Thursday 27 September 2012

Makoto Shinkai, 'the new Miyazaki'

I couldn't tell you how long ago I saw Voices of a Distant Star, which was the first Makoto Shinkai film to really register with me in my little corner of the pop-culture swamp that I play in.

Voices does this thing where it gives you all the toys for which Japanese animation has become famous, and then makes you play a different kind of game. Maybe it is the same kind of game, but played differently. I'm not sure.

It was years later when I came into possession of The Place Promised in Our Early Days, which struck me as a similar sort of experience. The product of the same mind and the same hands. Then I realised only recently that 2007's 5 Centimetres Per Second even existed, in which Shinkai wove something far simpler and far more engaging while sitting at the very same loom.

There is something intimate in every aspect of the way he made all three of these films. Something that makes you feel as though you're rifling through other people's private photos as they themselves read excerpts from their own diaries. He has made something truly exquisite out of loneliness where each thread has been specifically chosen with such extraordinary care.

Shinkai often frames shots to be empty of characters, instead focusing on their shadows as they move across those strange geometries that we find when we stare across a familiar setting from a different angle for the first time. The same place we see every day now existing as somewhere else.

For this reason it came as a shock to me when Shinkai was recently hailed as 'the new Miyazaki'. It made no sense to me. The Shinkai with which I was familiar made films that were distinct from anything else I had ever seen in the entirety of my life. Films that told deeply relatable stories amongst the familiar set pieces of Japanese animation. Miyazaki tells amazing fantasy stories. Stories that are as wondrous as it comes.

All I could see between the two were oceans.

Until I saw Children Who Chase Lost Voices.

Shinkai's latest film is heavily reminiscent of some of Miyazaki's more adventure driven films, but this is superficial. While his influences are definitely clear, Shinkai's weave is still visible in the characters and the themes.

Shinkai has stepped out of the style that he established as his trademark in order tell a story that might be told by a different director, but not in the way it would be told by a different director. In the end though, I would recommend this film to Miyazaki fans before I recommended it to Shinkai fans.

I would also recommend that you seek out his earlier work.

I haven't seen his stuff with the cats.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Love is made of things

Love is finishing its run at the moment. If you enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon, and thought that a combination of the two might be right up your alley, then this movie is for you. This isn't to say that there isn't anything for anyone else, or that that is all there is to the film. It definitely brings something new to the party, but its heritage is clear.

I'm not bringing this up as points against it. Films are like other films. This film shares a few style-things and theme-things with those films, but this film also has its own things. Things that make it distinct. Things that encourage you to participate more in the audience interpretation schtick that art likes to lord over more straight forward narratives.

I managed to see it for free. So, I don't know how I might be feeling about it if I had dropped $16.50 for the privilege, but Love is a beautifully shot, character driven, sci-fi art film with classic pacing that occasionally priortises art over clarity.

I also like the soundtrack, which is a thing that The Lion King has.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Anti-post-utopian feminist bio-punk in a neo-noir-western setting, where all the cowboys wear blindfolds and ride dinosaurs

Label makers and delirium

While obsessing over my views on Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology I managed to identify the culprit as being one Lawrence Person, who in his "Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto" laid out an early definition of the sub-sub-genre. Person prefaces his manifesto with an admission of recklessness: "Critics, myself included, persist in label-mongering, despite all warnings; we must, because it's a valid source of insight-as well as great fun." Fun it may be, but we need a line. At this stage anyone looking in is staring unprotected into a whirling cluster-fuck of loose definitions and shifting criteria.

Someone opined at me the other day (some weeks ago) that "it is all about marketing", but more often than not anyone trying to sell you media runs around checking family trees and filing DNA tests to establish even the slightest genealogical relationship between their product and that popular, successful, good looking one you spent money on last year. Sucker Punch was advertised as the slutty cousin of Inception and Alice in Wonderland, successful films from the previous year. They didn't want to tell you that it was in reality probably not going to appeal to the same audience. Marketing just gets complicated if they start talking about too many different flavours, they want you to buy all the chocolate ice cream they have to sell you. Fractal genres comes later, and is perpetrated by consumers and academics with label makers and fever sweats.

In the days of my more brazen youth I too was prone to a sort of footloose participation in fractal genres that allowed me to appreciate terms like non-pro-Judaic existentialist vampire fiction and faux-feminist urban fantasy, but this behaviour is the symptom of a sickness of sub-division that drives people to read 'genre' as 'brief description in twenty-five words or less'. Person wakes briefly from his category induced delirium just long enough to point out that he does not consider postcyberpunk a genre in its own right, but merely an observation of a trend. I can buy into this, but the damage has been done. In the height of his fever he cast a new body out into the increasingly amorphous label-palooza and regardless of his intentions it is gathering mass.

Bill's Adventures in Interzone

Cyberpunk was a move into something new, but at the same time there was a lot that wasn't new. In the same way that proto-punk existed before anything that was clearly defined as punk, there was a sort of proto-cyberpunk lashing about half-formed, eyed off by the alphas of science fiction who were at once sure that this thing would not take from them their pride, but certain that it would be able to. Proto-cyberpunk is not a genre, it is an acknowledgement of the direction in which things began to move.

When it came into its own, early cyberpunk was a caricature, prophesising in distended chins and elongated ears. It was to more traditional speculative fiction what Naked Lunch had been to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. You can still see the old moves, but Wonderland is now Interzone and the people involved are broken, drug addled perpetual fuck-ups who are more likely to trade a lover for a typewriter than have tea with a bunny. It was Middle Earth built in neon and concrete where the wizards needed internet access, the elves wore black leather, and Sauron ran a Zaibatsu from an office in Tokyo.

Later cyberpunk is less overt, its features are cleaner. You aren't really seeing the emergence of something new. You're seeing refinement. To draw on the same reference cards that Person does, Cyberpunk depicts a traffic jam in front of a video-billboard, tricking us into thinking we're at a drive-in waiting for the feature to start. The ads are never going to end. Postcyberpunk is still showing us that same situation, but the illusion is more convincing. We're still waiting for the ads to end but this time there's free wi-fi.

Further Reading

Interested in some of the material that inspired cyberpunk? Here is a selection of proto-cyberpunk from a couple of different genres:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepFlow My Tears, The Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Crash, Concrete Island and High Rise by J. G. Ballard