Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tony Takitani

Lonely man marries woman, woman is addicted to buying clothes, woman dies, man is lonely again.

If ever there was a short story that didn't require padding out into a feature-length film, this is it. The original, by novelist Haruki Murakami, was written for the New Yorker and takes up barely 13 pages of a PDF file.

Ichikawa's adaptation is beautifully, albeit self-consciously, shot, but his translation from little story to big screen is literal-minded at best - it's like the illustrated children's edition. Murakami's trademark lightness of touch is nowhere to be found. For the duration of the film, the flat dialogue is flatly and linearly narrated; characters breaking out of their one-dimensional stasis every so often to chime in and finish off the narrator's sentences. A technique that would have been irritating once, but used ad infinitum is elevated to the rank of teeth-grindingly insufferable.

This truly is the proverbial cure for insomnia: a mind-numbingly prosaic depiction of the life of graphic artist Tony and his oniomaniacal wife that says less about the nature of loneliness than it does about the nature of tedium. Tony Takitani clearly wants to be seen as a film of quiet beauty and profundity - you can almost see it straining to measure up - but it falls well, well short. Superficial in every way.

Dir. Jun Ichikawa, 2004

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Summer Wars

Summer Wars is packaged with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in a Blu Ray double feature - both are directed by Mamoru Hosoda and animated by the venerable Madhouse studio.

The end result: exquisitely animated bollocks; Ghost in the Shell Super Lite; War Games meets Karate Kid meets Pokemon.

Where The Girl Who Leapt Through Time's time travelling high jinks are just about on the right side of daft, Summer Wars plants its standard firmly in the plausibility-raping techno-nonsense camp. Plot-wise, it's got a lot in common with the old 80s flick War Games, where some kid hacks into a super network and inadvertently triggers the countdown to armageddon. In this case, our unassuming hero, Kenji, lets a rogue AI program (coincidentally written by his friend's uncle) onto the network by providing the answer to a maths problem he is texted on his mobile phone. Yup, it's about as secure as an Icelandic bank vault.

Summer Wars is obviously intended to satirize the social networking phenomenon - a doomsday scenario where it's allowed to go too far, seeping into reality to the point where virtual and real worlds become indistinguishable. Hosoda envisions a world called Oz, which is like the ultimate expansion of the Second Life paradigm, where literally everyone has an avatar capable of doing absolutely anything imaginable - controllable, unbelievably, with a mere PS2 keyboard. Everyone from high school kids to the state military have an Oz account and they use it to control every aspect of their lives in the outside world - meetings, bank transactions, nuclear missile launches. Kenji and his pals have to save the world by taking Oz back from the AI behemoth running riot inside through a combination of extreme server power and a young girl's card-playing savvy. I can't even begin to do justice the amount of technological hokum Summer Wars spews out; think The Net and multiply it by 10.

Fortunately though, the animation is spectacular. The design of Oz itself takes its cues from the work of artist Takashi Murakami, with dynamic, splintering mega-beasts and gorgeous whimsy on an eye-watering scale. Outside of Oz, the real world is rendered in a fluid, naturalistic style that's up there with Ghibli in terms of technical bravura. Now if only they could find a script-writer to match the talent of the art department...

Dir. Mamoru Hosoda, 2009