What I’ve Been Watching – April 2018

The Garden of Words

This is a quiet, thoughtful, ponderous anime that follows the student Akizuki, who has aspirations of being a shoemaker. A chance encounter with an older woman in a public park leads to a friendship and perhaps something more that – in society’s eyes – would be seen as inappropriate.

This story had me transfixed the entire time. It feels very much like a Haruki Murakami novel transformed into animation. The two lead characters have a completely believable detatchment from the world around them, which strengthens the connection between them. What’s more interesting is that they are somewhat detatched from the audience too. Some of the most intimate moments they share are deliberately kept out of earshot and eyesight of the camera, so we never learn what they are saying… only that the words are being said.

I see this technique used regularly in anime, but it’s not a technique that always works well. It certainly does here, though, as it reinforces the idea that this ‘relationship’ shouldn’t matter to anyone other than the couple themselves.

The film is laced with symbolism. Akizuki’s ambition of making shoes may seem odd to a Westerner, but it’s important to remember that shoes are designed to protect people only when they leave the confines of their home. In many countries (including Japan), it is customary to remove your shoes the instant you step indoors. It is no coincidence that creating this form of protection for a woman’s feet is something Akizuki aspires to do with every ounce of his passion.

The most prominent metaphor, however, is the rain.

Used to echo the characters emotions, the rain is almost portrayed as a character itself. It is treated as a welcome friend, rather than a mood dampener. It is beautifully animated and surprisingly pleasant to look at on the screen. This is married with breath-taking sound design to ensure every drop of rain adds atmosphere to the film.

If you watch this film, please watch it with a pair of headphones… or a decent sound setup if you have one at home. I cannot fully describe in words how utterly gorgeous the rain sounds in this film. I was genuinely amazed at how therapeutic and soothing it was. It made me want to just go outdoors and get soaked.

Something else I loved was the characters’ grind through the city on their daily commutes. The way they observe the city as rain cascades upon it really resonated with me. I could understand what they felt as they stared out of the train window.

There’s a lot to discern from this film, but I feel it’s something that will speak to different people in different ways. All I can say is it certainly got to me 🙂

The Garden of Words is streamable and downloadable on Netflix.

Avengers: Infinity War

(contains massive spoilers)

This is going to be the toughest opinion piece about a film I’ve ever written.

If you’ve read my blog before, you may be aware that I’m a massive fan of the MCU. It’s something I used to imagine when I was a kid because I never believed it would be possible to recreate something like this in films. I genuinely love what Marvel have created with their universe, so I take no joy in saying the following…

Infinity War is a hit-and-miss film. It’s mostly good and I did enjoy it, but certain parts didn’t work for me and it actually felt quite clumsy at times. In that respect, it reminded me of Age of Ultron… well conceived but unevenly executed.

I love that the story hits the ground running, picking up immediately after the post-credits scene from Thor Ragnarok. You need to understand who everyone is, what their powers are, and what the Infinity Stones are. It feels like the writers said “Guys, we’ve been explaining all this for 10 years. We’re in the endgame now and we don’t have time to spell it out for you.” I honestly love this approach.

It’s very cool to see different characters teaming up with each other. Stark’s new nanotech (presumably a result of shared Wakandan technology) is very cool to watch. Seeing Spiderman utilise portals made by Dr Strange is awesome. Seeing a mix of Avengers and Guardians simultaneously attack Thanos on Titan is an absolute blast that had me on the edge of my seat.

Unfortunately, the chemistry doesn’t always work in the team-ups. I thought Starlord and Stark would be fun to watch, but the quippy comedy felt forced. Stark and Strange? I bet they insult each other. Stark and Starlord? I bet they insult each other! It honestly felt like fanfiction more than anything else.

While we’re on the subject of chemistry, Bruce and Natasha were really short-changed. After the way they split in Age of Ultron, all we get is “Hey.” I’m convinced they had more screen time together but it was probably cut for time reasons.

I also suspect Groot had some screen time cut. He is brilliantly played as an apathetic teenager who doesn’t give a damn about anything… until suddenly he does. The moment he finally spurs himself into action would have felt far more poignant if we’d seen Rocket lecture him about getting off his butt and giving a damn about what was happening around him. I really do suspect that a scene like this got cut from the film for time reasons. If there isn’t, then his ‘turning point’ moment is as strange on paper as it is in the film.

Put simply, the film doesn’t balance the characters very well. You could argue that’s impossible when dealing with so many characters, but Civil War managed it perfectly in my opinion. In Civil War, we got to spend time with characters simply talking to each other. We could understand how they felt, what was motivating them, and how they were dealing with what was happening around them. The whole film was full of meaningful dialogue and the story pivoted on what the characters were feeling. In Infinity War, we only really get this personal level of dialogue with Gamora, Starlord, Thanos, Vision, Wanda and a saddeningly beautiful confession by Thor (“What more do I have to lose?”). Everyone else’s conversations only seemed to exist to push the plot forwards.

I’ve unloaded a lot here, but I genuinely do like the film. Honest! Something I really loved was Thanos. The film opens on him and ends on him, and he is one of the most fleshed out villains in the entire MCU. That’s good because I think he needed to be, given that he’s the big bad.

His motivations are completely understandable, and the fact he’s crying when he throws Gamora off a cliff is one of the most poignant moments in the film. It’s also terrifying, even when I watched the film a second time. You can see the anguish on his Thanos’ face as he drags Gamora to the cliff edge. What terrifies me is that he clearly doesn’t want to murder her, but he will because he’s devout in his belief that his mission is a righteous one. That’s some scary stuff right there. And that belief doesn’t come from ignorance either. He’s portrayed as intelligent, thoughtful and even ponderous at times. I feel that he’s a very effective villain.

I was also pleased with how well Thanos utilised the powers of the Infinity Stones. The trailers made me slightly worried that he might just punch people really hard and blow things up. But we see him manipulate reality and time as well as using tremendous physical power. And the scene where left-hooks a moon at Stark? Wow!

I also loved seeing a side character like Wong get a moment in the spotlight at the beginning of the film. In a scene with Iron Man, Spiderman and Dr Strange, Wong was the guy to finally best the members of the Black Order. What a dude!

The second time, I left the cinema feeling much better about it. But one thing still bugged me…

The ending where everyone disintegrates to ash.

This does not sit well with me. As things stand, I only truly believe that Heimdall, Loki, Gamora and Vision are dead. Everyone else turning to ash felt utterly meaningless to me. Why? Because I can only see two options here.

Option 1 = everyone really is dead. If so, this is a terribly unsatisfying way to kill them off. After everything that’s happened, our beloved characters die by way of “Hey, you’re now dead. We’ll handle it in post-production. That’s a wrap, see you later.”

Option 2 = everyone who disintegrated is coming back. This seems more likely because Marvel have already said we’re getting Guardians 3, Black Panther 2 and Spiderman 2. So if these characters can come back, technically anyone who disintegrated can.

Either way, the ending feels like a huge let-down. But it’s also one that I respect because it’s such a bold ending… one that sees the bad guy win and the Avengers lose, just like in Civil War.

So overall, Infinity War is a mixed bag. There really is a lot to like about it. When it’s good, it’s excellent. But it’s not consistently good and that’s ultimately why I left the cinema that first time feeling a little deflated.

Regardless of what I think, if you watched it then I hope you enjoyed it 🙂

Thanks for reading, folks!

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4 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Watching – April 2018

  1. Woah. This line piped my interests: “It feels very much like a Haruki Murakami novel transformed into animation.” – Now I’m super interested in watching the show. I’m a fan of Murakami’s novels. Wow, that sounds really interesting!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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