Manga Review: Monster (Naoki Urasawa)

Title: MONSTER
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Shogakukan
Published: 1994 – 2001
Length: 18 Volumes


The story goes that Naoki Urasawa toyed with penning a manga set in the medical field early in his career, but met resistance from his editor. Now, almost two decades since Monster concluded, it’s clear to see it was not only – against his editor’s predictions – a landmark work for Urasawa in terms of popularity, but also served as the first manga in a formula that has since become the author’s forte.

Monster is the case of Kenzo Tenma, a brain surgeon whose child patient disappears amongst suspicious circumstances, only to resurface years later as an enigmatic serial killer who frames Tenma. The doctor turned vigilante detective must evade the police while tracking the real killer, which takes him across Europe, where he uncovers a thread of decades old villainy dating back to the Cold War.

It’s a sweeping narrative with a structure that is consistent in arguably all of Urasawa’s major serial work since. His winning plot formula spans decades, locations, perspectives, and generations, is based partly in history, is loaded with conspiracies and clever misdirection, and boasts an enormous supporting cast, with central characters which often trade places.

The extent of Urasawa’s research and planning is clear. For a story with so many threads, it seldom loses its way. His artwork effortlessly guides the reader through involved set pieces, which often unfold from several angles. His style is cinematic, communicating movement and cuts through expert panel arrangement and combined action-reaction shots.

American TV show The Fugitive was purportedly a strong influence on Monster, and I would argue not only in concept and tone. The author’s pace and artwork embody the fluency and rhythm of continuity editing – it’s easy to imagine Urasawa’s characters and settings in motion, with the author illustrating location with an astute sense of depth. The artwork itself isn’t as intricate as something you might see from the author’s contemporaries, such as Jiro Taniguchi or Nobuyuki Fukumoto – in fact, there are very few page spreads, let alone double spreads – but its finest qualities lie in its seamless ability to capture and enrapture the reader into another world.

This expert blend is what makes an Urasawa story so enjoyable to follow, yet for all the painstaking planning and brilliant drama, there are aspects which are a little coarse. The story itself is a complex blend of multi-narrative drama that is thrilling and expertly woven, but for a story of such impressive scope, the conclusion feels somewhat abrupt. Though, among Urasawa’s most renowned work, Monster is certainly not the worst offender in this regard.

The exposition is at times heavy-handed and too direct – perhaps a symptom of the author’s extensive groundwork – sometimes he’s too keen to chaperone readers. There are many panels where the artwork alone would have left a stronger impression than the accompanying dialogue, especially given Urasawa is excellent at drawing expression and reaction.

Urasawa’s characterisation ranges from noteworthy to lacking. Come the end, many of the supporting characters feel distinguished and important to the wider plot, and the author builds well to exciting character meetings and confrontations, but some are too narrowly bound by their framework. Central character Tenma is a good hero that you enjoy rooting for, but you know – contrary to his monologue – he’s never really going to kill the antagonist, or anyone for that matter. Urasawa’s protagonists have this unwavering moral compass that saps a lot of tension from key scenes.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the ambiguity surrounding the antagonist Johan is gripping, and Urasawa plays well with subversion, knowing exactly when and how to tease key details, but his dialogue and spectre-like appearances become monotonous, with eventual revelations that are only half as fulfilling as the journey there. To this day, the character has a certain prestige among manga villains, but I think Urasawa has done better since with Tomodachi and The Bat in his subsequent works.

For a seinen manga, I would expect characters a little less straight-edged, though, as a counter point – even somewhat archetypal – Monster’s supporting characters are rarely tedious or uniform. Furthermore, that the author can swap out the central character for what would have been months at the time of its serialisation, and yet maintain the same level of tempo in the plot and intrigue from readers is very commendable.

There is an undeniable well-roundedness to Monster. The lesser parts in no way detract from the author’s expert storytelling, which has only gotten bolder since. Urasawa’s preferred thematic structure, with his impressive mixture of location and character, shape his work with a certain global and effective quality that is uniquely his own. Monster, while not as spectacular as 20th Century Boys, or as playful as Billy Bat, or as concise as Pluto, nonetheless presents its own allure as the definitive work among Urasawa’s mystery fiction, skilfully comprising all that makes his manga so compelling.

Series Review: James May: Our Man in Japan

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James May: Our Man in Japan is a new travel series from Amazon, charting an eleven week trip in Japan, from its northern coast to its southern coast, by presenter James May. My fascination with Japan began with Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama, broadcast in the early 2000s. Since then, I have seen countless travel shows and documentaries about the country and its customs, but it has been some time since one has gripped me so thoroughly.

This six part series sees James explore the country in a variety of segments as he navigates his way through Japan’s main islands. Each segment is introduced by an often humorous title card, presenting a bemusing word that has either been discovered by James or lost in translation. The tone of the series is very playful (in one episode, James refers to it as a “travel show full of light-hearted laughs”), but the producers struck a fine balance in the casting of presenter May.

There is a large emphasis on fooling James and presenting him as a sort of baka gaijin (stupid foreigner) by involving him in many outlandish scenarios, but the presenter never quite succumbs to the bumbling Brit abroad stereotype. Though he can be haphazard and blundering, he is nonetheless an inquisitive man, and through his sheer willingness to get involved and try new things—though he may fail at them—he is able to come away with a level of understanding and enjoyment that ultimately gives the series its charm.

I feel a lot of English-language shows made on Japan fall into the trap of portraying it as some sort of bizarre strange land that is to be observed and experienced like an amusement park, without actually understanding what makes it tick, and while the actual depth of content here is not staggering (though it is very diverse), James is the prefect presenter as someone very British and not at all obstinate. There’s this great balance between contrasting Japan’s supposed ‘otherness’ with James’ British slant and embracing the culture in all its richness and variety.

All the usual bases are covered, from haiku and samurai, to cat cafes and cherry blossoms, but also featured are many esoteric and seldom seen recreations, such as competitive snow ball fighting and interactive digital art installations, as well as more Japanese specific pastimes like the inconspicuous yatai. James approaches each subject with typical British dry wit, which may at times seem a tad condescending (though it is for comedic effect and not at all malicious) and often takes precedent over any meaningful examination, but James’ thorough participation ensures there is at least a measure of depth and intricacy with a lot of entertainment.

James and company do a brilliant job of averting certain tropes so they don’t fall into well worn terrain. I was impressed that, during the inevitable segment on manga, instead of looking at its seedier aspects as these sorts of shows tend to do, it was instead viewed as a literary form that is read by all ages and professions. In another segment on otaku, rather than explore the usual route of the anime geek, they took the phrase at its most fundamental and spent the day with some very enthusiastic train spotters. Again, in a part about anime, rather than trace footsteps, James gets involved with voice acting, performing the part of a barking dog in an upcoming film.

While James’ activities are obviously planned, there is this feeling that the events themselves are spontaneous, unscripted, and largely improvised, which keeps the show fresh and entertaining. As he travels Japan, James is accompanied by a succession of interpreters, until he meets the eccentric Yujiro, who seemed to leave such an impression that he eventually joins James for the rest of the series. The two make an unexpectedly excellent pair, playing off of one another with brilliant camaraderie and comedy.

As a light travel show, James May: Our Man in Japan ticks all the boxes. It is wonderfully rich in content if a little lacking in depth. That said, James once again proves an apt choice as someone who has travelled Japan before, and who first visited the country over twenty-five years prior to the making of this programme. He offers some insight into a changing Japan, contrasting history, tradition, and modernity with the polarity (or lack thereof) between the east and the west. It is also beautifully shot, displaying Japan in all its abundant glory, from the mesmeric snow-covered Hokkaido, to the dense megalopolis of Tokyo, and the exquisite greenery of Shikoku.

I was genuinely sad that it had to come to a close. It’s a thoroughly packaged series that does feel like it could have been two episodes longer, but it stands a riotously funny and truly high-quality production on Japan, showcasing both the country’s deep history and its alluring modernity with a fascinating variety of local people.

Best Movies of 2019

In what seems like barely any time at all, the year (and the decade) has come to a close once again. Though film content has been a little absent from my blog in 2019, my perusing has remained nonetheless ample, and my year wouldn’t be complete without a rudimentary list, which has been unwavering for six years now.

As before, all the films you’ll find below are chosen entirely by me, and represent my opinions alone. I’ve tried to watch a great deal of the years most celebrated, but no doubt some may have passed me by (Honey Boy, Ford v Ferrari, Sorry We Missed You). I choose films typically by U.K. release date, though this year I have been fortunate to view some features before their formal distribution in my country.

I hope you’ll enjoy my picks — please don’t get too wound up if not! I’d love to see yours (and any recommendations) in the comments here or on any variety of social platforms. Outside of my blog, you can follow my film activity and reviews on Letterboxd.

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.


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Special Mention goes to Swing Kids (dir. Kang Hyoung-chul)

Each year I like to give a ‘special mention’ to a film that is of high merit, but is absent from the list due to some technicality. In the case of South Korean film Swing Kids, it was released in it’s home country in late December 2018, with international releases following in 2019, but it was never formally released in my country, so I’m not sure where to place it. Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing ensemble piece that deserves a mention.

It’s a deceptively fanciful musical set during the Korean war, in which a wayward North Korean solider falls in love with tap dancing. He forms a troupe with some outlandish South Korean’s, led by an American officer. It’s imaginative and wonderful, with many enduring set-pieces, but steadily forms an unsparing tone the more it progresses, building toward a dazzlingly tempestuous final act.

Leading actor Do Kyung-soo (of Exo fame) has been on my radar ever since his breakout performance in 2016’s Unforgettable. His role in Swing Kids seems meant for him, melding his acting talent with his musical and dancing prowess. The plot is a little uneven and the tone may be too jarring for some but, for me, the final act cemented Swing Kids as one of the years most evocative films.


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#10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)

In this French period piece, a portrait painter named Marianne is commissioned to paint aristocrat Héloïse, so the image can be sent off to her suitor. Héloïse, less than enthusiastic about being married, refuses to pose, so Marianne subtly observes the noblewoman as the two go on walks, and paints in secret. Slowly and tenderly, the pair develop a passionate bond.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a ravishing film, filled with enchanting composition. Some of the most alluring sequences are when the camera seldom moves, with each shot stunningly vibrant and prepossessing. The steady camera, combined with the exquisite use of colour and positioning, create a sense of intimacy mixed with action, melding a film that is tenderly framed and completely arresting. The location, too, is both gorgeous and understated, captured in a wholly organic sentiment.

The plot and pace are finely assembled — you get the sense that no second is wasted — and the central cast are extraordinary, deftly revealing two spirited woman at pivotal moments in their lives. Director Céline Sciamma exhibits such a memorable vision, simmering with a quiet tension.


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#09. The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)

Awkwafina stars in this drama about a Chinese family who decide to keep their grandmother in the dark regarding her cancer diagnosis, insisting: “It’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” In an effort to gather as a family and see their grandmother one last time, the extended ménage organise an impromptu wedding.

The Farewell is such a warm-hearted film despite skirting around topics such as demise and dishonestly. It shapes this multifaceted story similar in ways to last years Crazy Rich Asians in its cultural and generational examinations. Awkwafina’s character Billi, a Chinese-American who resides in New York City, is against keeping her grandmother’s illness a secret. Yet writer-director Lulu Wang does a fine job of exploring the family’s dynamic at large, which leads to some hilarious exchanges and sequences.

It’s a charming film that manages to work many laughs into a story that is nonetheless emotive and introspective. Awkwafina is an endearing talent here, persuasively grappling between her heart and her head, in a nuanced tale that feels both personal and universal.


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#08. The Peanut Butter Falcon (dir. Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz)

Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz wrote The Peanut Butter Falcon for their friend, Zack Gottsagen. Starting at nothing, they shot a trailer to pitch with, and reached out to numerous insiders, eventually finding success and landing an all-star cast.

It’s an endearing road trip movie about a young man with down syndrome (played by Gottsagen), who dreams of joining a famous wrestling academy. By chance, he buddies up with Shia LaBeouf’s character, a troubled fisherman on the run after a confrontation with some rivals. As the two slowly begin to open up to one another, they form an unshakable bond, establishing an inimitable camaraderie.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a film that feels at once familiar and inventive. On paper, the plot doesn’t differ so much from movies of a similar vein, yet what sells it absolutely are the performances. Road trip and unlikely companion stories are well trodden ground, but the film benefits immeasurably from the writing and acting of its cast. Nilson and Schwartz, as friends of Gottsagen, clearly understand what makes him so compelling and fun to watch, with LaBeouf making for a brilliant comrade, whose flaws and at times questionable actions form a character who is attentively layered.


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#07. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play lighthouse keepers in this claustrophobic horror set in the 1890s. Pattison plays the novice to Dafoe’s seasoned wickie, though nothing is quite as expected as the two descend into madness, seemingly bewitched by the lighthouse’s aura.

I loved the ambiance of The Witch, and whilst The Lighthouse is very much a different film, Robert Eggers manages to conjure a similar tone, where much of the unnerve and terror is derived from the mood. Shot in black and white with a narrow aspect ratio, the film exudes its antique time period, plunging viewers into a hypnotic tale that does not once lose its fascination.

Pattinson and Dafoe are stunning, their descent into mania rife with a fallacious clarity, steadily building an intoxicating ambivalence that keeps viewers guessing. Despite its distressing quality, The Lighthouse is also darkly hilarious. Some scenes made me laugh out loud whilst I was also on the edge of my seat. Lastly, there are a number of monologues from Dafoe which are, in the most candid sense of the word, extraordinary.


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#06. Ad Astra (dir. James Gray)

James Gray directs Brad Pitt in this brooding sci-fi about a stoic astronaut called upon to make an emotional plea to his father, a revered spaceman holed up on Neptune with delusions of grandeur. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure whether Ad Astra would make it onto my list right after I saw it, but my synopsis (and probably any single paragraph description) is terribly bare bones. It’s a slow burn without much explicit dialogue, but the longer it lingers, the clearer the brilliance.

It’s a profound tale of humanity, in which the pioneers are trained to restrain what makes them human in order to advance humankind. There are masterful juxtapositions and contrasts to this effect, and a terrific mirror image in the father and son characters. The entire film is hinged on one single person, yet the exploration of his psyche is sprawling, scrambling between the emotional and the logical, the primitive and the modern.

The film is gorgeous, yet perhaps more impressive than its effects alone are the degree to which they are utilised. Ad Astra is an epic film, but it is no typical ‘space opera,’ opting to avoid sensational imagery and instead ensuring it remains a solitary portrait, grounded in its plot and central conflict concerning the inner struggles of a sullen man.

The visuals are wonderful, but rarely are they glimpsed from glorious angles or lingered upon. Earth sports a colossal space antennae, the moon has been colonised, there are galactic wars, but the film does not manifest these details to any profound extent. There’s a brilliant contrast between the imposing setting and Brad Pitt’s restrained voyage, with the cinematography and mise-en-scene striking an expert balance between the two, composing a genuine and rooted vision over something which could have very easily been spectacular but vain. It’s a tightly knit, introspective film that I warm to a little more with every thought.


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#05. The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne in this black comedy about two cousins — Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, and Abigail, played by Emma Stone — vying for her attention. The film was released in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.A. at the end of 2018, but didn’t reach most regions (including the U.K.) until January and February of 2019.

I never felt much for The Lobster, but a lot of the same deadpan delivery and dry wit on display in The Favourite is suddenly riotous. There’s much to be said about the setting and production design — all the extravagance and pomp, the grandeur and majesty, make for a hilarious contrast to characters who are often stunningly direct and unfiltered.

It’s cast to a tee, with renowned faces who seamlessly meld into their roles. The dialogue, in all its piquant awe, reminded me of The Death of Stalin. It has the same sort of heavy subject whilst also being playful and deadly funny. Among the satire and cunning, there are some more gentle and moving moments involving Colman’s Queen Anne, with the actress bringing an incredible dynamic to the role, skillfully portraying tyrannical and sensitive sides.


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#04. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Set in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s supposed penultimate work sees Leonardo DiCaprio play an actor struggling to stay relevant in a changing film industry. Brad Pitt plays his stuntman and rock of sorts, who finds himself on a series of escapades between work. They are joined by an ensemble cast in what largely amounts to a love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Much of the cast play characters based on or inspired by real-life people, but Tarantino deftly reimagines history, crafting a sprawling chronicle that is as funny as it is tense and lovely. It’s an epic work with a lot of spirit, tended to with clear passion. Tarantino involves many of his long-standing signifiers, yet Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is in the same instance more sober and wistful than some of his other recent work.

DiCaprio is on fine form, delivering a poignant performance that will be anchored and remembered for a number of stand-out scenes. The film’s characters are the draw more so than the plot, but Tarantino’s strenuous planning ensures it is no less engaging. Though DiCaprio is the stand-out, even those in much smaller roles are memorable compelling. More than any other Tarantino film, I get the sense that Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is his most spirited and well directed work. Every aspect seems in tune with his vision.


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#03. Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

I chose Gerwig’s Lady Bird as my number four pick in 2017. I’m exceedingly glad her and Saoirse Ronan are back this year in an adaptation of the classic novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which explores the dynamics and attitudes of four sisters (and the society of the time) in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

I am familiar with Little Women by name only. I haven’t read the novel, nor seen any of the other adaptations, so I can’t comment on its fluency as an adapted film, or compare it with any other version. Yet I get the sense that it is a wonderfully epitomised account, or at the very least, a highly accomplished rendition, judging by the critical response. The narrative is kneaded with care, and though Saoirse Ronan’s character Jo seems the clear lead, all four of the sisters have a distinct essence.

I loved the structure — exploring past and present in tandem. Rather than an inconsequential ‘Oh, they’re doing it this way’ sort of reaction, I felt it helped expound the narrative in an interesting and slightly ambiguous way. Further, Jo’s conflict as a headstrong woman unwillingly to diminish her liberty through marriage, who must navigate societal constraints and confront loneliness, is expertly divulged, with Ronan such a commanding and yet tender presence.

Florence Pugh’s Amy is another stand-out as a sort of counter-image to Jo, who accepts that in order to prosper in a restrictive climate, she must forego some autonomy. The film casts a brilliant dynamic here between sisters who are all, in some way, confounded by an unjust union, but tackle their liberation and happiness in distinct ways. It’s brilliantly cast and gorgeous to look at  — the locations and costumes are enchanting — with superb dialogue, particularly from Ronan and Pugh. The timelessness of the book seems captured and skillfully bestowed; it’s a film with true spirit and one with the aura of a warm embrace, that I am sure will echo and abide for time to come.


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#02. Uncut Gems (dir. Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie)

In this immaculately packaged follow-up to Good Time, the Safdie’s present a fabulously unnerving snapshot of an audacious jeweller looking to score big money on a rare mineraloid. Pursued by creditors, balancing his business, and in the midst of a familial breakdown, leading actor Adam Sandler seems as though he will stop at nothing to satisfy his desires.

What I love about Uncut Gems, and from what I’ve seen of the Safdie’s work thus far, is the sheer dynamism, recklessness, and total ingenuity of the central character. Sandler’s character Howard Ratner is somebody almost completely void of empathy — he’s rash, self-absorbed, almost maniacal — and yet you root for him all the same. There’s something wholly infectious about his obsessive, adrenaline-filled pursuit. The Safdie’s successfully plunge audiences into Howard’s world through an exhaustive combination of image and sound.

Even during relatively idle scenes, there is this imposing, compelling dread. Though the Safdie’s are working with a different cinematographer here, there’s a similar energy and vibe to Good Time — an almost blazing grittiness; ethereal tinged reality. This is helped in no small part due to the score, from regular Safdie collaborator Daniel Lopatin. The hypnotic visuals are augmented by a bewitching electronic soundscape, saturated with paranoia and wonder.

And just when it appears as though the film has reached boiling point, the director’s reveal another gauge during the final act, dialing up the tension and excitement to heights only the most immersive and moving films can. For me, the final sequence is on par with the ending of my number one pick as one of the decades finest. It’s an all-around triumph with an enduring, exceptional performance from Sandler.


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#01. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Bong Joon-ho’s seventh feature follows a penniless family who live in a half-basement apartment, barely a part of society’s gaze. The son lands a job as an English teacher for the youngest child of a well-off household, and hatches a plan to infiltrate the prestigious family, crafting false personas for his own kin to slot into well-paying work unwittingly offered by the rich ménage.

Parasite is an ingenious and all-around entrancing work. It’s difficult to pin down one single aspect that ‘works’ above all else or which makes the film great, but that’s the brilliance of Bong Joon-ho. His films are harmonious in the way they blend genre and twist presumption, in how they’re both imposing and intimate, both sober and manic. Contrasts co-habit and converse with master precision. He weaves together these ensemble pieces from fragments here and there, saying and showing so much in a package that is impeccably wrapped, layer upon layer.

The same film that will have you gasping in horror will have you laughing riotously, with a stupid grin from ear to ear, beaming because you wonder just how on earth he does it so well. Bong Joon-ho’s films are like modern day fairy tales, each brandishing a hypnotic many-faced mask — they are equal sides twisted and pleasing, sometimes both at the same time. You never quite know what he’ll come out with next, and it’s this sort of boundless classification that shows his aptitude lies, not only as a director, but also as an expert writer and story-teller.

To say too much about Parasite would spoil the fun, but it’s a riotous, indelible tour-de-force of a thriller, with twists and turns that are at once outlandish and yet persuasively developed. Bong Joon-ho further instills his trademark societal critiques, attentively working meditative examinations into the film’s bone marrow.  It’s a smart, hilarious, and haunting film that, I believe, will abide in the memory of audiences for a long time.


Thank you for reading. Film in 2019 seemed a little underwhelming until the latter months, but come the end it wasn’t difficult to choose ten pictures that I really loved. Since it’s the end of a decade, I think I’ll conclude with some of the best films I have enjoyed these past ten years. On a different day, this list may well change ever so slightly, but here are twenty films from the 2010s that I adore.

My Top 20 of the Decade (in no particular order)
• Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)
• Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2018)
• Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
• Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)
• 0.5mm (Momoko Ando, 2014)
• Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018)
• 20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)
• The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)
• Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013)
• Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner, 2014)
• Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
• A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Shunji Iwai, 2016)
• Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, 2019)
• Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
• Confessions (Tetsuya Nakashima. 2010)
• Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)
• Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
• The Meyerowitz Stories (Noah Baumbach, 2017)
• A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)
• Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)

Until next time!

A Wild Sheep Chase Quotes

202I knocked out another long overdue Murakami, almost cover-to-cover over the course of two days. I started reading A Wild Sheep Chase a couple of years ago. I worked a job with a split shift and had three hours to kill during lunchtime. At the time, I didn’t have a place of my own to stay, and I didn’t like going back to where I was sleeping. It would have been a long walk there and back, and there was nothing to do anyway.

So I’d go to the library or sit in the shopping centre, either reading books, or writing my own outlines and dialogue for stories I planned. A Wild Sheep Chase was one of the books I started reading during that time. I got about half-way through, but a lot of things happened around May and June of that year, and my schedule changed, and I didn’t have my alone time in the library or on shopping centre benches anymore.

But to cut a long story short, I picked it up again a few days ago a here we are. I couldn’t quite remember where I left off, so I started again from the beginning. As has become a little tradition, I wrote down all the quotes I particularly enjoyed as I read through the book, and here they are for anybody to read. They’re from the 299 page paperback published by Vintage in 2003, with translation by Alfred Birnbaum.


Page 5.
I forgot her name.
I could pull out the obituary, but what difference would it make now. I’ve forgotten her name.
Suppose I meet up with old friends and mid-swing the conversation turns to her. No one ever remembers her name either. Say, back then there was this girl who’d sleep with anyone, you know, what’s-her-face, the name escapes me, but I slept with her lots of times, wonder what she’s doing now, be funny to run into her on the street.
“Back then, there was this girl who’d sleep with anyone.” That’s her name.

Page 20.
From the photo albums, every single print of her had been peeled away. Shots of the both of us together had been cut, the parts with her neatly trimmed away, leaving my image behind. Photos of me alone or of mountains and rivers and deer and cats were left intact. Three albums rendered into a revised past. It was as if I’d been alone at birth, alone all my days, and would continue alone.

Page 26.
There were, of course, no whales in the aquarium. One whale would have been too big, even if you knocked out all the walls and made the entire aquarium into one tank. Instead, the aquarium kept a whale penis on display. As a token, if you will.
So it was that my most impressionable years of boyhood were spent gazing at not a whale but a whale’s penis. Whenever I tired of strolling through the chill aisles of the aquarium, I’d steal off to my place on the bench in the hushed, high-ceilinged stillness of the exhibition room and spend hours on end there contemplating this whale’s penis.

Page 37.
I swallowed my breath and gazed at her, transfixed. My mouth went dry. From no part of me could I summon a voice. For an instant, the white plaster wall seemed to ripple. The voices of the other diners and the clinking of their dinnerware grew faint, then once again returned to normal. I heard the sound of waves, re-called the scent of a long forgotten evening. Yet all this was but a mere fragment of the sensations passing through me in those few hundredths of a second.

Page 38.
She’d become so beautiful, it defied understanding. Never had I feasted my eyes on such beauty. Beauty of a variety I’d never imagined existed. As expansive as the entire universe, yet as dense as a glacier. Unabashedly excessive, yet at the same time pared down to an essence. It transcended all concepts within the boundaries of my awareness. She was at one with her ears, gliding down the oblique face of time like a protean beam of light.
“You’re extraordinary,” I said, after catching my breath.
“I know, ” she said. “These are my ears in their unblocked state.”
Several of the other customers were now turned our way, staring agape at her. The waiter who came over with more espresso couldn’t pour properly. Not a soul uttered a word. Only the reels on the tape deck kept slowly spinning.
She retrieved a clove cigarette from her purse and put it to her lips. I hurriedly offered her a light with my lighter.
“I want to sleep with you,” she said.
So we slept together.

Page 40.
I couldn’t for the life of me believe I might be any better or different in any way than anyone else.

Page 76.
Generally, people who are good at writing letters have no need to write letters. They’ve got plenty of life to lead inside their own context. This, of course, is only my opinion. Maybe it’s impossible to live out a life in context.

Page 76.
My biggest fault is that the faults I was born with grow bigger each year. It’s like I was raising chickens inside me. The chickens lay eggs and the eggs hatch into other chickens, which then lay eggs. Is this any way to live a life? What with all these faults I’ve got going, I have to wonder. Sure, I get by. But in the end, that’s not the question, is it?

Page 80.
Time really is one big continuous cloth, no? We habitually cut out pieces of time to fit us, so we tend to fool ourselves into thinking that time is our size, but it really goes on and on.

Page 85.
Boarding a long-distance train without any luggage gave me a feeling of exhilaration. It was as if while out taking a leisurely stroll, I was suddenly like a dive-bomber caught in a space-time warp. In which there is nothing: no dentist’s appointments, no pending issues in desk drawers, no inextricably complicated human involvements, no favors demanded. I’d left all that behind, temporarily.

Page 86.
What’s over for one person isn’t over for another. Simple as that. Beyond, the path goes in two different directions.

Page 88.
Almost all the customers in the place were university student couples, neatly dressed and politely sipping their highballs. No girls on the verge of passing out drunk, no hot fights brewing. You could tell that when they went home, they put on pajamas, brushed their teeth, and went straight to bed. There was nothing wrong with that. Nice and neat is fine and dandy. There’s nothing in a bar or in the world at large that says things have to be a certain way.

Page 90.
“I really don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, making new life. Kids grow up, generations take their place. What does it all come to? More hills bulldozed and more oceanfronts filled in? Faster cars and more cats run over? Who needs it?”

Page 98.
You concentrate on waiting for someone and after a certain time it hardly matters what happens anymore. It could be five years or ten years or one month. It’s all the same.

Page 108.
“People can generally be classified into two groups: the mediocre realists and the mediocre dreamers. You clearly belong to the latter. Your fate is and will always be the fate of a dreamer.”

Page 123.
“Mediocrity takes many forms.”

Page 125.
There’re many things we don’t really know. It’s an illusion that we know anything at all. If a group of aliens were to stop me and ask, “Say, bud, how many miles an hour does the earth spin at the equator?” I’d be in a fix. Hell, I don’t even know why Wednesday follows Tuesday. I’d be an intergalactic joke.

Page 126.
“To get irritated is to lose our way in life.”

Page 127.
“The Boss is an honorable man. After the Lord, the most godly person I’ve ever met.”
“You’ve met God?”
“Certainly. I telephone Him every night.”

Page 129.
I planted an elbow on the armrest of my chair, rested my head on my hands, and shut my eyes. Nothing came to mind. With my eyes closed, I could hear hundreds of elves sweeping out my head with their tiny brooms. They kept sweeping and sweeping. It never occurred to any of them to use a dustpan.

Page 131.
I’m well on the way to veteran class when it comes to killing time in the city.

Page 131.
A built-in ceiling speaker called my name. At first it didn’t sound like my name. Only a few seconds after the announcement was over did it sink in that I’d heard the special characteristics of my name, and only gradually then did it come to me that my name was my name.

Page 135.
“I can’t figure it out. You’re probably right that it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it’s futile in the end, at least we looked for the sheep. On the other hand, I don’t like being ordered and threatened and pushed around.”
“To a greater or lesser extent, everybody’s always being ordered and threatened and pushed around. There may not be anything better we could hope for.”

Page 140.
There’s that kind of money in the world. It aggravates you to have it, makes you miserable to spend it, and you hate yourself when it’s gone. And when you hate yourself, you feel like spending money. Except there’s no money left. And no hope.

Page 140.
Casually taking it all in, I thought of my ex-wife’s parting remark that maybe we ought to have had children. To be sure, at my age it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to have kids, but me a father? Good grief. What kid would want to have anyone like me for a father?

Page 149.
With the job out of the picture, I felt a surge of relief. Slowly but surely I was making things simpler. I’d lost my hometown, lost my teens, lost my wife, in another three months I’d lose my twenties. What’d be left for me when I got to sixty, I couldn’t imagine. There’s no thinking about these things. There’s no telling even what’s going to happen a month from now.

Page 152.
“Nice kitty-kitty,” said the chauffeur, hand not outstretched. “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have a name.”
“So what do you call the fella?”
“I don’t call it,” I said. “It’s just there.”

Page 167.
“Body cells replace themselves every month. Even at this very moment,” she said, thrusting a skinny back of her hand before my eyes. “Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.”

Page 172.
We returned to the hotel and had intercourse. I like that word intercourse. It poses only a limited range of possibilities.

Page 246.
I was feeling lonely without her, but the fact that I could feel lonely at all was consolation. Loneliness wasn’t such a bad feeling. It was like the stillness of the pin oak after the little birds had flown off.

Men Without Women Quotes

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I started reading Men Without Women in May 2017, the month it was published in English. At the time, I was going through a very difficult break-up. I finally finished the book this week, almost two years later, and feel I am still going through that break-up.

I moved home that May, after a two-month period of couch surfing, which is why Men Without Women was adjourned for a while. I had a lot to get in order and never got around to picking it up again. Until now, of course. Some other notable things happened that month. I experienced perhaps the loneliest birthday of my life so far, and that May was the last time I ever heard from my ex-girlfriend.

In many ways, this book epitomised and still epitomises my situation. I’m kind of glad that I put it off for a while. I started it fresh into a new era of loneliness, and finished it well accustomed to the world of Men Without Women. The contents were a familiar palate, to me perhaps more so than any other Murakami, but as is usual, the author warps the distressing and the depressing into beautiful tales, both enlightening and inspiring. Reading Men Without Women welled up many sad memories, but Murakami’s prose helped shed a fresh, invigorating light on what has been a dark period of my life.

As I have done before on this blog, I compiled a list of quotes as I read through Murakami’s new book. These excerpts are all passages that I am particularly fond of and cover all seven of the short stories in the collection, though some feature more than others. They’re collected from the 240-page hardback published by Harvill Secker, with translations by Murakami regulars Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. I hope you’ll find the prose as interesting and illuminating as I do.


Drive My Car

Page 10.
While he didn’t dislike talking to people he knew well about things that mattered, he otherwise preferred to remain silent.

Page 16.
He regretted that he had not summoned his resolve while she was still alive to question her about her affairs. It was a regret that visited him frequently. He had been oh-so-close to asking her. He would have said, What were you looking for in those other men? What did you find lacking in me? But it had been mere months before the end, and she was suffering terribly as she struggled against her approaching death. He didn’t have the heart to demand an answer. Then, without a word of explanation, she had vanished from Kafuku’s world. The question never ventured, the answer never proffered. He was lost in those thoughts at the crematorium as he plucked her bones from the ashes. So lost that when someone whispered in his ear, Kafuku did not hear him.

Page 17.
In every situation, knowledge was better than ignorance. However agonizing, it was necessary to confront the facts. Only through knowing could a person become strong.

Page 19.
Words, they felt, could only cheapen the emotions they were feeling.

Page 20.
“You loved being someone other than yourself?”
“Yes, as long as I knew I could go back.”
“Did you ever not want to go back?”

Page 24.
“Relationships between people, especially between men and women, operate on — what should I say — a more general level. More vague, more self-centered, more pathetic.”

Page 26.
He was struck by how easy it was to read Takatsuki’s emotions. The man was transparent — if he looked into his eyes long enough, Kafuku thought, he could probably see the wall behind him. There was nothing warped, nothing nasty. Hardly the type to dig a deep hole at night and wait for someone to fall in.

Page 29.
He doubted the dead could think or feel anything. In his opinion, that was one of the great things about dying.

Page 33.
“Can any of us ever perfectly understand another person? However much we may love them?”

Page 34.
“The proposition that we can look into another person’s heart with perfect clarity strikes me as a fool’s game. I don’t care how well we think we should understand them, or how much we love them. All it can do is cause us pain. Examining your own heart, however, is another matter. I think it’s possible to see what’s in there if you work hard enough at it. So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”

Page 35.
They shook hands once again on parting. A fine rain was falling outside. After Takatsuki had walked off into the drizzle in his beige raincoat, Kafuku, as was his habit, looked down at his right palm. It was that hand that had caressed my wife’s naked body, he thought.
Yet on this day, that thought did not suffocate him. Instead, his reaction was, yes, such things do happen. They do happen. After all, it’s just a matter of flesh and blood. No more than a pile of bone and ash in the end, right? There has to be something more important than that.


Yesterday

Page 45.
When I moved from Kansai to Toyko to start college, I spent the whole bullet-train ride mentally reviewing my eighteen years and realized that almost everything that had happened to me was pretty embarrassing. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t want to remember any of it — it was so pathetic. The more I thought about my life up to then, the more I hated myself.

Page 57.
Not being able to find the right words at crucial times is one of my many problems.

Page 58.
I left the coffee shop, and as I walked to the station I wondered what the hell I was doing. Brooding over how things had turned out — after everything had already been decided — was another of my chronic problems.

Page 60.
“Is it hard on you?” she asked.
“Is what hard?”
“Suddenly being on your own after being a couple.”
“Sometimes,” I said honestly.
“But maybe going through that kind of tough, lonely experience is necessary when you’re young? Part of the process of growing up?”
“You think so?”
“The way surviving hard winters makes a tree grow stronger, the growth rings inside it tighter.”

Page 74.
“You remember my dream?” she asked.
“For some reason, I do.”
“Even though it’s someone else’s dream?”
“Dreams are the kind of things you can — when you need to — borrow and lend out,” I said. I really do overplay these sayings sometimes.

Page 75.
Music has that power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt.


An Independent Organ

Page 85.
“A gentleman doesn’t talk much about the taxes he paid, or the women he sleeps with,” he told me once.
“Who said that?” I asked.
“I made it up,” he said, his expression unchanged. “Of course, sometimes I do have to talk about taxes with my accountant.”

Page 91.
“I’ve been out with lots of women who are much prettier than her, better built, with better taste, and more intelligent. But those comparisons are meaningless. Because to me she is someone special. A ‘complete presence,’ I guess you could call it. All of her qualities are tightly bound into one core. You can’t separate each individual quality to measure and analyze it, to say it’s better or worse than the same quality in someone else. It’s what’s in her core that attracts me so strongly. Like a powerful magnet. It’s beyond logic.”

Page 93.
“These days I’ve often wondered, who in the world am I? And very seriously at that. If you took away my career as a plastic surgeon, and the happy environment I’m living in, and threw me out into the world, with no explanation, and with everything stripped away — what in the world would I be?”

Page 108.
As long as it all makes sense, no matter how deep you fall, you should be able to pull yourself together again.

Page 110.
I think that what we can do for those who have passed on is keep them in our memories as long as we can.

Page 111.
Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie. This was Dr. Tokai’s personal opinion. It depends on the person, he said, about the kinds of lies they tell, what situation they tell them in, and how the lies are told. But at a certain point in their lives, women tell lies, and they lie about important things. They lie about unimportant things, too, but they also don’t hesitate to lie about the most important things. And when they do, most women’s expressions and voices don’t change at all, since it’s not them lying, but this independent organ they’re equipped with that’s acting on its own. That’s why — except in a few special cases — they can still have a clear conscience and never lose sleep over anything they say.


Scheherazade

Page 119.
Habara imagined a bunch of lampreys swaying like weeds at the bottom of a lake. The scene seemed somehow divorced from reality, although reality, he knew, could at times be terribly unreal.

Page 121.
“What do lampreys think about?”
“Lampreys think very lamprey-like thoughts. About lamprey-like topics in a context that’s very lamprey-like. There are no words for those thoughts. They belong to the world of water. It’s like when we were in the womb. We were thinking things in there, but we can’t express those thoughts in the language we use out here. Right?”

Page 142.
“Life is strange, isn’t it? You can be totally entranced by the glow of something one minute, be willing to sacrifice everything to make it yours, but then a little time passes, or your perspective changes a bit, and all of a sudden you’re shocked at how faded it appears. What was I looking at? you wonder.”


Kino

Page 153.
As he waited for his first customer, Kino enjoyed listening to whatever music he liked and reading books he’d been wanting to read. Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let the solitude, silence, and loneliness soak in.

Page 153.
Happiness? He wasn’t even sure what that meant. He didn’t have a clear sense, either, of emotions like pain or anger, disappointment or resignation, and how they were supposed to feel. The most he could do was create a place where his heart — devoid now of any depth or weight — could be tethered, to keep it from wandering aimlessly. This little bar, Kino, tucked into a backstreet became that place. And it became, too — not by design, exactly — a strangely comfortable place.

Page 167.
Kino’s wife was wearing a new blue dress, her hair cut shorter than he’d ever seen it. She looked healthy and cheerful. She’d begun a new, no doubt more fulfilling, life. She glanced around the bar. “What a wonderful place,” she said. “Quiet, clean, and calm — very you.” A short silence followed. But there’s nothing here that really moves you: Kino imagined that these were the words she wanted to say.

Page 184.
“Don’t look away, look right at it,” someone whispered in his ear. “This is what your heart looks like.”


Samsa in Love

Page 209.
“It’s strange, isn’t it?” the woman said in a pensive voice. “Everything is blowing up around us, but there are still those who care about a broken lock, and others who are dutiful enough to try to fix it… But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”


Men Without Women

Page 214.
The kind of unsettled feeling the newly deceased bring on is highly contagious.

Page 220.
Suddenly one day you become Men Without Women. That day comes to you completely out of the blue, without the faintest of warnings or hints beforehand. No premonitions or foreboding, no knocks or clearing of throats. Turn a corner and you know you’re already there.

Page 223.
Once you’ve become Men Without Women, loneliness seeps deep down inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet. No matter how many home ec books you study, getting rid of that stain isn’t easy. The stain might fade a bit over time, but it will still remain, as a stain, until the day you draw your final breath. It has the right to be a stain, the right to make the occasional, public, stain-like pronouncement. And you are left to live the rest of your life with the gradual spread of that color, with that ambiguous outline.
Sounds are different in that world. So is the way you experience thirst. And the way your beard grows. And the way baristas at Starbucks treat you. Clifford Brown’s solos sound different, too. Subway-car doors close in new and unexpected ways. Walking from Omote Sando to Aoyama Itchome, you discover the distance is no longer what it once was. You might meet a new woman, but no matter how wonderful she may be (actually, the more wonderful she is, the more this holds true), from the instant you meet, you start thinking about losing her.

Page 227.
That’s what it’s like to lose a woman. And at a certain time, losing one woman means losing all women. That’s how we become Men Without Women.

Movie Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Title: Alita: Battle Angel
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein
Released: Feb 2019


Fishing through a scrapheap, a nondescript cyborg head, enclosing a human brain, is found by a cybernetics doctor named Ido. With memories of his own deceased daughter still weighing on his mind, he reconstructs the cyborg girl and names her Alita after his kin. Ido adopts a nurturing role after discovering Alita has no memories of who she is or where she comes from, but finds the girl is more than meets the eye. Thrown into the alien dystopia of Iron City, Alita strives to rediscover her identity and find contentment among the spiraling harshness and villainy beset around her.

Adapted from Yukito Kishiro’s long-running manga, but borrowing chiefly from the first four volumes, Robert Rodriguez’s rendition has been a long time coming. The author was approached regarding a film version of his series as early as 1994, with the rights eventually landing with James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox in 1998. A feature-length adaptation has been all but sat on since then, with an inquisitive Robert Rodriguez ultimately procuring the project from Cameron, who finally deemed the visually complex film possible after technological strides were made through his work on Avatar.

For me, this film has been a near decade long wait. For others, it has been twice that amount. In many ways, it both has and has not met the expectations that have been orbiting the project for so long, it being an adaptation of a much loved manga, from two oft-referred visionary filmmakers.

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Alita: Battle Angel is a film of contrasts, both brilliant and substandard. From a visual standpoint, the film is particularly resplendent. The action is frantic and entertaining, amid a world that is — for the most part — wonderfully realised. The effects are all-around absorbing, with Alita herself an exceptional character in both personality and craft. However, the film is let down by crude writing and a disappointing lack of development for many of its secondary characters, notably the antagonists.

It suffers somewhat from the Ghost in the Shell syndrome with an overwrought union of sources. It wants to adapt the manga, and it wants to adapt the anime, and it wants to be its own thing. It’s kneaded together in a way that reveals its own artifice, with hammy dialogue and a lot of not-so-subtle exposition. The plot, while at times intriguing and generally admissible, is weighed down by convolutions and feels suffocated by details, whereas much of the cast besides Alita remain unfortunately shallow.

Even Hugo, the romantic interest, is little more than a husk. He’ll happily tell you that he has a dream, but you’ll be none the wiser as to why. If you want to find out more about him, or the father figure Ido, or the wicked Vector, then you need to read the official prequel novel. That the film has these gaps that need to be filled by going elsewhere is a major inadequacy.

And yet, in-between all of this, it is a fun film, in large part because of the charismatic and charming Alita, who is adapted well from the manga. She looks terrifically authentic, with the use of close-ups and focal shots on her in particular accentuating the finer details and distinct characteristics that make her seem so real. Rosa Salazar is very much the heart and soul of the movie, and worth the price of admission alone.

190

There is a scene where Hugo describes her as the most ‘human’ person he knows. This is a bit of a meta-statement, as Rosa and the crew have clearly gone to great lengths to exhibit just how authentic Alita is. This could have proven uncanny and disastrous if the effects weren’t up to standard, but the character is so credible that the sentiment is well expressed. This is not solely the work of WETA, but also Rosa, whose performance is captured in all its profundity. Her journey from wide-eyed girl to hardened Hunter Warrior is easily the best characterisation in the film.

Sadly, every other character struggles to attain any notability. Ido and Hugo are given the second most screen time, but we’re given little reason to care about Hugo, and while attention has been given to Ido, the character’s depth is of little consequence. His relationship with Alita, while not entirely shallow, fails to avoid some degree of banality. Similarly, Jennifer Connelly’s character Chiren has such a negligible presence that her maternal dissonance has little time to form an effectual arc. Though this is a restriction of the runtime as much as it is a deficiency in the writing.

Likewise, villain Grewishka dithers here and there, and is ultimately a puppet that never acquires the depth and spectacle of his manga counterpart. In many ways, he is vastly upstaged by Ed Skrein’s Zapan, who is compelling but skin-deep. Mahershala Ali does what he can with the script, but the actor is underutilised, and his character mishandled. This leads to an ending that fizzles away before it gets going, ultimately making for a conclusion that is a far cry from fulfilling.

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However, what the film lacks in character and development, it has tenfold in action and zest. The Motorball set piece, while sadly shorter than I had hoped, is stunning. All of the action is well choreographed, with key weaponry, such as the Damascus Blade and Rocket Hammer, included much to the delight of manga fans. There are also a number of not-so-obvious details that work to set up potential future plot points that readers of the source material will enjoy. Sadly, however, one of the principal characters from the manga is horrifically shoehorned in and re-written to the point of obscurity.

The setting of Iron City is quite extraordinary, fittingly claustrophobic and ruinous as in Kishiro’s vision, but I wanted to see more of it. There’s a wondrous establishing scene, where the viewers glimpse the city at large for the first time with Alita, but it never seemed as lively or absorbing beyond this introduction. There’s also a sequence in some underground caverns which, in the manga, are glorious and imposing, but in the film this part felt a little too much like a set. Comparably, the film score by Junkie XL is at times a dash undistinguished, but at others marvellous and prominent.

If you can overlook the contrivances, there’s much enjoyment to be had with Alita: Battle Angel. It is let down by a number of shortcomings, but if you do take anything away from the film, it’s very likely to be Alita, and in that respect it has earned my adoration. Rosa Salazar is the ideal Alita, with her character and her journey given due care and attention. I waited for this adaptation for almost a decade, and while it’s not all I had hoped, the parts that it does get right do flourish in spite of the flaws.

For more film musings, you can find me on Letterboxd.

Favourite Music of 2018

Last year I wrote about eleven new songs that I had fallen for. This year, this post is a little late coming because I wasn’t too sure whether I had much to write about. I listen to music every day, but unlike film, I don’t always actively keep on top of it. New albums and songs pass me by quite often. Years go by and I’ll still be discovering what is relatively old music by my favourite artists.

As such, it hasn’t been a particularly fresh year for me, music-wise. At least not yet. I have listened to more music in 2018 than I did in any of the previous five years, but I have only five new songs that I would like to share. Nonetheless, like my film list, I wanted to try and make my music favourites a yearly occurrence, whether I have many or not.

I find myself gravitating heavily toward alternative and indie artists these days, and I always have a love for an infusion of electronic sounds. Though I am rarely inimical to any genre. I hope you’ll find these choices worthwhile, whether they’re to your tastes or not.


Girl of the Year by Allie X (YouTube)184

Allie X is one of the few artists I do keep up with, and one I’m happy to say I discovered very early on, upon the release of her X extended-play in 2014. I’ve listened to her every year since, and find she always puts out an impressive collective, charged with rousing vocals amid an exhilarating medley of electropop and indie sounds.

I found the introduction and interlude a little obscure, but the rest of the material on Allie’s fourth extended-play Super Sunset fully exhibits her talent. That said, the absolute stand-out for me is Girl of the Year, a stupendously catchy song which I find difficult to play at any other volumes besides maximum.

The song’s energy is similar perhaps to something like Prime, but the lyrics aren’t as upbeat. I love the variance between the tuneful beat and the plaintive verses. As much as I love Allie the singer, I love Allie the songwriter. I still wish for a full-length album.

Favourite Verse
There’s a hollow inside you
And it won’t disappear
Oh no, baby the way we work
We’ve got about a year


All Girls Are the Same by Juice WRLD (YouTube)185

I am very fond of a couple of rap and hip hop artists, but it isn’t typically my most studious genre. That said, I discovered Juice WRLD on a complete whim through his song Legends and instantly fell in love with the combined rhythm and emotion. Like Girl of the Year (though very different musically) it is at once catchy and melancholic.

Legends, from the extended-play Too Soon, which was dedicated to Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, remains my most played song by the rapper, but I slowly found myself growing more fond of All Girls Are the Same from his debut album Goodbye and Good Riddance, largely because of the lyric content.

Of the album, Juice WRLD stated that he was “trying to make music to help people through their situations and tell them about some of my own,” and revealed that the content was all genuine. I think he achieved this tremendously. There’s a lot of affinity I find with this song and I think, when a piece effects you to such a degree, it is surely worthy of note. The rapper explicates his mindset in such a fluent and ingenious way that, when listening through the album, I often go back just to hear this one song again.

Favourite Verse
All this jealousy and agony that I sit in
I’m a jealous boy, really feel like John Lennon
I just want real love, guess it’s been a minute
Pissed off from the way that I don’t fit in


The Death of Me by Meg Myers (YouTube)186

Like Allie X, I discovered Meg Myers around the time of her debut, the Daughter in the Choir extended-play. Curbstomp and Monster were my favourites for a long time, and then came Desire, Make a Shadow, and Heart Heart Head. It took me a little while to warm to The Death of Me from her second album, but eventually I fell for it so entirely.

I adore the harmony between Meg’s enchanting intensity and the depth of Christian Langdon’s voice, whom she duets with. There’s a brilliant melody in the contrast, which reminded me of some tracks by Angelzoom (the solo project of Claudia Uhle) on their self-titled debut album. I’d love to see this song performed live. I sense it’s one of those pieces that would thoroughly capture and entwine you in the excellence of it all.

There is tremendous work on Meg’s sophomore album, Take Me to the Disco. It’s infused with many musical influences, moulded heavily by the singers own experiences, which are conveyed expertly through her stunning range and powerful lyricism. Little Black Death, Numb, and Tear Me to Pieces were other stand-outs, the latter of which displays the breathtaking vehemence of her voice.

Favourite Verse
I never had it bad like this before
I gained a couple of battle scars
But I never thought I’d be losing this war
Surrender doesn’t cut it like it did before


Risk by Metric (YouTube)187

My 2018 was largely dominated by two bands, Metric being one of them. I had loved their fifth album Synthetica (released in 2012), but never quite dived into the rest of their discography. When I finally did last year, there was a wealth of plunder awaiting me. Their entire catalogue is utterly brilliant, furnished with alluring sounds and dreamy lyricism.

Metric would likely make it into my all-time favourites at this point. They have a dynamic sound — each album very distinct — yet they are wondrously consistent in the quality of their music, perhaps owing to the fact the band members themselves have been together far beyond a decade. Their talent and camaraderie shines absolutely.

Risk was my favourite from their latest release, Art of Doubt. The heavenly voice of Emily Haines is, as ever, ravishing, complemented seamlessly by the instrumentals. Yet it is the songwriting (a combined band effort, simply credited to Metric) that utterly enraptures me. I find the chorus so beautiful and so haunting. That the band are still producing stand-out tracks amongst a discography already so profound is something magnificent.

Favourite Verse
Can I send this kiss right to you now?
‘Cause the risk belongs with you somehow
Can I return this kiss that you gave?
Already know it’s borrowed anyway


Paint Me by MAMAMOO (YouTube)188

MAMAMOO were my most played artists of last year. When it comes to Korean music, I am familiar with most groups and singers, though I seldom venture from the comfy genius of this heavenly four-piece, comprised of Solar, Moonbyul, Wheein, and Hwasa (a relatively low member count for a Korean troupe).

The girl group are known for their powerful vocals, as well as their jazz and rhythm and blues influences. They put out no less than three extended-plays in 2018, each part of their ‘Four Seasons’ project, where each member has a mini-album which represents both them and a season of the year. My favourite song, Paint Me, is from their first ‘Four Season’ mini-album, Yellow Flower, which represents the youngest member, Hwasa. I actually loved this album so immediately, that I wrote about it earlier in the year.

I know Paint Me will be a controversial choice, not only within K-pop circles, but also among MAMAMOO fans. Let it be known that I adore Starry Night, Egotistic, Sleep in the Car, and No More Drama, but I find Paint Me thoroughly enrapturing. The song, which commenced their ‘Four Seasons’ enterprise, is an intoxicating ballad that swells in magnificence, and displays the undeniable energy and robustness possessed by each of the four vocalists. It’s strong in emotion and intensity and I love it.

Favourite Verse
Yellow, when you suddenly came to me
Before I knew, my heart was full
Of warmth that resembled spring
So naturally

Best Movies of 2018

As another year comes to a close, another assemblage of lists, summaries, and rundowns begin to emerge. It has been half a decade since I began chronicling my favourites on this blog. Like most years, I wasn’t sure what to make of 2018 at first, but come the end, there are a number of films which I am confident will stay with me hereafter.

As usual, I typically go by U.K. release date for my top ten, in order to ensure continuity and inclusivity. If I were to include films based only on their initial release date, that would outright exclude a portion of popular late year U.S. releases, such as The Favourite, Green Book, and Vice, which don’t reach Britain until next year, and thus I have no actual way of viewing. Comparably, I have seen The Death of Stalin on a number of other lists, which was released in many territories this year, but is rather a 2017 film in the U.K. I do make exceptions for films that are widely available online before their British release.

Furthermore, whilst I make every effort to see as many films as possible in a given year, there are inevitably some which I miss. Thus, this is by no means a completely exhaustive list. Like all personal top tens, it is largely subjective and individual.

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.


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Special Mention goes to They Shall Not Grow Old (dir. Peter Jackson)

My special mention this year goes to Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking World War I documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old. I know people who will simply not watch black and white films. I have always found this attitude frustrating, but Jackson’s astonishing documentary demonstrated to me not only the substance of colour in film, but also the prowess of modern frame rate and sound mixing techniques.

Many will have heard about the methods on display here, but words do little justice to the reality Peter Jackson and team have managed to uncover from the grainy archives. The film begins conventionally enough, with silent black and white footage, aided by a voice over. Part way through, however, the screen transforms. Colour, movement, and sound truly revitalises the aged footage, bestowing it an immediacy the dated annals seldom provide. It is utterly illuminating and unforgettable.


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#10. First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle)

Most will know of the first moon landing, but knowledge of the Apollo 11 astronauts doesn’t seem to spread much beyond their names and nationality. Even the preceding Apollo programs, which led to the required capabilities, is seldom related, at least not in Britain. Damien Chazelle recounts these events expertly, avoiding melodrama and obvious structure by instead narrating a staunchly personal account of Neil Armstrong.

The film charts Armstrong’s professional career, beginning with his time as a test pilot, where he would experience some high altitudes flights which enabled him to observe the atmosphere. We follow his later vocation with NASA, up until the moon landing itself. In just as much focus, however, is his home life and personal time with his wife Janet.

Some liberties seem to have been taken in telling Neil Armstrong’s story, but the film still appears a stunningly deep account. Ryan Gosling is wholly convincing, and captures the temperament of a man facing a perilous mission into the unknown down to minute detail. I am glad the film avoided a typical heroism angle, and is instead quite a slow and psychological tale about a seemingly traumatised man who quells his anguish by obsessively striving toward an unsullied expanse. Like Gattaca, much of the film is grounded and sober (yet still undeniably well shot), until the final sequence, which is all the more gorgeous and breathtaking.


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#9. Searching (dir. Aneesh Chaganty)

Technology (and particularly social media) has had a discordant representation on screen. Corners are often cut to allow for exposition or plot conveniences, and what is so familiar to most becomes glaringly counterfeit. Searching has been touted as a film that does it right and, for the most part, it really does.

In this mystery thriller told almost exclusively from a computer screen, David Kim’s daughter, Margot, goes missing. He quickly informs the police and is assigned a detective, but finds he can do just as much diagnosis himself, by tracing his daughters whereabouts via her social media, which leaves a very distinct digital footprint.

Tech savvy viewers will have a couple of complaints, but Searching does a commendable job in forming a social age mystery. The cinematography (if you can still call it that) is ingenious; a monitor has never felt so unconfined. For a film shot in just two weeks, but which spent a year and a half in post-production, the vigorous attention to detail shows, with numerous Easter eggs and important plot components hidden away in the background, ensuring audiences — should they desire — are able to engage with the film to a profound degree. Coupled with an arresting performance from John Cho (who also had a stand-out last year in Columbus), this is surely one of the year’s best thrillers.


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#8. Liz and the Blue Bird (dir. Naoko Yamada)

Naoko Yamada is emerging as one of the top animation directors in Japan. Her adaptation of A Silent Voice in 2016 was a gorgeous and deeply affecting piece, so tightly knit and competently plotted, that I enjoyed it even more so than the manga. Her follow-up, Liz and the Blue Bird, is another distinct and striking entry.

The film — a tale of two friends in a high school music club, who must come to terms with their encroaching graduation — is a sort of side-story to the popular Sound! Euphonium anime series, itself based on a procession of novels, though any prior knowledge of these media isn’t required before you see Liz and the Blue Bird.

The film is quite brilliant in its in-between moments. The first sequence is largely without dialogue, as we observe one of the characters, Mizore, simply waiting for her friend Nozomi at the school gates. There’s a large emphasis on emotion and body language, which aren’t typically given such intricate but subtle attention in anime.

The plot could be easily retold in typical anime episode length, but the feature runtime here affords it a meditative quality, allowing emotions to teeter, stir, and linger to a greater degree. It’s a conventional story explored through an atypical, largely observational method unusual for the medium; the director and crew allow the characters room to simply be, and the film benefits from it immeasurably.


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#7. One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shinichiro Ueda)

Initially released in Japan late in 2017, One Cut of the Dead had a run of mere days in two small art theatres in Tokyo. After gaining popularity following positive word of mouth and triumphant appearances at film festivals, it was re-released in 2018 to over 200 screens, and has since travelled the world, becoming a runaway sensation. Filmed in just eight days, it has now remarkably grossed over one thousand times its budget.

The film follows an eccentric director and his crew who are recording a one-take zombie movie, but they find themselves embroiled in a seemingly real-life doomsday scenario, when members of the team become zombies for real. It sounds familiar, but to say any more would spoil the fun. There hasn’t been a zombie feature quite like this.

The first half of One Cut of the Dead is riotous fun, but it’s in the second half where it begins to display its true genius. There are so many layers, details, and nuances which may at first seem rather mundane or senseless, but these small features slowly reveal a wonderfully inventive plot which utilises the cinematic form and the very construction of film to such a masterful degree.

It’s difficult to elucidate the sheer brilliance of One Cut of the Dead whilst skirting around spoilers, but it is certainly one of the most fun and creatively self-reflexive films I have ever seen. It reminded me of my old college movies, and whilst I would recommend it to anybody, I feel those with a particular interest in film will love it all the more.


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#6. Journeyman (dir. Paddy Considine)

Paddy Considine is an inestimable talent. No matter the role, he can be counted on to deliver an esteemed performance. While his role in The Death of Stalin will deservedly find much attention this year, is was Journeyman — which he wrote, directed, and starred in — that left the most tremendous impression upon me.

The film is a character piece of sorts, which follows Considine’s part as Matty Burton, a middleweight boxing champion whose life is drastically changed after a devastating injury. It has less a plot than films of a similar ilk, such as Bleed for This, and rather focuses on snapshots of Burton’s trauma and newfound affliction, charting his changed reality.

I have seen Journeyman touted as a ‘boxing film,’ but it is much rather a studious drama. There is only one boxing sequence and it is far from ostentatious. Even Burton’s injury, the major event which dictates the matter of the film, occurs as a delayed incident outside the ring. The film is deeply affecting in this way — there’s nothing showy about Burton’s injury. Considine’s bedeviled character, and his friend’s and family’s reaction to his altered state, is devastating precisely because it feels so authentic and so close to home.

Almost the entire film is spent with Burton, who Considine captures with remarkable credibility. After his injury, which the audience can only tell is something to do with the head, there is barely a hospital scene, and certainly no doctor’s explanation or timely exposition. Burton returns home only a few cuts later, and it isn’t immediately obvious how changed he is. Though it treads familiar territory, Journeyman’s understated technique and exceptional performances solidify it as a haunting and indelible film that may demolish even the most stony of hearts.


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#5. Crazy Rich Asians (dir. Jon M. Chu)

The romantic comedy isn’t typically the most inventive of genres, and I have seen many audiences deride Crazy Rich Asians as too predictable, but it honestly surprised me. Not so much through its characters or plot (there are certainly tropes there), but through just how captivating and charming it is.

Rachel and Nick are a couple of Asian heritage who live in New York City. Rachel is elated to accompany Nick to his best friends wedding at his family home in Singapore, where she discovers his ménage are exceedingly wealthy. As extended family and friends gather for the wedding, Rachel feels very much a fish out of water, due in large part to the repellent attitude of Nick’s mother, who feels Rachel isn’t good enough for her son.

Like Liz and the Blue Bird, the content here isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is absorbing. Crazy Rich Asians is expert escapist filmmaking — a feature that plays with tropes, rather than into tropes. It possess a layered framework, blending both East and West, past and present, tradition and modernity, in a story that is as funny as it is moving. This quality is accentuated by ravishing cinematography befitting of the luxury setting, and a formidable cast who offer even the less developed characters a lasting presence.


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#4. A Star is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)

Whilst I haven’t seen any of the other versions to offer a comparison, this modern retelling of the classic story is an outstanding debut from Bradley Cooper. What abides most in A Star is Born, other than the music, are the characters. Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga feel not an ounce manufactured; their characters embody such visceral and unrefined emotion; at once soothing and plummeting audiences into their world.

Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a successful musician with a reliance on alcohol. He discovers and falls in love with Ally, a female singer played by Lady Gaga. Maine convinces her to sing at one of his shows and she becomes an overnight sensation. Thrust steadfast into the music industry and into a relationship with a destructive drinker, Ally finds herself both perturbed and delighted with her new life. Maine attempts to sedate his habits, but finds his demons difficult to quell.

Lady Gaga’s casting was a stroke of genius; she and Cooper play off one another masterfully, not only on screen, but also as vocalists and musicians. The title track, ‘Shallow,’ is every bit as lovely and heart-rending as the couple themselves. Sam Elliot, in what is only a small (but pivotal) role, all things considered, also left a substantial impression as Cooper’s on screen brother. He and Maine share what seems a very cumbersome relationship, the history of which we feel without really having to know. Later in the film, they share a scene that is so well composed it left me in such awe.


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#3. Burning (dir. Lee Chang-dong)

Haruki Murakami is my favourite author. His prose is gorgeous and his themes alluring. His wordsmanship is such that even the mundane takes on an ethereal quality. Yet many, if not all, of his live-action interpretations thus far have proven divisive. Murakami works heavily in metaphor and his plots are seldom conspicuous — they don’t lend themselves well to a direct adaptation. Lee Chang-dong understands this well and has brought along much of his own flair for his first adapted screenplay.

Burning chronicles the simmering love triangle between Jong-su, Hae-mi, and the enigmatic Ben, a playboy of sorts whom Hae-mi meets whilst travelling. The three share a vague bond, made all the stranger when Ben reveals to Jong-su his compulsion to burn down green houses, which begins to take on another meaning to the sceptical Jong-su.

Ok Gwang-hee, producer for the film, claimed they had only purchased the motif of the original story, and yet it feels a bona fide adaptation nonetheless, with many of Murakami’s signifiers, such as elusive cats, dried up wells, mysterious phone calls, and even a little jazz. However, Lee Chang-dong is too much the auteur, with his own voice staunchly present. He takes the central themes and ideas, the bare bones of the original story, and kneads them together with greater detail, to form what is arguably a more enriching narrative than Murakami’s own work.

It is certainly the best cinematic interpretation of Murakami thus far; mesmeric in both content and form, with enchanting imagery abundant with terrific vistas. The plot balances a fine line between ambiguity and lucidity, which is one of the film’s most appealing aspects. It is an enrapturing slow-burn where nothing is absolute, and it is in this ambivalence that Burning is so fulfilling. It is the first film in a long time where I wanted to watch it again almost immediately after it ended.


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#2. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)

Those who read my top ten last year will know Annihilation has been on my radar for some time. I love Garland’s screenplays for both Sunshine and Never Let Me Go, and Ex Machina, his directorial debut in 2014, showed he possessed just as much talent behind the camera. Nonetheless, Annihilation had a perturbed released in Britain, where it was absent from cinemas, supposedly for being too radical for the typical audience. Garland refused to make changes and it eventually debuted on Netflix.

The film follows an all-female expedition into the shimmer — a glossy rainbow coated area that forms following an impact event on the southern coast of the U.S. Inside, the crew attempt to locate others who had ventured in before them, but find vegetation and animals, and even perceived reality itself, mutated and warped beyond comprehension.

Annihilation is utterly creative and remarkable in so many ways, from the narrative, to the set dressing, sound design, visual effects, and beyond. Barrow and Salisbury’s score is of particular note. It is ever present and atmospheric from the onset, but swells into an ethereal haze, dense with synthesised sounds, as the film progresses, fashioning an exceptional nebulous soundscape which is truly befitting of the otherworldly imagery.

Film critic Devindra Hardawar said you will “miss out on the film’s epic scope and rich sound design” if you watch it on a TV or laptop, though he seems to disregard advancements in hardware. Whilst Annihilation was clearly made for the big screen, I don’t believe it is such a lost cause when viewed at home.

On the contrary, the film is perhaps best watched in utter seclusion, absorbed with some exemplary headphones that will safeguard you from any disturbances. Though it would have been a treat on the cinema screen, a closed environment may rather work to its benefit. In the stillness of my apartment, I found Annihilation utterly enthralling and, even on my laptop, it was likely one of the most immersive film experiences of my life. I have returned to watch the final act more times than I care to count, which I believe is testament to its artistry.


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#1. Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)

I was initially ambivalent toward Koreeda. Nobody Knows didn’t intrigue me as much as his reputation had led me to expect. Yet I watched Air Doll thereafter and fell so in love with it. This year I had the pleasure of seeing Shoplifters and now feel the director has perhaps a most wondrous filmography, of which I have barely scratched the surface.

Shoplifters — known as ‘Shoplifting Family’ in Japan — follows a family on the margins. They’re a ragtag group whose relationships to one another are vague and indirect, but they nonetheless form a unit. They live in an unassuming household far too small for them all, and support themselves day-to-day through shoplifting and part time work.

I am beginning to see Koreeda as a master of observation. His camera seldom intervenes; it rather lingers on the edges, framing delicate portraits, both hyperaware and understated. Shoplifters isn’t a flashy film in the typical sense, but it is profoundly intricate in how it is woven together, and in how Koreeda enables audiences to both empathise with and criticise the ensemble cast, who are attentively developed.

Though the characters are essentially criminals, Koreeda unravels their flawed complexions to such a fine degree that the film is stunningly layered. There is no right or wrong, or good or evil, here there are only people. The film speaks volumes on topics such as poverty, parenthood, and family, but Koreeda does not strive to provide an ‘answer,’ so to speak. It’s a beautifully told feature, plotted and staged so competently that it appears utterly spontaneous and natural, and even poetic in some instances.

The cast proffer their roles an enduring reality, ensuring the characters linger far beyond the runtime. Cate Blanchett spoke of how “intermeshed the performances were with the directorial vision” at the Cannes film festival, which I think is an eloquent way to put it. A stand-out for me was Sakura Ando, in a role as mesmeric as her performance in 2014’s tour de force 0.5mm. Her character’s first dialogue is spoken whilst she isn’t even in shot, but in one of her final appearances, she essentially addresses the camera. This is the most overt example of the sheer magnitude in which these characters flourish as the film progresses. The latter scene is my most favourite in the entire film, and the moment I knew Shoplifters was my favourite feature of 2018. Sakura Ando here, in what is largely one take, is brilliant beyond measure. I cannot wait to watch Shoplifters again.


As ever, thank you dearly for stopping by. Unfortunately, I missed WildlifeWidows, and Roma, but I hope you found my choices compelling. These past twelve months shaped up to form an engaging year for film. I feel as though I’ve been saying this for the past two years, but soon we’ll finally see the release of Alita: Battle Angel — my most anticipated film for some time. I’ll be posting an in depth review when the time comes, and will continue to share many more film-related matters, so please swing by again, some time.

Happy New Year!

Radical Embitterment

I used to listen to a band named Radical Face. I say a band, but it’s actually the project of singer-songwriter Ben Cooper. I discovered his music in 2010, when his song Welcome Home was used in a particularly frequent television advert for Nikon. Radical Face remained one of my absolute favourite musical acts for years, up until 2013 when an extremely petty situation sadly blemished the music for me.

You can see the dramatic drop in my listening figures. I did the math and worked out that if I stuck to my listening average as observed in the first four years, Radical Face would very comfortably be my most played music artist of all time right now.

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I feel like a bit of an imbecile writing about this, but Radical Face popped on while I was listening to music on shuffle the other day, and I found I’ve finally matured enough to get over this silly situation. You see, Radical Face was tainted for me by a loathsome venue doorman.

I went to see Radical Face in 2013 with my then-girlfriend. We lived in London at the time and Radical Face were playing at the Union Chapel, which is a very wonderful and intimate venue. The show was fantastic. The music of Radical Face is very layered, with Ben making use of numerous instruments and sounds. Obviously he alone can’t play them all live, so the live songs with his band members had a different character, but they were superb and wholly interesting renditions all the same. They even did a cover of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games, which was a pleasant surprise in all its impromptu greatness. I have nothing but good things to say about Radical Face and I would absolutely recommend going to see Ben perform live if you ever get the chance.

I even got to meet Ben afterwards. When the show ended a crowd formed around him, but when it transitioned into a line, I found myself near the front. I’m not typically good at meeting people, let alone people I admire. I quickly shot out my praises, asked for a picture, and thanked Ben with a big smile. Infused with happiness, as I approached the exit I decided I wanted to buy a T-shirt. I didn’t actually own any band merchandise, but I had listened to Ben for years, both as part of Radical Face and Electric President. I loved the design and wanted to support one of my all-time favourites.

I didn’t have any money with me, so I left to go to a cash point. When I returned no more than five minutes later, I was blocked from going back into the venue by a doorman who had materialised in front of the entrance. Sadly, he was one of those pathetically authoritative types. No matter our plea, he was having none of it. I showed him my ticket and explained I only wanted to go back inside to buy a T-shirt, but this elicited little more than a shrug from him.

The venue was still open and would be for some time; though the performance had ended, the bar in the adjacent room had just opened. This man should not have denied a paying customer, but apparently his ego was running at maximum capacity. He proclaimed that if we had told him we were coming back when we left, he would have let us in. This made little sense considering he wasn’t blocking the entrance when we left. How were we to know to seek out this mystery man, let alone that being gone for mere minutes would cause any issue at all. This statement alone revealed there was no reason for him to block our way other than to exercise his authority.

Most were still mingling inside, but some were exiting the venue and the doorman would constantly maneuver around the doorway to ensure I wasn’t able to enter as they left. It was really rather wretched. Credit to my then-girlfriend who gave him a piece of her mind after I had fallen quiet in utter disbelief over how needlessly hideous this person was being. It still makes me angry thinking about it now. It’s one of the very few moments in my life where I wish I had never backed down, but I had become so deflated after a ten minute dispute with this man that there was little drive to keep going. I wonder what he would have said if I told him I had left my belongings inside, or if I had sought to talk to somebody else working at the venue.

I posted a short comment on the Radical Face Facebook page when I got home, about how much I had loved the performance, but that I was blocked from re-entering and whether any merchandise was available to purchase online. The band manager reached out to me and said I could purchase a T-shirt, which they would post to me (they didn’t have an online shop). This alleviated my disappointment, but ended up being a second blow. There was radio silence thereafter and I never heard from the manager again. It’s extremely petty and immature on my part, but I found I couldn’t listen to Radical Face for a while after that. To this day I lay the sole blame on the repellent doorman; the music just reminded me of how disappointed I had been. You know how the smallest of misfortunes can sour your day — that’s what this man had done for me.

I suppose I hadn’t realised it until I started writing about this, but now I try to avoid those sorts of situations. I won’t leave room for disappointment. If there’s something I want, or something I need to do, I tend to take care of it before any annoying little variables have a chance to crop up. I feel silly for letting such a trivial situation spoil my enjoyment, but disappointment is such a potent emotion that can ruin even the most sacred of things, no matter how it comes about. I was much less disappointed about not being able to get back in than I was with how needlessly horrid this man was. He carried himself with a smug attitude and seemed to revel in his authority. Evidently, his position meant that he was God and his word was Gospel. Any pleas from me or my then-girlfriend — any semblance of sense or reason — were rebuffed with short, apathetic remarks. The experience, at least, reminded me of the utmost importance of being respectful, humble and considerate.

I’m sure my absence wasn’t noted, but I regret being gone for so long. I never stopped listening to Radical Face entirely, but my disappointment and bitterness woefully attached itself to the music I loved. I suppose you could say my enjoyment was tarnished by a radical embitterment. Eventually I put it all behind me, but by that point I had given myself to different sounds and never reattained the level of enthusiasm I had previously. Finally, after all these year, I find I am feeling the music again. I hate that I let somebody ruin what I loved, but at least now I can rediscover the beauty and genius of Radical Face as though I am rekindling a once passionate romance.

Why Desty Nova Won’t be in Alita: Battle Angel

Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron’s film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s cyberpunk manga Battle Angel Alita is just a few months away. A full length trailer was released last week, which gave audiences a taste of what to expect and featured some very welcome reveals, such as the inclusion of Motorball. However, there still isn’t a single trace of the series’ main antagonist, Desty Nova. Despite the director name-dropping him in an interview, I believe the character won’t be a notable or recognisable part of the film.

My reasoning is tied to Makaku, the very first antagonist in the manga, who is the first character to mention and effectively introduce the renegade scientist Desty Nova. In chapter seven, he reveals to Alita that Nova transformed him from a decaying child who roamed the sewers, to a maggot-shaped cyborg symbiote. With this ‘maggot body’ Makaku is able to take over other cyborg’s and pose their bodies as his own.

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Ultimately, this serves as a tantilising introduction for Desty Nova. Throughout the following volumes, Alita is drip-fed information on the character, before finally meeting him half-way through the series in volume five. In the manga, Desty Nova is the supreme antagonist. Almost every other villain Alita finds herself against has, in one way or another, been warped, modified, or influenced by him, but given Desty Nova’s late appearance, a prominent role in the film adaptation was always unlikely, as it adapts material from before his main inclusion. However, as a fan favourite character, who is nonetheless crucial to the story, surely a tease or a reference was a possibility.

The problem is that Makaku (and by extension Desty Nova’s introduction) has been removed from the film. The cyborg that bears resemblance to him in the trailers is in actuality Grewcica, an amalgamated character from the 1993 anime OVA. This character is much less complex than Makaku and has no ties to Desty Nova. This is also but one of the inclusions which are sourced from the OVA, rather than the original manga material. James Cameron revealed in the trailer release Q&A that the anime was his introduction to Battle Angel Alita, after a recommendation from Guillermo del Toro. Desty Nova is not included and is never mentioned in the anime. This eliminates what would have been a seamless establishment of the character and his reputation.

But didn’t Robert Rodriguez say that Mahershala Ali was playing Desty Nova in a duel role alongside Vector? That is correct, and his precise statement is as follows:

He plays Vector, who’s famous from the manga [as a black-market dealer who Hugo works for] and then there’s a villainous character called Nova who can, like, ride through other people. He can take over their bodies. So he has to play someone else; that was really fun. We got the actor to come in and do the main role he’s playing, but then you kind of have to create a whole other character with him. I showed his footage to Jim and he was like, ‘It’s a totally different person!’ Posture, voice, the look in their eye: it’s a lot of fun for an actor to do that. One, to play the first character but then have to come up with a second character on top.

I find issue with this description of Desty Nova as a character who can “ride through people” and “take over their bodies.” This seems much more fitting of Makaku’s maggot form over anything Desty Nova does. While Grewcica does not possess Makaku’s body swapping abilities, Robert Rodriguez did say that screenwriter James Cameron had come up with “inventions” inspired by the manga. It’s possible the ‘body swapping’ of Makaku has been incorporated into this Nova character which is performed by Ali, and is thus introduced through alternate avenues entirely separate from the manga.

Yukito Kishiro has stated that the film production retained “respect for the source material” and while there were parts that deviated from the original work, he said “the core of the story is quite in tact.” It seems likely, given that Alita is the core and constant element of Battle Angel, that Desty Nova is rather one of these deviations. Yet, Robert Rodriguez’s statement remains — seven months later — the sole mention of the character in all promotion. His lack of presence seems to indicate to me that he will be absent or, at the very most, reduced to an ambiguous cameo role à la the Emperor part in The Phantom Menace. Whatever the case, the evidence thus far doesn’t suggest a character at all similar or as prominent as his manga counterpart.