Double Feature: Gwen (2018) & The Garden of Words (2013)

As we get back to more frequent double features, we head into the next letter in our alphabet run as we get to G. G selections on Shudder are rather slim pickings so I went ahead and started up 2018’s slow-burn film Gwen and then paired with also a shorter title with Japanese animated film by the same director as Your Name, The Garden of Words. Let’s check it out!

Gwen (2018)

Gwen

Director (and writer): William McGregor

Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Mark Lewis Jones, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Elfyn

A folk tale set in the hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. – IMDB

Gwen is a slow pace Welsh horror drama set during the Industrial Revolution, mostly set in the isolated hills where this family of a mother and two daughters live on their farm. Unfortunate situations keep happening as the older daughter Gwen holds up the family and strives to survive while dealing with the farm animals dying mysteriously and her mother being overcome with a mysterious illness. Its a dark story and well-portrayed in its landscape and setting under its dim lighting and gloomy shots.

If we look at the characters, Gwen is played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox who does a really great job in this character. Its a quiet movie so dialogue is much less and there’s more of an observation of the situation and she does that very well. At the same time, her mother is played by Maxine Peake who also captures her role fairly well. There’s some rather “creepy” moments for lack of a better word. The movie itself isn’t exactly scary per se but it is a little unsettling at parts.

Gwen is for the patient audience that doesn’t mind a slow paced horror drama. Its not scary in the jump scare sense but more of a slow unwinding unsettling feeling that goes with where its set and the gloomy darker environment that surrounds this tale.

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Takeshi Maeda,

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. – IMDB

The Garden of Words is a 45 minute Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the person behind Your Name. Its interesting to see that this story also features two strangers Takao and Yukari who the latter is the mysterious woman who we actually don’t know the name until much later when her identity is revealed. The Garden of Words is something of a coming of age as the two characters have their own personal struggles of being a bit of a loner or misunderstood and finding it hard to know how to move forward. It uses the 15 year old boy, Takao’s passion for being a shoemaker and shoes in general as a metaphor for life.

Because of that focus, there’s a lot of scenes that capture the feet with how they sit and position their feet or walking through the streets, etc. Makoto Shinkai is a nice storyteller. His stories, at least the two to date that I’ve watched, has been rather meaningful. Its always about some element of life and adds a hint of romance in it that helps the characters grow. While this story isn’t quite as complex, it does take a level of careful execution to allow the story to work in the realm of keeping one of the character’s a mystery until giving her identity reveal. At the same time, Shinkai always gives these rich in color and beautiful animated scenery. In this case, its capturing the realistic rain fall set in the beautiful garden and capturing the light beams  and such.

The Garden of Words is a mere 45 minutes and because it doesn’t have a overly complex story but still with a little mystery, it adds enough to move the story in a quick paced. Its well-animated and has a rather careful metaphor. The story focuses on two characters with an age gap and while there are some elements of it that feels a little odd at first, its a rather interesting friendship that happens between them. Its a bit unlikely but then its not the friendship itself but rather how it develops emotionally perhaps. The Garden of Words is a quick viewing that’s definitely worth your time if you liked Your Name. Its not the same sort of story but its still a pretty good watch.

That’s it for this G double feature!
Have you seen these two movies? Thoughts?

Double Feature: Your Name. (2016) & The Guardian Brothers (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time, we are looking at two foreign animated films. The first is one that was previously reviewed as a part of the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon and originally posted over at my co-host Drew’s Movie Reviews’s blog for Your Name. The second is a Chinese animated film by Light Chaser Animation Studios called The Guardian Brothers (on Netflix, but called Little Door Gods everywhere else), which is their debut movie from the studio before getting to one of my favorite movies of 2019, White Snake (review).

Your Name. (2016)

your name

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Voice Cast (English ver.):  Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh, Kyle Hebert, Cassandra Morris, Ben Pronsky, Ray Chase, Laura Post, Glynis Ellis, Catie Harvey, Scott Williams

Two strangers find themselves linked in a bizarre way. When a connection forms, will distance be the only thing to keep them apart? – IMDB

There’s no doubt that when we think of Japanese animated films, Studio Ghibli is the first one that gets the most recognition. Yet in the sea of Japanese anime, there’s a lot of smaller films with a lot of great ideas that are starting to appear on the international film market and Your Name is one that definitely had a lot of recognition when it was released. Adapted from director Makoto Shinkai’s novel of the same name which was published only one month prior to the film’s premiere, Your Name stands out because of all its elements being done very well: story full of reveals and twists, emotional moments, music score and of course, its rich animation.  

Your Name has incredibly rich animation. Each scene has a lot of intricate details. Whether its setting up how the sunlight beams through a scene or how the night sky and the comet and lights contrast in its night scenes, every scene is set up to look beautifully authentic, especially in its outdoors nature scene that almost looks like a realistic snapshot full of colors, instead of an animation. Paired with its music score by Radwimps which runs fittingly throughout all the scenes, especially during the montage moments between the two main leads and the little things that happen to go through time quickly, it adds so much to each scene and tone. 

The story here written by the director Makoto Shinkai is based on his own novel which makes it even more of a personal offering and easier to portray the film the way that he wants. Your Name carries a rather complex story packed with swapping bodies, time elements and a few surprises along the way. Its execution is possibly the most important element put to the test in order to make each of its reveals timed perfectly to make it have the most impact and Shinkai does it so masterfully that it manages to make each one unpredictable and pulls the story into another direction and packing in a lot of emotions and tugging some heartstrings as this is at the centre of it all, a love story by the end. At the same time, props to Shinkai who also starts off the story in a light and fun way of introducing these two characters, Taki and Mitsuha with their different backgrounds, locations and genders who learn to discover each other physically and emotionally, adding a lot of charm and humor. At the same time, every supporting character also has its own purpose in propelling the story forward and making sure that some conversations help explain the odd predicament that they find themselves in. 

Overall, Your Name is an outstanding animated film. While I only managed to listen to the English version and would have preferred to see the original Japanese version with English subtitles instead, the story doesn’t lose anything because it has some unique ideas and excels in so many elements that put together, it becomes a memorable movie experience. Yet again proving that 2010s brings forward an eye-opening offering of international films and expands into some unique ideas outside of the big American studios like Disney and Pixar offerings. 

The Guardian Brothers (小门神 , 2016)

  The Guardian Brothers

Directors: Gary Wang & Paulette Victor-Lifton

Voice Cast (Eng. Version): Dan Fogler, Edward Norton, Bella Thorne, Nicole Kidman, Mel Brooks, Meryl Streep, Steve French, Cristina Pucelli

There’s a crisis in the Chinese Spirit World — humans don’t believe in gods anymore! A Door God, facing unemployment, ventures into the human world to prove his worth, leading to unexpected encounters and transformations for humans and spirits alike. – IMDB

Much like its recent film offering, Light Chaser Animation Studios creates stories that play with certain Chinese beliefs, traditions as well as stories. In this one, it uses the belief of spiritual guardians  just like how American movies would use Santa Claus and the loss in belief, affect the future in the human world and pulling the two worlds together. At the same time, it also surrounds the story during Chinese New Year and a familiar tale of a creature called Nian that is the origins of why many Chinese New Year traditions are now used like firecrackers and such. Light Chaser Studios, using these source material, creates a rather fun story which is very much fittingly a fantasy comedy and has equal doses of both, while still managing to add some family drama in between of a mother and daughter relationship and carrying on their family restaurant against the more popular commercial restaurant.

The English version of The Guardian Brothers is packed with a great cast. Right off the bat, Meryl Streep has a unique voice that I’ve always loved and she does a stellar job as the narrator which carries the story really well. The brothers are voiced by Dan Fogler and Edward Norton who fittingly also has one who is more funny and the other much more serious respectively. While Bella Thorne definitely does show up in a lot of different movies more and more and her voicing the role of a little girl, Rain really has its own fun. I talked about her roles a little when I reviewed Midnight Sun (review) and yet again, it is wonderful to see her take on something other than the norm and further breaks her out of this acting box that she was stuck in for a while. Of course, it does help that Nicole Kidman is casted to voice her mother. Of course, I can’t leave this without talking about the villain or just the evil corporate businessman voiced by Mel Brooks, which really is present but more as hurdles and gets whats coming to him as with most animated films aimed towards children (maybe not too young as some darker elements here and there) do to emphasize the importance of being good.

If there was anything to criticize for this one, it might be just the pacing and at times the execution feels like the story jumps around a little too much that pads out what could be a fairly straight forward story. However, the animation is really colorful and imaginative. It manages to grab a good color palette suitable to the atmosphere and what is going on. Its a nice offering and one that is incredibly suitable for Chinese New Year (which was actually when I first watched it not knowing that it was a Chinese New Year movie).

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen either of these animated films?

First Love (2019)

First Love (2019)

First Love

Director: Takashi Miike

Cast: Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi, Shota Sometani, Takahiro Miura, Becky, Jun Murakami, Nao Ohmori, Cheng-Kuo Yen, Chun-hao Tuan, Mami Fujioka

A young boxer and a call girl get caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme over the course of one night in Tokyo. – IMDB

With over 100 directorial credits under his name, Takashi Miike movies are always ones to look forward to. Some obviously deliver more than others as he churns them at such fast speeds. There are a huge variety of what he does whether its adaptations or original stories. However, there is no doubt that he always manages to bring some nice cinematography and most of the time, some quirky characters to life as well. With that said, his latest full feature First Love is one that embodies a very well-made movie as it brings everything you’d expect in a Japanese action crime film: action, blood, crime and quirky characters, humor; all into the mix in this rather fast-paced 2 hour movie that doesn’t even feel that long with everything that goes on. 

First Love

The action presented in First Love is fantastic. Each of the characters have their own form of weapons as the two sides, Yakuza and Chinese triad, collide together as they both start chasing down the two innocents thrown into this to find some drugs that obviously don’t have. Each side hunting down for a different objective and hidden motives and each character surfacing with their intents throughout. At the same time, each have their different personality, quirks, humor that all pulls together with their different weapon of choice: katana, shotguns, crowbars, etc. You name it and its all there to create this very violent romp but also deliberately clumsy in some ways that it breaks through some of the intense action scenes. Its perfectly balanced to make it a very satisfying watch. Especially when its paired with a great soundtrack to match the chase and action scenes. 

First Love

There is an incredible amount of cast here. A lot of people that gets involved in the whole ordeal. The main female lead Monica (Sakurako Konishi) and male lead Leo (Masataka Kubota) are actually the quieter characters here as they get propelled through the story and have a rather toned-down attraction to each other as they move through this. Monica is a bit odd as she has some weird hallucinations which actually are rather absurd at times but eventually becomes rather comedic. As for Leo, Kubota takes on this role as a boxer who doesn’t seem to be very passionate about his profession until the doctor tells him that he is about to die which makes him lash out and causes him to be caught up in this mess. There are a lot of subtle changes within his character development. Its definitely another great role after seeing his appearance as Skin in Diner (review).

However, if we were to talk about the supporting characters that show up, they definitely have a much bigger contrast that creates some really fun moments. Julie (Becky) is a woman whose boyfriend gets killed and she’s out to revenge with a crowbar who is completely bonkers. She definitely stands out here in both her appearance and dialogue. Aside from her, there is the yakuza underling (Shota Sometani) who tries to work the yakuza and Chinese against each other but becomes this hilariously clumsy character that creates a lot of problems in the path of reaching his goal and its a standout character here even if he plays the bad guy role. And thats not even getting to the one handed shotgun wielding Chinese man (Cheng-kuo Yen) or the female assassin (Mami Fujioka). All very colorful characters to discover! 

Overall, First Love is an awesome movie. It has both great execution and pacing. There are a palette of colorful characters to discover and a fantastic balance between dark humor, action set through one night in Tokyo between the organized crime rivalry. Highly recommend!

You can find out where to get this film HERE

Music Obsession: November 2019

 

Music Obsessions (17)

Its hard to imagine that I survived the crazy that was October and in a blur, we have arrived in November. Surprisingly, I find some really fun music to get through all of the crazy which is great because music is what keeps me alive in my downtime. I’m just going to jump right in. Some of this was found through some of the little events I went to during the past month, others are just randomly in Youtube when I had time to peruse my subscribed channels.

Let’s check it out!

Flip – Theo 朱正廷

Its no surprise that out of the nine members of Nine Percent, well, the ex-Nine Percent now, my favorite member ever since the Idol Producer show is Theo. He is a fantastic dancer and even when I watched him in the different variety and reality shows, he just has a great personality, so I’m happy to see him finally coming out with his own EP.

Senkyaku Banrai 千客万来 – Daoko & Miyavi (‘Diner’ Main Theme)

I watched Diner during Festival du Nouveau Cinema. You can find the review HERE. Its one of my top 5 films of the festival which pretty much tops the movies and a part of its style has to go to its great soundtrack. While I couldn’t find a ton of the music, I did find its main theme and its very awesome music video. The video is full of energy and a fantastic bridge part that just elevates the entire song even more. Its great!

Bomba – UNINE

As Nine Percent disbands to their separate path, 2019’s group to come out is UNINE from Season 2 of Idol Producer. While I didn’t finish the show and now its locked for iQiyi subscribers only (which I’ll get back to eventually), UNINE is a group that I’m seeing their members show up in different reality and variety shows lately so I looked a little more into their music. I can’t say that I think the members are as talented as Nine Percent but UNINE does have a nice balance of talent and Bomba is a pretty fun song while I was looking up their songs. Plus, they are just a few months old as a group so they still have time to put out more stuff.

Call of Heroes 危城 – Shin 信

We are going back a few years now to 2017 as I rediscover this song which I’ve never actually added onto my Favorite playlist on Youtube. Shin is a really great singer and as I watch him and his daughter in the Chinese variety show When I Grow Up currently, its actually made me want to revisit his music as he is incredibly talented. One of my favorite songs from him, other than the song that put him on the map, is this one.  A lot of high energy music this time but I’ve always been a fan of songs with the traditional Chinese music sort of flair mixed into it.

帥到分手 –周湯豪 Nick Chou

So..I fell out of the Taiwanese music scene for a while and as I start diving back in to catch up TV series and movies and such, I’m also obviously getting back to music and the most random find which just appeared on my Youtube suggestions was this song. Don’t know this singer, never heard of this song but it looked fun so I checked it out and its been just playing on repeat. I do have to say that some angles of him looks like Jackson Wang and his style reminds a lot of Alan Kuo. Apparently, I’ve missed some good stuff. I’m not sure if its the lyrics or the tune or the energy but its really good and once I catch up with some other stuff, I’ll be going back to hunt down more of Nick Chou’s songs.

都是你害的 All You Did – 畢書盡 Bii

In the whole Taiwanese drama catch-up phase and after a really fun conversation with my good friend visiting from out of town, I ended up FINALLY starting up Bromance which made me want to rediscover Bii who plays a supporting role in the drama. Bii actually is a pretty decent actor but he is a phenomenal singer. He writes his own songs and you can see the growth he has had from the first time that I listened to his music to now, which I have a pick of his for next month probably.

That’s it for this Music Obsessions!
What have been listening to lately?

FNC 2019: Diner (2019)

Diner (2019)

Diner

Director: Mika Ninagawa

Cast: Tina Tamashiro, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kubota Masataka, Hongo Kanata, Okuda Eiji, Maya Miki, Anna Tsuchiya

Kanako Oba uses a mysterious site to apply for part-time work. As a result, her life is soon in jeopardy. She is forced to work at the restaurant Diner as a waitress or she will be killed. The restaurant is membership only and their customers are all contract killers. – MyDramaList

If John Wick’s elite assassin world was moved to a diner exclusively crafted to serve their culinary needs with experiences specific for their business and and pleasure with the Japanese over the top flair, this is what Mika Ninagawa’s Diner would best relate to. Engulfing its scenes by flamboyantly dangerous characters, techno, punk and classical background music to pair with its scenes and constrasting sharp color palettes in a dark underground setting, its a feast for for the senses on many levels.

Mika Ninagawa’s vision for Diner is visually stunning. From its pink lettered neon lettering to its stylistic introduction for each characters and its choice of how each of them interact with the female lead, Kanako Oba (Tina Tamashiro). There’s a lot of style and substance in Diner from how the culinary experience is shown to the different over the top meals are done to the reactions as well as how the action scenes are done. It has a lot of the fun and over the top elements of Japanese films that add a certain level of weird but fun especially when matched with the different killer and the rooms they eat in, each matching the killers personality.

Talking about character designs now, the main story revolves around Kanako Oba where Tina Tamashiro does a lovely job at playing this quiet and shy girl whose life is mostly summarized in the opening scene rather uniquely blending with its background music, which honestly sets the tone for what to expect, and tackles the main issue of her shyness and unknown desire of what to do in life because she feels unwanted until she sees a colorful picture of Guanajuato that makes her try to find a way to get money to go. In terms of character design and possibly development, her character is the focal point and also the most developed throughout this story. However, opposite her is male lead playing the Diner owner and head chef also an ex-elite assassin, Bombero (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who is very tough on her because those preceding her have died due to the dangerous clientele. Bombero is a fun character mostly because he has this subtlety to his character that relies a lot on his observation and what he does but then also has this loneliness that he closes himself off to because of the company he keeps.

Flamboyant characters are a center of Japanese films when it comes to over the top elements and here, the assassins themselves, as shallow as their characters are with not a lot of back story to work with, are perfectly suited to simply push the story forward and give those little hurdles or connections with Kanako Oba to surprise and frighten her in this new setting. It all works up to the point that every killer has a weakness and tipping point and it all leads to the final dinner where it discusses the decision of change of crime lord that runs the Yakuza entirely which of course, doesn’t run smoothly and has some crazy action sequence. Of course, there are a few selected assassins that get a little more screen time than others and one of them called Skin (Masataka Kubota) really takes his role and runs with it in such an impressive way.

Diner is a really entertaining sort of film. While the culinary element might be done a little more to fit a culinary experience title, there is still a lot of impressive balance between the crime thriller and the whole setting in a diner. Its a straightforward story and not hard to imagine where all this leads but keeps it on the fun level. Most of its characters are fairly shallow in development and yet, due the film’s length and staying on path, they achieve what the film needs to set up these main characters to deal with this final group. The action scenes are well choreographed and there’s some ridiculous moments, not to mention the ending result is a bit of a headscratcher logically, however, somehow because of the over the top elements in Japanese films, anything is possible so its easy to let it pass.

Diner has a second screening during Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 15th at 8:35pm at Cinema du Parc. You can find more info HERE.

FNC 2019: Family Romance LLC (2019)

Family Romance LLC (2019)

Family Romance LLC

Director (and writer): Werner Herzog

Cast: Ishii Yuichi, Mahiro Tanimoto

A man is hired to impersonate the missing father of a young girl. – IMDB

How far would you go to create a certain feeling? Family Romance LLC is a company that finds professional actors to create a certain moment crafted to their needs whether its a stand-in husband at a ceremony or setting up a surprise moment to relive an experience or in this story’s central story, a father returning to know a daughter. It takes a look at how a person’s desire to escape loneliness and feel wanted or important can lead them to create these fictitious moments and where does it stop.

Family Romance LLC approaches its rather personal material in a well-rounded structure. It focuses on the main story which is a mother hiring a man Ishii (Ishii Yuichi) to be the father of her 12 year old daughter Mahiro (Mahiro Tanimoto) who has left them since she was 2 and the following outings this “father-daughter” go on to build their relationship while seeing how this man Ishii reports back to the mother. At the same time, it gives another side of the story of Family Romance LLC and that is the other types of services that it offers for other people in need which gives a broader extent of how far these services can go and the boundaries and limits and how it is run on other levels.

While that is the case, Family Romance LLC will at times feel disjointed as it jumps from one scene to the next whether in his main vein or the little cases of different people that approach Ishii hiring their different actors for their different emotional voids. At the same time, its hard to determine whether this is a documentary or a drama as the main cast are non-professional actors sharing the raw story based on “rentaru furendo”, an actual type of agency like Family Romance LLC that exists in Japan. Perhaps its because these actors, mostly focused on Mahiro and Ishii that makes this film feel ever more realistic and at times, see that their attachment does form and how it will end as father-daughter relationships is something that can be replicated not exactly an act that can be forever. Especially as these two, despite their awkward interactions growing slightly better by the end, do spike some connection to these people and wonder whether on any level these lies are better especially for the daughter who may have believed to have found her father again but to inevitably have to lose him at some point depending on how far this act can go.

Family Romance LLC is a tough film to watch. Its not for everyone especially in terms of pacing and it blurs that line between cinema and reality. It looks at the society and the emotional voids that individuals will have as well as how far they will go to replicate feelings, relive moments and create this fake sense of security or happiness and find their own bliss. However, it also emphasizes on the actor hired, Ishii Yuichi and as much as this is a business and he can’t love or be loved (something along those lines), emotions are part of being human and he has to know where to draw the lines, no matter how difficult and as subtle as those feelings are portrayed, those struggling moments add a lot to the film as Family Romance LLC shows many sides of the story. For this premise, which is hard to portray, director Werner Herzog makes the best of it and delivers a fairly immersive film that will make you ponder on how far the lonely society will go and how significant emotional voids are in life.

Family Romance LLC has another screening at Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 19th at 9:20pm at Cineplex Odeon Quarter – Salle 10. You can find more info HERE.

Restaurant: Ichigo Ichie Izakaya (Montreal, Quebec)

Its been a while since I’ve shared any restaurant visits. I actually had quite a few to share but haven’t gotten around to it. We will do those if the time presents itself, however, this past weekend, I went out for a Bachelorette Party dinner at Ichigo Ichie Izakaya, which is the restaurant portion linked to Yokato Yokabai where I had previously talked about in a Weekly Adventures HERE.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Located in Plateau Mont Royal, the best way probably is to take the Metro to Mont-Royal station and take  few minutes walk over. Ichigo Ichie Izakaya is a Japanese pub so we had reservations for the 10 people and gave us a big table on the side. I can’t say that there’s a lot of good stuff to say about the group seating there as the cushioned seats were too low (maybe I’m too short) and then the ventilation wasn’t quite good so it was very hot as its also quite near the kitchen. They need to add some kind of vents around that spot probably.

Putting all that stuff aside, we’re there for food and drinks and of course, spending time to celebrate our friend’s upcoming marriage so let’s talk food.

Cocktails

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Cocktail: Nashi

I can’t remember exactly what was in this drink called Nashi but it tasted a lot like those Lychee jelly that used to come in those little plastic cups which was pretty delicious. There were quite a few very interesting cocktail blends here that I’d definitely want to go back and check out if given the chance.

Main Meals
(shared among 3 people)

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Garlic Fried Raisu – Soy and garlic fried rice, shiso, sesame seeds

Garlic Fried Rice was my choice. Its always more substance to have some kind of rice or noodles so its why I chose this one, plus, it fit with what I could potentially eat, which was good because the other carbs choice was one that I couldn’t eat. This one was pretty decent. Simple, for sure but the rice and the garlic and how it was fried had really good texture. There was a lot of garlic and yet wasn’t too overpowering either.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Ebi Mayo (I think) – Jumbo shrimp tempura, crushed almonds & sweet chili mayonnaise

Tempura is the sure fire at any Japanese restaurant. If you can’t get this right, then you can forget about it. This one had 2 jumbo shrimp tempura which was cut into pieces on the bed of crunchy noodles or something. I don’t remember why you call it. Everything worked really well even the spicy mayo that actually gave it a nice kick.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Butabara – Grilled Pork Belly skewer, Japanese curry seasoning

Pork belly is something that I like getting when I go out and seeing as Yokato Yokabai has the option to choose pork belly in their ramen, I figured it would also be a good choice for this section. We spent a little time cutting up the pieces so everyone could share. The Japanese curry seasoning was quite powerful and rather spicy however, it was pretty delicious also.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Carbonara Udon – Stir fried udon noodles, bacon, onsen egg, mushroom, spring onions, creamy sauce

Finally, Carbonara Udon was my friend’s choice which I completely forgot had creamy sauce so I had to skip it. My friends however did enjoy this one. They said that the sauce wasn’t too heavy and it was pretty delicious as well.

Dessert

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Matcha Tiramisu

Suffice to say that, I had to skip out on dessert as well, even though there was an option for Yuzu sorbet (but I was pretty full at that point) so my friends got the Matcha Tiramisu to share. It felt like it wasn’t exactly what they were expecting and from what they said the matcha layers were fairly bland but then the matcha layer on the top was too thick.

OVERALL…

I’ve never been to a Japanese pub as Ichigo Ichie is categorized at. The cocktails are really cool and they have a nice selection of drinks. Everyone at our table, who took other drinks also seemed to enjoy it. The service was also pretty good. Our waitress was very helpful and friendly and answered a lot of our questions whenever and happily went to seek out answers when she didn’t know the answer to it. The food itself was pretty decent as well. Its a tad overpriced in my opinion but its meant to be tapas style so meant to share and it all came out to an alright bill at the end. With that said, paying for food is always more enjoyable when you enjoyed the meal and I was pretty happy with the food presented. There’s a lot of interesting dishes on the menu which could merit a second visit.

Fantasia 2019: The Wonderland (2019)

The Wonderland (Birthday Wonderland, 2019)

Birthday Wonderland

Director: Keiichi Hara

Voice Cast: Mayu Matsuoka, Anne Watanabe, Kumiko Aso, Masachika Ichimura, Nao Toyama, Keiji Fujiwara, Akiko Yajima

The Wonderland, originally titled Birthday Wonderland, is a 2019 Japanese animated film about a girl who goes to pick up her birthday gift at her aunt’s store and ends up unlocking the portal to the world beyond and is tasked with being the savior of this mirror world.

Right from its beginning, The Wonderful is all about its vibrant and colorful background and its relaxing everyday. Akane’s biggest problem was being accepted at school by her classmates doing the most mundane things like wearing a hairpin. For her, this made her life difficult and everyone else’s hard. Its a good way to start the movie especially as this foundation takes us into the mirror world called World Beyond and she has now been adorned with a Momentum Anchor that makes her move forward even when she doesn’t want to and seen as the Goddess of the Green Wind, the person rumored decades ago that will save them from a major crisis by curing the Prince.

Japanese animation has always seem to flourish when it takes the environmental elements into their stories. For a film that focuses on the world beyond losing color as their main danger due to the lack of water, it still manages to keep it colorful and cute. To emphasize it, there are contrasts of dangerous enemies with dull metallic armor and black clothing with the bright colors used for everything surrounding the group heading towards the castle. While others have buffalo stampedes, The Wonderland has stampedes of huge fluffy sheep and then a scene of Akane and her aunt Chii, who joins into the journey, lying on them (a parallel of My Neighbor Totoro perhaps), and the journey continues into different environments that they go through filled with shades of red, pink, orange and many other colorful elements. There are so many details here and the little magical elements also add into the charm of the visuals especially in the landscape.

The characters also are quite charming, if not still pretty familiar in design. Akane and her aunt Chii create a contrast as well. While Akane needs the Momentum Anchor to move her forward to be more courageous facing different situations, Chii is more about embracing the adventure and being prepared and taking chances. Its this contrast that makes it funny and rather inspiring to watch as over the almost 2 hour film, Akane finds her strength and also embraces her ability to try and save the world because of seeing the beauty between this mirror world that had kept a more old-fashioned way of living in comparison to her reality of modern advanced technology. These two may bring a lot of joy to the film. In fact, the movie definitely falls into the cute elements more especially as the sidekicks are little humans who are a little silly but also very adorable.

Filled with talking cats, underwater aquariums and colorful environments all around, The Wonderland is exactly as its title implies. Even with the crisis that the world faces, it still manages to keep it light-hearted. The visuals and a sweeping soundtrack that sometimes matches to the sounds in the scene and other times, creating the environment for the scene adds a lot to a fairly generic story. Running at 115 minutes, it does feel like it drags a little in the middle part despite all the charming locations giving it a boost. The story could have been better executed as a whole but its cute and colorful and its hard to be a little enamored by it.

Sunday Lists: Hayao Miyazaki, Directed Films Ranked

Hayao Miyazaki List

January 5th marked the 78th birthday of one of the best Japanese animator and filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. I don’t watch a lot of Japanese stuff in general but I grew up with Studio Ghibli films so some of these hold very close to my heart. There is this fantastic magical and fantasy world that he manages to create.

With that said, there is no better way than to kick off this year’s first Sunday Lists with a list of Hayao Miyazaki’s Directed Films ranked from what I think is the best to the the not so great ones, because lets be honest, there is no worst. Even the last choice here wasn’t a bad film just didn’t execute as well as the others or connect as well with me.

There are a few films not seen yet. The list will be updated over time.

*Only full feature animated films DIRECTED by Hayao Miyazaki has been included here*

1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

my neighbor totoro

My first Miyazaki film in my memory is My Neighbor Totoro and it has never stopped being my favorite. I know the movie almost by heart, the Cantonese dubbed version dialogue almost all memorized. Its about family and its charming. The little girls are adorable and the Totoro super cute. There are some heartwarming moments and some hilarious ones as well. It balances light-hearted and heartbreaking moments. Its cute and serious in equal measures. Plus, how do you beat a CatBus? You just can’t!

2. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

kiki's delivery service

I love cats and witches. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a well-rounded film as well. I remember there was a phase in the early stages when I had some crappy blogging server somewhere that I had used Kiki has my name. Watching this one when I was a kid was a ride for sure. Witches weren’t evil, they were nice and helpful. This one is  fun little trip full of charm whether its the people that Kiki meets on her deliveries or her learning how to be independent.

3. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

howl's moving castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a children’s novel which actually diverts quite far from its source material a fair bit especially when interpreting Howl’s character. However, maybe it has to do with this being the first Miyazaki film that I saw in theatres and the enchantment that comes from the big screen but this is one film that I love watching over and over again. Because of that, this film is filled with charm. It does get a tad dark and scary here and there but its so magical as well.

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

nausicaa

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind that makes me think about how Miyazaki is quite before his time in story telling as you can see how this film set the bar for his career, whether its the female characters he uses or the world that he creates. At the heart of it all, Nausicaa is about a world that has fallen apart environmentally and Nausicaa is trying to find a way to revive it while at the same time, nature has revolted in an unexpected way and she needs to find a way to solve the mystery of what happened. Its such a beautiful film. The only reason its placed lower is because its one that took me a second or third viewing when I was older to fully appreciate its message and its story.

5. Spirited Away (2001)

spirited away

Spirited Away is what put Miyazaki on the map along with Studio Ghibli. Its quite a feat when we think about it. In fact, there is so much to love here. I like this one a lot also. It has dragons and fantastical creatures and some pretty hilarious moments intertwined with a story about reuniting family, gluttony and life in general. Its colorful and beautiful and there are such charming array of characters wrapped up in this one story.

6. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

laputa castle in the sky

I know a lot of people who would put Laputa really high up or even consider this one their favorite Miyazaki film. I don’t disagree with that at all. Laputa: Castle in the Sky is beautiful, especially once we arrive at the castle in the sky and all the events that happen from there on out.  It has a cast of silly bandits and a gentle robot and the castle design itself is so detailed and intricate. The only deal is that I’ve never been prone to watch this one a lot but I always enjoyed it whenever someone puts it on.

7. The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

castle of cagliostro

I saw The Castle of Cagliostro because of a blogathon a few years back when it was looking at a debut of a director. I always thought Miyazaki started out his career with Nausicaa but before the existence of Studio Ghibli, he had created The Castle of Cagliostro adapted/based on the Japanese manga Lupin III. Its crime and comedy mixed together for this film and boy is it an adventure. The debut of Miyazaki is a fine start. There are its flaws with this one in terms of storytelling and pacing but there is still a ton of heart and charm.

8. Ponyo (2008)

ponyo

Ponyo is something like Miyazaki’s version of The Little Mermaid fairy tale story which takes a little fish girl who becomes human and meets a little boy. Its so adorable and imaginative. It takes this angle of making the creative angle of the tsunami and then links the whole story together. It is actually quite clever.

9. The Wind Rises (2013)

the wind rises

I saw the premiere of The Wind Rises at TIFF a few years back, the same year that Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013 (of course, now we know that he has decided to not retire and is working on his next film). Putting aside the ridiculous couple next to me who sobbed the entire movie from start to finish who was incredibly annoying, The Wind Rises is a passion project of  Miyazaki’s and you can see it by the subject he chooses to take as he tells the story of World War II engineer who designs the fighter aircraft. His love for aircrafts and his country and his admiration for Jiro Horikoshi is all highly visible in his work. My issue here is that I don’t share the same admiration and for that, the story falls a little short of what I liked. Its not a bad film in any means because the animation, the visuals, the character designs and the music all work well. I just failed to connect with it but that is the risk of making a passion project film.

Not Seen or Can’t Remember

Conan The Future Boy: The Big Giant Robot’s Ressurrection (1984)
Porco Rosso (1992)
Princess Mononoke (1997)

How would you rank Hayao Miyazaki’s film?
Which one of his directed feature films is your fave?

Festival du Nouveau Cinema Wrap-up: Triple Feature

I don’t usually do double features for any movies that I see at Festivals, let alone triple features, however after having a hard time really fleshing out my thoughts and the festival already behind us almost 2 weeks, I decided that these three films that I saw at Festival du Nouveau Cinema actually is a great fit together as it looks at teens and friendships and coming of age in one way or another. All of them have a snippet of the lives of these characters in all three stories.

Sticks and Stones (2018)

Brakland Sticks and Stones

Director: Martin Skovbjerg

Cast: Jonas Bjerril, Vilmer Trier Brogger, Natalia Reyes, Patricia Schumann, Emma Sehested Hoeg, Benjamin Kitter, Laufey Eliasdottir

Simon arrives in Vesterby from Copenhagen. He is an outsider in a brand new place and alone until he meets Bjarke – Vesterby’s alpha male and heir to the local speaker factory. The two start challenging each other in intimate and transgressive actions as they forge a friendship. But when embezzlement forces Vesterby’s speaker factory to close, the town is bereaved of its livelihood, and Bjarke’s family is blamed. The anger thrust upon him by the locals triggers the beast in Bjarke, and Simon is faced with either having to turn away or save his friend from self-destruction. – IMDB

Its hard to put into words why I felt that Sticks and Stones is a really great film. In fact, I had such a blast being captivated by this friendship that started quite abruptly through being paired up for a project. Comparing everyday lives of grown-ups and the people around them to apes. At the same time, boys will be boys and these two definitely had their share of shenanigans as they go from a creative angle to going overboard in their video project. At the same time, reflecting possibly their feelings and contained emotions in their personal life. The two characters draw a parallel to what is going on in their lives and explains why their friendship works but it also highlights the differences in some friends cross our lives for a moment but can’t stay because of whatever reason and in this case, its a toxicity. Everyone sees it but themselves and you choose to put them behind or wait for them to constantly hurt you. Everyone has gone through friends like this, and its probably because of that, it resounds to me.

In the end, Sticks and Stones was able to channel some very intense feelings in whichever endeavors they were portraying. There is a lot of thought in using their documentary style filming for class and meshing it with the traditional filming as we watched the film unfold. There’s a lot of youth experiences and emotions especially with teens that go through sudden loss and other hard times. The acting is raw and it has to go to these young main actors, Jonas Bjerril and Vilmer Trier Brogger. There are situations of being a newcomer, being an alpha male, young love, family issues and so many conflicting issues that take these two for such a ride and in the end, one of  them needs to make a decision. Let me tell you, this film was a subtle hit for me. I didn’t really think I connected with these two so much as some of the things were over the top but in the final scenes, there was so much there that did hit me really hard emotionally.

Tourism (2018)

tourism

Director (and writer): Daisuke Miyazaki

Cast: Nina Endo, Sumire

Fun fact is that after I saw this movie, I have talked and tried to summarize this film to at least two other people and it turns out sounding so basic that it doesn’t quite seem to work as a movie.

During the opening message to the audience, Daisuke Miyazaki hoped that his film will make the viewers want to go on a trip or an adventure (I can’t remember the exact word). Tourism falls into this fun like day adventure. Just like how we see Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is very fun to watch, Tourism sees Nina, one of the girls on this trip to Singapore who loses her friend and her cellphone and ends up wandering around the city and meeting interesting characters but also being immersed in the culture and everyday lives. The way Miyazaki brings to life the characters is to take some time in the beginning to highlight these roommates and how the trip came out.

tourism

One of the best moments which hooked me in completely was how they chose their destination. There’s a joy in travelling with a companion (that you get along with) and seeing the landmarks but also another one when you wander the city alone and see the beauty and detail of the culture. That is the power of travelling and the adventure of communicating and meeting new people and learning more about the world around us. Sure, the story doesn’t sound like its anything intriguing but sometimes with all the technology and everything available at our fingertips, we forget the rush of beauty of the simple things in life. The hours Nina spends searching to get back to her friend or the hotel is not only a message about our reliance on technology but also the most entertaining parts of the film.

The premise might be simple but sometimes its in the simple joys that do pack in a lot of genuine feelings. This one is a pleasant surprise.

Firecrackers (2018)

firecrackers

Director (and writer): Jasmin Mozaffari

Cast: Michaela Kurimsky, Karena Evans, Callum Thompson, David Kingston, Tamara Leclaire, Scott Cleland, Dylan Mask

Lou and her best friend Chantal plan to get out of their isolated, run-down town and move to a city far, far away. When Chantal’s unstable and possessive ex violates her during a night of partying, the girls decide to exact their revenge on him through a night of vandalism and debauchery. The consequences of their actions are devastating, threatening the girls’ chances of ever leaving. The more Lou fights tooth-and-nail to save her friendship and hold onto her dreams, the more she spins out of control as she begins to realize that freedom will come at a high cost. – IMDB

I still remember the reason why I added this movie into my viewings despite its late hour and knowing that I had to run home in a hurry to catch the last bus home as it was compared to Fish Tank which is one of the movies that I like a lot. To be honest, there are some parallels to the film but in some ways, this one is a different movie. In fact, if you took something like Sticks and Stones and used it in a friendship between girls, you might arrive at this one. However, this one is about two best friends who want to leave behind their messed up lives in this small town. What turns out to be a perfect plan ends up having these bad turn of events. Lou is the main character here and we follow a lot of her character development with each road block that occurs and we see this coming of age development as she sees clearer the consequences of what she is leaving behind as well as the tough decisions between her friendship and also the teen angst as well as the sudden aggression or lack of thought in her actions.

Firecrackers takes on this snippet of Lou and Chantal’s life and their friendship in a genuine and raw way. It never feels over dramatic and honestly, makes us truly feel for these two girls on screen. It can remind us of the hurdles of growing up and wanting more and fighting for everything you can to make things better. There are bad decisions and bad life choices but its all part of growing up and these girls have it particularly hard but at least, they have their friendship.

This wraps up this triple feature and the Festival du Nouveau Cinema’s last three films I saw.
In some ways, this was the best way to talk about them as there isn’t much to say but rather its a movie experience.
There’s a lot to love about these films for both their similarities and their differences as it embraces this true and genuine snippet in each of these stories.