The other day, in a hospital gift shop, I saw a book entitled The 21 Most Effective Prayers of the Bible. I really need to get back there and take a glance. I really want to know the prayers that will make me rich. I really want to know the prayers that will make me handsome. I really want to know the prayers that will make me powerful, untouchable, famous. In short, I want to know what prayers Paris Hilton is using.
Seen two films recently. Well, I've seen more than two, but I'll talk about two.
Ikiru, directed by Akira Kurosawa, and starring Takashi Shimura (who was also in The Seven Samurai), is a powerful film from 1952. It tells the story of Kanji Watanabe, a civil servant who has essentially wasted his entire life. He has spent the last 30 years stamping forms and doing little else. Sleep walking through life. In fact, he is essentially walking dead. Until he learns he has inoperable stomach cancer and has maybe six months to live.
The wasted years of his life all come crashing down on his head and he is grief-stricken. He can't tell his family. His wife died years ago and he and his son are not close. The most moving scene, for me, is the one in which Watanabe relives, with deep regret, all the moments that eventually created the impassable rift between his son and himself: The day at the ball park when his son hits a good single and Watanabe is about to boast to his neighbor on the bleachers that it's his son who just hit that ball when, suddenly, his son gets tagged out between two bases while trying to steal and Watanabe sits down silently in shame. The day his son is about to go into surgery to have his appendix out and Watanabe tells him he can't stay with him but, rather, has to go back to work. The day his son goes off to war. They're at the train station and the train is just starting to pull out. Watanabe's son, overcome with emotion, jumps off the train for a moment and grabs his father's shoulders, but Watanabe says nothing and his son jumps back onto the train and disappears. All through these scenes you hear Watanabe's voice calling his son's name -- Mitsuo! Mitsuo! Mitsuo! Back in the present, Watanabe hurries up the stairs towards his son's bedroom to tell of his impending death, but, at that moment, his son's bedroom light snaps off and Watanabe turns and walks slowly back down to his own empty sleeping space where he cries himself to sleep.
At first, Watanabe decides to drink himself to death. But a writer he meets in a bar takes him out for a night on the town. Not satisfied with this, Watanabe starts spending time with a young female co-worker, played by Miki Odagiri (with whom I am now in love forever), but she soon becomes tired of his hang dog depression and meekness. Finally, Watanabe decides to try and accomplish something with his life while there's still time and he takes up the cause of a group of women who have been getting the runaround at city hall about an eye-sore in their neighborhood. Watanabe succeeds in getting a little children's playground built on the site. There is another powerful scene of Watanabe sitting on a child's swing in the falling snow, triumphant and happy.
The last part of the film takes place after Watanabe's death. We learn he collapsed at the playground he successfully had built. People at his funeral discuss what caused such a change in Watanabe after 30 years and eventually come to realize that Watanabe must have known he was about to die and this motivated him to succeed against all odds. The people, his co-workers and such, are empowered and motivated to make their own changes and make differences in their own lives and those of others but, in the end, we see one of the people who attended the funeral sinking behind a pile of paperwork, much like Watanabe in the beginning of the film.
I, like many others, have always considered Kurosawa to be a master film maker. Like many others I've mostly seen his samurai epics, The Seven Samurai being the first. But this quiet slow moving film, Ikiru, is now my favorite of his.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds is a film I haven't seen in, if memory serves, 17 years. I first saw it at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1988, in New Orleans.
The convention took up all of the two largest hotels in the city, directly across Canal Street from each other. It was my first convention of any kind and I was absolutely delighted. I spent more than 24 hours straight wandering from room to room (conference rooms and hotel rooms both). I bought things, including a pirated copy of the animated film Heavy Metal, in the dealer room. I watched hentai on what I seem to recall was an 8mm projector shining on the wall of some guy's hotel room. And best of all, I attended the Hugo Awards themselves.
In one of the conference rooms, though, they were screening the hot anime of the time, in Japanese, often without subtitles!. The two I remember best are Area 88, directed by Hisayuki Toriumi, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Nausicaä is Miyazaki's second feature film, produced just before the formation of Miyazaki's now famous Studio Ghibli. Nausicaä takes place on a far future Earth. It is the story of a young princess fighting to protect the people of her village from the ravages of human conquerors and the predations of mutated wildlife in the polluted and poisonous waste lands outside her protected valley. One sees the beginnings of Miyazaki trademarks in this film -- the stylized European architecture, the fanciful flying machines, an environmental theme, and a young heroine. Miyazaki likes his young heroines. In a bonus feature on the currently available DVD for this film Miyazaki is referred to as a feminist because he had a bigger bathroom built for his female employees than for his male employees in the current Studio Ghibli building. Amusing. By 1988 standards this hand drawn and hand painted anime is astounding. Those familiar with Miyazaki's recent work will clearly see how his talent has grown over the years.
I consider Nausicaä to be my first true introduction to anime. Until that time I had only seen what little dribbles were splattered onto American television. Things like Speed Racer and what was called G-Force here in the States. I've been a true fan, although perhaps not quite an otaku, ever since.
As always, the picture at the beginning of this entry bears no relation whatsoever to the text. I'm making a statement. About what, I have no idea.