Movie Peek: Come to Daddy

Need a good flick to take your mind off of what a hot mess the world has become? Me too!

As you will know if you are returning reader, we stan Elijah Wood in this house. Recently-ish I was on a plane flying back from a long overdue trip visiting my family in another province (travel during covid isn’t fun, kids, avoid it if you can!) and Elijah’s new film Come to Daddy was available on the in-flight entertainment, so I gave it a go. It looks like it’s also available to stream on Amazon Prime. I had no idea what it was about aside from the movie poster, which features Elijah standing in front of a strange hillside dwelling, sporting what google would refer to as a “hipster haircut”, and gripping a bloody carving fork.

Not to be confused with the disturbing music video by Aphex Twin…

I settled in as the dude seated next to me also seemed to settle in, leaning ever closer to my side, encroaching on the sacred armrest space, with his eyes lingering on my screen more than his own. Elijah has that power.

It was fun seeing our humble and kind-eyed muse playing Norval, a spoiled and self satisfied city kid that prizes his limited-edition gold phone designed by Lorde and makes dubious claims about his music career and impressive industry ties. He heads out to meet his estranged father and soon wishes he’d never left his cushy life behind. The supporting cast were also very well chosen; I particularly enjoyed Wood’s scenes with Stephen McHattie in the beginning of the movie.

After about 15 minutes in I thought I knew where the movie was going and was a slight bit disappointed, thinking it would follow a predictable and somewhat familiar thriller arc, but then the movie took that notion and chewed it up, spitting it back into my face like HAH! YOU THOUGHT! A sudden and revelatory twist makes things very interesting indeed.

It’s some form of Elvish, I can’t… sorry, wrong movie.

While much of the film relies on slow and steady tension building and thoughtful, amusing dialogue, this is a jaw-clenchingly brutal movie at times. There was one violent episode in particular where my mind was racing “oh god, is Mr. Seatmate still looking at my screen, yikes, this is fucking brutal, oh god, it just keeps going, hahahaa, jesus, sorry you had to see that sir, HAHAhaha”.

He’s just trying one of those new-age face masks… to, uh… open up his pores or whatever

Overall, this is a movie I would easily recommend to anyone who likes bloody misadventures and dark humour. I got some genuine surprises, a couple of good laughs, and was assured that Elijah’s still got it— he carried this movie along through the quiet and poignant moments as well as the fight-for-your-life ones.

Ant Timpson’s Come to Daddy gets 5 big blue eyes out of 5 from me!

Steins;Gate: Now Is The Time- El Psy Kongruu

If you are reading this, maybe there is a small chance- please hear my plea.

The tides of time are turning.

I’ve come from the future, the year 2036, with a warning of grave importance.

.

.

.

It is imperative that you play Steins;Gate.

It is the only way.


Alright, I know, Steins;Gate is old news- it came out in 2009!- but with a Live Action TV series recently announced to be in the works by Skydance Television, it’s a great time to consider playing or revisiting this twisty, dramatic, hilarious sci-fi visual-novel game.

I will admit that for a while Steins;Gate was a game that I played in intermittent bursts, often while travelling; I have a downloaded version on my PsVita, and the story begins as fun but sort of plodding. However, I recently picked it up again on my way home from Vancouver and got to the part where things really take off– after that I couldn’t put it down.

What begins as a bunch of otaku and their chuunibyou leader dabbling with internet message boards and dubious technological advances rapidly accelerates into full-blown world-altering time-travel with devastating consequences. I’ve finished 3 of the possible 6 main endings, and I’m questioning whether it’s possible to ever “have it all” (You’ll know what I mean if you play the game…).

I myself am very much a geek and already moderately well-versed in anime & manga tropes and lingo, but for someone who doesn’t know much about the vastness of otaku subcultures, this game would be an excellent introduction. Also be prepared for a lot of mind-bending wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey talk: The “tips” accumulated throughout the game point out and explain the references and vocabulary dropped by the characters time and time again.

Steins;Gate is actually the second release in this “Science Adventure” franchise, after Chaos;Head, but the latter has never been released in English- a cryptic tweet from creator Chiyomaru Shikira in 2018 hinted that an English port would “probably” happen!

Regardless, Steins;Gate is a separate story from Chaos;Head, with different characters, and you can absolutely play Steins;Gate without having played Chaos;Head (I haven’t, though I would love to someday!). Steins;Gate is available on Steam, Vita, Ps4, iOS, Android, and more. The remastered version of the game, Steins;Gate Elite is also available on Switch as well, and features animation from the anime adaptation.

I am definitely ready to start playing the sequel, Steins;Gate 0!

Kamikaze Girls

Man, I often get stuck in a reading rut and find myself pushing through books that don’t hold my attention very well, but I’ve been really lucky with my picks recently- they’ve been knocking it out of the park! My last post I reviewed The Beast Player, which is an immersive fantasy. My most recent read, however, is a more everyday sort of story, but it certainly has its share of unexpected moments.

Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto is a cult classic in Japan that inspired a film adaptation. It’s a book about two Japanese teenage girls who live in a rural prefecture and become unlikely friends. Each follows her chosen lifestyle devoutly: Momoko strictly adheres to Lolita fashion and indulgent living, while Ichigo is a full-on Yanki: a member of a motorcycle gang who thinks she’s super tough despite only having a scooter.

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When Momoko tries selling some of her father’s knock-off Versace pieces to make some money for buying expensive Lolita clothing, she encounters Ichigo and the two are drawn together on a fateful journey to find a legendary embroiderer.

What makes Kamikaze Girls so engaging is the humour: author Takemoto says in the afterward that Momoko is pretty much his alter-ego (p. 213), and her sarcastic narration, exasperation, and dry commentary throughout the story carry it along with tons of hilarity. You might expect an adherent of Lolita lifestyle to present herself as sweet and dainty as the fashions she wears, but Momoko is far from a delicate flower. She takes the indulgence part of Rococo style very seriously, and is quick to shut down or criticize anything that doesn’t suit her whims with a brutal retort.

Cover variant. This hardcover is the version I purchased and read.

The story is fun and at times a tad absurd, but it also feels genuine- the girls, especially Momoko, come alive as you are reading. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation yet, but I could practically imagine the whole thing in my head because it was portrayed so well. I wish I could be friends with Momoko and Ichigo! Their friendship brought to mind for me that of the Amars from Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish series: girls who may seem outwardly very dissimilar and have completely different interests, but who share some important core values and can embrace their individuality while also supporting the passions of their friends.

The ending is very suiting, with things falling into place just as they feel they should. What really earns Kamikaze Girls a special place in my heart, though, is that there is an emboldening underlying message of “let’s all get along while following our own paths and doing whatever the hell we want!” (p. 215).

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I’ve ordered the film based on the book through inter-library loan, and very much look forward to seeing Momoko and Ichigo come alive in a different way on the screen!

The Beast Player

Fantasy fans: you need to read The Beast Player.

I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?

(From the book jacket)

The Beast Player is an epic fantasy, a standalone story, and a philosophical musing on the futility of war. It features an inquisitive protagonist, a badass mom, a kindly father figure, and many more admirable- and not so admirable- characters, as well as some interesting creatures.

The pacing is perfect and just enough detail is given by translator Cathy Hirano to pull you into the world without becoming tedious. Even the most fantastical elements in this story are fleshed out in a thoughtful and believable way, and the actions and reactions of the characters also feel refreshingly realistic. 

Elin is a clever, independent, and interesting young woman, and a keen observer of the natural world. Her story doesn’t follow many of the expected tropes one often sees- there’s no predictable romance here, just a tight and interweaving story full of adventure.

Penguin Highway

Penguin Highway is the kind of story that pulls you along like a strong and bending current- you have NO idea where it’s going but enjoy every turn and dip of the way nonetheless. This afternoon I settled down with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream to watch the anime adaptation of this Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which has also been made into a manga in the past).

The film, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, centers around the life of a young boy, a 4th grader who will be the first to tell you that he is a bright, smart, scientifically minded kid who will surely have his pick of marriage partners when he grows up! He’s only got eyes for one woman though- a mysterious dental worker who seems to have something to do with the sudden and in-explainable appearance of penguins in the area.

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Sound confusing? Yup, like I said, you just need to let the story unfold and enjoy the ride. The strange story involves natural and unnatural phenomena, scientific experiments, adolescent longings, bullies, friends, and lots of penguins.

I especially enjoyed the friendship between the two kids who enjoy using the scientific method, documenting their findings, playing chess, and discussing the theory of relativity.

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Some parts were truly mind-bending. It’s not all charts and diagrams though- there are lots of funny and sweet moments throughout this fast-paced family film! The strange phenomena start small and build into a visually and emotionally powerful climax.

While the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff will no doubt leave many viewers scratching their heads, I found the conclusion to be satisfactory in how it tied things up. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.

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Modest Heroes: The Power of Short Film

I just finished watching Modest Heroes, a collection of three short films by Studio Ponoc. It’s an excellent anthology for any age with gorgeous animation, whimsical imagery, and universal themes— I wasn’t expecting any less, as Studio Ponoc was founded by former lead producer of Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, and the strong team of dedicated animators had already won my heart with their first feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower, 2017

Each of the the three stories making up Modest Heroes is crafted by a different director- Hiromasa Yonebayashi,  Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. Each is very different in style, situation, and tone, but they are unified by the larger theme of life- it’s precariousness, hardships, and beautiful moments.

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Modest Heroes, 2018

I won’t spoil the charming stories of Modest Heroes— to do so would be a grave misstep for me— but I’ll give a taste of each to entice potential viewers of this family-friendly collection.

First, we have:

Kanini and Kanino

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Mixing hand drawn animation with dazzling CGI, this story is a feast for the eyes, with lifelike realism in a lush natural world blended with stylized wide-eyed characters. The minimalist “crab language” spoken throughout, largely improvised ad-lib by the voice actors, is no hindrance to communication, as the expressive animation carries the story along.

Life Ain’t Gonna Lose

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In Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, young Sota Shinohara makes his voice acting debut as Shuu, a boy who has a very severe allergy to eggs. This short film is based on a true story, and indeed feels very real. The everyday routines of people in Tokyo are painstakingly rendered in bright and detailed scenes, and the complexity of human instincts and emotions are lovingly portrayed.

Invisible

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The last film in this trio has a somewhat darker and grittier feel, but is still full of surprise and whimsy. It confronts what it means to be invisible, both literally and figuratively.

We should not live without recognizing or caring about others. There are many people who are sad, happy, suffering, or angry around us. If the world today doesn’t have anything to offer them, then we should deal with those invisible people in our film.

-Yoshiaki Nishimura


 

The bonus materials on the DVD are definitely worth a watch, and include features such as interviews, a press conference video, art galleries, and trailers. I found these extras to have a lot of depth compared to the fluff-filled bonus features that are often included with films. The creators of Modest Heroes, from the animators to the voice actors, music producers, and so on, share thoughtful, funny, and interesting insights from the making of the project. For example, Studio Ponoc’s founder Yoshiaki Nishimura expressed his strong belief in the validity of short film as a format with its own intrinsic value and no less capable than feature length films. He also explained the focus of Studio Ponoc being firstly and foremost to create quality films to entertain children with authenticity and depth, capturing their hearts and inevitably inspiring adults in the process.

It is happily evident that the true spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on with Studio Ponoc.

Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

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Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to think.

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It wasn’t until after reading a few volumes of Saga that I learned the amazing and award-winning artist Fiona Staples was Canadian. Today that I learned she was born in Calgary- so cool! Staples’ art impresses me a lot- I really appreciate it when artists show you the nitty-gritty and go all in instead of making something watered down for wider consumption.

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Saga doesn’t cater to the widest possible audience, but instead presents itself authentically, unabashedly, and in-your-face, no holds barred. It’s got action, emotion, diverse characters, strange creatures, and an epic feel. It’s totally earned a spot in my top favorite comic series.

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Nope, not lying!

A Silent Voice Spoke to Me

Last night I watched A Silent Voice, the anime adaptation of the manga by the same name. I’d previously read the first volume of the manga, so I had an idea what the movie was about and expected it to be an emotional film, but it surprised me with its masterful and deliberate techniques. It brought a few tears even to my eyes, and I very rarely am able to cry.

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A Silent Voice focuses on the relationship between Shōya, a young man who was once a habitual bully, and Shōko, the deaf girl who used to be his favorite person to tease and bother. The movie weaves naturally between the memories of the past and the raw emotions of the present day, wherein Shōya is trying to make amends for the callousness of his past actions.

Many moments of the movie hinge upon the subtleties of communication and mixed messages— through spoken word, written word, and sign language. It also touches upon the delicate ties maintained between former friends and acquaintances, and how efforts to rekindle or mend former friendships can open oneself to vulnerability and shame.

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At the same time, A Silent Voice highlights the maturity and bravery of making choices that open up this vulnerability, and the struggles and rewards that are born of it. The deeply personal messages of the film, as well as the several gutdropping and heartstopping moments throughout, punctuated by moments of silence and crescendo, make for a truly thoughtful and moving film.

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Japanese Candy Wrapper Journal Video Tour

I love Japanese candy and snacks- they are often packaged very creatively and cutely, and feature all kinds of unique textures and flavours. For a while I had a subscription to a Japanese snack box (best birthday present ever) which gave me the chance to try out all kinds of different stuff. I love the cool packaging of these treats so much that I thought it was a shame to toss out the wrappers, and so I decided to start a Candy & Snack Journal. I’ve since added more and more as I’ve gotten candy as gifts, at shops, and on my trip to Japan in 2017.

When I first started this blog I made a post with a quick peek of my journal, but I decided it would be fun to make a video going through each page. I’ve enjoyed looking back at the candies and snacks I’ve tried, and hope that some others will enjoy the video too!

 

 

 

Rilakkuma and Kaoru on Netflix!

It’s out! And I just binge-watched the whole thing!

I was waiting and waiting for this from the moment I saw the trailer: Rilakkuma and Kaoru, an adorable Netflix original made using stop-motion animation!

Rilakkuma is by far my absolute favorite cute character to emerge from Japan. Rilakkuma (the brown bear) is a character from SanX. He made his debut in 2003, and is a lazy bear with the most endearing face I’ve ever seen. Just seeing Rilakkuma, or his friends Korilakkuma and Kiroitoiri, gives me a really warm, happy feeling that is instantaneous and all consuming.

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I don’t know quite what it is that makes Rilakkuma so squee-inducing. Perhaps it’s his black eyes— perfectly round and peering into my soul— or the placement of his ears, or the way he creases when he moves. Everything about him is proportioned and outfitted to positively scream “CUTE”. Japan has cute down to a science. I have my own Rilakkuma and friends at home, I just couldn’t resist them.

I enjoyed Rilakkuma and Kaoru very much— at first glance it might look like a simple children’s show, but it’s got a lot more depth than one might expect. Kaoru is an office worker in Tokyo who comes home one day dreaming about getting a pet cat, only to find Rilakkuma has randomly appeared in her apartment, with Korilakkuma (the white bear) following shortly after. Kaoru, and her pet bird Kiroitori, quickly become accustomed to having these two strange bears around, and they build a friendship.

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Kaoru struggles with questions that any young woman might- why am I so indecisive? What is my worth in this life? What am I meant to do? Am I being held back? Will I decide what I want in life? Rilakkuma and friends are there as a comforting presence and help Kaoru learn lessons throughout the show. They are also very funny, ridiculously cute, and genuinely heartwarming.

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This is the kind of show that I will probably watch again someday, and put on an episode now and then to have as a comforting background while I go about my day— the stop-motion animation is lovely in its details, and the overall feel of the show is very calming, relaxing, uplifting and cosy.

That said, it often went places I totally wasn’t expecting, and certainly wasn’t boring. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that not even aliens or ghosts are immune to the charms of Rilakkuma!