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27 July 2015 @ 01:16 am
Of course I've watched Age of Ultron a while ago (twice, in fact, cos Dad wanted to watch it too haha) but the movie was a bit like a bowl of ice-cream in summer - felt delicious while eating, but afterwards felt like you had a lot of nothing.

Antman is a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy. I think canonically he's actually a fairly big presence, but the basis and name seemed ridiculous, which is probably why he took so long to get to the big screen.

Let's start with the broad strokes - the movie is quite well-done, within the limitations. It's a heist movie as promised. It's much smaller in scale than the other heroes, which I think is a good thing. Like most superhero movies, the story is rather simple and linear, though what makes it stand out is probably the multiple central and side characters.

Antman decided to take the second iteration of the character, Scott Lang - a man recently released from jail for corporate theft. Unable to get a job because of the record and desperate to negotiate visits to his young daughter, he gets drawn into a heist to secure enough money to do so. This causes him to cross paths with Hank Pym, the original Antman, who values Scott's unorthodox resume in his own plans to topple a wayward corporation.

That both Scott and Hank were in this film together was a stroke of genius. Apart from being absolutely unique in the last dozen Marvel films to have two superheroes sharing the same mantle, there is an unforced parallel between Hank and Hope, and Scott and Cassie. Family relationships are a sadly neglected subject in the superhero world. The best of it had been in the Thor movies, which was unfortunately bogged down by all the other terrible stuff that was going on. There were some nice parent-child moments in Guardians, but more about the absence of it. The nice part about Antman was the uneasy relationship between Hank and Hope, which brings out my next point.

Hank is the most grumpy old fart next to Yondu LOL

He actually turned out to be my favourite character. I like how flawed he is, despite being in the mentor role. I like that he's arrogant, obstinate, bad-tempered, unforgiving, hamfisted...he's highly intelligent but you would not necessarily call him wise. I like that he keeps a grudge for decades to the point he'd rather employ a thief than enlist the help of anyone involved with Stark. I like that he's awkward with his daughter, that he wants the best for her but didn't know how to tell her that, that he wants to mend the relationship but just makes things worse each time. I like that he's a proud man who's used to achieving great things but the events in the film forces him, bit by tiny bit, to concede that age is catching up and he's no longer quite the capable man he used to be. I also like how even the climax highlighted how single-minded Hank is - that in a way he would destroy something to protect it. Michael Douglas brings a presence to the movie that Anthony Hopkins did to Thor and Robert de Niro did to Winter Soldier, but he seems to - or perhaps the script allows him to - put more heart into it than the former two.

Scott is a likeable character, though unfortunately debuts after Peter Quill and probably overlaps too much with him. They're both criminals who still have a sense of justice, enacted by two people known more or less for comedy or "boy next door" type roles. The difference though is Scott has more justice than scoundrel compared with Quill, and I don't know if it's intentional, seems a much cooler and reserved sort of guy than a lot of the other superheroes. He's someone who lingers and watches on the side before taking a dive, but he's also someone who dives in with relish and works hard at something when he's accepted the task. He's an engineer sort of guy - not the hot-headed type who tries to wing it by ear, but the type that has the minutiae worked out and has multiple backup plans that he can draw from and improvise with on the spot. That said, I'm not sure he can hold a franchise together, and I feel the movie would not have been quite as good if Hank had not been there.

A lot of people have waxed lyrical about Hope and the step forward for representation of women in superhero movies. I'm not too sure Evangeline Lilly was quite on spot for all of her scenes, but Hope managed to distinguish herself from the Black Widow, despite both being excellent fighters and capable sharp-tongued women. I think, after revisiting Winter Soldier, the difference is that Hope doesn't have Black Widow's past - and so she's less aware of herself (e.g. she would never use her sexuality like Black Widow could as a weapon), less cold-blooded but also less vulnerable.

The three of them are probably far more relatable and "normal" characters than others of their ilk.

The movie's strength was its humour, with excellent timing, especially of juxtapositions, and it was a shame this never came through in the promos. The pacing never made you feel like it dragged, despite its small scale, and it prodded the 4th wall at some good places. The villain was again Marvel's weakness, and to be honest there could have been something better from the Darren Cross's (I don't think I'm spoiling anything - it's revealed pretty quickly that he's the villain) interaction with Hank Pym. The imperfect mentor and the frustrated student trying to prove something to his Master - it had been done reasonably well in Kungfu Panda. There were hints of it, and the two actors certainly tried to make something of it, but there wasn't enough to make you care for Cross, which was a real shame.

In all, a decent standalone movie that introduces you to a surprisingly pleasant group - but I'm not too sure about how they would go about making this a franchise. That said, I'm certainly looking forward to Scott's appearance in Civil War, and I'd love to see cameos from Hank and Hope somewhere down the line too.

Certainly was nice to hear the Winter Soldier jig whirring away in the background during that post-cred scene. Speaking of post-creds, they're probably the two most fulfilling post-creds in a while, and worth staying for.
23 March 2015 @ 08:45 pm
I don't know if I'm getting jaded with age (although I have to say spending a stint in ED usually makes me more jaded by the week LOL) but it's been a while since I've watched a drama that's really moved me.

And that is to say, Ouroboros wasn't one of them.

Yes, it had 3 of my top favourite Japanese actors and actresses. It had an interesting set up. It had some very likeable supporting characters. It had character development. It had plot. But somewhere, somehow, all these things fell apart.

I think I finished watching the whole thing purely based on how much I adore Toma and Shun and Ueno Juri, as well as the "middle-aged trio".

In the end, it continued to be a much warmer story than Maou - the woman whose death underpinned all this was a living character - unlike the main character's unfortunate brother in Maou. The main girl Hibino wasn't an orphan, and that in itself was important.

In the end, I think this is a far more human story than Maou. The theme of family is the undercurrent that drives everything along, creating little eddies of plot everywhere it turns. Hibino and her father, Ryuuzaki and Danno, Ryuuzaki and Danno and Yuiko-sensei, Konatsu and her father, Nachi and his search for his sister, the middle-aged trio and the way they watch over the younger trio, the final boss...

Everywhere there were broken families, but despite that it was oddly tender the way people tried to form a family out of these broken pieces.

It was what made the drama more sentimental and more human than something more cerebral and focused on blind justice like Maou. The story is driven by sentiment, by yearning, by the human need for warmth and cohesion and family, and I think the moments about family are some of the sweetest and best-written in the series.

The rest of the plot frays upon close inspection. It's the problem with translating something from 20 volumes of manga over to a 10 episode drama. You don't quite give it enough time and space to set up the gravity of the underlying conspiracy - there's not enough horror that goes into the overarching plot about the orphanage being a front for an organ transplant farm. In a time where such human rights issues persists in the world, it feels like the drama has bitten off more than it can chew and as a result feels like it's overly nonchalant about what should be a viscerally (no pun intended) disturbing plot.

I do like Toma and I do think he's generally a good actor, but his performance in the last 2 episodes have been a bit jarring, and I wonder if it's a directorial choice. Especially in the pivotal confrontation against the final big boss, the emotional weight doesn't seem to quite be there. The disbelief and horror is, but there's a lack of sense of betrayal or mortification or sadness that you might expect from someone so connected to him. I feel the whole character of Ryuuzaki might have been written a bit unsteadily, given how much variability he has, and his "secondary personality" was never really explained.

I have nothing bad to say about Shun or Juri, both doing incredible jobs with their rather archetypal characters. The arc with Hibino's father was beautifully acted, managing to keep Hibino's subdued personality while neverthelessly being heartbreaking.

I don't know if the manga will end the same way. I feel it's probably a little unnecessarily morbid, although this final choice might be because the relationship between Ryuuzaki and Hibino never really developed. In the end, Ryuuzaki's choice was his "kazoku"...given how Japanese revenge dramas usually go, I'm not surprised, but I guess I wished I was.

10 February 2015 @ 11:11 pm

Open it up in my heart...
Open it up in my...

When alone, the night tends to be especially black
When alone, the heart tends to quietly fragment
The cold hands tremble, the hot tears fall
When alone, one wishes someone could appear

When alone, it's like falling into a ravine
When alone, it's like seeing through all of the world's lies
Time won't go faster, details won't stop replaying
When alone, one fears that someone might appear

Filthily accept my love
It's contemptible to liberally allow yourself be hurt
Dragging the wounds on a flight across the horizons
Leaving just yourself to return

Sigh a long sigh for my love
No one wishes to leave you alone
But if the world is boiled down to only the passing of seasons
Possessing too much will also become unbearable

Filthily accept my love
It's contemptible to liberally allow yourself be hurt
Dragging the wounds on a flight across the horizons
Leaving just yourself to return

Sigh a long sigh for my love
No one wishes to leave you alone
But if the world is boiled down to only a passing greeting
Possessing too much will also become unbearable

When alone, the night especially tends to turn black
When alone, the heart especially tends to crumble
When alone, even though all the emotions can't...can't...can't be escaped
When alone, you still must force yourself, to let things be


獨處的時候 夜容易特別黑
獨處的時候 心容易悄悄破碎
冷冷的手發抖 熱熱的淚墜落
獨處的時候 好想有誰能出現

獨處的時候 像跌進了深淵
獨處的時候 像拆穿全世界的謊言
時間不肯快走 細節不停穿梭
獨處的時候 好怕有誰會出現





獨處的時候 夜特別容易黑
獨處的時候 心特別容易崩潰
獨處的時候 儘管所有情緒都逃……逃……逃不開
獨處的時候 還是要勉強自己 想得開

Just a little intro - Sodagreen is a Taiwanese band whose main singer is a prolific songwriter and has a very remarkable falsetto. It took me a little while to get used to his voice, but there's no argument his songs are amazing.

My favourite album is their latest (from 2 years ago?) "Autumn: Stories". I think I read somewhere that they're going by the Vivaldi route so expect a Winter album to come soon.

Maybe because I'm an Autumn child (though technically I was born in spring...but now I have my birthday in autumn), or maybe because their music and lyrics have matured over the years. The songs in this album are appropriately filled with a sense of longing, melancholy, sadness and regret...like watching the sun dipping unstoppably below the horizon, like taking a walk through fallen leaves as the sound of wildlife retreats, like an old man (or woman) confronted by the reality of his age.

"When Alone" is not my absolute favourite song, but I think there's something universal about these lyrics.

We're living in a world that is more and more interconnected, but only electronically. We see more and more strangers, and more and more of our relationships are built through a screen. Even though we're constantly with people online, many of us are also frequently alone.

And I think, when most of us are alone, we all have these doubts, these fears, these thoughts that seems to take the world apart and strip it of warmth and truth and all good things, and I think it will speak to everyone who's thought of all these things and then forced themselves to carry on.
23 January 2015 @ 10:10 pm
He said...no matter what happens, we must live.

Even so, must we continue to protect this Edo? This is not what I want...we couldn't protect the Shogun, if we can't even protect our Commander, we're not samurais, just useless trash.

Do whatever you want.

If this is the Shinsengumi you guys want, I'm not going to stop you.

I can't tell who's right any more.

Only that my wish of not wanting Kondou-san to die is the same as yours.

But my wish of not wanting you guys to die is the same as Kondou-san's.

I don't have any right to tie you guys down any more, whether as the Demon Vice-Commander or by the laws of the group, none of these exist any more.

Yet, if even then there is something that ties down your soul, then that must be...the one most important thing to the Shinsengumi.

In that case, believe in it and fight. No matter what sort of road it turns out to be.

You guys are the Shinsengumi.

To see the demon show a face like that...I couldn't do anything.

Is it raining?

Aye...the feeling of having no home to go is not a good one.

---- Gintama chapter 526
Current Mood: sadsad
18 January 2015 @ 10:27 pm
Starring the golden trio of Ikuta Toma, Oguri Shun and Ueno Juri, there's almost nothing that could go wrong...then again, these guys have also been guilty of some pretty mediocre stuff each.

Japanese revenge dramas could go either way. They never tend to rate that well - even my personal favourite Maou only rated about 12-13% all-up, which is explained both by their time slot and also probably by the general audience's preference for feel-good type dramas - but they can range from clever and heart-wrenching like Maou to inanely cheerful like Ryusei no Kizuna to rather bland like Alice no Toge.

Ouroboros starts off well-paced and well-developed, which is always a massive relief when the drama has enough budget to cover its ambitions. It's constructed like a police drama of the day, the first episode focusing on the death of salaryman Nishida which appeared at first like a suicide until it unravelled to reveal the underworld plots and police corruption behind it.

The case of the week is a little messy as it serves mainly to introduce our characters. Ultimately, what shines is the revenge story that drive our two main characters and underpin the overarching plot - their quest to find the people who destroyed their orphanage and their childhood 20 years ago, who had murdered the one person who created a family for them. In this time, one of them has become a well-regarded member of the police force with the local highest arrest rate under his belt. The other has become the leader of the local yakuza.

At the moment, Toma's Ryuuzaki Ikuo seems more like the main character we are all supposed to relate to, while Shun's Danno Tatsuya is the mysterious genius who runs the plot. They're a much more likeable pair than the two in Maou, aided perhaps by the bias of justice and kindness on their side. Their individual gestures of offering the little girl whose parents were killed gifts of solace were both sweet and flags the humanity that remains despite the deep anger they still carry with them 20 years on. What's more interesting is that it's the outwardly heartless Danno who gives the girl a teddy bear, while it's the outwardly harmless Ryuuzaki who smiles and whispers to her, "The bad person is gone...your enemy no longer exists."

Out of all the pretty faces in their ilk, Toma and Shun are amongst the more convincing actors, and now 8 years on having been the main characters for many a drama and movie, they carry their respective characters with a remarkable ease that makes the heightened drama more watchable. Shun always had a nice voice (he did a short stint as a voice actor after all), and it's always a pleasure watching him languidly snark in his velvety cool voice. I'm also less bothered by his lanky hair here than I am in Hanazakari which is a superficial trivia no one needs to know about. Toma makes what is usually a rather bland character likeable (I wish I could have said the same about Mukai in Saigo no Keikan), and Ryuuzaki has enough layers for him to bring out his acting chops.

The most amazing scene in the first episode was when he confronted the corrupted cop, and watching the innocent earnestness drain from his face, his eyes turning hard and unfeeling - it was a scene that could have been interpreted so many ways - anger, judgement, scorn, hatred, righteousness - but I think Toma's interpretation was perfect, just the complete lack of warmth and sympathy as he readied himself to execute a criminal.

There's not much to say at this point about Ueno's character except that she's consistently watchable. I expect that her father will feature quite strongly in this plot, as everything in J-drama tend to link up with each other in some way or another. I have high hopes that we will see some amazing acting from all three of them feeding off each other in a climax somewhere down the line, given how it's started off. And really, these guys are far more suited to doing something gritty like this than the pure love dramas.

As always, I have reservations about how the ending will proceed in a series based off a manga that is yet to end. Bloody Monday and Saigo no Keikan could find somewhere to pause, but when you throw out a bone like this in the first episode, you do expect the last episode to solve the mystery - and traditionally J-dramas have not been very convincing when they deviate from the original plot. Also from experience, suspense-type J-dramas tend to collapse in a heap around themselves in the last 2 episodes when they suddenly realise how much crap they have to build up and explain.

Still, Maou was not without its flaws but it is still one of my favourite J-dramas - and with Shun far more comfortable as the fire smoke-breathing yakuza than Ohno as the wronged lawyer, and Ueno infinitely more useful than whoever that girl was...I think I can accept a flawed drama, though I'm always hopeful for better.
04 January 2015 @ 08:49 pm
When one is confronted with a movie that intends to test the bladder, one should not drink a big cup of coffee beforehand...

I realised I never wrote anything about the second Hobbit movie, which was only memorable in that I managed to get from Albury and catch the 8:30am session at George St cinemas (an approximately 600km trip XDDD)

I remember remarking afterwards, to my consultant, that it was a very long movie...in which not much happened.

Before the movie, my friend and I joked that we didn't bother reading any reviews because we were going to watch it anyway, regardless. Since it is (hopefully) the end of all things to do with Middle Earth.

It was probably a bad attitude to take into a movie, seeing something that's meant to be entertaining as a job needed to be done and over with.

I've never read the original story. The themes in the story are certainly not childish and feeds well into the next chapter (the Lord of the Rings), but it's probably not a story that was intended to be epic. Injecting gravitas into a light tale took away most of its magic, and added a lot of things that don't feel necessary.

Firstly, there's no real good reason why the arc with Smaug couldn't have completed the second movie. Even these days in the era of the neverending franchises, it's pretty hard to end convincingly on a cliffhanger, and especially not if the arc completes within 15 minutes of the next movie opening.

Secondly, Thorin's fall and climb up the figurative moral mountain hasn't been a particularly convincing one. He's too noble in the noble scenes, and too obsessed in the obsessive scenes. I don't think it's Richard Armitage's fault, because I think he's dealt with the script in what ways he can, and he manages enough threat and presence to be both a respectable king and a frightening miser. The two transformations were never going to be easy to write, and I doubt it was convincing even in the original book - saved, probably, by its more light-hearted tone and brevity, sort of like Narnia.

The movies tried to justify their length by adding side plots in a bid to make us care about the characters, some with better success than others. The ill-fated story between Tauriel and Kili and Legolas didn't seem to serve much purpose besides making it more emotionally heavy in the end, although I must say I did appreciate Thranduil saying to her, "It hurts because it was real," which is probably the most emotion he could show and the clearest admission to how much he still loved Legolas' mother after all these years. I certainly liked it better than his awkward, "Legolas, your mother loved you," because until then I hadn't realised our elf prince had gigantic mummy issues.

This brings me to the fourth point - the dialogue is distractingly uneven, some so antiquated that it's bordering on pompous, and others jarringly colloquilised, and in a lot of the more emotional scenes painfully trite. While this has certainly featured in previous movies (especially during comical scenes), when the overall tone of the movie is so dark colloquial interjections just...disrupt the mood it's trying to build.

Finally, on the subject of mood - I don't know if this overwhelmingly dark mood is what The Hobbit is meant to be about, yet in a way I don't know if there was enough darkness. It doesn't have the luxury of LOTR's strong moral message or its obvious division of good and evil. The evil in The Hobbit is a lot subtler and a lot more hidden, and perhaps required a much subtler touch. The beauty about the Ring was that it spoke to the evil in all of us, including the noblest and the wisest of us - the great elves, dwarves, men and even wizards were not immune to its corrupting power. It took folks who had simple pleasures and simple desires to resist its lure.

This message appeared in The Hobbit but in a different form. It was greed that caused the fall of Erebor, and it was greed that brought war once more to its gates. The cause for war was far less lofty, Bilbo far less noble than Frodo, Thorin far less heroic than Aragon...

It's a far less feel-good movie than LOTR. It's far easier to watch a world go bravely to war against an external force like Sauron than a war fought because of that ugly something within us all - that greed for power, or domination, or gold. Yet, there wasn't a strong link that ties this to why the world was falling to ruins a few decades down the track.

In the end, it feels like it had too much and too little of everything - the moral storyline, the emotional wranging, the fighting, the politics, the broken promises, and amongst it all there was no justification why this had to be spread over 8 hours.
26 November 2014 @ 03:14 pm
The thing about Gintama is that it's like the kid who cried wolf. After messing around with its readers/viewers for the last 8 years no one believes anything it says anymore, even when the seiyuu are all talking about the movie like it's the last thing they'll ever do for the franchise.

There was a Gintama anime special episode screened just recently, but I'm still holding out in the hopes that they'll continue the anime. Some of the recent manga arcs are pretty interesting and the latest one seems almost like a good note to end on because I'm not sure how exactly you can top a show-down between the Kiheitai against Yorozuya and Shogun allies and Shinsengumi. Obviously I really want to see the fight between Okita and Kamui animated, because as expected...they're the same sort of bloodthirsty monsters with a deceptively shota face.

The Gintama movie is a glossy affair with a plot that does not appear in the manga (though I understand with a lot of input from Sorachi). To be honest, the Gintama anime creators are not above creating independent material that fit with Gintama's tone as there's been quite a few episodes in the anime that doesn't appear in the manga. The story involves time travel, an oddly popular trope in Asian dramas/books at the moment, and there's about three or four parallel timelines.

As is typical in the Gintama vein, every time there's a change in timing the characterisations get completely bust up...though I'd say this time for the better? XD

Yes...the one in there cosplaying Himura Battousai wearing the red and white get-up is Okita. Then there's Hijikata "in (historic) Hijikata-style outfit", Katsura in Takasugi-style cosplay...

Of course, the two biggest wows come from the transformations of Shinpachi and Kagura, who both grew up into bishounen and bishoujo (respectively, thank god - this is from Gintama so any possibility is possible). Can I say that they're super MOE? I know that's the point, but man!! I miss hearing the two of their voice actors doing proper talking! I completely forgot how nice Sakaguchi Daisuke's voice can be!! Especially since he spends most of his time tsukkomi-ing in screeching tones...unlike Gintoki who actually gets the chance to say a few cool lines every now and then.

Random aside: come to think of it, despite his frequent appearance, I can't remember Okita ever being the tsukkomi...

It's a nice movie with impressive animation, some good laughs and some sweet bits, but in the scheme of Gintama hardly one of its funniest nor most moving storylines. In terms of plot, it doesn't quite measure up to the Shinsengumi/Itou arc, or the Yoshiwara Ablaze arc, or even the Elizabeth arc.

I guess it doesn't quite put Gintama to shame if it ended with this movie, but it'll still be disappointing if the later arcs miss out on being animated. I really want to see Saitou vs Katsura, damn it!!
23 November 2014 @ 10:38 pm



因爲齊籐桑被土方魂附體了所以在這兩部才開始抽煙嗎?齊籐桑在第一部裏可沒有叼煙的習慣哎~ 雖然土方也是個煙鬼,但抽煙真的對身體不好啊煙癮上來人容易暴躁啊禁煙令下一菸難求不得不游走星際啊好孩子不要學啊(嗯?好像劇情歪了?)

因爲太注意齊籐桑所以突然發現!!某stylish的齊籐桑竟然在打仗正熱鬧的時候跑去換了衣服!!和服不好嘛!俺要看和服牙突啦~~ 話説比起不顯眼的銀灰色制服,還是第一部的黑底黃邊的制服貼身好看!!(屏外聲:只是因爲那套制服長得像真選組的制服吧)

相比之下,號稱靈感來自于土方的蒼紫桑,明顯弱氣了哦。追了拔刀齋十年之多竟然十分鐘就被擱倒了,驅使自己不計代價、對同僚狠心下殺手也要追殺此人的執念也被劍心的兩句話就瓦解了。您…………太不堪一擊了 *掩面*



Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends form two parts of the Shishio arc. The scope is considerably larger, and it relies people having either read the original manga or seen the first movie, as it wastes no time on re-introducing the original cast.

Before I start, I'm going to make an aside to say that the two fansub versions and the Madman official English translations for the Kenshin franchise have been fairly unreliable, ranging from outright incorrect ("Put up your sword" translated to "I'm not going to draw my sword", and "Unforgivable" translated to "I'll kill him"), to interpretation differences (e.g. use of "kill" instead of "assassinate" - there are some contexts where the difference is important), to omitting things that is deemed too difficult to understand when taken out of the Japanese historical context (e.g. all honorifics and the Shinsengumi).

My Japanese isn't good enough to understand some of the longer prose, which was why I kept being confused as to why Shishio was Kenshin's successor when - supposedly, according to the translations, Shishio succeeded Kenshin after Kenshin hung up his sword at the battle at Toba Fushimi, but Shishio was also "killed" straight after the battle.

It turns out there's a piece of Kenshin history left out here, which probably ties in with the omitted Tomoe story and a lot of the omitted Shinsengumi backstory. During his years, Kenshin's frequent clashes with the Shinsengumi (of which Saitou is a part) blew his cover, so to speak, and he was no longer able to function as a underworld assassin. That was when Shishio took over his job as the assassin.

Once again, the casting has been amazing. Tsuchiya Tao was adorable as the tomboyish Misao, Iseya Yuusuke suitably brooding as Aoshi, Kamiki Ryuunosuke deceptively innocuous as Soujirou, Fujiwara Tatsuya convincingly psychopathic as Shishio, and Fukuyama Masaharu has amazing presence as one would expect from an actor of his stature and calibre.

The action scenes continue to be a highlight, although having previously seen behind the scenes clips, I both admire and feel for poor Takeru having to do a lot of the stunts himself and without wires.

The choreography for the fight sequences has been surprisingly faithful to the original work. The otaku in me squees a little every time the characters do a recognisable stance. Impressively, they've also incorporated details like Aoshi using his swords defensively like a shield, and distinctive differences in the way that Kenshin, Saitou, Aoshi and Soujirou fights.

Kenshin getting ready for Souryuusen (雙龍閃)

Now for the complaints (although some of them are sort of repetitions of what I said in Chinese).

Firstly, Saitou. Don't get me wrong, I love Eguchi Yousuke in the role, but he's not any incarnation of Saitou Hajime that I can think of. Apart from the highly recognisable left-handed Gatotsu and the simmering cynicism, he's not quite as single-mindedly fierce as the original, but not quite as reserved and cool-headed as other versions.

Saitou's Gatotsu (牙突)

If anything, the situation has gotten more obvious by the 2nd and 3rd movies, where Saitou moves and acts like he's been taken over by Gintama's Hijikata. The fact he decided to take up smoking between the first and the next two movies aside, there's his reluctant respect for the main characters, the dedication to his own men, and the resigned way he approaches his own loyalty with his government.

Which brings me onto the next point. Given that the director did Ryoumaden, I was a little disappointed in the story circling around some of the thoughtful issues only to fizzle away at the end without saying much. 兔死狗烹 - when the hare dies, the hounds are slaughtered. That's a story we know too well and see repeated in every political jurisdiction. When the new government wants to bury the past, they bury everything along with it, including those people who had given up their humanity in order to "usher in the New Age" (it bugs me that they translate Meiji as New Age, but let's not start on that). Hounds like Kenshin and Shishio and Saitou represented what little choice these men had - Kenshin chose to fade out of history, Shishio was brutally murdered, and Saitou had to change his identity and become the new government's pet.

When Kenshin et co risked their lives to board Shishio's ship to confront him, the onshore forces continued to bomb Shishio's ship at the Prime Minister's orders. They wanted to bury Shishio for sure, but who's to say that they didn't also want to bury Kenshin, whose loyalty they could not be sure they had and whose past was so intimately tied with the ugly truths of how that government came into power. When Kenshin returned, the Prime Minister in a move of leniency shifted all of Kenshin's crimes under Shishio's name, but how is that any less hypocritical than everything they had done before? It's an ugly picture and in a way I'm glad they've painted it as thus, but also a little disappointed they didn't do any more with that material.

What really caught my eye in the first movie was how much people struggled to live in "the New Age". It was a step that the country had to take, but the war has done horrors to people, creating lost souls like Saitou and Kenshin and Soujirou. As the country moves on and in a rather typical Oriental way, tries to wipe the slate clean, it commits even more atrocities, and Shishio is only the extreme example. Those who had been pawns in the war had been bred to fight, and as peace came and the sword-ban came down, the bushi (samurais) and the onmitsu (ninja spies) are left without a job and a way of living.

Moving onto Aoshi and Soujirou, two of my favourite characters from the manga, Iseya and Kamiki both did admirable jobs with them. Unfortunately, these two are fan-favourites for a reason - and that is because they had such rich histories and such a tragic background, and just putting them in the movie because they're fan-favourites didn't really quite do justice to their respective stories.

Given that Shishio was Soujirou's mentor, he really had to appear. As I said in the Chinese above, the disappointment about movie Soujirou was that none of his tragedy was mentioned, and so when his smile finally cracked and when his emotions finally surfaced as Kenshin drove him towards defeat, you don't get the impact that you did in the original. The kid was based on Okita, and he was a prodigious athlete just as Kenshin was. He was as fast (if not faster) as Kenshin, and his main weapon was actually his smile, which meant that his opponent was completely unable to read him. Kenshin won - not necessarily because of better sword skills, but because he broke down Soujirou's conviction and cracked that mask - making Soujirou's moves readable and predictable. Kenshin was probably kinder on Soujirou than he was on some of his other enemies because I think he saw himself in Soujirou - the young ideal kid who hadn't had the chance to think for himself, ushered into being a killer because of misplaced morals and loyalty. In the end, Kenshin was able to guide Soujirou onto a path that mirrored his own as Soujirou resolved to embark on a 10 year journey to find his answer. In the movie, for Soujirou to lose first and then drop his mask and then to break down...didn't make sense. The break-down scene is a pivotal part of his character arc, but unfortunately didn't fit into this story.

Soujirou's deceptive smile

Aoshi's story had some major changes, and not exactly for the better. Remember how I said I was glad in the last movie that they took Aoshi out of the story? Well...I regret it. Aoshi was actually an important presence in the Tokyo/Opium arc, and it was there that he lost his comrades. Moving the sequence to having his comrades being killed by the Meiji government (or whatever it was...I confess my brain froze when all this happened) was consistent with the theme of the movies, but really threw the chronology and Aoshi's motivations into a mess. In the manga Aoshi also worked briefly for Shishio, during which he attacked his old teammates, which might have made him less likeable but would have at least made a lot more sense and certainly would have involved him a lot more in the whole Shishio story. His drive to fight against Kenshin didn't make sense in the movie, and I'm not too sure at this stage if I've missed something or the translation missed something or the plot is missing something.

Back to the original cast - Aoi Yuu finally shows off her range as she completely dominates a scene when she lets rip at the hypocrisy of the police. I like Takeru, I really do, but he still struggles in some scenes where he really should be emoting a little bit more than just looking confident. The only scene where I can happily say he emoted well was when they read out the names of all those people he assassinated, and he actually looked like he was struggling with his guilt and the belief that he needs to stay alive. I've never liked Takei Emi or her character Kaoru, and I'm happy to say that the 2nd movie reinforced my views on both of them... Sano is getting really annoying with his antics. He was funny the first few times, but maybe my patience was running low at the end of a 5 hour marathon. He's the muscle man, sure, but can we please give him a bit more IQ than a giant dog?

They've really saved on the music. Most of the BGM is recognisable from the first OST, sometimes used in quite jarring effect. I was surprised to discover that the OST was written by the composer who wrote for X/1999 anime, which had some amazing tunes. RK's music is atmospheric, certainly, but it doesn't want me to put them on replay.

To finish off this extremely long post, here's the beautiful ending song to the 3rd movie, "Heartache". I actually had "Mighty Long Fall" (2nd movie song) on my iPod for months before realising last week that it was the Rurouni Kenshin ending song...I was also nonplussed to discover that "ONE OK ROCK" is actually pronounced "one o'clock". OH JAPAN.

15 November 2014 @ 01:23 pm
After spending the last 1.5 hours googling, I've ended up using this picture that I dug up from a post back in 2009...


佐藤健 --> Satou Takeru --> 佐藤 = 砂糖 (same pronunciation in Japanese)

I first knew Takeru from Bloody Monday (a decent thriller about terrorism and electronic espionage by the way, in the way that only the Japanese can do it) as Miura Haruma's plain but loyal friend. He had some forgettable roles in shoujo adaptations including Mei-chan no Shitsuji (a terrible drama even though it had three of the hottest male Japanese actors of the time) and the pathetic Q ten or whatever its name was. The next most memorable role was as the young pianist prodigy in Mr Brain, who was framed for murder because he was conveniently afflicted by anterograde amnesia. Not much acting was involved. He just had to sit in front of the piano in a blood-drenched white shirt and stare blankly ahead as orchestral music plucked at your heart strings.

Before I get started, let me say that I do like Takeru. As much as I enjoy Japanese dramas, I'd be the first to admit that good actors are hard to come by in J-dora, and Takeru isn't one of them. The verdict, without trying to be kind, would be that he's decent and unoffensive, in that he's never completely ruined a character for me.

Now, let's backtrack a bit to the part where I said good actors are hard to come by. The actors and actresses that lead the Rurouni Kenshin movies are all well-known people, sitting somewhere between A and B-list. Takeru himself aside, Takei Emi (Kaoru) and Aoi Yuu (Takani Megumi) are both amongst the most popular actresses of their generation. Eguchi Yusuke (Saitou Hajime), Fujiwara Tatsuya (Shishio), Kamiki Ryuunosuke (Seta Soujirou), Ayano Gou and Fukuyama Masaharu are all various degrees of famous to really famous. But apart from the heavy weights like Fukuyama and Eguchi, not many of them are...well, excellent actors. Except maybe Kamiki. I have a soft spot for Kamiki's acting but I keep getting distracted by his girly face...

After that long-winded introduction, what I mean to say is that this is a very well-scripted and well-directed movie, with good casting choices for actors who are tonally correct for the characters, and some decently choreographed action and raw stunts.

The Japanese entertainment industry is no stranger to adapting manga, just as Hollywood is now no stranger to adapting superhero comics or teenage novels. The experience is what gives Japan surprisingly watchable adaptations like Gantz and MW (examples chosen not because they're good, but because the source material is difficult/controversial to begin with).

Rurouni Kenshin the manga is given to contrivances and cliches, but boiled down to its essence it's a beautiful tragedy. A child recruited into fighting the unseen side of a civil war - for five years in his teens, Kenshin assassinated his own countrymen in the hopes that it would create peace. As much as I don't like Tomoe, she's an indelible part of Kenshin's existence and conviction. Just as the scars signify, he had destroyed his chance at happiness when he took up that sword as Hitokiri Battousai. He lived in a war, and the only person to walk into his heart had done so out of vengeance - and though she came to reciprocate his love, she died at his hands and as a direct consequence of what "Battousai" means.

To leave that out of the movie did injustice to Tomoe and Kenshin. Satou Takeru is a great deal younger than Kenshin (Kenshin was 28-29 when he first appeared, Satou was 23), and his Kenshin also feels younger, less convinced, and less wise - though I don't think Satou is to blame for it. Satou carries the scenes remarkably well - suitably withdrawn in the ruminative scenes, convincingly fierce in the explosive scenes. The only thing missing is Kenshin's characteristic pretence at being clumsy and dumb. It's probably the part I liked most about manga Kenshin, that he had matured into a man after 10 years of wandering, and he had made enough peace with himself that he can smile and laugh and play like an idiot.

The other part that doesn't gel is his interaction with Kaoru. To start with and for better or worse, Takei's Kaoru is completely unrecognisable from who she is in the manga. It feels like movie Kenshin needed Kaoru's reassurance that his path is correct, which shouldn't be the case. Movie Kaoru doesn't have the original's incredible strength and courage. What she gave Kenshin was innocence - which is an entirely different thing altogether.

To move on to what the movie did do well, though, there was plenty. It took the best from several manga arcs (or rather, several mini-arcs in the Tokyo arc) and condensed it to a lean, entertaining story. It trimmed down excess characters and storylines, and the fighting was less linear and more believable. None of that typical shounen one-on-one fight with long commentary and each chapter ending with a new scary technique that is swiftly defused in the next chapter...finally resulting in a one-hit K.O. after 5 chapters of wasting time. Which, in real world terms, means that you've gone through one fight of a 10-fight boss arc after FIVE WEEKS of waiting for Shounen Jump to publish. Kenshin's winning techniques in the movie are bland but I would rather bland than silly CG effects with glowing lights, which apparently is what Asian martial arts is all about these days *eye roll*.

I liked that it removed some of the character involved. As much as I liked Aoshi, I felt his part was fulfilled equally well by Saitou Hajime. I was especially glad that they forced Yahiko to stay with Kaoru, because I've always been annoyed by having that kid go around with Kenshin on dangerous rescue missions where he just gets in the way. I liked that it was a reflective film, that fighting and suspense wasn't the dominating part of it although there was enough to bring up the pace.

The best way to enjoy this movie is as a standalone - not that you can't appreciate it as a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, but rather that it's a well-written adaptation, not a faithful translation across media. It's tonally very different, but equally poignant in what it says about those who are left to live in the aftermath of war - in particular a war where culture and traditions and values have been torn down. There's good reason why the Meiji era features so prominently in Japanese pop culture, because what happened then defined Japan now, but there's a great sense of sadness for the young men (and occasionally women) who killed each other because they were on opposite sides of a cultural war - who all wanted the same thing, and that was for Japan to be the greatest nation it could be.

And personally, I like Satou's contemplative Kenshin a lot better than the socially bipolar Kenshin of the manga.
29 August 2014 @ 11:32 pm
The title is an example of abbreviations gone wild, but also of my increasingly short memory span. I completely forgot I watched How to Train Your Dragon 2, so I thought I'd bring it up while discussing Guardians of the Galaxy.

HTTYD 2 was nice, in the same way that Iron Man 3 was nice. A sense of a job well-done but not really as amazing as you'd prefer your fond memory of it to be, and altogether 30 minutes too long.

It's been a while ago now, but the main thing that bothered me at the time was Hiccup's development - or lack thereof. He's hit a wall in his development and hasn't really learned to be anything better than he was. In the first movie it was about him and Toothless overcoming their flaws (a softie in the midst of Vikings, a dragon without a tail fin) and making the best of their assets. The second movie was...well, I have no idea. Hiccup is still the same awkward kind soul, but the struggle isn't there. He's like Thor in Thor 2, or Po in Kung Fu Panda 2, or Kira in Gundam Seed Destiny. He's had his character arc and the writers have no idea what to do with him again.

Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, is the dark horse of the northern summer season. To pull the words from another site, Marvel has successfully bookended the summer with two critically acclaimed and commercially proven movies, the first being Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Everything about GotG, from the concept to the concept art to the eventual trailers, was an unknown and a possible disaster in the making. Fans were excited and anxious in equal measures. Sure, the comic crowd who knew Rocket Racoon and Groot loved them before they started speaking, but how will the mainstream audience perceive them? And how are they going to be portrayed?

One of the film's greatest successes happen to be these two characters, and possibly the greater success arising out of that is you don't actually consciously think of them as two animated avatars. You don't watch Rocket and think, "Gee, that's a cute fluffy puppet". They're ridiculous concepts, but so rich in their characterisation that you forget their comical sources.

I've seen one negative review of GotG so far and it was in Chinese. I guess a lot of its humour translates quite poorly across languages (and cultures). For the English-speaking audience, though, the humour is well-timed and perfect-pitched, weaving through a story that was surprising in its tenderness, owing in no small part to its five main characters. I was going to say Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana did a really good job, but I think every one of the five has been amazing. A motley crew of marginalised antiheroes, each with a chip on their shoulder, thrown together. They protect the galaxy not because they're heroes, or that they have to, but because they want to. There's something raw and intuitive about their motivation, compared to the Avengers' more lofty moral grounds.

I know I'm asking a lot, but the price of freedom is high, always has been. But it's a price I'm willing to pay! If I'm the only one, then so be it. But I'm willing to bet I'm not. -- Steve Rogers

When I look around, you know what I see? Losers. I mean people who lost stuff. And man, we all have, a lot. But now life's given us a chance. To give a shit. And I am not gonna stand by and watch as billions of lives are being wiped out. -- Peter Quill

All rallying speeches are the same to some extent, but they're also excellent reflections on the characters who speak them. Rogers is always going to be the straight-up perfect American soldier, who would live and die for freedom. Quill has the heart of gold wrapped in a weasly exterior and steeped in Tony Stark's sarcasm-sauce.

The appeal of GotG is not the conceit of them being antiheroes, but that they are all fundamentally good people ruined by misfortune, now finally given the chance to be the person they want to be. This certainly gives them a layer of complexity that is not afforded by the likes of Thor or Steve Rogers.