crap i have watched recently #13

kenshin  best-XL

SPOILERS, my preciouses! 

Moonrise Kingdom (2012):  There are certain things you can say about a Wes Anderson film.  Bill Murray will be in it and probably Owen Wilson and/or Jason Schartzman as well.  There will be an impressive ensemble cast.   It will be sad but funny or funny but sad; the characters will be like no one you know but familiar just the same.  The colors will be bright and primary and most of the time it will feel vaguely dream-like, if not outright hallucinatory.  The normal will seem slightly fantastic and the fantastic will live next door to normal and no one will remark on it.   You could call it magical realism, but realistic magic works as well.

In our modern age the story of two twelve year old kids running away together might seem sinister and bound for a sad end, but Moonrise Kingdom takes place on an island in 1965 and it might as well be a “once upon a time” fairy kingdom.  The colors are all green and brown and red, like a fuzzy half-remembered 60’s Polaroid color scheme.  Suzy (Kara Hayward) lives in a lighthouse named “Summer’s End” and watches the world through binoculars.  Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan and an excellent Khaki scout, despite his pale demeanor and awkward glasses.   The two met in the previous summer, corresponded all year, and plan their brief escape to a secret cove on the island they name “Moonrise Kingdom.”   Both are serious in the way that dreamers are.  When they run away together Sam brings the camping gear and Suzy brings her kitten, a portable record player, and some books.  Of course when they go missing the grown-up world freaks out.   Suzy’s parents (Murray and Frances McDormand) enlist local enforcement (Bruce Willis).  Sam’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton) leads the rest of the scouts on a search of the island and Social Services (Tilda Swinton) takes an interest in the case.   To top it off, a hurricane swirls in the distance, echoing and foreshadowing turmoil and danger for the determined kids and their would-be rescuers.

The movie is played seriously in the sense of all the actors taking their roles at face value; there is no snark in this film at all.  There is however a wonderful and solemn sense of humor.  The sense that adults and children live in two entirely different worlds is profound.   The kids are never “cute” but they are serious about things that adults have long forgotten.   Sam and Suzy argue about love but their first kiss on the beach is the first kiss you wish you had:  awkward, sweet, and real.  The adults are loaded with all the burdens of maturity: jobs, affairs, self-doubt, fear of growing up and old, a  looming awareness of all the dangers in the world, yet they manage in every case to put the kids first, even if they are not really sure of the best way to do that.   There are a lot of portents churning in that hurricane: the end of childhood and innocence, onrushing sexual maturity, adult concerns, mortality.   In the end things work out because that what happens in magic kingdoms and you believe it, despite its obvious contrivance and blatant fantasy, because you want to believe it.  It’s a really sweet movie.

Another thing you can say about Wes Anderson films:  there are far too few of them.

Score:  Meh.

Rurouni Kenshin (live action film, 2012):  OMG.  O.M.G.

I have to admit that, several years ago, when I first heard a live-action version of my favorite manga/anime was in the works I was skeptical.   It just seemed that there was so much about it that wouldn’t transfer to film and I was fairly sure that essential things about the characters and story would be lost.  Now that I’ve seen it (ahem, three times) I will admit that, well, they did a hell of a job with it.  Is it a slavishly faithful adaption?  Not really, but they got the important things right.   The movie covers the basic introductory events of the manga and anime: how Kenshin and Kaoru meet, Kenshin’s defense of the dojo from a rich merchant’s hired thugs, the thwarting of the spider opium plot, Kaoru’s kidnapping, and Kenshin’s battle with Jin-e.   There is a bit of backstory on how Kenshin got the first half of his iconic x-shaped scar.  Some substantive changes are made:  Aoshi and his Oniwaban are left out, Saito Hajime makes an early appearance, and Kaoru is a bit wimpier than in the source materials.    Overall though the film recreates the first story arc of the series and ends with Kaoru’s little family (Megumi, Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Kenshin) assembled at the dojo.

A big part of the success  is due to Takeru Satoh, the actor who plays Kenshin.  He’s the right age for the adult Kenshin but a bit too old for the flashback scenes (the Battosai was a teenager).  He’s believably red-headed for a Japanese man and brings the right mix of Kenshins’s benign goofiness (“Oro?”) and the Battosai’s murderous brutality.  He also effectively conveys Kenshin’s essentially tragic existence.  The flashback scene where he murders several happy partygoers in a dark alley is sad not only because of what it foreshadows but because it shows us what the gentle Kenshin has to live with in himself.   I can’t really speak to whether he’s a credible swordsman but I thought the fight scenes were well done.  There is little wire work, next to no CGI, and a few mild special effects that brought to life Kenshin’s “god like speed”.  Other standouts in the cast were Yosuke Eguchi as a deadpan, cigarette smoking Saito and Munetaka Aoki as Sanosuke.  Sanosuke was almost exactly as I pictured him when I read the manga and when Saito took the stance for his gatotsu sword technique my heart fluttered.   In general, everyone in the cast does a fine job.   The villains are not the extreme monsters of the comic but are recognizable human versions of them.  The only cartoonish character is evil businessman Takeda who is outfitted with a grotesque wig and a horrendous set of false teeth.  Even Jin-e’s otherworldly contacts don’t seem as fake as those teeth.  The costuming and scenery are wonderfully evocative of a transitional period in Japanese history, with the lovely wooden floors of the dojo and the kimono of Kaoru and Megumi contrasting with the shiny brass of Takeda’s new gatling gun and the Western suits his minions wear.  In the Meiji era, samurai were becoming anachronisms and Kenshin, with his reverse-blade sword and his vow not to kill, balances precariously on the line between the old world and the new.   Throughout the manga and anime he struggles not to give into his past and the beginnings of that battle are seen in this movie.

I think that even if you don’t know the source material this would be an enjoyable film if you are into sword ‘n samurai stuff.  The characterizations of anyone other than Kenshin and Kaoru are kind of light but the basic plot is easy to follow without knowing all the ins and outs of the full storyline.  For me though, who does know the source material?  Well, it’s pretty much the movie I was waiting for and I don’t even need the English subtitles to watch it.  I CANNOT wait for the sequel(s).

Score:  W00t!

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~ by gun street girl on April 29, 2013.

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