I have recently watched a number of Japanese movies, both old and new, starting with the original Ghost In The Shell (1995), and following up with After The Storm (2016), Your Name. (2017), and 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) (all links to my next-day, quick reaction/reviews on Letterboxd).
I don’t know how I managed to wait so long before finally seeing Ghost In The Shell, but I finally got around to seeing it at the nearby indie theater, Cinema Arts Center, in Huntington, NY, and let me say, it is absolutely incredible. The animation is simply beautiful, with a large number of wandering and contemplative scenic shots, establishing the feel of the city and the environment our characters find themselves in. The whole movie is basically about identity, initially making interesting forays into the philosophy of mind and looking at the extreme limits of technological enhancement and the potential ethical qualms that come with artificial intelligence. But at a deeper level the movie is exploring identity in other ways too. I will not try to go into more detail, because I don’t fully understand it myself, but I will link to this great video essay by Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter) where he discusses this theme of identity in space in Ghost In The Shell.
Next, I went to see another movie, After The Storm, which I had seen a trailer for at the Cinema Arts Center earlier, though I actually thought it was animated due to misinterpreting the poster at first. After The Storm turned out to be a wonderfully made Japanese (live-action) drama starring Hiroshi Abe as a down on his luck writer working as a private investigator, primarily working for hapless lovers spying on their cheating spouses. Fittingly he uses his PI skills to spy on his ex-wife and try to manipulate her into getting back together with him. The whole story is well written and ultimately quite sad, as it investigates the nature of love and how it never quite manages to hold up to our expectations. I would definitely recommend seeing After The Storm if you are in the mood for a poignant examination of the mediocrity of love.
On Friday the smash-hit (in Japan) Your Name. opened in New York. All I knew about the movie was that it was a Japanese animated movie and that it was the first movie to break Spirited Away’s box office record in Japan. Needless to say that was enough hype for me, so I avoided the trailers for it and went with Charlie and Dallas, two friends who know far more about anime than I. I don’t wan to spoil anything about the movie, since I think that it is definitely worth seeing (in theaters if you can), but I will say that as a science fiction fan, and as a fan of beautiful animation, I was wonderfully surprised by how great this movie is. The theater (AMC Loews in Stony Brook) had a whole lot of trouble getting the sound to work for the first 5 minutes, so I’m not sure if I totally followed the first few minutes, but that didn’t matter as the rest of the story quickly made up for the confusion at the beginning. The version I saw was dubbed, so if you hate reading subtitles have no fear, it has already been adapted to suite your needs.
After our very pleasant experience with Your Name. Charlie, Dallas and I decided we needed something in the same vein, but far sadder. So we went to Charlie’s house and watched 5 Centimeters Per Second, which is a three part series of short animated stories about a young man and his attempts at finding purpose and love in life. It is pretty short, and excellently animated, so I of course suggest that you see it too.
Interestingly, it seems that this was the week for Japanese movies, as the wholly-Americanized Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell movies were also released around this time. I actually haven’t seen either, as I am not at all familiar with the Power Rangers (which apparently, before this Hollywood version, always took the suited-up segments directly from a Japanese TV show that has been running for decades), and I have heard quite a lot of negative press for the live action Ghost In The Shell. What I’ve heard primarily comes from the One Perfect Pod podcast that has started in the last month and has consistently provided interesting insights into the kind of cinema I enjoy. If you want to hear what I heard on these two movies, then you may also find these podcasts interesting: