Movie Project #9: Akira [1988]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Akira [1988]

Akira [1988]
Directors: Katsuhiro Ohtomo
Genre: Anime/Action/Fantasy
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan

When it comes to anime, I have no problem admitting that I am very much a novice. I have seen a few Studio Ghibli films, and a handful of random TV show episodes here and there (mostly Ranma ½ and InuYasha), but never fully explored the genre. One movie that I have heard come up time and time again whenever anime is mentioned is the 1988 film, Akira.

Based on the massive eponymous manga series, Akira is a cyberpunk-themed sci-fi film set in dystopian Neo-Tokyo. The story revolves around Tetsuo, a motorcycle gang member who develops powerful psychic powers. He’s not alone in having these abilities; he comes to find out that there are multiple youths who have unique powers, including Akira, the child who caused Tokyo’s destruction 31 years ago. However, Tetsuo soon becomes megalomaniacal and begins to threaten the city in his own way. His buddy and fellow gang member, Kaneda, sets out to stop the potential devastation, all while getting caught up in the middle of a battle with the city’s oppressive government. Naturally, there is a lot of violence and crazy shit happening throughout.

Akira [1988]

As someone unfamiliar with the original manga, I couldn’t help but get lost during the movie. The story moves along at a fast clip, and I had no idea what was happening at times. I had no interest in the main characters, and couldn’t empathize with Tetsuo, even as he was fighting back against the evil government. From what I have heard, it really helps to have read the original material before watching the movie, and I certainly got that feeling myself.

The animation, while obviously dated, still looks cool and I thought it was a strong suit for the movie. I dug the cyberpunk feel, as the visuals do an excellent job portraying a gritty city that is still feeling the effects of its previous destruction. For a 20+ year old film, Akira still looks sharp.

I feel like I may need to watch Akira again to appreciate it more, but I am also wondering if I am just not a fan of this style of anime. I liked the visuals and the environment they portrayed, but I felt hopeless as the story began to spiral out of control.

Akira fans, what am I missing here?

Video Game Review: WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

WTF: Work Time Fun
System: PSP
Developer: SCEI
Publisher: D3, Sony
Release Date: October 23, 2006

It takes just one glance at WTF: Work Time Fun’s title to realize that it is going to be a bizarre and eccentric game. A quirky Japanese title, WTF is a compilation of minigames that are all over the place with randomness and unusual concepts.

In the game, you play as an oddjob worker who just so happens to be in Hell. Your goal is to make money by performing random tasks. I’m not kidding when I say “random” — tasks range from everything to putting caps on pens to kicking out of a pro wrestling pin at the last possible moment. The money earned from these projects is used for vending machines that give out completely random prizes: more tasks/minigames, useless trinkets and mostly unhelpful “tools” such as a mobile bingo machine. In essence, there is no point to the game other than to work tedious jobs and earn money to purchase meaningless items. Doesn’t sound like fun, does it?

WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

For all of its wackiness, WTF struggles with one major problem: most of the minigames just aren’t fun. The aforementioned Pendamonium game is probably the worst offender. In this “game” your job is to put caps on pens, occasionally taking the time to flip them over so the cap is placed in the right spot. That’s it. There is no definitive end to this task; you just keep doing this over and over again until you get tired of it. Another futile minigame has you separate baby chicks by their sex by simply hitting a different button for male and female. This goes on for a full TEN MINUTES. Whereas other minigame compilations work because they keep the games quick and to the point, WTF sometimes pushes them ad nauseum.

It should be noted that not all tasks are bad, though all are incredibly simple. I enjoyed testing my ability with the lumberjack minigame. In this one, an old lady throws out pieces of wood for you to chop — the catch is that she will occasionally toss in stuffed animals, and if you chop those you lose. Another tolerable minigame is a simple race where you have to hit the brakes at the right time in order to pass your opponent while also avoiding running off the cliff. Again, these are nothing special and actually could pass as simple Flash games, but they work in the context of WTF.

WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

Without its off-the-wall Japanese presentation, Work Time Fun would have nothing going for it. The games come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and have varying aesthetic appeals. Some games look like they belong in the Atari era, whereas others use real-life images to make them stand out. It’s always interesting to see what games you can unlock, although it’s not always fun getting there.

It’s hard to recommend Work Time Fun unless you have a soft spot for weird Japanese humor and/or you enjoy performing lots of tedious work to unlock worthless collectibles. Chalk this one up as an interesting experiment that belongs to a very niche audience.


Movie Review: 13 Assassins [2010]

13 Assassins [2010]

13 Assassins [2010]
Director: Takashi Miike
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan

Total massacre.

Those two words are the catalyst for 13 Assassins, foreshadowing of the bloodbath to come. Takashi Miike’s latest directorial effort is a throwback to the old samurai epics of yore, updated for the 21st century.

Set in Feudal Japan, the movie introduces us to a disgusting and despicable young man, Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki). Naritsugu is the brother of the current Shogun and therefore has free reign to do whatever he pleases. In his case, he uses this freedom to rape, murder and generally terrorize the common public. After someone publicly commits seppuku in protest of the Lord’s actions, a group of samurais is secretly assembled to put a stop to his terror. Led by the veteran Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), this collection of “13 assassins” begins preparing for battle against what they expect to be Naritsugu and 200 of his henchmen.

13 Assassins [2010]

Much has been made of this epic battle, of which the final 40 minutes of the movie are comprised of. Folks, this fight sequence is every bit as good as everyone says, and it is an amazing cinematic achievement. There is non-stop carnage involving brutal sword battles, strategic traps, unique weapons and just all-around mayhem. It is utter chaos, and this scene is easily one of the best battles I have ever seen on the big screen. Seriously, it is that good.

Outside of the epic action, there is a lot to like here. The acting is phenomenal, and fans of Japanese cinema will recognize much of the cast. The Feudal Japan setting is perfectly recreated and the movie does an excellent job of transporting viewers into that time period. There are also bits of humor scattered throughout that lighten the mood — definitely a welcome addition considering the eventual massacre.

13 Assassins [2010]

13 Assassins starts off a little slow, which might throw off some, and there are a few moments during the elongated battle where I had to suspend my disbelief a little bit. However, I greatly enjoyed the movie overall. Lord Naritsugu is a perfect villain, and it’s very easy to get behind the thirteen hired assassins (especially one who is a bit of bumbling fool, channeling Kikuchiyo from Seven Samurai). This is a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, and it is a must-see for fans of the genre.