I’m hoping to do these entries consistently, but for now, I am aiming for a monthly endeavor. Essentially, I’ll share one title in the following categories: films, books, anime, manga, and sometimes games and music as strong suggestions for your future consumption, along with sketching my impressions of the work in question.
Without Further Ado…
Author: Natsume Sōseki
Country of Origin: Japanese; Read in: English
I plan on writing a full-bodied review of this, but for now this meager paragraph will have to suffice. This novel was absolutely amazing. A true reflection of Japanese literary modernism, Soseki wrote this novel two years before his death, and is it is a prized addition within my eastern canon of heart-felt, Sincere writings. The novel is broken into three parts and follows a young Japanese man (the narrator) and his friendship with an older man whom he addresses as “Sensei”. The main focus of this novel seems to be embedded in the disenfranchisement caused by inevitable time and societal shifts. The Japanese environment was changing rapidly as old-school traditional form was being merged with modern tones brought out by various events during the Meiji era. This played a profound impact on the middle and older generation which impacted the deepest core of their spiritual existence. Kokoro then is about that core “feeling”. Along with the Japanese context, the novel transcends place into a deeper realm of human nature and examines a form of cynicism that seems eerily relevant, especially in relation to voids like loneliness and despair.
This novel isn’t without its fault, but the sheer scope of what Soseki creates is undoubtedly something worth experiencing. The characters, especially “Sensei” is hopelessly self-aware, often heavy-handed, and a tad bit too self-indulgent for my liking, but he serves to reveal a kind of personality that may and probably does lay dormant in all. I couldn’t help but find myself reflected in him – and it was involuntary. Soseki creates a delicate narrative displaying the changing world as it slowly erodes the past of the present and those within that frame. Change isn’t easy and it isn’t meant to be and through the eyes of Soseki’s narrator, experience the impact of real disillusionment, real loneliness, and real change.
Title: Inherent Vice
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Run time: 148 mins
Genre: Mystery, crime, comedy
This film is brilliant. An all-too peculiar rendition of an all-too peculiar novel, Paul Thomas Anderson daringly creates this screenplay adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. If anyone is familiar with the source material or the author, they would know EXACTLY what to expect: an inception-like convoluted plot, within plot-within-plot (to the point where one probably ends up wondering if there is even a plot at all) flushed with zany, enigmatic characters that feel a little too real, with a little too much to say. The writing is precise and calculated, full of sardonic hilarity, satirical undertones, and crude rhetoric. Anderson does a phenomenal job retaining the charm of the source material but at the same time, exercising his own creative talent to bring the story to life.
The narrative itself follows a habitually stoned private investigator named Doc Spotello, superbly played by Joaquin Phoenix, who gets caught up in a mystery brought upon by the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta. Before vanishing, she informs Doc of a nefarious plot to kidnap her current lover, a real estate magnate & developer, Mickey Wolfmann. She reveals that the plan is hatched by Wolfmann’s wife and her boyfriend which ends with Wolfmann landing in the insane ward. This seemingly simple plot then evolves into a multi-layered labyrinth with Phoenix running into all kinds of problems and characters. The film unravels in a neo-noir fashion but with its own twist of parodic behaviors. One thing that this film retains spectacularly is dual comedic/ironical spirit of Pynchon’s writing. It is absolutely hilarious to see how fundamental contradictions come together in the form of people and ideas, such as a Jewish magnate running tight with the Aryan Brotherhood, and the point to marvel at is how well it comes together.
Anderson really brings his talent to the screen with this adaptation and it’s probably one of the best releases of 2014, if not the best, offering unmatched wit and impeccable direction. People will complain about its confusing structure and ridiculous lack of awareness in consistency, but hey, they clearly missed the point. The film aims just to do that; consider it part of the charm ;).
Title: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (currently airing)
Episodes seen: 9 out of 12
Genres: Drama, Historical
This currently airing show is a charming depiction centered on Japanese oral-storytelling, Rakugo. Even though the subject matter might seem a little daunting to some, it is presented in a fascinating manner and through characters that are just as charismatic. The series starts with a freshly-released prisoner who desires to learn the ways of rakugo and gets taken under the wing of a national master named Yakumo. The story however thus far has been a story of the past, of the master and his now-deceased friend along with the slowly-withering art of Rakugo. This is another series where time or essentially, the setting plays a huge role. It sets up its execution through a comparative lens; a great structural move that tells the story, through story-telling – literally. The two protaganists, the now-master-Yakumo-then-Bon-chan and his boisterous friend Sukeroku are a delight to watch, as they tumble through various events trying to perfect their art while trying to find their reasons for doing so. Both characters are perfect complements of one another and really play off one another in aiding to add dimension to overall characterization, and each other.
The rakugo itself is also treated quite gracefully. It isn’t treated as a device just for the characters but an entity of its own, but neither is it imposing enough that it becomes distracting or detracting. Through the rakugo performances, the evolution of each character’s personality can be traced while also revealing the full force and depth of what Japanese story-telling is, and the skill that it requires.
Overall, this is one of the best new series I’ve seen. This series is entirely character-focused and driven by great ambitions that seem to be fulfilled with every episode while being an enchanting take on an obscure art-form for many – but definitely one worth experiencing, if just through anime.
Title: Helter Skelter
Author: Kyoko Okazaki
Genres: Mature, Drama
Length: 9 chapters
It’s not a surprise that Inio Asano (the acclaimed creator of works like Oyasumi Punpun) cited Okazaki as a heavy influence. For those unfamiliar with either Okazaki or Asano, both are revolutionaries within their medium. Their hard-hitting realism laced with bitter truths and explorative psychological power shook and captivated the world with every frame; true masters of portraying various facets of the human condition and the world that shapes it. From that pen comes Okazaki’s short but powerfully evocative piece titled Helter Skelter.
The manga follows a model named Liliko who is something of a Frankensteinian model; a product of repeated surgical transplants and processes. Nothing about her is real. The world she lives in is artificial so why shouldn’t she be? What could possibly be wrong with being a legitimate product of one’s environment (that seems superficially acceptable since we too are a part of a similar nature)? Okazaki answers these questions in the most literal, grotesque way possible and in the process, shows the reader something essential. Being at the rise of Japan’s fashion/modeling scene, Liliko flourishes as a top candidate but in order to please her position and her fans, she must struggle voraciously. She must eradicate herself on the inside and outside, and in the process, lose the little bit of identity she so closely tries to hold on to. In effect, the story is one about inevitable self-destruction; it’s almost fatalistic.
Helter Skelter isn’t just about showing a demanding and spiritually-exhausting industry,
but about the horrors of losing face (literally) at whim and fancy. Identity is important, and Japanese creators and artists of all kind have struggled with this topic as a product of their ever-changing collective society opting to resign to individualism and self-expression, and this is the primary current of Helter Skelter but shown through the conduit of the fashion world. Liliko is both a visual and physical lie, and her face isn’t hers, but of the many that find themselves faced with the kind of internal erosion Liliko does. Okazaki’s art follows suit. It’s sketched with little regard for beauty – each line portraying the inner distress of the work’s spirit. It’s messy at points, overtly simplistic, and wildly raw – and that’s precisely why it works.
That which is beautiful is often deceptive, and there is no deception in Okazaki’s art.
A fantastic, raw manga for those who yearn for mature works relating to not just women, but of grander sentiments about society, identity, and the duality that exists between both.
Title: Civilization: Beyond Earth
Hours logged: 15+
Following up on the acclaimed, almost-flawless Civilization V comes the newest addition to the Civilization franchise titled “Civilization: Beyond Earth”. I have to hand it to the developers and creators for being able to create such an intricate gameplay that surpassed most of the expectations I had of possible Civ in space. It embodied cosmic gameplay almost ideally; retaining its strategic core, but extending the scope of that core far into more intricacies that inevitably raised the stakes and challenge(s). For those unfamiliar with the franchise or general essence of Civilization, it is a strategic game that allows players to craft, expand, and manage their personalized civilization throughout time, land, and now space. The game gives full control over all facets of societal order; including political, social, religious, military, etc. It’s a challenging game that allows players to immerse in the world they create while also making conscious decisions that could either preserve and expand their civilization or ultimately, destroy it (and there are plenty of ways to do that). There are plenty of ways to win too and most of them depend on what route the player wants to take (i.e a military win which implies world domination).
There have been far more customizable features added that enhance decision-making parts and personality of a leader, such as being able to manipulate the characteristics (almost entirely) of your chosen leader, along with being able to adopt very specific plans for your overarching empire/nation/civilization. Furthermore, they gave us like a bajillion more technologies to tinker with that almost force you to think, twice because it will matter. Why? Because now along with opposing human civilizations, you are also pitted against alien life-form of all kinds, and boy, they can spontaneously fuck you up – and once one starts, they all start (talk about horrible circle jerks and hive minds, tsch!).
I cannot stress how much I love how expansive this game is, with each component fleshed out for days. I guarantee, it’ll take a few days just to fully appreciate all of the functions and features and what it offers, in addition to what the franchise already offered. Another really cool change (which initially I was opposed to) was the replacement of “cities” with outposts that eventually evolve into cities that is, if they aren’t devoured by some random space cretin. It’s a good way to test and challenge your overall empire/capabilities at the point, whether an outpost will be successful or not. Let me not forget to mention the absolutely stunning graphics. Everything is tinged with a life-life quality and it shows with every angle.
I haven’t played this as much as I’d like, but so far it’s unraveling to be quite an experience and a worthwhile addition to the franchise that seems to be getting better with time.