Watching Movies

01 Mar 2016 - Buffalo Grove, Illinois - 21:04

Whoops. It has been forever since my last post. Now I’m just like this guy.

But that’s okay, I’m going to have material to last quite a while. Reason being, I’ve decided to start watching one movie every day! I got that idea from watching a lot of video essays from Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting and thinking about all the films I haven’t had the time to watch. Then, I watched a couple of movies with my friend to compensate. It wasn’t a big stretch from there to “watch a movie every day.” Sorta.

So far, I have rewatched Spirited Away and Watership Down, plus watched Millennium Actress and Paprika, both by Japanese filmmaker Satoshi Kon. I’ll give a quick rundown on my thoughts. No spoilers here. I promise.

Spirited Away: 9.5/10

This is an incredibly hyped up film, but I think it deserves it. To summarize the plot, the protagonist, Chihiro, and her family move into town and stumble upon an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro’s parents discover a buffet, gorge themselves on the endless of food on the table, and get turned into pigs by the witch that runs the nearby bathhouse. Day turns to night, and the amusement park transforms into a spirit world, trapping Chihiro in; Chihiro embarks on a journey to escape the amusement park and save her parents from the slaughterhouse.

It’s a tour de force that showcases Miyazaki’s unique talent of creating expansive, immersive universes. The setting only encompasses the bathhouse and a short train ride to a house nearby, but that still manages to make the world feel extensive, stretching far and wide; it’s just a bathhouse, but it’s bigger on the inside.

Other standout aspects of the movie are the excellent score, composed by Studio Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi, and the animation, just as impeccable as the rest of the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films. The animation reflects a childlike, caricatured, and beautiful world, befitting of Miyazaki’s storytelling.

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said by many others, considering the movie’s status as an Oscar winner. tl;dr it’s a must-see.

Spirited Away

Watership Down: 7/10

Based off the Richard Adams children’s novel, this is a movie about a group of rabbits who discover their warren is in some sort of strange danger and venture off to find a new home. Like the novel, it’s an allegory for government systems, with each warren the group discovers being organized (or ruled) a different way.

Watership Down
Bun buns

I rewatched the film, and it wasn’t as good on the second viewing as it felt on the first. The standout aspect of the story was the portrayal of the rabbits’ belief system, presented through the introduction and the rabbits’ dialogues. Like other allegorical tales, it uses spare words to create inward resonance, which is where the film’s power comes from. On second viewing, though, the dialogue began to seem pithy and forceful, diminishing the film’s overall effect.

Still, there are nice moments. The especially powerful ones, for me, are the ones involving the Black Rabbit of Inlé. Longtime lovers of the book series are pretty attached to one quote in particular, said by the god of the rabbit world, Frith: “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

The animation itself is also pretty nice. I liked looking at the watercolor-like backgrounds. It makes you feel like you’re looking at a painting in every frame. The actual character animations felt a little lacking, though.

Millennium Actress: 6.5/10

Paprika: 9/10

Both Millennium Actress and Paprika were made by Satoshi Kon, possibly the second most famous Japanese animated filmmaker behind Miyazaki. Kon’s style revolves around his distinctive editing, which utilizes cuts that warp both space and time. Most of them are match cuts, Kon’s farovite mean of transportation. For details, watch the previously-linked-to video essay by Tony Zhou on Kon’s work.

This warping of space and time suits the narrative Kon wishes to draw. As Tony describes in his video essay, Kon’s films draw dichotomies between the different identities of their characters, whether that be onscreen-offscreen (Millennium Actress) or waking-dreaming (Paprika). The match cuts draw these comparisons literally seamlessly; without even realizing it’s happening; instantaneously, within just a few frames.

Paprika Fascinating Cut

Kon’s style makes for interesting, and sometimes confusing, experiences. For both of these films, I couldn’t keep track of exactly what was going on anywhere beyond the initial exposition. In both films, there are two different worlds you’re seeing at any given moment, with the edits transporting you between them; but after a while, the movies seem to be mixing the two worlds together, making it virtually impossible to actually distinguish which one you’re seeing. Or maybe it’s possible, and I just wasn’t paying close enough attention while watching these two films. In any case, the films definitely suggest a fading distinction between the two worlds as time goes on, so I found that trying to piece together what was going on was actually detrimental to enjoying the film. I ended up just letting the narrative unfold and appreciating the movie that way. The conclusion of the films both solidly established what ended up happening altogether, so it all made sense in the end.

Anyway, time to talk about the specifics on the movies. I watched Millennium Actress first. Synopsis: The frame story is an old actress being interviewed after a keepsake of hers, a small key, was found at a torn-down movie studio. The actress takes the interviewers on her life story that is told switching between the stories of the films she acted in and her chase for her true love, an anti-government rebel she bumped into by chance on the street, and who gave her the aforementioned key and told her they’d meet again.

As mentioned before, the way the story is crafted blends the two stories together until they feel like one. It was interesting and done well, but so much of the narrative was fueled by melodramatic Japanese period dramas, making it decidedly less than captivating. The period drama feel was clearly what the movie was aiming for, considering it was following an actress from those films, but it ended up just being full of exhausted clichés, almost uncomfortably silly at some points. The third act of the movie made up for it, but I didn’t enjoy a lot of the second act for those reasons.

Millennium Actress

Then, I watched Paprika, a whole other monster. Synopsis: Scientists working with a device that allows for access into other people’s dreams find that a prototype has been stolen. The thief is wreaking havoc upon the minds of innocent people by driving them insane through their dreams. The thief has even managed to make it into the minds of waking people. The scientists try to remedy the situation, but are circumvented by constant waking dreams they can’t escape.

At some point, the whole movie feels like one big dream, which is simultaneously absolutely terrifying and incredible to watch. (see the earlier gif) The story and execution was all incredible. The way Kon blends everything into one big cacophony of realities is pretty perfect. It’s not completely comprehensible, but it’s certainly captivating in a way that Millennium Actress wasn’t. A must see, in my opinion.

So that’s my thoughts on the movies I watched these past few days. If you’re interested in the movies I’m watching next:

  1. Princess Mononoke
  2. The Big Lebowski
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey

    JK, Drive

  4. Upstream Color (by Shane Carruth who made Primer)
  5. The Green Mile

    JK, Apocalypse Now

  6. The Third Man
  7. Goldfinger
  8. The Bad Sleep Well (a Kurosawa film)

So that’s what I’ll be talking about in my next blog. See you all then!