Category Archives: The Week in Review

Should You Watch Patema Inverted?

I absolutely love Patema Inverted. It is another fantastic entry to Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s line of directorial works with an interesting plot and an amazing ending.

The film follows two character, Patema and Age, who come from completely different societies. Patema is a princess living in an underground society. She is in line to be the next leader of this tribe-like group. Age lives on the surface world, in an Orwellian society calling itself Aiga. Led by a religious fanatic and kept in power by his Kerberos lookalike secret police, Age is expected to fall directly into the image dictated by his Glorious Leader. The big difference between the two, however, is that Patema (and her people) are upside down. As in, literally, When Patema comes to the surface world, she is floating to the sky and is only saved by Age. In order for her to live on the surface world, Age takes her to a cottage where she stands on the ceiling.

The story oddly reminds me of the novel series Left Behind. In Patema Inverted, the government of Aiga basically claims that Patema is part of a groups of sinners, and as punishment they were cursed to float to the sky. They call this event The Great Change. The people of Aiga are basically what’s left of humanity. The Aiga and their apparent rule of the rest of humanity, the whole concept of people flying to the heavens for their supposed religious sins, and the religious function of the Aiga’s leader really reminds me of certain stories; that is, a world government setup by an anti-Christ, an apocalyptic event, and a select few sent into the sky (“heaven”) for a religious reason; further, Yoshiura even meshes it with science fiction. I always love works that manage to explain the same narrative from a (albeit fictional) scientific perspective and a religious perspective. It adds believability while simultaneously being mythological or even epic. It does not perfectly mesh into the Left Behind series, obviously, but I think the religious elements, meshed well with science fiction, result in such an interesting take on an already interesting premise.

patema inverted movie poster

I will say that the premise alone is a big determining factor in one’s enjoyment of the film. The film does not make a joke of its premise, but instead presents it as something that everyone in the setting believes. The film never pokes fun at the ridiculousness of itself, as in “haha, yeah, this is kinda stupid, but just watch and it will get better!” Obviously, to me, this whole concept is a little funny – and I will admit, despite how much I love this film, there were some instances that I laughed at the absurdity of what was presented. However, never does the film stray away from its commitment to its premise. In fact, it uses it to very useful affect.

The ending is perhaps one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen in anime. Not to spoil it too much, but the ending is basically ironic. It reminds me so much of a certain Kate Chopin short story, that I nearly jumped out of my seat. Not only because of that, but because it managed to genuinely surprise me. It comes off as a plot twist, but Yoshiura had already thrown a couple of those at the audience that by the time I got to the ending I was baffled. Those earlier plot twists are barely even talked about by the characters, and are almost ignored, so the final revelation at the end brings together so many seemingly insignificant details so that the final revelation is that much more surprising.

While I do love the ending, there are some bumpy roads. Patema herself is not that significant; in fact, I think she is almost useless. I am frustrated that her impact on events was so minimal, and that she acted very much as a supporting character to Age. Patema is the first major role of the voice actress Yukiyo Fujii. To be honest, she is not a bad voice actress, but her character is the high-pitched voice, which I despise.

Another frustrating character was Lagos, who was very important but is barely in the film at all. Patema is obsessed with him, especially after his disappearance. However, the film does a poor job of explaining why she likes him so much. And, in fact, once we do find Lagos, not much attention is paid to him, and is almost kinda forgotten. Lagos is a MacGuffin – a plot device that serves only as a motivation. However, my frustration lies in the film’s simultaneous attempts at trying to make me care about this elusive disappear-o-tron. In a flashback , Yoshiura attempts to create a heartbreaking farewell scene between Patema and Lagos. The films refuses to explain why Patema is so upset about this; she is just upset about it and that is as far as that goes. Lagos is a MacGuffin, but the film tries to make him sympathetic; he is a character that is given very little development or explanation, but whom we are told is an emotionally important person to Patema. The result is their relationship comes off as very forced.

Yoshiura’s cinematic style does take a bit of a departure here. He plays with the depth-of-field quite a bit, and honestly I think he went overboard with it. Another thing I noticed, a few scenes looked like they were heavily inspired by the work of Mamoru Oshii. Mamoru Oshii loves to have segments of his movies devoted towards setting a certain mood. I cannot really explain it well in words, so here are some examples: as it was in Patlabor 2 and in Ghost in the Shell. Heck, even Hideaki Anno used it in Evangelion 2.22. There are a couple scenes like those in Patema Inverted. I just love watching those.

The music was done by Michiru Oshima, one of my absolute favorites. She also did the music for Sound of the Sky, which perhaps my favorite soundtrack of all time (at least in anime). Her music is golden. Most of the music is memorable, but I think “Father Floating in the Sky” is the most memorable.

All in all, Patema Inverted is a wonderful film. It has an interesting story, great music, and a fantastic ending. It suffers from poor character development and the animation is not fantastic for a film, but it has its good parts and even so Yoshiura can make it look appealing. In terms of eye-candy, actually, I would say that this one is the most boring of his works, as it lacks the interesting character designs of Aquatic Language or the atmosphere of Pale Cocoon. Still, I would say that this is a must-watch, particularly for fans of his previous works.

Ultimate Girls: All I wanted was a shitty anime, but instead I cried

Ultimate Girls is one of those shitty anime you might watch as a kid, but you have no idea what it is about. All you remember is that it was weird as shit. Let’s look at the premise:

Tokyo is under attack by giant monsters, and only UFO-man can stop them! He is as big as a skyscraper, which helps when fighting monsters just as big. However, one day, a trio of girls are killed when UFO-man steps on them. After he revives them, they are then forced to grab phallic images while blushing so that they can get naked and become Power Rangers. However, the power of the Power Rangers is so great that their uniforms disintegrate until their are forced to finish the battle naked.

This doesn’t even try to be subtle. Here is a display of logic that the creators used: “She has to grab a staff, like a magical girl! Obviously the staff has to look like a giant blue penis!” Because that’s just damn obvious, you know?

This is not your average “fanservice harem” shows. No, no. It’s much, much more despicable.

ug1

“I went to art school for this shit.” – people who worked on this show

In the above image, that staff is actually the phallic-looking end of UFO-man in his “small state.” I’m going to call it his symbolic penis. He normally possesses a large body the size of Godzilla. When he accidentally kills our trio by stepping on them, he brings them back to life with his sentai space magic. Or whatever. Who knows. So, because of that, he has shrunk.

Anyway, the girls are brought back to life and now possess the ability to turn into “giants.” Of course, they can only do that for so long. Here’s the catch: the countdown is literally displayed by their clothes evaporating. In other words, their clothes start disappearing and when all of their clothes are gone, they turn back to normal size. Yayifications!

By the way, their clothes start to disappear right when the fight starts. So, right from the beginning, they are exposing themselves and getting embarrassed and all that shit. This is so high on the cultural scale that it just makes the intelligentsia in me just cry in veneration.

Let’s try a little experiment. The dialogue in this show is just terrible, but to truly drive home the point of how shameless Ultimate Girls really is let’s talk about the voice actors behind it. Who are the voice actors for UFO man and that girl there (by the way, her name is Kuharuno Silk – yeah I don’t even)? Ohhhh…. Furuya Toru and Fukuen Misato. Yeah. Just those guys…

WAIT WHAT?

Furuya Toru was the voice actor for UFO man. Let’s take a quick look at his resume:

I… I don’t even.

As for Fukuen Misato, well, not much. She was Miyafuji Yoshika (the main girl) in Strike Witches. Actually, she does seem to be quite “into” her role as Silk in Ultimate Girls. Meh. Funny enough, she was Shigumi Rika from Haganai. So, maybe she is perfect for this role!

Now, for the dialogue. This is the dialogue for the scene above: UFO-man tries to get her to grab his dong to activate her “power.” The image below is a shot from this scene. While reading this, imagine Amuro Ray saying this.

this show sucks

Riveting.

UFO-man: It was a promise. You have to listen to my request.

Silk: Yes…

UFO-man: Okay. Then, grab this.

Silk: No!

UFO-man: What do you mean “no”? Grab this tightly!

Silk: No! I can’t!

UFO-man: Not “no”! You promised, didn’t you?

Silk: But…

UFO-man: No “but”s!

Silk: though…

UFO-man: no “though”s! Hurry up and grab this!

[I cut dialogue here to make it shorter -OE]

UFO-man: We don’t have time to linger around! Silk, grab this! Please listen to the request of the benefactor of your life!

Silk: But… That is…

UFO-man: Hurry!

Silk: Understood…

[Silk then grabs UFO-man’s staff -OE]

UFO-man: I’m coming!

The innuendos are just… subtly is rarely considered a virtue, but let it be said that shamelessness is not the mark of a decent person. What the fuck? There is subtext here, however, and that is “sexual coercion”! Ask yourself, “Did he just coerce her into grabbing his symbolic penis?” Answer: Yes, he did! I just, WHAT?

So she transforms and she has to fight… sigh… that thing… (it’s actually Gomess)

that thing...

It’s just… I don’t know… sad. You know, I don’t even care if people bought this and wanted to kill themselves. Yeah, it’s bad, and people wasted their money. But, you know, the real sad part is not even about the consumer. The people that had to work on this garbage went to art school. They paid actual, real money to go to school to learn animation… and then they end up making this crap. I just… God damn it. I feel like everyone is losing out on this, including the people that made it.

About a minute later, the countdown starts and we get shots like this:

seriously

Perhaps the best animation in this entire episode was the jiggle physics of her tits and ass being released from her skin tight suit. Of course, those shots were only about a second or two long.

When all of her clothes are gone, she explodes or something and the guy falls apart I don’t know.

pic1

Ultimate Girls is just so… stupid. But I guess that’s the joke, right? It’s a parody, which means it’s supposed to be stupid. On a more positive note, this is a show that I recommend you ridicule with friends.

This anime made me cry out of sympathy for the people that made it.

I don’t care how awful Haganai is, I still enjoy it

BONUS! I didn’t post on Sunday July 6th, so I’m posting this today to make up for it. I try to post every Sunday and Wednesday. I also didn’t post on Wednesday, July 2nd, so you’ll get two posts this Wednesday, July 9th.

Haganai, a show about losers that come together to form a club for the sole purpose of getting friends. Not that uncommon, actually, because there are groups and services dedicated to meeting new people. Hell, the whole concept of a club is to find people that have a similar interest (nobody joins a sci-fi club and then tells them to “Fuck off”).

It has an intriguing premise, but you know what? Haganai is the Purge of anime. A bunch of lonely people try to solve their loneliness, instead of moping around playing video games and being NEETs? Sign me up! I fucking hate NEETs, so if you’re one then I hope you shape up or grow up. However, that is not what Haganai is about. Instead, Haganai is a harem anime. It has a workable premise, but it only uses it as an excuse to make 10 girls go after a dude.

It is pretty awful, too. Two beach episodes back-to-back. I can’t even stand to watch one beach episode, but this has two… right next to each other. The humor is OK, but it quickly becomes repetitive “this girl keeps bullying this other girl, that other girl just ran off come back!” On the other hand, the Gundam-Evangelion fanfiction in the early Season 1 is, honestly, one of the funniest shit I have ever seen in anime, and much of that can be attributed to the talent of the voice actress, Fukuen Misato. Despite that, Haganai is a show that just gets worse the longer it goes.

Which makes one ask this question… if this show is so bad, why the hell did I even bother to watch its sequel, Haganai NEXT? Well, the answer is simple.

HO
LY
FUCK

HOLY FUCK.
FUCK
FUCK
FUCK

Welp, there’s your answer! If Yozora had not cut her hair like that, I would have not even bothered with Haganai NEXT. Yozora was already my favorite character, but this cinched it. Yes, the circumstances surrounding this were not that great, but that makes it even better! Watching Yozora is a mixed bag, because she’s not a AM I KAWAII DESU~ character (which I like), but her situation is really shitty (which I like in that it makes the story more interesting). This could be, quite possibly, one of the few instances of romance that I actually gave a fuck about.

Discussions about Yozora and Sena are always soon to follow whenever this show is brought up. Obviously, I am on the side that prefers Yozora. Let’s look at the facts:

  • Inoue Marina possesses one of the sexiest voices out there. Her voice is not a high-pitch, helium voice, but a lower-pitch one. Her voice is fucking sexy. She can save an entire show for me with just her voice (she was the sole reason why I even finished Sayonara Zetsuo-sensei, which I think is a fucking terrible show). I orgasm just thinking about it.
  • Short hair is fucking sexy. Go to MyAnimeList profile and look at my favorite characters. Ayanami Rei, Konno Makoto, Misaka Mikoto, Kosaka Chihiro, and Mikazuki Yozora. What do all of them have in common? SHORT HAIR! THAT SHIT IS FUCKING SEXY! OH MY GOD! One of the reasons why I loved Gravity so much was Sandra Bullock. Not only is she a great actress, but dat short hair, man. Fucking sexy as hell.
  • I feel sympathy for her. She and Kodaka were the only characters I gave a shit about. Kodaka’s situation was actually a real-world problem for many male-female friendships, although obviously this show exaggerated it.
  • Sena has helium balloons for tits. Yeah, that ain’t that sexy.

Despite being god damn terrible, I do not regret watching this show. I would watch a season three, too.

Short Peace – is it worth the time? Yes, it is.

short peace

Poster for Short Peace.

I had previously written a Preview about Short Peace back in March. I was a little disappointed while writing that. When I learned about Short Peace, I also learned that it was showing in the United States in March. I had learned about Short Peace in late March, and the showings were on March 3rd! “Shucks, I missed it!” I thought to myself. I was prepared to wait a year before I could see it (no thanks to you, Rebuild of Evangelion, for taking so long). Fortunately, luck was on my side, because the good people over at the Doris Duke Theater were showing Short Peace in early May. Awesome sauce.

So, is Short Peace worth the hour or so it would take to watch it? The short answer—yes.

Background

Short Peace is a film anthology. Basically, that means that it is a collection of films presented as one. So, when you go to the theater, you typically will not watch one of them, but instead watch all four of them (and the short intro) in order. These are stand-alone films, however when they are distributed, all four of them go together.

Short Peace was started and supervised by Katsuhiro Otomo, who is most famous in the United States for the manga, and its movie adaptation, Akira (you know, the one with the bikes and psychics). He has also done a previous film anthology back in the ’90s called Memories. Memories featured Koji Morimoto (Dimension Bomb) directing Magnetic Rose, Tensai Okamura (Darker than Black) directing Stink Bomb (how odd), and Katsuhiro Otomo directing Cannon Fodder.

This time around, we have new blood.

Possessions

Directed by Shuhei Morita, and in fact was nominated for an Oscar in 2014. Interestingly enough, Morita and Otomo go back all the way to 2006: both of them worked on 2006’s OVA series Freedom, with Morita as director and Otomo providing storyboard and character and mecha design. Looking over Morita’s past credits, he seems to specialize in CGI. That does not surprise me, given how impressive it is in Possessions.

Storywise, it is pretty simple and straightforward. A traveler takes shelter in an abandoned shrine to get away from the rain. When in there, he is confronted by yokai. These are junk whose spirits have become bitter for being thrown out. They are initially hostile to the traveler, but he is able to repair them and win their favor.

The animation in this short 15-minute film is really impressive. The best part is when the traveler yawns. They put so much work into that. Of the four, I think this one benefits the most from surround sound – there are a lot of sound effects for the junk, and seeing this in the theater was a real treat. I do not believe watching this at home will be as good of an experience as in the theater – this was made for the big screen.

Is it worth the time? Yes.

Compared to the others? Second rank.

Further reading:

Combustible

It opens with a panoramic view of Tokyo, presented as a camera moving over a scroll painting. Then, the characters start moving. The story moves quick, the time is short, but do I love the way this movie moves.

Combustible was a real pleasure to watch. As in Cannon Fodder, Otomo takes advantage of the animation medium to create camera movement that is impossible in real life. Another favorite scene of mine: when the buildings all catch on fire, the camera flies over the buildings and gives us an entire view of the fire as if we were standing on a ladder on the roof. The fluidity of that scene was just pure awesome.

The story surrounds a large fire that happened in Edo (modern Tokyo) during the 19th century. We start with a young boy and a young girl, who develop a romantic interest but can never go through with it because of their parents. Later on, the boy joins the fire brigade despite the disapproval of his parents; the girl is going to be in an arranged marriage to a man she does not love. One night, a fire starts in her home, but she does not bother to report it or put it out because of the distress she is feeling. Combustible ends in a gigantic fireball.

A note about the animation – the characters are rendered in 3D, but everything else is traditional animation. Neat. Another thing: someone interpreted this movie as starting as a painting and ending as a painting. I thought that was pretty interesting.

Is it worth the time? Yes.

Compared to the others? First rank.

Further reading:

Gambo

I do not have much to say about Gambo. It is violent, grotesque, and pretty repulsive. All by design, I think. There are some disturbing images. Gambo is too much for my tastes.

The basic premise is this: an Oni is kidnapping girls. A young girl finds a white bear named Gambo who decides to kill the Oni. As it turns out, the Oni is impregnating the girls.

I can appreciate the work put into it, but Gambo is not to my taste. It is not bad, however, but I can only recommend it if you can stomach such stuff.

Hiroaki Ando, the director, has previous directing experience with another short film called Chicken’s Insurance, part of the collection Digital Juice. He certainly has a unique take on the medium. I, however, do not care much for Gambo.

Is it worth the time? No.

Compared to the others? Fourth rank.

A Farewell to Arms

Here we end with the action-packed scifi short. It is a popcorn flick, much like Shanghai Dragon was to Genius Party. It is entertaining, cool, slick, and fun to watch. The sound effects are awesome.

It begins almost like Iron Man: a military vehicle racing through the desert while heavy metal plays in the background of the conversation on board. Apparently, these guys collect old weapons. I do not remember the reason why, but considering that the desert they are traveling in is Japan, well, I can only guess that Armageddon happened.

As far as action movies go, this one is well done. It was cool watching the mercs jump from building to building, and watching all of their gadgets and weapons was good eye candy. The ending was a little bit silly, but overall solid.

Hajime Katoki is most famous for a lot of theGundam designs after Mobile Fighter G Gundam. This includes Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 008th MS Team, and Mobile Suit Victory Gundam. He also did the mechanical design for Patlabor 2: The Movie, which honestly is more impressive to me. Of course, none of these credits come as a surprise to me.

Is it worth the time? Yes.

Compared to the others? Third rank.

Conclusion

Three out of four of them being worth the time? Not bad. None of them are groundbreaking, but three of them are worth the time.

I just have one question, though: Why the heck is it called “Short Peace”?

Title Director Is it worth the time? Rank
Possessions Shuhei Morita Yes 2nd
Combustible Katsuhiro Otomo Yes 1st
Gambo Hiroaki Ando No 4th
A Farewell to Arms Hajime Katoki Yes 3rd

Review: Kaiji

  • Positive: inspirational; thematically relevant to its target audience (20s-30s).
  • Negative: can be slow at times; some predictability.
  • Neutral: art style might be off putting for some.
  • Final verdict: more good than bad; a unique show that constantly had my attention; characters face real world struggles.

Kaiji is a show about gambling, but only on the surface; to be more accurate, it is about the lowest cohort of society trying to break free from their shackles called ‘crippling debt.’ Coerced into gambling by shady loan sharks, Kaiji goes on a challenge that will pit him against society’s most privileged individuals.

The first episode sets the protagonist, Kaiji, as a 20-something, unemployed, unmotivated, and depressed guy trying to survive in the concrete jungle of Tokyo. He passes the time by stealing car emblems from expensive luxury cars. One day, he is visited by a strange man. This man tells him that Kaiji co-signed a loan for a friend, and that friend disappeared. That loan, of 300,000 ($2,850 as of June 1st 2008) yen with a 20% interest rate applied monthly, has ballooned into 3,850,000 yen ($36,575 as of June 1st 2008). Because Kaiji co-signed the loan and now his friend has disappeared, Kaiji is now solely responsible for all 3,850,000 yen. The man then offers him a choice: Kaiji can either work and pay it off, or he can go into a special program for debtors like him. He could work it off, but he is unemployed; however, even if he could find a job, it would take him 11 years of putting every single penny into repaying it.

Young, unemployed, financially crippled, and depressed? Does that sound familiar? While watching it, I could not help but feel how aware this show is of its target audience. Kaiji is representative of the average contemporary 20-something: heavily in-debt, alone, unemployed, unmotivated, and depressed. I fortunately do not match all of those molds, but I know plenty of people my age that do match them. Kaiji, unlike most anime, is aimed at an audience older than high school age. It most likely was meant to capture the helplessness of the people that grew up (and are still growing up) in Japan’s “Lost Decade,” but I do feel that his struggles are relevant to the average American that are still struggling with the aftershocks of the Great Recession.

Kaiji is not a depressing show, however, because it is pretty damn inspiring. Visual metaphors are constantly employed to show the hurdles that Kaiji faces. In the first episode, the show compares Kaiji’s situation to someone trying to throw a basketball into a basket 100 feet above him. Other visual metaphors are employed as well, such as the ground breaking in front of him that separates him from his goal. Kaiji is an underdog, and he is climbing Mount Everest with his bare hands; the show constantly reminds us that despite him being a loser he could climb Mount Everest with his bare hands if he really wanted to.

Kaiji’s vigilance and determination are special, but Kaiji will sometimes push aside the visual metaphors to be oddly profound. Perhaps the most enduring speech from Kaiji was given by Tonegawa, the right-hand man of the big boss of the series. In this speech, Tonegawa talks about the delusions people face, “They live meaningless lives. They waste their precious days over nothing. No matter how old they get, they’ll continue to say, ‘My real life hasn’t started yet. The real me is still asleep, so that is why my life is such garbage.’ They continue to tell themselves that. And they age. And on their deathbeds, they will finally realize: the life they lived was the real thing.” That speech was quite a treat.

Aside from working, Kaiji is given another option to make it big, which is to go on a cruise ship for one night of gambling. Gambling? He is naturally reluctant at first, but the loan shark is a shrewd businessman; in fact, Kaiji does not agree to it on his own reasoning, but he is tricked into going by the loan shark. “If you go on this cruise , you could make pay off your debt and make some money,” the loan shark tells him. “This is a special program for people like you.” When he leaves, the loan shark compares this situation to selling someone real estate; this whole situation was, in fact, nothing more than a business sale.

These sort of cat-and-mouse games are much of what takes the time in Kaiji. Kaiji did not realize it then, but he agreed to gamble his way out because the loan shark was running circles around him. The loan shark employed selling strategies to get him to go. When he first starts out on the cruise ship, he realizes quickly that the only way to win is to play tricks on his opponents. That whole scene, really, is so intense, because it is like this huge epiphany Kaiji has. At this point, it becomes obvious that Kaiji is less about gambling and more about how Kaiji can outsmart his opponents.

It focuses on both the micro and macro of it, too. Not only does Kaiji focus on a person versus person game, but it also focuses on the big picture too. Kaiji is not only facing off against his most immediate opponent, but he is also competing with a 100 different people, many of whom are also employing tricks and mental games into their strategy. He has a specific goal to accomplish, and not everyone on the cruise ship has what he needs to accomplish. He looks at the big picture and deducts who has what he needs, then he challenges them and hopefully wins. We are given a view of the big picture (Kaiji versus everyone) and the specific (Kaiji versus a single person).

Where do the faults lie? Kaiji likes to be extremely clear about the type of gambling it uses. The games they play are not typical games such as poker or bridge; in fact, some of them are made up. The show goes into every little detail regarding the rules of the game, which means that a lot of time passes but nothing much goes on. I do not think this is much of a problem in the first half, but it starts to become a problem towards the end. On the plus side, when Kaiji takes advantage of the rules, the audience is not left wondering what happened. In fact, it would be hard to not see where the logical conclusion is when the show discusses the rules of the game.

The show is roughly split into a first half and second half plot. The first half is about Kaiji’s struggles on the cruise ship; the second half is more diverse, and some of it is more like watching a Japanese game show. The beginning of the second half involves a lot of physical challenges, but once those are done we are back to the cat-and-mouse games that were in the first half. I would say that the physical challenges were my least favorite part.

Finally, the art style is a matter of taste. I personally think it is fine, although it is a bit weird for such cartoonish faces to have anatomically correct bodies. It is definitely left up entirely to personal taste.

The House of Small Cubes – it all comes down to choice

After waking up from a comfortable dinner the previous night, the nameless main character of The House of Small Cubes steps out of bed and finds his feet in water. Stepping outside, we see that the world has been flooded by water. Humans have been forced to either continually build their houses upwards or live on ships. Realizing the severity of continuously raising sea levels, the nameless main character—who will henceforth be called the Old Man—begins to build a new house on top of his current one.

Submerging the camera below the surface of the water, we see that the Old Man has been struggling against raising sea levels—the cause of which is never even implied—for his entire life. His tower of homes reaches at least a dozen levels down to the sea floor, which used to be dry land similar to the kind most of us live on.

Upon completing his new home on top his old, he begins moving furniture that is now floating in his old home. While lifting furniture onto his boat, he drops his pipe and it sinks down a hatch into an older home of his. Between him and his pipe are several yards of water. Considering his old age, it would be difficult for him to just dive down there and get it before he drowns.

After he finishes moving his furniture, he sits down in his new home. Something is not right, however. His hand feels empty, so he rubs his fingers together. The next day, he looks through his belongings for a new pipe. There are dozens available, but none of them are quite right. While looking, he notices that a visiting merchant has scuba gear. Immediately he decides to dive down there to get his favorite pipe. This is the beginning of a 15 minute short film.

Throughout the beginning—and indeed the entirety—of The House of Small Cubes, no information is ever given to the audience by word; all of it is given through visuals. House of Small Cubes is a silent film; not completely silent, however, because Kunio Kato uses music in a perfect display of choreography. Action on the screen is perfectly in tune with the music; music plays, then pauses, and then resumes again. When the Old Man is looking through his belongings for a new pipe, music plays in the background; when he looks up and notices the scuba gear, the music pauses when he starts blinking, and then continues when he stops blinking.

Animated entirely by Japanese hands, Kato has given The House of Small Cubes a very European-style visual look. Houses are surreal looking, with impossible angles used mostly on the roofs. Movement is slow, but energetic; exaggerating the movement of shadows helps create a look that has more movement than it really does. Characters are big with flimsy limbs, much like in Lupin III although of course lacking the Mad Magazine inspiration.

Despite the look, I believe that in content we have a story that is ultimately Japanese; the Old Man does not find sadness in his journey, but rather soothing. It is, in a way, a celebration seeped in sadness, that is, a coming to terms with the impermanence of existence. At the end, despite any sadness the audience feels, the Old Man opens a bottle of wine and has a toast.

On the most basic level, Kato has created a story of recollection. When the Old Man retrieves his pipe, he then decides to travel deeper into his older homes. When he travels to each home, each visit triggers a significant memory in his mind. As he travels deeper, the memories grow older until eventually he reaches the place of his childhood: the sea floor, which never used to be the sea floor. The House of Small Cubes is, on a basic level, a story of nostalgia; the Old Man remembers those memories of his life. Indeed, it is done in a very original manner. Using raising sea levels as a vehicle for a man’s nostalgic experience is nothing short of creative. Combine that with the masterful use of music, and The House of Small Cubes is nothing short of a great short film that emotionally impacts its audience.

However, that is not the case—The House of Small Cubes is not a great short film. No, The House of Small Cubes is a masterpiece. Underneath this basic storyline, we have a film with a message.

Here we have a man that lived his life to provide best for his wife and daughter. Instead of giving into the disaster, he persevered and built as many homes as needed. All of the many houses he built were by his and his wife’s own hands. His life is one long tale of small details—much like each house is made of little bricks—but within his life are significant details, which he associates with whichever house he lived in. In this manner, the houses have become symbolic of the Old Man’s past life. Kato has created a life lesson for his audience, that is, life is made of small details, some more important than others, and it is made by our own choosing. Just as the Old Man’s carpentry has created for him a symbol of achievement, all of us will look at ourselves and remember what we accomplished. For the Old Man, his life is a house of small cubes.

The Week in Review: Denshinbashira Elemi no Koi – a life’s awakening from an unusual perspective

The Week in Review is a series of posts in which I review an anime. Reviews can either be evaluative or analytic; either way, they are specific, biased, and mostly consider only the work itself.

44 minutes, 2009

The streets of this unnamed Japanese city are dark under the bright moon and on this street are the wonders of modern technology—steel and electricity—and houses the product of a past age that we all reminisce about—houses made of wood and paper. Walking the streets is a lone dog, he marks his territory on a single utility pole—Elemi. Elemi, a sweet and young utility pole, is struck by lightning. She undergoes a near-death experience, and here we are presented with the central theme of this film: difference. Differences in generations. Differences in interpretation. Differences in love. And, ultimately, we learn to accept despite our differences.

The next day, the local electrician, Takahashi, repairs Elemi back to shape. Elemi becomes infatuated with this young man. However, her infatuation is not enough to motivate her into talking to this man (as a utility pole, she can speak through the telephone).

After having established the central theme and the characters, the film begins to explore the central theme as a means to give its characters drive. One day, two sleazy men post an advertisement for what is possibly a whore house onto Elemi. Neither Elemi nor her friends are at all pleased by this and this triggers some memories.

We transition to a speeding car and an aloof cat. The speeding car hits the cat, killing it, and the driver guiltily looks at it and drives away. The cat lands near Elemi. Elemi and her friends are devastated by this, but so is an elementary school girl walking home. This girl rushes home, grabs tissue paper, rushes back, and covers the cat with tissue. Then, we are given Elemi’s epiphany: as the girl covers the cat with tissue, Elemi reimagines the tissue as sakura petals, the symbol of ephemeral life. Symbolically, Elemi has become conscious to the ephemeral nature of life. She has become aware of the mortality of animals, but more specifically she has become aware of the mortality of Takahashi. Her age is not explicitly given, but judging by her voice she is roughly the same age as a normal human girl that has yet to witness the passing of her parents (in other words, perhaps in her 20s). Through her near-death experience at the beginning of the film and the passing of this cat, she has become aware of her own morality and the mortality of Takahashi.

This brings up an interesting observation one might make about the attitudes between aging and marriage in Japan. Although I am not Japanese, I have read in the news that Japanese people will generally give up looking for a partner by their 30s because they feel they have gotten too old. Considering that Takahashi and Elemi are both in their 20s, I cannot help but feel that not only has Elemi become conscious of her mortality, but she has also become aware of her age. Not only mortality, but Elemi could also fear that she is reaching the end of her ropes and she must find a suitable partner soon. However, I cannot imagine how important romantic relationships are in the society of utility poles.

This whole scene also illustrates a difference in interpretation and in generation brought about by a difference in experience. Elemi interpreted this experience in a profound way, but her peers did not. The reason is simple: they are nothing like her in age or experience. Their voice actors gave Elemi’s peers either older voices or very young voices; in other words, her peers are either old enough so they already experienced what she felt, or they are too young to understand. They saw this as nothing more than a tragedy of a cat becoming road kill. To some, that is exactly what happened; to Elemi, there was something more there.

At this point, the film has established that Elemi is infatuated with Takahashi and that Elemi, now sensitive to death, has realized that she should talk to him while she has the chance. However, what do her peers think? This love affair leads to a generational difference. The premise of the film—utility pole falls in love with a human being—allows the film to address a generational difference in a believable way. The entire premise is utterly fantastical, but none of Elemi’s peers seem to want to believe that a utility pole can love a human being either. After her closest friends fail to convince her, they go to the oldest pole in the group. He confronts her (the movie even calls it a “trial”) on the grounds that love between a utility pole and a human is ridiculous nonsense that will never work. An expected reaction. Whether that is true or not, however, is not the point the film is trying to convey. The point of the film was given to us at the beginning of the movie, during her near-death experience.

During her near-death experience, Elemi is present in a desert at night, covered by dark fog. In the far distance we see a light, possibly the sun. Elemi decides that she wants to head towards the light, and grows legs. As she is walking towards the light, her cables are pulled from behind. When she looks back, she sees her friends pulling on her. Despite her resistance, she is eventually pulled back to life by her friends.

This near-death experience has given us two important interpretations that are cleverly incorporated into the film’s central theme of difference. First, there is the obvious one: when a person is unconscious and they see a light at the far end of the tunnel, what does that light symbolize? The answer, of course, is the after-life and the implication that they are walking towards their death. Second, we have a more subtle interpretation. Elemi is walking away from her group, but her group is desperately trying to bring her back. Not only does this happen in this fantastical dream, but it also happens in the film: Elemi is entering new territory by reaching out to a human being and her friends are desperately trying to reel her back in. The film simultaneously applies this experience as a means to broaden an Elemi’s perspective on life and it also uses it as a metaphor for a generational difference. Her form of love is not accepted by her elders, so they try to reel her away from it. Eventually, everyone decides that Elemi should be free to do this. They accept her decision.

Considering all of this, what do I ultimately think about Denshinbashira Elemi no Koi? To be honest, not much. While the story is certainly a well-written one, I am not a fan of stop motion. Elemi has exquisite stop motion, but that is a form of animation that I do not particularly care about. The film has a very atmospheric feel to it as the director attempts to capture the feeling of a passing sadness. In other words, this is not a film to watch when you are anything but mildly sad. It is definitely a film whose enjoyment is heavily reliant on the mood of its audience. It feels like an experience that requires a certain mindset. Not only does it require the right mood, but it also requires patience—the film moves at a snail’s pace, which is to be expected when a film attempts to make the audience feel something.