Spotlight on Japan: The Man Who Stole the Sun

Kazuhiro Hasegawa’s The Man Who Stole the Sun is a tragedy. With the word ‘tragedy’ I don’t mean the pessimistic sort of drama where things go awry for the characters, but instead I call the film a tragedy because it is such a waste of great potential and passion. In a way I could say that I was entertained throughout the 147-minute running time, but that would only be the case if I completely ignored its flaws. Why would I do that? Because The Man Who Stole the Sun is so utterly fascinating that I would like to live under the illusion that it is a great film instead of facing the reality. Read more of this post

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AKIRA

Japan; Science Fiction; 125 minutes; Produced by Ryōhei Suzuki, Shunzō Katō; Based on the graphic Novel by Katsuhiro Otomo; Written and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

The year was 2007, I was close to ending my first year in film school, and I hated anime. I didn’t just dislike anime, or was merely uninterested in anime, I had a burning hatred toward any Japanese animated product I had ever seen. Sure, I was into the Digimon merchandise back as a kid, but never saw any of the shows. And after seeing other stupid Japanese shows like Yu-Gi-Oh and Dinosaur King, I never wanted to. To my naïve brain, this is all Japanese animation was about: 30 minute time slots for poorly written merchandise commercials.

That is until I met this guy while volunteering for various stage drama activities. He seemed rather knowledgeable about film, so we got along very well. Then I found out he liked anime. I was dumbfounded. How can someone so smart enjoy watching such crap? Upon my inquiry he merely responded, “Oh, you just need to see good filmmaking.” I never told him but I spend the next couple days muttering the likes of “What does he know? I’m in film school. I know more about good filmmaking than he’d ever wish to know.”

He had mentioned several anime features, but the name that mysteriously stuck in my head was AKIRA. So when I saw the film on DVD at the school library I decided I’d watch it and tell off this otaku about the difference between good filmmaking and Japanese cartoons. I also picked up Koyaanisqatsi and Russian Ark that day just so I could build up a good arsenal of examples of what good filmmaking actually is. Read more of this post

Full Metal Jacket

In the 1990s, Robert Mapplethorpe became the most infamous photographer in the world after an exhibition of his homoerotic and BDSM work titled “The Perfect Moment” debuted, containing some of the most explicit photography ever to be shown in an art museum. After that, when looking at his 80s flower still lifes, critics found a veritable smorgasbord of Freudian metaphors; some artists can’t help but be provocative. In the world of film, no director ever split opinions as consistently and ferociously as Stanley Kubrick. It’s a testament to his  timelessness that the 2001: A Space Odyssey IMDb message board is still flooded with new viewers who proclaim the film either a singular masterpiece and work of genius, or a boring piece of crap that’s just “art for art’s sake” and a case of Emperor’s New Clothes. Full Metal Jacket is an interesting entry into Kubrick’s oeuvre if only because it’s one of his most consistently praised films (probably only behind Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and Spartacus in how universally well-liked it is), but least talked about. Read more of this post

From the Dust-Bins: The Lost World

U.S.; Science-Fiction/Adventure; 1925; 93 minutes (originally 106 minutes); Directed by: Harry Hoyt; Produced by: Jamie White (executive), Earl Hudson (unc); Based off of the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; First National Pictures

Very few times before in film history has the audience looked upon a special effect and wonder in astonishment “How did they film that?” Especially in today’s technologically driven world, where most of the wonder of special effects have been stolen under the common knowledge of computer graphics. Upon the introduction of computer imagery in films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park, the sense of wonder was only increased. But after hearing of the amazing new technology and the wonders it can perform, most special effects can be swept under the rug with a quick realization of our digital world. Not to mention the over-use of that technology nowadays just makes “special” effects nothing special at all to today’s audiences.

Such was not the case back in 1922, when renowned Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle strolled into Society of American Magicians meeting with a 35mm film reel tucked under his arm. His friend, renowned illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini, was a part of the society of magicians, and Doyle wanted to impress him and his friends at the society with a magic trick even the great Houdini couldn’t explain. Doyle projected the film reel, and the screen filled with dinosaurs going about their natural daily lives. The footage included shots of a Triceratops family, a Stegosaurus, and even the carnivorous Allosaurus attacking said dinosaurs. After the viewing, Doyle refused to answer the questions the magicians bombarded him with about the film’s origin. The very next day, the New York Times‘ front page article stated “[Conan Doyle’s] monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces.” Read more of this post

Spotlight on Japan: Visitor Q

At first I didn’t plan to continue the dysfunctional family theme from last week’s Funuke, but when I saw Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q again I felt obliged to write about it. There is a certain degree of eccentricity in both films, but whereas Funuke stayed on a fairly comfortable level, Visitor Q ticks off every possible taboo and disturbing subject. Brutal violence? Check. Rape? Yes. Incest? Yup. Necrophilia? Of course. The list goes on and on. That sounds like a formula for a sick and unwatchable film, doesn’t it? This is where Miike steps in and does his magic: Visitor Q is a truly hilarious and poignant film. Read more of this post

Help Me, Eros

A lot of directors in a lot of filmmaking countries make movies about modern isolation and loneliness, but none are as adept at rendering that loneliness really through cinematic language like the Taiwanese masters. While Hou Hsiao-hsien’s early films were more autobiographical and even geographically biographical, by 1995 his Good Men, Good Women found him exploring the lack of purpose and direction pervasive amongst Taiwanese youths, a subject that would be even more strongly explored in Goodbye South, Goodbye. Tsai Ming-liang has forged his own idiosyncratic brand of postmodern, cinematic apathy—more formal, more ascetic, but also more wickedly funny. Of the 10 film Tsai has made between 1993 in 2009, actor Kang-sheng Lee has starred in all of them, so it’s only appropriate that his directorial debut would be so indebted to his directorial mentor. Read more of this post

Jurassic Park

U.S.; Science Fiction/Adventure; 128 minutes; Directed by: Steven Spielberg; Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Gerald R. Molen, Steven Spielberg; Amblin Entertainment, Universal Studios

It always surprises me how much people will forgive in a film because they simply call a “popcorn flick”. It’s one thing for a film just to provide a premise for tons of action, loads of special effects, and doesn’t ask the audience to engage in any critical thinking throughout the film. Films like that are actually a lot of fun to watch and can provide good action or suspense from time to time. But it’s another thing to forgive sloppy filmmaking, clumsy story-telling, stale actors, unnatural dialogue, and gaping plot-holes just by labeling it among the “popcorn flick” sub-genre of film. Too long have people looked-over the ugly flaws in Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi/disaster exploits simply because his films didn’t ask them to do any critical thinking at any one point. Why can’t there be a group well-crafted films that are just made for the sake of entertainment without being so utterly stupid at the same time?

Well, films like that do exist. Ladies and Gentleman, I submit for your consideration Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Read more of this post