Sunday, March 13, 2005

Children without parents in Japan: A Tree of Palme, Grave of the Fireflies, and Nobody Knows

There's not REALLY a pattern here - after all, between Grave of the Fireflies and Nobody Knows I went to the Boston Sci-Fi Film festival (that'll be a huge update), which didn't have an orphaned Japanese kid to be found. But this makes for a nice grouping.

Still, it is three films seen in a fairly short period of time which touch upon similar themes. And I don't know if it's giving away much to say that none have the sort of happy ending one might expect from a mainstream American film, not even the animated adventure movie. Nothing wrong with that, and it's probably more realistic than having kids thrive without some adult authority figure.

I wonder if it's a Japanese-versus-American thing. Are children idealized more in the United States, such that we have a much harder time bringing ourselves to depict them in danger or the victims of tragedy, or a greater respect for authority in Japan? Or am I just unfairly comparing Japanese movies made for adults to mainstream American movies made for kids?

Heck if I know. Probalby more spotting trends where there's nothing but a small sample size.

A Tree of Palme (Parumu no Ki)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Animation Celebration)

It's hard to look at Takashi Nakamura's A Tree of Palme and not think "Pinocchio". The central character, after all, is a wooden boy, on a quest which he hopes will culminate in becoming human. Certain sights seen along the way seem obviously lifted from that story (or at least Walt Disney's version of it), as well. But A Tree of Palme is its own animal, an intriguing science-fictional take on the concept.

The movie opens on a desert, with a warrior by the name of Koram fighting her way through a pack of pursuers. We also get our first view of Palme, dangling inert from a tree. Carved from a rare variety of wood that is said to store the memories of a civilization, he was crafted to be a companion to a terminally ill woman, Xian, and he just shut down after she passed on, only intermittently springing back to life over the ensuing decades. Koram bears a resemblance to Xian, which is enough to motivate Palme to complete her journey after she entrusts an incredible artifact/energy source to him.

Read the rest at HBS.

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Animation Celebration) (projected video)

Movies about soldiers, generals, and national leaders don't really get at why war is so awful. In even the most militarized societies, there's still a massive civilian population of people that try to go on living their lives in much the same way, only with a million times the stress placed on them. Most confused are children, who aren't yet equipped to understand just why the world has changed so much.

Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies (from a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka) tells the story of a brother and sister trying to survive during the American firebombing of Japan during World War II. The boy, Seita, is about twelve; his sister, Setsuko, is about five. Their father is in the Navy; they lose their mother early on. An aunt takes them in, but soon grows to resent them, and they strike out on their own.

Read the rest at HBS.

Nobody Knows (Dare mo Shiranai)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)

Stories like the one which inspired Nobody Knows give one a better appreciation for the busybody - ones where each individual act is strange, but not strange enough to get noticed by someone minding their won business. Add them up, though, and the totality becomes almost unbelievable and shameful. It's the kind of story that could give rise to a sermonizing, strident film, but director Kore-eda Hirokazu makes something a little more interesting than that.

As the movie opens, Keiko and her twelve-year-old son, Akira, are moving into a new apartment The landlords think she's nice, and recognize Akira as the responsible boy he is, but say they're glad she doesn't have any more children. What they don't realize is that she does - the two youngest, Shigeru and Yuki, were smuggled in inside suitcases, with twelve-year-old Kyoko waiting at the train station until nightfall to sneak in unnoticed. At dinner, Keiko reminds the children that they must do what Akira says, and never get discovered, which means no going outside or making too much noise. The next day, she goes off to work, leaving Akira in charge. Soon, she's gone for days. Then weeks. Then...

Read the rest at HBS.

Next up: SF/30. 15 movies in three days, 13 of them in a 24-hour time period. It's a phenomenally stupid thing to attempt if you value your ability to function for the next week or so..

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