Saturday, September 27, 2003

Love Hina [TV Series] (Yoshiaki Iwasaki, 2000) 

As I understand it, the scenario put forth in Love Hina is a fairly common one in anime: a frustrated (both sexually and otherwise) young man is forced by circumstance to live with a bunch of beautiful young women. In this case, it's Keitaro, frustrated by his failure to get into the prestigious Tokyo University, somehow roped into becoming the manager of a girls' dormitory when his grandmother goes on vacation. Many hijinks ensue, etc.

The above description makes Love Hina sound like a puerile piece of crap, but it's actually a pretty sweet story about the similarly-aged Keitaro and Naru (a girl also studying for Tokyo U) falling in love despite their best efforts to convince themselves otherwise. Quirky, eccentric characters populate the margins -- for example, there's foreign exchange student Su, who always cuts in with an embarrassing-yet-truthful observation at just the wrong time, and shy middle-schooler Shinobu, who suffers mightily (as only a 13-year-old girl would) over her crush on savior Keitaro (he "rescues" her in the second episode by allowing her to live at the Hinata Apartments; it makes sense when you see it).

Thankfully, all this angst doesn't manage to bog down the series; Love Hina is a self-aware comedy that nearly always plays its characters' neuroses for laughs. Slapstick abounds; whenever Keitaro stumbles into a not-so-innocent-looking position with a girl, he's sure to be sent flying through the roof of the building (the violence of the women comes off less misogynist than you'd think; one of them is even a trained swordsman). The jokes are about as well-timed as possible, and for a series with such a familiar premise, it catches you off-guard a surprising number of times. That's because the series creators have wisely filled a predictable situation with unpredictable characters; you can't be sure of how any one of them will react. The story (about whether or not Keitaro will find his "dream girl," get into Tokyo U, live happily ever after, and so forth) stalls several times over the course of 27 episodes, but the light energy and brisk pacing of the episodes makes up for that. Even when Love Hina is just spinning its wheels, it isn't dull. B+

(There's more Love Hina available once you're done with the regular episodes, including a Christmas Special, a Spring Special, and Love Hina Again, which I haven't yet been able to locate. The Christmas show is recommended; it fits right in with the rest of the series, and winds up unexpectedly poignant. The Spring Special shows, for the first time, the tone and character definitions getting away from the creators -- the songs are particularly insufferable -- but it's a must-see for completists who want to know about the result of Keitaro's university application.)


Before this thing gets too unwieldy, I'm going to start an archive page right here, for handy cataloguing needs. Reviews will be listed alphabetially by title, and this post will be linked to on the sidebar.

Along Came Polly
The Big Bounce
The Butterfly Effect
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jersey Girl
The Ladykillers
The Passion of the Christ
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
Starsky & Hutch
Walking Tall

Top Ten of 2003

21 Grams
Bad Santa
Better Luck Tomorrow
Big Fish
Bubba Ho-tep
City of God
Cold Mountain
The Company
The Fog of War
Freaky Friday (2003)
Girl With a Pearl Earring
House of Sand and Fog
In America
Intolerable Cruelty
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
The Last Samurai
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
The Matrix Revolutions
Millennium Actress
The Missing
Mystic River
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Peter Pan
Runaway Jury
The Rundown
School of Rock
Shattered Glass
The Station Agent
The Triplets of Belleville

Et Cetera
The Big O [TV Series]
The Godfather
Love Hina [TV Series]

Friday, September 26, 2003

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) 

The problem with Lost in Translation is that it's going to be very hard to explain to someone who doesn't like it exactly what the appeal of the film is. What can you say, really? There's not a whole heck of a lot of intellectual work to be done in unpacking or deconstructing the film -- it asks you to accept it purely on an emotional level, to drink in the mood, atmosphere, and humanity of it all. Can you explain that to someone with whom, for whatever reason, it doesn't connect? Not really, which makes it frustrating to run across someone like that, but also wonderful when you meet another person who did get it, and you exchange that wink-and-nod in the mutual knowledge of how wonderful it was.

In cast you hadn't guessed, I loved Lost in Translation. Loved it on a personal, can't-take-that-away-from-me level. Here's a story about two alienated people, played to perfection by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, that somehow manages to keep from alienating the audience -- you feel close to these people, despite (and possibly because of) the fact that they have cut themselves off from everyone else. It's a combination of the performances, the lush cinematography, the music, and the pace -- here is a film that moves based on where the emotion of the situation, and not the plot, needs to go -- that keeps us involved.

Tokyo is the setting, and it's the perfect choice. Not just because Murray's character is a has-been movie star making extra cash by shooting commercials (a lot of American actors do this), but because it creates exactly the mood that director Sofia Coppola needs. Tokyo is key; it's industrially developed, and the people there are very friendly to Americans (it's "cool" to speak English in Japan). But at the same time, Tokyo is plastered with a completely foreign language, and it's racially homogenized -- white Americans are inevitably going to feel both welcomed and alienated there. Lost in Translation has precisely that terrific push-me-pull-you feeling running through its veins, and it coasts on the kind of crackling beneath-the-surface energy that could be found in the best efforts of the French New Wave, the kind of energy that causes your mind to gloss over all the film's faults because it tossed several pitches right into the sweet spot.

I was impressed by Sofia Coppola's first effort, The Virgin Suicides. This one is better. I think it'll have more staying power, and I think it might be the best of the year. A

Here we go, Joe 

Well, what the hell, time to get started. Hopefully, this will lead to me posting all sorts of very interesting reviews of all the films I see. I say, hopefully.

I'm Shay Casey, and you may know me from the Cinemarati, or from Daily-Reviews.com. You also may not know me, but that's okay -- I won't hold it against you.

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