Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji): Book of the Atlantic

Black Butler Book of the Atlantic

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Ciel and Sebastian board a luxury liner in order to investigate a suspicious medical society rumoured to possess a treatment that prolongs life. It’s a mixture of business and pleasure for our duo, as they have friends who are also on the ship for vacation.

Anyway, disaster ensues. Double disaster, actually – think Titanic, with zombies.

I had read criticisms beforehand that the animation was not of the highest quality, and I’d have to agree. The CG rendering of the ship and its passengers looked really stiff. The action scenes seemed all right, but characters were roughly drawn when not shown in close-up. (Close-up art looked great.)

I didn’t find Snake that amusing here (I can’t remember: did I ever?), but otherwise, the absurd humour worked most of the time. Several of the gags were laugh-out-loud funny even.

Often, movie installments of popular franchises will tell a standalone story, and the villains are introduced and taken care of during the film’s runtime. In Book of the Atlantic, it’s more complicated than that. There are revelations about established characters that will affect the rest of the series, including one person who turns out to be deeply mixed up in the raising-of-the-dead scheme. Of course, that also means that some loose threads are left hanging at the end.

Today’s special screening was in Japanese with English subtitles. The film will screen one more time on Wednesday in English.

Chihayafuru Part I

Chihayafuru part 1

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

I really love the Chihayafuru anime, so I went into this live action film with high expectations, but also some mild trepidation as to how successfully the content would transfer to a 2 hour movie format.

The screenplay writer made what must certainly have been difficult decisions, but the cuts and story rearrangements resulted in a streamlined production that hit all the right notes. In the places when it really mattered, no corners were cut. In particular, Taichi’s and Tsutomu’s conflicts had sufficient time to fully develop and the payoff was rewarding.

Some of the acting was a little unnatural, especially in the quieter moments, but the cast’s performance was effective in conveying humour and showing the characters’ personalities.

The good framing of the shots, use of slow motion, and the music further added to the excitement in this thrilling competitive karuta movie.

SCOOP! / Himeanole

Scoop Himeanole

Both released 2016

We caught 2 films at the TJFF on Friday night. Although they were quite different in subject matter, both of them freely depicted sex and onscreen smoking and both culminated in the crazy character going on a killing spree that took the life of a well-meaning police officer among other victims.

SCOOP!
2.5 stars (out of 4)

SCOOP! was about a veteran paparazzi photographer and the rookie reporter he was forced to work with. It did show what a distasteful business gossip rags are. The character interactions were mostly good, even if I was a bit icked out at the prospect of romance between the 2 leads.

The car chase was pretty exciting, especially when our protagonists decided it would be a good idea to light up fireworks inside their vehicle.

Himeanole
1.5 stars (out of 4)

Himeanole was like 2 movies. In the first half, 3 guys happened to be in love with/obsessed with the same girl, a waitress at a local café. It maybe had something to say about the psyche of loser guys and their attachment to unattainable idols.

The second half made a whiplash-inducing turn to the dark side. It was full of disturbing gore and violence and frankly didn’t seem to have much of a point. I can put up with some violence if it’s cartoonishly funny or cool, or if there’s some message like demonstrating the horror of war, for instance. Here, the violence just seemed to be hateful and gratuitous and completely out of line with my idea of entertainment.

The points I award this movie are pretty much for technical merit and acting only.

The Boy and the Beast

boy and the beast

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

A troubled runaway human boy becomes the apprentice for a warrior beast after stumbling into a hidden world through a secret passageway in Shibuya.

The charm of the film came from the characters’ development more than the overall story. The dialogue and interactions were strong and it was nice to see how Kumatetsu, Kyuta, and even minor characters changed over time through their shared experiences.

The actual plot was kind of a letdown, and amounted to not much more than one thing happening, which was then followed by another thing. The events just somehow seemed to lack a logical narrative direction and purpose.

The way Ren/Kyuta vascillated between the human world and beast world, all the while messing with the emotions of the people who cared about him, reminded me a lot of Ame from Wolf Children, another Hosoda Mamoru film. In both cases, what the child was actually looking for, what he wanted from his life, never were clearly explored or explained for the audience (or for his loved ones). But Ame was not the focal character in his film, so his enigma status was a little more acceptable.

I wasn’t really into the Moby Dick symbolism/analogy either. First of all, who learns to read using a Herman Melville novel? I mean I get that Ren’s smart, but that’s just patently ridiculous. And then the antagonist randomly decided to take the form of a whale merely because he happened to get a glimpse of the word “whale”? That was a pretty weak contrivance to justify the fantastical, though inconsequential, whale imagery and cool-looking animation which followed.

In the end, the moral of the story was: “Parents, don’t lie to your children,” I think.

The Anthem of the Heart

anthem of the heart

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

A self-imposed curse caused Naruse Jun to lose her ability to speak following a traumatic event in her childhood. Now in high school, Jun and 3 of her classmates are enlisted to head a community outreach committee and put together a class play.

The basic setup of putting on a musical, with the challenges that ensue, is pretty routine stuff which follows all the familiar plot points of a typical play-within-a-play storyline. That said, it is carried out fairly competently here, and the solutions that the kids arrive at are realistic.

All in all, I enjoyed the film. I was invested in Jun and her classmates and I liked how they inspired and learned from each other. There was a romantic subplot as well, but I think it was clear that that was secondary to the more general friendship theme, which is how it should be.

Also, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of that musical that they were putting on; the parts which were shown looked pretty ambitious and impressive.

SING

SING

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

I didn’t actually know anything about SING until I read an article about the voice actors who were working on the Japanese dub for the film. So while on my recent overseas flight, I decided to watch this American film in Japanese, with English subtitles, just because I could.

Overall, it was pretty funny and entertaining; and the animation looked great. I probably empathized most with Ash, the little rocker porcupine. But it was the way that Johnny, the sweet-voiced gangster gorilla, juggled his new career with the family business that really made my jaw drop.

I didn’t care for Mike, the talented but arrogant mouse, much at all. And the main character, enterprising koala Buster Moon, was a good guy; but some of the stuff he did was in fact illegal, which left me feeling a little uneasy.

Bittersweet (Nigakute Amai)

nigakute amai

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016 in Japan

In this live-action adaptation of a manga by Kobayashi Yumiwo, a young woman begins to put her life together, nutritionally as well as emotionally, after moving in with a vegetarian guy who cooks good. They probably should have included recipes for all the food porn.

Your name.

your-name

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017 in North America

The hype surrounding this film has been phenomenal. Following its release in Japan and other regions last summer, it has racked up massive box office success and rave reviews. I read as little about it as possible all this time and tried not to expect too much, lest the movie should fail to live up to its reputation. It turns out there was no need to temper my expectations.

The story begins with 2 teenagers randomly waking up in each other’s bodies several times a week. Mitsuha and Taki cope by leaving notes for each other so they will know what happened while they were away. As they explore their counterpart’s life, the audience is treated to wonderful views of big-city Tokyo and a small town in the countryside. Seeing it in the theatre, it is almost like being there, and really makes you want to visit. That’s just the beginning.

Your name. is beautifully animated. It is in turn immensely funny and very sad; and in a departure from previous Makoto Shinkai works, it is also surprisingly hopeful. You don’t have to be an anime fan or a Shinkai fan to enjoy this film.

FUNimation is presenting your name. in subtitled and English-dubbed versions. We watched the sub. Go see it while you can during its limited cinematic run. It’s a fantastic movie and it deserves to be seen on the big screen!

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast 2017

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the classic animated film from 1991, but this new live-action remake seems to be an extremely faithful adaptation. Some parts of it are scene-for-scene, word-for-word the same, if memory serves.

All the familiar songs are included (yes, it’s a musical), along with a few new pieces. Emma Watson and the rest of the cast turn in excellent vocal performances.

One thing this version absolutely does do right is expand on the Beast’s personality and give more insight into the mindset of his staff. I had an issue with his lack of chemistry with Belle in the original. The added content here definitely improves the believability of their relationship.

Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick, is also more developed and nuanced than in the animation, I believe.

I do wish they could have done one more thing, though, and that’s give the Beast an actual name. Oh well, can’t have everything.

LOGAN

Logan2

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

The acting was good, the story was believable, the action was slick, and the violence was suitably graphic. The overall experience, though, was kind of a downer.

I suppose that was to be expected; the promotional material made it clear Logan’s abilities were fading and Charles was losing control over his body and mind. But it’s really depressing to see your heroes stuck in such a miserable existence and being so vulnerable. Logan actually took a bullet for his car in the opening scene, and it was completely without irony since he seriously needed that car to make a living.

It’s definitely a well-made and thoughtful film, but I guess I have a personal bias toward badassery in my superhero movies. LOGAN left me feeling sad.