#39 : Night on the Galactic Railroad

notgr_1I lay awake at night and often think and wonder. A child’s question of, “Mommy, what happens to us when we die?” Or, “Why do we have to suffer?” come to mind. Deep questions, but very important to have a sense of knowing that death is not an end and that life’s lessons can be hard, but beneficial for growth. In the end we all have to make sacrifice and when that sacrifice is to better another for no reason beyond providing a moment of respect, then that is unconditional love and true friendship. This is my friend, who I love, Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_2Childhood can be a difficult time when you are a small and quiet child. Particularly when you grow up as a boy as you can be an easy target for bullying from other children. This is even more true when you are not involved with your fellow peers. Giovanni is such a child. He often falls asleep in class, not because he is a slacker, but because he has to sacrifice for his family. With an absent father and sick mother, young Giovanni has to work to help the family unit. He is essentially alone in the world around him, but his life is about to be turned upside down. On a quiet night he is welcomed to join an incredible journey as a locomotive arrives in a field he is laying in out of no where. And like in Galaxy Express 999, this train does not run on tracks, but flies through out the expanse of outer space… the only way to travel.

Aboard this train he meets his classmate, Campanella, who has always shown compassion towards Giovanni and the two of them enjoy a travel to the stars and beyond. Along the way they meet other travelers and discover the beauty of what the universe has to hold. Each circumstance brings it’s own experience or story as Giovanni and Campanella both enjoy their voyage. Is this all a dream? Could it be the line between life and death? Why are these two boys on this train ride into the great vastness of the universe?

notgr_3Let us look at the concept of sacrifice once again as we all know you can’t get something for nothing or achieve without giving up something in return. The basic law of compensation. The ‘Flame of Scorpio’, which may be my favorite bit of dialogue in the whole movie, I think wraps up the whole idea of giving for a greater cause. Of any ‘children’s story’ I have come across, this has to be the most spiritual, deep and melancholy. As C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So true for Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_4Plus, this movie has anamorphic cats for it’s main cast. I’m a cat person, so there is a little bias, but from early on the production crew wanted to portray our main cast as other than obvious humans. After all a cat can have a human experience too, as they have a particular sense of their own consciousness. Mix that with the references of Miyazawa’s Buddhist ideals and a sprinkle of Christian symbolism makes this a film that can be understood no matter your beliefs. Faith and spirit always return back to the one source. And that source is the beauty of the darkness and space and the reality of the material and closeness of the cosmos and our own Earth. Night on the Galactic Railroad reminds us about the joy and terror of the unknown as that unknown brings exponential rewards.

How does one describe such subtle beauty? In the vastness of the dark of space, or on our planet Earth, we can often feel out of place or alone. But in all the space between most of us there is always someone who will want to share a moment of time with you? And some of those moments might be the best and/or the last time another may share only with you and you alone. Never underestimate the power of those who love you or, the power of the universe itself or… the power of this movie.

#38 : Space Adventure Cobra (movie)

For most of us, and long before the newer releases, we had two avenues to see Cobra. You either started with the movie being discussed here, or the TV series. And though it is the same character and surroundings, both options are very different. For me I went with the TV series first. When I got to the movie I thought… wait a minute, this is kind of… not the same. Almost like watching the Ghost in the Shell movie compared to the GiTS: Stand Alone Complex series, there is something a little not unlike the other here.

sac_m1As stated earlier the setting, characters and feel are still very much like the TV show, but Cobra the movie, is much more surreal. Surreal to the point of being psychedelic? And perhaps I dare to say slightly darker tone. Wait, how can Cobra be dark? This is Cobra, one of the heights of fun space adventure science fiction. But, if you see the film you will understand. Even the look, going back to the surreal and psychedelia, wraps itself into the movie. It’s director Osamu Dezaki’s vision through and through filled with vivid color and odd moments of spectacle. Without question it is one of the most visually appealing films of the 1980s. You can watch this film on silent and still have an experience you will have a hard time to explain with mere words. And as this is a space sci-fi movie, the experimentation of techniques used here are… far out, but not lost in a mess.

sac_m2The story is a reimagined tale of the first arc of the Cobra TV series and manga. Cobra gets caught up with the beauty triplets of Jane, Catherine and then Dominique as they try to search for the lost treasure… no wait that was dropped… they are searching for love? Well the girls are and guess who is the one who is loved? It’s Cobra himself; I wonder if Lady Armaroid is jealous (Cobra’s female robot sidekick). But, love? I said that the TV series was sexy and this movie is in a way as well, but it’s a more monogamous, perhaps tri-gamous, as Cobra is not being the usual ladies man. How can he? We have to keep to a tight schedule on this movie and only the sisters are for him to admire. It works.

sac_m3Of course the crew are aided with advice from Professor Topolov/Toporo… and where did this guy come from? He is always floating in a bubble and he is kinda creepy. Almost like a chaperone for Jane and the girls… who thought up this guy? And then Cobra has to duel it out with the classic villain of no compare, Crystal Boy/Bowie! That dude is creepy no matter where he is presented, be it TV or movie. Pure genesis having a naked crystal clear man as your antagonist (very,  very bold).

sac_m4My only gripe is that the Japanese voice cast for the film is not the same as the TV show. It’s well done, but it is odd who a television series and a movie made the same year could not share the same cast? A little disappointing, but hey the English dub is not too bad. So I can watch Cobra in English? OK, plus it’s Dan Woren’s voice as Cobra. It’s no substitute for the TV series, but it is equal in it’s own way. You have to see both to understand. But what makes either version great, and in particular this movie, is the production quality. Tokyo Movie Shinsa back in the day always had a great look and with Dezaki as director, it shines even brighter.

A toast to Space Adventure Cobra… and maybe be like Cobra and enjoy a cigar, or maybe not as it is not healthy.

#36 : Panda Go Panda/Rainy Day Circus

pgp_1There is the old saying that ‘anime’ is not for kids. It’s oh so mature and again… not for kids. For some ‘anime’ that is very true, but for all of anime itself, no. Is Doraemon for kids? Yes. Can a lot of the shonen and shojo titles that some consider ‘not for kids’ have an appeal and are made for a younger demographic? Yes. And Studio Ghibli titles, do many have an appeal to children, i.e. Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky? Yes, yes, yes and YES! What about an early film series from Miyazaki and Takahata, like Panda Go Panda and it’s sequel Rainy Day Circus? Yup, it’s all for the kids.

pgp_2Way back in the early 1970s, after their tenure on the first Lupin III TV series, our intrepid heroes Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were looking to do a project on their very own. A good decade before opening Studio Ghibli these boys had the idea that they could make a movie themselves, by their rules. The idea was simple, let’s make a version of the western tale of Pippi Longstocking. They even went all the way to Sweden to get the rights and in the end were rejected. Now what? Well why not take this character design that Miyazaki made who looked like Pippi and insert something else that could make it sell. What about pandas? They were fairly new to the zoos in Japan. Hmm… sounds like an idea that can work… OK we have a movie!.

pgp_3Thus Panda Go Panda was born. A simple tale about a girl who befriends a large papa panda (Papapanda), who looks like a creepy version of Totoro. Don’t quote me, but that dude is kind of scary to me. And a little baby panda (Panny) joins the mix as well as our young hero Pippy… I mean Mimiko becomes the mommy? And that’s as deep as this little story and the follow up Rainy Day Circus follows the formula. Both stories are cute as they are targeted towards young children and I don’t see anything non-offensive, except that giant daddy panda. Everything to him is nice, the weather is nice, the bamboo is nice. Maybe I am overthinking a simple kid’s movie?

pgp_4These two tales are the innocent days of being four, five and six where anything can happen because your imagination was not corrupted by TV, the internet or peer groups. I want to reclaim my innocence, then I could fully appreciate these titles. Though for the time these are great looking movies and with the shorter runnings time of just over half an hour each make them more palatable than say the longer Toei movies of the time like Puss n’ Boots and Animal Treasure Island. Besides all this, the historic significance of Miyazaki and Takahata making their own project is of great importance. Miyazaki contributed designs and the story and Takahata oversaw the whole production as director. Truly the best example of proto-Studio Ghibli.

Anime is not only for adults. Never has been and never will be. True we have titles that are made for more mature eyes, but you have to have titles that can be enjoyed by those before the years of puberty. Because anime in the end are cartoons and all cartoons are are images put to video. And cartoons, be it anime or not, are not mutually exclusive to one age demographic. There are cartoons for kids and cartoons for adults. Some of it is called anime and that is stuff made in Japan for Japan that ends up getting out to the rest of the world and we all fall in love with it. If you have kids and you love Studio Ghibli, well your kids now have the perfect gateway anime Panda Go Panda and Rainy Day Circus. In the end, we all win!

#31 : Arcadia of My Youth

aomy_1“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.

aomy_2Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.

aomy_3As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.

aomy_4The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.

In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.

 

#28 : Gauche the Cellist

Let’s see. What should I watch that is different? Hmm… Gauche the Cellist. What’s this? Let me see who directed this… OH! This is one of Isao Takahata’s pre-Ghibli works. And it’s based off a short story from Kenji Miyazawa, author of the original novel that became Night on the Galactic Railroad. Well, that settles that, I’m sold. Time to hit play and check this out. But first, I need some popcorn.

gtc_1You know what I love about you Isao Takahata? You are like George Harrison. Miyazaki is like Lennon/McCartney and getting a majority of the spotlight both within your group and friendship. His work is often more recognized and is often looked at as the frontman. But Takahata, when you speak up or make a film, it is a little different and you own the moment, much like Harrison. You don’t shy away from fame, you just do it your own way and with the quiet grace of a seasoned professional. 1982’s Gauche the Cellist would be the final production Takahata would produce before the founding of Studio Ghibli, along with the 1981 movie Chie the Brat.

gtc_2Our story concerns a small provincial orchestra caught in the act of practice. The music is Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the Pastoral Symphony. The group’s unity and sound is going well, except for one element. Gauche (Goshu is a more appropriate translation) on the cello is a little behind in his timing and more importantly behind in the feeling and passion of playing in the moment. The conductor spots this and makes a melodramatic statement. Needless to say, Gauche is a bit taken back, but he knows something is missing.

gtc_3Returning to his modest country home he pushes hard to get the best out of his playing. It is not working, until he encounters some strangers in the night. Almost like Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, our hero has to face himself through lessons taught by complete strangers. But, unlike A Christmas Carol, we don’t get ghosts of particular moments of time, we get an assortment of animal friends from nature. The first being a calico cat, the second a bird, third a tanuki and finally a field mouse and her child. Each lesson brings out the essence and passion that is necessary to be a great musician, though in the most bizarre and unexpected ways. Much like listening to the forces around us, or more importantly within us, we often dig up the solutions that answer the questions, or issues we often struggle to deal with in almost a moments notice when we concentrate on our problem from an alternate angle.

gtc_4Only an hour long, I wish Takahata would have stuck with this shorter format when he released Tale of Princess Kaguya. He keeps it simple and sweet and does not over embellish for the sake of self indulgence, something I feel he and Miyazaki have done a bit of in more recent works of theirs. Although the artwork is embellished in certain areas and that deserves extra points. Leave it to Takahata to be experimental at just the right times. Oh, by the way the company that worked on this was called Oh! Production. Had to play up the double Oh… kind of like James Bond, 007… OK I have gone on a tangent.

Gauche the Cellist, you sit in the back of the room without making much noise, or fuss, but your pedigree is unquestionable. Truly a hidden gem by one of the best directors in anime. And it has Beethoven too… fancy 🙂 But sadly, no George Harrison songs 😦

#23 : The Ideon: A Contact/Be Invoked

How often do we get to have a second chance? Have you ever had an idea, a story or a project that was meant for a bigger promise and an even bigger finale? Often times some stories, be it anime or otherwise, get a premature conclusion. This would be the second production in a row where Yoshiyuki Tomino would go back and retell his story again after early cancellation. The first was that little show he did a season previously called Mobile Suit Gundam, though that was more a refinement of the overall story. For Space Runaway Ideon, the ending was completely cut and rushed leaving a universe of questioning what just happened? Two years later the missing pieces and a proper ending would emerge in the theaters as The Ideon: A Contact and The Ideon: Be Invoked.

idem_1For my money Ideon is the ultimate super robot tale, maybe even the most amazing space opera I have experienced as well. Tackling issues of xenophobia and higher cosmic metaphysics around a large cast of characters that go through beyond the sublime. The Ideon robot, for me, is the most terrifying machine… EVER! The Ideon is not so much a robot and the Ide energy is more than spiritual mumbo jumbo. These are acts of nature, an act of whatever name you want to call the deity, or the ultimate power of the universe. Perhaps the embodiment of the universe itself as neither good nor bad, it just is. Perhaps the energies to keep the cycles of life and evolution flowing, continuing and growing. All of this from the origins of a simple toy sponsored show with funky disco derived fashions. Truly a concept beyond it’s physical package.

idem_2First let’s look at A Contact. There is nothing new here if you are already familiar with the TV series. Retelling the first two thirds of the series in a condensed structure makes the movie move quite fast, but I would still recommend viewing it as there is nothing wrong with reviewing the events leading up to Be Invoked. Though for those of you who have yet to see the Ideon TV series I would highly recommend diving into the 39 episodes that were produced as you get a little more background. There is nothing wrong with cutting out the fat so they say, but when you cut into the meat as well it can leave you a little hungry.

idem_3Now for Be Invoked. I really, really, really and truly love this movie and what it did for me. After watching the TV series, then A Contact I would move to Be Invoked and felt a sense of satisfaction that this journey was worth the work. The masterpiece was at the end, much like the final movement of a great symphony. The same thing happened to me with Patlabor. The original OVA, to the first movie and then Patlabor 2: The Movie as a finale was like being bathed in something words can never describe. I have seen the promised land and but it truly moved me. It’s moments like this that make me most happy. Many have said that the Ideon movies are much like the Evangelion movie duo, Death and Rebirth and End of… , but I disagree. True, Gainax was yet again paying tribute by following a formula, but the Eva movies presented an alternate ending kind of like ‘top this if you didn’t like how the TV series ended’ because we gave you the end and you thought it was not enough. But where both franchises are similar in their movie adaptation is the fact that they end BIG!

idem_4But what about Be Invoked makes it so worthwhile personally. Ideon for me is one of if not the darkest sci-fi space opera I have witnessed. Yoshiyuki Tomino would let it all out with the plot revolving around two civilizations who can only fight each other. When characters die, they die and tragically, not unlike Zeta Gundam and Aura Battler Dunbine. And in Ideon everyone pays the final price, kind of like and old saying I heard as how serious is life, you won’t get out of it alive. If this spoils things I am sorry, but Ideon is known as the show where everyone and everything dies. But, from the movie I have gained a new perspective on the concept of death. The floating spirits being reborn to a higher consciousness is a welcome concept. It is not over when the physical organism is done, you continue on although not in the same state of mind or body. That and the wisdom of Alan Watts stating that death is like going to sleep without waking up, or being born is awakening without a memory of falling asleep. So instead of death it is rebirth and as I have often said in the end, we will all die and live happily ever after.

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s one of Sunrise’s best robot franchises ever. Would I ever want to see a remake? Well much like Citizen Kane, how do you top perfection done right the first time? Particularly with that great orchestral score (I love those soundtracks). Oh Ideon, how you rocked my world.

 

 

 

#22 : The Grave of the Fireflies

I often find many people remark about how The Grave of the Fireflies may be one of the best anti-war films of all time. True the story takes places during the final stages of World War II in Japan, but this film has nothing to do with war as we usually think of it. No where do we see soldiers in trenches or the politicians sitting high and pretty. But I must say, this is a war film. A war between the individual and society, a war between compassion and ignorance and a war of distrust and survival. This is my personal take on one of Studio Ghibli’s most un-Ghibli films (if that can be the case?). May I present Isao Takahata’s The Grave of the Fireflies.

gof_1One of the biggest misgivings about reviewing or researching information is the fact that in many cases we end up adopting what others say or have said and in return we regurgitate that same information. The ability to create one’s own unique experience can become lost. Such is the times we live in, but if you go in with very little expectation and your own perspectives often times you come up with a unique point of view since you are not obliged to meet another’s standard. When I first witnessed The Grave of the Fireflies the only things I knew was it was told through the eyes of two children during World War II and it is noted as one of anime’s most tragic tales. That first viewing I was with my mom as I had corrupted her into becoming a fan of anime as well. At the end we both had the wind knocked out of us and our faces were wet from tears.

gof_2For me The Grave of the Fireflies is the loss of potential. Young Seita and Setsuko, have to survive on their own merit because they have no choice, or do they? True they have lost their mother, their aunt was cruel and unkind and the doctor was nonchalant about treating their physical ailments. No one showed interest in helping the children, but what if perhaps they tried yet another person? Maybe that next person could have been the break through that was needed. But for adults to shove away children for any reason instead of helping them achieve everything that they can become is a crime beyond criminal. Though in times of war there can be difficulties, but to ignore another individual’s cry for help is extremely uncalled for. It shows that adults are often not the wise hopeful teachers that we often have been led to believe. Sometimes adults become self obsessed to a point where the humanity that they once possessed has been sold off for a bit of false prestige. But this is not true of every adult.

But part of the blame has to be on Seita as well. Being too stubborn to admit he needed more help than what is led to be believed can for anyone lead to downfall. Often we all get to a point were we go enough is enough and we just keep sliding along thinking it will get better because ‘I’ can do this. ‘I’ often needs to be, or more truthfully has to be, a ‘we’ in times of desperation. No one can carry the weight of the world when you don’t have the understanding that it does not have to be your burden alone. Life can be hard, but making it more difficult by not opening up to change is infinitely more dangerous.

gof_3My only message from all this is to learn from this movie. If a child needs help, help them. If an animal is starving, feed it. If a friend, loved one or stranger you encounter needs a moment of aid, give it as it can change someone’s life. And if you are in need and no one is helping you, you have to take the initiative to say enough is enough. I need help either from a phone call, therapist or trusted advisory figure. Don’t let the fireflies burn out in all of us because there is enough light in us all to make the world shine even brighter.

“War is over if you want it” – John Lennon and Yoko Ono