Sunday, October 28, 2007


I recently read Never Let Me Go for the third time. Not only does the book stand up to repeated readings, it's much more artful than I had realized when I first posted about it, after I had read it for the second time. This time, I did a sort of "liveblogging": I took notes as I read, with the intent of posting them pretty much as written. In the midst of writing the post I got derailed, as tends to happen with me, so I'm going to post what I've got so far, though I do intend to finish the job.

As I wrote in the post linked to above, Never Let Me Go can be spoiled and shouldn't be, so don't read this if you haven't read the book. In any case, if you haven't read the book what follows won't mean much to you.

Here goes:

The opening seems fairly innocuous on a first reading, but its horror is apparent on rereading, when we know the meaning of euphemisms like "donation" and "carer." Two subtler points arise in Kathy's conversation with the patient near "completion." When Kathy asks him where he grew up, he mentions a "place in Dorset." (5) On first, or even second, reading I assumed that this was a bad school. This time around, I realized that it wasn't a school at all, but one of the warehouses Miss Emily refers to. (265) And when he yearns to hear about details of life at Hailsham such as the guardians, the football, the school grounds, it isn't these things were of better quality at Hailsham than in Dorset: it's because these things existed at Hailsham, whereas he had never experienced them.

In both the opening and the first scene with Tommy, we see how cruelty perpetuates itself. In the opening, we see Kathy's pride in her work as a "carer," which, while it makes the donors more comfortable, also makes the process of donation -- actually slow murder -- run more smoothly. In the scene with Tommy, the girls watching Tommy deal with their incipient guilt and discomfort over his victimization by "swapping reasons why Tommy deserved everything he got." (10)

The question of "creativity" and the huge importance attributed to it at Hailsham. Commenting on her coversation with Ruth over Christy's poetry, Kathy remarks: "maybe she could sense where my talk was heading, and didn't want to go that way." (18) I'm not sure what Kathy means here, but was her talk "heading" towards questioning the value of "creativity"? And when Tommy tells Kathy that Miss Lucy told him it was okay not to be creative, Kathy thinks Tommy is lying to her.

p. 28 Lucy was shaking with rage when she told Tommy he didn't have to be creative. Because she was angry at how the pupils are basically being treated as experimental subjects?

p. 29 What do Kathy and Tommy know about "donations" at this point? Ishiguro deliberately keeps the question of what exactly the pupils know when fuzzy until Lucy's big outburst.

p. 52 "we each played our part in preserving the fantasy [of Miss Geraldine's 'secret guard'] and making it last for as long as possible." Hailsham itself is a fantasy -- that the clones can have normal childhoods, despite having been created to have their organs harvested -- which pupils and guardians alike collaborate in preserving. This is one example of how the incidents with Ruth at Hailsham that Kathy describes are linked thematically to the book's larger questions, even though they may be irrelevant to the plot per se.

p. 55 When Moira says that there is no plot against Miss Geraldine, Kathy, was been expelled from the "secret guard" a few days ago, responds by making up "evidence" that the plot is real. Trying to explain why she did this, she writes: "Moira was suggesting she and I cross some line together, and I wasn't prepared for that yet. I think I sensed how beyond that line, there was something harder and darker and I didn't want that. Not for me, not for any of us." Again, this parallels the way the pupils in general avoid knowing too much about their fate. (In fact, Ishiguro is even a little heavy-handed here.)

p. 69 The class doesn't follow up the question on smoking because they don't want to know the truth about "donations," implying that subconsciously they already do know it (though Kathy gives a different explanation).

p. 70 I still don't get the significance of the Bridgewater song.

p. 78 From Lucy's casual remark, we can infer that other "homes" for clones are surrounded by electric fences.

So many of the incidents at Hailsham Kathy recounts revolve around telling, not telling, and/or making believe.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007


Deleted or additional scenes included on DVDs are rarely discussed in reviews or criticism, except to note their presence. This isn't surprising, since these scenes are generally equivalent to authors' rejected drafts. The additional scenes on the U.S. Inland Empire 2-DVD set, however, are a different case. For one thing, Lynch has labelled them "More Things That Happened," implying that they are "in continuity," so to speak. For another, they are not tangential, as such scenes often are. In fact, any full analysis of the film has to take them into account, even though doing so makes things more instead of less confusing.

In Chapter Four (using the chapter breaks on the DVD for identification) we see more of the mysterious "Phantom" than we do in the film itself. He is at a party, selling "licky watches," and apparently hypnotizes an unfortunate customer. Chapter Six is a lengthy and cryptic sequence (possibly beginning with Chapter Five) which includes the Bruised Woman, the Housewife, and Nikki, or possibly two Nikkis: nowhere in the film iirc are these three personas juxtaposed so closely. The first fifteen minutes of Chapter Fourteen are a monologue by the Bruised Woman providing information on her family history and current situation: she's living with her sister and sister's husband, something you would never guess from the film. We also learn a bit about the red lamp which is a visual motif in the film, associated particularly with the Housewife. And at the end of this monologue, the Bruised Woman makes the baffling statement that she was 41 in 1960, although what other chronological indications there are set the film firmly in the 00s.*

But the scenes in "More Things That Happened" are not just valuable for the data they provide; they are well worth watching in themselves. Two in particular stand out. The fifteen-minute monologue by the Bruised Woman referred to above is brilliantly written and acted -- one of the best portraits of dead-end working-class life I've encountered. And the light effects in Chapter Eleven are as beautiful as anything in Inland Empire.

Still, the scenes collected in "More Things That Happened" are anomalies. They're not part of the film, yet too closely connected to it to be treated as stand-alone entities. Neither wholes themselves nor integral parts of a larger whole, they're something that the mainstream of contemporary film criticism doesn't know how to deal with.

*The title page of the script for "On High in Blue Tomorrows" states "Received April 06, 2005"; and in the second part of Chapter Fourteen, a prostitute is paid by a client in Euros, which did not exist as physical currency before 2002.

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Monday, October 08, 2007


I've been doing quite a bit of filmwatching in the past few days, partly in theaters but mainly on DVD. I recently finished watching David Lynch's Inland Empire for the second time on DVD, and I wanted to get down some thoughts on it while it was still fresh in my mind. Technically, there are spoilers, though I'm not sure that the concept applies to a film as opaque as this.

Several critics I've read have taken for granted that the scenes of the filming of "On High with Blue Tomorrows" that we see are "real," as opposed to later scenes, which may be dreams, fantasies or just surrealism. This isn't surprising, since this is the longest segment of the movie which could be taken for a realistic narrative. But there are several hints that these scenes are no more "real" than anything else in the movie. First, there is the film's title. Can you seriously picture a Hollywood filmmaker making a film entitled "On High with Blue Tomorrows"? Then when Nikki's "Visitor #1" asks her if the film is "about marriage," Nikki replies "Um, perhaps in some ways, but ... um ..." But the film we see being shot is unquestionably about marriage: it's about a married woman with a jealous husband having an affair with a married man. Finally, if the initial scenes of filming are real, then presumably the filming of the final scene is real as well. But would the writers of the banal dialogue we hear in the earlier scenes have nearly the last words in the film be a monologue by a homeless Asian about her prostitute friend who has a pet monkey and a hole in her vagina?

Once I suspected that the filming scenes aren't real, my first thought was that Visitor #1, who also talks about "magic," had in fact cast a spell upon Nikki, and everything between that scene and Visitor #1's appearance at the end of the picture is an illusion created by this spell. But this doesn't account for the Lost Girl and the rabbits, who make their first appearances before Visitor #1 meets Nikki. Moreover, Visitor #1 is first seen on the Lost Girl's television. These made me suspect that the conversation between Nikki and the visitor is itself not real. In which case, is Nikki even real? And if she isn't, who is dreaming, or imagining, her?

My first answer to this last question was the Lost Girl. After all, we periodically see her watching the events of the film on TV. And the scene in which Nikki kisses the Lost Girl, and then disappears, would fit well with this interpretation: now that the "film" is over, the Lost Girl's dream self has reintegrated with her real self. But the fact that the real film -- that is, Inland Empire -- ends with Laura Dern, not the Lost Girl, poses problems for this idea.

When I first saw the scene where the black homeless woman tells the dying Bruised Woman "no more blue tomorrows. You're on high now," I immediately surmised -- having seen Mulholland Drive -- that this scene was reality, and that rest of the movie were the Bruised Woman's fantasy, triggered by this remark. (You can find an elaborate reading of the film built on this foundation here (read the posts by onetailtest) and here.) But I quickly rejected this, for a couple of reasons. First, it would make the film too similar to Mulholland Drive. Second, on this hypothesis the film's last half hour would have to take place after the woman whose fantasy it is is dead. While this doesn't completely rule out the hypothesis, it does count against it, especially since there's no explicit evidence for the hypothesis. Furthermore, the scenes with the Bruised Woman, taken as a whole, aren't any more coherent or realistic than the rest of the film.

What does work, and what I would argue for, is that all or most of the film is the product of someone's unconscious (not necessarily a dream, but we can call it that for convenience). This explains why pieces of dialogue are repeated in completely different contexts by people who could not have known of the earlier use, and why Laura's husband joins a Polish circus (!): the Dreamer's unconscious is making things up as it goes along, cannibalizing earlier material in the process. Moreover, the film should be viewed not as the story of the "real" character played by Laura Dern whose personality is fracturing (whether we want to identify Nikki or Sue as this real character), but as the Dreamer's unconscious efforts, whoever she is, to construct a stable persona.

The first persona the Dreamer tries out is Nikki, but early in the movie's second hour, Nikki is replaced by the Housewife. (I refer to this persona as "the Housewife" and not Sue, because Dern plays the two personas differently, and because I think Sue's story is one of the things the Dreamer tries to repress by creating the Housewife.) Shortly before this happens, Nikki tells Devin to "look at me," insisting he recognize her as Mikki: she is demanding that Devin validate the Nikki persona, which he refuses to do.

The Housewife persona, as I hinted at above, is intended to suppress whatever it was that prompted the creation of "On High with Blue Tomorrows." But the repressed elements soon pop up again: first sex, with the group of seductive women who appear in the Housewife's house, and then violence, both dealt out and received, with the Bruised Woman. Shortly after the film's halfway mark, the Housewife confronts two women and asks them to "look at me and tell me if you've known me before." Like Nikki, the Housewife is demanding validation of her persona and does not get it.

This time, what follows is a chaotic section in which no persona dominates. This chaotic section ends with the "light show" that starts at about the 2 hour and 7 minute mark. After this, the Bruised Woman becomes the main persona from this point until her "death." But this persona is more fragile now than it had been before, as is evidenced by the danger that threatens her throughout this section. A couple of minutes after the start of this section, the Polish woman says to two prostitutes, "Hey, look at me and tell me if you've known me before," as the Housewife had earlier. Shortly afterwards, we have a reprise of the Bruised Woman's first encounter with the man at the top of the stairs; but this time her monologue expresses bewilderment and disorientation, rather than anger. The monologue is interrupted by a brief scene of the Housewife being beaten; there are also brief shots of two other women, one only seen in silhouette superimposed on the Bruised Woman's face.

From the Bruised Woman's death to the end of the film we get another period of chaos. This could be read either as all of the personas finally integrating, or as the final splintering of the personas. Obviously, this reading is far from complete, but I hope I've shown that it works as a starting point for further analysis.

Why is the Dreamer's unconscious so desperate to construct a stable persona, and why is it unable to do so until near the end of the film, if ever? In the conversation between Nikki and Visitor #1, the visitor tells Nikki she has an unpaid debt, and that actions have consequences, both phrases that will reappear later. It's reasonable, therefore, to assume that the Dreamer is guilty about something. What the Dreamer is guilty of is never stated; presumably it's the "thing" that the Bruised Woman sets out to tell the man at the top of the stairs about, but never actually gets to. Perhaps the Dreamer has killed her husband, or fantasized about doing so: this would account for a number of things. Note that the basic thrust of all the material between the start of filming and the Bruised Woman's death is either to portray Laura Dern's character as a victim, or to set up a self-defense justification for killing her husband.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007


A couple weeks ago I saw Satoshi Kon's most recent anime, Paprika, on the big screen, and I was so impressed by my first viewing that I went to see it again. Below are some thoughts on the film, not organized enough to qualify as a review. (This was mainly written a few days after seeing the film, but I didn't get around to posting it until now).

Paprika is definitely the weirdest anime Kon has made, and that includes Paranoia Agent. All of his anime, except Tokyo Godfathers (if my memory is correct) have involved some sort of blurring between reality and fantasies or dreams, but he takes this farther in Paprika than ever before. It's also creepy as hell, especially on a first viewing. A lot of the credit for this creepiness goes to the soundtrack, which is one of the most effective I've heard.

One of the creepiest things about it is the procession seen on the posters, which looks whimsical and festive on the posters but gives a completely different impression in the film. This procession plays a major role in the film. Two other recent, highly acclaimed anime feature films also contain processions: in Spirited Away, the procession of gods displays Japan's spiritual past, while the festive procession in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence represents a cyberpunk future. Though these processions are very different from each other, each is harmonious in its own way. In contrast, the procession in Paprika is a chaotic jumble of everyday artifacts, pop culture and kitsch.

Paprika can be compared with Miyazaki in another way as well. Miyazaki presents the values of the past as an alternative to present-day commercialized mass society. All of Kon's previous anime, again with the exception of Tokyo Godfathers, depict the temptation to escape from a complicated present to a simpler, fondly remembered past, but this temptation is always something that needs to be resisted. While this theme appears more obliquely in Paprika, the film is emphatic that the solution to the misuse of technology is not to ban technology or to return to nature.

Although not ostensibly about movies, in fact movies are a major theme of Paprika. The entire plot of Paprika revolves around the dangers posed by shared dreams, and movies are shared dreams. This connection is made explicit several times. Paprika, the dream-travelling therapist who gives the movie its title, compares dreams to movies, and her client Konakawa's dream contains scenes modelled on various movies. Later, Paprika is shown watching Konakawa's dream projected on the screen in a movie theater. Does the irresponsible "kid trapped in the body of a genius" who, without thinking of the dangers, invents the machine that allows people to see and enter other's dreams represent Kon himself? And who does the evil "mastermind" who wants to control the world by controlling people's dreams represent?

Watching the movie a second time made its flaws more evident. Kon touches on a large number of themes, but in a scattershot fashion, as most of them are hardly developed: it's as if Kon was trying to cram the thematic breadth of the 13-episode Paranoia Agent into a ninety-minute movie. Konakawa's subplot is hardly deserving of all the time the movie spends on it. The characterizations are rudimentary: all the characters, even Paprika, are essentially types rather than individuals. And the ending, while impressive visually, makes no sense (although this is virtually an anime tradition). Paranoia Agent is still Kon's best work. But despite these flaws, I definitely recommend watching Paprika, on the big screen if possible.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


So far, American readers have seen only the first volume of the body-swapping comedy Boku to kanojo no XXX, published by ADV three years ago under the title Your and My Secret* as part of the throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks strategy they were following at the time. When they retrenched they abandoned the series, to the disappointment of a lot of readers, including me. More recently Tokyopop picked up the license, but they haven't released anything yet.

I recently read the second and third volumes of Boku to kanojo no XXX, which I'd bought before Tokyopop announced it was picking up the series. Those American readers who have been waiting eagerly for the continuation of the series may be taken aback when volume three comes out. The raunchy humor which was a feature of the first volume, and which distinguished it from other guy-in-girl's-body comedies, is absent from the third volume. By the end of that volume, the series has become virtually a shoujo romantic comedy revolving around the bizarre love quadrangle of Akira, Momoi, Senbongi, and Shiina, with Akira being less freaked out by his best friend hitting on him than by his own response. Which is not to say that volume three isn't enjoyable; it's just enjoyable in a different way from the first volume. I've ordered the fourth and most recent volume from Sanseidoh; we shall see how things develop.

I realized a few days ago that while my Japanese-language manga posts have provided the information needed to order the manga online or from a Japanese language bookstore, they've been less helpful to those trying to find them on the shelves of a Japanese bookstore. In most Japanese bookstores I've been to, the manga are sorted neither by title nor by author, but by the line under which they are published, which is determined by the magazine in which they originally appeared. This may seem strange, but for Japanese readers it makes sense: not only does each magazine have its own distinct flavor, but a Japanese reader would know in which magazine a given manga appeared. For Americans trying to navigate a Japanese bookstore's manga section, though, this system isn't so useful. Boku to kanojo no XXX is in the "Blade Comics" line. You can recognize this line by its logo, which appears on the top of the spine and consists of the words "Blade Comics" (in English) under a sort of irregular upside-down triangle shape.

For those who do have to order it, the publisher is Mag Garden, the cost is 552 yen for volumes two and three and a little more for the fourth, and the ISBNs are
vol. 2: 4-86127-046-4
vol. 3: 4-86127-193-2
vol. 4: 4-86127-357-9

*Although "boku to kanojo no XXX" would translate as "my and her XXX," the "official" English translation, as used by the Japanese publisher (though it appears only on the copyright page), is "Your & My Secret X X X," so ADV wasn't just being arbitrary when they chose the English title. Also, the official way of pronouncing the XXX part of the title is "peke mittsu," where "peke" means "no good" or "failure" and "mittsu" means "three."

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Monday, October 01, 2007


A couple of days ago, I watched Tekkonkinkreet on DVD. Basically, it's eye candy, but when eye candy looks this great you won't see me complaining: Tekkonkinkreet may be the best-looking anime I've ever seen. There's an informative interview with Michael Arias, the director, here.

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