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  • Kerry Chambers

Ha Ha Ha! And here I thought I would be gushing full of words after the last article. Alas, I was emaciated of words, as much as the forgotten swede was of its hearty innards, lost beneath a bag of potatoes, a half clove of garlic and various assortment of onions (too many some would say) that I recovered on one of my many culinary excursions. Speaking of root vegetables, let's explore the beautiful emerald isle to herald one of its finest filmmakers: Neil Jordan.

The End of the Affair (Sony Pictures, 1999)

Born in Sligo, Ireland, Jordan is a director, screenwriter and novelist with plenty of titles in his repertoire. Perhaps not as household a name as some would believe, it is likely that most people have seen a Neil Jordan production at some point; two major TV series The Borgias (2011-2013) and Riviera (this ran from 2017 to 2020 and one in particular that Jordan has distanced himself from due to jeopardised creative integrity) and his filmography is a conglomerate of high profile literary adaptations, Hollywood thrillers, bumbling comedies (1988’s High Spirits is fun, but it’s no Ghostbusters) home-grown domestic dramas, odd fables (2009's Ondine had so much potential) and magical realist odysseys. Not to say that these are your run-of-the-mill pay check directors works. Although his recent works have proven more than a little disappointing, his portfolio has cemented his legacy as one of Ireland’s greatest filmmakers. Jordan has an eye and a voice quite unique to him, one that has made him one of my most favoured auteurs.

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

An acute awareness and tenderness toward his country’s political unrest, having grown up in it all himself and bared witness to many of Northern Irelands most horrendous events, his sensibilities have allowed him to capture many of the stories from this time and find a humanity that proved controversial during many a production. ‘The Easter Rising’ and later ‘The Troubles’, make many a backdrop to his works, and beyond that Jordan captures something far more humble. These topics are particularly potent to me, having family who have lived through it in Northern Ireland, with the tragic events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 practically unfolding on their doorstep. I feel very passionate about this part of modern history and to find a filmmaker who captures neutrality on the topic, who isn’t afraid to ground the politics, in the height of the controversy, is amazing. Jordan’s films are not perfect on the topic, but they certainly don’t demonise and boil the issues down to black and white. Ireland has a long and troubled history, often skimmed over in textbooks in the UK despite events playing out a stone’s throw away. In his films I began to see a representation that wasn’t juvenile or ridiculous (I’m looking at you 1992’s Patriot Games).

Angel (Film4, 1982)

Alienation, repression within religious organisations exploring a complex relationship with Catholicism and faith, societal rejection, gender identity and sexuality; the films are fit to burst with casts of characters on the edges of society, the outlaws, the ‘villains’ and the lost souls. And then there is his depiction of these within an Irish setting. Jordan, for me personally, is a wildly radical storyteller who has actually pushed the boundaries of our perceptions of these themes, on taboo subjects, treading and trying his best to remain truthful on political minefields. There is poetry in his words, his films sumptuous and sensual in the most peculiar of ways.

The Company of Wolves (ITV Studios, 1984)

That’s enough pining, I’ve gone into some detail on the style storytelling Jordan takes and it’s similarities with Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar. Check out that essay, The Storyteller: An Exploration of the Writer/Directors Pedro Almodóvar and Neil Jordan, and see me lap ‘em up. Let’s get down to business so I can talk about my ten favourite films by this wonderful director.


10. Byzantium (2012)


"I remember everything. It's a burden." - Eleanor


One thing that tends to work for Jordan is when he keeps his stories relatively close to home. That is my biased opinion of course. As a girl who has lived by the Sea her whole life, it was refreshing to see such a bleak gothic fantasy take place just a few miles down the road from me. He took the Vampire Mythology, familiar territory he trod nineteen years before in the brilliant Interview with the Vampire (more on that later), and decided to try a new twist on the tales. Considering that Byzantium came out on the tail end of the Vampire boom of the late 2000’s, his take was mature and contemplative. A story of the value of family surpasses the more traditional tropes, blending the new elements of the genre and taking a new route by placing in the foreground fierce maternal love.

Starring Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, the film tells the story of two women, a mother named Clara and her daughter Eleanor, who have sort refuge in a rundown seaside town. Their secret? They are vampires, and a dark past they harbour could endanger their future if discovered. Eleanor's teenage vampire finds herself writing her life story, tearing each page out and throwing it to the wind in a desperate attempt to be heard, all the while falling for a sickly human boy. Meanwhile her mother is seeking sex work in an attempt to support them and her bloodlust.


9. Angel (1982)


Hating is easy. That's what I found out. It has its own ways. It just grows. The man whose clothes you are in, I hated him for years. I'd stand beside him at mass and pray, Lord let me be free of him.” - Mary


As debuts go, Jordan’s is pretty fine indeed. His first collaboration with actor Stephen Rea, an actor I think is so outrageously underappreciated in cinema with his work with Jordan being one of the most underrated director/actor combinations, he took on a noir-ish tale set during Northern Ireland’s ‘The Troubles’, that unravels into a character study of a self-conscious, yet talented man in a bad situation. Not his most visually delicious but filled with plenty of moments that would later impact his work. I found it to be highly entertaining and thoughtful, surpassing much of his later Hollywood productions that unfortunately riddles his later work, and I truer reflection of the kind of stories he triumphs in telling.

Angel (Film4, 1982)

A saxophonist (Rea) bears witness to the murders of his manager and an innocent bystander which sends him spiralling into darker realms as he seeks out the gang member responsible. Setting aside his saxophone, an instrument he plays beautifully although riddled with self-doubt over his abilities, he wields a gun in its place and finds the certainty he lacked. Meanwhile, his relationships with his band members, his budding romance with their lead singer, begin to evaporate as revenge consumes him. Far from a bloody crime caper, Angel is tentative story exploring the nature of violence and its claim over those feeling robbed of power.

Angel (Film4, 1982)

8. The Butcher Boy (1997)


"You can do one bad thing. That doesn't mean for the rest of your life everyone's going to say, 'He did it! It's him! He did the bad thing!'"- Francie


Jordan is a marvel at adapting literary works. Many of my favourites to come have all been derived from great novels, his own background in writing proving to be a powerful tool when translating the format to screen. A rarely cited but brilliant adaptation would be his take on Patrick McCabes 1992 novel The Butcher Boy. A black comedy, it is told in the style of a stream of consciousness, first person narrative through the eyes of a young boy named Francie, growing up in a small town in Ireland during the sixties. His alcoholic father (another amazing turn by Stephen Rea – I’m so biased, I know) is a tyrant who has little to do with him but holds his mentally disturbed mother in a cycle of physical and emotional abuse. Meanwhile, Francie (Eamonn Owens, in his first role) lives in a realm of fantasy of violence and absurdity, heavily influenced by the films and comics he consumes. The threat of nuclear eradication looms over him, and the eventual suicide of his mother leads to an escalation of behaviour landing him in a reform school run by Catholic priests (can you see where it’s going...).Whilst there he begins to seek comfort from the visitation of a foul mouthed Virgin Mary.

The Butcher Boy (Warner Home Video, 1997)

I won’t say much more on the plot. Clearly, Jordan found something relatable in McCabe’s macabre comedy; recognising the humdrum town, the economic decline that plagued Ireland following the war, the influence of American media, and the frustration of this kind of repression and the bleak futures promised to those experiencing the fear of the Cold War. Francie’s psychological state is constantly called in to question as trauma upon trauma is layer upon him. He is an unreliable narrator whose delusions prove to be desperate outlets to find someone to blame for his suffering and in doing so he begins to unravel. It’s an incredibly bleak story, with the cast doing an amazing job capturing the tone of a novel considered impossible to adapt due to its narrative style, and Jordan manages something gentle beneath the horror.

The Butcher Boy (Warner Home Video, 1997)

7. The End of the Affair (1999)


"Pain is easy to write. In pain we're all drabbly individual. Now what can one write about happiness?" - Maurice


Well, there will be a lot of adaptions to be fair. From one of the greatest metaphysical love stories, Jordan adapted Grahame Greene’s 1951 novel, and my favourite of his works, that uses a great love affair in wartime Britain as the basis for a spiritual study of faith and sacrifice. It’s utterly devastating and made all the more poetic and powerful by Jordan’s direction. Dark stairwells, foggy mornings, vintage London, longing looks and lost loves, my goodness do I simply swoon over this film and I haven’t even gotten to the cast list; Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea (again!)

The End of the Affair (Sony Pictures, 1999)

Novelist Maurice (Fiennes) is tortured by the abrupt conclusion of his love affairs with married Sarah (Moore) two years before, following an air raid in the city that endangered both of their lives. An encounter with her husband the reserved and straight-laced Henry (Rea), seemingly unaware of the relationship, reveals that he has sought his help when he suspects that his wife is seeing another man. Fuelled by jealousy, Maurice hires a private detective to unravel the secrets of the woman he loved passionately and to find out what happened to make her leave him. The actors do such a great job; they have wonderful chemistry. I hate the US trailer for this film because it dumbs down just how masterfully Jordan interpreted the complex story; despite it being a romance, which is pretty racy (Moore and Fiennes are fine!) it’s roots stem in something deeply thoughtful, a drama unfolds, interweaving the novels two halves to allow for a constantly engaging handling the themes of faith, infidelity and love beautifully.

The End of the Affair (Sony Pictures, 1999)

6. Breakfast on Pluto (2005)


"But did true love save Kitten from the hands of the beast, in that worst of all fairy tales? No. What saved Kitten was her precious perfume spray, bought for £2.99 in Roches Stores on Henry Street before she left her beloved Emerald Isle."- Kitten


Another McCabe adaptation, this one really struck a chord with me and becomes one of the major titles in Jordan’s works that I urge everyone to see; certainly if they are a fan of Cillian Murphy, who plays transgender woman Kitten. Jordan captures the sense of humour McCabe has, and the combination of their writing creates unique stories that I have yet to see done so well. I also love how Jordan never seems to hesitate with ‘taboo’ subject matter, alluding not only to ‘The Troubles’, capturing the atmosphere of that time in this fantastical story, Pluto is not a far stretch from one of his most notorious films, and the inclusion of a transgender woman living in seventies Britain and Ireland (and all the great music that comes with that, by the way) certainly was an underrepresented subject matter even in the 2000’s. I mean, these sorts of stories really have only come to prominence in the late 2010’s and even now the representation of gender and sexuality in cinema is lacking, certainly in mainstream. Things are beginning to change but when I think of great films to recommend in this genre, Pluto is still a worthy watch.

Breakfast on Pluto (Pathe, 2005)

As a baby, Kitten was left on the doorstep of a rectory in a small Irish town and found by a priest (played by Liam Neeson) who happens to be his real father. Born Patrick, she spends her youth in an abusive foster home and eventually, once free of the environment, pursues her life as a woman. Moving to London on the coat tails of a rock group, Kitten deeply wants to find her mother and the answers surrounding her birth, all the while working in a variety of jobs as a dancer, prostitute and magicians assistant (Stephen Rea again as the magician, a meek yet kind man who falls for Kitten). It’s funny and warm and delightful. Murphy is endearing and gentle as the tough Kitten who takes on a lot and still remains an optimist. Her way of life is romanticising all of it, realism is overrated and her narration of events paints a valiant picture of the life she’s living. She’s trodden on and always gets’ back up, she’s an inspiration.

Breakfast on Pluto (Pathe, 2005)

5. Mona Lisa (1986)


" She was trapped. Like a bird in a cage. But he couldn't see it. He liked her, but he was the type who couldn't see what was in front of his face. And there she was, in pain. You can get soppy about someone, well, you can't see these things, and he was, soppy sod." - George


I’m being a little controversial here having this so low. The precursor to The Crying Game, many of the similar tropes are present though breaking new ground in his later work. But Mona Lisa is a classic in its own right as a great British noir. Starring the late, great Bob Hoskins in an Oscar nominated role, Michael Caine and Cathy Tyson, it’s a return to something resembling his debut. Only this time, Jordan seems to be having more fun with it.

Mona Lisa (Arrow Films, 1986)

A small-time crook (Hoskins) had been let out prison and found that his position has been compromised and he no long holds rank in his old territory. Getting in contact with his old boss (Caine), cut off from his wife and old acquaintances, he is given a job as a chauffeur for a call girl (Tyson) at night. Over time they bond and she seeks his help in searching for a woman from her past who has herself been forced into prostitution. However, the forces that be have no intention of letting up easily, the call girls pimp wields a violent power over her and the underworld is proving to be an abyss of deception, violence and pain. There are some killer lines in this film; the relationship between the leads is bitingly witty and entertaining. I simply love their back and forths. It’s a great example of how brilliant Jordan can be with an original script.

Mona Lisa (Arrow Films, 1986)

4. The Company of Wolves (1984)


"If there is a beast in men, it meets it's match in women too." - Mother


Yes: Jordan and fantasy, handling one of Britain’s greatest Magical Realist novelists Angela Carter. A Halloween tradition in my home, despite its lack of scares, it’s a coming of age fable that plumbs the depths of the Red Riding Hood tale. Merging three individual tales from Carters 1979 anthology, The Bloody Chamber, a series of feminist retellings of infamous fairy-tales, it’s a totally wolf-centric experience with plenty of bite. A relatively low budget and tight restrictions, the film boasts some impressive sets (one in all that was redressed to fill a whole forest), cool costumes and great SFX that, had An American Werewolf in London not blow everyone’s mind 1981, would have trod new ground. It’s still impressive to watch today, filled with wonderful dialogue, turns of phrases and witticisms straight from Carters’ marvellous book.

The Company of Wolves (ITV Studios, 1984)

The story is framed around a young girl, Rosaleen, who is trapped in endless dreams of enchanted forests, of wolves and men whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Her transition into maturity is as much a physical change as it is allegorical. Within the dream world, following the death of her sister by wolves after straying too far from the path and the village, Rosaleen stays with her grandmother who relays cautionary tales of beastly men, calls of nature, witchcraft and trickery. Its charm lies in the decade, in the brilliant practical effect and sets. The marvellous theatrics of those involved cast a spell over us all, and what an impressive cast indeed: David Warner, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea… again, and Terence Stamp shows up too. It takes you into another world and it’s timeless Maybe it’s the young girl in me that simply adores this unique coming of age tale and wishing my own could have been so fantastical (It really was not, if anything it was crippling in every possible way that makes a semi-successful adult) but I still find something entirely relatable; it’s sensual and weird and glorious to look at.

The Company of Wolves (ITV Studios, 1984)

3. Michael Collins (1996)


"Give us the future, we've had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love." - Michael Collins


This is probably one of Jordan’s most important films; an attempt to tell the history behind Irelands most controversial figure. Collins was the revolutionary, a member of the Sinn Fein, and later head of intelligence of the emerging IRA and the leading party in the incredibly divisive Anglo-Irish Treaty. Spending much of his life as a member of the resistance against the British forces, seeking a free Ireland, Collins was later a major political player, eventually assassinated. Spanning the final days of the ‘The Easter Rising’ in 1916 to his eventual death, Jordan took on a lot when he decided to make this biopic. Under major studios The Geffen company and Warner Brothers, it’s amazing that he was able to wield as much artistic licence and creative control over the story that he did, despite a desire from executive producers to downplay the breakdown of the politics in exchange for romance. Also, we are forced to endure one of the worst Irish accents in cinematic history; the offender is Julia Roberts. The rest of the cast is simply spectacular: Liam Neeson (who does a cracking job in the titular role), Alan Rickman as Eamon De Valera, Aiden Quinn, Stephen Rea (Whoop), Brendan Gleeson and Charles Dance.

Michael Collins (Warner Home Video, 1996)

I’m not saying what Jordan achieved was perfection. Historically and politically we are looking at something far too complex to ever satisfy any side and with Irish memory what it is, it is unlikely even now to ever reach a satisfying interpretation of events. If you look at their history in actuality, the civil war never really ended. Furthermore, a pressure from studio heads meant that much of the events were downplayed or fictionalised so as to make it easier for international audiences. This only proves that the history of Ireland is neglected in education systems both here in the UK and beyond. But Michel Collins in a sense is still one of the few major films that manage to approach the difficult topic. It makes sense though, for an Irishman to give voice to Irish history in this way. By taking it on, I think it displays some bravery on his part. It’s filled with beautiful cinematography, a certain scene in which Collins emerges from a mist is burned into my mind forever, a haunting score by Elliot Goldenthal, vocals performed by Sinead O’Connor, it’s still engaging almost thirty years on, and one of the best depictions of Irish history on screen.

Michael Collins (Warner Home Video, 1996)

2. The Crying Game (1992)


"...and as they both sink beneath the waves, the frog cries out, 'Why did you sting me, Mr. Scorpion? For now we both will drown!' Scorpion replies, 'I can't help it. It's in my nature!'" - Jody


His magnum opus. It’s the one that really is one of a kind. It got the director an academy award for best original screenplay after all, and of his self-penned works it perfectly encapsulates all the themes we’ve grown to love. It really pushed the boundaries of queer presentation on film, sexuality, and Irish politics, all within this complex love story. Yet it was the fact it was an IRA member’s story that the film struggled to get distribution, with most UK organisations steering clear. That was, until Miramax (that Miramax) got its hands on it and marketed the film in the US. Now it had a twist you simply couldn’t afford to miss. I’m sure most people know it by now, often cited and spoofed, but at the time it was one of the first films to ever really enter this territory, and so sensitively... And with a ‘RA man no less!

The Crying Game (BFI, 1992)

Back in noir territory, IRA member Fergus (Stephen Rea takes the lead here in one of his best roles), partakes in the kidnapping of a British Soldier, Jody (a surprising performance by Forrest Whittaker). He and his associates, the femme fatale Jude (a fabulous Miranda Richardson- speaking of another underrated actress) and Peter (Adrian Dunbar) keep him imprisoned in an isolated, dilapidated cottage where Fergus watches over him. In time, they begin to bond in secret and Jody tells him of Dil (Jaye Davidson), the woman he loves back home. However, when things take a turn for the worse, Fergus flees the organisation, seeking a new life and identity in London, all the while searching for Dil and bearing the agonising guilt of what was done. I suppose much of the controversy came from the humanity found within its depiction of an IRA member. That and the taboo love story at the centre of it all. It shocked audiences back in 1992 and to some degree is still as powerful as it was back then. But the controversy aside, the film still holds its own thirty years on, so Jordan did something right. The explorations of friendship and loyalty, the psychological journey of Fergus and his shame carry much weight, and are powerfully captured in Rea’s performance. Oh, and have fun trying to get the titular song out of your head once it’s all over, not a day goes by where I don’t hum it.

The Crying Game (BFI, 1992)

1. Interview with the Vampire (1994)


"Evil is a Point of View. God Kills indiscriminately, and so shall we." - Lestat


I did think about putting this second. Only because culturally, politically and cinematically, The Crying Game is superior as a piece of art. But I will be dammed if Interview with the Vampire is not my absolute favourite vampire movie, favourite Jordan movie and one of my ultimate favourite movies of all time. Another staple of my Halloween viewing, this tale of the unhappiest vampires you’ll ever meet is theatrical, horrific, larger than life and yet so emotive. Yes, it’s probably his biggest cast and budget with Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea (who makes an appearance as one of the most malicious, unsettling vamps) and Kirsten Dunst all frequenting the bleak worlds these creatures of the night lurk in, but it’s so gripping. I can quote it for goodness sake. The music is beautiful, it’s artistic choices impeccable.

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

Spanning centuries, across New Orleans to Paris and then back again, it’s a voyage across the lonely infinite nights, the curse of eternity looming over these miserable creatures. American gothic plantations, the old-world Mississippi riverside, the labyrinthine streets of 19th century Paris and to the modern day New Orleans, now only showing glimmers of its forgotten past, have never looked so good. And the homoeroticism of the story only seems even more mind-blowing for the time in a big- budget production, deeply sensual and only growing ever more potent with age and repeated (fun fact: Rice was so acutely aware of the homophobia of Hollywood that she attempted to rewrite Louis the vampire as female and encourage them to cast Cher in the role to get the story made)

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

A journalist is stalked by Louis de Point du Lac (Pitt), a two-hundred year old vampire who wishes to tell his sad tale of eternal bloodlust. Following the loss of his wife and child, Louis is plagued by guilt and wishes for death, a wish granted by the vampire that has been watching him from afar. Lestat de Lioncourt (Cruise), lonely as he is, turns Louis and they begin a reluctant life together in which manipulation and possession reign. I mean, so much more happens in the film, I could relay each plot point but it would only go to ruin the overall story. There is violence, good vs. evil, an exploration of parenthood, the conflict of love and obsession. Most of all, it’s about ones man’s guilt, his apathy to himself and what he must be to live. The relationships Louis enters into are often devious, stemming from desperation in the perpetual loneliness these vampires will face. The story begs for the answer; what is evil? What is Love? What is freewill? What makes us human?

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

Jordan did something phenomenal when adapting Anne Rice’s work of the same name (also one of my favourite books). Although Rice was credited as screenwriter, Jordan did many revisions to put the tale onto the big screen, and many of her works have not translated so well since. Even the casting, I can believe, was probably out of his hands; there are a lot of heartthrobs on show here and yet under his direction he manages to get some brilliant performances. Cruise is gnawing the set left right and centre and doing a grand job of it too. His interpretation of Lestat is near perfect and he is equal parts sexy, terrifying and heartbreakingly fragile. Meanwhile Pitt, who I am often left cold for, gives one of his best performances as the sensitive Louis – check out the execution scene, it hurts. Even Dunst is astounding. She’s so young yet manages to hold her own against the whole lot of them, capturing Claudia’s innocent years and her later hardened years as the promise of eternal youth plays its cruel cards against her. It’s her first major role, and she slays it.

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

Interview with the Vampire is Jordan’s most lavish production. The colours, the costumes, the sets: ugh is just ravishing to watch. Each frame is a gothic masterpiece. Jordan’s brush of magical realism to capture the change in worlds from human to vampire, his grounding of the stories sensationalist parts in opposition to the domestic dramas that unfold before us are just so... edible! That ending scene with Guns n Roses cover of Sympathy for the Devil is glorious and better yet, the prostitute scene in which Lestat torments Louis (and not for the first time) whilst playing with his prey. I could probably go on for hours about why each scene is great, possibly even ranking them and maybe even re-enacting it if someone asked nicely.

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

There’s also a lot of heart here. Following the death of River Phoenix, who was slated to play the journalist four weeks prior to filming, he was replaced by Christian Slater. Slater gave up his salary, choosing to donate it to all of Phoenix’s favoured charities and the film was dedicated to the young star who passed away too young. I think it’s a film made with a lot of passion, a memorable blockbuster of the nineties that is from a time much in the past, when there was more to see and choose from, where studios still took risks. You would never see something of this kind now. It’s a product of its time, and yet it lives as everlastingly as the vampires that haunt its tale.

Interview with the Vampire (Warner Home Video, 1994)

 

Well, that’s it folks. My Top Ten Neil Jordan films for all to enjoy; funny how, for someone who feels like they can’t make words do things, once going, I can’t seem to shut up about a movies I really like. I hope you find a new favourite and let me know if there’s any you would add to the list.

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It’s New Year. It’s not a new me.


There was no article delivered by me in December. Dreadful. I got a new-ish job, worked a lot, felt like shit, lost track of who I was and entered a wrath-inducing battle with a corner shop to release a parcel for me of a long awaited pre-order of the exclusive Evangelion box set (Third Party couriers are conmen: not breaking news). Excluding Christmas, everything in the run up to it was a total loss to me.

My Rage personified - Violence Voyager (Ujicha, 2018)

I broke all the promises I made to myself this year, proof as to why I never promise anything to anyone else. I never edited the feature I wrote, I never finished the first draft of a novel I thought I had a feel for and I never got on top of my short projects. What a joke, right?


In theory it would be good to be kind to myself, but when one is in the endless cycle that the filthy, X-rated Anxiety, it suddenly becomes infuriating. It’s as though I’m addicted to fear, addicted to failure. I’m like one of those captives, who no longer want to hope yet find the glimmers of it when a tap on the bars at their window reminds them that maybe someone came for them. Only, there is a magpie, throwing pebbles to pass the time. I don’t really know what magpies do but it seems accurate. That glimmer of hope; that warm fuzzy feeling of things wildly out of my reach, that fantasia I can slip into without having to lift a finger exists for such a brief time and yet I get sky-high on it. Until it's gone, reality smothers me and I go, numb, I guess.

A Mood - An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018)

So I can’t sit there and go, ‘Cool, I’ll try this and then that and I’ll be inspired and write something and do something’ because I won’t. For one; this fatigue that runs so deep within me bears a weight older than this planets rotation and I believe it is rooted in millennial misery, decaying planets and unsettling futures and blah, blah, blah… What can I do about it? Get on with it? It’s hard to do when the future isn’t there anymore. Not the one I picture, anyway. So I need to do what I want to do; not what anyone else thinks my generation or my being should do which is a great mindset to be in but not so great to play out.

"Giving up halfway is worse than never trying at all" - Misato Katsuragi, End of Evangelion

I don’t know really. I’m a huge mess. It’s a grotesque sensation. I feel the bile raging just below the surface, at myself incidentally. I saw some amazing movies this past year that niggled that little part of me that loves to write and create and talk about the things I love. I’ll do a little round up at the end of this just to make it a lil’ positive. But why didn’t I do anything with it? It’s strange how stunted I fell I have become, I don’t know. The creativity is there but my bullshit and the crap, the pressure that comes from being me is stopping me. Often I wonder what it would be like to go live in a hole and see how I would like it. It is has power outlets, DVD’s, video games and books, perhaps a couple of dogs, I would be in paradise.


Would I though? Well, still yes, but once a month I might just want to pop my head outside and suffer the world. Or would I start dreading that, feel the incineration of the sun’s rays on my skin, the clawing prickles of cold, harsh wind, recoil at the pinches of each plop of raindrops. The hole would be a bit nicer. If a day came where I could no longer enjoy those things, it would be a life unlived. Notice, however, that I have not mentioned physical ‘human beans’.

Another Mood - The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011)

If Covid taught me anything, it’s that I hate what we as a race have become; selfish, greedy and delusional. Yet I’m the one that feels bad about myself? Gosh in that context I should wise up. I want to, I really do, but as long as that self-doubt is chilling out in the lounge of my brain box, I won’t be able to get that squatter out. The legalities are too complex.


What would I like to do this year? I’m not sure. Every year I hope for something, something only I can make happen, and then I shoot myself in both feet and some passers-by just for good measure. Can I still say I hope to finish this draft? I hope to watch all the movies I splurged on out of some need for validation as a collector, film lover and for all I believe I will miss out on the in the future. I hope to read all the books on my pile that grew three times in size this year. I hope to do more articles; I kind of still like screaming into the abyss about things I like. I hope to write more short stories and to write a one page of some ideas I’ve had locked up in a chest stored beneath the very couch the self-doubt squatter has claimed as his own. There’s a load of empty beer cans around that couch, left over Maccy d’s that smell like hell and he, the squatter, is a weirdly light sleeper. He makes me feel like a stranger in my own home.

That Big ole' Sky - All About Lily Chou-Chou (Iwai, 2001)

Most of all I hope to find whatever it is I’m looking for. Not just the locked chest, but that thing that has always been in me, that I can hear singing on the tail end of a breeze, smell in the bloom spring, can feel in the tantalizing sting arrival of winter and see in the gentle hues of dawn. I must find that thing that is so heavy in me. Whilst it is dormant, or hiding, or lost… whatever it is, I hope to find it this year. All this searching is absolute exhausting.


Like Shinji Ikari (another mandatory Evangelion reference) had to keep getting in that bloody robot, the one he kept running from, instead not only hiding himself away from the problem, the terrifying Angels but from responsibility and everyone who knew him, dwelling in his own unhappiness and never being able to connect to anyone, or doing so and losing all he gained from that leap of faith, I'm scared to jump. I'm scared of that robot. But I'm also sacred of the end of the world, the end of the future that for now I can fantasise about but later may discover was a waste of a dream. Can dreams even be a waste?

"I don't think anyone is born to live. It's something you have to find for yourself." - Tohru Honda, Fruits Basket

I think I have to keep fighting. That’s not left me yet, doesn’t feel quite ready to. Write, read, watch and learn. That’s what keeps me ticking over. Without them, it’s a moonless night where the stars may shine but all comfort and ease seems to have gone astray. When I do one of these things, all of these things, the moon comes out.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (Anno, 1995)

A creature of pure drivel as always has come out this afternoon to unload a whopping mass of self-consciousness and emotional baggage. Like I said though, what’s New about me? Let’s see if I could manage more articles this year, try to do things because I like it and for nothing else. Is life on this planet for us to have a nice time or to just suffer ‘til the end? A bit of suffering is fine, love it, it’s part of being human, in fact I’m a total freak for it in any story, give me that bitter-sweetness and fatalism to any great novel and they have my heart for life – no reason why I should do so all year round. But maybe I wanted to sprinkle some positivity as I bow out on today’s rant. Optimism? Total lunacy of course.


 

The year was not entirely lost in my time of nervous confusion. Some You May know - I never shut up about them - others, I displayed some form of self-control but in the end, I liked them all very much and they are the ones that have, insidiously or otherwise, wriggled their way into my conscious daily thought. Here are my Top 20 Favourite New Watches of 2021:


20. Death By Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)

19. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

18. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, 1985)

17. It’s Okay, That’s Love (Kim Kyu-tae, 2016, TV)

16. Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993)

15. The Taste of Tea (Katsuhito Ishii, 2004)

14. All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunju Iwai, 2001)

13. Woodsman and the Rain (Shuichi Okita, 2011)

12. Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

11. Violence Voyager (Ujicha, 2018)

10. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018)

9. Mind Game (Masaaki Yuasa, 2004)

8. Blue Spring (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2002)

7. Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)

6. Fruits Basket (Various, 2019 -2021, TV)

5. Poetry (Lee Chang Dong, 2010)

4. Violet Evergarden (Various, 2018 – 2021, TV + Film)

3. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021)

2. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2021)

1. The Buddhist Trilogy (Akio Jissoji, 1970 – 1972)

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  • Kerry Chambers
“If it’s possible for one person to be hurt by another, then it’s possible for that person to be healed by another.” – Hatori Sohma

I'm back, making more excuses for you all. Besides Gintama, Ghibli and Ghosts Stories (and Bebop; Live action just makes me crave the original) being my constant go-to’s, I found a few things to get me all feely inside. In fact, they have been unforgettable. Laughing, crying and all the mucky bits in between, these anime have been a rather nice addition to my viewing. I have been inactive. I’ve not watched a whole lot of stuff to be honest and I couldn’t tell you what I’ve been doing instead (it’s classified?).

Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animations, 2018)

Anyway, it wasn’t spent watching all of this anime. This was done over the second wave, when I needed reminding of how to feel all those emotions, and was scarred by so much good viewing whilst coming to terms with a new normalcy I wished had less contact in it. I suppose the old emotion box needs some computing. From the state of this blog I probably have way too many feelings to compute and should shove them away in a musty drawer where I keep the undesirable-but-emergency pants.

Dawn - Fruits Basket (2019)

I’d be lying if I said this article wasn’t to make up for stuff I missed watching on my last list – I’ve seen more since and my list of favourite has expanded rather outrageously. I don’t want to edit the old lists. I just want to tell everyone things they don’t need (or probably want) to know. Let’s get started


Honourable mentions :

- Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2011), 1 Season, 11 eps – Dir. Tatsuyuki Nagai

Cried.But if I included all the weepie ones we would be making a totally different list.

- Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999), Film – Dir. Hiroyuki Okiura

Once upon a time I was going to write about fairy tales in Japanese cinema... and then I felt too dumb to do it. So I never got to talk about this film. It’s remained in my mind and it’s a bleak direction I’ve taken this post (so soon, too soon?), especially considering that I like to imagine that I’m not quite so miserable. A desolate tale examining a man’s battle with humanity, his own relinquishment of it as he commits barbaric acts in the name of causes he does not understand, Jin-roh is a unique addition to the impressive anime coming from Japan during the decade.

- Moomin (1990-1991),TV Series

A Japanese team made it, it counts; they love the laughter, living, sharing, caring and giving… I needed them this year!


13. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (2016)

1 Season, 12 Eps – Dir. Shinji Takamatsu

“When you aim to reach high places, you may find yourself on narrow footing and feel disheartened. And then your confidence will falter, and you will find it ever harder to believe in yourself. If you ever feel that you can’t believe in yourself, please believe in your friends.” – Sakamoto

This is so dumb. I love it; a ridiculous comedy to begin our odyssey together. You see? I am capable of light heartedness that doesn’t carry some deeper meaning or go into some dark, ugly places. Sakamoto is that anime that gets mad weird pretty quick, plays on all those outrageous tropes that have kind of defined Shoujo and Shonen storytelling all these years and produces an over the top entity all its own. Probably not a starting point for anyone looking to get into anime, comedy but once one is familiar it can crack one up right good.

Sakamoto is a mysterious student who joins the school year and alters the lives of all who meets him. He is strange, totally overly invested in the simplest of tasks he is set, such as catching rogue bees and wiping down desks, yet the girls fall for him, the teachers adore him and even the school ruffians aspire to be him. Best in his classes and everything else he does (watch him save that bird) he enraptures all who meet him. This description doesn’t quite cover the experience of watching the show however; it gives the term extra a whole new meaning. Highlights include a trip to a karaoke bar, a game of cat and mouse with his school pals mother and an attempt to extinguish a fire.


12. Josee, The Tiger and The Fish (2020)

Film – Dir. Kotaro Tamura

The Conch Shell - Josee (Tamura, 2020)

Twas the year of the Fish. Korea had a remake of the original 2003 Japanese film that very year, meanwhile Studio Bones was having its own redo. And managed rather well. Despite the excessive sobbing of a fellow cinema lover in the row in front of me, lapping up a sentimentality that I personally felt the film did not quite drench itself in, it was a lovely watch. You see, it’s not every day we get stories exploring disability and more so romances. Ultimately a story of resilience, Josee also captures that familiar essence that makes Anime slice-of-life so enjoyable; some of it may be formulaic, (what isn’t?) but it exceeds this by plunging into far darker waters. I may have gotten a little wet-eyed at this bit, but I kept the noise down.

A Trip to the Beach - Josee (Tamura, 2020)

A student is saving money so that he can study oceanography abroad and is need of another job to help realize his dreams. A chance encounter with the titular Josee, rescuing her from her own runaway wheelchair, he is eventually hired by her grandmother to help out around the house. Although disliking him at first, Josee comes to warm to him as they discover a mutual love of all things ocean, and begin to make secret trips out together around the city, to the library and (of course) the sea. It’s super nice!


11. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (2018)

1 Season, 13 eps – Dir. Sôichi Masui

“I don’t mind if I only had one person. Even if the whole world hated me, I could keep living if that person needed me.” – Sakuta Azusagawa

For something so brief, it took me too long to watch. But upon finishing this series, I came to understand why it was one of the most popular anime of that year. The slice-of-life, as I have so mentioned before, can get old and the school drama tropes can get rather bland, and grating. But when the creators on these Anime productions get it right (and when the original Mangaka slay it), we see something that far exceeds expectations of the drama and becomes strikingly poignant. In the end everything is a rehash, it’s the voice that is given to the material that makes it new, and much like the previous entry, this takes the teen dilemma into new, heart-wrenching territory; that territory being ‘Adolescence Syndrome’.

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Masui, 2018)

A high school boy who keeps to himself encounters a girl dressed as bunny in the school library. Yet he is the only one who can see her. Following this meeting, he forms a friendship with her, discovering that she is a senior, an actress on hiatus and that she suffers from Adolescence Syndrome, something that he has also suffered from in the past as well as his younger sister, caused by insecurity and instability during puberty. Despite this knowledge, he seeks to discover why the actress has become invisible to others and finds in her a comfort he never thought he’d know.

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Masui, 2018)

The fear of vanishing, being forgotten, fading into the background is essentially what every teen goes through. It’s also their conundrum. You could have all the friends in the world but still no one understands you, right? Sometimes you want to be seen and heard, but other times you want to fade away, because it’d just easier that way. Sometimes you need to hide; from bullies, from family, from responsibility. Perhaps much of the success for this show is because so many others never felt like they grew out of that part of life but that’s just part of it; maybe it’s just that reality really sucks and there was never anything to grow out of at all. You see why I couldn’t forget this show? It really had me thinking.


10. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)

Film – Dir. Mari Okada

A Mother's Love - Maquia (Okada, 2018)

Many a lake was formed upon concluding this film; I would bury my head in the nearest ditch and weep until I felt the salty water tickle the tip of my nose, and promptly, I would pass on from my sodden triumph in search of another pit in which to shed my tears. That’s right, I cried again. A lot. For good reason too. Maquia did that thing, the thing Wolf Children (Hosoda, 2014) did, and made it equally as tragic in a new, innovative way, focusing not just on the struggles of motherhood (not at all on wolves - if that is the thing you thought I was referring to, I did actually mean mothers), the harrowing reality of war and learning to let go. It’s all made so much more upsetting by the premise. Okada has been behind many powerful stories, penning some favourites of mine including The Anthem of the Heart (2015), Anohana (2011) and Toradora (2008) and this was her first feature in which she helmed yet it feels the work of a seasoned filmmaker, her vision uniquely gentle.

Maquia (Okada, 2018)

In a fantasy realm, an ancient race exists closed off from the rest of the world in a sort of utopia, leading long lives and often sought after for their eternal youth. A young girl, already hundreds of years old by their standards, wonders about the life beyond and is warned never to fall in love for it will be certain death for her. Following a raid on the city, the young girl escapes to the outside and stumbles upon a horrific scene. A baby cries, wrapped tightly in the grip of his deceased mothers arms, protected from the fatal accident that took her life. She takes him, deciding to raise him as her own and makes a life for them both, often mistaken for a troubled young mother. However, as time passes and the boy grows each day, she does not change. Soon, in the life that is brief to her, her son becomes a man and decides to set out on his own in the world. She cannot forget him… Then I cried.

Maquia (Okada, 2018)

9. Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Film – Dir. Eiichi Yamamoto

‘"...but I want to pursue my love, even if it means going to the devil" - Jeanne

Yo, some of those feelings I feel are repulsion, anger all in some kind of hypnotic concoction. Anyone who is anyone will find themselves having some sort of physical or emotional reaction to this film, beyond its animation and bleak tale, and it is certainly hard to forget. The Devil has never been so… phallic. It’s the seventies, who knows what they were smoking. Part of the erotic Animerama series (in which the previous two entries A Thousand and One Nights (1969) and Cleopatra (1970) were directed by legendary Mangaka Osamu Tezuka), it took a major tonal shift both visually and narratively. Where the others had been overtly sexual and often times slapstick in their delivery, Belladonna weaves a sultry fable, mostly of watercolour stills; the style is sharp, a psychedelic Gothicism throughout.

On her wedding night to a man she is wildly in love with, a peasant woman is raped by a local lord. A tale of revenge unfolds when she turns to the dark lord himself to aid her on her vengeful path, granting her witchly powers and giving herself to erotic desires and madness. Now picture that story with some of the most gorgeous art you’ll see in animation. A wild ride, right? Truly a masterpiece, it was the best of the Animerama films and probably the most polarizing, still shocking and graphic almost fifty years on. It has to be seen to be believed and that it got made is pretty impressive; that it still holds up to this day is even better.

Solitude - Belladonna of Sadness (Yamamoto, 1973)

8. After the Rain (2018)

1 Season, 12 eps – Dir. Ayumu Watanabe

“… even if it couldn’t fly away there might be some happiness it could find by staying there. It might even forget about the others. But if that swallow didn’t fly away because it gave up trying… then I’m sure it’d stare up at the sky everyday… forever and ever.” - Kondo

This show is so underrated. I have briefly mentioned it before in a previous post but damn, I love it so much. A little taboo, it never goes too far and eventually paints a rather tender portrait of two broken people. Subsequently, I’ve managed a few rewatches of this and love the space it treads, the characters it portrays and it’s accomplishment at portraying mundanity.

A teenage girl, following an injury, has quit the track team despite being the best in the school. To fill her spare time, she clocks in hours at her job as waitress in a small diner on the other side of town, a place she also finds solace in the platonic (although she wants more) company of her middle-aged manager, a divorced father of one and a failed novelist. Despite the age gap, the two get along well and over time begin to confide in one another, forced to face their fears and failures along the way. Describing it again, it still sounds sketchy. It really isn’t. Two lost souls floating around this complicated world is far from problematic, in fact the show manages to warp those tasteless conventions that this sort of premise could lend itself to and studies something more poignant between its two characters who have reached different points in their lives but are facing similar hurdles.

Kondo and Akira - After the Rain (Watanabe, 2018)

7. Mind Game (2004)

Film – Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

“Fear takes the shape we're willing to give it.”- Nishi

Mind-blowing more like. This will not be the last time I mention Yuasa on this list (nor is it the first time I've talked about him, I'm a huge fan of 2017's The Night is Short, Walk On Girl), his filmography is an absolute dream, a term I use both emotively and as, probably, a marvellous way to encapsulate the experience of his works. Capturing an unease of being, an existentialism most often found in our younger years, he uses his platform to give the chaos of this mindset some kind of shape; a glorious mess of visuals. Not only does this early entry of the director now officially rank in my (very long) list of best films of all time, it also includes some other major firsts for me. Like, it’s made me wonder about ranking the best sex scenes in cinema because this film has the best sex scene I’ve seen in animation. I have never seen anything like it before, unlikely to be found in any live-action works. It’s so good, moving but also incredibly sexy, a metaphorical journey of two tentative lovers and not in a pervy way… I promise.

A Confrontation - Mind Game (Yuasa, 2004)

Following a violent encounter with two yakuza, a down on his luck lay-about goes to heaven and back again. Upon returning, he is united with his childhood sweetheart, suddenly on the run and entering some major psychedelic trips along the way that lead to a rather unexpected place. It’s an awful description. All the best movies are. Yuasa has a way with visuals; the elongation and morphing of limbs, cartoonish expressions and actions that seem more familiar to a Looney Toons short create this uncanny reality. Not to mention the use of block colours, and specifically in this film, the occasional dabbling of superimposed photos to replace characters faces, it’s all great leaps of experimentation. He takes the physical form, exaggerates everything it can do to mimic the emotional turmoil of his characters, and I can still sit there and say, ‘I feel that, my dude.’ The most impressive of all though, is that Yuasa remembers to pack it full of heart. Giving it substance, we see the humanity through the slapstick and invited into the madness of his exciting worlds.


6. Devilman Crybaby (2018)

1 Season, 10 eps – Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

“Crying for other people and thinking about other people. That might just be a fantasy. But if it’s a person with a heart like that, even if that person is a demon or a human, I’ll accept that person.” – Miki Makimura

What did I say? Told you he’d be back at it again, and soon… Yuasa returns with more mad sex. And homoerotic tragedy. And Stomach-churning violence. And misery. Ten episodes make you feel a lot of things… Bleaker that the previous entry but still bold, Devilman is another great example of the weird but wonderful style of its helmsman. If you have read the original Manga, deemed quite rightly as a classic, or seen the less than ideal eighties adaptation, Yuasa is not the first person to come to mind when adapting this melancholic tale. However, with some modernisation, new character designs to die for (Akira…), Evangelion references and a pulpy soundtrack to get you right in the funk of its hellish world, he breathed new life into a relatively timeless tale.

Friendship, betrayal and love lie at the heart of this story, biblical in scale. Two childhood friends are reunited after years. The cold Ryo, seeking to expose the rapid increase of demons descending on the world and the people they inhabit, incites the help of his wimpy friend Akira who, as the title may suggest, is a total crybaby. During their infiltration of a famed hellmouth nightclub, Akira is possessed. Able to resist the monster that has merged with his body, Akira becomes the Devilman, a demon who still harbours his human heart, now enhanced both physically and mentally. Together they seek to find and destroy as many more of the monsters as they can. All the while, Akira pines for his classmate and track teammate, the pious and kind Miki, whose family he has lived with for years in the mysterious absence of his parents. Ryo, on the other hand, is not revealing everything to the man who he considers his best friend. What follows is a study on the ugliness of humanity, the redemption of us all and the tragedy of mankind’s greatest crux; love.

Ryo and Akira - Devilman Crybaby (Yuasa, 2018)

5. Weathering with You (2019)

Film – Dir. Makoto Shinkai

“Who cares if we don't see the sun shine ever again? I want you more than any blue sky.” – Hodaka

I’ve just watched this a lot. Saw it in the cinema, then like three times on home release and still cry at the line about the seeing her over the sunshine. 2016’s Your Name may be my favourite, but Shinkai shanked me hard and painfully right here on this film, and I haven’t talked about it yet so there. If there is anything that the director is most famous for it is his handling of light, its reflections and glow, on a large scale and intimate scale, enhancing the set pieces of his teenage epics of recent years. Predominantly self-taught, it’s a true wonder to behold. And, for me, it was his last three films where I feel he balanced the visuals with his narratives and characters. Weathering With You, because of this, is a delight for the senses. Helps that he got the RADWIMPS back again to score this one.

Sunshine Girl - Weathering With You (Shinkai, 2019)

During the rainy season, a runaway ends up in Tokyo, finding work with an occult magazine publishing company that investigate urban legends. Eventually he encounters an orphan girl working in a fast food restaurant who can manipulate the weather. Together they form a business in which they summon the sunshine for those willing to pay. However, things go awry when the weather stops behaving and the police hunt down the two youths when their troubled pasts catch up with them. It all becomes rather epic. With intricate characters, side stories given more screen time than previous works, Weathering With You certainly feels a more fleshed out. I may prefer shooting stars, but rainy days aren’t too bad either.


4. Space Dandy (2014)

2 Seasons, 26 eps – Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe

“I think I either know something, or have no clue at all.” – Dandy

Funny, very funny, sometimes sad and totally insane, never-ending entertainment; everyone needs to see some Space Dandy. I was late to the game on this one. My previous list of favourite anime featured three Watanabe shows (guess what my favourite was… this girl will always be bebopping), but by that point I hadn’t seen this. When I finally got around to it, I binged it like there was no tomorrow and then wondered why I felt that ominous emptiness inside. I cried and laughed and then had my universe expanded. Couldn’t really tell you why or how. Playing on vintage sci-fi, pop culture, self-references and reality bending, Dandy is a comedy series that is incapable of taking itself seriously and somehow still getting you totally wrapped up in madness of the future. May I also add, that the voice acting is simply delightful. Oh, and the soundtrack is impeccable, as to be expected of a Watanabe production.

Dropkix - Space Dandy (Watanabe, 2013)

Dandy is an air-headed bounty hunter who, with the help of his robot QT and an alien cat named Meow, seeks out rare undiscovered extra-terrestrials for reward money. Travelling across space and galaxies, they are pretty much always down on their luck, penniless and spending much of their free time slobbing, looking at porn or at the universal chain restaurant Boobies. Dandy loves Boobies. Despite this description, it’s actually an incredibly clever show. Genre blending, defying even, it bounces from set piece to new tonal shifts, with pretty much a new plot every week in an every shifting reality. We see Dandy and the team trapped in a Groundhog Day like loop, sucked into wormholes on the hunt for the best bowl of ramen, attending high school in a musical way, forming the best short-lived band of all time and even becoming and adjusting to life as a Zombie. Anything is possible in Dandy and he pulls it all off, somehow. One of the funniest shows I have ever watched, if you need a laugh but want a bit more from a chuckle, then do yourself a Dandy. Also, where else are you going to find the beautiful love story between a vacuum and a coffee pot?


3. The Tatami Galaxy (2010)

1 Season, 11 eps – Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

“Always dreaming of the unrealistic, I never looked at what I had right around me” - Watashi

The last time I bring up Yuasa, I promise. For many this is the show that perfectly embodies the director’s works and his original voice; I would have to agree. Tatami Galaxy has a feeling all of its own. A conflict of youth, of expectation versus the crushing real world; a living-in-the-now story that succeeds over its original source material, this show is fast-paced, full-speed ahead and so clever. It’s another slice-of-life of sorts that totally shakes up what could be very generic. I slayed this in an evening, finding each episode passing me by and wanting to know more and more of the delusions of the college student at the heart of this story, the fantasies that are sapping him of a fulfilling life. Perhaps it was all just far too relatable for me; Yuasa’s captured that displacement of youth. The disappointment.

A college student has encountered all sorts of people in his life at university, but a meeting with a demi-god allows his to relive his past in order to win the heart of the girl of his dreams, always on the cusp of his existence. Turning back the clock, meeting the same old faces, embarking on outrageous escapades, bizarre love quadrangles and getting lost in the mania of other people’s lives, the student is still too focused on all he never had. Eventually, he seeks the security of his 4 ½ Tatami lodgings, disappointed when each time his experiences do not live up to the rose-tinted campus life of his dreams. Everything I have discussed about Yuasa up until now is used here, to the best of his abilities. The cartoonish antics, the exaggeration, the colours, the characterizations; it’s just a total conglomeration of a storytellers skills coming together. He nails it with the soul of the show, perhaps because there is something so uncomfortably familiar to us all, longing for lives we do not have and missing out on what is truly important. The series is concise, hectic and wild and all in its favour, leaving perhaps making the biggest impact.

Rose tinted Campus Life - The Tatami Galaxy (Yuasa, 2010)

2. Fruits Basket (2019-2021)

3 Seasons, 63 eps – Dir. Yoshihide Ibata

“It’s not always easy to see the good in people. In some people, you might even doubt that it’s there at all. But if you can somehow, find a way to believe…sometimes that’s all it takes to help someone, to give them the strength to find the good in themselves.” – Tohru Honda

How to make me feel 101 – Fruits Basket, the Redo. I’m not alone when I say that the original adaptation left much to be desired. But with the manga being complete, in 2019 we were blessed with a new retelling of the beloved classic, in all its finished glory. With it, it blew the original out of the park and took on a whole new life; I laugh, I cry and I play the theme songs on repeat. Plus I can’t choose a favourite Zodiac member, it’s always changing and it’s simply too overwhelming… Hattori? Shigure? Hatsuharu? Do you see my dilemma? More importantly, Fruits Baskets is the kindest anime of all time, a story of struggling people learning to forgive themselves, accept themselves and to love and care for one another. I mean, a story like that quite obviously is going to set me off.

Summer - Fruits Basket (2019-2021)

Orphan Tohru lives in a tent in the woods, as you do, whilst her grandfather is staying with relatives during renovations. Not wanting to worry anyone and desiring to make it on her own in the world, Tohru chooses to keep this secret whilst balancing school work and her job as a cleaner. However, one day she is discovered by her classmate Yuki and his older cousin Shigure of the mysterious, illusive Sohma family, who happen to own the land that she, is living on. Before she can explain herself, a rockslide destroys her tent and they invite her to live with them. There’s a hiccup, however, when meeting another guest at the house, the wild, deeply troubled Kyo, an accident happens which leads to her embracing him. Twist; a revelation of the curse upon the Sohma’s, that when hugged by the opposite sex they transform into animals of the Zodiac.

Sounds super cute right? It is for a while, and then it gets deep and moving, horribly twisted as abuse and violence reign supreme under the thumb of the family head. Next thing you know the characters feel like family and you can’t stop watching but also desperately want to because they are all so very sad! Anyway, watch it. You’ll love it. It’s unforgettable, if a little twee at first, but sinister as it goes on. More importantly, its message is universal; it’s trust in the good in people boundless; a story that reminds us that Every Night Finds a Dawn.

Kyo and Tohru - Fruits Basket (2019-2021)

1. Violet Evergarden (2018-2021)

1 Season of 13 eps, 1 OVA + 2 Movies – Dir. Various

“You’re going to learn a lot of things, But it might be easier to keep living, if you didn’t learn them, if you didn’t know them. You don’t realize your body is on fire and burning up because of the things you did. You’ll understand one day. And then you’ll realize for the first time that you have many burns.” – Claudia Hodgins

Number one is super fun! Jokes, did you really think my final entry on this list would be anything but a soul-shattering, soggy mess of emotions? I actually think it should be illegal for something to be so bloody moving; Kyoto Animations has officially unwound my last nerve, I can never trust them again. Their art style, their attention to detail, the construction of their adaptations, their scores (Evan Call really did a number on my heart hear)… the list goes on and on and on as they repeatedly beat me with their mastery. Believe the hype. Violet Evergarden is perfection. It’s all over, far too soon, yet so wonderfully brought to a close. All jests and dramatics aside, when I finished the final movie the other weekend I genuinely no longer knew what to do with myself, the scope of the story of our little Violet had explored the very breadths and depth of human emotion, yet I still wasn’t ready for it (I also wasn’t ready to give up the jests and dramatics, defence mechanism I suppose).

Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animations, 2018)

A child soldier during the war, Violet is now alone in the world. She has lost her arms and they have been replaced with robust prosthetics, which she struggles to adjust to at first. All she has left is a beautiful brooch given to her by her guardian, Gilbert Bougainvillea who is now lost in action, the man most important to her and the final words he said to her: ‘I love you.’ Her quest begins as she seeks to understand what those words mean, joining a postal company as an Auto Memory Doll run by an old friend of Gilberts, in which she pens letters for people, finding just the right words to convey what they wish to say. It takes her time to learn her role and she encounters many people on her travels across the country, the friends she makes, learning to understand the scope of human relationships, searching for meaning, for a life all her own… and for Gilbert. This is something so very honest. Violet Evergarden encapsulates the theme of love and shows it for all the forms it takes, the bonds it makes. As much as it is about finding the words to say, we also see how much of what we do speaks volumes to those who mean the most to us. The anime celebrates life, and those we have and will love. It reminds us to forge our own paths, carry that sadness and renew it into remembrance.

There is romanticism to letters that will never fade. When Violet says, “No letter that could be sent deserves to go undelivered”, it strikes a chord in me. All those letters that were never received, nor sent, words lost in death and separation, the story holds up what is most important in this brief life of ours. Contrary to my own persona as I write about all these sorts of things, I’m a total cynic. But watching Violet Evergarden, it sparked an intense reaction from me, to my relief. Reminded of my capacity to care, to see the minuteness of our lives and the webs entwined throughout our lives, it’s what brings us all together. If I can remember that, then people are not quite so disappointing. How can I forget Violet Evergarden? It’s not an anime that should be forgotten, after all, it’s about the Love That Binds Us. Violet Evergarden tells us to live, no matter how mundane or unexciting that life is. Simply, live.

Gilbert - Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animations, 2018)

 

There you have it; thirteen anime I certainly couldn’t forget. Following rigorous weeks of dramatic overhauls in my life, I have managed to complete this, with the onslaught of exhaustion nipping at my heels, I’ll probably find myself returning to a lot of these. If you think I missed anything then check out my Top 20 Anime Films That Have Influenced Me and my Top 20 Anime series. Hope you’ve found a new favourite and catch you on the flippity flop.

The Scene - Mind Game (Yuasa, 2004)

"The root of all your evil is in always relying on one of your other possibilities to get your wish. You must accept that you are the person here, now, and that you cannot become anyone else other than that person. There is no way that you can lead some worthwhile college life and feel satisfied."

- Seitarô Higuchi, The Tatami Galaxy


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

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