When Marnie Was There (DVD Review)

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U – 103mins – 2014


 

FINE ON THE OUTSIDE

Transposing the setting of Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 children’s book from North Norfolk to Sapporo, Japan, Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s second feature film is otherwise respectfully dutiful to its classic source material – a book which Studio Ghibli founder Hayau Miyazaki proclaimed one of his top fifty children’s stories of all time.

… Keep Scuttling!

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Ley Lines (Blu-ray Review)

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18 – 105mins – 1999


 

HALF-BREED HEROES

“Go home if you don’t like it!”

Two years after Rainy Dog, Takashi Miike closed out his uneven and indecent Black Society Trilogy with another hard-hitting drama exposing the disreputable underbelly of his home country. Sick of being bullied and treated like outsiders, three optimistic Japanese youths of Chinese decent (among them Kazuki Kitamura, who would go on to star in Hollywood action sequel The Raid 2) move from the countryside to seek their fortune in Tokyo… and end up falling foul of the trigger-happy boss (Naoto Takenaka) of a city crime syndicate.

… Keep Scuttling!

Rainy Dog (Blu-ray Review)

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18 – 95mins – 1997


DAMP BOILED

Two years after his theatrical debut with the ultra-icky shock-fest Shinjuku Triad Society, Takashi Miike returned to his thematically-connected Black Society Trilogy with this precipitation-lashed middle segment, shot entirely in a washed-out Taiwan and with star Tomorowo Taguchi returning, albeit in a new and unrelated antagonist role.

… Keep Scuttling!

Whisper of the Heart (DVD Review)

U – 111mins – 1995


 

IF YOU LISTEN CLOSELY

“I finally thought I was going to get a little adventure around here…”

Juggling domestic duties and revision while consumed by her passion for classic fantasy literature and lyrical translation, restless high school junior and avid bookworm Shizuku Tsukishima’s (Brittany Snow) grades are slipping as her entrance exams are nearing.

… Keep Scuttling!

Kubo and the Two Strings (Cinema Review)

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PG – 102mins – 2016 – 3D


 

MODEL WARRIOR

“If you must blink, do it now…”

Since making my jaw drop with their surreal first (stop-)motion picture, 2009’s expansive Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline, animation supremos Laika have yet to give me a reason to close it. I will confess that their last release, The Boxtrolls, was heavier in grotesque humour than heart, but it was artful and entertaining.

… Keep Scuttling!

Ocean Waves (DVD Review)

PG – 72mins – 1993


 

LESSONS IN LOVE

One of the more obscure and less renowned films in the peerless Studio Ghibli collection, up-and-coming director Tomomi Mochizuki’s anime adap. of a popular Japanese novel is also known as I Can Hear the Sea (or Umi Ga Kikoeru, if you’re feeling brave with your pronunciation), but was released as Ocean Waves on its belated region 2 DVD debut release in 2009. Originally made for television by a young crew, it ended up going over budget and schedule.

This extras-lite disc (a trailer is the sole bonus content) is also lacking an English dub, so Japanese with subtitles is the sole audio option. Some may argue that this is how it should always be, but I welcome the option. News that the studio giants are sadly winding down production on new films post-When Marnie was There (released this week on these shores) means revisiting and re-releasing these unsung rarities is surely inevitable going forward.

Despite retaining Ghibli’s distinctive calm and graceful tonal atmosphere, Ocean Waves is unfortunately a slave to its age, with a number of cringingly outmoded sexist comments lending an awkward and naïve air to this story of blossoming young love. Pretty transfer student Rikako (Yoko Sakamoto) moves from Tokyo to the sleepy coastal town of Shikoku and makes waves between competitive best friends Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) and Taku (Nobuo Tobita) in their last year of high school.

“You’re only acting up because your teacher’s a woman!”

With these two “innocent country lads” lost in wide-eyed, gaping admiration over Rikako’s beauty, they are seemingly blind to her deceptive ways, which often verges on flat-out manipulation and makes “a girl like that” hard to endear to. Nevertheless, this doesn’t excuse the hefty slap an exasperated Taku (the relatable lead character, I should clarify) executes to knock Rikako to the floor. It’s hard to watch and makes Ocean Waves uneasy viewing.

With nearly an hour of the film consumed by Taku’s memories of this fawning and formative time, Mochizuki executes a technique of opening each new reverie with thick white borders of varying sizes accompanied by scene-setting illustrations which are instantly repeated when the story begins. It’s an interesting visual choice (perhaps enforced by budget?), but certainly makes the film stand out – and leaves a better taste in the mouth than the archaic gender politics which are more narrow-minded than charmingly innocent.

With the stunted 72 minute feature fading on the promise of a happy ending, I can’t help thinking Taku and Rikako’s blossoming relationship is in for a rude awakening. After all, “women are only into how guys look, anyway” (!!). For a young director (Mochizuki was just 34 at the time) stretching his creative wings, Ocean Waves is not without promise or value, but its darker, pubescent attitude jars and mars any of the timeless adolescent splendour we usually associate with the Asian anime giants.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 96mins – 1993


 

COSMIC CRUISE

“Relax, April, It’s just your ordinary time-travel-equal-mass-displacement thing.”

After sitting out The Secret of the Ooze, Elias Koteas and Corey Feldmen both reprised their respective roles of vigilante Casey Jones and the voice of Donatello in this second – and final for some 14 years – big screen sequel to 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Having not seen Turtles in Time since the bygone days of Ritz VHS rentals, I had – in the intervening two decades – lazily adopted the general public perception that this culture (shell-)shock ‘turtles out of water’ time travel adventure was a hokey and frivolous farce; a lesser beast than its two more weighty predecessors.

So imagine my “mondo surprise” following my blu-ray revisit last night to find that I actually prefer this third film! I am so used to modern franchises getting progressively darker and moodier as they progress, but it is actually to the credit of this Stuart Gillard-steered cultural exchange that the tone is lighter and more consistent throughout – these turtles have dispensed with Shredder and the Foot Clan and found their groove!

“Talk about your Quantum Leap!”

With Jim Henson’s Creature Shop replaced by All Effects Company on animatronic duties, the turtle suits do look a tad more obvious (eyes are rounder, spots stand out more and the green skin tone more vibrant), but aside from a couple of instances where you can spot a gap between the bandana and eye holes, they aren’t jarringly different or cheaper-looking. Plus a more cartoony-vibe actually suits the film’s more jovial tone.

With human compadre April O’Neil (Paige Turco) accidentally sent back to feudal Japan thanks to a magical golden sceptre (or “weird Japanese antique egg timer”) she picked up at the flea market, it is up to the amphibious foursome to “open wide the gates of time” and follow her back to the 15th century in order to bring her home.

“Hello mustard?!”

“Okay, so my Japanese is a little rusty…”

With the sceptre balancing out any paradoxes by replacing any time travellers with the same number of people from the earlier period, it is up to aged mentor Splinter (James Murray) and Casey to be on babysitting duties for some understandably confused honour guards, while the turtles are plunged shell-first into a large scale civil war.

This does make the narrative somewhat lopsided, with the impressively grandiose jaunt in Japan taking precedence (that was where the budget was spent, after all), but to make a return to the franchise more appealing than simply feeding junk food and teaching hockey to some bemused foreign warriors, Elias Koteas plays a dual role as bearded spy Whit in 1603.

The pizza-lust and landslide of popular culture references are still reliably in place – although allusions to Elvis, James Dean and The Three Stooges do mean they’ll stay relevant for longer than Wayne Gretzky. So, too, are Raphael’s (Tim Kelleher) “turtle tantrums,” while profuse weapon usage during the battle sequences and the imparting of some sage advice to young villagers does lend the comedy some levity – and Raph a character-enhancing epiphany.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars