Review — The Wind Rises

Sometimes I think that the part of my brain that should have emotions is missing. This was especially true when I was younger—I never got sad because nothing was sad, it was just stupid. Marley & Me? I mean, sure I understand why it was supposed to feel sad, but I felt nothing. This isn’t so much of a thing anymore; as I’ve come into adulthood I’ve found that I’m actually pretty normal in a lot of ways, especially as far as my emotions go.

And oh boy, did The Wind Rises give me emotions.

(Because this movie is relatively new, I’ll write the first half of my review spoiler free, and I’ll make it clear where the spoilers start. Keep in mind that the thing I loved most about this movie is a spoiler, so there’s that.)

I’ll say it now to get it out of the way: the animation is incredible. You knew that, it’s a Studio Ghibli film. That said, this movie is great in a lot of ways. It’s color palette is fresh and inviting, and in a way provides a very liberating feeling. The vibrant blues and greens do a great job at shedding optimism in a world at war.

The movie also does a great job with its characters. It’s strange, because I don’t perceive the protagonist to have any character flaws whatsoever, and the film is very much about him. But there is no bad part about himself that he is working to overcome, he’s just trying to be an artist while the rest of the world is using him for his genius. He’s very personable and the fact that the movie revolves around him is just relaxing in a way I can’t quite describe. It’s the same feeling the colorful and carefree color palette provides.

The other characters are great, too. I’m terrible with names, and since it’s been a week since I’ve watched it I already can’t tell you the love interest’s name, but she and Jiro’s bosses characters were also really well done. Miyazaki tows a fine line between stereotypes and archetypes here, but in the end he does a really good job with making these characters more than who they are to the plot while also making them easily accessible by making you think they’re stereotypes before you get to know them.

My one critique is that early on there are a lot of time jumps. Three, I believe. I’m much better with faces than names, but since the faces kept changing, it took me a while to get a hold on who was going to be important throughout the movie. I’m also still a little lost about what the love interest’s dad’s involvement with everything was. I’m sure it would be obvious if I rewatched it, but that was one thing that did not stick once I’ve had distance from the film.

Overall, great movie, a work of art in a lot of ways, you’ll probably cry.

Okay, spoilers ahead.

I don’t usually like romance plots in any movie, main or subplot. They often feel cliche or convoluted to me, or unrealistic (which is the worst). I have a hard time relating to most of them, which makes it hard to even enjoy any. This one, though. This one got to me.

Jiro runs through the garden because he’s worried his fiancée is sick. When he finds out she’s okay, he says “Sorry, I’ll use the front door next time.” She smiles and tells him the garden is faster, to which he replies “Garden it is.”

This moment does a lot, but most importantly it subtly shows that they truly love every split second they have with each other, to a point where they want as many of those split seconds as possible. That’s really heartwarming. The two had many interactions like this throughout the movie, but this one was my favorite.

The Wind Rises has several themes going on at any given point in time, and it juggles them well. I find it fascinating that the main plot of this film deals with Jiro’s life as he contends with what is the hardest, most productive, most loved, most cherished, and most heartbreaking years of his life all at once. He sought to make an amazing plane, and he did, but they were all taken from him. He met the girl of his dreams (literally), and nothing stood in his way, but did they live happily ever after? Well… well, no, not at all.

The last scene. I have explained it to two people, and the first time I got choked up and had to stop talking because I almost started to cry. (I’m not a “manly man” that hides his emotions, but the only time I’ve actually cried in the last three years was when my cat died.) You know a movie does a good job when you can’t even talk about it without getting emotional.

The movie is just a work of art. It’s beautiful in every way—animation, sound design, plot construction, voice acting—everything.

She was beautiful. Like the wind.

Review — Death Note (2017)

Alright, here’s the rundown of Netflix’s original live action adaptation of Death Note. Overall, I thought it was good. Not amazing, by any means, but long story short, the problems I had didn’t involve the actors, the character choices (well…), or any of the obvious changes they made to the original story. My biggest problem was the plot holes.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about something first. Obviously, comparing any movie adaptation to whatever it was based on is going to be bad for one of them, which ostensibly means that, of course, “the book is always better”. But that really isn’t fair, because the book will have several hours more than the movie will to establish everything, and to be blunt, there is more going on in movies. More people involved. I think that, and a number of other reasons, makes changing the original story to fit two hours forgivable.

I think Death Note did a good job with what it had to work with. The opening shot made sense, and was cheesy. A book falls out of a sky, and the protagonist is confused. He looks up to figure out where it came from, but it starts raining really hard really fast, so he takes it with him as he gets out of the rain. Curiosity is the primary reason he takes it at first, and it isn’t forced or cheesy. Plus, the sudden rain shows the unnatural power involved with this thing, and as a bonus it does a great job setting the tone of the movie.

That said, the progression of everything that happens makes a lot of sense. The thing I liked about the anime was that a lot of the time, Light was clever and did things I never would have thought of to hide his identity, so it was even more impressive when L narrowed it down eventually anyway. I really didn’t get the sense that Light was brilliant in this movie, though. I know I just said comparing it to the original is bad, but hear me out. The wit involved in both characters actions and interactions was what made the anime for me. If this was just some shmuck with the power to kill people I wouldn’t be interested because I wouldn’t believe that he would avoid being caught. But Light isn’t that clever in this movie. He’s not (that) stupid, mind you, but he’s no genius. So it makes it a little annoying when L doesn’t figure it out right away. Obviously, they have to fill the two hours, but I’m watching this for character brilliance, damn it!

(Minor spoilers here: Specifically, L publically threatens Kira and, when he doesn’t die, deduces that Kira must need a name and a face in order to kill. The problem is, this is speculation, not proof. He claims that if Kira could have killed him, he would have, but then, he also knows Kira is human. Humans are petty, so it could simply be that Kira is arrogant and wants to see how competent a detective L is. The fact that L doesn’t consider this as a possibility is, frankly, a little odd.)

Another great thing that the movie does is that it plays with the “rules” of the magic of the notebook, and does it in a way that makes sense. They aren’t hard to grasp onto once the audience is shown that it can work, so when things go wrong because rules are twisted in ways you didn’t expect, you have to give them credit.

A few times, though, it bent the rules without explaining. There was a time that Light wrote a condition describing how somebody would die if they took an action. As far as we know, though, writing the name in the book kills them. There is no “if” about it. The movie doesn’t confirm one way or another how this works exactly, so it seems weird. Another time was when Light threatened to write the name of his death god, Ryuk, in the book to kill him. Ryuk basically says, “Good luck. The furthest anyone has gotten is two letters.” Except in an earlier scene, the book has some notes in it that says “Don’t trust Ryuk. He’s not your friend.” Sounds like his full name has already been written in the book, so how is he not dead? Is there some rule that you have to have deadly intent when you write their name? Because that’s not established in the movie.

All in all, it’s a solid movie. It has some good scenes (the one where Ryuk is introduced is very well done), and the story is really dramatic, as you might expect. Also not surprisingly, it’s very graphic. Also, this one is certainly way better than the other live action Death Note, of which I remember nothing about. I consider that a blessing.

Review — Naruto (Final Thoughts)

I finally finished Naruto a few days ago, after having bought the last five books I had been missing for years. Now, I’ve talked about Naruto before, and while it was after the series was finished, it was before I had read through it myself. So, I’ve included a link to the original post, but this isn’t a sequel post to that. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even going to reread it. Alright, full thoughts on the story I’ve been following (literally) since childhood: go! (And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything.)

I was surprised. Most of the reason I wasn’t in a hurry to finish the series was because it would mean leaving a huge part of my childhood behind. I was a fan of the series ever since Toonami started advertising “A cool new show about ninjas!” When I was maybe five years old. It’s how I got into manga, though to be fair that was probably an inevitability. Finishing the series and moving on would mean accepting adulthood, in a way.

Before I  finished it, my perspective on the series was that it was the best manga/anime out there, but even then I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It’s really long, and the first two hundred chapters/episodes are, admittedly, not great. That’s like telling your friend to watch a show and promising it starts getting good after season 12. Why bother? There’s way better uses of your time. It’s the same reason I have no interest in Game of Thrones.

So, what do I think now that I’ve finished it? Well, my reaction wasn’t what I expected. I’m almost completely indifferent. Nothing exceptionally shocking happened in the last five books (~50 chapters), and, once you get far enough, you can see how it will end perhaps eight or nine books in advance. It’s not bad, mind you, but it’s not overwhelmingly exciting. I’m just plain old whelmed.

When you finish a book series, you’ll often get that cathartic bubbling of emotion that says “Oh, no, it’s over? What now?!” But Naruto has been over for years now. I honestly think I was more emotional over hearing about the last chapter having been published than I was actually reading it myself. I had already moved on.

But is the series good? Has my perspective on it changed? Yeah, of course. The ending is satisfying, but it’s not exceptionally amazing. I don’t feel as though I’ve wasted my time, because it’s such a big part of who I am. The complexity of the characters and the world is something I really admire, especially since that doesn’t happen in anime/manga very often. Of course, most people don’t have the luxury of being able to write the same story for fifteen years straight, but you get the idea.

Naruto is “fine”. If you want to spend that kind of time, it’s good. But for me, when it comes to watching and reading, “fine” isn’t good enough. I look for the “great”s and “amazing”s. So while I thank Masashi Kishimoto for the journey and helping me become the person I am today, I don’t think I’ll be convincing anybody new to pick the series up. (Somehow I don’t think he’ll shed any tears over that, though.) I doubt I’ll ever even start reading Boruto, either. I need to diversify my exposure to media more than I have been, so while I’m sure it’s good, it’s not worth my time.