things i watched at otakon #1

otakon 2010 t shirtSome brief reviews of the marvelous and not so marvelous things I saw at Otakon this weekend.


Bunraku:  Otakon scored the east coast premier of this new martial arts western and it was probably my favorite viewing at the con.  I can hear you groaning all the way over here, but really, this one is worth a look.  Drawing both its name and style from traditional Japanese puppet theater, the film is theatrical in the extreme and revels in its unusual sets (computer animated), odd proportions, vivid colors, wry voice-over narration, larger than life characters, and over the top action.  The story takes place in a post-nuclear world where guns have been outlawed.  People are thus required to revert back to older ways of killing each other, namely the fist and sword.  A small town in this world is ruled by the “most powerful man east of the Atlantic”, a brutal and ruthless killer known as the Woodcutter.  He keeps 10  hired killers around him all the time, as well as a vicious band of thugs known as the Red Gang.  One day two strangers arrive on the train; one is a nameless cowboy, the other is a samurai without a sword.  Both end up in the Horseless Horseman saloon where an enigmatic bartender serves up whiskey while he makes paper cut-out tableaux of morality tales (more puppetry influence).    It turns out the drifter and the warrior have both come to this place for the same thing:  revenge.   After fighting each other to a draw, they join forces to take on the Woodcutter and Red Gang and the movie is basically one running fight from that point forward.  But OMG what fighting!  Every main character has his own style, either in hand to hand fighting or crossing blades, or throwing axes in the Woodcutter’s case.   The sword fighting was my favorite (of course) but even the fisticuffs are marvelously inventive and fast paced.  Every fight is unique, which keeps the constant action from becoming repetitive.  The only quibble I had is that it’s pretty obvious that Gackt is not an archer.

I really loved this movie and not just because it had an outrageously hot Japanese guy with a wicked blade.  The set designs are inventive, the fights are wonderfully choreographed, and the cast do amazing things with their roles .  Particular standouts are Kevin McKidd as Killer #2, Gackt as Yoshi, Josh Hartnett as the nameless drifter, Woody Harrelson as the bartender, and Ron Perlman as the Woodcutter.  The only odd note is Demi Moore’s turn as the Woodcutter’s captive love interest, she never really seems like she belongs in the movie.  The voice-over gets a little omnipresent at times but Bunraku puppet theater is completely narrated, so that is probably the inspiration for the running commentary.  Other than these minor quibbles, this is a great visual treat of a move and it’s going right now on the very small list of films I could watch over and over again.  (Did I mention the hot Japanese guy with the sword?  I did?  Good.)

It should be opening in the US in late September 2011.  Go see  it!

Score:  W00t!!

Cow:  Luckless peasant farmer Niu (Huang Bo) is entrusted with the care of the village’s amazing new cow, a gift from Holland to the people of his village and the local Army brigade during the Sino-Japanese war.   Niu flees his village when it is attacked by the Japanese and returns to find the village destroyed and everyone dead, except the cow.   With little else left to him Niu takes care of the cow, avoiding marauding Japanese and starving refugees, and the movie is in turns both funny and deeply sad as the man and his cow confront human folly and greed and stupidity at every turn.  The movie is billed as a comedy but it is a brutally dark one.  It starts with the image of a man roaming numbly through a mass grave in the middle of a shelled and smoking village and the story is told primarily in flashbacks interspersed with Niu’s ongoing tribulations with the cow.  We see the villagers marvel at the biggest cow they’ve ever seen, we see how Niu comes to marry and even love the village shrew Jiu (played by Ni Yan and one of the best things in the movie), we see Niu forced into a responsibility he doesn’t want and his wry way of coping with it (feeding his own scrawny yellow cow with the grain meant for the Dutch cow), and finally we see the village die and Niu’s discovery of the enormity of his loss.  There are some profoundly touching moments in this movie and more than a few of them involve the cow, who watches all these events with the same placid expression on her wide face.

The movie runs a little too long and has more than a few cliched and overly dramatic  moments, but in general it is a pretty good watch, if  ultimately very sad.  It came out in 2009 and I am not sure if it has ever been officially released in the U.S.  If you can find it, it’s worth a look.

Score:  Meh but a good meh

Durarara!:  You’ve probably seen the Black Biker.   She rides through the night, enigmatic, headlights off, and sometimes you can hear the sound of a horse in her engines.  What?  You haven’t!  Then you, my friend, need to sit your ass down and watch this anime.  Right.  Now.  I only watched three episodes at Otakon but I can already tell this is one I’ll enjoy.   Young Mikado Ryugamine (whose name is apparently funny in Japanese) fulfills a dream and moves to Tokyo to attend high school with his best friend Masaomi Kida.  Kida has lived in the Ikebukuro district in the city for four years already and warns Mikado about the various unusual and possibly dangerous people he may meet there, including a callous information broker and a very short tempered street brawler who likes to toss around vending machines.     In the first episode Mikado arrives in the city and meets his friend and they walk around the streets while Kida describes the various local gangs and personalities.  They meet some friends and literally run into a mysterious young woman with a scar around her neck.  And even though it is just his first night in the city Mikado gets to see the mysterious Headless Rider pass them by on her motorcycle.  In the second episode we meet the information broker Izaya Orihara, who seems to derive most of his enjoyment from fucking with people’s lives.  In this episode he arranges a mutual suicide pact with a young girl, lures her to a meeting, arranges her kidnapping and her rescue, and then taunts her into jumping off a building.  She is rescued by the mysterious biker.  In the third episode, Mikado meets Anri Sonohara, a girl in his class, and they become class representatives.  She is searching for a missing classmate who looks like the mysterious girl Mikado bumped into on his first  night in Ikebukuro.  Mikado rescues Sonohara from bullies, with a little help from Izaya, and then he meets Shizuo Heiwajima, the vending machine tosser. There is bad blood between Izaya and Shizuo but their fight is broken up by the “Black Russian”, a local character who advertises a sushi restaurant run by Russians.  Confused yet?  This anime is based on a novel written by the same author who did Baccano! and that was an amazing, convoluted, ridiculously fun mess of an anime.  This one looks like it will be just as madcap.  You should watch it.  I will be.

Score:  W00t!

[to be continued…]

~ by gun street girl on August 1, 2011.

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