Thursday, June 22, 2017


Last night, I watched Belladonna of Sadness at the Art Theater. It turns out that watching it on the big screen is quite a different experience than watching it on Youtube. The disturbing scenes are a lot more disturbing, and the erotic scenes (which are more prominent than I'd remembered)[1] are a lot more in-your-face. In fact, in the erotic scenes and elsewhere, the style itself is disturbingly grotesque: it somehow taps deeply into primal anxieties about bodies. And I have to admit the film's treatment of the heroine's body is exploitative at times. Still, and despite the apparently predominantly negative reaction of the audience, I maintain that the film is brilliant.

Another reason to watch the film is its psychedelic soundtrack by Masahiko Satoh, a major figure in Japanese underground psychedelic rock.

Incidentally, one of the trailers before the film was, to my astonishment, Funeral Parade of Roses. Has somebody been reading this blog? It's not on the schedule yet, but if you're a fan of the 1960s New Wave, don't miss it.

[1] As I was leaving the theater, I heard someone remark that the film was "all sex, sex, sex." He had a point.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017


Speaking of anime on the big screen, Belladonna of Sadness will be playing at the Art Theater on July 21 and 22 at 10:00 PM. If you live in the Champaign area, save the date. In fact, save both dates.

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Monday, June 05, 2017


A few days ago I saw Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Your Name [Kimi no Na wa], on the big screen. I was so affected by it that I decided to see it again two days later. I’ve seen all of Shinkai’s full-length movies as well as Voices of a Distant Star, the short anime which put him on the map, but Your Name is his best so far. You may see it described as a body-swap anime, but it’s much more than that, and it manages to be both heartbreaking and heartwarming. An important motif of the film is the braided cords which are a specialty of the small town in which one of its main characters lives; the movie itself is like these cords in its craftsmanship and its intricate construction (which can be appreciated better on a second viewing).

If you happen to live in the Champaign, IL area, the film is playing at the Art Theater through Thursday, June 8. If you’re at all interested in anime and somehow haven’t seen it yet, do so.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016


I recently reread John Crowley's masterwork of fantasy Little, Big, and was forced to the realization that it isn't perfect. The first part, set at Edgewood, is wonderful, and the ending is wonderful in a different way. But the middle part, dealing mainly with Auberon and Sylvie, while still very good, left me dissatisfied.

For one thing, Edgewood is an enchanted place, and New York City isn't, even though some magic takes place there. For another, the adult Auberon is less likable and less interesting than Smoky. And these weaknesses allowed me to notice other weaknesses that I might not have noticed had the fundamentals been stronger. The trope that the women of the Drinkwater clan understand the truth intuitively, while the men can't get it no matter how hard they try to understand it rationally, didn't bother me with Smoky or with John Drinkwater, but got a bit annoying when it was repeated with Auberon. (Ariel Hawksquill is an exception, but she's depicted as a "masculine" woman: rationalistic, aggressive, and power-hungry.) It really won't do to have a major character who's a demagogue with a huge popular following, and be as vague about his message and appeal as Crowley is with Eigenblick. And Fred Savage is, alas, a Magic Negro. (And he turns into a tree, which is really problematic and uncomfortable.)

But don't let any of this stop you from reading Little, Big, if you haven't already.

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Saturday, July 02, 2016


A long time ago, I raved about the Japanese animated feature Belladonna of Sadness [Kanashimi no Beradona]. (Note that the Youtube video of Belladonna linked to in that post has been taken down.) At the time, it wasn't available in the U.S. Soon it will be (only on Blu-Ray, unfortunately). In my last post I highly praised the Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie, and I stand by what I said there. But Belladonna is in a whole different class. It's one of the best animated features I've seen, perhaps the best. It's nothing like any anime you're likely to have seen, and is essential viewing for anyone interested in animation as an art.

It's also definitely not for kids. It's subject matter is unlikely to interest children, and there are a number of sex scenes, including a harrowing rape.

[Updated to correct my faulty memory.]

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Friday, April 08, 2016


I recently had occasion to watch the Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie in Japanese without subtitles.[1] I had already watched it with subtitles, so I could broadly understand what was happening, but I could only understand snatches of the dialogue. Therefore I was compelled to focus on the visuals. From that perspective, the movie is one of the most amazing works of animation I've ever seen: a seemingly endless flow of inventive, surprising, frequently surreal, often dazzling images. The TV series was already known for its original and startling visuals, but the movie takes a huge leap beyond the series.

The movie seems to be out of print in the U.S., but it's still available (with subtitles) on Amazon, and no doubt elsewhere, under the title Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie - Rebellion.

[1] Technically, it's the third movie, but the first two "movies" are compilations of the TV series.

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Monday, September 22, 2014


Superconducting Brain Parataxis* combines two of Kago' characteristic themes: treating humans as machines, and breaking down the body's integrity. It's a collection of linked short stories, set in a futuristic world in which human DNA is used to produce giant naked women's bodies, or parts of bodies, which are "ridden" by normal-sized humans and used as organic machines. (At least this is what appears to be happening; the reality is a bit different.) Despite this bizarre premise, it was serialized in the mainstream shounen magazine Weekly Young Jump. Correspondingly, there is no explicit sex or scatology, and the gore is toned down. It also takes a more standard approach to storytelling than most of his other work: its world building is semi-plausible, and there are characters you can sympathize with. In fact, to a large extent it reads like mainstream SF, if you pretend that the "fleshbots" are regular robots. There are even moments of poignancy, as in the first story, in which a scientist persuades one of the giants to escape, but this brings her (the giant) only suffering.

Superconducting Brain Parataxis is not the best of Kago's tankoubons that I've read (that would be New Banji Kaichou), but it's better than either of the ones I've reviewed. It's also much less offensive than many of Kago's other works. It's out of print, but if you get a chance to buy it I'd recommend it.

Superconducting Brain Parataxis was published by Shueisha in the YJ line. It's 194 pages long, and its list price is 1200 yen. It's ISBN is 978-4087826722. Here's its amazon.co.jp page.

*"Parataxis" has two meanings, but the one relevant here is: "the psychological state or repository of attitudes, ideas, and experiences accumulated during personality development that are not effectively assimilated or integrated into the growing mass and residue of the other attitudes, ideas, and experiences of an individual's personality."

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