Saturday, 31 March 2012

The English Patient

The English Patient; drama, USA/ UK, 1996; Anthony Minghella, S: Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Jürgen Prochnow

In an Italian monastery at the end of World War II, nurse Hana is taking care of an unknown man, nicknamed "The English Patient", who was severely burned after his plane crashed. The monastery is also inhabited by Caravaggio and Kip, a Sikh bomb defuser for the British Army. The patient slowly remembers his history: he is Laszlo Almásy and he mapped the Sahara for the Royal Geographical Society. He had an affair with Katherine Clifton, wife of Geoffrey. As a revenge, Geoffrey crashes his plane together with Katherine in it in the desert. Laszlo leaves her wounded in a cave and rushes across the desert to get help. However, the British don't believe him and arrest him, thinking he is a German. Laszlo escapes but returns too late: Katherine died in the cave.

There is a, today already a legendary "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine goes to see "The English Patient" in the cinema and hates it, but finds herself an outcast in that category since all of her friends love the film. It illustrated an interesting trend since the movie caused a bipolar reaction in some critics, including even Arsen Oremović who famously called it only "watchable". Truly, from today's perspective it is peculiar to find out that in 1996, the year where "Breaking the Waves", "Jerry Maguire", "Secrets and Lies" and (overrated, but also better) "Fargo" were released, the Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for best film went to the "Patient", a fine, smooth, sometimes poetic, but schematic, overlong achievement with bland dialogues. It's a good film after all, but it cannot be considered great since it simply does not meet the criteria for such a category.

The 3 hour story has some great details (Laszlo and Katherine take a spade and dig up a car covered by sand in the desert; Santa Claus cheering up British soldiers in Egypt; Geoffrey folding a paper four times, extracting a shape of a heart in the middle and then unfolding it to get four hearts while waiting for his wife who is having an affair) yet it is still grey, the romance isn't powerful - Jeffrey Overstreet sharply observed how "can we cheer for heroes who sell out their friends and nation for an extramarital affair?", indicating how the story cannot be considered entirely a "pure romance" - and many shots seem forced and boring, almost reaching the level of an artistic placebo at times. Ironically, despite excellent actors, Laszlo and Katherine never seem truly alive (except in the end), which is why Hana's (brilliant Juliette Binoche, who won an Oscar) romance with Kip, a bomb defuser, even overshadows the main plot. The only time when the main protagonists truly "sink in" is at the powerful tragic ending, where Katherine has to stay wounded in the cave, while Laszlo is rushing across the desert to find help before she dies. This is the moment that gives their affair weight (except that it is entirely unrealistic that every British soldier would simply ignore Laszlo's cry for help - seriously, you cannot offer such bad writing, even in such contrived plot points the writers should have tried to camouflage that 'plot device' more adequately).

Grade:++

Friday, 30 March 2012

Whore

Yo, puta; drama/ documentary, Spain/ USA, 2004; D: María Lidón, S: Joaquim de Almeida, María Jiménez, Denise Richards, Daryl Hannah

A reporter is collecting a series of interviews with prostitutes, mostly from Spain, in order to publish them in her book. At the same time, a young L.A. student, Rebecca, has troubles paying her rent, so her neighbor Adriana persuades her to try to earn some money as a prostitute.

Maria Lidon's patchwork, a blend of fiction and documentary, can be slightly better understood with this in mind: it is a visualization of Isabel Pisano's book "Yo, puta", a collection of interviews with prostitutes, alas the actresses playing prostitutes who look directly into the camera and talk about their profession are fake, but they are just re-enacting thoughts and observations of real people who participated in those interviews. As such, there are some interesting moments in such a collage - especially since the authors tried to include a wide variety of opinions - from a prostitute who says that every woman from her profession falls secretly in love with at least one client up to another who insists that she could never fall in love with a client because she finds them all repulsing. Unfortunately, instead of simply allowing every prostitute to tell her story from start to finish, "Whore" jumps from one woman to another, allowing for only 30 seconds of their monologues before cutting to next episode, whereas the hermetic narrative was even worsened by including some unnecessary mumbo-jumbo special effects. Likewise, the storyline wondered away into porn industry towards the end, which has little to nothing to do with the set-up theme, while the interviews were interrupted by a small, 10 minutes long episode involving Denise Richards and Daryl Hannah, which is so lax that its purpose was only to add a few minutes of marketable stars to attract the audience.

Grade:+

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Space Battleship Yamato

Uchu Senkan Yamato; animated science-fiction series, Japan, 1974; D: Leiji Matsumoto, Noboru Ishiguro, S: Kei Tomiyama, Goro Naya, Youko Asagami

In 2190, the Gamilians, an alien race, establish a military base on Pluto and start bombarding Earth with radioactive meteors from it. Their goal is to depopulate Earth in order to migrate there, since their planet, Gamilus, is slowly getting destroyed by geologic activity. In 2199, people, who live underground, convert the sunk Japanese battleship Yamato into a spaceship and send a crew, led by captain Okita, to the 148.000 light years away planet Iscandar, where Starsha promised to give them a radioactive purifier. Yamato destroys Gamilus' capital, meet Starsha - whose planet is also dying, but she accepts that - and return to Earth, thus saving it by cleansing it from the radioactivity.

One of the legendary animes of the 20th century that established a triple landmark - Leiji Matsumoto as a famous author; science-fiction as a popular and 'serious' genre; first anime fan clubs in the West - "Space Battleship Yamato" is today slightly dated in its animation, 'trippy' music and defunct knowledge of astronomy (i.e. it shows that there are living beings even on Pluto!), yet far more surprising is to find out that it is still fresh and undated on so many other levels, especially in some timeless themes about loyalty, honor and integrity. In this universe, the imperial Japanese battleship Yamato can be 'rehabilitated' by turning it into a spaceship that will save Earth, whereas the whole story is a gigantic cosmic re-telling of Japan during World War II (even the alien race, the Gamilians, look both 'familiar' and 'foreign' at the same time - just like the Americans - since they are identical to humans, except for their blue skin), except that here Japan is the good guy and its (space) bombardment is unjustified. Despite some epic, spectacular scenes and details that were surprising (i.e. the red robot Analyzer reminds a lot of R2D2), "Yamato" does not reach the same level of awe as Matsumoto's magnum opus, "Queen Millennia", yet it still has enough excitement. Most of its magic comes from Matsumoto's passionate fascination with space.

The meticulous sequence where Gamilians fire a missile from their military base on Pluto (!) and send it heading towards Japan, so the Yamato crew has only five minutes to take off from Earth before it hits them, reaches almost Hitchcockian intensity of suspense, emphasized through the radar showing the missile coming ever closer. In another sequence that has to be seen, Gamilian soldiers use three satellites orbiting Pluto to "bounce off" their laser beam across the planet and hit the sunk Yamato, situated on the "blind spot" of their base. In excellent episode 13, there is a retrospect that shows how hero Kodai turned from a pacifist to a star fleet soldier when a Gamilian radioactive meteor fell into Mount Fuji and caused a volcanic eruption, with the mushroom cloud explosion near his home acting as an analogy to Hiroshima. Matsumoto even uses subtitles and detailed space maps in order to transmit his rich imagination to the viewers, including a map of planet Gamilus, situated 148.000 light years away from the Milky Way, in the Magellanic Clouds. The storyline works fine and it is good that the authors animation trademark - too huge jaws - was limited only to the wacky doctor, but from episode 14 onwards too many filler episodes show up to patch up the empty-lax middle part of "Yamato", since nothing much can happen once the title ship leaves the Galaxy and travels to Gamilus. Likewise, despite two episodes where his compassionate side is shown, Desler remained a black and white villain in the disappointing last three episodes that fizzled off into simplistic action, whereas his relationship with Starsha was not explained properly, including some major plot holes (for instance, if Desler wants to prevent Starsha from giving humans her radioactive purifier, why doesn't he simply kidnap her?). However, "Yamato" still stands as a strong anti-war cult anime.

Grade:++

The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp; tragicomedy, USA, 1982; D: George Roy Hill, S: Robin Williams, Mary Beth Hurt, Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Swoosie Kurtz

Nurse Jenny uses a World War II soldier in a coma to get pregnant and get a son, Garp. Ever since he was little, she taught him that there is not much happiness in life, but that it can be a real adventure. At first fragile and shy, Garp eventually grows up into a strong man, channelling his creativity into writing an acclaimed book, marries Helen and bites off the ear of a dog that almost suffocated him when he was a kid. But when he moves to New York, Jenny overshadows him by turning into a famous feminist, gathering rape victims whom are comforted by transvestite Roberta. Helen cheats on Garp, while their son dies in an car accident. In a school, he is shoot by a feminist.

Long before "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Little Miss Sunshine", the unusual and demanding cult movie adaptation of John Irving's eponymous novel, "The World According to Garp" already established an opulent blend of drama and comedy, containing bitter, but also melancholic events in a world inhabited by eccentric characters - bizarrely, despite (or maybe precisely because?) of their bizarre behaviour, they seem somehow more human, especially in one Jenny's defining and unforgettable line: "You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I'm going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure". The tragic, episodic events conjure up a strange mood, that seemed like "Terms of Endearment" with a weird touch back then, yet that does not prevent director George Roy Hill from inserting a few spectacular jokes, like the crash of a small plane with Garp's house, in a sight to behold. Dirty, honest and magical at the same time, whereas two Oscar nominations and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards went to Glenn Close as Jenny, to whom Garp says: "I never needed a father with you around", and especially the excellent John Lithgow in the role of Roberta, the cheerful and thoughtful transvestite isolated in the society and torn between two genders, who finds his best friend in Garp. At the same time joyful and tragic, the story is denouncing every extremism (far right feminism, violence, intolerance, male ego...) and embracing individualism, turning into one of the best movies of the 80s - and arguably the best movie featuring comedian Robin Williams.

Grade:+++

Monday, 26 March 2012

Life

Life; tragicomedy, USA, 1999; D: Ted Demme, S: Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Obba Babatundé, Nick Cassavetes, Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson

New York during the time of Prohibition. In order to repay their debts to criminal Spanky, African-Americans Ray and Claude travel to the South to smuggle alcohol for him. However, it all goes wrong when Ray decides to stay for a while to earn some money on the cards. Namely, Warren Pike, a local Sheriff, kills a man, Hancock, and later "fills the niche" by putting the blame on Ray and Claude when they accidentally stumble upon the corpse. The two are sentenced to a life in prison. After 40 rough years in a prison camp, Ray and Claude meet Sheriff Pike again and manage to trick him into telling about his frame-up in front of the Superintendent Dexter. Unfortunately, Dexter dies from a heart attack before he can contact anyone. A decade later, 90-year old Ray and Claude escape during the fire and, in a small moment of luck, go to a baseball game.

In 1999 Eddie Murphy finally decided to take a chance and accept a more risky project, starring in tragicomedy "Life", but that sappy-silly version of "The Shawshank Redemption" did not manage to get the best out of him - nor from anyone else involved in the film, for that matter. The main plot, revolving around an incredible, 50 year long period of bad luck for the two innocent men sent to jail, is bitter and brave, but unfortunately sinks on two levels: when it's dramatic, it's too melodramatic, and when it's humorous, it just manages to be either silly, forced or spasmodic. For instance, as a punishment, Claude is forced to stand and balance on bottles of beer for a whole day, while the prison guard gives his gun to Ray and tells him: "If you shoot him right now, I will let you out of this prison this instance!", upon which Ray replies with: "That's not such a good idea. I might just shoot you." "Wrong answer!", says the prison guard. Cue to the next scene showing Claude balancing on bottles of beer together with Ray. Unfortunately, most of the movie revolves around these convulsive solutions. When its not a comedy, the story is too sentimental (for instance, in blatant jabs against racism). The director did not manage to take such blatant-transparent storyline of anxiety and make it appear more sophisticated than it is, though a few jokes do work here and there (for instance, when Ray and Claude observe a deceased inmate getting taken away to the morgue and joke how he got an "early release"). Ironically, some of the best jokes are found in the outtakes during the closing credits ("What's wrong kid? Moustache too big for you?").

Grade:+

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The African Queen

The African Queen; adventure, USA/ Uganda/ Congo, 1951; D: John Huston, S: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

World War I, east Africa. Rose and her brother Samuel are British missionaries who try to bring Christianity to the natives. One day, the German soldiers torch the village, recruit all natives and kick Samuel in the head, who subsequently dies. Left alone, Rose boards a small boat, "The African Queen", navigated by the drunk Charlie Allnut, and persuades him to drift down the river and sink the German battle ship Louisa. A storm sinks their boat and they are caught by the Germans. However, the Louisa still accidentally slams into the "The African Queen" and sinks, thereby saving Rose and Charlie.

This humorous adventure by master director John Huston is not quite a classic, yet it remained unforgotten for finally ensuring Humphrey Bogart his first and only Oscar for best actor, who is truly excellent as the semi-sleazy semi-cynical hero Charlie. The first third is excellent, feeding off the simple story that is 90 % set on the boat, setting up a charming 'kammerspiel' just between the two protagonists, but the better half is definitely Bogart - some of his lines are simply hilarious because you never know if his character is sincere while drunk or just plain cynical ("It's a shame they killed that reverend" or "Look at those crocodiles, waiting for their supper!"). The movie revolves just between them and works - for instance, a character who dies some 10 minutes into the film is billed third on the credits after Hepburn and Bogart - whereas Huston gives a few covert satirical jabs aimed at colonialism, mostly in the opening credits where Samuel and Rose are trying to convert the natives to Christianity but the Africans just "mumble" gibberish while singing a psalm or fight over a cigarette outside the improvised church. However, the story is rather disproportionate for sympathising Rose's revenge and showing the Germans in black and white perspective, which isn't that charming, whereas the storyline exhausts itself by in the end just getting reduced to Rose and Charlie pushing the boat through the mud or getting attacked by mosquitoes, and the semi-open ending doesn't really circle out the film either. Huston still directs with a sure hand, though, and some moments of interaction are simply harmonious nonetheless.

Grade:++

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Kids are All Right

The Kids are All Right; drama/ comedy, USA, 2010; D: Lisa Cholodenko, S: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Annette Bening, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Zosia Mamet

Lesbian couple Jules and Nicole lead a more-or-less normal family life, until their teenage kids, Joni and Laser, decide to track down their biological father. It turns out it is Paul, a relaxed organic food restaurant owner who donated sperm to a bank 18 years ago. Their unusual interactions turns even more awkward when Jules sleeps with him, feeling neglected by the always busy Nicole. The family shuts Paul away from them, whereas Nicole and Jules make up, bringing Joni to college.

A restructuring of "Secrets and Lies" from a lesbian perspective, and with a different twist, Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids are All Right" gathered critical acclaim and numerous awards - among others, it won two Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, actress Annette Bening) and was nominated for four Oscars and four BAFTAs - not without a reason. Despite shaky 10 minutes at the beginning (featuring an untypically superficial reference to a male gay porn and an untypically superficial sex scene) and rather disappointing 10 minutes at the end (i.e. the director and writer makes the character of Paul just "go away", which makes it seem as if there was an agenda to fit in with the theme that a lesbian family doesn't need a dad), this title based on the eponymous song by The Who compensates with a very fine sense for character development, focusing, just like many independent films, on small gestures, nuances, little details and emotions in daily life that often seem more a blast than a loud action blockbuster. The moment the two mothers, Jules and Nicole, spread their arms to hug a reluctant Laser while sitting on the couch, it manages to engage and keep the level throughout, mostly thanks to shrill humorous dialogues ("What kind of a person donates sperm?" - "If he hadn't donated, we wouldn't be here, so respect.") or sight gags (i.e. Paul watching Jules' butt from the balcony, but quickly moves his view away after the gardener shows up and looks up), whereas a small jewel is the delicious performance by Mark Ruffalo as Paul, the "unaware" father, who won the New Yorks Critics Circle Award.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Tale of Tales

Skazka skazok; animated short, Russia, 1979; D: Yuriy Norshteyn, S: Alexander Kalyagin

A humanoid grey wolf traverses through various episodes as he observes humans: a group of people dancing is interrupted when all men have to go to war; a mother feeding its baby; a family enjoying a picnic with a girl playing jump rope with a bull; a poet; a child eating an apple and sharing it with crows during the winter.

As someone already commented, why do hallucinogenic films without a clear plot always get such a critical acclaim? One of the fake masterworks of cinema, 30 minute animated short "Tale of Tales" is an unusual, challenging and delicate little film, but one can hardly share the fact that it was named as "the best animated short film of all time" at the Los Angeles and Zagreb Film Festivals: director Norshteyn crafts a heavily abstract anti-story in the form of 'stream-of-consciousness' - with the leitmotif of the little humanoid wolf acting as the symbol of nature (?) observing the history of Russian people or maybe as the metaphor of untouched memory (?) - filled with neat dreamy mood, but few truly poetic moments. Some images are indeed great (the stylistic sequence of people dancing, until all the men "disappear" and go to fight in the war, leaving all the women alone on the dance floor), yet mostly the viewers will have trouble deciphering brilliance out of all those surreal scenes, unless you think that a bull playing jump rope with a girl is something profound. Can you, for instance, seriously claim that that any scene in the film is as powerful as the one where a naked Ami Mizuno is walking inside the painting of her father and talking with her alter ego Sailor Mercury in "Ami's Song of the Heart" or when Trent seems to be sleeping on the market, but when Daria and Jane make a positive comment about him he opens his eyes and smiles in "That was Then, This is Dumb"? Still, a contemplative movie from the Russian cinema

Grade:++

Predator

Predator; science-fiction action, USA, 1987; D: John McTiernan, S: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura

A US paramilitary unit led by Dutch goes to a Latin American country to rescue a group of hostages, including apparently a Minister, whose helicopter was shot down while "accidentally crossing into that territory". The team finds and destroys a camp of guerrillas, but Dutch then finds out the hostages were actually CIA agents. On their way back, however, they are hunted and killed by an unknown humanoid alien whose transparent suit makes him practically invisible. Covering himself with mud, Dutch becomes "invisible" to alien's thermal sensors, eventually killing it.

Thanks to John McTiernan's tight, competent directing and a crystal clear cinematography that enhanced the mood at some moments, the simplistic B-movie script for "Predator" turned into a much better product than it could have been, an occasionally genuinely suspenseful thriller. Similarly like Carpenter's "The Thing", even here the story drains most of its suspense from a hidden alien that covertly eliminates the protagonists one by one in a sealed off location, but just like the aforementioned film, even here the characters are underdeveloped and drop dead like flies: except for Billy, a Native American tracker, everyone else is practically an extra who needs to be eliminated just to pave the way for the final duel between Scharzenegger and the Predator - which is, albeit, truly remarkable for almost going on for 20 minutes without any dialogues. The movie takes too little time to put an emotional development, or even to create any philosophical context from the alien encounter, which is why after a time is starts to seem like a monotone and standard 'jungle chase' after a while. Still, the Predator's introduction is stimulative (at first, it just shows his POV, a thermal vision that sees every human illuminated in red, so that the viewers cannot be sure if it is just some man watching the heroes, until it reaches for a scorpion on a table, showing his claws on his hand, definitely establishing its alien origin), a couple of action sequences are fine whereas this restructuring of the "Alien" concept still seems engaging.

Grade:++

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Cat and Dog

Cane e gatto; comedy, Italy/ USA, 1982; D: Bruno Corbucci, S: Bud Spencer, Tomás Milián, Marc Lawrence

Florida. Alan Parker is an undercover police officer - his family thinks he is only an ordinary washing machine salesman. In his newest assignment, he arrests the evasive Tony, a gigolo who robs jewels from wealthy ladies. However, just as he hands him over to the police, Tony escapes and thus Parker has to capture him again. When Tony witnesses a mafia murder by mobster Salvatore, Parker helps him in apprehending the gangsters. Then he forces Tony to marry his sister-in-law, Deborah, since he seduced her.

A witless forerunner to "Midnight Run", "Cat and Dog" was made in the weaker phase of Bud Spencer's career, when the writers and directors made less and less effort to construct an interesting film around him, which is why the thin storyline about a cop who escorts a criminal - relies only on his persona - even though he is undoubtedly a charismatic comedian, his charm is lonely in this empty vehicle. There is simply not much to see here, in this lax roadmovie where sometimes it takes up to 30 minutes for a new, good joke to show up, which is too little to carry it. The opening joke involving a persistent vacuum cleaner salesman offers a neat little twist, but instead of taking it from there, the movie just leaves it and seems to suffice itself just with pretty landscapes. A lost opportunity. However, the "transparent" car, made out of glass, is an interesting creation whereas the opening musical theme, "Cat & Dog" by Carmelo & Michelangelo La Bionda, is surprisingly catchy and engaging, a small jewel - you may just catch yourself listening it again and again for its sheer harmony.

Grade:+

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Assembly of Love

Comizi d'amore; documentary, Italy, 1964; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Io Apolloni, Ignazio Buttitta, Adele Cambria, Camilla Cederna

With a microphone in his hand, Pier Paolo Pasolini tours Italy in order to interview ordinary people about sexuality. He asks children from where babies come from and mostly gets the typical answer: from storks. He asks teenagers about gender equality and adults about gay people, divorce and prostitution, receiving answers ranging from tolerant to intolerant. Evidently, he also asks poets and intellectuals about the same topic, and receives far more sophisticated observations.

This elegant and humorous little documentary by Pier Paolo Pasolini is still rather fresh thanks to its tricky concept: even today it is amusing to watch how people of Italy thought and talked about sexuality in 1963. Similarly like Jiddu Krishnamurti, Pasolini talks "childishly" with children and "like an adult" with adults, receiving interesting answers ranging from moronic up to sophisticated ones - in one entirely unexpected example of insight, one woman gives a whole rant about "liberal proletariat" and "hypocritical small bourgeoisie" when it comes to sex, even adding how to "poor peasants marriage with a woman is the only way to wealth", and thus such wealth is the "reason to stay in marriage". If you ever thought that the 60s where the "good old days" when people were more polite and "tame", just watch out for the scene in a village where a middle aged woman laments how "kids of today are impossible" and that "the previous generation was more tasteful", which results in an amusing clash with her daughter who thinks that her generation is "just right". A fair share of primitive interviewees was almost too crude (which is why some parts of the film were even self-censored) when it comes to gay people or sexual tolerance, yet they might have just as well influenced Pasolini's later style in which he often insisted on showing both sides of Italy, the intelligent but also the primitive circles, who also constitute its society. Towards the end the movie starts to drag, yet as a whole it is a neat document of opinions that otherwise would have remained unknown.

Grade:++

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Voices of a Distant Star

Hoshi no Koe; animated science-fiction romantic drama, Japan, 2002; D: Makoto Shinkai, S: Chihiro Suzuki, Sumi Motoh

In the future, a teenage girl admits to her boyfriend that she became a member of a UN space army that will go to battle an alien race that invaded Mars. The distance quickly leaves a strain on their relationship. While piloting a robot in the UN army, the girl sends text messages via her cellphone to her boyfriend, but as the army pushes the aliens further and further away from the Solar system, their messages take longer and longer to reach Earth. In the Oort cloud, the army takes warp speed and goes to Sirius, which means that now it takes 8 years for her message to reach her boyfriend. In a battle, the human army achieves a victory, while the girl's spirit wonders away into space, in order to be with her boyfriend again.

After his short debut film, "She and Her Cat", director Makoto Shinkai managed to assemble another independent - practically home made - anime short movie, "Voices of a Distant Star", a blend of "Nadesico" and "Dark Eyes", that quickly drew attention worldwide and became his breakthrough flick. Despite the science-fiction segment, this is basically a simple poetic essay, an intimate romantic drama revolving just between a girl and a guy, that taps a theme many can identify with - long distance relationships - and manages to carry it wonderfully throughout its 25 minutes of running time. The theme was so strong that Shinkai made its thematic twin five years later with "5 Centimetres Per Second", just without the science-fiction elements, restructuring the storyline about the "interrupted romance" caused by distance. In that aspect, the two short action sequences near Pluto and the alien home plant in the Sirius system are actually even redundant since the only thing that sticks with the viewers is the melancholic-gentle relationship between the separated couple, equipped with a few brilliant solutions (i.e., in one scene, the boy is sleeping on a table, holding his cellphone in his arm, and as soon as a petal falls on it, it receives a new message from his girlfriend - so subtle and so sweet at the same time), solid animation and an esoteric ending that hints at love linked even after death, that all form a small modern jewel that seems so easily to pull off, but obviously had a lot of effort put into it.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 3 March 2012

5 Centimeters Per Second

Byosoku Go Senchimetoru: a chein obu shoto sutorizu abauto zea disutansu; animated romantic drama, Japan, 2007; D: Makoto Shinkai, S: Kenji Mizuhashi, Yoshimi Kondo, Satomi Hanamura

Teenagers Takaki and Akari develop a close bond in high school. However, their parents often move due to their jobs, which inevitably separates them. After finding out he will be moving too far away to even occasionally visit her, Takaki goes to meet her in the middle of winter one last time. In his new high school, a girl, Kanae, falls in love with him, but eventually figures out he is interested in someone else. A decade later, Akari is about to get married. She and Takaki accidentally stumble upon each other on a train crossing, but just walk away.

Similarly like his excellent short anime film "Voices of a Distant Star", but without science-fiction elements, in a story where a romance has been interrupted not by distance in outer space, but by common moving out to a different town, anime "5 Centimetres Per Second" is another (rightfully) critically acclaimed achievement by sensitive artist Makoto Shinkai, a beautiful love story. A top-notch animation, where you can sense weeks of drawings in just one second of animation, with an eye for details (a bird flying with the night sky being so clear that the Milky Way can be seen in the background; Akari still having her love letter, even a decade after she did not give it to Takaki), a compact story and "just the right" amount of emotions, without turning too sappy, make this a real treat.

Shinkai demonstrated his talent the most in a sequence almost everyone can identify with: when Takaki travels in a train to see the far away Akari, observing how "less and less houses can be seen" as he travels further into an unknown region, until the train stops for two hours due to heavy snow. He really captured the feeling of travel and melancholy in one. However, two minor complaints: firstly, the story is slightly too episodic, i.e. with chopped up and scattered scenes "all over the place", instead of connecting them together to form one continuity in showing the relationship between a guy and a girl. Secondly, the ending is excellent, but an alternative (?) ending in the music video "One More Time, One More Chance" is even better, and thus it is a pity it was not featured in the sole film itself. If they had placed the ending from that music video into the film, it would have been one of the best animes in the past 20 years, on pair with "Only Yesterday", yet as it is, it is still a very, very good and impressive achievement.

Grade:+++