onderhond blog - onderhond.com http://www.onderhond.com/blog/onderhond The onderhond blog is a collection of gathered thoughts about my work and my personal life. Find out about what drives me as a person and how I get about in my professional life. en-us underdog@operamail.com (Niels Matthijs) <![CDATA[Samehada Otoko to Momojiri Onna/Katsuhito Ishii]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/samehada-otoko-review-katsuhito-ishii

This is where it all started for Katsuhito Ishii. Samehada Otoko to Momojiri Onna (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl) is a manga come to life, a thoroughly Japanese crime/comedy that somehow managed to land a broad international release even before Asian cinema semi-boomed in the early 00's. It's also a great place to start for people not familiar with Ishii's films, as it captures the various aspects of his style quite well.

screen capture of Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl

Back in the day Katsuhito Ishii (Party 7, Sumagura: Omae no Mirai O Hakobe, Cha no Aji, Yama no Anata) was often linked to the work of Tarantino and Ritchie. Sure enough, Samehada Otoko contains some silly gangsters who like to quarrel about nothing much at all, but that's where the comparison ends. Those original statements were probably a combination of a marketing ploy not to be taken too seriously and a lack of familiarity with the manga/anime scene, so don't go expecting a Pulp Fiction/Snatch rip-off or you'll be quite disappointed.

Samehada Otoko is a lot weirder and more focused on the comedy aspect. There are plenty of Yakuza hanging around of course, but they are far removed from the cliché image of the movie gangster. The rest of the characters are equally insane, in particular the private investigator called Yamada who stands out for his otherworldly behavior. There are also various slapstick-like scenes you'll never see in the hipper crime/comedies of the '90s, so it's best to just expect an anime turned live-action, helmed by one of Japan's better comedy directors.

The film follows Samehada, a bold gangster who just cheated his own gang out of a lot of money. By chance he bumps into Toshiko, a young lady on the run from her perverted uncle. The both team up, but soon enough they have to hit the road to outrun Samehada's former gang members. To make things worse, Toshiko's uncle hires a private investigator in order to find Toshiko and bring her back to his motel. Toshiko is turning 18 soon and her uncle plans to marry her on that very day.

screen capture of Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl

Visually I'm very much in two minds about Samehada Otoko. On the one hand there are plenty of quirky camera angles and there's no lack of playful editing, but everything looks just so damn grim and grainy. Maybe it's the transfer, I admit the DVD I watched was of pretty poor quality, but even then the film could've used some vibrant colors to brighten things up. When you start to compare it to films like Survive Style 5+ or Donju it's just hard to ignore how Ishii could've improved on the visuals.

The soundtrack is pretty typical fare. Upbeat pop/rock with some jazzy influences makes up most of the soundtrack. It creates a happy, pleasant vibe but it's not really my kind of thing. Then again, a comedy like this doesn't really need a unique soundtrack to shine, as long as it doesn't hamper the light-hearted, good-natured atmosphere it's pretty much mission accomplished.

Looking at the cast though, it's no surprise that Samehada Otoko still turned out to be a great film. Tadanobu Asano is helming the project while Ittoku Kishibe, Susumu Terajima and Yoshiyuki Morishita all make notable appearances. But it's Thunderbird puppet come to life Tatsuya Gashuin who takes the cake. He is completely otherworldly in his role as personal investigator. He takes over every scene he appears in and provides the best laughs. Ishii did an amazing job uncovering the man's unique talent.

screen capture of Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl

It might take a while to understand who's who in this film, but once all the characters are introduced and the story gets rolling Samehada Otoko is a constant stream of zany comedy moments. There isn't much room for the softer site Ishii showcased in some of his later films, though there are a few scenes near the end that stand out as a bit more emotional. Still, comedy is what this film is all about and comedy is what you'll get. Whether you can actually enjoy it will depend on how you deal with Japanese weirdness.

Samehada Otoko is starting to show its age a little. It's a bit dreary and murky for a comedy and more recent films have improved greatly on the formula. That said, a superb cast, a batch of weird characters and an upbeat score still make for an enjoyable comedy that packs plenty of laughs. Tatsuya Gashuin is clearly the star of the show, Katsuhito Ishii would learn a lot from this first experience and would return a much stronger director. Samehada Otoko might have lost some of its shine over time, but it's still a pretty great film and a seriously fun watch to boot.

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Thu, 20 Nov 2014 11:38:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Kurozu Explode/Toshiaki Toyoda]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/crows-explode-review-toyoda

It took a while, but the latest instalment in the Crows franchise (Kurozu Zero, Kurozu Zero II) has finally arrived. This third film takes a fresh start, with a new story arc and a new director to keep things from going stale. While this is usually bad news for a film series, Kurozu Explode (Crows Explode) isn't just a quick cash-in or a lazy compromise to please some hardened fanboys, instead director Toyoda picks up where Miike left off and goes out of his way to make the material his own.

screen capture of Crows Explode

Those only familiar with Toshiaki Toyoda's later films (I'm Flash, Monsters Club, Yomigaeri no Chi) may be wondering how he ended up directing a film like this, but long-time Toyoda fans will fondly remember Aoi Haru, which is basically a Crows film avant la lettre. When Toyoda was announced as the follow-up to Miike, I quickly tossed aside all my earlier reservations and started looking forward to this latest addition to the series.

If you're not familiar with the Crows series this might not be the best place to start. Even though the references to the first two films are fairly limited, the setting and characters might take some getting used to. Schools run by gangs fighting their way to the top are not uncommon in Japanese fiction, but outside of Japan it's not something you'll come across very often. Apart from WaSanGo (a South-Korean film obviously rooted in Japanese culture) I can't really name another non-Japanese film that has a similar setup. It's probably better to start with films like Sakigake!! Kuromati Koko: The Movie (comedy) or Ai to Makoto (crazy Miike musical/drama) or possibly even Toyoda's own Aoi Haru before moving on to the Crows series.

This third instalment sees a new generation of fighters challenge their seniors at Suzuran High School, while fighting off the leading clan of a neighbouring school. To make things even more explosive, one of the school's graduates has joined a local Yakuza gang and is using Yakuza muscle to take revenge on his old enemies. So instead of only having to worry about each other, they now have to face a range of even more powerful enemies. At the same time, Kaburagi, an enigmatic young transfer student, is rising through the ranks to make a name for himself.

screen capture of Crows Explode

Toyoda's visual style is a pretty good match for the foundation Miike laid in the first two films. The grim surroundings, dominated by run-down concrete buildings, trash and graffiti are grey and depressing, but still rich in details. Even the weather adapts, as thick clouds and icy snow contribute richly to the reigning atmosphere. The indoor scenes in a nearby bar are a nice escape from this cold, desolate environment, though even there the fighting continues. Camera work and editing are solid, the explicit styling of the different gang members also deserves an extra mention.

These high school punks are all about rock and roll, something Toyoda welcomes with open arms. Whenever the film switches back to the bar a different rock group is performing on stage, which makes the inclusion of some existing bands less forced compared to other films. Even though the music itself isn't what I consider great, Toyoda has a way with music that sets up the mood and helps to bring a scene to a climax. I wouldn't listen to the soundtrack outside of the film, but as part of Kurozu Explode it works wonders.

Not too many famous faces in Kurozu Explode, but there's a lot of energy among the actors and the cast clearly had a lot of fun on set. Masahiro Higashide is a good lead, Ryo Katsuji a perfect second in command. There are no real weak links, though it must be said that the styling of the characters makes up half the performance. Most actors don't have that much work besides standing still and appearing to be as menacing as possible, but at least they're pretty good at it.

screen capture of Crows Explode

Fans of the manga have been very vocal about the fact that the film doesn't follow the storyline of the comics. Instead a completely new arc was written especially for this film. I haven't read the manga so I don't really care, but it's good to be aware of these fanboy issues when reading other reviews online. There is nothing really wrong with the plot of this film, even though it's clearly not the main focus. Kurozu Explode is all about the school gang world with its colorful protagonists and that's where the film shines.

Toyoda made an impeccable sequel to Miike's first two films. Kurozu Explode is not a film that transcends its genre or background, but it's a fun, energetic and aptly made niche film that perfectly captures the setting and its characters. It's a film that stands well on its own, though watching Miike's films first is definitely recommended, if only to get acquainted with the setting and unique culture of the battling school gangs. Miike's films are a tad lighter of tone, Toyoda's one is a bit more serious, apart from that they are equally well-made and amusing.

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Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:29:17 +0100
<![CDATA[Eliza Graves/Brad Anderson]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/eliza-graves-review-anderson
Eliza Graves poster

Brad Anderson does Edgar Allan Poe. A pretty interesting collaboration if you ask me. This is my seventh Brad Anderson film and he hasn't disappointed me so far. Poe material is always worth a gamble too, even though most adaptations of his work are hampered by mediocre directors who lack the funds (and skills) to make something good out of it.

Not so in the case of Eliza Graves (also known as Stonehearst Asylum). It's a project that harbours enough money and talent to bring the warped world of Poe to life. Whatever you do though, skip the trailer. I was unlucky enough to see part of it in theaters and it shamelessly spoiled the basic premise of the film, which is just completely unnecessary. Eliza Graves is a film that is best discovered without prior knowledge of the plot (unless of course you're already familiar with Poe's short story).

The film follows Doctor Newgate as he arrives at Stonehearst Asylum. Fresh out of Oxford, Newgate has a soft spot for the insane and enlisted himself to Stonehearst to help out treating and curing the madmen. He is taken on board as Dr Lamb's assistant, who has a rather peculiar way of dealing with his patients. On his first round, Newgate is smitten by Eliza Graves, one of Lamb's dearest subjects. She seems ill at ease in Newgate's presence and it doesn't take long before Newgate starts to suspect that something is seriously off at Stonehearst.

The film has no lack of star power. They are not the biggest names in Hollywood, but with names like Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, David Thewlis and Jim Sturgess, filling a poster shouldn't be too hard. They all put in a good performance too, clearly enjoying their various evil and disturbing roles.

The main attraction of the film is its late 19th century setting though. The asylum looks lush and haunting, the interiors rich and almost romantic. But it's all a façade for a darker, more morbid reality that thrives underneath the superficial calm. The soundtrack adds plenty of atmosphere too, but that's only to be expected when Anderson is helming the film.

The final part drags just a little, but apart from that Eliza Graves is a moody, fun and pleasantly twisted film with no obvious weaknesses. Anderson delivers another good film worthy of your time, which was somewhat of a certainty anyway. Sadly his films tend to suffer from poor distribution, so catch it while you can.

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Tue, 11 Nov 2014 11:51:38 +0100
<![CDATA[15 Beautiful Screencaps/Recommendations]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/15-beautiful-screencaps

It's time for a small celebration. Last week, after nearly seven years of blogging, I wrote my 500th film review. That's quite the number, but rather than digging up my favorite reviews for you, I figured a slight twist might make things a bit more interesting. So I present my 15 favorite screencaps (and you could always just click the image to read the full review). Images that I feel could inspire people to see the films based on their merits alone. Here goes:

15. Tjhe Unforgiving

14. Chi Ming Yu Chun Giu

13. Tekon Kinkurito

12. Heruta Sukeruta

11. Kyoshin

10. The Spirit

09. Genius Party Beyond

08. Volver a Morir

07. Avalon

06. 2046

05. Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi

04. Di Si Zhang Hua

03. Kuron wa Kokyo wo Mezasu

02. Vinyan

01. Beyond the Black Rainbow

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Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:12:30 +0100
<![CDATA[Welp/Jonas Govaerts]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/welp-review-jonas-govaerts

Welp (Cub) has been widely announced as being the first Flemish horror film. While that description is quite deceptive, for all intents and purposes the advertisers do have a point. Jonas Govaerts' Welp is a pure-blooded slasher, a type of film our region hasn't really done before. While I went in with toned down expectations, the result was actually much better than I had expected. Slasher fans are in for a treat with this one.

screen capture of Welp

On the Wallon side of Belgium, Fabrice du Welz' Calvaire and Benjamin Viré's Cannibal count as fully featured horror flicks. Flanders had some close calls with Linkeroever and Small Gods, great films but not exactly pure horror fare. There are also some underground cult films that might claim first place, but they are truly too insignificant to take into account. All of that changed when Govaerts (guitarist of The Hickey Underworld) decided that Flanders could do with a slasher flick.

Making a genre film is one thing, making it stand out from the crowd is a lot harder. There have been so many slasher flicks before that the genre is almost a parody of itself. And that's exactly were Govaerts got things right. The film is littered with small details (like the mask, the various forest traps, the focus on children) that make it just that little bit different from the million other slashers out there. Mind you that if you're not an avid horror fan, these nuances might pass right by you.

Welp takes us on a typical boy scouting trip (though not all Belgian boy scouting groups would be happy to hear that - some of them even tried to distance themselves from the film). A bunch of young kids and their mentors head out into the woods, where they set up camp to play a fun Halloween game. What they don't know is that darker forces are roaming the forest. Sam is the only one who notices something's off, but he is ridiculed by the other kids.

screen capture of Welp

Govaerts' biggest accomplishment was getting Nicolas Karakatsanis on board as cinematographer. Karakatsanis is probably one of Belgian finest assets in the film industry right now, credits including Small Gods (directed by his brother), Rundskop, Linkeroever and The Drop. He has a way of making dark and gritty beautiful, exactly what a film like this needs. The setting and costumes are also top notch, the "welp" mask in particular is unique and (potentially) iconic.

Having a professional musician as a director is a pretty big advantage for a film. Horror films benefit greatly from a strong score and Welp has some pretty classy music to crank up to tension. Build-ups in particular are moody and dense, creating a laden atmosphere that pushes you all the way back into your seat. It may not be the most memorable or original score, but at least it's a damn effective one and it's applied with minute precision.

The performances are a little hit and miss, but the lead roles are all good. Titus De Voogdt (Small Gods, Any Way the Wind Blows, Ben X) is one of Belgian's finer talents, Maurice Luyten did an amazing job as Sam. It's not easy finding a good kid actor for a role like this, but he more than held his own. The other kid actors aren't as great and Aerts and Bosmans aren't exactly prize material either, but overall the cast more than suffices.

screen capture of Welp

Welp is a slasher, plain and simple. There aren't any big surprises, no amazing plot twists, no visionary ideas that make you question the essence of cinema. But there are some little things that might still surprise the hardened fans out there. There's a killing involving a truck you won't see easily in other slashers (especially American ones), the bad guys aren't as conventional and there's some underlying dark humor that gives the film a slight twist. Nothing earth-shattering, but enough to make it stand out.

With his first feature, Govaerts delivers a rock solid genre film. It's tense and moody, never too gory, beautifully shot, aptly scored and generally well-directed. If you're not into slashers than it's probably just another horror flick without anything to set it apart, but genre fans will know better. It'll be interesting to see where Govaerts will go from here, but Welp is a film they won't be able to take from him ever again. Flanders has its first slasher film, and it's a good one.

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Wed, 05 Nov 2014 11:59:31 +0100
<![CDATA[Requiem for a Dream/Darren Aronofsky]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/requiem-fa-dream-review-aronofsky

When the buzz around no-budget thriller Pi finally subsided, Darren Aronofsky had nowhere else to go but down. And yet, against all odds, he once again released a film that successfully challenged the status quo. Requiem of a Dream is a landmark film, a bridge between the cult and the commercial, a film destined to survive the test of time. It's not exactly a pleasant film, yet every time I sit down to watch it, it sweep me off my feet all over again.

screen capture of Requiem for a Dream

A film like Pi is pretty much impossible to follow up. From out of nowhere Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) burst onto the scene, leaving behind a unique film that became a cult favorite in no time. Pi is the kind of film that only comes around every few years, you simply cannot recreate that same impact with your next film. So Aronofsky looked for a new challenge. Rather than keep dabbling in obscure niches, he set out with bigger aspirations.

There is a group of films that survives on the very edge between arthouse and Hollywood. Films that very much bear the stamp of their director, explicitly stylized and incomparable to other films out there, yet with enough commercial appeal to cross the gap between both worlds. A tight spot where films like Fight Club, Amélie or Donnie Darko reside. With Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky managed to join that select group of films.

If Pi is a film about the downwards spiral of obsession, Requiem for a Dream is its addiction equivalent. Through two (arguable three) stories and three seasons, Aronofsky follows a set of four characters and their inevitable way downhill. Life has no short cuts and when Aronofsky's characters desperately reach for a better future, they have no idea they are actually digging their own graves, sentencing themselves to a life pain and misery.

screen capture of Requiem for a Dream

Even though Requiem for a Dream is a very visual film, individual shots aren't all that impressive. Framing, coloring and camera work are nice, but nothing truly exceptional. The camera tricks are cool, but by themselves they don't result in overwhelming visuals either. This film is really all about the editing. Rhythmic, razor sharp and constructive. And it gets better with each consecutive season Aronofsky kicks off. Where summer (the beginning of the film) is still quite tame and on the safe side, come winter the film is one big visual blast.

The soundtrack is a masterpiece, plain and simple. Clint Mansell is at the controls once again and even though I prefer Pi's soundtrack (if only for the great selection of electronic tracks), Mansell's work here is astounding. Integrated seamlessly with the visuals, the music creates an audiovisual narrative that transports you right into the film. The returning theme is legendary by now, often (ab)used for trailers of different films and even adapted into other movie's soundtracks. This is what a soundtrack should be like.

Fans of Pi are treated to a few interesting cameos, with Shoaib, Gullette and Margolis all flying by. This film also kick-started several acting careers. Jared Leto (Mr Nobody), Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans (yeah, even him) all put in great performances. But it's Ellen Burstyn who truly took centre stage. Her performance as Sara Goldfarb (Leto's mom) is excruciating, one of the most memorable film characters that I have ever witnessed. Seeing her slip into madness is just beyond creepy and a memory for life.

screen capture of Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream is very rhythmic, musical film. Not in the sense that people break out in songs, but the structure, the repetition, the crescendo of the finale ... it's less like traditional storytelling, more like a song come to life. It's a risky approach, but Aronofsky managed to pull it off in such a way that both arthouse and commercial film fans found something to love. Do mind though that things get quite depressing during the second part of the film, so if you're just looking for a fun evening, shelve it a little while longer.

Aronofsky struck gold with this one. Personally I still prefer Pi, but Requiem for a Dream is a much more accessible film while retaining Aronofsky's trademark style. It's a unique film, almost impossible to compare with other films out there. A film that is destined to leave a permanent mark on cinema history and forever a reference for all other Aronofsky films. If you can stomach the tragedy, it's a film you simply cannot skip as it truly has no weak points to speak of.

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Tue, 04 Nov 2014 11:22:00 +0100
<![CDATA[The Art of Discussion/Dissected]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/art-of-discussion

The internet is a special place. It's a place where every single topic, every minuscule niche and every weird hobby has a shrine of devotees talking about what they think is important. It's a place where people can communicate, without hesitation, without any immediate social boundaries. It's also a place where everyone can enter a conversation anonymously.

This detachment of our real world lives is often cited as a negative, as it makes the internet a cold, vile and uninviting space at times. When discussions get going, things heat up pretty fast and people flock to these topics only to add more oil to an already raging fire. Concepts like trolling and flaming emerged in the wake of early yet fiery online discussions.

There's an old image that sums up most people's feelings quite well: nothing can be gained from discussing things on the web. And while, to a certain degree, they have a point, I'm about to tell you why they are wrong.

First and foremost, it's about them

Two people with different opinions about a subject, that's all you need to get a discussion started. These two people will then go on to try and explain their opinions while providing counter-arguments for what the other party is stating.

Convincing the other party they are wrong is often seen as the essence of a discussion. While there's definitely room for that in fact-based discussions, most arguments are centred around personal beliefs and/or personal taste, topics where nobody is actually right or wrong.

That doesn't mean these types of discussions are futile though. Instead of seeing an argument as one party trying to convince the other party, it is way more useful to look it as a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into the mind of another person. It's a chance to discover how other people look at the world, how they are moved by things that are completely alien to yourself. At the same time, your end of the discussion should be focused on how to explain your thoughts and feelings. Not in a way that is meant to convince the other party, but in a way that allows other people to understand why you like the things you like and think the things you think.

It's a sport

Let's be honest though, most discussions don't play out that way, neither online nor in real life. Instead they end up with two parties attempting to invalidate each other's opinions and experiences, until one party finally concedes.

The dirty little secret of discussions is that to many people, the art of discussing is actually little more than a sport. It's not about sharing experiences or about getting to know the other person, it's about winning. About a false sense of superiority that seemingly validates your own beliefs. Trumping the other party means leaving the discussion victorious, even though deep down inside people know they've gained absolutely nothing at all. Still, that quick shot of adrenaline is enough for most people to behave they way they do.

People who are good at discussing can even argue a position that's not their own. They can take whatever stance, whatever opinion and provide credible arguments for it. It's an extremely useful trait to master, but it's a skill that can only be acquired by testing out the waters without other parties being aware of what you're doing. It's not the kind of thing that's going to earn you good friend points.

Tactics

After a while, you start to see patterns in the way discussions evolve. You find tactics that people apply to "win" a discussion even though both opinions are equally valid. Through the years I've encountered quite a few of these, so I've compiled a little shortlist that might help you save face when you feel you're being unfairly outwitted by someone.

a. Grammar skills

It's hardly elegant and it has little or nothing to do with the actual discussion, but people will call out your grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. The only point here is to make you feel inferior, which would somehow equate to having an inferior opinion. It's nonsense of course, but it is known to work.

b. Fluffy eloquence

Wordplay and (semi)poetry are your enemy. Arguments should be clear and simple to understand, not clouded by fancy words or poetic associations. Whenever you spot these, chances are someone is trying to lose you in a web of wordplay rather than communicate something meaningful.

c. Semantics

People will read your opinions with a certain bias, so whatever way you express yourself, keep in mind that they might read something else in it. Once you feel that you're not talking about the same thing, try to defuse that part of the discussion as quickly as possible, or before you know it you're quarrelling about semantics and nobody's a winner in those types of discussions.

d. Leave analogies alone

Analogies are tricky and rarely work out. Unless you are talking to someone who's actually willing to understand what you are saying, analogies will leave you stranded. An analogy is by definition different from the thing you're trying to describe, so the other party will just highlight the difference and claim victory. It's a dead end street.

e. Simplifying things

When you present an argument people might try to rephrase it or cherry-pick certain parts of your argument. Keep in mind that simplifying a discussion often means losing out on context and subtleties, which may put your argument in a different light altogether. Stick to what you want to say and don't let yourself be sidetracked. Chances are you're being set up anyway.

f. Beware of people backing you up

An online discussion rarely happens between just two people. There will often be others backing up your statements. While this sounds fun and empowering, the way they voice their opinions will automatically reflect on yours. Suddenly you're Team X and you're accountable for everything your team mates say. It's safest to distance yourself from whoever is joining in, relying solemnly on your own statements.

g. The power of many

Personal taste is just that, but when discussing taste people will try and find comfort in the opinions of like-minded people. They will cite opinions of experts in the field which are supposed to strengthen their own arguments. Remind yourself that taste is a personal thing and that even experts are subject to personal taste. When personal taste is involved, there is no right answer.

h. It's all a joke

Discussions can be fun and light-hearted, but when someone back-pedals claiming arguments he brought up where just for laughs (usually accompanied by a "don't be so serious") you're in dangerous territory. Jokes win over people, no matter of the nonsense they were talking about just 2 minutes ago.

i .Profiling

In many cases, when discussions get really going people will tell you to chill. When you're cursing or shouting (all-caps) that's probably a fair assessment, but when you're just explaining things rationally it's often a way to label you as a hot-head, someone who is riled up instead of a conscious, rational person.

The bottom line

A seasoned partaker in discussions will have no trouble making you feel inferior unless you're able to pinpoint the techniques he's using to do so. The list above is far from conclusive and someone versed in the art of discussion will have way more subtle approaches to make you feel like you're wrong, even though at some level you realize there is no factual ground to feel that way.

Whatever you do, don't buy into it. Unless you have truly missed the point or misunderstood a factual argument, there is no right or wrong when it comes to opinions. There is no way your opinion is more valuable or more correct than any other. The value of holding a discussion lies in finding out about the way others experience the world around us, if the other party isn't interested in that he's just looking for self-gratification. Either you play along and make it a conscious battle, or you walk away and leave him straining for attention.

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Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:32:56 +0100
<![CDATA[I Come with the Rain/Tran Anh Hung]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/i-come-with-the-rain-review-tran
I Come with the Rain poster

I feel for Tran Ahn Hung (Norwegian Wood). I Come with the Rain was meant to be his international break-through. An ambitious Pan-Asian production (featuring Hollywood star Josh Hartnett in one of the lead roles) that should've landed him a sizeable audience. But the film disappeared off the radar completely. Production problems, with Tran eventually distancing himself from the final cut damned the film to a lackluster DVD release, only picked up by Tran's most hardcore fans. To make things worse, the film is quite the departure of Tran's earlier work, so even they didn't like what they saw.

Though production-wise I Come with the Rain was a complete disaster, the film itself is actually quite good. It's perfect material for a cult revival, though its relative obscurity and the apparent lack of incentive to pick it up (Tran's popularity has waned the past couple of years) will probably prevent that from happening. If you're not a zany Tran adept though and you're looking for something peculiar to watch, I Come with the Rain is actually a pretty safe bet. It's not without faults, but its perks more than make up for them.

The cast alone should merit some extra interest. There's Hartnett and Koteas drawing in the Hollywood crowd, but Tran also went actor-shopping in several high-profile Asian countries. Takuya Kimura, Byung-Hun Lee, Shawn Yue and Tran Nu Yen-Khe make for a nice international ensemble. You have to put up with some stilted English dialogues because of that, but the language barrier makes sense, seeing that most of the actors are from different countries anyway.

The story revolves around a private detective (Hartnett) trying to find Shitao (Kimura), the son of a wealthy businessman. The film is split in two, one part focusing on Hartnett's past and the other focusing on Shitao's adventures. For a Tran film, things get pretty weird and intense, with Kimura portraying some kind of Jesus figure who can take away the pain of others and Hartnett having to deal with a human body parts sculptor.

Visually Tran put his mark on the film, with dreamy visuals and nice camera work. The soundtrack is less pleasing, but that's probably because I'm not much of a post-rock fan. Featuring bands like Radiohead and Silver Mt. Zion is not a plus in my book, even then the soundtrack could've benefit from a more subtle approach.

I Come with the Rain may be a tough sell if you want to market it to a broader audience, but there's a very unique and mysterious vibe that should appeal to people looking for something different. From the crazy sculptures (not unlike the artwork of Rubber Johnny artwork) to the interesting cast and challenging story structure, there's enough here to warrant 2 hours of your time.

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Mon, 03 Nov 2014 11:12:08 +0100
<![CDATA[Mogura no Uta/Takashi Miike]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/mole-song-review-takashi-miike

Unless you live in Japan (or a local film fest gets extremely lucky), it's virtually impossible to review Takashi Miike's "latest" film. Even though the man has slowed down his pacing considerably, there are always newer releases by the time his films hit the West. Anyway, Mogura no Uta - Sennyu Sosakan: Reiji (The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji) is among his latest films and it's probably his greatest work since 46-Okunen no Koi. Welcome back Miike.

screen capture of The Mole Song

It's definitely not the first time Miike (Izo, Gozu, Sun Scarred) set out to adapt an existing franchise. Yokai Daisenso and Ichimei are both film remakes, Ace Attorney is based on a popular video game and when it comes to manga and anime Miike has Crows Zero, Crows Zero 2, Ai to Makoto, Ryu ga Gotoku: Gekijo-Ban and Yattaman in his portfolio. Mogura no Uta (a lauded manga series) is merely the latest to enjoy the full Miike treatment.

I haven't read the manga so it's hard to say with 100% certainty, but it definitely feels like Miike made the source material his own (again). Mogura no Uta has Miike written all over it, to the point where it almost plays like a 25-year best off compilation. There are so many typical moments of weirdness, over-the-top craziness and flat out insanity that there's never a dull or boring moment in this 130 minute crime comedy.

The film follows Reiji, a low-ranking officer whose inconspicuous profile makes him a perfect candidate for becoming a mole. He is fired from the corpse, given a quick undercover agent training and sent out to infiltrate a major Yakuza clan. His mission: uncover the person behind large drug shipments that are plaguing Japan. It doesn't take long before Reiji gets in too deep, what follows is a pleasant take on classical Yakuza folklore (not quite unlike Katsuhito Ishii's Smuggler.

screen capture of The Mole Song

If there's one big change in Miike's output compared to 15 years ago, it's that his films look a whole lot better. Miike has always had an eye for powerful images, but he often lacked the money to make it happen. Those days are clearly over, yet it's reassuring to see this didn't make him lazy. From the paper-cut dreams and flashbacks in the beginning to the moody and atmospheric finale, there's always happening something interesting on the screen.

As for the soundtrack, it feels like Miike took a few cues from Sion Sono's films. Pompous, classical sounding music is used for comedic effect. Nothing too extreme or memorable, but it works well enough and it lends the film a pleasant, silly vibe. The titular song too is fun and amusing, even providing some good laughs. All in all it's a decent soundtrack, just don't expect anything too special.

Toma Ikuta may be headlining this film, it's Shinichi Tsutsumi's presence that really caught my eye. It also got me thinking which famous/respected Japanese actor hasn't appeared in a Miike film before. Apart from maybe Shinobu Terajima, I came up with nothing. With great supporting roles for Ken'ichi Endo (Bizita Q), Susumu Terajima (Nintama Rantaro), Riisa Naka (Zebraman 2) and Ren Osugi Miike got himself an all-star cast perfectly suited for this kind of film.

screen capture of The Mole Song

Like most 2h+ Miike films, Mogura no Uta does slow down from time to time. Where these moments used to drag though, Miike has somewhat overcome this weakness. The overall rise in quality of his films has made these moments a lot easier to stomach. On the other hand, I do feel he could've easily cut 10 to 15 minutes out of the middle part without hurting the film as a whole. Once the finale gets going though, these moments are quickly forgotten and the final 30 minutes are simply genius.

There's enough madness here to fill 3 or 4 separate films. The dream/flashback sequences in the beginning are awesome, the mole training (including the titular song) is hilarious, the villains plain creepy and weird. It's a vintage Miike with bazookas and manga-like jumps, crazy Yakuza gangs and a complete disregard for the normal. There is nobody like Miike when it comes to cranking out entertaining films and this film delivers in spades. If you're a fan of wacky Miike, Mogura no Uta is sure to satisfy your craving.

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Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:33:48 +0100
<![CDATA[Kaien Hoteru - Buru/Koji Wakamatsu]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/petrel-hotel-blue-review-wakamatsu
Petrel Hotel Blue poster

2012 was going to be a great year for Koji Wakamatsu. With three films released and already a fourth one on the way, he was on a roll. At the age of 76, that's quite a feat. Sadly it wasn't meant to be. On a walk home from a budget meeting Wakamatsu was hit by a cab and he would pass away soon after. A surprisingly tepid ending for an explosive director.

Kaien Hoteru - Buru (Petrel Hotel Blue) is one of the three films Wakamatsu managed to finish in 2012. It's a peculiar film, experimental but featuring an elaborate narrative and remarkably free from political propaganda. It would make a good companion piece to Landscapes the Boy Saw, though both films are still quite different from each other.

Kaien Hoteru - Buru starts off with a robbery gone wrong. When Yukio's friend Yoji doesn't show up to provide backup, Yukio is caught and is sentenced to a 7 year stay in prison. Upon his release, Yukio vows to take revenge on Yoji. He finds out his location and ends up on a small, barren island where Yoji is running a bar/hotel.

That's when things get strange. Even though there's a whole crime story slowly unravelling, the film is more interested in Rika's character, Yoji's wife. She doesn't really speak, she disappears into thin air from time to time and she transfixes every man she meets. She's the catalyst of just about everything that happens, but her exact role is never truly explained.

The film is obviously a low-budget affair, but the location is terrific and the camera does a great job capturing its alien atmosphere. The soundtrack too adds a very mysterious feel, making everything that much weirder. The only real downer is the cast. Go Jibiki (a late-Wakamatsu regular) is solid, but the rest of the actors fail to find the right vibe.

Still, Kaien Hoteru - Buru is worth a gamble, especially if you're already familiar with Wakamatsu's oeuvre. It's a moody, atmospheric and mysterious film, not the kind of thing you'd expect a 76 year old to make. It might have been easier to accept Wakamatsu's passing if he'd been making crap movies, on the other hand, at least he got productive again right before passing away.

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Mon, 27 Oct 2014 11:55:50 +0100
<![CDATA[Rokugatsu no Hebi/Shinya Tsukamoto]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/snake-of-june-review-tsukamoto

Around the turn of the millennium, after his early (cyber)punk/body horror exploits, Shinya Tsukamoto was busy experimenting. He was trying to find a new direction in which he would push his oeuvre. With films like Soseji and Vital he explored different alterations of his trademark style, Rokugatsu no Hebi (A Snake of June) belongs in that same list of films. The result is another vintage Tsukamoto that sits proudly amongst his other gems, though just a little different from the ones that came before..

screen capture of A Snake of June

Even though there's a clear constant in the way Shinya Tsukamoto (Haze, Nightmare Detective 2, Kotoko, Tetsuo: Bullet Man) makes films, his earlier work is a lot rawer and harsher. Films like Tetsuo, Bullet Ballet and Tokyo Ken are all beautiful in their own right, but not in a traditional sense of the word. It's a grittier version of beauty, mixing body horror, urban landscapes and a frantic drive to create something explosive.

That frantic drive is still very much alive in Rokugatsu no Hebi, but there are softer, more humane themes present too. The film's not just about deformities and ugliness, it's also about traditional beauty and the human body. Rokugatsu no Hebi is a nifty take on Tsukamoto's fascination with body horror, leaving mutations and fantastical weirdness out of the picture for a change, substituting them with questions about health, femininity and intimate relationships.

The film follows Rinko, a woman who's slowly grown apart from her husband. She works for a mental hotline and helps people who are thinking about ending their lives. One day a patient gets hold of her home number and starts stalking her. While at first she feels threatened by his attention, he unearths something in her that she had long considered dead. When not long after she gets diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening disease, Rinko has to rethink the life she's been leading.

screen capture of A Snake of June

Even though the the 1.37:1 ratio is somewhat functional (considering the central role traditional photography plays in this film), I'll never be a fan. Still, Tsukamoto's energetic camera work, strong shadow play and razor-sharp editing skills make up for that. The fact that the entire film is drenched in a cold-blue hue only adds to the atmosphere. Rokugatsu no Hebi is a stunning-looking film, though you wouldn't expect anything else from the man.

Long-time collaborator Chu Ishikawa is back to handle the soundtrack. While his signature style is still present, the harsher, more industrial sounds that characterized his earlier collaborations have made room for dreamier, more ethereal-sounding melodies. Once again images and sound combine to make a very tight whole, seemingly creating atmosphere out of thin air. Ishikawa is a perfect composer for Tsukamoto's films and once again his work doesn't disappoint.

While the film has some interesting cameos (Tomorowo Taguchi, Susumu Terajima) and secondary characters (Shinya Tsukamoto himself), the two leads just aren't as convincing. Yuji Kotari in particular has a few awkward moments as Rinko's husband. Asuka Kurosawa does a slightly better job as Rinko, but she too lacks the true conviction to bring her character to life. Though extreme realism has never been a part of Tsukamoto's characters, never before were they as stilted as here.

screen capture of A Snake of June

Rokugatsu no Hebi is the first film for Tsukamoto to focus on the female body. Rather than turn it into a true freak show, the film's about sexuality, disease and its impact on femininity. The climax comes a little early and the aftermath drags just a little, but considering the film's short running time (77 minutes only) that's hardly an issue.

Tsukamoto went through his own transformation when the previous millennium ended, Rokugatsu no Hebi is one of the films that illustrates that pretty well. It's still a vintage Tsukamoto though, with extrovert visuals, a superb soundtrack and a strong focus on the human body, but underneath there's a layer of humanity that wasn't really present before. Watching this should be a no-brainer for Tsukamoto fans, others would probably do best to check out one of his other films first.

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Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:48:33 +0200
<![CDATA[David Fincher/x10]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/david-fincher-x10
David Fincher

David Fincher, man of the 90s. With just four films (of which the first one bombed fiercely upon launch) he managed to rise as one of the most respected directors of the decade. After the turn of the millennium he's been busy trying to uphold that image, though I can't say I really appreciate the controlled and calculated direction his career has taken since then.

Fincher's name first popped up in 1992, when he directed the third film in the Alien franchise. The third instalment featuring Giger's majestic creature wasn't exactly bad, but compared to the first two films it just couldn't evoke the same kind of emotions. Add some production woes and critical scorn and you have a horrible beginning of a career. Fincher completely turned things around with his next film. I'm not a big fan myself, but it's hard to deny the impact Se7en made on the general public. Still cited as one of the best films of the 90s and firmly lodged in the top 25 of the IMDb top 250, it's one of Fincher's biggest successes to date.

A few years later Fincher would lash out again, screwing his audience backwards and sideways with The Game, probably the most in-your-face mindfuck he directed. It's a fun flick and a testament to Fincher's skills, but it wouldn't be until is next project that Fincher's name would take on truly epic proportions. Fight Club is one of those rare movies that managed to become a cult favorite, a critical success and a commercial hit. It's a freaky, edgy and wildly unique film that is regarded as one of the defining movies of the 90s.

Sadly, Fincher started to slump a little after that. Panic Room was an average thriller at best and Zodiac wasn't that much better. Gone were the edgy touches that made his previous films worthwhile, only to be replaced by slow pacing, stylistic mediocrity and a stone-cold focus on plot. With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fincher tried to break away from his comfort zone, but by then it was painfully clear that he had somehow lost his youthful edge along the way.

The Social Network was a commendable attempt to relive his previous success, but with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (a lifeless remake of Män Som Hatar Kvinnor) and the recently released Gone Girl Fincher is slowly but surely digging his own grave. Not that these film are without merit, but there is a lack of energy and passion that is reminiscent of a man who knows he is past his prime. I still hope Fincher will resurface with a film that blows everybody away, but chances are slim. If you're looking for a decent thriller you can't go far wrong with Fincher, just don't look for anything more when trying out his post -2000 work.

Best film: Fight Club (4.0*)
Worst film: Gone Girl (1.5*)
Average rating: 2.65 (out of 5)

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Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:18:15 +0200
<![CDATA[Kite/Ralph Ziman]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/kite-review-ralph-ziman

Some movies make absolutely no sense at all. When I heard there was going to be a Western live-action adaptation of Kite (the cult anime), I simply couldn't wrap my head around the idea that someone out there figured it would a smart thing to do. Expectations were low (obviously), but I was still quite interested to see where they would take it. And surprise surprise, even though some predictable concessions were made, the film turned out to be pretty damn fun.

screen capture of Kite

Since its original anime release (back in 1998), Kite has garnered quite the reputation. The original film is an explosive combination of sex and violence, made twice as shocking by featuring a female minor in the lead. Needless to say, that bit alone resulted in quite a few angry reviews. I used to like the film a lot, but when I watched it again some time ago the low production values and moments of cheap exploitation couldn't just be ignored by merely focusing on the admittedly kick-ass action sequences and solid ending.

As was to be expected, the scenes where Sawa (the main character) is raped and abused by her mentor were removed from this remake in their entirety. And that's probably not such a bad thing, since those bits in the original film were vile and exploitative without adding anything to the film as a whole. What remains now is a rock-solid action flick about a young girl taking revenge on the killers of her parents, no holds barred. And that's all this film ever really needed to be.

Sawa is aided in her quest by Karl, a shady policeman who was Sawa's father's parter back when her parents were violently killed. Behind the murder was a group of human traffickers who he had crossed right before his death. Karl provides Sawa with weapons, information, cover from the police and a drug named amp, which lets her forget about the horrendous things she has to pull off to get to the bottom of the case. With each new victim she makes, Sawa gets a little closer to uncovering the truth.

screen capture of Kite

Kite is clearly a mid to low-budget affair, but Ziman makes the most of the available funds to bring the film's dystopian future to life. A run-down city, neon lights, muted tones with strong colors popping out and extravagant lighting make for an attractive-looking film. The camera work is in-your-face, the editing snappy. It reminded me a little of Frank Miller's film adaptations (Sin City, The Spirit), only a bit more colorful.

The soundtrack is going to make Kite a lot of enemies, but it's actually a pretty neat electronic score. It's a clear and explicit derivative of dubstep-oriented tunes and tracks and it will probably be ridiculed because of that, but honestly, how many films have dared to make that choice. Add some moody melodic ambient to go with the dramatic flashbacks and you have a more than fitting score that most films would be too afraid to even consider, yet complements this type of film perfectly.

India Eisley is well-cast as Sawa. Her child-like appearance suits her character, while her real-life age allows her to kick ass more convincingly than Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass ever could. Samuel L Jackson is Eisley's back-up and even though he's pretty much the same guy, no matter what movie he plays in, he too is a perfect match for the job. McAuliffe is a solid third, while some juicy South-African thugs make for a fun yet rather limited secondary cast.

screen capture of Kite

Kite is somewhat of a niche film. I'm afraid this more action-oriented adaptation isn't going to appeal to the hardcore fans of the original, while I'm pretty sure that the harsh action and strange setting will alienate the rest of the audience. There's a nice twist ending that may help to convince some people of the film's qualities, but to be honest, that's not where Kite's strong points lie.

If you don't like the setting and you aren't charmed by the film's stylish exterior, the harsh action and crude characters probably won't cut it for you. On the other hand, it's nice to see Ziman make a film that shies away from compromises. Kite is a relentless action flick, helmed by a strong female lead and boasting interesting visuals and a fun, daring soundtrack. It may not be the most faithful adaptation and it may not turn out to be a big commercial success, I still liked it a lot better than the original film and I had a blast watching. It's somewhat of a gamble for sure, but Kite is one of the best action films I've seen in a long time.

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Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:57:20 +0200
<![CDATA[Tony Scott/x10]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/tony-scott-x10
Tony Scott

It's not completely unseen to have two brothers working as directors in Hollywood. There are the Coens, the Wachowskis, the Pangs and the Farrelly brothers, what's unique about Ridley and Tony Scott is that they each went to find their own path. They never co-directed a feature film, they never formed a team. They are both A-list blockbuster directors, but where Ridley Scott has a somewhat more diverse oeuvre, Tony Scott is the king of fast-paced, high octane action cinema.

I haven't seen too many of Scott's older films. I'm pretty sure I must've watched classics like Top Gun and Days of Thunder when I was a kid, but I remember little to nothing of them. The oldest Scott film I do remember watching is Beverly Hills Cops II, the not so good sequel/remix of Brest's buddy cop film. Still, these films were all the rage back then, so Scott went on to make The Last Boy Scout. The formula is always the same, only the lead actors change. I can't say I'm a very big fan.

While these film brought Scott mainstream success, he had to wait until 1993 before the critics started giving him some credit. True Romance is a fan favorite, mostly due to Quentin Tarantino's involvement with the script. I never really saw the appeal though. It's not a terribly film, but it feels lacking to other films in the genre. It's also one of the few Scott films that isn't straight up action, but ventures into more crime and thriller oriented territory.

With Enemy of the State and Spy Game Scott would test the water with different variations of the action genre, but it wasn't until 2004 that things would really get interesting. Man on Fire is one of the big milestones in Scott's career. It would be his first time working with Denzel Washington in the lead, but it also meant a complete change in style for Scott. He would adopt a very young, fresh and hyperactive style of film making that was pretty much unheard of in Hollywood. His film had always been slick and flashy, but this was clearly something else.

With Domino (my favorite Scott film) he would take it even one step further, sadly alienating his audience just a little too much. The film is a real blast though. Fun, daring, entertaining, extravagant ... everything most Hollywood actions films lack. But money talks and after Domino Scott would once more team up with Washington to try and relive the success of Man on Fire. Even though it brought forth some fun films (Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Unstoppable), Scott would never rise to those heights again.

It's a shame Scott decided to end his life prematurely as he was a unique voice in Hollywood. He was a bit too flashy and in your face for most people, but he made good, simple action flicks and left an oeuvre that harbors a lot a fun. That is, if you can stand the Hollywood nonsense embedded in their roots.

Best film: Domino (4.0*)
Worst film: Beverly Hills Cop II (2.0*)
Average rating: 3.00 (out of 5)

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Wed, 15 Oct 2014 12:42:51 +0200
<![CDATA[Papurika/Satoshi Kon]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/papurika-review-satoshi-kon

Papurika is Satoshi Kon's fourth and final feature film. At its time of release I went to watch it at the IFFR. Big screen, good sound system, a theater filled with fans ... the works. Back then I felt it didn't quite live up to the legacy of his first two films, yet it was a return to form after the disappointment that was Tokyo Godfathers. I was pretty eager to watch Papurika again, excited to find out if those 8 years in between had done anything to change my mind.

screen capture of Paprika

After a successful run as an animator, art director and writer for several prestigious anime projects (including Memorizu, Kido Keisatsu Patoreba: The Movie 2 and Roujin Z), Kon started his directorial career with Perfect Blue. Add Magnetic Rose and Sennen Joyu (Kon's second feature film) and a pattern quickly emerges. Even though Kon's skills were broad, he truly excelled at seamlessly blending reality and dream worlds together.

On top of that, Kon brought animation closer to live action without sacrificing the strengths of the medium. His style of direction (camera angles, editing, pacing) is grounded in reality, yet what he shows would be incredibly hard to accomplish when making a regular feature film. With Tokyo Godfathers Kon strayed from this path by forgoing the dream world almost completely, Papurika went the other way and sees Kon losing touch with reality. Both films are the result of a director exploring what else he would be capable of, sadly his untimely death meant that he would never be able to reap the rewards from these experiences.

Papurika is quite literally the story of a dream world trying to take over the real world. A few years into the future doctor Chiba and her team have developed a device that allows them to visit people's dreams. They use the device to try and heal mental patients, but when three prototypes are stolen and people start daydreaming their way into death, it's clear that they have unleashed a technology onto the world without fully understanding the dangers.

screen capture of Paprika

Visually the film is somewhat of a mixed bag. By now the CG looks a bit out of place and it doesn't integrate all that well with the traditional animation. The character designs too are a bit crude, but the animation itself is smart with great eye for detail and there are some pretty crazy and outrageous scenes that do manage to awe. The coloring is spot on and adds plenty of atmosphere. Still, of all four feature films directed by Kon, Papurika is the least visually pleasing.

The soundtrack is something else though. After working together on Sennen Joyu, Susumu Hirasawa is back to grace this film with his peculiar sound. Papurika's main theme is amazing, a typical Hirasawa track that's almost impossible to grasp but intrigues every single time it's used in the film. The rest of the music is equally enigmatic, giving the film a special edge that's unique to the work of Hirasawa. Not every director could get away with it, but with Kon's films we're talking about a perfect marriage.

The voice acting too is top notch, with famed talent like Koichi Yamadera (Togusa) and Akio Otsuka (Batou) (both from Kokaku Kidotai) taking up considerable roles. The lead is voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, another veteran known for her work in Okami Kodomo No Ame To Yuki, Asura, Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop. Quality voice talent, unless you go for the English dub which sounds drab and bland.

screen capture of Paprika

Opinions differ, but ultimately I prefer Kon's more realistic output. Papurika has quite a few sci-fi elements and combined with the film's expansive dream world it's all one big fantastical journey. There are few boundaries in Papurika's world and Kon really goes all out, but for me Kon's at his best when he's constantly playing around with the thin line between fantasy and reality. There is some of that near the end of the film, but it just doesn't compare to his earlier work.

That said, Papurika is still an amazing film with plenty of memorable moments and a superb finale. If I sound a little negative that's only because his first two films are hard to surpass. With a superb soundtrack, a great eye for detail and an original concept Papurika is a strong addition to Kon's oeuvre. Even though the film starts showing some small cracks, they never interfere with the film's strong points and won't ruin the fun that is to be had with this one.

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Tue, 14 Oct 2014 10:52:08 +0200