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.

Best Movies of 2016

Good day, everybody. I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to a special New Year, but for now – it’s list time! This post will be all about my favourite movies of 2016, compiling my most loved this year using the convenient and well-tested top ten formula (though I couldn’t resist including a special mention, too).

Swing by my letterboxd or previous blog post to see a rundown of every film I watched this year, but let’s save the rest of my waffling for the end and get down to business.


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Special Mention goes to Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hun)

Tunnel is a multifaceted disaster movie in which a man becomes trapped after a road tunnel collapses around him. I wanted to give it a mention, because – while it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre – it’s but one of many worthwhile movies from South Korea this year and features some very powerful and evocative moments. It’s a well-paced and skillfully shot film that successfully maintains suspense despite some predictability, which also excels in its exploration of sensationalist, personal and political viewpoints — depicting what feel like very human and true-to-life scenarios.


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#10. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir. Travis Knight)

Kicking the list off at number ten is Kubo and the Two Strings, which follows the titular character on a journey across ancient Japan to locate a suit of magical armor in order to defeat the vengeful Moon King. It suffers from some contrived exposition, but ultimately comes together as a moving and exquisitely animated piece. It’s gorgeously visualised – with a number of attentively choreographed and well designed action scenes – and while the characters are rather conventional, they manage to be memorable and enjoyable iterations, humanly developed and brought to life with some engaging voice work.


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#9. Swiss Army Man (Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

Swiss Army Man really is as strange as it sounds, but it’s also wonderfully enjoyable, terrifically imaginative and at times even beautiful. It opens with a man about to hang himself beside a desolate beach, but when he’s interrupted by a farting corpse that washes up on the coast, he mounts the dead body and it begins propelling them across the shoreline. Thereafter, the two develop a peculiar bond. Alongside its alluring eccentricity, the film features an ending and reveal nothing less than magnificent, with a remarkable a cappella score and solid performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.


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#8. Captain Fantastic (Dir. Matt Ross)

Matt Ross’ touching drama follows an unorthodox family who live in a Washington state forest. The children learn about survival, philosophy and coexistence with nature from their father, who has become disillusioned with capitalism and society, but due to their mother being hospitalised, the children gradually begin to lose focus. Captain Fantastic is a lovingly crafted piece that brings into question topics of society, education and upbringing, that feels well balanced in its conversation, avoiding biased commentary despite basking in nonconformity and allowing audiences to ponder the finer details.


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#7. Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

Tom Ford’s second feature follows a disillusioned art gallery owner named Susan, whose life has become rather joyless and undesirable, but a glimmer of hope beckons when her ex-husband sends her a manuscript out of the blue, with which Susan becomes entranced. Nocturnal Animals is one of the years most compelling features, with a steady and meticulous divulgence of details that builds a layered, ever-suspenseful and stunningly haunting tale of redemption and revenge. The sinuous narrative is expertly employed, with Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson giving fiercely evocative performances.


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#6. The Little Prince (Dir. Mark Osborne)

The Little Prince was released in most parts of the world last year, but didn’t make its way to Britain and the United States until 2016. It follows a young girl in a grown-up world whose outlook on life is changed when her eccentric neighbour tells her extraordinary tales of a small boy who lives on an asteroid. It’s beautifully illustrated, with wonderful contrast between the two narratives. I’m sad the film didn’t reach a wider audience, because it is incredibly profound and evocative in its exploration of innocence, inner peace and companionship, with some intensely poignant and memorable dialogue.


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#5. Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)

John Carney’s musical drama Sing Street makes its way into my top five. The film follows a ragtag bunch of youths in 1980s Ireland who form a band with the goal of impressing a girl. It’s an utterly charming but brilliantly grounded feature, portraying not only gleeful musical numbers but also some rousing, hard-hitting family drama, with Jack Reynor giving an unexpectedly impassioned and memorable performance. It’s a completely absorbing film – from the music to the characters – with a tremendous ending that leaves a lasting impression, evoking brilliant uncertainty despite an overt sense of exuberance.


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#4. Your Name (Dir. Makoto Shinkai)

Just missing out on my top three is one of Japan’s most successful films of all time. Your Name is a visually arresting and incredibly moving body-swap drama with a couple of very inventive and unconventional features. The director masterfully weaves between humour and sorrow as the plot proceeds in directions unforeseen, all the while employing his wonderful knack for imbuing typically ordinary settings with a delicate touch of fantasy and science fiction. Shinkai has been highly regarded within the anime community for some time; it’s nice to see someone other than Miyazaki garnering broader recognition.


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#3. The Handmaiden (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

Park Chan-wook’s beguiling adaptation of the Fingersmith commences the top three. It’s a slinky, seductive and beautifully provocative period piece that tells of a plot to defraud a mysterious heiress by a conman who hires a thief to act as her maid, but complications abound when the two women begin to fall for one another. It’s a tantalising exploration of sexuality, with a mesmeric quality and stunning proficiency — attentively crafted and brilliantly layered in so many respects. Certainly, one of the years most alluring films, with gorgeous set design, bewitching performances and some masterful cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, who maneuvers the camera with extreme finesse.


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#2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

Taika Waititi’s extraordinary New Zealand based adventure was my firm favourite for many months, before being pipped to the post in December. Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a delinquent teenager and his new eccentric foster family who end up on the wrong side of a national manhunt. It’s enormous amounts of fun, with a near faultless script loaded with impeccable witticism. Julian Dennison and Sam Neill meld into their roles with seeming effortlessness; their bond developing organically on a journey through the bush as we venture between hilarity and despair. The gorgeous geography of New Zealand is of course on display, too. It’s a thoroughly enticing and joyous affair.


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#1. A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

My favourite film of the year is Shunji Iwai’s three-hour masterpiece about an unassertive girl named Nanami, who struggles to find fulfillment and true companionship in an all too connected world that can – ironically – sometimes leave people feeling isolated.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle has the ethereal and poignant quality of All About Lily Chou-Chou, with the director molding forlorn into fascinating through his stark imagery and exquisite characterisation. The handheld camera work creates an alluring sense of intimacy and delicate observation, quietly dissolving viewers into Nanami’s world, making the three-hour runtime seem like no time at all.

In many ways, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a character study, following the formation of Nanami’s very essence through a number of encounters and experiences; some distressing, some jubilant and some intensely passionate. Iwai develops the character very attentively, with actress Haru Kuroki giving a first-rate performance, communicating soft, unspoken emotions with absolute precision.

It’s a gorgeously bittersweet and entirely bewitching film, with Nanami a terrific representation of the younger generation, whose voices are aflutter online, all too often contradicted by their passive realities. It has an other-worldly, dreamy aesthetic, but is in many was, incredibly grounded, intimate and relatable.

Shunji Iwai isn’t as active as he once was in the 90s and early 21st century, but he hasn’t lost an ounce of the understated, extraordinary quality that makes his work so distinctive, evocative and beautifully haunting.


There we have it, folks. I think 2016 has been a terrific year for film (much better than last year), but I’m a little disappointed there’s such a disparity between the release dates of some of the latter films this year. I see Hacksaw Ridge popping up on many year-end lists, with its release come and gone in most territories, but the UK is one of the last places in the world to receive it (late January), so it’s a little annoying not being able to form a complete rundown of the years best. Manchester by the Sea and La La Land are another two features for which I am playing the waiting game. Such is life, though.

I have a couple of films on my radar for next year, with Bong Joon-ho’s Okja my most anticipated, which is released on Netflix in the Summer. Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe also has my attention, along with Logan – Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine – and of course Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which I will be going to see in just a few days. I’m also intrigued to see the outcome of the Ghost in the Shell and Death Note adaptations, but I’m not counting on anything particularly impressive.

Good or bad, I’m sure I’ll be writing about all them and more next year, so please swing by on occasion. I hope everybody has an enjoyable New Year celebration, or just a relaxed, peaceful time if preferred. And if you have the time, let me know your top ten! I’m always eager to share opinions and discover new movies. See you in 2017, my friends.

Watched This Month: December 2016

Hello, hello. Welcome to Watched This Month. Finally on time again! It’s December, so that means this monthly post has now been going for an entire year, with me having written about almost one hundred different movies along the way. Hooray! Thank you to all those who have stopped by. I have no plans to end Watched This Month, so do please continue to visit. As the year is coming to a close, following this post will be my second ever Watched This Year, which compiles every film I managed to watch in 2016 into one convenient list. Gotta love a good rundown. Anyway, down to business…

Previous: October – November

Film Rating
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is bewitching, beautifully subtle three-hour drama and slight companion piece to All About Lily Chou-Chou, exploring disconnect in an ever-connected world. Unassertive lead Nanami – played by Haru Kuroki – finds her supposed beau online, but never truly connects with him. After marriage, she seems destined for a quiet life of discontent, shackled by societal traditions and forced into the role of housewife. She lacks the gumption to break her dreary routine, but after some meddling by an enigmatic online acquaintance, Nanami finds herself on a path of uncertainty, in which she may just find fulfillment.

It’s a wholly mesmerizing picture, with a lengthy runtime that seems to go by in an instant. Iwai’s visuals are dreamy and evocative, with his handheld camera work creating a sense of intimacy and delicate observation. Somehow, he hits the emotional beats almost infallibly, with actress Haru Kuroki communicating soft, unspoken emotions with absolute precision. Throughout, the two build a quiet sense of melancholy, slowly but assuredly dissolving viewers into Nanami’s world.

Though the story is often sorrowful and even tragic, it’s never ostentatious or even straightforwardly distressing. Iwai’s ethereal imagery and exquisite characterisation tug away at the heartstrings in the most unobtrusive and delicate of manners.

The character of Nanami is attentively written, with Haru Kuroki giving a beautifully understated performance. Right from the get-go, she’s a terrific representation of the younger generation, whose voices are aflutter online, all too often contradicted by their passive realities.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle has a quietly pensive and very distinct quality, with the director imbuing typically sombre scenes with tinges of warmth and reassurance; molding forlorn into fascinating. It’s a gorgeously bittersweet and entirely spellbinding experience, with an usually alluring sense of abjection. Certainly, one of Iwai’s best.

★★★★★
A Hard Day (Dir. Kim Seong-hoon)

By masterfully combining typical – but well refined – thriller elements with touches of black comedy, director Kim Seong-hoon has created an action movie with a lot of personality.

A Hard Day follows detective Ko Gun-su, who finds his day goes from bad to worse after hitting and killing a passerby in his car on the way to his mothers funeral. Rather than own up to manslaughter, Ko concocts a plan to dispose of the body inside his mothers casket, but as soon as he believes he’s in the clear, he receives an anonymous call from a man who claims to have witnessed the ordeal.

It’s a solid action-thriller, with an engaging lead and a polished, well-paced plot that is not only gratifying in its tension and excitement, but also very effective in its humour and absurdity.

★★★★☆
Christmas in August (Dir. Hur Jin-Ho)

Despite the title, Christmas in August isn’t a terribly suitable seasonal film. It’s the tale of a portrait photographer who strives to live a peaceful and pleasant existence despite a terminal illness. He owns and operates a studio by himself and lives out his days with barely an utterance of dismay, but when a young parking officer enters his life, he’s faced with a romance that may be all too bittersweet.

It sounds very melodramatic, but in actuality Christmas in August is so incredibly subtle and understated. It tackles profound emotion and devastation with exquisite delicacy and finesse, deftly avoiding any heavy-handedness and instead taking a more poignant and passive look at mortality and the tender, fleeting moments of our lives.

It’s one of the most touching films I have ever seen and is at the same time, both terrifically evocative and yet remarkably tranquil. Han Suk-kyu and Shim Eun-ha are absolutely masterful in their roles, with director Hur Jin-ho so graceful and gentle in his approach; never spoon-feeding the viewer and exquisitely weaving symbolism and meaning into the films wonderful imagery.

I watched this on Christmas Eve, not knowing what I was really in for, but I feel it will remain very vivid and important to me — tugging at my tender emotions for years to come. This is one of those special films that will stay with me.

★★★★★
Confession of Murder (Dir. Jeong Byeong-Gil)

Tonally, Confession of Murder was a little unbalanced. The first sequence sets it up a vicious thriller, but the dark tone is then quickly subsided by the subsequent action scenes, which are very overblown and almost comical. It’s still a lot of fun, though.

The story follows detective Choi, who has been haunted by a long unsolved serial murder case with which he was deeply involved. Years go by and the culprit is never found; that is until the statue of limitations expire and a man claiming responsibility publishes a book detailing his crimes, which becomes an overnight sensation.

I thought the pace was a little too fast at times, but the story was very engaging from start to finish and had a number of extremely well-executed twists. The opening chase displayed some interesting camerawork, which was sadly abandoned as the film progressed, but the further action scenes were well directed and – though rather farcical – enormously entertaining.

★★★☆☆
Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir. Travis Knight)

A fantastical stop-motion fable set in ancient Japan, in which a young boy named Kubo – who can manipulate origami with a magical shamisen – must track down a suit of armor in order to defeat the vengeful Moon King. The plot has its conveniences and some of the exposition came across a little stilted, but the film is nonetheless an astounding achievement.

The animation and attention to detail is exquisite; the film is full with gorgeously visualised action and many remarkable set pieces. Furthermore, the characters – while rather conventional – manage to be memorable and enjoyable iterations, humanly developed and brought to life with some engaging voice work.

★★★★☆
Mother (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Another gem from Bong Joon-ho, about a mother who takes it upon herself to prove her son’s innocence after he’s arrested for murder. It’s an exquisitely woven mystery, utilising the directors trademark blend of heavy drama and dark comedy, with undercurrents of tragedy.

It’s beautifully shot and the script is so tightly-knit; each scene adds another layer of intrigue and astonishment; everything piling up to a terrifically executed twist. It’s altogether immersive and entirely unpredictable, with a superbly convincing and absolutely heartbreaking performance from Kim Hye-ja.

★★★★☆
Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

Nocturnal Animals follows a disillusioned art gallery owner named Susan, whose life has become rather joyless and undesirable. Her second marriage didn’t unfold as she envisioned, with her husband distant and frequently absent. One morning she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward, whom she hasn’t seen in nineteen years. During their marriage, Edward aspired to be a novelist, but Susan never placed much faith in him. As she begins to read the manuscript, she becomes entranced with the fictional life of Tony, a family man whose vacation develops into a tragic tale of revenge.

I went into Nocturnal Animals barely knowing a detail and came away awed. It’s superbly presented, with the non-linear narrative expertly employed. The plot unravels with staggering finesse and great suspense; its steady divulgence of details meticulously constructing an exceptional tale of revenge and redemption. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a mesmerising performance and I was also deeply engrossed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who I have often found rather lackluster until now. Nocturnal Animals is – without a doubt – one of the most tense and tremendously captivating movies I have seen this year.

★★★★☆
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dir. Gareth Edwards)

For the most part, Rogue One was pleasing – with an incredible final act – but it lacked the heart and soul of the more popular Star Wars movies, with the characters letting it down immeasurably. The performances were good, but none of the cast left much of an impression. The character arcs were either so rudimentary or missing altogether — Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang just seemed to tag along for the ride, with Riz Ahmed very one-note and pretty much a mere plot device. I wish more time was spent giving the characters a genuine voice and better framework.

However, the film succeeds tremendously in its more visual aspects. The action was compelling and the special effects were largely convincing, though I did find Tarkin somewhat jarring (Leia less so due to the amount of screen time). The culmination is where the film shines, with the final battle on Scarif possessing a wonderful sense of scale. It’s just a shame the characters didn’t have more emotional weight, which would have made the ending all the more bittersweet.

★★★☆☆
Sully (Dir. Clint Eastwood)

A biographical picture from Clint Eastwood that recounts the Miracle on the Hudson and the following investigation. Tom Hanks is very captivating and the film itself is incredibly compassionate and fluently paced, paving the way for a concise and honorable tribute to those present on US Airways Flight 1549, along with the service men and women who came to their aid.

However, I felt some members of the National Transport Safety Board were slightly vilified – though I guess a story of heroism does need some antagonism, particularly in cinema – and that, though the structure was very interesting and rather unconventional, some of the dialogue was fairly routine.

★★★☆☆
Symbol (Dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto)

A man awakens to find himself sealed inside an empty, all-white room and is promptly greeted by an array of animated Cupid sculptures. The sculptures meld into the walls, leaving behind their protruding members, which – if pressed – shoot out random objects from inside the walls. Meanwhile – in a concurrent narrative in Mexico – a wrestler prepares for an important bout.

Symbol is an utterly bizarre film, but very creative and original. It’s mostly a comedy, with a lot of physical humour – akin to something like Mr. Bean – but the final act introduces some contemplative aspects. Despite its short runtime, some scenes were a little stretched and became slightly aggravating, but it’s a tremendously imaginative and surreal movie. The two narratives also connect in one of the strangest and most unexpected ways imaginable.

★★★☆☆
The Handmaiden (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

Another first-class feature from Park Chan-wook. Set in 1930s Korea, The Handmaiden tells of a plot to defraud a mysterious heiress by a conman who hires a thief to act as her maid, but complications abound when the two women begin to fall for one another.

It’s an entirely hypnotising feature. Beautiful, provocative, slinky and seductive — a feast for the senses and a whirlwind of emotions. The set design is gorgeous and the cinematography masterful; the camera lingers and maneuvers with extreme finesse. Apparently Chung Chung-hoon can do no wrong.

The plot develops, twists and turns with great unpredictability and intrigue, with some of the dialogue remarkably vivid and many scenes so transfixing — I found myself continually impressed with the films stunning proficiency. It has a mesmeric quality and everything just seems so attentively crafted and layered. It comes together successfully on so many levels.

★★★★☆
The Host (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

An unconventional monster movie in which moments of terror are mixed with political satire and dark comedy. The Host has some genuinely tragic and rousing scenes, but the central family is portrayed almost as if part of a sitcom. Tonally, it was completely unexpected, but absolutely refreshing and terrifically enjoyable.

It’s becoming quickly apparent to me that Bong Joon-ho is a master of subverting expectations and weaving dashes of humour into typically sombre scenarios. Some may find it a bit too offbeat or absurd, but it’s never predictable, with the comedy very organic and the family drama compelling in its eccentricity and intriguing dynamic.

★★★★☆
The Man from Nowhere (Dir. Lee Jeong-Beom)

A gritty action thriller in which conflict and emotion are in excellent melody. It succeeds where A Bittersweet Life faltered, by building an authentic emotional resonance before laying on the intensity and anguish. The action – particularly during the climax – is raw and unfiltered, performed with great vehemence and brilliant choreography, and while the plot does suffer from some tropes, its emotional backbone and memorable characters ensure it stays enthralling.

Bin Won plays a tender, melancholic soul with a challenging past, with Sae-ron Kim’s endearing but neglected young character helping him to love again. There’s also a fascinating villain in the form of Taiwanese actor Thanayong Wongtrakul, whose climatic confrontation with the protagonist is incredible and particularly indelible.

★★★★☆
Your Name (Dir. Makoto Shinkai)

An utmost emotive and visually arresting animated film from Japan, that follows two unrelated high-school students – a boy and a girl – who begin to randomly swap bodies with one another. As they grow accustomed to sharing lives, they get to know each other by leaving notes, slowly growing closer despite never having actually met.

Shinkai treads familiar ground, employing his wonderful knack for imbuing typically ordinary settings with a delicate touch of fantasy and science fiction, but manages to avoid much of the tedious melodrama and overt melancholy that I felt impeded some of his other work. The director maintains a fine balance, creating an often funny and very memorable human drama, that is nonetheless achingly beautiful and absolutely heartrending.

★★★★☆

That’s it for December. I’m still traversing a lot of missed South Korean cinema, but I want to catch up on some Japanese gems soon, too. Please stick around for Watched This Year: 2016 — coming up shortly! Adios for now.