Monday, 18 May 2015

My Problem with Anime

As of now, I’ve lived in Japan as an English Teacher for a year and two months. My job involves educating the nation's youth on the “joys of learning English”. Whether they’re teaching me more about Japan and the Japanese language is a completely different matter. Yet it’s clearly evident that my preconceived knowledge and understanding of the country’s modern culture was and still is pretty terrible. 

I was exposed to the likes of Godzilla, Ultraman and Doraemon at a relatively young age, most of which remains relatively fresh in my memory. Heck, my first trip to Disneyland was actually in Tokyo, where I shook the hand of a Japanese Mickey Mouse whom I couldn’t understand a single word. Soon my primary/ elementary school days were awash with the likes of Pokemon, Gundam Wing and Dragonball Z which would abruptly end during my teens, I’m not entirely sure why but I seem to recall video games consuming most my free time. 

It’s only been over the last five years that I’ve built a steady awareness and subsequent interest in Japan’s animated medium, know as anime. Being introduced to Studio Ghibli offered an assessable gateway into the sights and sounds that were on show, and I’ve formed a strong relationship with Ghibli’s work as you may know. From there Akira, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Tokyo Godfathers and Azumanga Daioh have highlighted some of the best the genre has offered. Yet from an outsiders’ perspective, wadding through the tidal wave of new series each year and the extensive back catalogue is a monumental and impossible task. Even as someone who occasionally watches new anime, I feel completely out of my depth when someone starts discusses it. I seem to recall the last time being aggressively belittled after I stated that Attack on Titan was “an overrated pile of crap”, which it is. 

There’s an obvious breadth of creativity to the medium that as spawned a barrage of personalities, stories and fictional worlds that have been met with mixed success. Yet one thing’s for sure, there’s plenty of choice; high school dramas, alien invasions, psychological thrillers an straight-up pornography, there’s something for everyone. Yet for all its popularity and impact on Japanese culture and modern pop culture in general, my cynical sensibilities have grown over the pass two years. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy anime, certain anime. But those few series represent a minuscule percentage of what's actually available. The incessant moaning from students and friends on my critical nature towards anime is one that has justified me writing this article. 

There are definitely plenty of problems with the medium but I’ll be highlighting the four major problems that have become prevalent from my “observations”;


-The Actual Characters

-Originality and Fan-service

-Anime’s “dark and twisted side”

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Furious 7 Review

I’ve had a strange “on and off” relationship with the Fast and Furious series ever since the first instalment graced our screens back in 2001. From there I’ve seen the ups and downs of the franchise and braved the whole boisterousness and audacity of it all. But it’s since Fast Five that I’ve come to appreciate them as the over-the-top “blockbuster” films they’ve truly become. Those looking for intellectually stimulating and thought provoking cinema aren’t necessarily going to find it here. Instead those voids are filled with further explosions, brawls and million dollar cars, all with the sole purpose of entertainment. And while my friends may question my sanity, I actually really enjoyed Furious 7

The film follows on from the Dominic Toretto and his crew’s apprehension of Owen Shaw during the events of Fast & Furious 6. They now find themselves being hunted down by his older brother Deckard Shaw played by a vengeful Jason Statham. At this point the series has become more about implausible stunts and audacious heists rather than the street racing and “detective work” it had originally encompassed. Here it’s no different. With a skeletal plot structure, director James Wan and writer Chris Morgan fill out the remaining runtime with impressive action set-pieces, new “important” characters, glamorous locations and Vin Diesel’s repetition of the word “family”. Even with a lack of narrative substance the story isn’t the mess many would predict. But if you were to employ any logical thinking behind it, then the entire thing would probably collapses on itself.

While the performances are hindered by the questionable script, there’s a deep chemistry between the actors that adds some much needed character and charm to the overall film. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s relationship has epitomised the franchise, and the friendship between them is great to watch as always. Michelle Rodriguez offers a surprisingly good performance. While her plot thread isn’t well handled, her character’s lingering fragility is conveyed in a somewhat touching manner. Dwayne Johnson doesn’t necessarily get the amount of screen time many would have hoped but manages to still leave an impression by his sheer physical presence and his vitality in the role. Meanwhile Kurt Russell looks like he hasn’t had this much fun in ages. 

The heavily spoken theme of “family” has been one that’s personified the series and while Vin Diesel spouts it at every opportunity, this underlying emotional crux feels strangely lacking from the film. Michelle Rodriguez’s amnesia surrounding her romance with Diesel’s character is calling for more dramatic weight than what’s actually prescribed. Additionally the crew’s losses of the previous films aren’t addressed to the magnitude that feels necessary and realistic. Yet with the timing of Paul Walker’s tragic death, Furious 7’s final goodbye to the Brian O’Conner character is one that’s poignant and appropriate. Simply put, the last 10 minutes are easily the most emotionally charged scenes of the entire franchise.

Furious 7 is oblivious to the concept of “restraint” and after 137 minutes of explosions, one-liners and travelling around the globe, I felt mentally drained. But while the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it lacks the dramatic weight the narrative calls for, it’s still a highly entertaining film with a touch of self-awareness and charm that continues to rejuvenate the overall franchise. The final tribute to Paul Walker is a fitting one that respectfully showcases his legacy and spirit within the Fast and Furious series with forethought and sensitivity. Yet with a sequel in the works, I can’t help but feeling that it won’t be the same without his presence.