#174 : Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

Don’t judge an old dirty lamp by it’s appearance alone. A quick rub on the metal, ceramic, or whatever material you choose (I vote for lapis luzali) can bestow to it’s owner quite the unexpected surprise of abundant wishes. What do you wish for? All I want is an anime adaptation of Aladdin. After all Japan has animated everything it seems and there must be an alternative to the Disney version. Nothing against the Disney version, I just want to include an adaptation of this classic tale from the classic One Thousand and One Nights here at CAM. I may not have a lamp, but I did get my wish granted via a 1982 Toei production, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.

Aladdin_1Our story is a familiar one… a street punk who wants to do more with his life gets the chance of a lifetime to go search for a hidden treasure aided by a mysterious and perhaps villainous character who bestows a ring to the young man in case he comes into danger. Our hero finds this lost treasure, a lamp, but is soon trapped. Talk about being double crossed! With the magic of the ring and eventually the lamp our young man finds his way home and bestows a great luxurious meal once returned. Soon our young man meets a young lady, a princess in fact, who has run away from the palace to avoid selecting a suitor for an arranged marriage. Our young man has an idea and uses the lamp to grant his wish to become a prince himself so he could marry the princess. All is well… until the lamp and the princess are taken like a thief in the night. Our hero must now recapture both his prized lamp and his true love.

Aladdin_2Sounds like Aladdin, but this also reminded me of the previously mentioned The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots due to the fact that a common young man tries to pass himself off as royalty to impress a princess. A common story theme, but now my question to propose is did Disney see this version? The evil wizards, Grand Wazir and Jafar are similar looking. The genie is green instead of blue in the Toei version. Also no Robin Williams. The name of princess is Boudour and not Jasmine, much closer to the original Badroulbadour. Aladdin does get a ring in the original story, another point for the Toei version. Much like The Little Mermaid, Toei created a more faithful interpretation to the original source material. And even without the mega budget and musical numbers that the Disney version is noted for, the Toei version was released a solid decade before Disney’s version. Was the 1982 Toei version watched as source material? Your guess is as good as mine.

Aladdin_3For many years, Toei adapted fairy tales, or folk tale classics into full length animated features. Many of which would find release during the VHS era in the west with appropriate dubs. Aladdin was one I was not aware of, yet Swan Lake and The Little Mermaid I had known since childhood. Plus, there was The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots and The Wild Swans as well. Now I can include Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp amongst all these other stories as official anime! The Disney version is great as well, but now we have an alternate to bring into the fold. Funny how Teoi as a company wanted to be the Japanese equivalent to Disney way back in the company’s inception.

Aladdin_4This debate is almost like the SNES vs Genesis Aladdin games as both are different, but fun and entertaining as well. Take your pick! The same story told from a very different perspective. For me I will side with the Toei version because I always cheer for team anime, but I do like Disney’s version as well. Fun and adventure in a far off time and place that seems almost surreal, yet very familiar. And to add another feather into the team anime hat, Toei’s Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp is only an hour long, shorter yet I prefer compact and just the right size, but with no added filler. A nice simple tidy package. The perfect gift, or should I say film…  or better yet… the perfect wish.

#154 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Yamato Chapter

PYC_1We continue our journey through the Phoenix trilogy from the 1980s with the second part, an adaptation of the Yamato Chapter. Debuting as a followup to the previous year’s film Karma Chapter, 1987 would bring the Yamato Chapter as a direct to home video OVA release. The issues of karma, fate and destiny would be told once again in another historic era from Japan’s history. And riding along side for the ride to make sure that order and fate are in good hands is that beautiful bird of fire herself, that avian goddess, the hi no tori, the firebird, the phoenix.

PYC_2From some quick guerilla research, the Yamato Chapter is loosely based (very loosely) on the famous traditional legend of Yamato Takeru, a name not known very well to us in the west. From time to time and from watching various anime, we may come across and hear this very name… Yamato Takeru No Mikoto… Oh lord not Garzey’s Wing. Yet beyond the experiences we have may hearing this name from oddly dubbed projects we come to learn about the Arthurian qualities of this mythological tale and figure and it’s importance to Japan. … reason #1 to watch anime: you subtly learn more about Japanese culture!… How ironic that historically both king Arthur and Yamato Takeru are from very similar eras in time and even though a great distance existed between both heroes in terms of worldly distance, they arrived concurrently in time. Could this be the work of our friend the phoenix? Hmm… Onward now and back to the Yamato Chapter

PYC_3Tezuka’s reimagined version begins with a pastoral scene featuring a traveling youth, Oguna. While walking along one day he gets shot in the arm by the bow of a beautiful young maiden, Kajika. Too bad this was not cupid’s arrow instead, because from the beginning these two had sparks in their eyes; love at first sight defined. This developing relationship will become the cornerstone, the pillar, the axis, from which the entire story centers itself. Star crossed lovers who share a common destiny. While treating Oguna’s wound, Kajika would introduce her brother, Takeru, leading to a moment of hesitation in the eyes of Oguna. This is a familiar name, but why? Soon Oguna begins to enjoy his stay with the rustic Kumaso tribe and begins to have strong feelings about wanting to join their ranks and marry Kajika. Except there is something that is biting at him. Oguna is actually part of the rival Yamato clan and he has a particular vendetta towards Takeru.

PYC_4A tale of love vs. duty, fate vs. freewill and justice vs. mercy, the Yamato Chapter can be likened to a drama where at the beginning we begin in ignorance and slowly as the plot progresses we move into clarity and truth. Each layer slowly reveals itself to twist the plot in a slightly different direction that finally concludes with a slow tragic tale of love, sacrifice and redemption. The Yamato Chapter becomes at the end of the movie a romance that shows the power of humanity, compassion and trust. The legacy that Oguna and Kajika share together at the end shakes the established order and calls for change, yet it must come in the face of martyrdom; such was their fates. Never think one small step, or sacrifice, towards progress and bringing clarity to all of us is too small as we all have our parts to play in this game of life. Only the phoenix knows what and when our roles have been fulfilled, so keep giving it your best attempt.

Adapting Osamu Tezuka’s original manga was again Madhouse. A double combination of high quality presenting a rare gem of mature genius. As I have said before in regards to any of Tezuka’s Phoenix adaptations, I view these anime productions as one of my sources for spiritual pondering. How many times do we turn to a religion, or spiritual philosophy to find answers to the complexities of life? I know I have and still do yet there is ironically an alternate source via Japanese animation from the pen of anime’s ultimate grandfather. To Osamu Tezuka… I greatly thank you for sharing these stories with us and I hope I can be one source of I don’t know how many to continue your legacy. Peace be with you my friend.

#153 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Karma Chapter

PKC_1The Vedas, The Popul Vuh, The Bible, Hesiod’s Theogony… cultures from around the world have created texts and mythologies explaining the sacred within our universe. All point to similar conclusions since universal order, structure and the balance of harmony are at an essence both in terms of our lives as humans, but also, the grand scope of the cosmos itself. Anime has in my opinion an epic collection of stories as well that show the greater answers to questions we often ponder as we live within the cycles of time and nature. Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix saga is considered his magmum opus, his life’s work and perhaps his most important creation. Several adaptations have been created, but a trilogy made in the mid 1980s will be the focus of this session. In particular, the 1986 film of Hi no Tori: Houou-hen/Phoenix: Karma Chapter.

PKC_2Karma can at times be a difficult subject to fully grasp. We often think the actions put out into the universe will come back to us or others as either good or bad depending on the circumstances. We think also that we control the scheduling of karma and the precise payment for any particular action. In truth… not exactly. We think there is equal justice, divine retribution and free will, but what of predestined fate, or unsuspected surprises? The more I delve into Buddhist philosophies and The Law of Attraction, the more I begin to see that self and other, good and bad, fate and free will are interconnected. The more I see that what I do and what happens to me are in essence one and the same. Tezuka’s Phoenix stories are all about these heavy themes, but for the Karma Chapter, this is played out between the lives of two men, who at two points in their lives meet and share a fate that seems predetermined.

PKC_3One man, Akanemaru, is a sculptor who has a passion for finding a legendary bird to grant him immortal life, the Phoenix. He hopes someday to be recognized for his talents to the point that the need for success and status blinds his humanity. The other man named Gao, is a one armed mass killer with no real goal except to enact his rage. He thinks nothing of causing harm, except for one brief instance where he saves the life of a ladybug. One particular victim would eventually change his perceptions and lead Gao to find a way to atone for his sins. He is a man who is trying to redeem his humanity. Twists of fate for both men as they try on the roles that feed lustful power and compassion. Who is the villain here? Neither as this is a story that draws the line to show that as humans we are both good and evil. All who are good have an essence of evil and the most vile and evil individual also has somewhere a heart that is wounded and wanting love.

PKC_4A grand sculpting competition will eventually settle the fates of both of these men for better or worse and watching alongside is that beautiful bird herself, the phoenix. Is she the great deity of the universe, or a messenger for the gods? We may never know, much like most of the magic of what is life and the totality of the universe. More like a peacock than the usual flaming avian many of us are used to in the west, Tezuka’s phoenix exudes an element of grace and beauty not seen in too many characters of the anime world. Her appearances in every adaptation of Tezuka’s mega epic including the other two chapters of this trilogy (Yamato and Space Chapters), the 1980 film Phoenix 2772 and the 2004 Phoenix TV series are paramount towards the plots for each particular chapter. (I recommend them all if you can find them!)

Telling Tezuka’s grand myth was accomplished via the help of Studio Madhouse along with the directing talent of Rintaro. Adding up three heavyweights should yield a high quality product and without question Phoenix: Karma Chapter is just that. On par with the likes of early Studio Ghibli, Tezuka’s original vision would have a proper presentation in the flashy and colorful 1980s. For many of us, anime titles often become favorites of ours, or fun excursions from reality, but how many become spiritual guidance posts? Tezuka created many classic characters, shows and movies, but for me anything that rings of Phoenix is a holy book deserved to be read and studied.

#25h : Robot Carnival : Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCh_1Now this is what I call a proper parody of the classic super robot genre with the stock and trade five member sentai team. Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Foreigner’s Invasion (also known as A Tale of Two Robots) could have been an episode for a full TV series, yet this is another specifically created segment for Robot Carnival. And forget about high technology, space, laser beams, or mythical magic as this is the early Meiji era, or the later quarter of the 19th century, so we are limited to coal, archaic electrical power, levers and pulleys and cannons (or fireworks!). Plus, a heavy dose of slapstick humor. And while several productions of Robot Carnival have a humorous bend to the story, Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture is straight up pure comedy gold.

RCh_2Ring the bells loud and clear as there is a strange machine arising inside a busy town. Commanded by a loose lipped wild eyed foreigner, this robot begins its invasion in earnest. Now who in their right mind could stop this behemoth? Enter five brave (and perhaps crazy?) youths who built a similar machine for an upcoming town festival. Although their robotic machine was not made for combat in any way, they give it all they can, fighting the good fight for both the pride of their hometown and all of Japan. Stuck in the middle are the rest of the town folk who watch in both awe and a little frustration as the town gets its fair share of damage. As the old saying goes… in order to make an omelette, you have to break a couple eggs.

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#147 : Animated Classics of Japanese Literature

ACoJL_1Never judge a book by it’s cover… same goes for anything else that is packaged. Advertisers can sell you anything, so long as the branding is attractive to you. Sometimes the plainest of outer shells contain the richest and most profound inner contents; true beauty at it’s best. Let’s recap about books again for a moment, literature if you will. One of the best ways one can look at a culture is to examine the stories that they tell. These tales give the personal experiences, feelings and outlook of those who choose to write it all down and express. Anime often times gets big and over the top and strives for something newer, brighter, more exciting, etc. But what of the classic literary tales of Japan, don’t they deserve a voice as well? Of course they do and with Animated Classics of Japanese Literature you can have your cake and eat it too without ever reading a line of text.

… Of course if you don’t speak, or comprehend Japanese, you will more than likely be reading subtitles for Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, or any other anime unless you have, or choose the route of a dub in your native language. So in the end watching anime can be like reading a book… sort of. Don’t you feel smarter knowing you watch cartoons? No matter which way you slice it, you are going to be reading. …

ACoJL_2On it’s original release, Animated Classics of Japanese Literature went by another name. Sumitomo Life Insurance Youth Anime Complete Collection is the proper title as seen in Japan. The naming that I am familiar with and using in this entry, was used on the DVDs I found from the old Central Park Media catalog. An odd choice for that company back in the day, but I for one am glad that this was part of their repertoire. Similar to another Nippon Animation production, World Masterpiece Theater (Nippon animated both productions by the way), Animated Classics of Japanese Literature would translate native Japanese stories instead of the Western classics more familiar to the previous. Obviously! Except in the case of Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, these would be pocket sized entries as each episode, or two, or three, was a self contained story instead of the longer drawn out full series format. Hence we have an emphasis on the format of the short story rather than the longer novel.

ACoJL_3Even to this day I have yet to see the complete series. The long out of print DVDs released here in the U.S. only cover a dozen of the 34 total episodes. And if I remember correctly, a few more episodes were also available on VHS. With only about one third of the series under my belt I can safely give a proper analysis due to the overarching format being an omnibus collection of smaller stories. This is not for the usual otaku type searching for magical girls or giant robots. These are mundane stories, very plain and mostly ordinary. Many are very dramatic, or at times comedic, depending on the source. As a fan of World Masterpiece Theater this was a no brainer for myself as I enjoy seeing literary classics come to life from my favorite visual medium of animation. As a lover of Eastern culture and philosophy, I welcomed these stories into my home like a traveling friend. As I have grown up in the west, all of these tales are completely foreign to my native experience and serve as an appetizer to introduce me to more of Japan’s literary history. Many of these episodes were memorable, but I always seem to remember The Harp of Burma most fondly.

To finish off, let’s go back to the beginning… never judge a book by it’s cover. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature may not win awards for glorious designs or high end animation. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature is also, in many cases, not what we gravitate towards our choosing of anime subject matter. These are mostly common everyday stories, similar to many of the books we read in school, or choose to now, that pertain to our cultural definition. Often times these stories have lasting value and even with a more budget appearance, their golden centers still shine.

#141 : The Dagger of Kamui

You love ninja and samurai stories, I love ninja and samurai stories… we all love a good ninja or samurai story. Here in the west we have the epics of ancient Europe and the American western to delight our tastes in mythology, but for some of us there is a draw from an alternate source, the native myths of the East. Anime’s representation of a skilled man (or woman) is numerous: Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll just to name a few. But what if we can marry the samurai genre with the western genre into a film? Yup, that’s been done before… ever heard of 1985’s The Dagger of Kamui?

DoK_1Even if one is not much into action, ninja skills, or sword mastery, The Dagger of Kamui can still be a worthy watch; even if only just once! The Dagger of Kamui equates the definition of the big epic expensive action film, with an art house twist. Big… no no no… more like say, HUGE! Take a break my friends because this is one of those long journeys that spans Japan, Russia and then the wild west of America. Now that is quite a tour! You even get to meet historic figures like Geronimo and Mark Twain too. What?! And this is still considered a ninja, or samurai film? Or perhaps the ultimate shonen fighter? That may be stretching it, but does it matter? Nah, not at all. Just remember, to tell a large epic journey will take some time and this film is long, two plus hours long. And no intermission either (except the pause button, shh! it’s a secret), so be prepared.

DoK_2The Dagger of Kamui is a great example of ‘the hero’s journey’. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has now reached 1,001; a quick nod to you Joseph Campbell! Our hero is Jiro who is in no better terms, a bastard. He is an illegitimate child adopted into a loving family and also an individual whose heritage is partly Ainu, the native culture of Japan that was once frowned upon. Needless to say the kid is not well liked, or respected for no fault of his own except the ignorance of those around him. These elements don’t help when Jiro returns home to find his mother and sister murdered. Take a guess who gets the blame with no due process? With a dagger in hand that will unlock many clues of his origins and destiny, Jiro goes on the run to at first find the murderer of his family and then… well, that’s the beauty of being on a quest… it’s open to discovery beyond imagination.

DoK_3The story may be huge, the music is funky, with electric guitar and traditional Japanese drumming, but the visuals are a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous movie. Backgrounds are lush. Motion is fluid. Colors are bold. The fight scenes are like expressionist paintings that have come to life that could easily pass as a psychedelic experience. No surprise really as this was made at Madhouse, a studio which seems to have two quality settings in the visual department… amazing and fantastic. That and with a director like Rintaro, the ocular experience triples if not quadruples with his use of editing, color and dynamics. Let me go back to the fight scenes again. They are not like the usual brawl. Think more in terms of a well choreographed dance in a lucid dream you can only have at midnight where all around is magic and wonder to behold and see. Conflict becomes poetic art; danger becomes beautiful.

DoK_480s anime cinema has many standout choices. Many originate from well known directors, franchises, or are just at the right place at the right time. The Dagger of Kamui can fall into line with say the Fist of the North Star film for being a big action epic where our hero has to face up against a his major arch rival in the end, but The Dagger of Kamui is a completely different beast altogether. Some action films are just that, an action film. But there are those action films that are blessed to have been created by an auteur studio and an auteur director as well. There is something special about these movies, even though they can be a little long winded. The Dagger of Kamui is one wild ride!

#136 : Alpen Rose

Spinning around with my bare feet on the grass at a park I begin to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of… Alpen Rose. Alpen Rose. Those red flowers. These cross shackles that hold me…” … Love and romance, adventure and suspense, mystery and amnesia and being on the run from an obsessed bishonen Count and Nazis during the eve of WWII… are you excited yet? Pack your bags because you are scheduled for a tour of Switzerland, Austria and France circa 1939/1940. All aboard!

AR_1Based off a manga and debuting on television in 1985, Honoo no Alpenrose first came into my life through a condensed two episode OVA compilation released in 1986. If only I could see  the original 20 episode TV series? I like a non-abridged version whenever possible. Thankfully this version fell into my lap and became a recent priority. So what exactly is Alpen Rose? To begin the title refers to two specific references. The first is a flower that grows in the Alps region. During winter snows and freezing temperatures this flower never loses it’s will to live and stays in full bloom. Impressive! Alpen Rose is also the title of an important piece of music toward the plot of the series. An anthem to be precise! A subtle and tender song speaking out against Nazi oppression. A song to rise up and believe in life and freedom… very fitting to be named after a flower that represents choosing life and beauty in the face of strife and hardship.

AR_2We begin after a plane crash in the heart of Switzerland. A young girl with her pet parrot returns to consciousness unsure of who she is. She is soon met by a boy her age, Lundi, who gives her the name Jeudi and helps her start a new life. By the way the parrot is named Printemps by the way (All this French! I like it!) A few years pass, Jeudi is now a teenager and is working as a nurse’s aide when she is reunited with her beloved Lundi. Then the chase begins when both characters encounter a bishonen count who has loose ties to the German Nazi’s and has an obsession with Jeudi. She is totally underage… creepy! Along the way Jeudi and Lundi meet many new friends, but the most important would become a third party, an young anti-Nazi composer prodigy, Leonhardt/Leon, perhaps my favorite character (has to be those locks of hair!). This is turning into a love quartet. OK Jeudi for whom does your heart desire for?

AR_3Alpen Rose is one of those titles where I can’t help but love, yet I do have mixed feelings. Often times an anime series starts off with a great plot line and resolves at around the half way mark. The show continues on, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Jeudi’s journey to rediscover her past identity, find her parents and solve the riddle of why the song Alpen Rose has special significance made the first half a nail biter. From there it became a prelude towards the war between the Allies and the Axis. Our cast of characters became  part of the bigger zeitgeist of the moment. Yet the second half did reveal some new twists and discoveries which provided interest. The show is solid and even paced throughout, but the ending was a little rushed… now begins WWII… the end. Hey now!

AR_4Many big names are tied with the production of Alpen Rose. Tatsunoko was the studio responsible for bringing the show to life… and they have a great track record! The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi, who would go onto super stardom scoring films for Hayao Miyazaki. In fact he already did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind the previous year! Often times when encountering shojo material I often run into magical girl shows and high school romantic comedies. Both genres have merit, but I have a soft spot for the historic romantic drama. Something a little more serious with an element of old classic style. Alpen Rose fills these qualifications fantastically and I am so thankful I finally got to see the entire TV series. I will watch this one again!