Anime-Breakdown: In This Corner of the World (2017)

In This Corner of the World is a coming of age drama set in Hiroshima during World War II. Following Suzu Urano, an artistic, kind, supportive young woman who moves to Kure, a small town just outside Hiroshima as she struggles with the daily loss of life’s amenities she still has to maintain the will to live. What separates In This Corner of the World from other movies set within the same time frame like The Glass Rabbit (2005), and Struck By Black Rain (1984) is the depiction is broader in capturing the emotional state of its country, and its people. Unlike the two films I mentioned earlier, In This Corner of the World shows the happier times as well as the hardship of its characters eventually befalls. Detailing the lifestyle Japan once had before it permanently change through the course of world war 2. Providing an almost episodic structure for half of it run time to live through the wonderful times Suzu had early in her life. It’s during this portion of the movie the viewer will see Suzu adapting to new a home over the span of a couple of months, and eventually years. You get to witness the free spirit, and dreamer side of Suzu during her out of the blue marriage proposal.

With the realistic backdrop set during a turbulent time in Japan the film isn’t solely serious. Understanding in order to properly get across what eventually gets lost some fun is meant to be have. Injecting humor into the film before eventually cutting it off during a certain point in the story. Besides using the humor to loosen some tension. Humor is also used to characterize Suzu. Showing the audience how her mindset contrast against reality, and family members at certain points in the story. It’s also through humor that many of the character dynamics shine through displaying the strength this family has. The family interaction with each other feels natural, and certain family members develop makes them much more sympathetic, even a character who gives Suzu a hard time through a good chunk of the story. What this balance also avoids is the pitfall of tonal whiplash. It does so by ensuring the humor isn’t taking the spotlight away from the story, nor drawing too much attention to itself. Making the eventual absent feel subtle as a narrative device instead of a issue in balancing tone.

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Besides being a nice looking movie. There’s plenty of good bonding moments like this throughout

When the second half kicks in, you know the drill if you’re familiar with these type of movies. Instead of putting you in the middle of the chaotic nation during war time, the film takes it time to slowly establish the new normality of this new lifestyle. Empathizing the difficulty in obtaining simple rations, bombing drill being more common, learning about explosives, and everything surrounding the war finding it difficult to remain calm in hectic times. Just like in the first half, the film chooses to wisely not over dramatize this portion of the story. Keeping it subtle touches that help make the second half as great as it becomes. Getting across the essence of struggle, and lost in a way that feels true to life. It is through this second half where it attempts to get viewers in the heart strings; showing hardship, after hardship, after hardship, and its characters struggling to keep it together. Suzu being the focal point of the movie greatly shows the impact living during war times had on Suzu herself, and the strain it puts on her family.

What movies of this nature usually forget is no one wants to be see force a message about the horror of wars, or the fake enthusiasm about a brighter future that awaits beyond harsh times. In This Corner of the World knows it doesn’t have to tell any of this to the viewer. Sure, the film is positive about moving forward without sugarcoating the harsh realities the characters face. Hearing Suzu speak about how she would have preferred to die as a dreamer one point in the movie carries a more impact to itself when Suzu, along with several other characters, are so nicely fleshed out, and grounded in its depiction of its events. Without being created for the sole purpose to deliver a specific message it’s able to tackle many themes leaving a stronger impression.

While they are present, the shortcomings don’t take away from the overall narrative. From a writing perspective, Suzu isn’t shown interacting much with her own family. Suzu does form bonds with her husband family, and that is shown throughout the movie, but when it comes to her own family they don’t get the same luxury. It’s not bothersome at first, but overtime it becomes more noticeable when certain characters are not given enough screen time given the impact of they have. One of this includes an abrupt revelation of the death of a family member from Suzu side who wasn’t on screen for much time. It would be less noticeable if there weren’t a funeral scene, and another scene dedicated to that character. There’s also a few other non-family related characters who appear in the movie without much importance. Thankfully, the movie keeps those type of characters down to a minimum.

Director Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon, Princess Arete) helms the project, and the animation is handled by studio MAPPA (Terror In Resonance, Yuri!!! On Ice). In the hands of Sunao Katabuchi the story is told with minimal usage of music. A wise choice that served this movie well allowing the strength of the visual themselves convey the mood of a scene instead of the music. Katabuchi grounded approach to storytelling is what the movie needed; without resorting to over dramatizing anything the film plays out better. Same with his handling of characters which never feel to out of place within the story.  Another welcome departure is he doesn’t demonize the US during this time not because he doesn’t harbor any ill will, but because he’s more concern in the characters we see rather than the enemy you don’t.

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Despite being a drama, the film offers some unique visuals like these

The artstyle is reminiscences of water color drawing that Suzu is seen drawing many times in the movie. Studio MAPPA is able to capture Suzu’s personal art style, and apply it to the entire film. Perfectly getting across how she sees the world as it unfold. Backgrounds generally are colorful while being pleasant to the eyes. Character designs are surprisingly in the moe category. However, not to a point where the simplistic designs clashes with the tone of the story. If anything, in its own way, it continues the notion of Suzu being able to see beautiful things around her despite how ugly the world can be to her. Aesthetically, it’s one nice movie to look at, especially it’s extensive recreation of Hiroshima, and Kure. In movement, there’s nothing special about it since virtually everything is kept mundane, but given what type of movie it is the animation is fine the way it is.

When it come to voice acting you can’t go wrong with either. The Japanese cast are more expressive in a way when delivering their dialogue while the English dub cast is more subdue in their performances. Both approach work in favor of the movie. If you had to choose, probably go with the subs since you’ll get the Japanese songs translated, but that’s honestly the only factor. I would say the Japanese audio is more historically accurate. However, it’s fictional story based around some true events so the language you watch it in won’t matter. Performance wise, Japan gets that win for Rena Nounen who voices Suzu. Much like actor Koji Yakusho in The Boy, and the Beast, Rena Nounen primarily acts in live action films, and television series. Her experience in those field helped be able to carry the movie with ease. Delivering a powerful performance. Laura Post in the English dub voice Suzu, and he’s not as good. Her lack of experience in the leading role shows a bit in some of her inability to express Suzu emotion. Sometime coming off distill in her portrayal. Aside from that small complaint, Laura Post does a good job still.

In This Corner of the World is a captivating drama being both optimistic through it’s perseverance while never hiding from the harsher side of reality. It’s a coming of age drama whose subtlety in its storytelling leads to a dramatically rich experience. All without the any of the usual tricks films of this sort would rely on. The slow pacing, and uneventful structure of the movie will make it a tough watch for some viewers. Harsh as the world presented may be to the Suzu, and her family, you’ll come out of the movie with a positive experience.

Rating: 9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Mission: Impossible 2 is easily the least liked installment in the Mission: Impossible series, yet it is where the series finally found confidence itself in what it wanted to be. Where the first installment was unsure if it wanted to be a high brow spy thriller, or action blockbuster; the sequel is happily content settling with being a overblown, over the top, and cheesy action blockbuster. Despite it general reception among film critics, and audiences; one thing that’s often overlooked about this movie is that it’s the only time in the entire franchise where Ethan Hunt isn’t disavowed from the Impossible Mission Force. Yes, making it the only time the Mission: Impossible franchise Ethan Hunt has ever been in IMF for the entire movie. It’s an ingredient in the formula that still gets used to this day in the ongoing franchise. Another thing that is forgotten about this sequel is that it’s the only time it became the highest grossing movie the year it came out. These accomplishments while superficial in the long term are things the other entries have yet to accomplish again. Instead of participating in any discussion if this entry is the best, or worst in the series I’ll simply continue on. As stated in my review for the original Mission: Impossible (1996) movie, I enjoy the fact each entry in this series try to feel different from one another, and here it’s no different.

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Exploding sunglasses. What an impression it leaves

Mission: Impossible 2 follows IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on a assignment in Sydney to find, and destroy a genetically modified disease called “Chimera” stolen by a rogue agent. I personally don’t consider the original movie to have a complicated story, although the storytelling has been significantly simplified in this installment. The writing is straightforward; you have good guy stopping bad guy with no twists in between. You won’t get the ambiguity of Ethan Hunt ally’s, or the situation he’s in. Everything is clear cut, even in the lame attempts when it tries to throw you off when characters take off their mask revealing their a different person. Gone are the mind games as well. Only once does Ethan Hunt has to quickly think his way out of a situation that went array, and only once does his enemy uses his intimate knowledge of how Ethan Hunt think to put him into a corner.

Right from the beginning this movie establishes clearly it’s taking an entirely different direction from the first one. When part of your opening sequence includes your main character climbing a cliff without any rock climbing equipment, the IMF delivering his mission briefing via rocket launcher missile which contains sunglasses, and exploding sunglasses into the title card you know movie is going to be difficult to take seriously. Wondering why a spy agency would create a tracking device that could only be monitor on one computer is only a small part of its silliness. Thankfully, the movie never tries to be serious since moments like these occasionally pop up in the movie. Surprisingly, trinkets of the dialogue is either on the nose, or so over the top you’ll laugh, and be baffled how such lines made it on screen. There’s a line of dialogue where a character literally states he’s evil to the audience. Some classic dialogue includes:

Ethan Hunt: We just rolled up a snowball and tossed it into hell. Now lets see what chance it has.

Ethan Hunt: No. She’s got no training for this kind of thing.

Swanbeck: What? To go to bed with a man, and lie to him? She’s a woman – she’s got all the training she needs.

Ethan Hunt is more skilled in combat, playful, and emotionally attached in the sequel. Changing from the detached rookie viewers first saw him as in the original film. Being driven to get payback for an old friend, and being more concerned about his teammates well being. Allowing the writers to show a more caring side of Ethan Hunt. However, he’s given new traits too that don’t align all the time with what was established in the previous movie. The obvious one being Ethan Hunt acts more suave as a lady killer, and more relaxed which pushes a natural transition into entirely rewriting an established character. Hardly showing any sign that he fears for his life during the mission. Almost as if he knows he’s going to make it out alive because he’s a newly enhanced Ethan Hunt. Making Ethan Hunt a one man army relying more on action than his quick wits to get out of a dangerous situation.

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Cruise: Can you please try to acting!

What holds the movie back is the “love triangle” that eats up two acts of the movie attention. There isn’t much to it even when the film attempts to give background to their characters past. All the characterization that is provided is simplistic, as well as the motivations tied to the characters. While the film establishes itself as a dumb movie it takes it too far from a character perspective at points. None of this is more obvious than the moment where Ethan Hunt detonate a bomb after his love interest injects herself with Chemeria instead of detonating the bomb before she infected herself. Also within the same sequence, providing details on Ethan Hunt  original escape plan. If it went well, would Ethan still have blown up a hole in the wall, jumped out of it, and parachute to safety. Probably not, but since the movie skipped over that snippet when during the planning scene it makes that part of his plan baffling. More baffling than that is the how villain plan to spread the Chermia virus through a human subject in public area, yet having nothing in check to make sure the subject actually spreads the virus in a populated location.

One nice addition to the movie is the team is finally working together consistently towards a common goal. Unfortunately, Ethan Hunt does the most of the heavy lifting without much emphasis on the importance of teamwork. Sure, Ethan Hunt can’t hack, can’t get intel from a rogue agent, or fly a chopper. However, he’s the only one on field putting himself in danger while his team just partially participate from a distance a majority of the time. In context, it makes sense since Hunt is the best trained agent meant to do these kind of things. It’s more notable than in the first movie because here the team can trust each other, but the heavy lifting isn’t shared among the group. Although, Luther (Ving Rhames) actually helps out Ethan during an action sequence whereas in the first one he simply provided technical support without risk to his life. It’s odd how in one way it expands on the team work aspect to have it be a team operation for the whole thing, but on the other hand feeling unimportant with Ethan doing most of the dirty work.

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Yep, Tom Cruise does back flip kick. Pretty cool to be honest.

What does carry over from the original movie is Tom Cruise committed performance. Coming across more charismatic, more humorous, and more suave than he did before. In spite of how ridiculous the movie’s effort can be to make Tom Cruise look as cool as possible. Cruise performance is still enjoyable to see. He doesn’t phone in a single scene, even when working with ridiculous dialogue, and doing insane things during his action sequences. Cruise is no martial artist, but he puts it his all to make you think he can do back flip kicks, dodge bullets while riding on a motorcycle, and that he can still perform a fight after colliding with someone in midair after he crashes his motorcycle into another person. Is it over the top as it sounds, but it’s gloriously done, and enjoyable when Cruise believes can do this stuff as much as he does. Another change is Tom Cruise long hair which he probably only had for the many slow-mo shots which are plentiful in this sequel. It is silly looking, but in line with the already goofy movie. What is sadly lost in the sequel is Cruise dramatic acting since he plays a more of a James Bond knock off than a experienced Ethan Hunt. Loosing any sense of urgency his character had in the original, and missing on the opportunity to capitalize on his dramatic chops.

The weakest link in the acting this time around is Thandie Newton who plays Nyh, and she hardly change facial expression, or her tone of voice for the entirety of the movie. She’s simply incapable of coming off as seductive when she’s meant to be alluring. Her monotone voice, and robotic expression prevents her from coming as a human. While Cruise charisma makes you buy he’s in love with Thandie Newton, even he is unable to make it appear like him, and Newton have any sort of chemistry. Then there’s Dougray Scott who plays villain Sean Ambrose, and he chews up the scenery. His performance is far subtle as possible whenever he’s onscreen. Being just as a difficult to take seriously as the foil to Tom Cruise. However, while it’s easy to see why Newton character dumped Scott character. Scott acting is unable to get across any appeal that Newton might have found in him.

Ving Rhames returns for the sequel playing Luther. He’s likable again being mostly humorous, and his character remains in tact for the sequel. Getting more screen time than he did in the previous installment. John Polson plays Billy Bird, and he does nothing worthwhile in his performance. He’s just in the movie, and just blends into the background. Richard Roxburgh plays right hand henchman Hugh, and he’s okay. Roxburgh only has the serious expression in the movie to express. While Roxburgh eventually fights against Tom Cruise in the movie it doesn’t last long. Brendan Gleeson, and Anthony Hopkins whom both are fantastic actors have little screen time. Despite how little they appear in the movie they manage to make a good impression even with the cheesy dialogue.

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Hard to believe a movie filled with silly moments like this is called too serious by some

When John Woo finally gets to into the action sequences two acts into the movie he’s able to keep the film entertaining. It’s sloppy that one half is purely focused on the love triangle, and the mission while the remaining half is more focused on action. Aspects of the movie are overly edited to its detriment at times. Like early on in the movie when Rade Serbedzija sees a group of children were black, and white color filter is applied while being played with overly dramatic music. In another scene, the music gets too loud drowning out the actors delivering their dialogue. Speaking of music, the soundtrack is more rock, and punk eccentric being vastly different from it predecessor. While it’s not as good as the previous movie soundtrack it fits well for this sequel. However, the film replaces Larry Mullen & Adam Clayton rendition of the Mission Impossible theme with Limp Bizkit of all bands. Easily making this the most dated aspect of the movie. It has some cool sounding guitar riffs, but it’s nowhere near as memorable, or as close to matching the original movie theme song. There’s also some dated effects. Although, the dated effects don’t last long, but when it comes to action John Woo knows his stuff.

Mission: Impossible 2 is loud, over the top, cheesy, and entertaining for those reasons. It’s unfortunate you have to endure a long time before the movie picks up with it action sequences, but once it does it’ll make the wait partially worth it. John Woo action sequences are the best part of the movie while offering his usual cliches. Plenty of slow-mo, a single dove flying across the screen, and of course the star dodging plenty of bullets. The best action sequence involves a mixture of a car chase, and gunfight. Always keeping the action moving, and trying to find ways up itself during the sequence. Offering plenty of explosions, and cars destruction during the sequence. Everything is filmed from a good range making the action clearly visible. Every action sequence in the movie is highly choreographed preventing the gunfights from being repetitive from the usual cover, and shooting gunfights. Typically having Cruise be on the move during these action set pieces. Even more impressive how all the action sequences were done through practical means making them even more impressive.

Mission: Impossible 2 is loud, stupid, over the top, and silly fun. It takes about 60% of the movie before the action comes in, but once it does the sight it is amazing, and a blast to watch. While it writing is clunky in places the establish over the top tone helps ease any shortcoming in the long term. A charismatic Tom Cruise is a joy to watch during the proceeding as usual. These are also the reasons many dislike it, and why it has the polarizing position it has among viewers. However, I would still recommend this outing for fans of the franchise since it’s (currently) the only time you’ll see Ethan Hunt working in the IMF for the entirety of the movie.

Rating: 7/10

Anime-Breakdown: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (2014)

Korean animation, much like India animation industry, are things I know almost nothing about. They usually get overshadowed either by Hollywood, Japan, and heck even the French in that area. While South Korea do have their success story like The King of Pigs which is a generally well received movie. Anime fans on the other hand know South Korea for their work on trashy knockoffs like Super Kid, Diatron 5, and Blue Seagull. All three which are infamous for their bad quality, and in the case of Diatron 5 a classic among the so bad it’s good anime. The general public on the other hand is unlikely to clearly name you a Korean animated movie, or TV series they like from the top of their head. Would you believe me that AKOM, a South Korean animation studio actually animated over 200 episodes of The Simpsons, and also worked on Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, Bob’s Burger, and several other series. Shocking I know South Korea animation industry contributes a lot more than what the average person probably think they do. Today’s movie likely won’t cause that huge wave of exposure Korean animation desires to match Hollywood, or Japan, but the strange, and charming movie might get you more interested in checking out their stuff.

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Wizard toilet paper, not the strangest thing you’ll see in the movie

Satellite Girl, and Milk Cow tells the everyday story of KITSAT-1, a satellite, who wants to learn about human emotions, and crash lands on Earth. After crash landing on Earth, she is transforms into a girl, and tries to help Kyung-chun who has been transformed into a milk cow. As unusual as the premise sounds, don’t worry this is only the setup to a strange, but charming love story. Offering a strange cast of leading characters to follow; you have a satellite who falls in love with a musician after hearing one of his songs, you have a musician who turns into a milk because he’s broken hearted, and magical wizard named Merlin who got turned into toilet paper. Once you accept the strange story the character themselves are a lot fun to be around. KITSAT-1 is trying experiencing human emotion for the first time, and Kyung-chun is trying to sort out of his life, and his love life. The film does a good job exploring both of these characters conflicts. Giving both characters a fair amount of screen time tackling their issues together, and on their own to reflect what they’re looking for in life. Providing a full understanding where each is coming from, and taking the time to slowly show how they change.

A consequence of the film’s runtime is parts of the film are rushed, and in some cases lead to some head scratching moments. One of these happens late in the movie where a woman calls the police on Kyung-chun in his Milk Cow form suspecting him of attempting to abduct a child. During the scene, Kyung-chun acts out of character, and instead of sorting out the situation he goes to eat grass letting KITSAT-1 calm the angry citizens. Parts of the story aren’t properly explained like the organization the villain works. A minor complaint about the writing is aspects the world aren’t clearly explained. You’ll be left wondering where in the world did the Incinerator come from, and how widespread is the problem of broken hearted human being turned into animals is. Part of it remedied by keeping the conflict confined, and the villain’s motivation simple. Yes, it’s all about money. However, a lot of it charm seeps through the weaker aspects of its writing. Everything about the film feels sincere in its efforts to have fun while touching on the theme of love in its unique way. Not shying away from taking advantage from the strange world it created, even if the results is all over the place.

As individual characters both KITSAT-1, and Kyung-chun have satisfactory arcs, but in the romance department the bonding moments are rushed at times. One moment it’s all lovey dovey, and the next moment it’s the sorrowful we can’t be together. It still works since the story puts effort into ensuring they have plenty of bonding moments, but if allowed to play out more naturally it would have end up feeling more meaningful than it did.  Lastly, wizard toilet paper Merlin appears in frequently in the movie. For the first act he’s on screen, but after that his appearance is random. Given he has magical abilities some of the film conflicts could have been resolved easier if he was present his is made more noteworthy because of it. Although, Merlin is given some great, over the top dialogue which makes him a pleasant whenever to see on screen.

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Ah, the magic of toilet paper

The studio behind this is Now OR Never Studio, with animator/director Chang Hyung-yun handling of the project initially looking rough. When you do see 2D digital animation for the first time it is rough looking. Seeing a 2D cow running away from a mechanical Incinerator with jenky 3D movements, and obvious 3D background. The animation is consistent in quality. In particular when it comes to framing, and moving the camera in certain shots eliminating any semblance of perspective. The rotation of the camera in points inadvertently makes the 2D part look really bad.

Thankfully, a good chunk of the movie looks just fine. While it pales in comparison to 2D from other countries it works fine here. Generally the movie is colorful, and the backgrounds are decently detail in 2D. Always trying keep what’s on screen in motion. Offering some nice visual gags along the way, as well as some strange sights like Merlin the wizard toilet paper having arms, and legs. It’s strange to witness, but overall charming.

When it comes to voice acting both the Korean, and English tracks are pretty good. Thankfully, the English dub actually dubs the Korean songs in English. So you won’t get taken out of the moment when viewing the movie. I personally prefer the English dub because Kirk Thornton who voices Merlin is the highlight. He delivers such goofy sounding dialogue with plenty of charisma its infectious. I also like Daniel J Edwards (assuming he sang it) of the few songs that get played. However, there’s the consequence of the voice not matching the lip flaps of the characters on several occasions. It’s very distracting, though didn’t ruin the experience for me.

Satellite Girl, and Milk Cow is jenky in its animation, and wonky in its writing at times, but a lot of its charm seep through despite these issues. The production team is clearly trying to create a good film, and it shows through in the final product. It’ll a take a while to get over it shortcomings on all front, and you’re willing to a give it a chance despite that you might just find a good underneath the rough, and strange front to enjoy.

Rating: 7/10