Atonement

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This image deserves an integral viewing of the movie.

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June 1, 2008 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment

Baseball with Ookiku Furikabutte

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After reading Bateszi’s juicy presentation of Ookiku Furikabutte, I got irreversibly hooked on this baseball anime and finished it in long, frequent sessions played one after the other. It is indeed intriguing to find the actual factors which make an anime of this genre so god damn catchy: no groundbreaking premise, no orgasmic art elements, no immersing plot. Not to mention that I have no idea about baseball rules whatsoever so I mostly watched the show vaguely wondering about what are they doing out there on the field – I only know what the catcher, the pitcher and the hitter do, the rest of the team’s roles are impossible to decipher for me.

So yea, with this in mind, I find myself wonder why on earth did I get so hooked on it? Despite the fact that I have an innate disgust for sports (reminiscing of high school humiliation) I do remember the old times when I used to watch Captain Tsubasa and Moero! Top Striker like a madman on Italian channels.

There was an intriguing discussion about this on Bateszi’s forum, but however, the answer is still somewhat unclear to me.

Finally, I think the answer may lie in the dynamics of the show, which basically are the same as every shounen anime – a group of friends with the focus on a particular ambitious protagonist are set to achieve their biggest dream (becoming the hokage, becoming a good pitcher, finding the treasure etc.) in a path full of difficulties, obstacles and progressive trials. The human mind (or mine at least) might not be as great as we might imagine, since I get attracted and drawn to this type of pattern over and over again, even if the the outcome is more than obvious, even if the clichés are abundant, even if I am constantly aware of the parameters of the stage set up for the viewers. Following the same line of reasoning, sports anime are just like shounen anime, and the overarching plot spread throughout all the episodes (never delivering a conclusion at the end of the episode, but rather a cliff hanger) has a lot to say about how many episodes one watches per session. I easily find a way to stop myself when I’m watching episodic anime, but with this cruel way of spreading a match through tons of episodes, there is no way one can easily get out of it.

The visual style is also very empathic – almost pushes you to feel schizophrenic “real life” feelings for the protagonist – Ren, a very interesting kid with a pathological desire to pitch. (Ren’s triangular smile is now a trademark, his insane shyness matches the drawing style to perfection) Overall, the anime is hilarious at times and treats the baseball subject with style and quality. Director Tsutomu MIZUSHIMA has done tons of good pieces, including Genshiken (the OVA and the first tv series) so this is perhaps where the quality comes from. Yoshi!

March 20, 2008 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

Anime Redemption Part 1 – Cowboy Bebop

bscap0235.jpgFor I don’t know what reason or sense of ethical responsibility, I do feel obliged to keep up with the otaku experts and actually watch series which are generally considered classics. It is true that I mostly overlooked such shows, like Ghost in the Shell SAC, Neon Genesis Evangelion and the likes, since I’ve plunged into this art form quite late in life. But the feeling of being indebted towards the anime community always seem to prevail over my desire to get into newer series. So I watched Cowboy bebop, finally.

And it was, unquestionably, a film noir masterpiece. The one thing which strikes it’s the refined excess of styles – we have intertextuality, we have collage – jazz, bebop, blues combined with futuristic elements and the actual eponymous “cowboy” which is a bounty hunter – an ingredient from the past thrown in a cyberpunk universe, once again a most peculiar mixture of future and past elements that gloriously combine to form a great series, not less not more than 26 fabulously made episodes.

While the anime starts leisurely with episodic periods of bounty catching and adventures, characters, background and flashbacks start to add up only to end in a tragedy epilogue that left me traumatized for a while, and had me make multiple attempts for recovery with some injection of joyful anime (just kidding, there is no such thing as joyful anime). Popular references are abundant in Cowboy Bebop, especially to science fiction classics like Aliens, A space odyssey and famous rock songs after which each session (episode) is named. This truly shows a passionate director who expects a certain type of viewers, with some sort of a musical culture and a tad of previous science fictional schooling. This certainly creates a stronger link between the creator and viewer – in a sense that the viewer feels connected to a system of secret codes with the director.

bscap0227.jpgSpike, the main character, is your usual painful silent hero, Cloud Strife style, while Jet is the helper friend who would do anything for his partner in battle. We have Faye, the thief, with no recollection of her past, and Edward, an androgynous genius hacker and the dog Ein. The combination Faye-Jet-Spike sounds really cliché, but it’s actually an amazing collision of different personalities forced to live under the same roof. And most of the times the cyberpunkish loneliness of destroyed planets and the inability to find a rooting home, backed up by beautiful saxophones enthrall the viewer with such artistic jewelry that one does not care that the characters are somewhat conventional anymore.

It’s pretty much clear for me right now that these classics are not called classics for nothing.

February 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm 1 comment

Jay Jay Johanson Survey

This whole Jay Jay Johanson thing started with a friend who asked me if I could buy him the last J.J. Johanson’s CD (The Long Term physical effects..), and, since I trusted this particular friend’s eclectic musical tastes, I decided to give it a try.

And the cruise of absolutely owing everything he has ever produced started. This tasteful combination of diverse laid-down depressive weary vocals with the electronic freedom of combining everything from salsa/jazz/electro beats is the best mixture of music I have yet to encounter in my melodic journeys. Jay Jay Johanson still features as my second listen in last.fm dashboard (right after Sigur Ros I suppose)

Let’s start with his first release “Whiskey” (1997):

A very Portishead-like drum and scratches arrangement starts in “It Hurts Me So” mixed with the most soothing/deranging / narcoleptic voice that comes from this particular Swede body, a very interesting combination between old school blues with modern beats (Frank Sinatra inflections). Basically, Jay Jay stated that when he came to the studio to record this album, he had no idea how he was going to sing, so these are just reflections of his search for a singing voice. Another weary ghost-like flute arrives on the next track, beautifully screening the diversity of Jay Jay’s musical mastery, with “So Tell the Girls that I am Back in Town” who has actually a more upbeat feel to it (but the same deep voice). An instant classic is “The girl I love is gone”. My favorite track is “I’m older now” I guess, which features an idiotic verse like “I’m older now, much older now, much older than I was when i was young” – this is so nonsensical that it makes perfect sense – laid layers in Brian Eno style, combined with the subterranean obscure voice of Jay Jay. “Mana Mana Mana Mana” again returns to the feel-good mood, with absolutely orgasmic pitchy voices laid over another beautiful layer combined with waa-waa guitar strings.

With the next release “Tatoo”, Jay Jay turns his musical perception towards a more jazzy/latino feel – you can feel it from the first sexy trumpet bulging in on “Even In The Darkest Hour” until the very ending of electric pianos in the erotic “The Sly Seducer”.
I think “Quel Dommage” is my favorite track – we have a salsa beat with subtle strings and high hats thumbing your ear. Jay Jay only tickles the microphone with his voice, no screaming, no strain, just a fabulous falsetto voice that doesn’t sound stressed but rather comforting and enwrapping. The piano tune of “Murderans” is further developed into
”Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Paris” who has the same type of erotic feel, for some reason it reminds me of Milene Farmer’s greatest beginnings – with the sudden voice going from low to high. “Lychee” certainly foreshadows Jay Jay’s latest change of style – dark trip-hop with depressing lyrics. “She’s Mine But I’m Not Hers” turns the rhythm into idm, but subtly, making it rather a support than the center of the track. And the French Paris-rainy-days accordions load up the track with a vast delight of sound.. ”Sunshine of your smile” features an electronically modified voice that I don’t necessarily enjoy but certainly the bass-induced rhythm is nice. “Jay Jay Johanson” is one of the highlights – a sexy French woman’s voice puts questions and Jay Jay answers. Lovely. You can get a glimpse of Jay’s multicultural breed. “A Letter to Lulu May” has an American theme song feel to it.

In 2000 the interest of Jay Jay’s assorted music taste turn towards dark trip hop – beginning with a robotic voice, kicks in the heart melting “Alone again” – a ballad to loneliness with electrified rhythms and a deeper voice and tormenting high hats. Powerful beats go along in “Anywhere, anytime”, again with the same dirty electro feel, the beautiful “Believe in us” , and then – “Escape” – one of my favorite tracks: “On a mountain up north, I will build a small house, made out of wood stone and etc.” again trip hoppish high hats and a haunting voice that evokes the most lonely loneliness ever. “Far Away” is another beautiful soul ripper, based on a piano theme, and Jay Jay goes into his deep voice again, “Humiliation” features the same electronic voice modulation, another haunting rhythm, piano, drums and lingering bass. “Poison” is absolutely the darkest Jay Jay ever, trip hop filled with electronic guitars, pianos and upfront bass.

And say hello to “Antenna” an electroclash retro classic – hard beats from the 80s, man! at their fullest – and don’t get me wrong, I hardly get into this kind of music – disco has never been my thing but damn Jay Jay does it fine, careful never to slip into the dreadful redundancy of most of the music of this genre, and always keeping the sadness and darkness from his previous albums – “I want some fun” is great – trumpets and a sadness that’s so tough to portray in electroclash, but this time it comes out as evocative and contemplative. “Automatic lover” is totally Modern Talking- awful in its own brilliance. Actually “Wonderful Combat” is my favorite Jay Jay’s song ever – there’s just something about the drop of the first rhythm and the alertness of the drums that goes in perfect symbiosis with Jay Jay’s sexiest voice ever.

“Rush” from 2002 keeps the same “Antenna” bend towards electroclash – the highlight of the album: “Another Nite Another Love” – disco at its best – suggestive and a reminder of the golden age of the disco times – dominant electronic guitar strings on the background.

“The Long Term Physical Effects” are certainly a return to the dark trip hop phase, Jay Jay drops the electroclash for a while and focuses on a fusion of jazz, trip hop, latino induced beats and downtempo goodness – “She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is the choice for the single. It’s just another album of non-skippers – the orgasmic “Rocks In My Pockets” features noisy alert rhythm and subtle strings coming up on the chorus. The song is just amazing, it reinvents itself every time the chorus ends and Jay Jay starts again with the lyrics. “As Good as It Gets” features the same type of claustrophobic darkness, even if Jay Jay ironically claims at the beginning of the track “such a funny little song / that I heard you hum at night” – “Breaking Glass” and “New Year’s Eve” are both heartbreaking and sorrowful while “Tell me When the party’s over” is an apogee of loneliness – choirs and evocative guitar. “Peculiar” is another seemingly childish song in the same category of “A Letter to Lulu Mae.”

One never gets tired of listening to Jay Jay Johanson’s amazing discography. His choice of elements from different cultures and eras is utterly fantastic and never falls into the boring blends that usually appear nowadays on the music scene.

January 20, 2008 at 4:34 pm 2 comments

Du Er ikke Alene (1978) / Ernst Johansen and Lasse Nielsen

 Recently, I’ve submerged into the viewing of this so-called groundbreaking classic. Everytime I watch a Nordic film I have a subtle feeling of recognition – there is something that refuses a grandiose and often grotesque meaning in most of my Nordic artistic experiences. Du Er Ikke Alene confirms this perception once more, through the delicate use of cinematic art, you know, like those paintings done by youngsters in aquarels, not masterpieces, not violently beautiful, but giving a taste of certain naiveté and innocence. Not a self-righteous “awww” but rather a complacency in the delicacy of its art.

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The plot revolves around boys in a boarding school in Denmark. The main love-action happens between a prepubescent boy and a pubescent boy. Quite stunning for 1978. Hell, even today I have yet to see a gay movie that deals with people under 18. The ease with which the subject is treated is amazingly sweet and tender and relaxed. There are no politically struggles, social inequalities, biased injustices like so many in your face gay propaganda movies nowadays (which have an undisputable social role, no doubt). This is just a plunge into childhood and sexual experimentation and the defining of one’s sexuality. Only this time is not something done with the traumatic, violent depressing connation that adolescents seem to enjoy so much when dealing with personal issues. On the contrary, we have a laidback movie, with hippie-like tendencies and a little socio-cultural mumbo jumbo power to the people acts, only to end with a nice performance art prepared by the boys for the school principal.

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Blonde godly faces replenish the screen in sheer beauty and amazement. 15-16 year old effeminate boys take showers and swim together, play, curse and take drugs. It’s an intricate pleasure for homo-erotic fantasies. And the ease of the subject makes one weary of the primitive nature of other communities. While other countries were struggling with gayness and are still struggling now, Denmark was presenting scenes of naked boys in the shower and scenes of boy under 12 kissing in 1978?? Or maybe this was just a show for the cinema, but hell, cinema has always been a pretty accurate medium for the context of the times, and since it was banned all over Europe, but not in the country of its production, this says a lot about that country’s liberties.

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Of course Du Er Ikke Alene does not figure in the list of great cinematic experiences, but falls definitely under the time well spent category. Rarely do I experience such delicacy and sensible direction in movies, subtle portrayals and faded-pastel colors that emphasize the discretion of feelings. Somehow, the director manages to describe masturbation, shower scenes, sexual initiation not through cheap pornographic shocking imagery, but through a gentle, distilled, depiction of humanity filled with contemplation and hope.

January 15, 2008 at 8:59 pm 8 comments

I love you Naruto-kun! – overview of the first 23 episodes of Naruto Shippuuden –

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Oh dear me. What the hell is it that’s so fucking appealing about Naruto and its plethora of characters? How can I, while overall a decent person, with serious occupations and thoughts, indulge into a crazed obsession over this cartoons aimed, truth be told, at little boys? The answer…below.

I’ve awaited 23 weeks without seeing anything but the first Shippuuden, and then, since I hate stopping mid-plot and waiting a whole week (that and I have a short-termed memory), just sat by and wait for a big bulk of episodes so I can sink my teeth in. And the day has arrived, I decided! Back to Naruto.

Naruto is freaking amazing. And it’s that type of amazing that you have to thoroughly analyze in order to realize the true nature of its attraction. Well thought out characters give away to a multiple choice of preferences and the poetic action scenes make the watcher smile idiotically in front of the screen (at least this particular watcher). I heard otakus are complaining about the slow-paced nature of the plot development. That is true. It is slow as hell, a fight can go on for ages and span across multiple episodes. But this isn’t really a problem if you have a lot of episodes to watch, and don’t have to wait a whole week to see what will happen. I think the slow-pace is really what dragged me into becoming an anime fan in the first place. This unhurried expansion allows for a more complex development, a thorough analysis of the battle sequences and a deep insight into the world you are greeted in. I love how they explain what actually happened after a cool fighting move, and how they go back to the battle to explain what went on beneath. This could be annoying to some people, but not to me. Also, I don’t follow the manga so I have no complains about not sticking to the actual story. And after what seemed like a century of bad fillers, who could complain anyway? I’ve been waiting for this for a long while, and now I’m not gonna complain, but just dig in with full geekiness.

I can’t over the extraordinary characters. Gaara is probably one of the greatest character ever to be portrayed in an anime. I like the way characters grow and form relationships with one another, the idyllic view upon friendship, trust and comradeship, the solidarity of a ninja group and the master-apprentice bond (idyllic again). I hate it that they screwed up a bit with Gaara’s personality during the fillers, but I decided to ignore everything that happened in that sad, sad period. What could I say to someone who has never watched Naruto? Except that they lost an immense, engrossing comeback into childhood, the same excitement that I felt while I was young and followed diverse anime on TV, straight down fun and edge of the seat storytelling. Naruto is a perfect example of how to get people to act geeky.

Plus there’re those endless battles, the way the characters hook up, the ninja exams and the curiosity into seeing how the fights will end, the great exhibit of intelligent villains and their eerie goals, the mysterious history of the Konoha village, the expectation, the excitement. All to create a passionate and credible new universe feeling.. Plus I’m a sucker for encapsulated fiction universes, which function with their own laws and patterns, different from ours. Yea, the possible universes. And Naruto represents one of them. My favorite character? Shikamaru!

Bring it on! Now I only have to wait another 20 weeks so I can do a real marathon. Ou the sadness.

August 7, 2007 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

Abre los Ojos – the real Vanilla Sky

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I had no idea Vanilla Sky was a remake. I found it shitty back in 2004 when I’ve initially watched it but nonetheless found some awesome ideas that could’ve been exploited differently by the director. Penelope and Cameron Diaz were both credible in their roles, while Tom Cruise, using his usual anti-charismatic dimwit smile, was nothing more than a turn back from the actual interesting premise. And plus, all that cheaphole overall dramatic cliché effects that Hollywood uses over and over turn me off from an interesting movie.

And only recently I find out Vanilla Sky was a remake after a Spanish movie. Here I come, fancy European creation! Fear not, though. I’m far from a cultural snob. My favorite movie ever is still American. So anyway.

Back to Abre los Ojos.

Tremendous movie. Good casting. Eduardo Noriega and Penelope Cruz (who plays the same role in the US version) have real charisma and give the impression of real people instead of cardboard boxes from Crowe’s adaptation. The story is compelling and makes you want to see what will be going on next. It’s the type of mysterious allure that good movies of this kind have: not confusing enough to make you want to leave, and not clear enough in order to keep you glued to the screen.

After viewing this movie I kept wondering: why is it I like so much this version and why Vanilla Sky was so unappealing? It’s not like the story is dramatically changed or anything. But then I realized I think. It’s the lack of Hollywoodian artifice, both in acting and in visual style that makes Abre Los Ojos so much more film-like and turns you away from the constant feeling you’re watching a blockbuster. Moreover, my distaste of Tom Cruise made it painful to keep watching, so the initial cast was also a better idea. Why on earth did they decide to remake Abre Los Ojos since it didn’t need no makeover whatsoever? The special effects and the makeup are great, the acting is good, everything is put in order. Couldn’t they just distribute it in America or is the American audience too lazy to read subtitles?

August 3, 2007 at 7:03 am Leave a comment

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