Movie Talk: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

I discovered Kenji Miyazawa’s novella Night on the Galactic Railroad just a couple of years ago, following the release of Shunji Iwai’s film A Bride for Rip Van Winkle. In the film, the protagonists’ internet handle is Campanella, after one of the central characters in Miyazawa’s work. This is a curious choice. Nanami, the character who uses the name online, comments that she is simply a fan of Miyazawa, but her handle seems to foreshadow her relationship with another character named Mashiro. Nanami and Mashiro’s relationship does bare some similarity to that of Giovanni and Campanella in Night on the Galactic Railroad, but ultimately Mashiro assumes Campanella’s semblance over Nanami. Looking at these characters in this parallel sort of way reveals another layer to Shunji Iwai’s film. I have always respected Iwai as a writer and I love that he references other art frequently in his work.

Night on the Galactic Railroad is perhaps Miyazawa’s most well known work, but was not actually published until a year after his death. It tells the tale of two young boys named Giovanni and Campanella, who find themselves aboard a train travelling through the cosmos. It’s major themes are death, happiness, and self-sacrifice. I have seen some other commentators describe Miyazawa’s philosophy as being naive, but I don’t believe another person’s sentiment can necessarily be defined in any unambiguous way. I’ve also read the author’s short work The Nighthawk Star and Signal and Signal-less and personally feel they are very profound in many respects, but it is Night on the Galactic Railroad that has stuck with me.

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Passages from the book are on my mind quite frequently and I have written previously about my favourite quotations. Given my adoration for this novella, I thought it was time I finally watched the 1985 anime adaptation. Now I’ve seen it, it is perhaps one of my most favourite book-to-film adaptations there have ever been. It’s a very respectful rendition, and contains all the poignancy and wonder of the book.

The source material is enriched by the haunting soundtrack, and despite the limited animation, there are some striking visuals. The main sequence with the Bird Catcher is a fine example of this. The plot occurs in segments, and unravels in a very steady and organic pace. It’s often ponderous and unhurried, but the segments are neither too brief nor too extensive, and neither are they unwarranted. Miyazawa’s sentiment and the themes of the original story have been handled and presented very tactfully.

There are many reflective passages in the book, which would have worked well as dialogue, but Giovanni’s monologue has been stripped down, with much emotion and sentiment expressed visually. I especially loved Giovanni’s fixed gaze as Campanella talks to the girl. In the book, Giovanni is very jealous, but here he comes across as solemn and melancholic.

I do think the book is more philosophical in areas (some of Miyazawa’s character’s are quite outspoken and inquisitive when they discuss topics such as happiness and pain) and it does present a greater sense of loss and sorrow in certain segments, but I appreciate the film’s more subdued and meditative approach all the same. It respects the audiences’ intelligence and rewards observation and thought.

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The scenes on the Galactic Railroad are of course most central, but I adored the first act and found almost all of the film mesmeric and enrapturing. Small little sequences, such as Giovanni spotting his classmates playing in the distance, but walking off broodily in the opposite direction, aren’t always the most prominent or memorable in written form, but here every scene seemed to have weight or an essence to it.

The plot is centered mostly around child characters, but its profundity is surely felt by audiences by and large. One of the biggest changes from the book to the film was to make almost all of the characters anthropomorphic cats. It seems a rather puzzling decision when you read it out like that, but somehow it feels so befitting of the story. Bizarrely, anthropomorphic cats have never appeared so human and so profound.

There are some tremendous ruminations in this film; it is beautiful and bittersweet; at once heartfelt and heartbreaking. Miyazawa’s words have transferred so brilliantly to the screen, and ultimately not only is this a fantastic adaptation, but also a fantastic companion piece to the original work.

Manga Talk: Bio-Booster Armor Guyver

151Guyver is a classic — the manga began early in 1985 and is still published to this day. Written and illustrated by Yoshiki Takaya, it follows a high school student named Fukamachi Sho, who stumbles upon a strange device that envelopes him, and subsequently allows him to transform into the Guyver, which is a sort of bio-engineered alien bodysuit. Sho and his friends then find themselves pursued by a mysterious organisation with an otherworldly origin named Chronos, who want to reclaim the Guyver unit.

The manga was promptly adapted to anime in 1986. The fifty-five minute original video animation was titled ‘Guyver: Out of Control’ and made its way to Western audiences in the early 1990s. For many, it was among their initial exposure to anime. This was followed by two more adaptations: a twelve episode series in 1998, and a twenty-six episode series in 2005, which covered the first four and ten manga volumes respectively. It was even adapted to film in 1991 and starred none other than Mark Hamill. Apparently it had some degree of success, as there was a sequel in 1994, although without Hamill.

I must credit the 2005 adaptation as my introduction to the series. It remains the newest interpretation of Guyver, and has certainly aged the best. It was part of the ADV line-up, with the company also helping to produce. I love this anime for two reasons in particular: its accuracy in adapting the manga, and its ending. It did not cut corners, or attempt to alter the plot, and was not afraid to end on a rather perilous note. It serves as a terrific platform to launch viewers into the manga, which utilises the long form of the medium to stage some spectacular revelations and surprises, which I have seldom seen in a series that seemed to begin as an analogue shounen.

Warning! Spoilers below.

The reason I’m writing about Guyver today is because I was recently on the hunt for an anime where either the villain is the primary character, or one in which the antagonists win. To my surprise, there really isn’t that many, or at least many good ones. On the other hand, there are a wealth of manga series with a significant focus on the antagonists. Guyver is one of these, and the 2005 adaptation actually ends with the villains winning.

In episode twenty-three the heroes are easily defeated, and in episode twenty-four the evil organisation Chronos takes over the world. The swiftness of this transition really struck me. The takeover is portrayed in montage in both the anime and the manga, with multiple world leaders simultaneously revealing themselves to be Zoanoids (a sort of super powered monster of which Chronos is comprised) on what would become known as X-Day. They are battled, shot at, and even nuked, but all to no avail. Then we cut to a year later, and the entire planet is under Chronos’ dominance.

150Our hero Sho is nowhere to be seen. In fact, he was freshly vaporised by one of the founders of Chronos, who was literally created by alien-like Gods who spurred the onset of human evolution. What else had beset our hero before then? Well, besides his life being ruined simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was knocked unconscious while in the Guyver suit by one of the villains. The suit subsequently went into ‘autopilot’ and ended up killing Sho’s own father (with Sho still inside), who had been unwittingly transformed into a Zoanoid. At this point, the manga was still published in Tokuma Shoten’s Shounen Captain magazine, with Guyver being a mainstay from the magazine’s inception until its dissolution. The magazine was home to other gritty manga like Trigun and Grey.

I feel like Guyver is a bit of an outlier these days. Sure, there are manga with similar concepts — such as Zetman and Ultraman — but I feel as though none quite match the level of depth and engagement present in Guyver. A lot of it sounds very strange and rather far-fetched, but it is deceptively layered and wonderfully organic. The story ultimately spans hundreds of millennia, with a gripping and sinuous mythology, and although some of the characters are terrifically funky-looking, they all have personality, or at least a sense of plausibility and depth. Many of them are flawed; they make controversial decisions, and are rash and swayed by personal interest, which lends them a degree of authenticity.

Characters switch sides — villains become anti-heroes and protagonists are turned against their comrades. It’s not so black and white, or good versus evil. Sho is betrayed multiple times by Makishima, one of his very limited number of Guyver allies, who ends up establishing his own questionably wicked faction. He even takes advantage of his childhood friend who obeys his every command, and eventually snatches away her livelihood altogether by transforming her into a Zoalord (which is essentially an all-powerful Zoanoid) condemned to live a tragically short life.

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I feel it’s a testament to the manga’s depth and intrigue that it began publishing in 1985 and is still going more than thirty years later, albeit the updates are few and far between.  Nonetheless, it does feel like a remnant of an older time. There are no harems or flashy protagonists in Guyver, nor does the hero try to balance his super powers with an ordinary school life. It’s amusingly contrasted with almost every manga serialised within Monthly Shounen Ace magazine, which is currently home to Guyver.

The pages are dominated by cutesy female characters as seen in the likes of Kemono Friends and Gamers, which the covers then paint as almost gaudy and super contemporary. You could scarcely guess it is the type of magazine in which Guyver would reside. Nonetheless, there it remains, holding on after thirty-one volumes. The manga sadly has almost no presence in the West, and has itself been absent in Japan due to a hiatus, but to me, the day Guyver comes to a close will be one of the most momentous days in the history of manga — one of the true greats of an older time will have concluded, leaving behind a terrific legacy and a tragic void. I feel it’s one of the heavyweight ‘superpower’ series, and I wonder if the Marvel obsessed masses of today would afford it a new audience.

One can dream.

Mamamoo’s Yellow Flower

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I need to talk about Mamamoo’s new mini-album Yellow Flower. Isn’t it just wonderful? I’ve loved these beagles for a little over a year now, and while I was rather late to the club (they debuted almost four years ago), they’ve been a constant presence among my most played, and I can barely go a day without listening to their music.

If you don’t know about them — they’re a four-piece girl group from South Korea, comprised of Solar, Moonbyul, Wheein, and Hwasa. They have a distinctive funk/r&b/pop vibe, but their latest album (and particularly the song Starry Night) takes inspiration from what they call ‘chill house,’ and has a Spring concept Hwasa describes as ‘yellow mellow.’ They are known for their strong vocals and energetic stage presence, and it was initially their charisma and playfulness on Korean variety shows that drew me towards them.

Yellow Flower is their sixth extended play (or mini-album) since their debut, and they plan to release another three to represent all of the seasons, and in turn all of the members (Yellow Flower is Hwasa’s record). It’s probably my most favourite release from them thus far, and has a delectable assortment of tracks. The lead song is Starry Night, but the first track to be unveiled was Paint Me.

Paint Me is a powerful vocal piece and is quite prominent among fans as one of few tracks in which Moonbyul displays her singing talent (she is usually the rapper of the group). It was great as a single, but I think it fits even better as the closing song of the album. I’m certainly no music scholar and cannot elaborate on the composition or components of the piece to any fine degree, but the song just works for me.

I was listening to it whilst on the train the other day, watching the world go by, and it took me back to those youthful days where I would stay up all night and listen to music in the dark. Some tracks seemed to take on a new degree of emotion in the depths of the night — with no sight and no external noise or activity, it was just me and the music.

That day on the train — me and the empty carriage, sullen winter fields passing by — with Paint Me as the soundtrack, it really felt like a moment. I was hit by this astonishing sensation, which is difficult to adequately express. It was as though my mind had, for a moment, cleansed itself and I tapped into a perspective more serene and wholesome than usual. I guess I felt inspired, to put it simply. When a three and a half minute song can make even one person feel such a way… that’s just masterful.

Starry Night has gone on to be the most successful song from the album, which is, in itself, a stunning track that I feel diverges fantastically from more conventional Korean popular music, but I certainly felt more emotional resonance and depth with Paint Me. Even then, there’s so much more to the album. Star Wind Flower Sun is a passionate ballad in which all the members absolutely shine, and Hwasa’s solo track Be Calm is a soothing piece that displays well her remarkable vocals. Then there is Rude Boy and Spring Fever which, while not my favourites, are still excellent songs that I would be silly to skip. Even the twenty second outtake From Winter to Spring, which serves as the album opener, has so much charm.

Yellow Flower may be their sixth extended play, alongside one full album, but I feel as though Mamamoo still have a wealth of fresh concepts and sounds ready to divulge. There is seemingly no end to their layers, and I can’t wait for everything that follows.

Upcoming 2018 Movies (You May Have Missed)

Greetings. It’s a fresh year and an assortment of movies await us in 2018. That means it’s time for my yearly ‘upcoming movies you may have missed’ rundown. In this post (which I have done previously in 2015 and 2017) I attempt to list five films due for release in the coming months, which perhaps aren’t so well known or have yet to receive much marketing. I hope you’ll find my choices interesting and befitting of your watchlist.


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How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Dir. John Cameron Mitchel)

Based on the short story of the same name by Neil Gaiman, How to Talk to Girls at Parties follows a group of teenage boys who go to a party to meet girls, only to find the girls are far beyond their wildest expectations. It’s a science fiction story set in the 1970s, with elements of romance and comedy — the trailer provides a good idea of what to expect. It seems to be a rather quirky and offbeat film, which has divided audiences thus far. Nonetheless, it has me intrigued and Elle Fanning has been sublime in her recent roles. The film premiered at Cannes last year, and is expected to release in May this year.

More Info: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd.


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Wildlife (Dir. Paul Dano)

Wildlife marks Paul Dano’s debut as a director, and stars Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ed Oxenbould in the principal roles. It’s set in 1960, and is based on the novel of the same name by Richard Ford, which follows a boy who watches his parents’ marriage fall apart after they move to Montana, and his mother falls in love with another man. The screenplay was written by Dano and long-time collaborator and fellow actor Zoe Kazan. I feel as though there’s substantial talent surrounding this film, and am interested to see Dano’s voice as a director. The film is having its world premiere this month at the Sundance Film Festival, with a wide release (hopefully) later this year.

More Info: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd.


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1987: When the Day Comes (Dir. Jang Joon-hwan)

I always like to include at least one Asian film on this list, and the movie on my radar this year is 1987: When the Day Comes, which is a historical drama based on true events surrounding South Korea’s democracy movement in 1987. This is the year that authorities attempted to cover up the murder of a student named Park Jong-chul, who was tortured to death by the military regime. South Korea have had a very successful string of historical films recently, with the likes of The Age of Shadows and A Taxi Driver, and I’m hoping 1987 shapes up to be as rousing and engaging. It released in South Korea two weeks ago, and has a limited release in the U.S. starting today. Here’s the trailer.

More Info: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd.


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I Think We’re Alone Now (Dir. Reed Morano)

The second film on this list to feature Elle Fanning is set after an apocalypse, where two people find themselves to be unlikely companions. Peter Dinklage plays a recluse seemingly against Fanning’s quirky youthful character. Dinklage is, of course, most well known for Game of Thrones these days, but has been an actor for a very long time, and had a brilliant role as a withdrawn character in the 2003 film The Station Agent, which I recommend so much. I’m really excited to see him in another such role. Like Wildlife, I Think We’re Alone Now is having its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month, with a wider released hopefully forming sometime in the not too distant future.

More Info: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd.


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Vox Lux (Dir. Brady Corbet)

The last film on my list is a bit of a wild card — not too much has been revealed about Vox Lux, but it’s a drama which follows a character named Celeste, who rises from the ashes of a major national tragedy to become a pop super star. It’s set across fifteen years, and will include original music by Sia, with Rooney Mara and Jude Law in central roles. I am a big fan of both Mara and Law, and am always eager to see their new work. However, news surrounding Vox Lux has been very limited since it reportedly began shooting early last year. I’m hoping the film will materialise at some point in the coming months.

More Info: IMDb, VarietyLetterboxd.


Thank you very much for reading. Since you’re here, why not check out my picks for the top ten movies of 2017. At the end, I list even more films I’m looking forward to this year. As always, check in again for more thoughts and information on film, and swing by my letterboxd profile to see what I’m watching.

Favourite Music of 2017

I write only very sparingly about music, mostly because I believe it’s an even more subjective medium than film to some extent. However, there was a lot of music I loved in 2017 and my listening time is the highest it’s been in five years, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share eleven songs from the last year which I have adored.

I’ve arranged them in a vague order, with my most loved at the top. I am very open when it comes to music. I tend to listen to alternative and indie musicians the most, along with an assortment of electronic music (mostly electropop and synthpop) and post-rock. It would be easier to list the genres I don’t listen to, of which there are very little. This list is by no means as diverse as my library, but I hope it’s still a reasonably eclectic selection.


Goodbye by 2NE1 (YouTube)134

Kicking off this list is the final song from South Korean band 2NE1, released as a farewell before they disbanded early last year. I don’t have much history with 2NE1, and listen to them only occasionally, but when Goodbye appeared on the YouTube trending page last January, it grabbed a hold of me and still hasn’t quite let go.

Although the song is more an adieu from the band members to each other, it captured me at a very vulnerable moment, and I found a deep affinity with the lyrics, which are delivered soul-stirringly by CL, Park Bom, and Dara. You don’t need to understand Korean to feel the anguish and heartache, and the instrumentals — stripped down in comparison to their pop songs — are just as evocative and bittersweet.

It’s also this song I must credit to introducing me more formally to the Korean music scene. I had listened to a couple of Korean musicians here and there, but a wealth of sounds were awaiting me after 2NE1. Today, I am slightly obsessed with Mamamoo, and really love how prominent rap and hip hop are in South Korea.

Favourite Verse
When today is over
It feels like tomorrow will be different
Will my life be okay without you?
Until the day we meet again
Goodbye, goodbye


Carry Me to Safety by Mew (YouTube)135

I feel as though many of us have that one band or singer we like to keep secret. They’re too precious and important to share, and the feelings they illicit must be my feelings alone. For me, that band is Mew — a three piece from Denmark. I have yet to formally meet another person who listens to them, and greedily keep them all to myself.

Once, on my way home from a Sigur Rós concert, I found myself walking behind somebody carrying a tote bag with words from Mew’s No More Stories… album. I remember freaking out internally. I should have reached out and bonded with them over this alluring band, talked about how we were on the same wavelength, and then become good friends for the rest of our days, but life isn’t a movie and sadly I didn’t say anything.

Mew’s recent album Visuals is certainly very distinct, as all of their work is. In ways, they have an unmistakable sound (largely due to the vocals from Jonas Bjerre, who has a voice as haunting and beautiful as Jónsi), but at the same time they experiment and adjust. Carry Me to Safety is unlike anything I have heard from them previously, but is completely enrapturing. At first glance their lyrics appear rather cryptic and difficult to decipher, but are somehow tremendously moving and alluring — almost transcending.

Favourite Verse
A life to live as me
A moment that feels free
Like two big colliders
Singing out their days
You smile as if to say
Now our story’s over


Love by Lana Del Rey (YouTube)136

These days, when people ask me what music I’m into, I answer: “Lana Del Rey.” Before everything, there is Lana. My history with Lana Del Rey dates back to the release of Born to Die in 2012, and the subsequent mass-playing of Video Games. I adored Born to Die, and find that every Lana album since has been a grower.

I wasn’t too sure about Ultraviolence when it released, but would probably list it as my favourite Lana album today. I wasn’t too sure about Honeymoon, either. Sure enough, it grew on me. Same story with Lust for Life. When it comes to Lana, the initial singles never seem to grab me as much as the full album. I can’t just listen to a couple of tracks — I need the spellbinding experience of a Lana soundscape to finally envelope me.

It’s always tough to pick a stand-out track from Lana, and this year I have adored Lust for Life (ft. The Weeknd), Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind, White Mustang, Heroin, and Beautiful People Beautiful Problems (ft. Stevie Nicks), but must spotlight Love in the end, for the enchanting vocals and beautiful lyricism. It’s pure, unadulterated Lana.

Favourite Verse
Look at you kids with your vintage music
Comin’ through satellites while cruisin’
You’re part of the past, but now you’re the future
Signals crossing can get confusing


Burn it Down by Daughter (YouTube)137

I have been a fan of Daughter ever since their early EPs, and saw them live in January 2013 before their first album had released. The venue was a church and I sat up in the gallery. It was a lovely, intimate performance, and was in fact the first live music I had seen in a couple of years. I felt as though I had been missing out on so much.

I got to meet the lead singer Elena afterwards, and still have my signed ticket. She was super nice, and I got a picture with her, too. I won’t post it here because I look like a doofus. I’m so glad to be listening to them five years later, and they’re as wonderful as ever, with a more mature sound and an ever enthralling discography.

For me, the stand-out track from their new album Music from Before the Storm is Burn it Down. The album is, in fact, a collection of Daughter’s work from the soundtrack for the video game ‘Life is Strange,’ which I have heard of but am not familiar with. It’s probably one of my favourite albums of the year, and Burn it Down is such an atmospheric and plaintive piece, with incredibly wistful and stirring lyrics. Elena’s voice is to die for. I also absolutely relish the instrumental tracks Flaws and Witches.

Favourite Verse
Always said I was a good kid
Always said I had a way with words
Never knew I could be speechless
Don’t know how I’ll ever break this curse


Privilege by Stars (YouTube)143

I adore Stars. Similar to Mew, they’re a band that I tend to keep to myself. I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon something magnificent, and must keep it sheltered. They’re a band whose music does have a sense of solitary listening to it. Some music plays really well in groups and with others, but for me, I like to listen to Stars when I’m alone.

I was introduced to them over a decade ago, through their song Personal. It’s a subdued and quietly stirring piece, and they’re one of only very few bands I listen to which have more than one primary vocalist. The voices of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan work so tremendously well together — they’re invariably enchanting.

Privilege features vocals primarily from Amy, and is the opening track on their new album There is No Love in Fluorescent Light. The album itself is stunning, and Privilege is such a ravishing piece. Stars always seem to know how to steal the listener away in an instance. My favourite new track featuring Torquil on vocals is probably Losing to You or The Maze. This release absolutely solidifies Stars as one of my all-time favourite bands.

Favourite Verse
Pulling down the blinds on sun’s tomorrow
A fist through the wall for what you can’t swallow
Babies in the crib take care and breathing
You count up all your luck, can’t stop the feeling


This Ole King by Why? (YouTube)138

I wonder how many people discovered Why? by typing ‘Why?’ into Google in a moment of exasperation. I know I did. For a long time I only listened to their songs Fall Saddles and These Few Presidents, but I finally dived into the rest of their discography last year, and now I adore their first two albums; Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia.

I have a couple of favouites from Moh Lhean, the bands newest collection. The album released in March last year, with This Ole King acting as the lead single. The song debuted a couple of months prior to the album in December 2016, but I am going to cheat and include it anyway.

Why? are an American alternative hip-hop band, and possess a very distinct sound in terms of both their music and vocals. Yoni Wolf’s vocals are entrancing in their delivery and content, and This Ole King is at once familiar and fresh. I had it on repeat for weeks.

Favourite Verse
All my desire
To what I aspire
When I expire
Down dirtward all my hunger
In fire burn my anger
And collapse my stature


Amnesia by Doc Brown (YouTube)139

I was introduced to Doc Drown around Spring last year. I had a job interview at a school, and managed hitch a ride back into town on a minibus with about fifteen Chinese students. The driver had one of the BBC radio stations on, which was broadcasting an interview with Ben Bailey Smith, who uses Doc Brown as a stage name.

He’s an actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and a rapper, who had recently returned to music. I remember his interview more than the song they played — Ben came across as a very genuine and deeply interesting person, so I looked him up when I returned home.

Amnesia is from Doc Brown’s new album Stemma, and is one of a couple of songs from last year that instantly grabbed me. It’s a very memorable piece and an instance where the vocals and backing track compliment each other so well. I also really love Corruptible from the same album, and his earlier release Decisions, Decisions.

Favourite Verse
Ground control to Major Tom
You got some nice ideas
You’re just saying them wrong


In Cold Blood by alt-J (YouTube)140

One of my all-time favourite songs is Taro by alt-J — a stunning and extraordinarily beautiful piece which I would recommend to almost anybody. Their debut album An Awesome Wave, on which Taro resides, is an almost impeccable collection of alluring indie sounds, with many stand-out tracks.

I didn’t get into their follow-up album This is All Yours too much, but really enjoyed a lot of the new music from their latest album Relaxer, which released in June 2017. Nothing comes quite close to Taro, but Relaxer proved to be an eclectic and alluring collection.

My favourite track was In Cold Blood, which was unveiled as the second single. It’s a multifarious song with an almost erratic sound, that opens (rather bizarrely) with binary. I really love the delivery, though. Especially the moment the first verse kicks in, along with vocalist Joe Newman’s striking and addictive “lala-lala-laalaa.”

Favourite Verse
Hair the way the sun really wants it to be
Whiskey soda, please, your G&T is empty
Chairs, inflatables have sunk to the bottom
Pool, summer, summer, pool, pool summer
Kiss me


Heaven by PVRIS (YouTube)141

PVRIS have been on my radar for a long time, but I never quite gave them the time of day, and constantly passed them over in favour of similar acts. It would seem that 2017 was certainly their year, however. Their sophomore release All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell reached as high as number four on the UK Albums Chart.

They’re a rock band with elements of synthpop, with very wistful vocals from singer Lynn Gunn. I tend to listen to female vocalists the most, and Lynn certainly has a very commanding and haunting voice, with a sort of soothing and melodic intensity.

From their new album, I really loved Half and Heaven, but it’s Heaven that gripped me the most. It’s a compelling piece with beautiful composition, opening with paced piano notes, before introducing beats, building a rhythm, and then blasting into the chorus.

Favourite Verse
Do you ever wonder
Who took the light from our life?
The life from our eyes?
All we did was suffer
Why couldn’t we just say
You took my heaven away


Wonderland by Jasmine Thompson (YouTube)142

Jasmine Thompson’s career began at a very young age when she uploaded videos of herself singing onto YouTube. She shares some similarities to Birdy in that she’s a solo female vocalist who gained prominence primarily through covering songs, but has such a mesmerising voice that many of her covers are arguably better than the original tracks.

Her initial two albums are collections of her covers, but she has since moved towards releasing original music. I loved her Adore EP in 2015, and still listen to both the original Adore track and the acoustic version very frequently. She returned with another EP last year, which was titled Wonderland EP.

The title track Wonderland seems to me a homage to youth. It’s only a short track, coming in at three minutes, but portrays such a wondrous degree of emotion and wistful beauty — it sounds forlorn yet euphoric and ecstatic. It’s a rhapsody of sorts, and I love it. Jasmine released this at the age of sixteen, but it contains all the maturity and profundity of a seasoned vocalist. I’m always extremely excited for her new music.

Favourite Verse
Wasted youth in wonderland
Can’t help it
We fall in love with all our messed up friends
We’re so sad with our happy lives
We need each other
‘Cause we’re kids on the inside


Sober II (Melodrama) by Lorde (YouTube)144

I remember listening to Lorde in early 2013, when she was still a little known artist with two EPs. Crazy to think only a few years later, she’s being referred to as the “future of music” by David Bowie, and has two massively acclaimed albums. It’s all very deserved, though. Similar to Jasmine Thompson, Lorde is still young but has immense talent and an expert discography.

I loved Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine — it contained all the best elements of her earlier music, and featured many stand-out pieces. Her second album Melodrama was released in June last year, and featured on many year end lists. For me, I still prefer Pure Heroine, but Melodrama was nonetheless an impressive follow-up.

The most prominent track for me was the namesake, Sober II (Melodrama). It features everything I expected and more, opening with a dramatic string section befitting of the title, before introducing some menacing trap elements. The song itself acts as an interlude, but is the absolute stand-out for me.

Favourite Verse
And the terror and the horror
God, I wonder why we bother
All the glamour and the trauma
And the fuckin’ melodrama


With that, this is the end. There is so much more music which I loved and listened to last year, but the songs above are my most favourite pieces. If you want to check out more of what I listen to and enjoy, then please feel free to swing by my last.fm page. In terms of albums, there were two stand-out releases for me in 2017. The first is Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life, and the second is Daughter’s Music from Before the Storm. I’m sure 2018 has many enthralling pieces in store — maybe I’ll see you again in a year. Adieu, thank you.

Best Movies of 2017

It’s that time of the year again: the end. My arbitrary goal from last year was to watch over one hundred movies, and — somehow — I ended up watching two hundred. Of those some four hundred hours spent watching films, much time was dedicated to the motion pictures of this year. I feel it’s been quite an eclectic year for film, particularly the latter half. Thus, here is a list of my absolute favourites from the year gone by.

Before I begin, I must note…

Although it debuted in 2016, Silence is included on my list because it was released in the UK on the 1st of January. If I were to include films based only on their initial release date, that would exclude many of the late year U.S. releases, which don’t often make it to the UK before the year is over. An example this time around is The Shape of Water, which was released in the U.S. in December 2017, but isn’t out in the UK until February 2018.

Also, while I have seen a fair share of the most critically acclaimed movies this year, this is by no means an exhaustive list compiled after having scoured all contemporary cinema the Earth has to offer, thus it may be a recent film entirely deserving of merit is missing from my list. I ran into this problem last year with 20th Century Women, which I adore so much, but didn’t include in my top ten because I hadn’t seen it at the time. Nonetheless, I don’t want to get into the habit of retroactively altering my blog posts.

Now, onto the main event. As always, I’ll start off with a special mention, before working my way down from number ten to number one. Please enjoy!

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016.


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Special Mention goes to Bad Genius (Dir. Nattawut Poonpiriya)

Bad Genius just missed out on a spot in the top ten, but it left such an impression that I couldn’t let it go by unmentioned. In this film from Thailand, a group of students start gaming exams, which turns into a small enterprise with lucrative profits. However, as they gear up to cheat the international STIC exam in order to sell the answers, the risk becomes ever evident.

Bad Genius is a sort of caper movie — a heist thriller — only unlike any you have seen before. From beginning to end, it proceeds with tremendous panache. It’s slick and exciting, and doesn’t rely on any cheap flash-backs or sudden changes to the narrative arising from details previously hidden.

Come the end, it plays out as a sort of commentary on the education system in East Asia, and while the ending certainly seems divisive, it nonetheless feels part of the natural progression, and is skillfully built towards. I really loved the central character Lynn; she’s a young woman in conflict, who generally wants to do the right thing but is easily swayed. Certainly, this was one of the years most spine-tingling movies.


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#10. Good Time (Dir. Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie)

I find Robert Pattinson to be a very captivating actor. Like Shia LaBeouf and Daniel Radcliffe, he could have easily been pigeonholed and typecast early on after being attached to a popular franchise, but has since amassed an impressive and diverse body of work, and Good Time is perhaps one of his most absorbing performances yet.

The film takes place over one night, and begins with Pattinson’s character and his brother botching a heist. The latter is captured, with Pattinson then grasping at straws to try and get him freed, which leads him on a series of escapades with a mixture of characters, each scrambling through the night.

Good Time has a terrific sense of immediacy — it’s shot mostly through a mixture of close ups, which gives it a frantic and almost intoxicating quality. The audience are pulled post-haste into an ever turbulent narrative, which grabs a hold of you, shaking, right up until the end. It’s an enchanting and visually alluring thriller, with Pattinson giving an intense and commanding performance.


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#9. A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery)

Out of all the movies this year, this is the one that gave me the shivers the most. A Ghost Story follows a bed-sheet-draped Casey Affleck, who arises after dying to observe the world as a spectre. At first he silently watches Rooney Mara’s character — the wife he left behind — but finds that, as a wandering soul, his sense of space and time is vastly different to a mortal being.

Casey has no spoken dialogue as a ghost, and his face is entirely obscured, but his disposition and emotions are communicated expertly through the camera and his movements — audiences really get a sense and feeling for this otherworldly presence, which I think is quite remarkable.

You must engage with A Ghost Story to get any sort of fulfillment out of it — the narration is about as far from classical as it gets. There are some scenes and shots in the film which force or implore the audience to ponder their inclusion, and think about why it is they’re watching what they are. It’s not the most accessible picture, but I found it incredibly absorbing. I’m trying to think of movies to compare it to, but I can’t quite make a connection. I felt it had a very profound uniqueness and imagination, and the fact that I’m still thinking about it months later is very telling. It takes a special kind of film to linger and abide.


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#8. Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

I feel Blade Runner 2049 was one of the most cinematic and atmospheric films this year — one of those pictures that goes beyond sole entertainment to become a sort of experience. I love that it’s a big budget, wide-release movie that takes its time to build and ponder its themes and ambiance. It respects the audiences’ intelligence, and is a very solemn and poignant piece of cinema that lingers long after viewing.

Set thirty years after the original film, audiences follow K, a Blade Runner played by Ryan Gosling who is tasked with eliminating rogue replicants. He himself is a replicant, and lives a structured life with a rather stern disposition, but his personality and a larger purpose begin to form when he stumbles upon a secret related to Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford’s character from the original film, whom he must locate.

Blade Runner 2049 has this miraculous and fascinating setting that feels almost contradictory — somehow very large and imposing, but at the same time small scale and intimate, where glimpses of the ‘off world’ remain glimpses. It’s very much a character piece, in which the focus remains almost entirely on Ryan Gosling’s character, with a tremendous sense of scope and wonder ever-present in the background. The sound is booming and dramatic, and the visuals are striking and at times lyrical. It’s a steady and unabating film, certainly one of the year’s most impressive, and a spectacular and awesome treat on the big screen.


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#7. Silence (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

I am a fan of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. I don’t consider myself a religious person at all, but found it nonetheless terrifically revealing and affecting. I actually picked up the book a couple of years ago after hearing that Andrew Garfield would be involved in a film version, so to see this now feels as though things have finally come full circle.

Endo’s novel is told mostly from the first-person perspective of Father Rodrigues, who is in tremendous conflict with himself throughout much of the novel. It is by no means an obvious or unambiguous tale, and Scorsese and Garfield have managed to portray the disharmony surrounding Rodrigues to a stunning degree. It is of my humble opinion that Father Rodrigues is one of Garfield’s best performances.

I don’t think Silence is a very accessible film, but for me it was everything I wanted. It’s an adaptation done right, that aptly captures all the conflict and profundity of the novel, whilst adding a little more detail here and there, confidently molding prose into a truly cinematic experience. It was a real treat to see Yosuke Kubozuka involved, too. He was one of the first Japanese actors I knew by name, after seeing him in Ping Pong almost a decade and a half ago.


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#6. Columbus (Dir. Kogonada)

I went into Columbus knowing very little about the plot or contents of the film, and it completely wiped me out. It’s a rather subdued picture — almost like a sleepier version of Lost in Translation. Haley Lu Richardson plays a young woman both astray and trapped, as she resigns herself to a life in Columbus to succour her mother.

She bonds with John Cho’s character, who is himself stuck in Columbus after his father falls ill. The two roam the city, observing architecture and making small talk, slowly developing a more sincere dialogue as they begin to fill a void in each others lives.

The film has some stunning aesthetics, with the beautiful and intriguing scenery of Columbus lending itself to several of the films most alluring shots, but it was Haley Lu Richardson who really stole the show. Her character has bottled up all her distress and worries for later attention, with the film gradually loosening the lid as it progresses. The ending scene in the car is seemingly burned into my mind — it left such an impression on me. It’s profoundly emotive and moving, but is composed in such a way that it’s subdued and almost pacifying. Columbus is such a beautiful and authentic tale, and I am very glad I went into it blind.


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#5. Logan (Dir. James Mangold)

The story of Wolverine and the X-Men has been told and developed on-screen to a point where it’s almost excessive, and yet here is a new entry that feels markedly bold and different. The X-Men have always overcome adversity, so to see the last remnants in such dire straits felt entirely refreshing. They are the underdogs in a whole new light.

After playing the character for almost two decades, Hugh Jackman gives it his all in this final outing as Wolverine, where an aging Logan is ready to hang up his claws for good until he finds kinship in a young mutant girl who is being hunted by a savage gang.

At a time where many of its counterparts are free of tension and stacked with quips, it’s nice to see a Hollywood comic book movie which dares to be bleak and somber and moody. The plot itself is relatively simple, but it carries so much weight through the characters. Logan benefits from eight movies of ‘backstory’ and emotional baggage, which steadily erupts throughout this entirely raw, tender, perturbing, rousing, mesmeric farewell of a film. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are heartbreaking.


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#4. Lady Bird (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

Saoirse Ronan is an absolute dream in this eloquently written coming of age drama, that is such a confident and striking debut from Greta Gerwig. Lady Bird is a film after my own heart, and one which seems to have touched the souls of many. My only remorse is that I can’t watch it again with a fresh mind.

Ronan plays the self-dubbed ‘Lady Bird,’ a somewhat oddball student in a Catholic high school who wants nothing more than to get out of Sacramento. She’s an outspoken and often rebellious youth who values her individuality, who is frequently at odds with her mother, whom she shares a precarious but doubtless relationship with.

Although Lady Bird is essentially the tale of Ronan’s character, there are many layers and nuances to it, and while the supporting cast do not take the spotlight, they are nonetheless attentively written, well expressed, and very wholesome personalities, each embodying their own issues and identity. It felt similar in ways to last years 20th Century Women in its exploration of the mother-child relationship, which seems both dubious yet unbreakable. Saoirse Ronan elevates it to another level — although I am aware that I am watching the actress, Saoirse Ronan, performing as a character in a film; I am completely enraptured and lost within her performances, without fail. She is an incredible talent.


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#3. A Taxi Driver (Dir. Jang Hoon)

In their fight for proper democracy and representation, the people of South Korea have gone through numerous periods of strife, some of which led to violence and deadly conflict. A demonstration against the government in the city of Gwangju in 1980 turned into a merciless struggle when government troops intervened — ultimately shutting off the city and brutally attacking civilians.

In this film based on a true story, Song Kang-ho plays a taxi driver from Seoul who unexpectedly stumbles upon the bloodshed in Gwangju after ferrying a German journalist to the city. He struggles to come to terms with what he witnesses, and grapples with his survival and morals as he fluctuates between helping and escaping.

The film opens with Song Kang-ho singing along to a song by Cho Yong-pil, amid the escalating student demonstrations. It’s an excellent piece of characterisation right from the beginning — Song is an everyday man, somebody who lives day to day, without the luxury to worry about the larger picture. So when he is confronted with such an extreme situation, there’s a tremendous weight placed on his character, and Song portrays all the nuances of a man in conflict with both his surroundings and himself. His performance was completely entrancing, and the film itself was both a horror and a delight.


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#2. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

I find Noah Baumbach to be a rather hit-or-miss director — a lot of people seem to like him, but I personally haven’t loved a film of his, that is until The Meyerowitz Stories. The film tells of a dysfunctional family led by Dustin Hoffman, whose three estranged children all received vastly different upbringings. As the family gathers to celebrate their fathers work, they begin to unravel and resolve past differences.

I knew I was going to love this film from very early on. There’s a scene about ten minutes in, where Adam Sandler’s character and his daughter duet on the piano. It is one of my favourite scenes in any movie this year. It’s so tender, portraying so much love and compassion between the two, but with Sandler revealing slight vulnerabilities and anguish just below the surface. It’s terrifically shot, and the embrace between them both just five minutes later pounded me right in the heart.

Adam Sandler is so wonderful in this film — the entire principal cast are, in fact. Hoffman is incredibly engaging, with such natural delivery and impeccable timing in his comedic scenes. Stiller is able to merge both charisma and anxiety, and Elizabeth Marvel masters a distressing temperament where, even in the more tranquil scenes, her character still looks vaguely dejected and burdened. It’s a very touching and bittersweet story about family dynamics, nurturing and legacy, and I loved it.


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#1. Okja (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Last year my top film was A Bride for Rip Van Winkle from Shunji Iwai, and this year it’s Okja from Bong Joon-ho. These are two filmmakers whom I adore very much. Like Iwai, Mr. Bong produces incredible work on such a consistent basis, but unlike Iwai, I find it extremely taxing to pick a stand-out favourite from Mr. Bong. His pictures do share similarities — mostly thematically — but they are, at the same time, so distinct and impressive for vastly different reasons.

With that in mind, I can’t say that Okja is my favourite film from Bong Joon-ho, but I can say with confidence that it is my favourite film of 2017. In it, a young Korean girl named Mija and her genetically engineered super pig Okja must evade the clutches of a pitiless corporation, who want to duplicate and harvest Okja’s meat for mass production. In ways, it’s an amalgamation of elements from Snowpiercer and The Host, chock-full with social themes and tonal shifts, disclosed through a eyes of a charismatic if quirky ensemble cast.

It tackles some heavy themes, but is balanced in its commentary. It’s anti-capitalist more so than anti-meat or anti-industry; the film opens with Mija capturing a medley of fish to eat, but she takes only the amount necessary and releases the others. Okja preaches moderation and ethics, but doesn’t overstep the mark to become heavy-handed or overbearing. It’s a critique disguised as an action-adventure tale, with a plot that is thrilling, layered and profoundly emotive.

The final act is so tremendously moving and well composed that I kept returning to it for weeks; it’s a very powerful film and hits all the appropriate beats, ensuring drama, action, pain and pleasure. Ahn Seo-hyun is entrancing in her first lead role, and holds her own against veterans Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. Swinton is especially hypnotic in a duel role as the villainous Mirando twins — her antagonists have such personality and presence, and are somehow persuasive personas who are yet both detached and peculiar. This on-going collaboration between Bong and Swinton is another compelling entry into Mr. Bong’s impressive catalogue of actor-director partnerships. If you ask me, the director has yet to put a foot wrong.


There we have it. Another years goes by; what will the next one hold? When it comes to what I’m looking forward to in 2018, mostly I want to see Alita: Battle Angel. I am an enormous fan of the manga, and have been waiting for this adaptation for so long. A couple of details leave me anxious, but there were some promising moments in the trailer and the cast look terrific. I hope so much that it is a success.

Otherwise I am eager to see Duncan Jones’ new film Mute, along with Alex Garland’s Annihilation, both of which look most intriguing. I can’t wait to see The Shape of Water, and Thoroughbreds has my attention. I always look forward to anything with Andrew Garfield, so Under the Silver Lake is on my radar, which also stars Riley Keough. I am very interested in Wildlife, in which Paul Dano directs Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, and I am curious to see Vox Lux with Rooney Mara, and How to Talk to Girls at Parties with Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning. I am also aching to see Ready Player One, The Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, and Jang Joon-hwan’s film 1987: When the Day Comes, which is about the tragic true story of Park Jong-chul.

I am sure I’ll be writing about all those and more in the coming months. As always, thank you dearly for stopping by, and please check in again for more movie related musings.

Happy New Year!

Alita: Battle Angel — Trailer Impressions

I am currently swamped with deadlines, fighting off procrastination, and trying to whip up thousands of words a day before I succumb to the indolence of the Christmas period, but I had to give myself a break, for something momentous has occurred. The first trailer for the live-action adaptation of Battle Angel Alita has arrived.

Battle Angel Alita is one of my all-time favourite manga series, and I wrote about it over twenty months ago here on my blog. I ended by saying to drop by in a couple of years for my thoughts on the film version, which will undoubtedly be here come July, but before that, I must comment on the trailer.

My immediate impressions are that it looks very promising. I am impressed with the look of almost everything — they have replicated the world and the content of the manga extremely well. I’m eager to see more of the setting, but certain sequences from the trailer seem to match the manga shot-for-shot.

Thus far, the cast are looking quite exceptional. Besides Jennifer Connelly, who I believe is playing an original character, every character is immediately recognisable to me as a fan of the manga. Dr. Ido in the manga is a mixture of somebody very brave and charming, but also rather vulnerable and sensitive. I believe Christoph Waltz will be able to match his temperament considerably, and Mahershala Ali looks as though he may bring a sense of menace to the character of Vector. In the manga, Vector is very sly and often acts a lot tougher than he is, but I am wondering if they will expand his role given the popularity and presence of Mahershala Ali.

Rosa Salazar as Alita seems to be the biggest talking point from the trailer. Long before production began, Cameron teased the possibility of Alita being all CG, and it looks as though they’ve certainly played on that idea to some extent. Her big eyes are the most immediate feature, and something that I didn’t expect to see, but I really love that they’ve given Alita a sort of uncanny look. In the manga, she’s very obviously the main character — she has an extremely distinctive appearance, and her main characteristics throughout are always her big eyes, octopus lips, and buoyant hair. Here’s a comparison I put together (and another at the end of this post).

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I’m extremely pleased about Makaku’s appearance, too. Often during adaptations, it seems as though certain characters are deemed to difficult to work on screen, and are thus changed, but Makaku—who is the first villain in the Alita series—appears just as he does on the page. Some of the special effects do look as though they need more refinement, but as this is just the first trailer, I fully expect them to look better implemented in the final product. There are also a couple of tantalising spots for people familiar with the manga, such as a small glimpse of Ido’s Rocket Hammer.

There are also a couple of changes. It appears as though Gonzu—Ido’s close friend—has been completely replaced with another character, and judging from this trailer alone, it would appear as though Motorball is no longer going to be included. Cameron had previously commented that his adaptation would include elements of the first four books, including the Motorball arc, but either things have changed since handing over to Rodriguez, or they’re saving it for a later reveal. On a personal note, I did feel as though merging four entire volumes would be a bit much to fit into a single film, but nonetheless, I was excited to see some big screen Motorball action.

Nothing too solid is revealed about the plot. Scenes from the manga are in there, but it’s difficult to speculate how closely they’re sticking to the original structure. Two lines in particular—”They will come for you,” which is spoken by Ido to Alita, and “I’d give you my heart,” which is spoken by Alita to Hugo—did throw me off slightly.

Early in the manga, Alita strives to live a relatively normal life, and the only person who is really after her is Zapan, who is played by Ed Skrein in this film. But this occurs much later, even after the Motorball arc, and it seems as though Ido is referring to a group of people, rather than one person.

The second line seems to really nail Alita’s obsessiveness over Hugo, but I don’t recall her ‘heart’ being an object she can whip out and have a look at. No doubt, this is some sort of subtle exposition for later on.

All in all, I am feeling relatively upbeat about this adaptation. I’ve had a look at the larger response online, and it seems rather mixed, but I feel as though they’ve implemented many key aspects of the manga. I found the Death Note and Ghost in the Shell adaptations extremely disappointing because of their disengagement with the source material, but here it actually looks as though the creative team are familiar with Yukito Kishiro’s work. It helps that the project was first devised by James Cameron, and that he remains on board, as he is an enormous fan of the manga, and a project like this needs enthusiasm and passion behind it.

I genuinely hope this is a success, because the world of Alita is so enormous and rich with detail and scope. The manga is one of the essential cyberpunk series, and an adaptation has so much potential. Arguably, the best material and some of the most exciting characters, such as Jashugan, Berserker Zapan, Figure Four, and Desty Nova, are not introduced until after the first couple of arcs, so if the adaptation were to become a trilogy, it has the ability and substance to continually outdo itself with each installment.

Here’s hoping! Alita: Battle Angel is set to be released on 20th July, 2018.

Alita

My Hero Academia and the Horrifying Nature of Quirks

My Hero Academia is one of the most bizarre anime series I have ever seen. Not because it’s challenging, or intricate, or even that high concept, but because it lacks any semblance of logic. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like My Hero Academia. On the contrary, I watched both seasons with great enthusiasm, and enjoy much of the comedy, action and characters. However, when you really think about the setting, and the concept and apparent boundless nature of quirks, it is really quite strange and even horrifying.

I started thinking about this when the character of the Principal was introduced, who is essentially a very small polar bear. He is, according to the Wikipedia entry, a rare case of an animal manifesting a quirk, which is the show’s name for a super power. His power is that he has super intelligence, and thus he is treated just like a human, and is even in charge of Japan’s most prodigious school. Imagine the logistics of that — one day a polar bear is placed in charge of your education. You could devise a court room drama about him fighting to be recognised in society.

But if that seems outlandish, know that a dog is in charge of the police force. Unlike the Principal, the Police Chief appears to have been born human — only his head is that of a nonchalant beagle.

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In the show, people are either born with their quirks, or they manifest by age four. That means one of two things: either his mother gave birth to a baby with a dog’s head, or one day as a child, he woke up in the morning to find his human face had warped quite spectacularly into a canine’s face. I wonder what would be more horrifying. Imagine the struggles this man has known and all he has overcome to reach the respectable heights of Chief of Police.

He isn’t the rarest specimen, though. During one of the early story arcs, the protagonists are attacked by a league of villains, many of whom sport terrifying features. There’s somebody with a Venus flytrap for a head, one is literally a black hole, and some are just beyond description. Just look at that cyan-coloured dinosaur thing and that paper man plastered in eyes. No wonder these people are villains, what do they have to live for!

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Being born a monster is difficult enough, but imagine you’re born a regular person, only to lose your humanity one day when you transform into an abomination. Forget Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and the chilling imagery of Cronenberg’s The Fly, the real horror stories are in My Hero Academia.

Early on in the story, the protagonist is terribly upset that he does not have a quirk of his own, but in a world where you could end up a monstrosity, I would count my blessings. The characters themselves are never fazed, though. Nobody bats an eye when some nightmare fuel walks past, and even the weird looking ones are strangely content. At one point, Mina — who is a pink skinned girl, with black scleras and wonky horns — proudly declares herself the alien queen. That’s some quality self-assurance, right there. What a world it would be, where humanity more closely resembled an unearthly population of creatures. I would probably die of trauma if I awoke one day to find I had turned into a boulder, but these people rejoice.

Now, I know this is an action shounen series, and you could rightly deride me for taking it all so seriously, but it isn’t a straight-forward parody like One Punch Man. It takes itself seriously enough for me to take it seriously, and when you create a functioning, fictional world, you generally expect some semblance of sense. My Hero Academia is a special kind of ridiculous, but I kind of love it for that reason. Half the time I’m watching with a befuddled expression, but it’s so outlandish that it’s fascinating. It’s unproductive, but I love to ponder at the would-be traumatic pasts of all these surreal looking characters.

Manga Review: Kanai-kun (Matsumoto x Tanikawa)

Title: Kanai-kun (かないくん)
Author: Taiyō Matsumoto, Shuntaro Tanikawa
Publisher: Tokyo Itoi Shigesato Office
Published: January 2014
Length: 1 Volume


In 2014, mangaka Taiyo Matsumoto released a 48 page picture book, exploring attitudes towards death. It was a collaboration with famed poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, and the artwork and manuscripts were also presented as an exhibition at the Parco Museum in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Recent events in my own life have led me to rediscover this heartfelt and very understated book, which is narrated in short verses by an unnamed male classmate of the titular character Kanai, who has passed away. The child silently observes his fellow classmates and the surroundings following Kanai’s passing, noting changes and trying to understand what death actually means.

The book then skips forward sixty years, with the unnamed character now an elderly man and on the brink of death himself. It is revealed the story of Kanai was being relayed to his granddaughter in the form of a picture book which he has authored, but the man admits he is struggling to conclude the piece, ultimately deducing he will only know the ending when he, too, passes on. The narrative then swaps to the granddaughters perspective, who similarly laments over the meaning and nature of death.

It’s a terrifically bittersweet tale, tackled in a calming — but nonetheless emotional — manner. The writing is, as you would imagine from Shuntaro Tanikawa, poetic and thoughtful. Matsumoto’s illustrations bolster Tanikawa’s poignant prose; the collaboration of words and image produce a vivid collection of entrancing scenes. It’s only a brief tale, but is nonetheless compelling and very memorable.

The artwork is marvellous. Taiyo Matsumoto illustrated the book himself, working on it over a period of two years. Almost every page is in colour, with each section of the story presented in a slightly different tone; the beginning is mostly sepia, with the end displaying some beautiful snowy scenes. The artwork is soft, with brushstrokes and watercolours, not so dissimilar to the artist’s coloured work in Takemitsu Zamurai and Sunny. The illustrations are serene, yet evocative — in melody with the writing.

Kanai-kun is a concise, brooding piece. It doesn’t contain revelations or attempt to impart any particular knowledge, but rather it offers insight into the complex and indiscernible nature of death, which is a common fate shared by us all, but also something which every person reacts to differently, and something many struggle to wholly comprehend. I found it to be a quietly pensive book, with two masters — one behind the narrative, and the other the illustrations — complementing each other beautifully.

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Movie Review: Death Note (2017)

Title: Death Note
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater
Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, Willem Dafoe
Released: 25ᵗʰ August 2017


In the process of adapting a book or television show to film, there are undoubtedly numerous considerations. However, before deciding what material to exclude, what to include, and how your version will differ in getting from point A to B, the first point of call is surely to read, watch and understand the source material. Once you know what makes the original work so compelling and unique, you can focus on those components when moving it over to a different format.

This is a terrible adaptation, pure and simple. It’s an utter bastardisation of the Death Note manga and it’s anime adaptation, and barely resembles what it is apparently based on. It’s as though the original work were a third or fourth reference, rather than the immediate source.

The major issues are in the plot and characterisation. The original version of Death Note is a psychological thriller and part police procedural, in which law enforcement attempt to track down a seemingly supernatural serial killer known as Kira, who begins cleansing the world of criminals. But at it’s heart, it’s a game of cat and mouse, where Kira and an enigmatic detective named L exchange metaphorical blows as they strive to put an end to each other.

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The Netflix film contains none of what made the original so compelling — no cat and mouse play, no cunning machinations, and none of what you loved about the characters. It is vapid, with the Death Note itself a gratuitous weapon that exists simply to set up a series of elaborate and violent deaths as the movie crudely maneuvers from one beat to the next. Tsugumi Ohba, the original writer of Death Note, employed the notebook in involved and Machiavellian ways, but its use here is neither ambitious nor inventive.

The characters are a crowd of husks which exhibit very little range. Audiences enjoyed watching Light in the original for the same reason they enjoy watching Frank Underwood; because he is utterly devious, compelling and charismatic. This new interpretation is simply unremarkable, and L has devolved from a calculated and level-headed oddity into an irrational hothead who lacks any sort of distinctive personality.

The characters are wearisome and banal when following them should be thrilling. Willem Dafoe and Shea Whigham give respectable performances, but their parts are extremely minor and Ryuk has been reduced from an amusing and impartial observer to something resembling a devil on the shoulder, which takes away all his quirks and charm.

The story itself follows a similar premise as the original, but does not contain any of the same progression, set pieces, or plot points, and is utterly forgettable and at times so terrifically brainless. The plot is essentially complete within fifty-one minutes, and the rest of the movie is a very dismal, convoluted and ungainly effort to weave some twists and action into the film, which ultimately makes for a crudely dramatised and terrifically tedious culmination.

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It contains numerous holes and many scenes that appear very manufactured and coarse. It’s one of those movies were events occur and are set up in ways that make you question the integrity of the plot — it doesn’t have any fluency or sense to it. It is extremely rushed and hesitant with details, and appears more concerned with getting to the end rather than telling a coherent and developed tale.

For example, how serious is Light about cleansing the world of criminals? We don’t really know. Such little time is spent establishing the motivation and clout of Kira himself, and we barely even see Light write in the Death Note. Further to this, how can the law enforcement even reliably keep track of Kira’s victims when the vast majority appear as accidental deaths? How does Kira gain a following and become an entity unto himself? In the original, Kira’s victims are identifiable by their shared fate (sudden heart attack), which is not the case here. It’s as though the writers just expect you to follow along, without adding a sense of comprehension to the plot. It’s all very vague.

It’s difficult to take the movie seriously when it lacks so many components, no only from a filmmaking and storytelling perspective, but also as an adaptation. Events that were so astounding, atmospheric and dramatic in the original work are all too often glossed over or missed entirely here. There were so many opportunities, and the story was already written, it need only be condensed. How such an absorbing and well-plotted thriller was moulded into something so tedious and inadequate is beyond me. What’s even more insulting is the ending, which is a major cop out and seems to lead into a sequel. If two movies were planned, there is just no excuse for how rushed, yet barren this movie is.

So, is there anything that actually works in this film? Well, it’s competently shot. The cinematography is not bad, and some shots were quite alluring and stylish. The score was rather unexceptional, but it is passable, although the music played during the climax came across to me as rather cheesy. That’s about it, though. Even as a stand alone movie for someone unfamiliar with Death Note, it’s lusterless. The original work was so groundbreaking and captivating — it’s a travesty this adaptation exists. It is Death Note in name only.