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127. Akira – Anime April 2019 (#249)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze no tani no Naushika and Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira.

This week, the first part of the double bill, Akira, set in the then-distant future of 2019.

In the streets of Neo-Tokyo, an entire generation is left to fend for itself. Against a backdrop of reckless violence and urban chaos, as the city seems ready to burn to the ground around them, teenagers Tetsuo and Kaneda have forged a friendship rooted in desperation and necessity. However, everything changes when Tetsuo has a fleeting encounter with a strange child, and opens doors to possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 216th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Not So Super, Hero: What Modern Superhero Blockbusters Could Learn From “Akira”…

This Saturday, as part of the annual “Anime April”, I’ll be discussing Akira on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first. You can listen to last week’s episode on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind here. You can listen to our episode on Akira here.

Akira is a startlingly influential film.

Even if a person hasn’t seen Katsuhiro Otomo’s animated masterpiece, they have undoubtedly felt its influence rippling through popular culture in various media. In music, Kanye West cites it as his “biggest creative inspiration”, to the point that his video for Stronger is almost a shot-for-shot remake. Rian Johnson has cited Akira as a major influence on his own Looper. Josh Trank and Max Landis’ Chronicle has a number of obvious similarities to Akira. Even outside of these direct references, individual elements of the film continue to have an outsized influence on American popular culture. The iconic red bike pops up in Ready Player One. Even individual shots have been mimicked and imitated, such as the fantastic “Akira bike slide” from early in the film.

Inevitably, there has been much talk of a potential Americanised remake of Akira. After all, there have been other big-budget live action adaptations of cult Japanese projects like Ghost in the Shell or Alita: Battle Angel, and so it is surprising it has taken so long. There were rumours of an adaptation by Albert Hughes that might star Morgan Freeman. (James Franco might have headlined.) More recently, Jordan Peele declined the invitation to direct the adaptation, despite his affection for the source material. The most recent rumours suggested that Leonardo DiCaprio might be producing a version directed by Taika Waititi, which would shift the action from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-Manhattan. There were other significant changes made to the source story.

There are a variety of reasons why Akira has been so difficult to adapt. Most optimistically, it may simply be a case that so much of what made the original film iconic has already been filtered through to audiences in the movies indebted to it, like Looper or Chronicle; this is the challenge adapting John Carter of Mars following the success of films like Star Wars or Flash Gordon. More pragmatically, Akira is a story rooted in a very specific cultural context. It is not an American story, it is a story anchored very specifically in eighties Japan. Of course, this is not necessarily a problem; samurai films like Shichinin no Samurai or Yojimbo could be reworked for American audiences as cowboy films, their cultural context shifted in the journey across the Pacific. Still, it is a challenge.

However, this challenge of cultural translation suggests one of the fundamental issues with adapting Akira for American audiences. It is hard to define Akira in terms of a single genre; it is a coming of age science-fiction deconstruction of masculinity infused with a psychedelic sensibility. However, in terms of visual style and narrative flow, the movie’s closest relatives in contemporary American cinema are superhero films. Superheroes are, after all, the dominant American cinematic mode of the twenty-first-century to date. Indeed, a modern audience approaching Akira might be tempted to read it in the context of that genre. If Chronicle is to be considered “the American Akira”, it is notable that it uses the language of the superhero genre to translate the story.

However, there is something fundamentally different about the way in which Akira approaches the idea of the superhero figure as compared to mainstream superhero films, and this difference might demonstrate why an adaptation of Akira for American cinema might pose such a challenge.

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74. Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro) – Anime April 2018 (#137)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This year, we are proud to announce Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. We hope to make this an annual event. This year, we watched a double feature of Isao Takahata’s Hotaru no haka and Hayao Miyazaki’s Tonari no Totoro to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their original release in April 1988. This week, the second part of the double bill, Tonari no Totoro.

Introducing perhaps the most iconic character in Japanese animation, and perhaps one of the most iconic characters in all animation, My Neighbour Totoro is the story of two young children who move to the Japanese countryside in the aftermath of the Second World War and befriend the mysterious eponymous creature who serves as a guardian of the local environment.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 137th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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73. Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) – Anime April 2018 (#57)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This year, we are proud to announce Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. We hope to make this an annual event. This year, we watched a double feature of Isao Takahata’s Hotaru no haka and Hayao Miyazaki’s Tonari no Totoro to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their original release in April 1988. This week, the first part of the double bill, Hotaru no haka.

Regarded as one of the most affecting animated films ever made, Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of two children caught in the middle of the United States’ firebombing of Japan. Adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical novella of the same name, Grave of the Fireflies is a harrowing portrayal of the consequences of war, particularly upon those in need of society’s protection.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 57th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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70. Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) (#19)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Chris Lavery, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Akira Kurosawa’s Shichinin no Samurai.

In feudal Japan, a small village finds itself threatened by an army of bandits. In a desperate attempt to protect their barley crop from the marauding menace, the villages decide to hire a samurai to the protect the village. Inevitably, they end up with more than they bargained for.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 19th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Iron Fist – The Blessing of Many Fractures (Review)

As “The Last Defender”, Iron Fist bears the burden of tying most heavily into The Defenders.

This is not a surprise. This has been a large part of the Marvel Studios model, with productions teasing concepts and characters that will not arrive for quite some time. By the time that Thanos moves against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in Avengers: Infinity War, it will have been more than half a decade since the stinger at the end of The Avengers teased his looming threat. Even since Samuel L. Jackson appeared at the end of Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. dropped by the stinger in The Incredible Hulk, these teases have been a way of doing business.

Glowing yellow peril.

As such, it makes sense that the company would put a lot of groundwork into setting up the summer’s big-ticket crossover between the four different Marvel Netflix shows. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage had largely been their own thing, while Daredevil had devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to introducing concepts and ideas that would pay off down the line. However, as the last of the shows to be released before the big summer event series, Iron Fist carries a heavier burden than any of its predecessors.

Unfortunately, Marvel and Netflix seem to have wholeheartedly committed to the idea of the Hand as the enemy of choice for this eight-part crossover miniseries. And so Iron Fist gets burdened with the Hand.

“Time for snooping.”

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Non-Review Review: Unbroken

The true story of Louis Zamperini is absolutely fascinating. It lends itself to this sort of big spectacle. It has everything you need for a movie that might clean up during awards season: a historical setting; a war; a sporting story about triumph of adversity; incredible physical transformations from the cast; a character enduring incredible hardship and coming out the other side. These are the sorts of ingredients that make a Best Picture contender. Unbroken just heaps more and more on top of these already alluring elements.

It isn’t the terrible and messy script that ultimately defeats Unbroken, with beloved filmmakers Joel and Ethan Cohen at the top of the bill. It isn’t the pedestrian unchallenging direction, either. It isn’t Alexandre Desplat’s condescending and patronising score, that doesn’t trust the audience to determine what they should be feeling from one moment to the next. It is not even the cynical Coldplay song playing over the closing credits, to put a pleasant life-affirming spin on events.

The Oscar race is on...

The Oscar race is on…

The detail that really shatter Unbroken is the fact that all of this has been very carefully and meticulously calibrated to check off the requisite items on the big Oscar check list. Unbroken is just as mechanical and lifeless a production as Transformers 4, but it happens to be built for a different purpose. There is no energy here, no enthusiasm, no emotion. It is just a bunch of things that have been successful in other stories heaped on top of one another, hoping to hit the high score on that fateful morning in January 2015.

Despite managing to eat up an incredible amount of attention and discussion in the larger Oscar race – taking attention off far more deserving contenders – Unbroken is a complete and utter misfire.

"This is what happens to anybody who suggests Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence is a better Japanese prisoner of war film."

“This is what happens to anybody who suggests Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence is a better Japanese prisoner of war film.”

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