One Piece Film: Z

A film originated from manga.

I have not heard of the manga One Piece until I watched a movie adaptation of the manga.  Naturally, I love anything that is Japanese.  When I first saw the gigantic promotional poster displayed at one of our beloved cinemas, I said to our buddy TK, “Let’s watch this!”  To that he replied, “On!”

Apparently, One Piece is a very popular manga series in Japan, for a very long time.  In this particular movie One Piece Film: Z, there are pirates the supposedly protagonists (I think).  There are the marines who hunt down the pirates.  And there is Commander Z who was a marine, went rogue, and now rages war against the pirates as well as the marines that get into his way.  Each pirate, meanwhile, seems to possess at least one unique power (think X-Men).  As you can imagine, there are tons of combat scenes between the characters.  More or less like a video game.

Unlike other more artistic Japanese animations Cynthia and I have seen, One Piece Film: Z does not require too much thinking.  Just sit back and enjoy the humor and the action.  I am not entirely convinced that the English subtitles convey the original essence well.  I wish there were Chinese subtitles as well.  Usually, for Japanese animation, Chinese subtitles work better than the English ones.

One Piece Film: Z is not a story exploring the abstractness of nature or the emotional vulnerability of character.  It is a film with a decent amount of humor and action that entertains.

BECK – Something Is Best Left To Our Imagination

Judging by the observation that almost all the audiences in the albeit small movie theater stayed till the very end of the credits – which by the way is rare in the movie going scene here in Singapore – this Japanese production BECK has certainly touched the audiences’ hearts.  BECK is a story about the birth of a rock band, a genre that Cynthia and I in particularly love.  I was expecting BECK to be somewhat similar to Nana, another famous Japanese manga that has turned into a TV series and a movie title.  BECK is somewhat similar to Nana.  The band rivalry is there.  Romance too.  BECK, I would say, is more on music and raw edges such as danger and violence than Nana.  Even though we are a big fan of the Nana franchise, BECK is so much better as a movie.

If you are a music lover, BECK is not to be missed.  The music talent these young actors have exhibited is simply sick.  Jaw-droppingly sick.  A young guitarist returned from US has a vision to form a band, to create music that moves people.  Soon, more talents have joined.  However, like in real life, chemistry, progress, and opportunity has its dramatic cycles of ups and downs.

There is something unique in the artistic setup of BECK.  The second vocalist’s voice that is supposed to move people’s heart is muted.  Instead, the camera is focused on the audiences’ reaction and the dramatic mood change that has undergone in the audiences’ mind.  I think this is brilliant.  Because, something is best left to our imagination.

Norwegian Wood – A Film Adaptation Of Haruki Murakami’s Novel

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite writers.  I do not think it is possible to bring any of his books into a big screen.  Because much of the content is based on the characters’ observation and their state of emotion, or even the writer’s observation on the world he creates.  His story tends to get more and more surreal towards the end.  But if anyone would want to make a film out of his books, “Norwegian Wood” is a good candidate.  It is a rather straightforward love story.  I am a huge fan of Murakami and I was curious on how “Norwegian Wood” would look like as an adaption.

I can imagine how lost one may feel watching “Norwegian Wood”.  I have read the book and you may wish to read the review I have written.  I feel that the movie is by and large faithful to the literature, down to the dialog level.  As someone who is familiar with the written content, it seems to me that some of the key essences may have been lost in the adaptation.  A 133 minutes film may sound long to you.  When I told Cynthia and TK at the end of the show that the film felt too rush, they were shocked.  The foundation of the storyline lies in a subplot structure of a trio – be it as 2 boys and 1 girl or 2 girls and 1 boy.  These subplots are linked through a common theme – love and death.  That, I do not think the filmmakers have explicitly brought out.  Some of the subplots have so little air time that I think they may have been overlooked.  I do not blame the filmmakers though.  I even think that the way the subplots are segmented in terms of air time is proportionate to how the book is written (the first subplot has ended on page 31 of 386).  A clearly demarcation of the different segments of the film like a text on timeline and location would have helped the audience in digesting the story’s structure.

The leading actor and actress have done a phenomenal work in bringing the characters alive.  It is heart wrenching to see them cry in pain.  On one hand, this movie thrills me down my spine when some of the key scenes stay so faithfully to the book.  On the other hand, the omission of many of the side dialogs and observations has made part of the film looks like a silly chain of sex scenes.  This film summarizes the book essentially, but not perfectly.  If you have taken the effort to watch the movie – a very slow moving one by the way – you ought to read the book.  If you have not read the book, I strongly recommend you to pick up a copy and finish it in the weekend before watching “Norwegian Wood” on screen.  All in all, I am still thrilled that one of Murakami’s book has made it to the theater.  And I would challenge more filmmakers in the future to adapt his other books.

Related Entry: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – A Structured Love Story So Dark, So Beautiful

I Give My First Love To You – Cry Baby, Cry!

One lesson I learned: Try not to bring your partner to watch a Japanese (or Korean for that matter) romance movie after her makeup workshop.  Cynthia was weeping profusely throughout the movie, like the rest of the girls around us in the theater.  I had no idea it was that emotional.  The title sounds harmless.  Based on a Japanese manga, “I Give My First Love To You (僕の初恋をキミに捧ぐ)” centers around two young lovers engaged in a love relationship that has a time limit.  This is not a spoiler.  Within the very first few seconds into the show, the narrator said so.  Cynthia and I exchanged a look and we mouthed: Uh oh.  Throughout the movie, I tried to ask Cynthia to be strong, don’t cry.   Poor girl, the new make-up was still fresh from the workshop.  That did not work.

Takuma has a rare heart disease.  And the doctor said that he will not live beyond the age of 20.  Mayu, the daughter of the doctor, is Takuma’s childhood sweetheart.  On screen, they look like the cutest couple on earth – both the pair of the child actors (when the story was rewound) and the adult actors (in present time).  In fact, the four of them are so adorable to look at.  As far as the story goes, it is the classic Japanese / Korean tragic romance formula that some if not many subscribe to and keep subscribing to – like I!.

Because Takuma has a very weak heart, there is not much he can do but to stay relatively inactive trying to live life to the fullest.  His approach to love , I would say, is reckless bravery.  Mayu, on the other hand, is one interesting character.  How far would she go to keep this love going knowing that this love has a time limit?  Does she love Takuma out of pity?  Or deeper than that?  Her approach to love, I would say, is relentless loyalty.  Putting these two characters together, you would expect some interesting fireworks.  Meanwhile, the parents of Takuma and the father of Mayu have played excellent supporting roles.  One would cry seeing them act.  My heart ached.

I think, in a more reflective level, “I Give My First Love To You” got me pondering upon loving someone in our temporal existence.  How long does love last?  Knowing the fact that love has a time limit, would you still give that love to someone?  And knowing, by that I mean consciously knowing that no love last forever (in a non-poetic sense), what would you do differently each day?  I recently read a book.  The author joked that the best love ends in death.  In a morbid sense, I cannot agree more.  Better than ending in a breakup or a divorce paper, eh?

To end this post, I would like to make a noteworthy mention of the young Japanese actress Mao Inoue.  Japan has plenty of photogenic actresses but not many can act in a multitude of dimensions, which this film has plenty of opportunities for Mao Inoueto to shine.  I am not entirely certain if she is a kyūdōka.  But the way she handles the Japanese archery looks authentic to me.

Snow Prince – What Hard Life This Little Boy Has

This Japanese movie is going to make lots of girls tear, though not the quite the same way as “10 Promises to My Dog” as one would have expected.  The story begins with a mysterious manuscript that arrives at the hands of a grandmother and her granddaughter.  And the manuscript tells a story of a grandfather and his grandson more than half a century ago.  Life seems to be hard for this grandfather-grandson pair trying to make some money with their monthly delivery of handcrafted goods, especially in the winter season.  Come to think of it, I have watched quite a few Japanese movies and TV series in the past that often show a glimpse of how the poor lived in the post-war era.  Yet, a common theme I observe is that one can live a happy and dignified life even when one barely has enough to eat.

So, we have this 10 years old boy named Sota who does not have the opportunity to go to school but loves to paint; a young girl named Sayo who comes from a wealthy family and plays the piano.  Together, they find a puppy called Chibi.  Friendship has developed between the two but you know what it is like when family background gets into the way. 

There are quite a few heartwarming moments.  In one scene, Sota is pulling a cart with his grandfather (and Chibi) on their way to sell their monthly worth of products.  Halfway through the journey, his grandfather falls sick and needs to return home.  Sota continues the journey, sells the goods, and unfortunately, he is robbed on the way back.  When his grandfather hears the news as he embraces Sota who in tears, so full of remorse, he breaks into laughter, comforts Sota and tells Sota that someone else needs the money more than them.  Everything is going to be OK.  To me, that is pretty heartwarming.  I also love his motto of never hate and hold grudges towards another person, no matter what.

“Snow Prince” got me into a little reflection – on how blessed life is and how little it takes to be happy.  Its pace can be rather slow in parts (115 minutes) and while I do question some of the plot’s logic, I enjoy watching the drama as a whole.