Isao Yukisada’s tearjerker Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu ( Crying out love at the centre of the world ), though employing an egregiously cliched, age old melodramatic narrative that is sure to have teenage girls swooning for the lead actor’s undying love in the film, is redeemably executed with accomplished skill and beauty ( no small part due to Shinoda’s photography ). As unabashedly sentimental as the film is, the superbly timed use of Ken Hirai’s moving ballad can really get one reaching for their hankies.

Regrettably, this marked the final film shot by DP Noboru Shinoda, a long time collaborator with Iwai Shunji, whose cinematography work included Love Letter, Swallowtail Butterfly and April Story.

Dec 24th 2004

Tokyo Tower, in all its night glory. Merry Christmas folks. :]

Dec 23rd 2004

To celebrate Takeshi’s last day of work ( Takeshi+Kojima are bound for Montreal come late January. *sniff* ) and my film school admission, we had a nice dinner at a restaurant in Nakameguro, where as we were making our way there I was told a scene in Lost In Translation was shot just a street away, outside a Pachinko Parlour. Hmm. Back home we were then treated to Kojima’s exquisite Mandarin cheesecake, honto ni umagatta. With some free time on my hands finally, a few events are in order, not least some decent photo trips, Takeshi dittos that.

Dec 15th 2004
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Perhaps the Japanese were once again exercising their usual diffidence and propriety but me and my friends just could not for cat’s sake control our uproarious laughter yesterday while watching Pixar’s latest outing The Incredibles. Coupled with Pixar’s now reliably excellent plot and visual delivery is Brad Bird’s unique direction, a style ringing close to the underrated Iron Giant. There’s a hint of mischievious nature seemingly missing from Pixar’s past works that is beautifully integrated here, the Warner Bro’s animation touch if you will.

Highlight today however must go to the receipt of Toho Gakuen’s letter of acceptance, my film school starting next April. Kojima-chan was noticably more estatic than me when told the news, chotto bikkurishita. *laughs*

Dec 14th 2004

If, Miyazaki Hayao fan or no, after a viewing of his latest animation film Howl’s Moving Castle one detects a perceptible difference from his previous works, not so much with the style and visual treatment, but storyline, that’s because it is – the script is an adaptation of a children’s book by British author Diana Wynne Jones. Though this detail does little to hinder the film’s overall greatness, I cannot but feel a sense of detachment, as if the distinctive, Hallmark Miyazaki visuals are just one soul removed from the story. It is not typical of Miyazaki to center his theme and message on the romantic relationship of the protaganists, themselves usually contributing only a certain fraction to a bigger, broader subject that is the more important message he wishes to convey.

Of course, this simply isn’t a Miyazaki story to begin with. Certainly my deplorable level of japanese is also hindering my ability to understand the story fully. ( no, no subtitles for a Japanese film in Japan, it makes sense. ) Let’s hope I get to see the dvd soon with subtitles and personally no, nothing comes too close to Mononoke Hime , period.

Nov 22nd 2004
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It was only yesterday did I discover that the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park houses a most impressive collection of paintings running the gamut from movements like Romanticism, Post-Impressionism, Dada to Pointilism. ( Being able to recall these semantics, admittedly, credit must go to my Victoria School AEP teacher, who tormented us with lengthy essay assignments on art movements. ) Some noteworthy names included Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Tiepolo, Pollock, Rosetti, heck, they even had an El Greco. But certainly the highlight had to be the Delacroix ( housed in a quaint, original Delacroic frame ) even though the painting on display was a lesser known work I couldn’t remember, but standing in its presence where the master had worked his magic some 200 years ago still gives one considerable kick. Now all that’s left to do is to see Liberty Leading The People in Louvre.

Nov 6th 2004

As visual echoes of the lusciously photographed 2046 continue to course unbridled through my brain, threatening to inundate and flood out lesser, perceived inferior imagery, one lucid observation comes quickly to mind – Doyle and WKW have once again topped their personal standards of the brillant marriage of visuals and content. Pausing momentarily to evaluate recent chinese film history, with the exception of perhaps John Woo, ( with his gun totting, slow mo antics ) no director and DP have created film images so strong and intense in personal style that they are almost instantly recognizable as such. As Tony Leung converses with a character we could never see, often hidden behind a door or out of frame, we are at once cut off and unable to assert our presence, lessening the experience more akin to that of a voyeur. This motif continues from In The Mood and becomes ever more pervasive here, alienating our role as an unobtrusive, obscured viewer.

Watching 2046 gives the attuned moviegoer a collective chance of appreciating the best work of 3 masterful auteurs – Doyle, WKW and Tony Leung, all in excellent form, with the sum of their respective creative inputs culminating into a portmanteau work that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Nov 1st 2004
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There’s an extraordinarily electrifying and exhilarating scene in Kazuaki Kiriya’s live action rendition of the anime Casshan: Robot Hunter, where the protaganist Tetsuya, having realized that he is the reborn warrior Casshern, lays complete and utter waste to an impending army of invasion robots without so much as breaking a sweat, in between looking devastating stylish and with his affection Luna tucked safely in his arms. The adrenaline rush can be likened to watching the finer moments of those antiquated Hong Kong kungfu flicks where the hero finally learns his skills and starts to kick some, only this is shot with tons more style and coupled with excellent music.

Having raised the bar to its apex hitherto however, the plot starts its descent into sanitized morality issues and lengthy, philosophical ramblings on the ravages of war, but with a fairly disjointed and convoluted narrative so far, one finds it hard to relate to any of the characters, much less their idealistic musings. My take would be to sit in for the stunning visuals, but leave the human ethics lessons at home.

Oct 23rd 2004

” How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d. ” — Alexander Pope

Not enough praises can be sung of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, indeed, though filmlovers familiar with screenwriter Kaufman’s work have come to expect much from his writings, the basis of which gave birth to bold and inventive works like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, none of them exhibits the sensitivity and romantic longing that envelops Eternal Sunshine “like a soft blanket on a chilly night”, quoting BFI’s Sight and Sound. This added emotional element raises the film to a higher plane where, bar entities devoid of feelings, makes anyone wonder about their memory backlogs and if Lacuna(www.lacunainc.com)is really such a good idea.

Michel Gondry makes up a third of the triumvirate of genius minds, along with Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham, whom with their pool of vastly influential MTVs have undeniable shaped the look of the industry. Come the day when Cunningham embarks on his feature, the creative circle would then be complete.

Oct 13th 2004

Wes Anderson’s audaciously eccentric The Royal Tenenbaums, though clearly not suited for all tastes, joins the ranks of films ( Hu Jinho’s One Fine Spring Day been another ) that when given a second viewing, garners a considerably deeper dimension and quality.

Perhaps upon initial viewing in the theatres during its cinematic run I had yet to acquire a nuanced taste for Anderson’s bizzare narrative style, but this time round the excellent performance of the actors, with their outrageously hilarious dialogues had me laughing out maybe too loudly. Coupled with an eclectic soundtrack, beautifully executed art direction and photography, this is one unforgettable film. With the Criterion edition dvd going for just 16.39, its impossible to pass this up.

Watch out for his next feature, The Life Aquatic.

Sep 24th 2004
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In the climatic showdown from Mamoru Oshii’s original Ghost In The Shell, Major Motoko Kusanagi confronts the cyberhacker Puppetmaster codenamed 2501, under the aegis of a formidable Type X10-er crab tank. This intense and impactful battle within the “floating museum”, coupled with Kenji Kawai’s haunting score is remembered as one of recent anime’s most memorable scenes.

Innocence, though retaining most of the prequel’s characters, embarks on a different storyline, this time told through the travails of Bateau and Togusa, both looking even more stoned than in the original. The film, now augmented with considerably more 3D shots, introduces sleeker mecha designs and stunning sets, while still keeping up with superb 2D animated characters. ( the quality varies at times, one thinks this might have to do with sub-outs for different animation houses ) Though not nearly matching the first film’s brilliance, the weaker finale is alleviated in part by Motoko’s return, whose “ghost” have been drifting in the network eversince her union with the Puppetmaster. Worth a look just for the visuals alone.

Sep 19th 2004

Not unlike the Pasar Malam we have at home, Tokyo’s Meguro version of the bazzar ( called Matsuri, ie festival ) substitutes your local Kueh TuTu’s and glassjelly assorted drinks with Takoyaki and Yakiniku stalls. Though missing the accompanying fairground that usually pairs with the Pasar Malam, the Masturi offers Kingyosukui – the goldfish scoop. The workings are austere; you pay 300 yen in exchange for a paper scoop – and you’re free to scoop as many goldfishes as you like off a shallow tray – if you are good enough.

Takeshi and I had a field time watching this small little girl dressed in Yutaka attempting a bountiful catch, where she had 3 sizable goldfishes up against her scoop, her eyes lighting up momentarily till the combined weight tore through the thin paper. Kojima-chan laughs and adds the ambitious girl’s going make it big when she grows up.

Sep 11th 2004