The 2nd Dimension

Monday, July 30, 2007

Viewing Journal: The Hidden Fortress

Movie Overview
DVD Info

Overall= D+
Story = D+
Video = D+
Audio = D+


The film begins with two luckless peasants, Tahei and Matashichi escaping the aftermath of a battle. In a hidden valley, they meet and try to help General Rokurota Makabe , whose mission is to help and protect a princess. The peasants try to help but mostly impede his mission. They are later joined by a farmer’s daughter, whom they acquire at an inn from a slave-trader, or procurer. Together, the five make an arduous and desperate trek through enemy territory, transporting a treasure of gold that the princess and the general hope to use to rebuild the princess's military to one day retake her land and rebuild her realm. (Source: Wikipedia)

I saw this at Otakon this year. The only reason I wanted to see it was because I'd heard that it was the movie that Star Wars was based on. But as it turns out (after a small bit of online research) all Lucas got out of this movie was the idea of telling the story from the perspective of the "lowest" characters (R2D2 and C3PO in the case of Star Wars).

The Hidden Tower is an Akira Kurosawa movie, which automatically makes it a classic since he is a legendary Japanese filmmaker from the '50s (or there about). And I'm sure that back in the day some of his movie-making techniques and style were cutting-edge, but watching it from my seat at Otakon, I was pretty bored.

At least the first half of the movie was boring because the plot just trudged along so slowly. Much of it just seems like dead air because it lingers too long on a lot of scenes. For instance, there's one where the movie's "lowly" characters, Tahei and Matashichi, are trying to climb up a hillside but keep slipping among the rocks (while, predictably, their leader took a shortcut and ends up waiting for them on the other side). It was amusing at first, but they just kept slipping down and trying to climb back up and slipping down again so that after a while I just wanted to say "Okay I get it already, they're nimrods, can we get to the next scene already?" There's another scene where there is a duel between the general Rokurota and another general named Tadokoro. The fighted was long and not particularly exciting and seemed like there was no choreographical planning involved at all... just two guys running around trying to slash (unsuccessfully) at one other with spears.

The characters were pretty flat as well. The two "lowly" characters from whose perspective the story is told, Tahei and Matashichi, don't seem like much more than comic relief with no real character development. Rokurota is your stereotypical tough-guy-hero. And then you have the princess who seems to do nothing but glare at people the entire movie, which is especially disturbing with those slant eyebrows she sports.

Actually the only character I liked at all was the old general that the princess and Rokurota met in the hidden tower. After some thought I realized the actor also played the role of the lead samurai in Seven Samurai. He plays that wise/amused demeanor just perfectly (maybe I should check out some other movies he's been in...).

So I was ready to pass out about half-way through, but thankfully the second half picked up the action and moved the plot along at a relatively brisk pace, catching my interest a bit more. I still wouldn't say that the second half was good enough to warrant a good review, because my standards are at least slightly higher than "at least it was good enough to keep me awake."

So while it wasn't the most entertaining two-plus hours I spent at Otakon, I'm still kind of glad I watched it if for no other reason than so I can say "I watched the movie that inspired (certain aspects of) Star Wars ... but Star Wars is better."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Viewing Journal: 5 Centimeters Per Second

Movie Overview
DVD Info (Not yet available in US)

Overall= A+
Story = A+
Video = A+
Audio = A+


Tono Takaki and Shinohara Akari are close friends who, upon graduation from elementary school, are parted because of family movement. Their deep feelings for each other keep them in contact, but they worry they may not meet again. Then, one day, Takaki decides to visit Akari.........This is a movie in three parts that follows the thoughts and relationship of 2 young people as they meet and part, both from their point of view and from people around them. (Source: ANN)

At this year's Otakon, I was lucky enough to be able to catch a showing of Makoto Shinkai's latest masterpiece 5 Centimeters Per Second. I was just blown away by the movie's simple, but emotionally and visually rich storyline. Shinkai fans will find the theme very familiar as it seems to be the subject of all of his works -- that being the struggle to maintain a relationship even when people are separated by distance and/or time; but what Shinkai does, he does exceedingly well and this is probably the pinnacle of his storytelling talents.

What makes this stick out from his other movies is that this one, while touching slightly on space exploration in the second part, is a realistic story that could easily take place today. And while his other two works are told within the framework of a sci-fi story, this one focuses almost entirely on the characters. As a result there is no distraction from being engrossed in their emotional anxiety, making this as involving of a show as you'll ever see.

Shinkai has always been a master of visuals, but here he kicks the animation up a few notches -- having leaned a few things from his initial, fan-produced Voices of a Distant Star. This is probably the first romance movie that I would say you absolutely have to see on the big screen in order to appreciate fully. Even the most mundane of urban settings are presented with such vibrant color and detail that you'll need to watch it a few times over to absorb it all.

The last part involved a short story followed by a beautiful song mixed with scenes from the movie as well as some other scenes from the lives of the characters. The combination of the music and visuals was an unexpectedly intense climax to the movie. When it was all over I stood up and had to recover a little because I felt a little emotionally drained afterwards.

Overall this is a movie I would suggest any fan of cinema should watch just to see what the medium can accomplish even with such a simple boy-girl-romance storyline.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reading Journal: Death Note (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= A+
Story = A+
Art = A+


Shinigami own notebooks called “Death Notes” which are used as killing devices. Whoever’s name they write down in a death note will die within 40 seconds. Shinigami Ryuk dropped his Death Note in the human world where it’s found by honor high school student Light. With the death note actually having directions in it for its use, Light discovers he now has the power to discreetly kill people, and with this new power he plans to change the world in his ideal world by killing off criminals. Eventually the governments of the countries around the world notice the unusual amounts of deaths of their criminals, and figure out someone is behind them, but they have no way of discovering it themselves. That’s when they hire L, a master detective, to find out who is behind the murders. (Source: ANN)

I'm having a hell of a time trying to figure out what to write for this review, but that's not because I have ambivalent feelings about this manga. On the contrary, there are so many great qualities of this manga that I can't think of where to start... But I'll give it a try anyway.

First of all there is the original story line... Not only is the story's concept intriguing, but the entire follow-up throughout all 12-volumes constantly keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen next. Even just looking at the title "Death Note" may give the impression that this is going to be some kind of Gothic horror genre. And although there are some of those elements in here, that's not what keeps fans enthralled. What keeps them coming back are the two main characters -- Light and L -- who have to constantly try to outwit one another in order to gain the strategic upper-hand. This manga uses reasoning like other manga use action. It will go through a character's thought process as they try to consider every possible scenario before making a move. That makes for some dense dialogue, but also makes for some electrifying tension because you are always trying to think of what loopholes might have been missed or how L or Light (or Near and Mello later on) will counteract each others' strategy. It pulls you into the story because you not only see what the characters do but why.

The characters themselves make the story worth reading as well. Not only are their quirky and extraordinary personalities enthralling, but they are also complex characters that evolve throughout the series. Watching Light as the Death Note corrupts his initially well-meaning intentions; and watching L as he develops a camaraderie with Light adds even more depth to the story. And although the story involves themes of good vs. evil, there are no absolutes in either category. There are fans of the manga who root for Light and those who root for L, because neither is inherently the good guy or bad guy.

And those characters come all the more to life with the manga's superb artwork. It's clean and dispenses with the standard manga character design stereotypes (e.g., big eyes, outlandish body proportions). Not only does each character have a distinctive look, but each also has a distinctive posture. Nowhere before have I seen a manga artist have such a firm grasp of using body language to enhance personality and dialogue. Takeshi Obata's artwork undeniably makes reading even the most dialogue-heavy moments a joy.

I've heard both good and bad reviews about the stories final chapters, but in my mind it ended perfectly. Though probably individuals' reactions will depend on which character they want to win (since it could go either way...many times over). There is -- as is par for the manga -- a lot of dialogue to trudge through, but the reward at the end is well worth it. The best review of volume 12 I have read thus far describes the end of Death Note as "like observing an elaborate dominoes set-up and then seeing it collapse in twisted but elegant patterns. You marvel at the time and patience it took to set it all up, are amazed to watch the dominoes fall in rhythm and then feel a little disappointed that it's all over."

There is certainly a lot more to be said about this story because there are so many twists and turns -- some of which are extremely controversial among fans (sometimes justifiably so). But taken as a whole, this is an incredibly original and engrossing story for fans of manga and non-fans alike.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Trailer for NEW Evangelion movie

The first of 4 brand-spanking new Evangelion movies. This first one is a re-telling of the first part of the TV series. Awesome new animation quality.

Release in Japan schedule for September 1.

5 Killers trailer

A new US co-production: 5 Killers.