Garden of Words (Jpn) (wiki)
The latest Makoto Shinkai film is not even a feature-length effort. Fifteen year old Akizuki tires of his schooldays and when it rains, skips class to go sketching in the park. One day he finds a woman sat on the bench, and over a series of encounters they become closer. It's just a shame she is one of his teachers at school, and getting on for twice his age.
Shinkai's latest is undeniably beautiful, but it shares that same airy melodrama feel that plagued Children Who Chase Lost Voices that I saw a couple of years ago and brings with it those clever but ultimately unnecessary sweeping shots of birds flying and quick scene changes. It has moments where it touches on some genuine emotional oomph but never quite makes it, and you always have at the back of your mind - 'wait, this kid wants to design womens shoes for a living?!'. 6/10
Hal (Jpn) (wiki)
Sometime in the near future, not much has changed in the version of the world. One thing that has is that artificial intelligence has reached the point where humanoid beings behave as close to humans as makes no difference. Though this might set the scene for an I:Robot-style thriller, this one is far gentler, concentrating on a benign 'helper' robot. One that is made to resemble a person who has somehow died, to take their place and help their relatives cope.
Unit 001 is changed to resemble Hal, a young man whose partner Kurumi is having serious emotional problems coping without him, refusing to leave her cramped bed. Hal makes as best a job he can of seeing to her wishes but Hal soon learns that his original self had another life outside the cozy brief he was given, and apparent childhood friend Ryu reappearing out of nowhere in pursuit for a debt they both owe clouds the water further.
For a sub-hour film, Hal packs a lot in, and does some very clever plot inverting to keep things fresh. A diverse range of secondary characters gives it more depth and was definitely the better of the two films. 7.5/10
Patema Inverted (Jpn) (wiki)
In 2067 - yet again - the world we know has been razed to the ground after some fool decided to try and solve the energy crisis by messing around with gravity. The world suffered as the earths' gravitational pull was voided and buildings and people floated off the planet into nothingness.
Somehow, a small portion of the people were unaffected by this (yes, I know - bear with me here) and its these who have risen up to be the new world order of Aiga. The tales of the original incident have been twisted over time, and now schoolkids are taught that those who perished were snatched into the sky for their sins. Rumours abound of 'Inverts' living under the earth are as yet no more than that.
Patema is one such invert, and her torchlit searching of the outer extremities of her subterranean world bring her dangerously to the surface where she encounters Age, a disillusioned boy who can't bring himself to see the sky as a forbidden place. Their meeting brings fresh focus to their desired eradication by Aiga's totalitarian leader.
Though the whole race supremacy angle is pushed a little heavily, Patema Inverted is a fine film with high-quality visuals and animation, and little to perceive as computer graphics. It doesn't get too serious and regularly makes inventive use of the gravity mechanic, which if you can suspend disbelief for a moment about how two people can be affected by gravity in opposite directions for a moment, makes for an enjoyable experience. 8/10
Steins;Gate: The Movie (Jpn) (wiki)
I've not seen any of the popular Steins;Gate anime or manga yet (primer) - it appears to reside around self-proclaimed mad scientist Okabe and his quirky compadres doing time travel and Sliders-style world leaping, the 'gates' of the title representing portals between the worlds using all sorts of scientific license. This movie uses the main characters, but appears to take place in an alternate universe not present in the series, where the main characters take on slightly altered roles; the idea being that Okabe has just leapt into this place after a lot of time spent trying to undo some pretty messed up situations elsewhere in the multiverse.
But it isn't long before Okabe starts having headaches and flashbacks to his previous worlds. They become longer and more vivid until he disappears completely, leaving his friends not remembering him at all, yet feeling that something is missing from their lives.
Steins;Gate newcomers like myself may well find the comprehension of the series an uphill struggle at first, although I would recommend persevering through this as the middle of the film is particularly strong in it's character development. One-dimensional, forgettable comedy characters start to take shape and be people in their own right, and an interest begins to form in their fate. If you can see some of the original series first it is probably a bonus, but it's a pretty good film in it's own right. 7/10
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo (Jpn) (wiki)
Unfortunately LIFF has not been as consistent as it could have with regard to successive sequels to films. In 2010, it screened the second Evangelion remake, but didn't bother to screen the first one before that (I also note that Berzerk 3 isn't present this year either - come on LIFF!)
Anyway, my mind a little fusty over seeing the last film three years ago, I was quite unprepared for the visual onslaught that comes with it. Shinji is rescued from an Angel and wakes up fourteen years after the second film, having not aged one bit. Somehow, Ayunami survived and is now piloting her Eva unit alone, since Rei has also disappeared. Nerv seems to have been erased off the earth, and it's successor, Wille, is manned by a desperate group of the remains of humanity, most of which perished in the Third Impact, dedicated to removing all trace of Nerv; Shinji is thus not accepted well.
Trying to follow what happens in most of Evangelion without familiarity with the considerable canon behind it, and I have to confess, I was horribly lost during the battling scenes, where not only do lots of things get exploded, ripped apart of blasted to bits, but also lots of people say lots of things constantly. Fortunately, it's Evangelion, and so I would be interested in going back to the first two films and then watching this again with a better sense of what I'm watching. I'm going to trust the makers and say that my diligence will be rewarded. 7.5/10
How We Played the Revolution (Lit/Fra) (review)
How strange it was to end the Anime day with a distinctly non-Japanese documentary. I could have seen a print of Akira to celebrate it's 25 years, which was tempting, but I've seen it a few times already so passed in favour of an unknown. As it turns out, the unknown happened to be the story of Lithuanian independance, gained through jeans and rock music.
Back in the 80's, Lithuania (and Latvia and Estonia) were part of Russia, and that's how Russia liked it. Unable to fly their own flags of even sing their anthems, the Lithuanians were getting pretty sick of it. Rumours of the Soviet economy being on it's knees offered hope that something would budge.
Enter Antis - a rock band made up of.. architects? They started off as a joke show as an alternative to traditional new years' celebrations and became popular in their own right. Their style of singing was mocking of authority and they struck a chord, much of it down to the lead singer, Algirdas Kaušpėdas, a kind of arrogant Freddie Mercury, who strutted around on stage slagging off those who needed their pomposity bubbles pricked.
As their popularity grew, the revolutionary leanings of the members began to surface, and while touring, they encouraged the local Lithuanians to exercise their long-forgotten right to celebrate their country. At the same time of Gorbachevs Perestroika, they also claimed to have sided with the government, something that the powers that be approved of greatly for popularity and party funds, but also made them at Antis' mercy as they could undermine what the government was saying without recrimination.
Told through found footage and the testimonies of those around at the time (though strangely we only briefly see a modern-day Kaušpėdas and hear nothing of his opinions), it is reminiscent of Gnarr, as a visual record of a genuine political upheaval thanks to passionate individuals standing up for their passions and against corruption and incompetence, and as such shares much of the satisfying sense that given the right ingredients, long-ingrained corrupt entities can be toppled and something genuinely new and better can be put in it's place. 7.5/10