November 06, 2006

Manga mental!

My exposure to anime is limited to two kinds: the Ghibli Studio productions and cyber-punk manga. In the past few days I've doubled my modest intake, which has only whetted the appetite.

My wife and I checked out the latest from Ghibli in the theater, "Tales from Earthsea". I thought this was going to be another amazement from Hayao Miyazaki, creator of "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle". The quality of animation was about the same but the story was darker and more linear - more like a conventional Western fantasy story. Which is what it is, as I found out looking it up on IMBD: an adaption of Ursula K. Le Guin stories. And Miyazaki didn't direct the movie, it was left to a lieutenant in house Ghibli.

"Howl's" was set in a Euro-smorgasborg setting - taking styles and architecture from across the continent, from ancient to medieval to Renaissance - in a typically Japanese take on "Europe". I wonder if "Earthsea" was a continuation, a deepening, of that stylistic fetish, but it wasn't quite as effective. In a way it was too European because it was written by one, whereas a "Europe" conceived by Japanese fantasists is something altogether more charming but alien. (Remember the Japanese tourists who need to see a shrink because Paris turned out to have dirty streets and rude waiters.)

Now to the cool stuff.

The missus got "Innocence" on DVD. But this is actually a sequel to "Ghost in the Shell", which was produced in 1995. You gotta check these out but do it in order. Partly for the plot, but mainly because the animation technology has advanced so much. "Ghost in the Shell" still looks gorgeous but "Innocence" is amazing and makes the former look slightly frayed.

The plots in both movies are jam packed and complex and philosophical, and yet crammed with great action sequences, cool guns and female cyborgs that are, well, carefully rendered by the team under director Mamoru Oshii. They are based on mangas developed by Masamune Shirow (if that means anything to you). There's definitely some cross-cultural feedback going on, as these films have clearly drawn something from Ridley Scott's "Bladerunner" - which in turn was obviously based on Asian and specifically Japanese forms and sci-fi work. But the film is ahead of its time, at least for Westerners. "This is years before 'The Matrix'", my Asian wife reminded me.

My favorite sequences in both movies are the montages of city life in 30 year's time, set to the same eerie, exotic music. Oshii's imagination seems unbound and we enjoy wallowing in pure cinema. The plots are tightly wound and serious, and the themes - human identity, existence - are explored fundamentally. I wish these movies would just keep going. "Innocence" (which came out in 2004) is, if anything, even deeper and more interesting, while the plot - involving sex androids that murder their customers - plumbs the depths of humanity. But who cares, the visuals are gorgeous, the action is awesome, and the future is drawn with such detail that it's fun just to go along for the ride.

If you like sci-fi, challenging ideas, intellectual movies, action flicks, cool moody cinema, Japanese animation or just looking for something new...check out "Ghost in the Shell" and "Innocence".

Posted by Jame at 01:21 AM GMT

If you get the chance, check out "Golden Boy". It is really weird and really hilarious.

Posted by: Sterling on November 6, 2006 03:29 AM

With hesitation, I added Ghost in the Shell to my Netflix queue. BTW, it was weird to watch Infernal Affairs after seeing the American version. Nearly every scene was copied verbatim.

And I thought you cured yourself of the Asian Persuasion before settling down? Anyway, you did the right thing by catching an Asian Wife. Obviously.

Posted by: michelle on November 6, 2006 03:09 PM

I didn't marry her because she's Asian. I married her because she's cool.

Posted by: Jame on November 7, 2006 12:57 AM

He did, however, move to Hong Kong in the first place to meet Asian chicks.

Posted by: Sterling on November 7, 2006 02:51 AM

Not really. My first girlfriend out here was an American Caucasian.
The Yellow Fever struck later and lasted about three years.

Posted by: Jame on November 7, 2006 09:34 AM

I like anime that consists of Japanese schoolgirls in tight blouses that have a tendency to fall off.

Has anyone seen that movie 'The 40 year old virgin'?
Thats me that is.

Posted by: Moses Ironnob on November 8, 2006 05:10 AM

What should one do if one believes that a co-worker might be a 'murderous sex android'?

Posted by: Emperor Solarzoom IV on November 9, 2006 04:14 AM

Moses: we know.

Solarzoom: Ask her out for a drink.

Posted by: Jame on November 10, 2006 02:43 AM