The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

The Ballad of Narayama

The Ballad of Narayama is the story of Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka), an old Japanese woman who willingly chose to go to Narayama to die, as expected of her due to her old age (this custom is known as ubasute or obasute). Her son, Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi), loved his mother so much that he wanted her to stay and defy the custom, but his own son had taken in a wife and was expecting a child. Living in poverty, they could not afford another mouth to feed, hence Orin’s decision to go to Narayama.

For a modern cinema viewer, this movie would seem quaint. The first thing the viewer would notice is the artificial look of the scenery, as the director Keisuke Kinoshita chose to film in a studio. The effect is beautiful but haunting scenes of rural life in feudal Japan, highlighting how poverty drove the cultural norms at that time.

The movie was filmed like as if it was shot as a play; in fact, some elements of Kabuki are present. The movie narrator is a kuroko, who chanted the story in the strains of Japanese musical instruments. There was a scene where each of the characters were lit in soft, green light, and as a character leaves the scene, the light turns off until the old woman was left.

The movie could use some cutting. Though not very long (only an hour and a half), there are scenes that seemed too slow for me; I think this was in compensation for the cramped space brought about by being shot in soundstages. The journey to Narayama, for example, was just scenes upon scenes of Tatsuhei carrying his mother, with some dialog added to break the monotony.

It is a bleak and depressing movie, a movie that not everyone would want to see for recreational purpose. But this is expected from a movie that dares to show the problems facing the elderly – after all, we will all get old, and we will have to face what Orin had faced, and I assure you that it will be depressing.


Usagi Drop


(image from here)
Manly tears were shed after watching this movie.

This movie has been sitting in my hard drive for half a year now, and mainly I was bored tonight, so I decided to watch something. I had nothing particular in mind, so I just browsed the folder where Japanese TV shows and movies are stored, and on a whim decided to watch this.

It was a mistake of sorts.

This movie is based on the manga of the same title. I won’t give a synopsis, I’ll just link the Wikipedia entry.

I just want to write about thoughts that came into my mind during and after watching the movie.

I don’t see myself having children in the near future. That might change, but right now I don’t think I will have children of my own. I see them as kawaii when they are not throwing fits or crying like it’s their nature. I had seen a lot of parents whose patience ran out when dealing with the terrible twos.

I still remember my youngest brother when he was born. We woke up in a stormy night, only to find my parents gone. My cousin acted as our guardian; she told us that my mom’s about to give birth.

The night after, a bundle of joy that was a baby arrived home. He was so cute and fat and adorable, we forgot the anxieties of our mom not coming home with the baby. I was happy he arrived safely, but later on I thought he was a pest because from time to time I had to keep watch, feed him, or change the diapers.

I saw how hard it was to be a parent and to take care of children. As I grew up and became a cantankerous and snobby adult, I thought about children and having to take care of them and their future, and I decided that it is not for me. I don’t think I can take the responsibility of caring for a child.

It is a source of anxiety from relatives. They keep on telling me who would take care of me when I get old. I always joke that I have to be super rich by then.

I wanted to argue that it is not the right reason to have children. I’d like to quote Gibran but they won’t understand (I keep on kidding my mom that children have no obligation of taking care of their parents, but filial piety always takes hold).

This movie made me rethink of this. It made me ask a lot of questions. Am I capable of love? Am I capable of having a child, taking care of it, preparing for its future? Am I being selfish in my decision not to have a child? Is not having a child a sign of my own weakness? Is adoption an option?

I said earlier that watching this movie was a mistake of sorts. Mistake because it made me think of things that I’d rather not think of. It made me rethink my decision and position. It made me think of my future and what I would miss with this decision. It made me think whether I am being selfish or I made a decision out of love by not bringing forth a life that might be a disaster because of my shortcomings and fault. I’d rather not have a child than have a child then ruin its future because I might not be a good parent.

Manly tears were shed (manly tears being imaginary tears) because this movie has shown me what will I miss if I stick with this decision. But mostly tears were shed because I am too much a coward to even contemplate a life of a father taking care of his child.


The end of the world in two hours

This is just a short review of the movie. If you like movies that make you sit on the edge of the seat; if you like movies so intense you cannot help but go to the toilet and pee, 2012 is a movie to your liking. It is like a nightmare lasting for more than 2 hours, most of it harrowing bordering on the impossible.

Leave the thinking at the lobby. There are points in the movie that will astound your intelligence. The telecommunications infrastructure is so robust and indestructible that characters in the movie were able to communicate with each other, even if the place was falling apart. Some characters talk too much despite the fact that time was at a premium. And some of the scenes were predictable; I am afraid my seatmate last night was annoyed by the fact that I kept on saying what would happen in a scene.

I like Oliver Platt. He is a character actor that can play any role. John Cusack was blah. Woody Harrelson was wacky and at his element. Danny Glover was subdued. The kids performed admirably.

The idea of putting a human element in the story fails. This is offset by the special effects. The CGI was wonderful. The disaster scenes – specially California crumbling down, the humongous explosion at Yellowstone, the destruction of the Vatican – give me goosebumps whenever I remember them. And there’s a nightmarish feel to it. I can imagine myself being in those horrific scenes.

The only conclusion that I can derive from the movie: Sony Vaio and Sony Ericsson phones will survive the end of the world. The Air Force One will not. I cannot say the same about submarines.

2012 is an enjoyable movie, and I had never seen such an intense movie since Saving Private Ryan. It is worth your two hours.


Harry Potter 6 at SM City North EDSA IMAX Theater

I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night at SM’s new IMAX Theater at SM City North EDSA, curious about the new cinema and how the movie translated one of the longest novels in the Harry Potter series. My belief is that when watching a movie, enter the cinema without any expectations; if the movie bombed, at least your disappointment will not be that great.

I report with joy that I am not disappointed with the movie. The movie was faithful with the novel without presenting all the details found in the book. Sure, there were scenes in the book that were not in the movie (as expected), and I am sure some of the fans were disappointed with the non-inclusion, like the ending scenes. However, taken on its own, the movie presented the basic plot of the novel.

The movie concentrated on character development. This movie is Michael Gambon’s and Tom Felton’s. Their characters – Albus Dumbledore and Draco Malfoy, respectively – were given the spotlight on this movie, though without taking much limelight from the lead. While they were given emphasis, I think the development was rather short – sure, you could see Draco’s torment, and much question was left in our minds. Is he intrinsically evil, or his hesitation a sign that he is somehow moral? Felton must have relished all those scenes; I know I would, if I were on his shoes.

Rupert Grint’s character Ron Weasley was a scene stealer on several occassions, the most memorable one was the scene when he took a love potion. That scene was hilarious; Grint’s goofy face is enough to make you laugh, the actions of the character more so. Unfortunately, for this movie, that’s all the character was for, comic relief. Grint’s performance here is superb, and has shown great improvement.

Emma Watson is stunningly beautiful, and like Grint’s character, Hermione has some moments in the film, though not that much. She remained in the periphery of the lead, like Ronron, but beside from that, not much. And have I told you that Watson is stunningly beautiful?

I dunno. Tom Riddle is so gay in this movie. What gives?

Daniel Radcliffe. What can I say? Harry Potter has gain confidence, but the scenes where he tried extracting that memory from Professor Horace Slughorn were unconvincing. But Radcliffe did justice to the Felix Felici scenes. It was a riot, but not as riotous as that of Weasley’s love potion scenes. What’s with potions in this movie? Oh, that Potions book, LOL.

The cinematography is mixed. The scenes at the Great Hall could have been shot better, but most are shot well. There were none of those dizzying, zooming-into-giant-watch-tower scenes. And the quidditch game in this movie (plus the Gryffindor practice scenes) is the best in the series. Too bad the scenes were not 3D. And that cowboy scene (where Dumbledore was firewhipping the Smeagols) was awesome.

Speaking of which, I couldn’t help but point out that the Vanishing Cabinet reminded me of Narnia, and the ring-horcrux reminded me of Lord of the Rings. I am sure my seatmate was annoyed when I pointed them out. Sorry, couldn’t help it.

Overall, the movie is enjoyable 2.5 hour (estimated) spectacle. I suggest you watch it.

Should you watch it on IMAX? I think the movie’s worth the Php 400 price of admission, but take note that the 3D scenes are just around 12 minutes, all of them at the beginning (including the trailer). It was my first time, and I was awed by the effects. My seatmates were annoyed because I kept on saying “Whoah!” the entire 12 minutes.

SM City North EDSA’s IMAX Theater is probably the smallest IMAX theater in the world. When news broke out that SM was putting up an IMAX on SM North, I was excited because finally, I don’t have to go to the south just to watch movies in IMAX format. But when they announced the opening last month, I was incredulous because I pass by that mall everyday and I did see any tall building being built. Basically what SM did was convert one of their cinemas into IMAX. Hence the smallest IMAX theater in the world.

At least it does not smell like San Miguel-Coca Cola IMAX Theater in SM Mall of Asia. =P


Angels and Demons

Producers of Amazing Race should watch Angels and Demons and take notes.

Forget the factual errors. People, this is a work of fiction, despite the author’s claims of facts. Ignore that claim, so that at least you could enjoy this movie. See, strip yourself of these assumptions, and the movie’s kinda entertaining. Besides, most of the people who had read the book claimed that the movie is better.

The basics: Harvard professor Robert Langdon was summoned to the Vatican to solve a mystery. The Illuminati sows terror on the Vatican by kidnapping 4 cardinals and planting a bomb that could decimate the entire city of Rome. Then an Amazing Race of sorts revealed that the enemy is within.

The first hour or so was rather tedious and tiring, and the Amazing Race section was a bit fun to watch (because they were always too late). The movie will keep you guessing who the antagonist is – unless you have read the book, that is. But if you had read the book, there were changes made that will surprise you.

The scenes were marvelous though most of them were shot on soundstages, but they were almost real! It was as if you were down in the grottos when they opened the tomb of the deceased Pope. I had seen pictures of this section of the Vatican, and the scene looked as if they were indeed below St. Peter’s Basilica.

The music was rather flat, a surprisingly flaccid output from Hans Zimmer. I was expecting more choral works, bordering on the sacred. It is understandable that this is a suspense movie, but still…

Overall, this is a good movie to see, as it is entertaining enough. Just sit back and enjoy, stop “intellectualizing” while watching the movie. Looking for errors would only spoil the fun.

Speaking of errors, there are loads of pages on the internet regarding errors of this movie/novel. I’d like to point out two issues. The first one was the appointment of a mere priest as the camerlengo. This position has always been assigned to a cardinal, true. But a Pope can always change this, as much as Gregory VII dissolved the office of Archdeacon (predecessor to the current office of the camerlengo).

Next, which was not pointed out yet (as of this writing, or maybe I haven’t scrounged them all): the scene where they opened the deceased Pope’s tomb. In the current practice, the body is encased in three coffins. The first is made of cypress, the second, of lead, and the third coffin, made of elm. In the movie, it was obvious that only one coffin was used. (As a note, the disfigured face shown was similar to what had happened to Pius XII).


Star Trek 2009 impressions

I was looking forward to watching the new Star Trek movie ever since rumors of a new movie (and a reboot) surfaced three years ago. I am not the in-the-details fan (though I like details), but enough of a fan to be worried about diverting from the established canon. I was following the news (via TrekMovie.com), from the official announcement by Paramount, to the introduction of the cast and creative team, to the release of the official trailer. I was glad when they casted Leonard Nimoy, and saddened that William Shatner was not in the movie.

So, seating at the third row from the back of San Miguel – Coca Cola iMax Theater at SM Mall of Asia last Monday with silent anticipation, I was wondering about what would I see. When I saw the stars of the Paramount logo, I sat back, relaxed and prepared myself for surprises.

They said that it is not your father’s Star Trek. And indeed it is not.

I was staring at the screen, my brain embroiled in conflicting thoughts. A part of me winced for every fabric of Star Trek becoming alien to me; a part was awed by the beauty of what I saw; a part was annoyed by what I thought was unnecessary lens flares; a part was laughing at the jokes; and a part was relieved that the movie was glorious.

Relief: that was the emotion that I had felt when the end credits began. The use of Alexander Courage’s Star Trek theme at the end credits, I think, is testament to the creative team’s effort to honor what has been done. Yet, the reboot was nicely done, and I am sure those new to the franchise would appreciate the movie without getting turned off by technobabble. Only the die-hard, strict-stickler-to-canon Trekkers would diss the movie. In the end, I thought that the movie should be judged by itself, without the baggage of canon. Besides, it was an exciting and exhilarating adventure.

But still, it would take time to get used to the changes. The Apple-store like bridge, for example. And the engineering section looked like it was in the building basement, not in a starship. Also, I found the uniforms in Starfleet Academy more cool than those worn in a starship. Some of the changes were radical, what we have now is a revolution, the Star Trek world topsy-turvy.

I find the antagonist to be weak. Eric Bana’s acting was so low-key, you would have thought he was not the villain. He should have brought more anger even if in a subdued way. The character was just not angry enough. The fact is that I find the villain’s motive to be kinda lame (and it was already done before – Khan Noonian Singh, is that you?).

Michael Giacchino’s score was glorious. I am not familiar with his music, and when he was announced as the one who’d score the movie, I was ambivalent. Sure, he did Ratatouille and some TV shows, but for me, an epic score is a John Williams, a Jerry Goldsmith, a Hans Zimmer. Well, I was proven wrong, and now I am looking for the OST. I was used to hearing a strain of Courage or Goldsmith’s theme at the start of a Star Trek movie, and when the new movie started, I was a bit disappointed and thought that it was really a hard reboot. The music at the end credits, like the movie itself assuaged this thought.

I find the reboot clever. Lest I spoil the movie for you, I think the idea for the plot was a win-win idea from JJ Abrams and the writers. If the story line bombed (but not that much), they could always explain it away and then make another one that is more in line with the canon.

To conclude, Star Trek is a thoroughly enjoyable film, which old fans and those new to the franchise can appreciate. Go see it. And if you can, watch it on iMax.


Valkyrie movie review

Movies with known endings are not attractive to most viewers. After all, you already know beforehand how the movie would end, so there’s no incentive to watch it. Movies based on history suffer from this prejudice. And most movies based on history had to take a creative license just to make them interesting (hence the fact the this genre is best left to be presented as a documentary). Not interesting = boring, a formula that most movie goers would avoid.

Fortunately for Valkyrie, this was not the case.

This movie is a classic example of a movie with a known ending (that is, if you know your history). You know that in the end, Claus von Stauffenberg (the character played by Tom Cruise) would die. The plot to kill Adolf Hitler (played by David Bamber) would fail. Yet the movie worked.

I think in my case, I approached the watching of the film this way: I am curious on how the movie will present von Stauffenberg’s story. And here the movie found its success – it was a gripping film, with the way the suspense was made. I couldn’t help but wince when some of the characters dilly-dally; I couldn’t help but curse silently when the first attempt failed due to indecisiveness. I was actually hoping that the plot would succeed even if I already know it won’t. And the ending was draining, but with an ironic consolation that I had not grasped when I first found out about von Stauffenberg.

Director Bryan Singer and scripwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander presented the story in an engaging way, without much deviation with historical facts. John Ottman’s editing is tight, and his score subdued on most parts. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, so we’ll have to excuse his acting. But the supporting cast assembled for this film is a powerhouse. Who could go wrong in casting Kenneth Branagh (who looked like Ewan MacGregor), Tom Wilkinson, Terrence Stamp (regal as always, the male Judy Dench), and Bill Nighy. When I saw Nighy, I almost shouted “Viktor!”, in reference to his character in the movie Underworld. Brilliant actor, I must say.

Overall, your two hours will be well spent watching this movie. You can learn some lessons from the movie, not the least history of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. And of course, it is a cautionary tale for us: apathy will lead us to no good.