Tuesday, August 03, 2004


(WARNING: this review of the remake contains a major spoiler, even if you've seen the original.)

Lured by the generally good reviews, I recently saw the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. I often disagree with Jonathan Rosenbaum, but in this case he's right on the money: "I don't get it. As Dave Kehr has noted, the 1962 original was an audacious cocktail of cold war paranoia and mordant cabaret humor. Any remake that scuttles both had better have something to substitute; instead, this is just a vague retread of anticorporate thrillers from the 70s. The story's been ... gutted of its shocks (... formal inventiveness, over-the-top dialogue). ... there's no mythic or comic payoff."

Compared to the original, the remake feels ponderous and bloated, though maybe that's just the current Hollywood style (I don't watch enough "mainstream" movies to be able to say). The early scenes, in particular, drag interminably: the movie feels a lot longer than its actual 135-minute length.

Afterwards, I watched Frankenheimer's original again, and I realized that it derives much of its power from the fact that in its own way it's sincere. Its patriotic rhetoric isn't just for show: it genuinely believes that freedom is worth dying for. And the images of Lincoln which are constantly looking down upon the McCarthy figure aren't just there for irony, but as a reproach. In the remake, "freedom" and "democracy" are merely MacGuffins. When the plot to subvert them is foiled, it's no more meaningful than James Bond's latest exploit. While the remake's attitude may be more philosophically acceptable these days, the original's makes for a much better movie.

(Spoiler warning on.) The big twist of the remake -- that Shaw willingly goes along with Manchurian's plan, even after he learns he's being controlled -- is a cheat. We've seen several scenes in which Shaw is alone with his mother, and there's nothing in them, either at the time or in retrospect, to indicate that Shaw would react in that way. And if Shaw were really so ambitious that he would accept being brainwashed and turned into a robot in order to become President, he would never say in Senator Jordan's presence that he'd been having the same dreams as Marco. (Spoiler warning off.)

Two smaller points: only in Streep's dreams is her performance comparable to Lansbury's in the original. And the new version of "Fortunate Son," which they liked so much that they played it over both the opening and ending credits, sucks.


Back in May, I reviewed Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy, which collects some of his manga from the late 60s and early 70s. Chris Vaillancourt emailed me a very informative reply. Chris clearly knows much more about manga than me, and with his permission I'm reproducing parts of it. (Actually, he replied two months ago, but I only got the idea of reproducing it here a few days ago.)

         "There's one other Hayashi manga [aside from Red Colored Elegy] in print, "ph 4.5" or something to that effect: the actual title is longer. It ran from 87-91, first in "Comic Baku" (same magazine as Tsuge's "Muno no Hito"), then Garo. I've never tried to get it since it costs 2000 yen,  since its an oversized book. The samples I saw in an old Garo were intriguing though: each page is a grid consisting of eight panels, with what looks like a monologue running throughout. The art appeared more realistic in terms of character design than "Red Colored Elegy" but more pared down as a whole. Unfortunately, Hayashi's other manga appears to be out of print. There were a lot of other stories he did for Garo in the 60s and 70s.
          "You're right about the gap in knowledge when it comes to 60s-70s manga, especially the underground type. There are plenty of artists who were hugely influential and sometimes popular in that time who receive little attention outside Japan: Oji Suzuki, whose "Motorcycle Girl" was also made into a film by Morio Agata; Shinji Nagashima, a "Peanuts"-inspired cartoonist whose autobiographical hippie tale "Futen" was a major hit, and who also worked in Tezuka's animation company; Fumiko Okada, a teenage schoolgirl who was one of the most acclaimed contributors to Tezuka's COM and a big influence on Moto Hagio; Kazuhiko Miyaya, who I've seen referred to as a predecessor to Otomo in terms of using Western pop culture and gritty, realistic art, and so on. Of course, the sad part is that many of these artists are also somewhat forgotten in Japan: often talked about, but with their books out of print. "Futen", despite being considered one of the key works of the 60s, is only available via paid online downloads, most of Miyaya's important stories were never even collected in the first place. And these are the well-known cartoonists...
"Kotobuki [Shiriagari] has a weird apocalyptic serial running in "AX" right now.
   "And here's a link I posted on the TCJ Board to some art by Hayashi, Tsuge and others. I think a couple of the Hayashi pieces are drawn from his run of covers for Garo in 1971:

Also on the subject of Seiichi Hayashi, if you (and your computer) can read Japanese, there's a Seiichi Hayashi BBS to which Hayashi himself frequently contributes. I learned of this when Hayashi mentioned my review of him (favorably, as far as I can tell, which pleased me not a little). I'd like to write Hayashi and thank him; but even if my Japanese was good enough, I don't know how to enter Japanese into my computer. Maybe some reader who does know Japanese will be kind enough to point this entry out to Hayashi.

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