Search

“From the star.

From the stars.

The sea is the mother.

The people are her bosom.

Heaven is the playground.”


And the so the festival begins…


‘It’s not you it’s me’, ‘we want different things’, ‘I just can’t see a future with us; I’ve been spitting these lines at movies for the last few years’, embracing a mentality that sometimes the film is just not the right fit for me. It began as a kindness, there are so many works that I can see for all their charms but then I’m hobbling about with shoes on the wrong feet. Many of my reviews have been kinder than I wish to be, wielding diplomacy where maybe I should wield some steel. But last week shifted things. Koko-di, Koko-da walked the Mile with me, I had to condemn it for its frustrating shortcomings.


Today, I’d resigned from the gallows, climbed on a soap box to gesture wildly about the complexity of this week’s surprise viewing: Ayumu Watanabe’s stunning 2019 Adaptation, Children of the Sea. Under Studio 4°C, the company behind some favourite’s including Mind Game (Yuasa, 2004), Tekkonkinkreet (Arias, 2006) and even the enjoyable mixed bag that was Berserk: The Golden Age Arc (Kubooka, 2012-13), Watanabe achieves something rather monumental. Lu Over the Wall (Yuasa 2017) meets Angels’ Egg (Oshii, 1985) were my first impressions when it came to its conclusion, by the morning after I would be so bold as to state it was reminiscent of 1988’s Akira – condensed from a series of manga that overflowed with existential ideas and equally as ground-breaking. To add to the fantastical, composing a soul for the sea and sky, Joe Hisaishi returned to the realm of cinema. His score provides a nuanced gravity that allows the film a voice as much in moments of serenity and colossal upheaval.

The Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

Based on the manga of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi, it follows fourteen year old Ruka over the course of an eventful summer. After an incident in which she injures a fellow teammate at her sports club, she is forced to leave when she refuses to apologise. Due to estrangement from her troubled mother finds, Ruka finds solace in the local aquarium where her busy father works where years before she experienced a supernatural sight in one of the exhibits. Something equally as strange happens again when she meets the high-spirited Umi (Sea) and later the ethereal Sora (Sky). The younger of two brothers raised by dugongs, their skin is sensitive to the air, craving the ocean to survive. Because of this, the aquarium took them in to investigate their origins and their link to the sea. In meeting them a mystery begins to unravel; supernatural phenomena unsettle the creatures of the sea, a comet falls from the sky, and a ghostly whale song announces the coming of ‘The Festival.’

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The original manga is highly complex; Watanabe had to strip away elements to capture the essence of the highly original source material. Perhaps better described as a Sci-fi, keeping within the spirit of the art and style of the original story, Watanabe focusses on the story of Ruka, strips away characters and plays down side plots until he tells a strange, abstract folk tale of loneliness, duty and rebirth. In true Japanese storytelling fashion, it takes something simple and breaks it open to reveal all the little cells holding it together, intricately linking to the universe, eventually leaving much to contemplation.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The lukewarm reception took me by surprise. Perhaps it’s because it becomes something wholly unexpected. It branches off from the manga taking core ideas and condensing a long-running format in to something more concise. If I have any criticism it’s that it could be interpreted as too broad a source material to really be done justice. But the slice that Watanabe serves us is a hypnotic experience. It reminds me, as I earlier stated, of the infamous Akira. A brief glimpse of what is a wealth of story within the post-apocalyptic manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, he manages to harnesses the essential heart of his original story, boiling it down to the tragic friendship between its two main characters. Big ideas are explored; the atomic war between men, power and the annihilation of humanity. Somehow the film still feels vast as does Children of the Sea, a powerful, philosophical voyage.

The Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The earth breathes; in the ocean we find natures womb, all life celebrates its rebirth as the cycle continues – it unites us to land and sky, each organism a piece of us, made from the stars above. We are all connected. These big ideas are captured in some intense sequences of its third act, an odyssey through the conception of the universe. It’s purpose a mystery that transcends Ruka and the two boys. In the team funding the research of Umi and Sora, we see the artificial in stark contrast to a film fit to bursting with life – they want uncover the truth by any means necessary, fuelled by greed and more so man’s hubris, an endeavour to outwit the world we live on with a delusion that we can hold natures will in our hands. This film rejects that, pushes forth the truth that we are more than what we believe to be, that the ocean carries answers we will never begin to understand. Maybe we don’t need to. Some people hate vagueness in their stories, I can be one of them and roll my eyes for good measure; but sometimes a story can thrive off its ambiguity.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

On a basic level, Children of the Sea still remains grounded. The story of Ruka is familiar to many; struggling to control her emotions, unable to communicate she lashes out. She can’t find a voice in her life. When she discovers her connection to Umi and the sea, she begins to see the world is bigger than her comprehension. Ruka finds solace in the company, a boy who is inherently open-hearted. His naivety and honesty awakens a need to protect him, helps her to speak through action. As Jim, one of the guardians of the two boys, states in a moment of insight; “We humans cannot convey even half of our thoughts if we fail to put them into words well, but whales may, through a song, sing and communicate what they see and feel as it is.”

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The theme of loneliness is prevalent, all the more highlighted by the massive topic that in any conversation can begin to eat you whole. Many, if not all, of the characters are lonely. Where in nature this ebb and flow of communication reveals the organic shifting of the earth’s cycles, from the lowliest bug to largest mammal, the humans are a messy in between of stifled emotion and lost identities. We resist the cycle, like we resist most of the wonderful things the planet offers us. In a pivotal scene between Sora and Ruka, she acknowledges her own loneliness and that of the two boys; radiant with life, the sight of the falling star she witnessed was also shining so bright because it wanted to be seen. That beautiful glow made her sad when she could see such aloneness.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

Children of the Sea is teeming with sumptuous visuals, hyper details and lush artistry that pays homage to it’ source material and more. It captures the terror of its more Lovecraftian scenes, the abhorrence and tenderness of the ocean we are immersed in and the muddling’s of people in amongst it all. A blend of intricate CGI and hand drawn technique, it’s probably one of the most stunning films I’ve ever seen. Drawing attention to each of these styles, in vital moments, each frame is pulsing with life. The smells and sounds heave from the screen. The team explored new visuals, technology and experimented with colour compliments to bring to life the world of the ocean below and it’s binaries with the world above and beyond; the skies are painted in hues of reds and purples rarely captured in Anime, the water alive upon each surface it graces. The film becomes a sensual adventure. Right down to the falling rain, each drop becomes a character all of its own.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

However, I feel it is only right that I address the controversy that surrounds not only this film but the animation community as a whole. Children of the Sea is another example of misconduct in a vast plain of poor work environments, mismanagement, fraud and abuse. The film suffered a familiar production hell that has been wrought throughout the animation community for decades. In the works for five years, during that time it was revealed that (once again), animators worked for little money, gruelling though hours’ worth of overtime and exploited by the studio. Now, from the little sources I have it seems an attempt to unionize meant that staff did get paid but without the activity of the union, they would have been worked to death with no compensation. The most beautiful of works have often been produced by companies unwilling to pay their animators worth. There are exceptions, some recent studios have attempted to provide safer, more supportive work environments but these are too few and far between. May it be a work culture epidemic or simply an extension of the corruption within all entertainment industries, Children of the Sea is just another example of extreme conditions that pushed its employees to breaking point. The final product is absolutely phenomenal but I can’t help but think that it is unlikely we will see anything of this creative magnitude again as long as companies refuse to support their employees. More so, it’s not worth the lives of people who lovingly, painstakingly crafted it.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

When I think of all the creatives that came together to make this astounding film, the hours, the talent, the passion for what they do, I can’t comprehend how one can’t be moved immediately. Maybe I’m soft for more classic animation, I know I’m biased. But in viewing Children of the Sea I saw an infinite wealth of creative expertise and beyond that existential horror. I have yet to see something quite so hypnotic, misleadingly pensive in its early half, gradually creeping into terrain of cosmic wonder until I felt I had been washed in clarity. If one goes into this film expecting a clean –cut narrative journey, they will be sorely disappointed as they would if they anticipated an orgasmic thrill-ride of psychedelic visuals. It’s neither and both of these things. Terrifying in its capacity, deeply intelligent, touching and devastating. With all this, it still provides an affirmation of sorts.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

In the end, for me, I felt like I had seen something of some importance – something worth sticking about for. I hope this film will gain more traction, which with time, the soul and the thought that went into is not lost. It’s a feature that could only be told through the beautiful yet harrowing work of the talented animators, one that I do not expect to see imitated. With little explanation, we are left with speculation and feeling, and I can’t hate that when Children of the Sea offers me something rather cathartic.


****1/2

16 views0 comments
“Our rooster's dead, our rooster's dead,
He'll no longer sing kokodi, kokoda,”

Koko-di, Koko-dull… that was dreadful, but then again so was my soul-shattering disappointment at this film. Actually, maybe I need to take it down a notch a little; after all, there was no real cause for such intense optimism for this Swedish Surrealist Fantasy/horror by Johannes Nyholm. Also, 'dreadful' is a bit much... It’s just that I love myself some off-beat horror, the less-mainstream (apparently) the better. I had seen the trailer once or twice for Nyholm's film. Maybe eyed the cover of the Blu-ray even more so, taken as I was by such a freaky, yet simple piece of poster-play. The rest was likely my own fabrication. Or not.


Following tragedy, a couple goes on a trip in attempt to reconnect. Whilst camping deep in the woods, a dapper gentleman all in white emerge from the trees, accompanied by a bizarre entourage including a silent woman, a giant man, a dead dog and a louder, more alive one. In a series of humiliations, psychological tortures and mischievous games, the characters wreak havoc on the couple.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

Screened at the Sundance Film Festival to a relatively positive reception in 2019, Koko-di Koko-da looked to be another addition to the often scorned breed of high-brow horror that has graced the silver-screen in the last few years. It’s a genre that panders to me, once a Slasher chick, I have to take the stigma on the chin now that I have become massive snob now when it comes to horror cinema; I am of the Hereditary kind of pretension and I love it. Described by some as a Funny Games meets Groundhog Day, that would suggest that Koko-di Koko-da was as good as either of these; it isn’t. Compelling though the premise seems the format grows tedious rather quick. There are only so many ways to be terrorized in a clearing, or so the film shows.


Spliced with genuinely interesting puppetry to convey the psychological and emotional journey of the couple, in fact the very thing that prefaces the main body of the story, it only leads to more disappointment. Once we’re in the woods, it proves to be the least engaging part. On top of this is an attempt at black comedy that does little to amuse or discomfort instead falls rather flat (having just come of a self-indulgent splurge through Julia Davis’ BBC series Nighty Night, I have a whole new respect for the genre). Script or performance, the sense of humour in this piece fizzles out where it claims to revel in it most, its first act carrying much of the advertised sharpness.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

The nursery rhyme sung by the creepy side-show artist, and the melody produced by a rather narratively significant music box, lends the film its interesting title and adds to an air of discomfort if for a time. But this could only build so much atmosphere before even I forgot the significance of the tune and the film lulled into its intentional repetition. Technical choices are made that overall robbed the film of tension in some of its more intriguing moments. It also, in attempt to seem off-kilter, a little other-worldly, possibly through the use of manipulating frame-rates or some snazzy editing, had a tendency to look kind of ugly. Was this also intentional? At this point, one can make any excuse for art but we have to be frank about some things.


Not to say it was all terrible. Its first thirty minutes are genuinely engaging. Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier that would then explain my severity on its final hour. The set-up is some good stuff. In fact, the humour can be found here; in the exchanges between the couple, the wife’s food-poisoning, the later argument about ice cream flavours. Their faces painted as cartoonish rabbits, the tragedy that followed was genuinely hard-hitting to watch whilst uncomfortable. If that tone had been maintained, I could rate this as a film worth remembering.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

With these early scenes, and a pretty good final scene that ties it all up nicely – gosh is it a slog to get there though – I could see the merits in its portrayal of a couple in crisis. It explores grief in a unique way with the concept that if you can go back and change one thing, would it make any difference at all. This gimmick makes for incredibly compelling storytelling, to relive events and alter it and learn from it and ultimately find it fruitless in each attempt is the human calamity that makes for true nightmares. It is our perverse desire to regret. But Koko-di Koko-da does not manage to grip with this concept; its talons are too blunt. Maybe this would have benefitted from being a short film.


I liked the fixed camera in the car, the headlights lighting the way when they turned off the road and weaved their way through the trees along the little used path. The appearance of the white cat, the way the forest looked at night, which the cinematographers best moments were captured, the initial isolation that certainly enhanced the atmosphere briefly were all interesting at first. Honestly, there were plenty of little things to like bookending the experience.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

It’s the sort of film I really want to love. A fable like tale interwoven with a stark examination of grief, metaphors and fantasy shrouding the harsh reality of the subject matter as it creeps into unsettling worlds. I love Swedish cinema, too. Sweden has an incredibly fascinating film repertoire, not to mention the vast and rich folklore they often exploit to marvellous effect. It’s hard to not think of the works of Ingmar Bergman or Victor Sjöström, or latterly Roy Andersson or Lukas Moodysson when recalling some truly fantastic filmmakers (I am so sorry that I can’t think of any great female directors…). Though often bleak, they can take the rich culture of their country and examine the state of the human psyche, pushing it to the extremes in various fascinating ways. Ya see? I had some really high hopes.


It is a frustration I felt throughout the film and this review. I wanted more and never got it. I wanted to love this. The spectator should always be guessing, a step behind the story they’re seeing and maybe that was the case here. Following the storyteller into the forest at first was fun, but it became rather obvious that there wasn’t much to see the deeper we went, the trees were all the same, the vegetation was sparse with not even a freaky-looking toadstool to snap a picture of and before I knew it we had both been wandering in unintentional circles. I have nothing against woodlands, have in my time trod many and found each one uniquely compelling, but it’s easy to grow bored when you’ve seen the same stump a hundred times.


**

8 views0 comments

This blog is two years old. What is proving to be the most expensive diary I have ever owned, I avoided an article conception simply because it overwhelmed me. Should I list something, should I review something; that meant watching something and I couldn’t recall anything. Series that I have watched were great but felt out of place – what I felt was all I had left, no remnants of anything that held the show or the movie together. I don’t understand it.

The Lily Pad (Logo by Megan Chambers)

Two years… The advent failed to come with any sense of accomplishment I assumed I would be capable of feeling by this point in my life. Somehow it's not panned out that way. What I feel is something uncomfortable. It's a lack of anything. This sensation has been in place for some time, one which has been trumped on occasion by brief creative outputs, indulgences short lived and general enjoyment found within living. Yet, day by day, it gets more stifling.


Things I apparently need to succeed in my life goals:

  • Discipline

  • Motivation

  • Confidence

It's quiet clear without any of this that whatever this dream is that I have, that I have believed I have had for the many years I have now inhabited this earth, will be all for nothing. That for the longest time that there was a belief that this was more than just a pipe dream, something concrete and possible seems as much a filthy lie I've told myself as the lie that I can have an original thought at all.


What is original thought? It's often cited as no longer existing. This, I suppose, I can concur, but beyond that, the voice of the individual is what separates writers and should inspire them to grow. Yet with each word I write, each thought I allow to pass through my mind without the insidious virus of self-doubt, over-thinking heaped with a whole slab of laziness to boot, clinging anxiously to each one, I begin to acknowledge that my own twist on that very thing is as much derivative. I simply cannot win. This voice of mine, it has nothing good to say for itself. It's self-involved, nihilistic and lacking in the humour it once prided itself on. A scream without an echo.

For I am frustrated at my own complacency and lack of motivation, and it is such a specific collection of things that must take place, be seen, felt or experienced for me to feel an ounce of motivation. Yet I avoid even those things as though I should be doing something else. I'm at cross-purposes with myself. Even more likely, I'm a saboteur. My life had been compromised by me being in it.

Gotta Knock a Little Harder... Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 2001)

I love nothing more than getting lost in a story for hours on end. Be it novels, manga, anime or film, it should be an unadulterated pleasure. When I'm working though my to-watch pile and it doesn't feel like a chore, as though what I am seeing is genuinely great works of fiction, that the world vanishes as much as it swallows me up and into this thing we call living, makes me alive in the very definition, it totally uproots me. The world is so ugly. It's the stories and the connections, the distances and the longing, it shapes reality that can be so very stunning. This makes me believe in my own storytelling. With music blaring in my ears - Dandy in Love, Gekkou, Von, Blue - lost to soundtracks and songs that score the stories I write, I work away at my inspiration and try to shape something of my own. This consumption of art helps me overcome my inner hesitations and arrive at this site to share my views with confidence on these great stories... that feeling is fantastic.


But I avoid it as much as I crave it. Maybe I hold it up as a mirror sometimes. I'm guiltier of simply avoiding such engagement and stimulation. I turn to the internet where I receive short bursts of pointless joy, which does nothing and leaves me forgetful of whatever I have seen, done or experienced in the immediate hours surrounding it. I'm not Alice down the rabbit hole; way down there where it never makes sense, at least she is challenged, a witness to the incomprehensible. I can barely comprehend an average day.

“I wish I could've lived my life without making any wrong turns. But that's impossible. A path like that doesn't exist. We fail. We trip. We get lost. We make mistakes. And little by little, one step at a time, we push forward. It's all we can do. On our own two feet.”- Yuki Sohma, Fruits Basket (Takaya, 2006)

I sit at my desk; it is here I eat, I procrastinate, I complain. I'm rotting, wilfully and vehemently. It is a grotesque act of neglect, an attempt to dismantle all that could be worked upon until there is nothing but the Junji Ito style sludge of my remains. From its bubbling brew, like the texture of fermented mushrooms, as it dribbles down the seat upon which I once sat, the muffled sounds of an opinionated, self-entitled crone babbles as though upon the ocean floor.

I never thought myself to be someone to give up, but when I look back on things, I don't know if I see things through to the end with a longevity that one can be proud of. With reckless, nerve-shattering abandon I would throw myself into one thing until there was nothing left and retire to the shadows where I would continue to watch each passing day, waiting for when the sunlight was no longer so blinding, pretending that I was trying to recover my being. Most of the time, I have lived in the shadows because it's very safe there, I can take no form there until there is nothing to see. All the while willing myself to be noticed. A phantom is there, that one can scarcely forget, something that can drag others into my own sphere of dread and fear.


What am I scared of?


This fear is so interwoven with my personal and so-called professional life that I can’t define which one it should be dealt in most. Proof that I don’t' want to live a dual life, I suppose I could see it as such a thing, but to exist as a whole in both areas of living, as genuine and honest as I can be. This in itself scares me. That truth is right there. I want to be me, always. But that means showing me, being me; that's terrifying. Time has cemented that I also don’t like me. There is a version of me who is not me at all that should take the place of the real me, and wipe the floor with all she encounters; well-read, charming and pretty, she fights through her fear and puts herself out there, good-humoured and even better natured. This me, can't. This me is unstable, mercurial, unreasonable, jaded, irritable, insufferable... I have all these opinions and absolutely no faith that I have a leg to stand on with anything that passes my lips because everyone I meet knows better than me. For that I am certain. They are smarter, better informed, whole people who have more right to a voice than me.


“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.” - Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance (1988)

Maybe I will need to treat this post as a celebration of what I have achieved in this past years, I think it may be needed.

I've written at least one article a month on this blog. I finished a first draft of a romantic comedy novel. I have completed a short story that I would like to find a home for. I would like to pursue a masters in Film next year, so as to possibly find a money-making route for myself in something I claim I love. I do love. When I'm not intimidated by it.

When I reflect on the first incredibly productive months on this blog, during an indefinite lockdown, I battled some, what I now have come to acknowledge, serious mental health issues that could have ended pretty badly. In the midst of that muckiness, under the influence of the mellow of early-days medication and the comfort of no end in sight for the return to normalcy, where I could stay at home every day and watch whatever, find creative and nice ways to spend time with supportive housemates, speak to family when I could for as long as we all wanted... I managed to make this site and talk about stuff I loved. It wasn’t seamless; often things were still hard. But on this blog I was happy. I think.


This space was treated as a portfolio all the while indulging myself; talking about foreign film, anime and writing it was as much fun as it was a release. That got lost along the way. The old posts I made, ranking these great movies I got to see, my master post about filmmakers (Akio Jissôji’s Buddhist Trilogy really did cherry-top that category - it's spoiled me), I can see myself pouring heart and knowledge into it with such enthusiasm. Dare I say it, even with confidence? I could channel my criticism there; meanwhile I began work on that aforementioned novel, all the way back then. Some magic will sprinkle down on myself, and I’ll swoop into that screenwriting software I pay for each month and jot ideas down that I can see with some clarity.

Now I feel like I have no ideas. Not that this is a totally abstract thought, I‘ve had the feeling for far too long, but it subsided. It’s come back. Those thoughts that no one wants to hear about it. I keep dragging everyone in, I let them in, leave the door unlocked, wide open most days and then wonder why my house if full of strangers and people I would rather forget. These people, I need to simply pass and get on with myself. Do what I want. See how that reflects in my output, see where that output goes with sureness. Yet I want to spend no time with me at all. The life I have led leaves me uninspired and embarrassed, what I could write about makes me only more ashamed.

I want to be inspired, not compare. These little things that have formed my life, to wear them as badges of pride instead of something to brush aside when others medals appear so much more worthwhile, meaningful. I want to be able to enjoy Attack on Titan and not think of how incompetent I am that I could not think of that sort of story, ever. I want to forget about the fact that I can’t work a film camera, but can see that opening sequence of Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild is perfection. I want to read a Haruki Murakami novel and not hate myself for being incapable of writing such a simple sentence that cuts so deep, as defined as my wording is bloated. I want to see what I can do, not what can’t.


An anniversary article that is perhaps outrageously depressing is no way to enter a new tenure as a blog runner. Maybe I just had to purge myself to get realigned. Well… even that feels repetitive and predictable. Enjoy the things I love, live in my head and make something from it – give it flesh and bones. I want to go back to what I liked, and I need to work harder to do that, I think. Be me, endure it. Screw 'fake it until you make it', accept that there is stuff I’m never going to like and work with what I have; life is too hard, too cruel to not have something beautiful come out of it, if this is all there is... well I'm not ready to believe that yet. Underneath it all, there is something; there has to be. If I’m the one holding me back, I need to be the one to move forward. Sabotage my saboteur; she’s asking for it.

What It Means... Violet Evergarden (2018)


22 views0 comments

A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

Dino Blog logo lily pad icon.png