What does Japanese animation offer that American and European don’t? The space to breathe. The space to exist in a world not made for the screen, but for its characters. American animation stresses constant motion. Visual cleverness is prized.
Anime, on the other hand, stresses the moments in between the action. A moment so still you can close your eyes and feel the breeze on your face, that a character’s contemplation will spark your own…that, you’ll only get from anime.
Beauty will often be found in background details, while the motion of the wind through an entire field might be represented by a single, black line and a soft sound. It’s this artistic restraint and reliance on the power of suggestion that makes anime so unique and powerful, that lets viewers access the otherworldly and surreal where Western animation would add fidelity to the point of overexplanation.
Western animation is often so detailed and action-packed, characters barely get to breathe. It can be beautiful in its constant motion, and it certainly lends itself to humor, but it always leaves us keenly aware we’re watching a movie.
Because anime is so based on suggestion, it can often give us that feeling of remembering a dream upon waking up. Our brains might scrabble for the details for a moment, but it’s the impression we’re left with that’s important, the unique feeling we can only access in that moment of opening our eyes, reminiscing about something that never existed.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is told in a boldly illustrative style, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since it opened to rave reviews in Japan a year ago. Even in a one-minute trailer, you can see the sheer power of performance in its hand-drawn style, the birth of resolve in a character’s eyes, the absence of detail in a moment of anger reflecting what that panic and vengeance really feel like.
Hilary Swank. Tommy Lee Jones. Meryl Streep. Miranda Otto. Hailee Steinfeld. John Lithgow. Tim Blake Nelson. James Spader. William Fichtner.
It’s like the Western drama version of The Expendables, but I’ve already checked – Annette Bening’s not acting lead in anything this year, so it’s unlikely Swank wins an Oscar for this.
If there’s an American corollary to anime, it’s probably the Western. After the days of actors like John Wayne and Gregory Peck saving the girl, Italian director Sergio Leone took Japanese samurai narratives and filmed them in Spain as American westerns. He took the cinematic tendencies for stillness, introspection, and a uniquely Japanese form of postwar regret from directors like Akira Kurosawa and translated them into a Eurocentric perspective that took everything inward and painted it onto the landscape. He created a Purgatory for lost souls, the outward projection of self-punishment for characters whose ethical null-states didn’t allow them to feel penance.
The Western never looked back and, if you think it’s dead today, when was the last time you watched a post-apocalyptic movie or TV show?
Some Westerns still take place in the Old West, though, and that makes me happy, because they give actors a chance to stretch their wings. The Homesman is still unique among them, however, because Westerns typically involve men who haven’t bathed in a week shooting and beating the snot out of each other. I can drive down to Tully O’Reilly’s any Saturday night for that.
No, what makes The Homesman unique is that it’s centered around women in the Old West. Quick, name the last Western you saw dominated by female characters. Yeah, neither can I, and that’s a problem.
It’s directed by Tommy Lee Jones, whose debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, was overlooked several years ago.
The trailer for Mall premiered recently. One of our contributing writers, S.L. Fevre, appears in the film, and it looks like it has potential. Congratulations!
Wetlands looks too consciously gross to be my kind of movie, but the NSFW trailer is rather brilliant, and the film’s been heaped with critical praise on the festival circuit. The Canal is a promising trailer in a year starved for good horror movies. While it looks visually interesting, it’s going to live or die on the predictability of its story. Finally, Kelly and Cal looks like it could be something of a comeback for Juliette Lewis, as a suburban housewife who develops a relationship with a wheelchair-bound neighbor half her age.
Worst of the Week
I suppose this is becoming a tradition, and there are a lot of contenders this week, but if we’re going to do this, let’s be fair about it.
While internet thriller Open Windows looks like it’s never actually seen anything resembling the internet in its life, it does feature a pair of actors in Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey who remain intriguing.
Wood has shown generally good taste in independent projects – even when they aren’t successful, he’s interesting in them. Regardless of Grey’s past in adult film, her work with Steven Soderbergh in The Girlfriend Experience is a triumph of Hal Hartley influences, sexual psychology, and cinematic language displaced from the early 1990s. Wood and Grey are interesting because they’re both actors who became icons of very different industries, and are largely hamstrung in their future careers because of it. That alone makes a movie with the celebrity stalking premise of Open Windows intriguing, even if the trailer is a complete disaster.
So this week, it’s Drive Hard, which stars John Cusack and Thomas Jane in the only roles I’ve never wanted to see them in – Cusack as a race car driver/bank robber (this cliché is being done to death right now, and no one’s going to do it as well as Ryan Gosling) and Jane as…his driving instructor? Chaffeur? It’s hard to tell what exactly, because the trailer communicates very little actual story, focusing on the movie’s comedy instead. Except there are no laughs, and the audio is so off (I’ve checked different versions; it’s definitely the trailer cut) that their lines sound mumbled and unimportant.
And in case you’re sad that this isn’t a sequel to Nicolas Cage’s Drive Angry, first of all, what’s wrong with you? Second of all, don’t worry, the man’s still at work – you can always check out his starring role in the long-awaited film adaptation of Left Behind. Yes, you just read that right: binging, boozing Nic Cage is the star of Left Behind. Come to think of it, that’s probably why he gets, you know, left behind.