November 23, 2016
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Makoto Shinkai had only just burst onto the scene with all the press surrounding his most recent film, Your Name (Kimi no na wa); Shinkai’s first feature film, The Place Promised in Our Early Days premiered in 2004, and his following features 5 Centimeters per Second (2007), Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011), and The Garden of Words (2013) have all received critical acclaim. Although Your Name is far from his first feature film, it is (to date), his most successful, currently the seventh highest grossing film in Japan of all time.
That day when the stars came falling, it was almost as if … as if a scene from a dream, it was a beautiful view…
Mitsuha and Taki are total stranger living completely different lives – Taki lives in Tokyo with his father, and leads a busy life between school, his friends, and his part time job. Mitsuha is from a remote country town, living with her grandmother and younger sister, and practices the rituals of the local shrine, which her family has maintained for generations. Everyone in her small town knows who she is. When Mitsuha makes a wish, born out of frustration, to escape her town and find a new life in Tokyo, their separate lives become bizarrely connected. Mitsuha and Taki begin to dream of another life, but it soon becomes apparent that their dreams are in fact each other’s reality.
Shinkai eloquently weaves together sci-fi, fantasy and romance, continuing the themes present in his previous films of isolated (and in some ways lonely) characters finding each other. Whether or not this is due to fate or chance is left to our interpretation. Your Name implies that there may be something of both to Mitsuha and Taki’s connection, with the presence of a rare celestial event hovering over their lives and the film. The threads of their story are pulled together slowly, and this image of threads being woven together (both literally and figuratively) is key to what is happening. The result is a richly detailed, vibrant film.
Like all of Shinkai’s work, Your Name is strikingly beautiful. The look of Shinkai’s film are almost always the first things you notice, whether it is the sheer creativity of the worlds brought to life, such as in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, or the detail and attention paid to the water and landscapes, such as in The Garden of Words. In Your Name, it is the falling stars, the twilights and sunsets, and the meeting of water and sky that makes the film so visually stunning. As for the emotional aspect, it is sometimes more difficult to feel an immediate impact. But reflection allows time to absorb the emotion, particularly here of the raw, youthful and deeply meaningful relationship that develops between Mitsuha and Taki. Not without its heart-wrenching moments, Your Name nevertheless leaves you with feelings of warmth and tenderness.
This is the film that is leading many to claim (not without reason) that Shinkai could be anime’s next Miyazaki; perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is the first Makoto Shinkai. Your Name is unmissable animation, demands repeat viewings, and will linger in your mind many days after you’ve first seen it.
4.5 / 5
October 27, 2016
It is a testament to the marketing genius (at least!) of Marvel Studios that what we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has forever changed the way audiences interact with and approach superhero films; the way the individual films overlap and reference each other, weaving together story lines and plot points, however slight those points may be, forms a massive part of the appeal of a Marvel film. But whilst the Avengers, and the individual films around those key members, form the central pillars of this universe, Marvel needs superhero movies like Doctor Strange to break things up a bit, and give audiences a glimpse of the superhero world beyond the sci-fi and action, and into the metaphysical.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a gifted if egotistical neurosurgeon, whose world is shattered when he loses the use of his hands. After exhausting all the possibilities that Western medicine has to offer, his search for a healing miracle leads him to Kamar-Taj, which he initially believes to be only a centre for healing. However, Kamar-Taj is much more than that – led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) it is home to a community deeply entrenched in mysticism, the study of magic, and sorcery, where its members learn how to harness this magic to warp through space, explore the multiverse, and control energy and matter. Doctor Strange (don’t call him “Mr.”) has to decide whether or not to follow the path of the other Masters and defend the Earth against the evil forces of the Dark Dimension, or return to his comfortable former life.
The draw for Doctor Strange has been its emphasis on the supernatural, the ‘magic’ that Strange draws on, rather than the technology that makes Iron Man or Ant-Man possible, or the scientific experimentation that saw the emergence of Captain America or the Hulk. The multiverse has been hinted at in previous Marvel films (Thor and The Avengers in particular), but here it is treated as mystical, rather than through the lens of something closer to science-fiction. This supernatural element is what led to Scott Derrickson coming on to direct, although within the constraints of the original comics and the Marvel aesthetic there isn’t a huge amount of space for his individual vision to come through. However, the enthusiasm for the material, the narrative, and the Doctor Strange character are overwhelmingly evident, and it makes for enjoyable viewing – the film never lacks in energy.
The thoughts and questions proffered by The Ancient One on the nature of time, space, matter, and nature truly have a philosophical element to them and makes the initial encounter and following conversations between herself, Strange, and the other Masters of the Mystic Arts intriguing, but it is left to the visuals to illustrate these ideas. It’s the logical choice for a superhero film, and the visuals are truly spectacular, but some of the attention payed to the visuals could have been diverted into developing the characters. Cumberbatch gives a solid performance as Doctor Strange, but the character bears a more than slight similarity to the smug superiority of Tony Stark, as well as to Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes; even Rachel McAdam’s Christine Palmer, a fellow surgeon and Strange’s love interest, serves as another version of Pepper Potts – selfless and the moral compass, except McAdam’s plays such a small role here we might not have noticed her absence. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo provides an excellent, serious counterpart to Strange’s (humorous) conceit. The biggest disappointment was the underutilisation of Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt; Hannibal) who has shown himself so adept at playing a complex, unnerving villains, that the total underdevelopment of Kaecilius (former apprentice of the Ancient One who now seeks immortality) is almost criminal. Like everything else in this film, he looked amazing and commanded attention whenever on screen, but it was a wasted opportunity.
Doctor Strange is an entertaining outing, and the running time flies by, but overall it felt like the purpose of this film was purely to establish the plot of the sequel (and we are left in no doubt as to what that will be). It promises even bigger things to come, when it should have focused on wowing us now. Still, it is one of the bolder, visually dramatic additions to the MCU and well worth seeing on the big screen.