From Anime

Japanese anime film and series reviews

Shenzhen Anime Expo

1st SCAF

This morning I attended the first Shenzhen Anime Expo held in the “Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center” (Futian). In fact I’m not sure what the real name of the convention was since it was cryptically named SCAF (not the Southern Californian Anarchists Federation) with no other explanation in English.

Doraemon & Friends

As well as showcasing many toy manufacturers from China there were also different kinds of activities, including cosplay (people dressing up as their favourite character), video game and dance competitions. Apparently over 100,000 people attended during the weekend and to say it was crowded would be an understatement. How Doraemon kept smiling I don’t know.

Terminal

The Chinese are crazy about games like World of Warcraft (a massively online role-playing game) and Counter Strike (a first person shooter) as illustrated above by the massive crowds of fanatics eagerly watching the game-play. When you go in an internet cafe in China you’ll notice nobody is surfing the net but instead just playing these games (usually in the dark)!

Cosplayers

There were also a fair few cosplayers who were getting harassed by crowds of people (mostly men) vying to take their photos. Cosplay comes from Japan where it can be quite a serious business to dress yourself up as authentically as possible with people taking it to fairly crazy extremes. Frankly it was about the only interesting part of the otherwise overly-commercial exhibition.

Delicious Lunch

After an hour and a bit of being pushed around I decided it was time for lunch and headed to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant which was conveniently opposite the exhibition centre (review). As ever the food was delicious but strangely this time I got told off for taking photos. Some people don’t know a good thing coming to them!

Flying Doraemon

Kite Hawker

Whilst studying Japanese at university in 2004 I wrote a post about a hugely popular cartoon character called Doraemon. For some reason it caused such a stir that it’s still the no.1 most read page on randomwire.com to this day. This has always slightly irked me since it wasn’t exactly a scintillating post but I have since come to terms with the fact that a cute robot cat is infinitely more popular than I’ll ever be! With 133 comments (and counting) I can’t really complain.

Flying Doraemon

While wandering in Shenzhen’s mangrove forest on the southern coastline of Futian last weekend I was reminded of this feline from the future when half a dozen Doraemon shaped kites appeared in the sky as if they’d just flown in from Hong Kong (which lies across the bay). Chinese kite flying is an age old tradition with many styles dating back to the Tang Dynasty when some believed that it could be used to avoid bad luck and bring prosperity by flying high.

Smuggling Will Be Dealt With Severely

Whilst the kites were innocently fluttering in the breeze someone reminded me that less than 20 years ago people attempting to escape the mainland of China to Hong Kong by swimming across the bay were likely to be shot and indeed banners still warn people of the severe consequences that will face them if they attempt it. Even when living in a modern Chinese city you can’t help but feel that there are still darker elements lurking just below surface. For the most part foreigners here are blissfully unaware since the language divide prevents most from understand everything that goes on (myself included).

In other news… the lack of posting recently has been down to my crazy schedule and other shenanigans which will become clearer soon. My parents are arriving in Hong Kong tomorrow from the UK to pay me a visit and we plan to spend a little over a week travelling around, including a trip to Beijing which should be exciting. Drop me a line if you’ll be in the vicinity April 29th – May 3rd.

Overlooking The East

There have been some amazing advances in CG animation over the past few years with Pixar having a string of hits which seem almost unstoppable and meanwhile a new level of sophistication is emerging both in the visual style and story telling departments. What I find strange though is that the creative output of the Japanese animation (anime) industry is still largely ignored by the west (with a few exceptions) even though they produce more content than every other country put together. I would suspect this has something to do with the cultural gap which can be particularly evident if you are unfamiliar with that part of the world although for me makes it all the more interesting…

Recently I’ve seen two anime films which I’m sure most people will not have heard of but which use cutting edge animation to great effect and if you enjoy that sort of thing definitely worth getting your hands on

Appleseed Ex Machina

Following on from first film in 2004 Appleseed Ex Machina takes the unique look to the next level in evidence by a greater depth of detail and texture than its predecessor. Whilst some of the character articulation needs work it’s still a visual feast to behold. Cyborgs and mecha eat your heart! [Review]

Vexille

Whilst borrowing on a similar visual style Vexille is an altogether darker film in both its appearance and tone. Set in a self-isolated Japan of 2077 the visuals are outstanding and, even though the score by Paul Oakenfold is unorthodox, it’s refreshing and compliments the excilarating action scenes. [Review]

Neither of the story lines here are totally unique and the character development is sometimes lacking but if you’re after eye candy they might just blow you away!

Ghost in the Shell Live Action

What exactly is the definition of human in a society where a mind can be copied and the body replaced with a fully synthetic body? Where is the boundary between human and machine when the differences between the two become more philosophical than physical? Ultimately how do we define what it is to be human?

I’m not going to try and answer this today but these are the philosophical questions that form the basis of the futuristic manga and anime series ‘Ghost in the Shell‘ created by Masamune Shirow (first published in 1989). Whilst being nearly 30 years old the franchise is still alive and well with three movies, a TV series, game and trilogy of novels being spawned from it along with many aspects having slowly percolated into popular culture (it heavily inspired The Matrix).

With such a strong pedigree it’s rather worrying that Production I.G has sold the rights for a live-action movie to DreamWorks under the direction of none other than Steven Spielberg. For fans this is a pretty worrying development. Whist there is no denying Spielberg’s talent it’s an altogether different proposition when applying it to something like this, the main fear being that it will be severely dumbed down for a Hollywood audience.

If they can respect and stay faithful to the original maybe this has a chance but then again the likelihood of that is pretty low – the precedent is already pretty well established for ruining Asian cult classics.

Update (10/2009): Apparently Dreamworks has hired Laeta Kalogridis as lead writer (who also worked one of the Tomb Raider movies) along with Avi Arad (formerly of Marvel) and Steven Paul to produce what’s being called a “3D live-action film”. Anyone care to speculate what that means?

Yomiko Readman Lives Here

INSANE Book Store 1 (SALEM, MA)

I came across this picture of a rather insane book store earlier today and it immediately reminded me of the residence of a certain Yomiko Readman of “Read or Die” fame. The similarities are striking but goodness knows how they get away with the health and safety aspect of having thousands of books stacked this way 😉

Read or Die - Yomiko Readman

Read or Die - Yomiko Readman

The film and tv series are well worth watching; of course reading the manga would be even better! More pictures of the crazy shop can be found here.

In unrelated news I’ll be starting my rather rigorous jet-lag avoidance experiment tomorrow whereby I’ll be getting up and going to bed an hour earlier, progressively each day pushing my body clock closer to Korea time (GMT +9). By Friday I should be getting up at 2am, ouch!! If you’re in the UK, enjoy the bank holiday tomorrow!

Paprika

Today some spice of a different variety

Paprika

I’ve not watched much Anime in quite a long time, generally I find there is way too much mediocre stuff out there for me to keep up with, but every now and then the odd gem appears. I first heard of Paprika back when I was in China and had been dying to lay my hands on a copy. Last night I finally had a couple of hours to watch it and… wow… it’s a pretty trippy invasion into the sub-consciousness (quite literally) . As the poster proclaims “This is your brain on Anime“.

Paprika

Paprika revolves around a group of experimental scientists who have developed a new psychiatric tool. Known as the DC Mini the device allows a treating doctor to enter directly into their patient’s dream, interacting with them to diagnose and treat any issues that the dream may suggest… The project is in danger, however, with the three latest DC Mini devices, just completed and without the proper security protocols installed, stolen from their creator, the absent minded behemoth Dr. Tokita. With security measures removed the thieves can use these devices to force themselves into people’s minds, trapping them in bizarre visions of the criminals’ own choosing and – most disturbing – they are showing an increasing ability to do this even to waking minds. The most likely hope in fighting against this threat is Paprika, the alter ego of Dr. Chiba – the lead treating psychiatrist experimenting with the DC Mini and herself plagued by an extreme split personality…” [Twitch review]

Paprika

What I like about good Anime, and Asian film in general, is that it doesn’t treat the viewer as a fool and makes you think. Whether that’s just a side effect of having to read subtitles at the same time I don’t know but Paprika can certainly be taken on many different levels – whether it be for its stunning visuals or its questioning of collective unconscious you win either way. Those familiar with director Satoshi Kon’s previous works will undoubtedly see parallels in Paprika and it’s interesting to see further exploration of the duality of reality and dreams explored here, something he also notes in this interview.

Paprika

Check out the sumptuous trailer in High-Def here. It’s not out on DVD yet but still well worth hunting down!

Man-Machine-Mind

To say last week was busy would be an understatement. To say it was the busiest week of my working life so far might be closer to the truth. I felt mentally and physically dead so the weekend was a bit of a write-off but it was a good excuse for lie-in!

Solid State Society

On the plus side the downtime gave me a chance to finally see the hotly awaited “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society” (what a mouthful!) with the added bonus of English subtitles.

Solid State Society

Was it worth the wait…? Is the Pope a Catholic? Do bears relieve themselves in the woods?

There is something so powerful about the whole GITS word which goes far beyond your run-of-the-mill pseudo philosophical cyberbabble. Just the shear vastness of the universe which has been created though it’s various incantations (manga, films, books, series…) is mind boggling. What is even more staggering is slow but steady convergence of this world with our world as technology ever more encroaches every part of our lives and inevitably becomes one and the same. Man-Machine-Mind ~ Is this the new Holy Trinity? Perhaps it’s a bad example and perhaps it is just fiction but I like it 😀

If you don’t mind a few spoilers check out some neat screencaps and semi-reviews here, here and here.

AD. 2034

~~ NON STOP ACTION SUSPENSE ~~

GITS Major Tachikoma

…is how the first trailer for Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society bills the new film, due for release 1st September in Japan (random Japanese added for effect!). Going by what we’ve seen it looks very good and hopefully a fitting continuation to the ongoing saga. Of note in the trailer is the great soundtrack (by Yoko Kanno I presume) and some pretty high class animation. I guess the big question to be explored now is just what sort of state of mind Motoko is in after the climax of 2nd Gig.

No doubt this will appear as a fansub fairly quickly after release (already causing a stir) but I’m sure most fans will buy it on DVD once it’s officially avaliable anyway. Can’t wait!

Solid State Society

Tachikoma

As if a collective prayer was answered I just found out that Production I.G have announced a new chapter in the GITS saga – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society. The last two series have been pure genius and could even have been said to improve on themselves so I have high hopes for the next incarnation.

After the spectacular ending of the 2nd Gig who knows where it will go next!

UPDATE (23/03):

Production I.G has revealed in a stock disclosure that the upcoming Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society will be a 100 minute movie released in summer 2006. Anime News Network reports the movie is being produced in Hi-Vision, a format used by Japanese broadcast networks to support wide-screen televisions. The same production team, including main staff, will be carried over from the TV series. It takes place two years after the refugee riot incident. A significantly larger Section 9, with over 20 new officers, investigates terrorist actions related to a wizard-like hacker “Kugutsu Mawashi.”