Monday, 22 February 2010

Perfect Blue

If Hitchcock had done animation... it might have been something like this. It's unusual to find anime as intelligent and multi-layered as Perfect Blue, even if its ambition sometimes outstrips its execution. It charts the descent of a pop idol-turned-actress into madness. Mima's life spirals out of control, as she is plunged into a nightmare world of murder, exploitation and paranoid delusion.

This is the debut picture from writer-director Satoshi Kon, and it's a decent first effort. It has a lot of the motifs you find in his excellent OAV, Paranoia Agent; the effortless intertwining of fantasy and reality, touches of surrealism and a Lynch-like resistance to easy interpretation, crediting the viewer with the intelligence to solve its puzzles for themselves. Kon also got in early with the phenomenon of cyber-stalking: although it's less extreme and its themes are manifestly different, Cham brings to mind Dessart, and Mima's Room the spooky fan site in Suicide Club.

On the downside, the animation isn't going to blow any minds - it's solid enough, but done without a great deal of panache. The ending (and we're talking literally the last few moments here) is butt-clenchingly cheesy and strangely at odds with the dark mood of the film.

Dir. Satoshi Kon, 1998

Monday, 8 February 2010

Interstella 5555

Or Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem to give it its full title. There's a fine line between cheesiness and magic, and depending on your view of Daft Punk's Discovery, you'll probably have a view one way or the other on this movie too.

Personally I love Discovery, and this film, featuring animation overseen by legendary Japanese animator Leiji Matsumoto, really brought the album alive for me (no pun intended). The plot is obviously very simple - blue aliens are abducted by humans, brought to earth (nice twist on the old alien abduction), de-alienized, and turned into mass market pop star automatons. Aliens are rescued, evil corporation mogul is vanquished, aliens are returned to their home planet, everyone lives happily ever after in a universe of perfect human-alien bilateral harmony inside the mind of a sleeping child.

But then again, simplicity of plot is what you want from a good music video. Yes, there's a big fat moral here, but it's served up with such a light touch that you hardly notice. Daft Punk just want to teach the world to sing and you can't fault them for that, can you?

Dir. Kazuhisa Takenochi, 2003

Saturday, 6 February 2010


The fourth outing as director for Takeshi Kitano marks a growing maturity and a further evolution of his visual style. Sonatine is a relentlessly nihilistic film, about how a man can lose his humanity, even his will to live, through constant exposure to violence and killing.

Kitano is Murakawa, a successful Yakuza boss who is persuaded to leave his patch in Tokyo to go to the aid of a gang in Okinawa engaged in a turf war with a rival clan, only to find he's been duped. After a shoot-out in a bar, Murakawa and his crew hole up in a beach hide out, which comprises the second third of the film. The pace slows to a crawl, and what started out as a gangster film becomes an obliquely humorous exercise in killing time.

It's unusual for sure, and more thoughtful than your average Yakuza flick, but at the same time, impenetrably cold. Murakawa has a certain jaded charisma, but on more than one occasion, when the camera lingers on his emotionless face and the faces of other yakuza, you realize you're watching a film about gruesome banality; hollow men, past the point of no return. And if that's the intention, then you would have to say Sonatine is a success.

Dir. Takeshi Kitano, 1993