Horizon looks like it could be a complete blast to play.





2.) The Last Guardian

After 7 long years in development hell, Fumito Ueda's The Last Guardian finally re-surfaced taking the opening spot at Sony's conference. It most definitely has the Team ICO aesthetic written all over it. It's art style is consistent with both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, the Dog-Bird is absolutely adorable, and in every conceivable way it looks like it's set to recapture the same magic that made both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus beloved classics. Welcome back Team ICO, welcome back.





1.) Shenmue III

It's real, oh my freaking god, it's real! Never in a million years did I think that I would ever hear that glorious theme music on an E3 stage again, but I'll be damned, it happened. It took just three notes of that music combined with a single cherry blossom peddle falling from the sky for me to lose my mind. Shenmue III is real! During Sony's press conference, Yu Suzuki came out on stage and announced his intent to start a Kickstarter campaign to help Shenmue III become a reality.

Within mere minutes of its launch, Kickstarter's website crashed under intense server traffic. Another 8 hours later and the campaign reached its $2,000,000 goal. Currently, the campaign sits healthfully at $3,000,000 with 30 days remaining. Making this the most successful campaign that Kickstarter has ever promoted.

So why did Shenmue III top this list? The first reason is obvious. I am a massive Shenmue fan (yes, I'm one of those "crazies"). I was hooked right from the very get-go when the original game released on the Dreamcast way back when. For its time, the game was unlike anything else out on the market. It's cinematic aspirations were breathtaking. It's graphics were mind blowing, it's attention to detail remained unrivaled for almost an entire console generation. But perhaps most importantly, the narrative was the real draw for its fans. Not only was it an epic quest of a young man seeking vengeance for his fallen father, but it was a coming of age story.

It was bold, daring and uncompromising in its vision. However, it was not without its issues. The glacial methodical pacing of the first game helped divide audiences right down the middle. For those who loved it, they were rewarded with something unique and something that no other game has ever really matched.

Shenmue II left fans with an unresolved narrative as the game ended on a cliffhanger. When the Dreamcast met its untimely death in 2001, Shenmue II was ported to the original Xbox leaving fans with some renewed hope that it would open the doors for part III. But due to poor sales, Shenmue III never saw the light of day.

14 years laters and the fans still carry the torch. Holding on to a glimmer of hope that somehow, someway Director Yu Suzuki could revive the franchise and give the narrative long due closure. After 14 years of waiting, E3 2015 finally delivered and gave Shenmue fans the early Christmas gift they have been waiting so patiently for and it was nothing short of glorious.

My fandom for Shenmue is not the only reason it topped this list. Shenmue III's announcement was a true left-of-field "holy s**t" surprise. Something that E3 has lacked for the past couple of years. If nothing else, it was the impossible dream becoming a reality.

The announcements of Shenmue III and Final Fantasy VII: Remake were dreams come true for their respective fanbases. Never in a million years did I realistically expect to hear that theme music on an E3 stage again, but that's what makes E3 so damn great. It's moments like these that bring out real emotion and passion. Don't believe me? Then check out this one reaction video.



It's moments like these that make E3 week so damn good.






-- Daniel M

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

[Review] Furious 7



What began as a shameless Point Break knockoff featuring souped up cars in place of surfboards has grown into a multi-million dollar freight train of a franchise. Way back when, The Fast and the Furious franchise began its life as a Roger Corman type B picture highlighting the tale of an undercover cop questioning his own code of conduct as he finds himself indoctrinated by the ragtag band of criminals he was supposed to be investigating. A mere seven films later and you would be hard pressed to see the roots of where this franchise once began.

Justin Lin's Fast Five did incredibly well to reinvent the franchise, moving it away from the sub-culture of underground street racing and morphing it into an Ocean's Eleven style heist film. Now with Justin Lin departing the directors chair, James Wan (Saw, Insidious) steps up to the directors chair and continues to reinvent the franchise into something that even less resembles the original film.

Furious 7 doesn't just jump the shark, it jumps three skyscrapers along the way. After the events of the last film, Dom (Vin Diesel) and his team of loveable misfits find themselves the targets of a revenge plot orchestrated by extremist militant Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). However, Shaw proves to be more than Dom can handle leaving Dom and his team to partner up with a shady government official known only as Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell).

Mr. Nobody heads a special task force assigned the mission of hunting down the creator of a computer program called 'the God's Eye', a highly sophisticated program that can turn any mobile phone into a surveillance device. Mr. Nobody offers Dom and his team a deal they can't refuse, he will help them track down Shaw in return for their services aiding the task force.



If you couldn't tell, Furious 7 is as loud and dumb as you might have expected it to be and then some. The plot is entirely gonzo, the dialog ranges from so bad it's good to downright eye-roll worthy, and the action is so insanely removed from the laws of physics that it might as well be a Saturday morning cartoon. However, I would be lying if I said it wasn't ridiculously fun for all of those reasons.

The set pieces have been amped way up to eleven in need to top the last movie because jumping a car through the nose of a 747 airplane just wasn't enough. Whether it be skydiving cars out of a moving plane or jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper in Abu Dhabi to pitting Michelle Rodriguez against Rhonda Rousey in a one on one fist fight, Furious 7 does well to re-adjust the goal post of impossible standards set by the last film. Perhaps doing it a little too well.

In that constant need to top the previous film, one can't help but fear that it's all going a little too far into the realm of self-parody. What once started as a group of ragtag yet grounded criminals with hearts made of gold has turned into an ensemble of indestructible superheroes who look like they're ready to audition for a place in the Avengers.

Marred only by moments of tediously written and overacted soap opera worthy drama. Furious 7 is at its best when it is embracing its own stupidity for all its worth but, unfortunately, screenwriter Chris Morgan feels the need to inject a dose of unwanted drama by continuing the weakest plot thread of the previous film being Letty's (Michelle Rodriguez) all too convenient memory loss. Shared moments between Dom and Letty that were meant to be touching play with a layer of thick soap opera staccato. Diesel and Rodriguez are far from being accomplished thespians leaving these moments of stilted drama to remind us just how ridiculous the movie really is.



Still, when it plays to its strengths as an incredibly dumb but fun action movie then it delivers in spades. Kurt Russell is a welcomed breath of fresh air playing the Mr. Wolf (from Pulp Fiction) type role. Meanwhile, Jason Statham delivers his usual gravelly brand of intimidating badass, which is never a bad thing. James Wan, formerly known for his work on low-budget chillers such as Insidious does well to prove himself capable of handling big budget blockbuster affairs. Unfortunately, the film does lose some of its momentum as it lumbers into its final act composed of a destructive landscape-altering chase around the streets of Los Angeles. At two hours and twenty minutes, it is too self-serving for its own good.

Then there is the matter of Paul Walkers death, which is handled tastefully thanks to a moving finale that pays tribute to both the character and actor. In fact, it's the one moment where these actors deliver a true moment of emotion as it is so clearly raw. No amount of hammy on the nose dialog can match a simple visual moment of silent reflection as each of them realize that their friend (in real life) is gone. It serves as a poignant and touching send off to not only Brian O'Conner but to Paul Walker as well.

Furious 7 doesn't quite live up to the best of this franchise (that being Fast Five), but for what it's worth, James Wan and crew have delivered a fun over the top eighties action movie repackaged for the modern age. Just let it be said that the gas in the tank is running on near empty for this franchise. Perhaps it's time to leave it rest, but who are we kidding? The box office numbers alone will ensure the inevitable Furious 8, 9, and 10.



★★
(out of five)



-Daniel M

Sunday, 15 March 2015

[Feature] Mei and the Kittenbus



Last year, I began studying Japanese. On my most recent trip to Japan, I visited the famous Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Whilst there, I brought back with me a number of souvenirs. One of those souvenirs was a book. The book in question was a printed copy of Mei and the Kittenbus, a short film and spiritual sequel to My Neighbour Totoro shown only at the museum.

With research thanks to jisho.org and its incredibly useful “kanji by radicals” search option, I managed to translate this story well enough.

Once I had finished the rough translation, I began to notice just how many liberties could be taken in rewriting and making it flow a little better in English form. So I took it upon myself to take the rough translation and re-write it using both the images and words as found in the book. Here are the results.



風のつよい日、メイがキャラメルを食べていると、つむじ風があらわれ、おいかけてきました。

Kaze no tsuyoi hi, mei ga kyarameru o tabete iru to, tsumujikaze ga araware, oikakete kimashita.

On a windy day, Mei was eating caramel, when a whirlwind appeared and chased her.




つむじ風の正体はコネコバスでした。メイはコネコバスにキャラメルをあげて、ともだちになりました。

Tsumujikaze no shōtai wa konekobasu deshita. Mei wa konekobasu ni kyarameru o agete, tomodachi ni narimashita.


The identity of the whirlwind was a baby cat bus. Mei gave the baby cat bus some caramel and the two became friends.




ちっちゃい(小ちゃい)ねェ
あなたこどもなのね

Chiichai nei? Anata kodomo nano ne

Wee-tiny children, aren't they?


その夜、コネコバスがやってきました。メイはコネコバスにのってでかけました。

sono yoru, konekobasu ga yattekimashita. Mei wa konekobasu ni notte dekakemashita.

That night, the Baby Cat Bus came back. Mei boarded the Baby Cat Bus and set out on an adventure.


のせてくれるの ヒャーハハハ

nosete kureru no hyahahaha

Are you giving me a lift? Hahaha!


見たこともないたくさんのネコバスが森へあつまっていきます。

Mita koto mo nai takusan no nekobasu ga mori e atsumatte ikimasu.

There were many Catbus that Mei had never seen before gathering in the forest.


森の中にはお化けがたくさんいました。メイがあたりを見まわすと、トトロがいました。

Mori no naka ni wa obake ga takusan imashita. Mei ga atari o mimawasu to, totoro ga imashita.

In the forest there were many forest spirits. Mei looked around the forest and found Totoro.


トトロ!!

Totoro!!








こんばんは
コネコバスのおともだちのメイです

konbanwa konekobasu no otomodachi no Mei desu.

Good evening, Mei. Friend of baby cat bus.


メイはネコバアちゃんにキャラメルをあげました。
ネコバアちゃんはお化けたちをのせて空へ、メイはコネコバスにのって家に帰りました。

Mei wa nekobā-chan ni kyarameru o agemashita. Nekobā-chan wa obake-tachi o nosete sora e, Mei wa konekobasu ni notte uchi ni kaerimashita.

Mei gave the elderly catbus a piece of her caramel. With the forest spirits aboard, the elderly catbus flew into the sky, meanwhile Mei boarded the baby cat bus and returned home.



Now, my re-write of this material:

On a windy day, Mei was playing in the garden and eating caramel. When suddenly a whirlwind came gushing along. The whirlwind forced Mei to rush back inside the house.

To Mei’s surprise, the whirlwind turned out to be a baby cat bus from the forest. Mei was so happy to see the baby cat bus that she squealed with glee. She gave the baby cat bus a piece of her caramel, and the two became friends. But their time together was cut short as the baby’s father came searching for him. Together, the father and baby cat bus headed back to their home in the forest.

Later that night as Mei slept in her bed, she stirred to the sounds of tapping outside of her window. Low and behold it was the baby cat bus. Filled with glee, Mei climbed aboard the baby cat bus, and the pair went merrily on a journey into the heart of the forest. 

“Go, go, Faster!!” she shouted with joy as they raced across the land.

On the way back to the forest, Mei looked around and was surprised to see a great number of Cat Bus’ also returning to the forest.

Once they arrived in the woods, Mei hopped out of the bus and spotted a great number of forest spirits surrounding her marching in an orderly fashion. As she looked around, her eyes caught a glimpse of a familiar figure in the distance.

“TOTORO!!” she shouted with glee. Sure enough, there he was. The giant yet friendly forest spirit with an umbrella in one hand and a package of seeds in the other. Mei ran and leaped into his chest giving Totoro a massive hug.

As she clung to Totoro, a croaky old voice rasped from behind. “Good evening, friend of cat-bus.”

Mei turned her head and caught sight of a giant elderly cat bus. It had to be the biggest cat bus she had ever seen in her young life. She let go of Totoro and dashed towards the elder cat bus. With a massive grin from ear to ear, she took out her caramel and offered the elder a piece. The elder purred with delight as he ate the caramel treat. Meanwhile, the neighbouring forest spirits were boarding the elder cat bus as they had a long journey ahead of them. Once boarded, the elder cat bus went soaring into the night sky.

As it was getting late, it was also time for Mei to leave the forest and return home to her comfy bed. She climbed back into the baby cat bus. As the baby cat bus climbed into the night sky, Mei looked out the window and waved a hearty farewell to Totoro and the forest.



-Daniel M

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

[Review] Starry Eyes


"In the dreams of the starlet there is always that one scene where the cigar-chomping producer spots a lovely young woman in the Carlton Terrace and shouts 'who is that girl? I must have her for my next picture.'" Words once said by the late-great film critic Roger Ebert. The new body-horror film Starry Eyes plays as the bizarro alternate nightmare take on that dream scenario.

Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is a promising young actress who dreams of fast tracking her career to stardom. She aspires to have her name etched in immortality among the legends of Hollywood. However, she doesn't have much going on in her current station in life. Frustrated, she takes out one lousy low-rent audition after another with little success. Until one day, she stumbles upon one audition that will forever change her life.

She takes out an audition for a crummily titled horror movie called "The Silver Scream" produced by a once-famed now crumbled horror movie production company. Sarah leaves enough of an impression on the casting agents and receives a callback. But all is not what it seems as she eventually shares the room with a cigar-chomping veteran producer who oozes the creep factor.

Despite her few good qualities, it is abundantly clear from the offset that all is not right with Sarah. Stuck in a dead-end waitressing gig at a mum and pop version of Hooters and living in a no thrills apartment on the outskirts of Hollywood. She looks down on her day-to-day job with scorn while contending with her 70's porn star mustache-sporting boss (Pat Healy) and his occasional leeriness. Meanwhile, her friends, a small contingent of fellow wannabe actors and filmmakers, are a bunch of dead-end no-hopers who only remind her of her failures. She snidely takes a measure of joy at their failures as if it were a reminder that she isn't the lowliest creature in the pack.



Her only escape from this day-to-day reminder of failure is a bedroom mirror plastered with various images of Hollywood greats as she fancily dreams of her name adorning a marquee someday. Her obsession with stardom eats away at the remaining portions of her humanity. Thus begins her slippery descent into madness as she soon finds herself the subject of a bizarre cult who promises her stardom at the cost of her soul.

Despite a strong performance from first-timer Alexandra Essoe, unfortunately, the screenplay leaves her with little in the way of an arc as she is mostly emotionally unpenetrable from the get-go. Her obsessive and almost compulsively destructive behaviour shines through in the aftermath of her very first audition where she sinks into a bathroom stall and proceeds to rip clumps of her hair out. Long before her encounters with the occult, she is without question a woman who has already been ravaged and tormented by the fabled promised dreams of tinsel town.

So when she finally does "let go" and physically transforms into the monster that she always has been on the inside, it's a tad underwhelming if not heavy handed in its symbolism. If not a bit low-rent Black Swan. Subtlety is far from being the film's high point and its a problem that plagues Starry Eyes throughout its brisk 90 minute run time.

Thus, the beats of the screenplay are all too recognisable as the film plays it deck of cards in the most obvious of manner. Eventually, Sarah's inner beast is exposed, and as the movie jumps into its occasionally impressive gory finale, it all winds up feeling as if it is going through the motions. Surprisingly enough, the film works best in its mundane moments of observing Sarah interact with the supporting cast.

Still, Starry Eyes is not without its charms. First-time directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch do well to paint Hollywood for being the sun-soaked encapsulation of broken dreams that it truly is. The filmmakers do well creating an overtly oppressive and gloomy mood. They also do well in taking their time to let the story and its characters (namely the supporting cast) breathe. Unlike most horror films, Starry Eyes has a certain fondness for its characters that can't help but be admired. But the heavy-handed storytelling is a detriment for which the film occasionally fails to overcome.



★★

(out of Five)




--Daniel M 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

[Review] Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead



Have you ever had the unfortunate displeasure of knowing that one person who so desperately tries to be something they aren't? If yes, then have you ever wondered as to what the film equivalent of such typecasts would be? Enter the scrappy low-budget Australian zombie horror-comedy Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. While there is no denying that Wyrmwood has a boundless amount of enthusiasm going for it. That passion, unfortunately, combines itself with zero self-awareness of its resounding crumminess.

Wyrmwood lifts elements from both the apocalyptic road movie genre and countless zombie movies in order to combine the two into one rollicking B-movie package. The setup here is decidedly simple. Late one night, the stars mysteriously fall from the sky. The next morning, the world is thrown into chaos as the dead reanimate and attack the living. The plot follows the usual band of misfit heroes.

Led by Barry (Jay Gallagher); a simple mechanic and family man turned unwilling hero after killing his zombified wife and child. On the road to survival, Barry crosses paths with fellow survivor Benny (Leon Burchil); the sidekick comic relief who provides zero in the way of comedy or relief. Together, the two men travel through the countryside and into the city battling hordes of zombies as Barry searches for his missing sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey).




Shades of Mad Max, The Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead and other such classic B-movies echo throughout Wyrmwood. It's clear as day that the director Kiah Roache Turner has quite the admiration for all things exploitation/ozploitation. But the one thing he doesn't have is a tight screenplay to help stitch it all together and make it work. The screenplay lacks both invention and wit as it moves through the same old tired beats that make up a majority of zombie films.

The characters are all loosely sketched one-dimensional stereotypes. All of whom go through the same old tired motions that we've seen countless times. Jay Gallagher does an adequate job of playing the stoic one note hero of the piece but is ultimately far from memorable.

His trusty sidekick Benny fares worse. Benny is meant to be that impulsive reactionary character who blurts out whatever comes to mind. But thanks to the invention of a truly witless script, his dialog is limited to mostly just dropping F-bombs here and there. Meanwhile, a brief supporting performance by Keith Aigus as a fellow survivor serves to bring some likeability to what is otherwise a fairly forgettable band of heroes.

For the most part, the film doesn't have much to say for itself. The brief theorized explanation for why the zombie apocalypse is happening attempts to tie in some measure of biblical connotation and is welcome, but ultimately goes nowhere as quickly as introduced. Meanwhile, there is also the requisite secret service types who make up the human antagonists. Although to their credit, they are led by a decidedly memorable and campy psychotic doctor. A doctor with a love for listening to disco music while experimenting on human survivors and zombies alike for reasons never truly explained.

What it all eventually boils down to is not much more than a whole lot of zombie killing. Comparisons to the early works of Peter Jackson have been made elsewhere, but quite frankly those comparisons are little more than hyperbole.

Ardent gorehounds will be deeply disappointed to find that the film provides little in the way of inventive splatter. Unlike, say Braindead and its now iconic lawn mower zombie massacre, Wyrmwood's limited budget offers no such thrills. Heads explode like grapefruit, and that's about it really. For the most part, the effects work is moderately okay but after seeing the umpteenth head explode it quickly grows just as tired as every other facet of this film.

Meanwhile, Tim Nagle's camerawork does little to help flatter proceedings. His choice of composition has a beyond irritating tendency to favor extreme close-up shots of actor's faces for at least ninety percent of the film. The camera is positioned so uncomfortably close to the actors faces that it might as well enter their nostrils and take us on an Enter the Void stylized ride through the human body.



Perhaps it was a conscious choice to either establish claustrophobia or, and most likely, to help camouflage the cheapness of production value, but there is no denying that it's an irritable choice. Featuring a flurry of extreme close-ups, stabilized shots that were occasionally out of focus, and nauseating camera work to vainly compensate for a lack of intensity helps to give Wyrmwood its decidedly amateur hour flavor.

Despite Wyrmwood's aspirations to be a fun rollicking B-movie, it all just comes across as a little desperate. One can't fault the filmmakers for their energy and enthusiasm but ultimately Wyrmwood is a film that needed to focus less on aping other people's work and focus more on developing its half-baked ideas.

It's quite clear that the director and screenwriters were aspiring to obtain certain cult classic status, but it would seem that no one has ever bothered to tell them the cardinal rule of a cult classic. Cult classics are not manufactured; rather they are born out of an earnest love shared amongst a rabid group of hardcore fans. Despite Wyrmwood's grand aspirations to join the ranks of those films it aspires and even lifts from, in reality it's more likely to join the manufactured ranks of something like Snakes on a Plane. And that's if it is lucky enough to be remembered in the first place.


(out of Five)





-Daniel M

Monday, 2 February 2015

[Anime] Assassination Classroom -- Quick Look



Assassination Classroom
has quite the unique premise going for it. In an almost reverse Battle Royale-like scenario, Assassination Classroom takes a group of social outcasts and misfits, puts them together into one class and gives them one assignment. They must kill their teacher before the end of the year. The first person to kill their teacher wins 10 billion yen. Sounds bizarre, right?

But what if I told you the teacher in question was a yellow Octopus-like creature (known as Koro-Sensei) intent on destroying the world unless his students manage to succeed? Still intrigued? Than Assassination Classroom just might be right up your alley.

With three episodes already under its belt, the show takes a decidedly comedic approach to its subject matter. The task at hand sounds easy enough, but there is just one minor problem. The creature-teacher can move at Mach-20 speeds. Making it almost impossible for the students (or the military for that matter) to kill him.

Seemingly episodic in structure, the show centers on each of the students and their feeble attempts to kill their teacher. Koro Sensei is a brash individual. Knowing full well that he is unkillable, his entire scheme almost seems as if devised out of boredom.

Despite his brash and cocky demeanor, he is not without traces of malice. Given his malevolent end goal of wiping out humanity, in contrast it must be said that Koro Sensei also turns out to be a pretty good teacher. Imparting his wealth of knowledge upon this gaggle of misfits. Koro Sensei's multi-faceted personality allows for the right blend of comedy and darkness.



As for the misfits themselves, the show seems to be switching its focus between students week to week. Each student has a unique backstory and motivations for wanting the prize money in question.

By far, the most amusing thing about the show is the paradox presented in Koro Sensei's motivations. In spite the fact that Koro Sensei aims to wipe out humanity, he seemingly takes some measure of affection to this group of misfits by imparting his wealth of knowledge with them. Knowing full well that they aim to kill him in the long-run.

For instance, take the second episode as Koro Sensei helps one of the boys in the class to become a better baseball pitcher. Never mind the fact that the boy in question had deviated a plan to use a ball to kill his sensei.

At the heart of it all is Nagisa. A blue-haired protagonist with a keen observing eye recording all of Koro Sensei's flaws in the hope of finding Koro Sensei's weakness. Personality wise, he's a little on the generic side for now. But hopefully he should evolve over the course of the season.

Despite the gloriously absurd premise fuelling it, it's not without its warts. In the animation department, it's a little on the cheap side. With the exception of Koro Sensei, the character designs are all a bit too generic. With lifeless-static backdrops, the characters look a little too obviously superimposed into their surroundings. Also, despite the tongue-in-cheek premise, there is potentially a chance that it could wear a little thin by the end of its 22 episode run.

Still, at this point, Assassination Classroom has enough going for it to warrant a recommendation. It's a fun and quirky little spin on the "dog-eat-dog" survival genre that could prove thoroughly entertaining for its 22 episode run. If you're into light-hearted high school related hi-jinks than Assassination Classroom is worth a look.


Assassination Classroom is now simulcast streaming over at Anime Lab. Subbed Only.


--Daniel M