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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Glassworker
(Sheesha Gar,
شیشہ گ)

Director – Usman Riaz – 2024 – Pakistan, Spain – 98m

*****

The son of a pacifist glassblower learning his father’s trade falls for the violin-playing daughter of an army colonel in wartime – complex anti-war drama from the 2024 Annecy International Animation Festival in the Contrechamps section, released in Pakistan on Friday, 26th July 2024

If you knew nothing about this animated film beforehand, you’d assume it to be Japanese. Love it or hate it, most animation made in Japan falls within very distinctive, stylistic, visual parameters. According to the press blurb, director Riaz is an admirer of Studio Ghibli directors Miyazaki and Takahata as well as more recent directors Mamoru Hosoda and Satoshi Kon. Visually, the film feels more like a Miyazaki than anything else, and of comparable quality too. Yet it’s also highly original, and Riaz, here directing his first feature after a number of shorts, clearly has his own voice.

It opens with a frame story about youthful glassblower Vincent Oliver (voice: Sacha Dhawan) who, with the help of his father, is preparing for the opening of his debut glassware exhibition. He rereads a letter from a girl which his father (voice: Art Malik) had told him years ago to destroy in their workshop’s furnace.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Matrix

Directors – Larry and Andy Wachowski – 1999 – US – Cert.15 – 136 mins

*****

The Matrix combines tropes of Japanese animation with live action Hong Kong stunt choreography and groundbreaking ‘bullet time’ special effects.

25th Anniversary UK rerelease (4k remaster): Friday, June 8th, 2024;

UK release: June 11th 1999;

Article originally published in Manga Max, Number 8, July 1999.

1999. The Matrix is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.

Technically, a matrix is a multidimensional array of locations, with each cell uniquely addressable. Contents not specified. Back in late April, when Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix was first screened for UK press, Warners’ line beneath the film’s title on the publicity flier ran, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects. Perhaps it should have read, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects and Hong Kong styled action. Or even, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects and Hong Kong styled action reconceived in terms of anime. Okay, it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s closer to the truth.

Ostensibly a megabudget Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon / Die Hard / Predator / Speed / Road House / Assassins) SF actioner well beyond the extremities of this magazine’s remit, directed by the Wachowski Brothers (writer‑directors of Bound, screenwriters for Assassins), The Matrix opens with an incredible sequence wherein Trinity (Carrie‑Anne Moss, who looks for all the world like a Westernised version of a Hong Kong starlet in cat burglar get up… Black Cat’s Jade Leung or Irma Vep’s Maggie Cheung, perhaps?)… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Spy x Family
Code: White
(SPY x FAMILY
CODE: White)

Directors – Kazuhiro Fusuhashu, Takashi Karagiri – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12A – 111m

*****

A spy and an assassin are married to each other, each unaware of the other’s secret career, while neither of them are aware their adopted daughter is a telepath who therefore knows everything they don’t – bonkers anime deploying cookery to prevent Armageddon (!) is out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 26th

An opulent art deco ball. Couples dance. A man connives to be alone with a drunken woman so he can…photograph a file in an office desk. A woman driving a car rips off her face (in the manner of the characters in Mission: Impossible II, John Woo, 2000) to reveal… a man, the spy Loid (voice: Takuya Eguchi). Another woman, Yor (voice: Saori Hayama), is revealed as an assassin when she kills a man who sold industrial secrets. The spy and the assassin are married to one another in a pretend marriage which is a cover for their undercover operations, although neither knows the other is in the spy / assassination game. Their daughter Anya (voice: Atsumi Tanezaki) – adopted to make the bogus marriage look real – is a telepathic orphan who can read minds, so knows about the two secret identities of her ‘parents’.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies Music

Blue Giant
(BLUE GIANT)

Director – Yuzura Tachikawa – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 120m

*****

Three 18-year-olds form a jazz band with the aim of playing at Tokyo’s top jazz club – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, January 31st and Thursday, February 1st

Before this property was a movie – an animated movie – it was a manga. Which, on one level, is nothing that out of the ordinary in Japan (see, for instance, basketball movie The First Slam Dunk, Takehiko Inoue, 2022) but on another is extraordinary. Blue Giant is about music, specifically jazz, even more specifically teenager Dai Miyamoto (voice: Yuki Yamada; musicianship: Tomoaki Baba) who gives up basketball and decides he wants to be the best tenor sax player in the world. He rehearses intensively by the banks of the river in the city of Sendai where he lives, leaving for Tokyo at age 18 and talking his way into moving in with old pal Shunji Tamada (voice: Amane Okayama; musicianship: Shun Ishikawa).

Unsure where to start, Dai visits a bar named Jazz – Take Two where the friendly Mama-san Akiko (voice: Sayaka Kinoshita), who no longer hosts live jazz gigs there, takes pity on him and plays him selections from her vast wall of jazz LPs.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Mars Express
(Mars Express)

Director – Jérémie Périn – 2023 – France – Cert. none – 85m

*****

In the 23rd Century, a private investigator and her resurrected robot assistant go to Mars to investigate the murder of a cybernetics student – from the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

The difference between humans and machines is one of the great themes of science fiction from Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) to Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995). Mars Express takes its name from an Earth-Mars shuttle which, following a bravura action / chase sequence early on, not unlike the one at the start of Ghost in the Shell, is used by private investigator Aline Ruby (voice: Léa Drucker from Custody, Xavier Legrand, 2017) and her assistant Carlos Rivera (voice: Daniel Njo Lobé) to transport a captured suspect from Earth to Mars where, it transpires on arrival, the relevant paperwork to detain their prisoner has been wiped from their on-person devices and internet-accessible office, meaning they are forced to release their prisoner. The narrative is littered with cleverly thought out ideas like this.

The setting is the 23rd Century and mostly Mars, where the pair are hired to search for a second year cybernetics student who has gone missing.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Creator

Director – Gareth Edwards – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 133m

****

A widower finds himself protecting an AI in the form of a child as anti-AI North American forces wage a war on the Asian-Pacific countries where people have integrated with AI robots – out in UK cinemas on Thursday, September 28th

Over a decade ago, I was blown away by Gareth Edwards’ little indie British film marvel Monsters (2010) which broke all the accepted wisdom of film production. Based around a deceptively simple script concept, it was shot by a four-man crew and a two-man cast (plus anyone else who was around at the time) with lots of post-production VFX work added by the director himself.

That got him an agent and two big budget Hollywood franchise FX movies – the Godzilla reboot (2014) and the Star Wars movie Rogue One (2016). The former isn’t bad for a Hollywood movie, although I personally far prefer the Japanese-made Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno, 2016), while the latter is one of the better Star Wars films. However, neither quite possessed the quality that had got me so excited about Monsters.

I suspect Edwards feels the same way, because whilst he clearly relishes the chance to work with the palette of a huge Hollywood FX budget, on this his fourth film, as with Monsters, he has once again broken the rules – this time within a huge Hollywood FX budget film.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The First
Slam Dunk

Director – Takehiko Inoue – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 12a tbc – 124m

*****

A high school basketball team sets out to defeat the seemingly unstoppable league champions – plays Annecy International Animation Festival from Wednesday, June 14th: Edinburgh Film Festival from Wednesday, August 22nd-23rd; out in UK and Ireland cinemas on Wednesday, August 30th

The coastal town of Shohoku. 11-year-old Ryota Miyagi (voice: Miyuri Shimabukuro) lives in the shadow of his 14-year-old, elder brother and school basketball star Sota (voice: Gakuto Kajiwara). One evening, Sota takes his younger sibling out for a practice at the local court, playing as hard as he can to push Ryota, which makes the youngster want to push himself harder still. Sota then alienates Ryota by going on a fishing trip with his peer group rather than respond to Ryota’s demand to extend their practice session. When his elder brother is tragically killed at sea, Ryota must both step into both the role of man of the house and prove himself in the school basketball team.

By the time Ryota is 17 (voice: Shugo Nakamura), he is one of the players on the Shohoku school basketball team which itself faces challenges: specifically, if it is to win the national championships, it must defeat the the seemingly unstoppable reigning champions the Sannoh school basketball club and their star player Masashi Kawata (voice: Mitsuaki Kanuka), Ryota’s opposite number (both wear their team’s no.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Suzume
(Suzume
No Tojimari,
すずめの戸締まり,
lit. Suzume’s
Locking Up)

Director – Makoto Shinkai – 2022 – Japan – Cert. PG – 122m

***1/2

Aided by a man turned into a mobile, talking, three-legged chair, a schoolgirl must prevent giant, freak weather ‘worms’ from devastating Japan with earthquakes – anime feature is out in UK and Irish cinemas on Friday, April 14th

Prompted by a question from a man she meets on a road in her hometown, 17-year-old schoolgirl Suzume visits an abandoned hot springs facility in which is situated a door in a free standing door frame. She opens it only to find she can’t enter. Shortly after this, in school, she notices smoke in a gigantic, red and black worm-like form rising from the hot springs facility.

At the same time, everyone around her receives earthquake warnings on their smartphones, but no-one else can see the rising form. She goes back to the facility to find the man she met trying to close the door and cut off the incoming smoke, something she helps him to do. They do not close the door in time to prevent the red and black form falling onto the land and an earthquake resulting. The man locks the door using a key on his person.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Weathering With You
(Tenki No Ko,
天気の子,
lit. Child Of Weather)

Director – Makoto Shinkai – 2019 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 112m

***1/2

A runaway teenage boy in a constantly raining Tokyo falls for a girl who can replace rain with sunshine – Makoto Shinkai’s feature returns to cinemas for one day only on Wednesday, April 5th, ahead of the release of Shinkai’s new film Suzume on April 14th

A bravura opening shot pulls from rainswept Tokyo in through a hospital window to a girl waiting by a patient’s bedside, recalling nothing so much as the heroine of everyone’s favourite anime identity thriller Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) reflected against a train carriage window with a Tokyo cityscape visible beyond, but where Kon uses such imagery as an entry point to multilayered realities, Weathering With You’s vision never really extends beyond trying to recreate and repeat the formula that rendered its director’s previous Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016) such a runaway success.

Like Your Name, Weathering With You centres on a teenage boy / girl romance but instead of the gender body swap and time travel devices in the earlier film – which probably shouldn’t have worked but somehow did – Weathering has an equally flimsy plot device about a girl named Hina who possesses the ability to turn rain into sunshine.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Mad Fox
aka
Love, Thy Name
Be Sorrow
(Koiya Koi
Nasuna Koi,
恋や恋なすな恋)

Director – Tomu Uchida – 1962 – Japan – Cert. PG – 109m

*****

On MUBI from Tuesday, April 4th; also Amazon Prime (rental) and Arrow Channel

The second Tomu Uchida film to receive a Blu-ray release after the black and white Bloody Spear At Mount Fuji (1955) is the colour The Mad Fox a.k.a. Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow (1962). This extraordinary and arresting Heian period (794-1185) fantasy drama involves an astrologer, his adopted daughter, her wicked stepmother, the two women’s lovers, the daughter’s identical twin sister and a family of shape-shifting fox spirits. Contrasting heavily with the earlier samurai road movie using Mount Fuji as an excuse to block a road for a picnic, The Mad Fox again invokes the iconic volcano in a far more active role as it threatens to erupt, presaging a time of great chaos. The film, meanwhile, makes judicious use of Toei’s animation wing, lending out staff to provide integrated effects.

The opening five minutes set the tone, via a lengthy voice-over detailing the plot’s setup to a calm, tranquil music score, while a scroll is unrolled and the camera pans steadily along its portrayed landscape.

I review The Mad Fox for All The Anime.… Read the rest