Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Wire s05e04: Transitions

"Get elected, and suddenly, they know police work..."

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Wire s01e01: The Target

"I gotta ask ya... If every time, Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away... Why'd you even let him in the game?"

Monday, 28 February 2011

Faulkner lives on in Dogtooth

The Oscar-nominated Dogtooth is a perplexing beast, but a brilliant one.

In Faulkners magnum opus As I Lay Dying he spends a chapter attempting to get across a very complex, beautiful notion. While he writes seemlessly and engagingly, he still requires vast amounts of exposition and explanation to get this idea across - Dogtooth, however, manageds to convey this message perfectly in cinematic form. This message is one regarding the subjectivity of language.

I'm reminded of the Mad Men episode "The colour Blue". Don is told the story of a teacher whose pupil asks her "How do I know if the blue I see is the same as the blue everyone else see's?" Apply this to language, and you have Dogtooth. It asks us to really thnik about the words we use, and the weight they hold. what do words really mean? How do I know when I use a word, it means the same thing to me as to you? Addie Bundren puts forwar that the word "mother" doesn't mean the same thing to someone who has never born a child. Dogtooth, As I Lay Dying and "the Colour blue" are concerned with meaning.

It's amazing, then, that Dogtooth works as a cinematic experience. To an outside observer - someone who were to walk into the film halfway through, unaware of this theme, the film would make no sense whatsoever. That is where the mastery of the film lies. That is the ground it breaks. It tells a story, and provides us with a narration, without actually making any sense. This is an accomplishment on the part of the screenwriter, who establishes his own language, and the director, who carefully constructs and delicate house of cards. On a larger scale, the film addresses ideas of God - of the garden of Eden, of authority and of place.

and it does so using words like "Dogtooth".

Monday, 30 August 2010

Satoshi Kon passes.

Celebrity deaths haven't really ever affected me. They have in the passing “oh, they died? That's awful” sense, and a few times I'd felt bad for the film or music industry, because a talented person had died. Never before have I felt something of a personal loss, though. Not before Satoshi Kon died in his home of pancreatic cancer on August 24th, 2010.I think they loss may have felt so personal to me because he was such a huge motivation to me personally. He wasn't the reason I got into animation, but his influence was undeniable. He was able to make such generic cities and locations feel so personalised in his work, and I've always found I've taken cues from his extravagant use of music.

I'll forgive you for not knowing who the man was. He was never exactly a huge name (though there really aren't too many in animation). Satoshi Kon was a Japanese animator, writer and director of anime. Whilst I have no real strong feelings towards anime, it's not something I have an outstanding love of. When I was younger, however, I confess that I may have been a little obsessed. I was one of the few people in the UK who had a subscription to Shonen Jump, and it would be a lie to say my childhood was not overthrown by Dragon Ball and Pokemon (both of which I think I still have an embarrassing nostalgic non-ironic appreciation for). However as I got older I think I grew out of the medium – I never abandoned it, though. It just seemed for every Death Note there were a thousand Naruto's. I think my drifting away from the animation form was because the fans bothered me, and to be completely honest at times embarrassed me.

When I was about twelve, I remember being at my friends house in Memphis. It was very late, and I was flipping through the channels on his then super-rare high-definition flat screen TV. I saw one of the strangest things I think I've ever seen out of context. About halfway through an episode of some show, a boy started to vomit letters into a toilet. A mysterious figure then stood above him, wielding a gold, crooked baseball bat. I forgot about the show shortly after, but that scene didn't leave me. Years later, I discovered it was a short series called Paranoia Agent.

My God, Paranoia Agent. I watched every episode in two days. I combed the internet searching for explanations and theories on what I just watched. I watched the entire series again with two of my friends. I gave my friend a DVD for Christmas. I think this was the closest I've come to some sort of life-altering appreciation for something, something I'm sure many trekkies and Star Wars nuts experience. It was obvious it would appeal too me. My favorite books were always those crammed full of symbolism that required time to sink in and study (Cask of Amontillado quickly comes to mind) – and I do have a loving relationship with Twin Peaks.Sure, it was only 13 episodes, and there were a couple of duds, but I don't think a work of fiction has really had this much influence over me. I changed the way I went about animation and writing, and it was after watching Paranoia Agent I started experimenting with colours more. After these alterations I won a competition on Newgrounds for animation netting myself a small but pleseant cash prize – a victory I am sure I would not have attained if not for Kons influence. My next animation was for my film studies course, which I made sure to make as weird and obscure and Kon-ish as possible. I ended up writing about Paranoia Agent on my personal statement when applying to university, and I swear if I were ever given millions of dollars to adapt something to the big screen, Paranoia agent is the first place I'd go.

The show had such originality and interesting characters, and the imagery became stronger and stronger with every passing passing episode to the point were the shows strangeness seemed to transcend the art form while being totally at home within it. The show had such an incredible energy to it – it had the most odd and dark story, but would constantly use the most bright and garish colours with the chirpiest, loudest, happiest sounding choir they could find. The series had the most peculiar dreamlike quality to it (which may be why it works so well when things really get strange) which Kon utilised in his
Inception-inspiring feature Paprika, which revolved around travelling into dreams and used similarly bright colours and memorable music. However, while using similar elements, Paprika managed to feel completely and utterly different from Paranoia Agent in every way. It was it's own unique and wonderful experience while borrowing from the directors previous work. Satoshi's death is so tragic because he was still learning. He was already a master writer and director, but he wasn't set in his pace yet (he even said that when watching his directional debut Perfect Blue he felt “a little embarrassed”, but that watching it inspired him to improve). Nothing was ever the same, and he still had so much left to say in so many ways – he wanted to work on a childrens story to force him new directions (the project is called The Dream Machine in English, and was the directors last work). A poster called Jbetteridge said it so perfectly -

It's not that anime will never be the same with Satoshi Kon gone. It's now much more like that with Satoshi Kon gone, anime will always be the same.”

In chasing down the mans career, I also found (unsurprisingly) he was quite an interesting chap, starting out as a background artist on a series of films and originally wanting to be a painter, he eventually moved on to Magnetic Rose (He never had time to paint after that - amusingly saying that because he made his hobby his job, he doesn't have a hobby anymore). He is the founding member of the Japan Animators Creators Association (JANiCA). He was (I think now predictably) a bit eccentric, too. He said that while working on his films, he would attempt to think beyond his own imagination, and to even try to surprise himself. He also had the most intense love for his medium - Ilya Garger said the easiest way to annoy Satoshi Kon would be to ask him why he makes cartoons – that he would begin answering the question before you finished the sentence (not that he didn't adore films, he even dresses a character up as Akira Kurasawa when explaining the “line rule” in Paprika). Kon also stated that animation is just something he feels far more comfortable with. Garger goes on to talk about Kon breaking convention and writing about otherwise untouched subjects (when was the last time you saw a movie about homeless people?), and indeed Kon was also somewhat of a contrarian, trying as hard as he could to destroy the traditional “moe” female character in anime, and admitting to not being a big fan of Miyazaki, that in the other animators films everyone “has to love each other” and that the morals are “always so clear”. He would always seem offended if he was ever compared to or asked if he aspired to be like Miyazaki - not only because the question itself is somewhat insulting, but because Kon and Miyazaki are so fundamentally different anyway – Miyazaki is typically associated with fairytales, whereas Kon is known for his urban settings.

Kon's final blog post has been floating around, and if you're a fan of his work, I really recommend you read it. The Japanese have a terrific phrase we don't have that Kon ends his post with - o-saki ni - meaning when someone has to leave a place before other people. That pretty much perfectly sums up how I feel about his passing. He had such a he impact on my life, and I would constantly check for updates on what he was working on. He was a man who so obviously had so much to say even he wasn't aware of it all, and losing him is truly an enormous loss for the industry and his fans. I will remember Satoshi Kon for the rest of my life.