Asteroid City (2023 Movie)
My second watch! Wes Anderson has only been getting more and more willing to mess around with his sensibilities—and by extension his audience—ever since 2021’s The French Dispatch. Asteroid City is an incredibly dense experience, dissecting Anderson’s regular structure to the point where the overarching narrative and themes can be near-indecipherable at times. Ultimately, it serves as a love letter to storytelling as a whole, and all the bumps that come with being a viewer. The furthest out-there experience of this year and a reminder that even the most star-studded of Hollywood flicks are capable of fucking with your brain.
The Boy and the Heron (2023 Movie)
After retiring for a third time, Hayao Miyazaki has come back with one last movie (until he came out of retirement for a fourth time). The Boy and the Heron is potentially his most personal film yet, and it’s certainly his most perplexing. I’ve seen it twice in theaters now and still feel like I’m missing a ton. What’s particularly magical about this one in comparison to the rest of Miyazaki’s filmography is that it’s essentially his “dream” film. Not as in the movie he’s always wanted to make—although it could very well be that, too—but in the way that it showcases what his dreams would look like. I believe that at its core, it’s a film about Miyazaki’s own place in his art, and by extension what his art means to him.
The Boy and the Heron is an incredibly erratic movie and lacks any semblance of proper structure, opting to let each moment speak for itself. Not to say that the framework isn’t here, since what’s surrounding those wonderful bursts of creativity can hold a damn strong punch. A perfectly incohesive experience.
Dial M for Murder (1954 Movie)
While I don’t think I’m ready to call Alfred Hitchcock the “master of suspense” quite yet, this is probably his most thrilling film next to Rear Window. The dramatic irony at play here is absolutely superb—especially with how the tables slowly turn in the other direction as the viewer watches everything unfold. One of those works which slowly marches towards an inevitable conclusion, feeling almost like everything is collapsing inwards on its protagonist.
Paper Moon (1973 Movie)
Possibly among the most convincing period pieces ever made in both style and tone. Nothing says “great depression” more than a hard-boiled child and a con man ripping-off everyone in the American south. The clear-cut pans and close-ups signify the era of filmmaking, as does the comic energy protruding from the duo’s antics. From taking advantage of grieving widows to ruining relationships to bootlegging, there’s so much life and charm in Paper Moon that it’s impossible to distinguish from even the best of those works it imitates.
Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972 Movie)
Undiluted trauma. Another Rashomon-inspired masterwork that nails everything it sets out to do. The misery within these veterans is expressed exceedingly well through Fukasaku’s perspective-reliant lens. It’s a story about widow Sakie Togashi trying to clear her late husband’s name after he supposedly got executed for desertion, and she talks to others who were in the same garrison. Eventually, it’s less about clearing his name, and more about just finding what actually happened. Togashi’s loneliness and fear seeps through the screen due to her framing within the drably-colored present day (as well as Sachiko Hidari’s performance). War scenes are directed with a strong sense of madness, spliced with segments of real life still images. Is it the battles that destroy soldiers, or something running even deeper?
A Dog of Flanders (1975 TV Series)
How do you adapt a 40 page short story into a 51 episode television series? Well, I’m still not exactly sure, but this is certainly one way to manage that. A Dog of Flanders is the first in the official lineup of Nippon Animation’s “World Masterpiece Theater” broadcast. I have to admit, the production is extremely underwhelming when compared to the ur-examples Fables of the Green Forest and Heidi, Girl of the Alps, being rather stiff and plain even for the era it was released in. Despite the meager looks and constant fluff, there’s a strong emotional core here, leading to the beautifully tragic ending this fable is known for. I’d take the feature-length 1997 remake any day, though.
Genesis Climber Mospeada (1983-1984 TV Series)
Standard mecha fare for the time. The highlight in Genesis Climber Mospeada is Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack, which is one of the most unique in his discography due to it being orchestral rock. It’s super energetic and arranged beautifully! Some cool biking and fighting here, too. The child character is annoying and I hate her.
Ookumo-chan Flashback (2017-2020 Manga)
From the creator of Mysterious Girlfriend X comes another bizarre, dreadfully awkward premise that somehow manages to develop into a deeply personal story as well as a shockingly intelligent text. A young boy starts seeing memories of his deceased father when he was dating his mother back in high school, leading to him developing some… strange feelings for her. It’s uncomfortable to say the least and seems straight-up fetishistic from the outset, but dive a little deeper and you’ll find a narrative about the way familial bonds can strengthen romantic relationships. It’s always nice to see something so heartfelt in the places where you’d least expect it.
///CODA (2023 Video Game)
Created entirely by one Fin Deevy, ///CODA checks off all the boxes in the Arcane Kids manifesto. In fact, it feels almost like it was created to do exactly that. The oppressive atmosphere lends itself perfectly to an experience that’s just as interested in comically blatant social commentary as it is the overall mood. There are tons of paintings you can jump into, each leading to its own little geometric wonder. Some even have secret areas! The highlights, however, are the exhibits which each follow some sort of narrative on how capitalism has pushed humanity into a corner. A bit on-the-nose? Sure, but I’m not complaining.
Humanity (2023 Video Game)
It’s a shame I hadn’t gotten to this earlier, but I’m glad I can give it more attention through this blog. Produced by the legendary and mildly elusive Tetsuya Mizuguchi (famed through Rez and Child of Eden), Humanity radiates all the creativity I look for in a puzzle game while still managing a decent level of difficulty. Your goal is to guide humans to an exit as an ethereal Shiba Inu. Simple enough, but the stakes never stop raising, and the levels never stop impressing. It’s shockingly effective as an audiovisual spectacle, too. Some of the most fun I’ve had with a video game in a year which was absolutely incredible for video games. Maybe I’ll check out some of the user-created levels sometime.
Link’s Awakening DX HD (2023 Video Game)
A complete PC remake of one of Link’s greatest adventures! Beautifully crisp with widescreen visuals and zero screen transitions! I’ve only played the original black-and-white version on official hardware, so this felt almost like an entirely new experience. As for the actual game itself, Link’s Awakening asks one question: what does it mean to dream? It’s rare for a goddamn Nintendo game to push you into legitimate philosophical conundrums, and it’s especially rich when there’s little in the way of a clear answer. The goal is to wake up the Wind Fish, but what does that mean for Link? Koholint is wonderful to explore and feels far richer than Hyrule in A Link to the Past. It’d probably be great to settle down there as well, since there’s no real terror to combat. Is drowning an eternal dream, or does it mean you’ll never dream again? Either way, this story is no more than a fleeting memory, as are most dreams. Maybe you’ll see it again someday.
Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956 Album)
This is where Charles Mingus truly came into his own as a legend of post-bop and the avant-garde. I’m not good with music discourse so forgive my briefness, but I’m absolutely in love with the title track and the way it depicts human evolution. Real shit.
A lot more movie-heavy this time around, as promised. Seeing Paper Moon in such a crusty 35mm print was a blast, Humanity impressed me more than almost anything else this year, and Asteroid City & The Boy and the Heron only got better with rewatches. Link’s Awakening DX HD just got taken down, but I’m sure you’re still able to find it on every corner on the internet. Great stuff all-around. Until next time!