Hello! I’m Owen Schmoisman, and this is my first weekly round-up. Just a quick overview of the artistic works I’ve experienced this week. I’ll be covering mostly movies on a majority of the posts, but there will be other mediums such as novels, TV series, manga, albums, and video games. I believe that’s a good enough introduction for now, so let’s begin this ordeal.
Doggie March (1963 Movie)
Hayao Miyazaki’s first animation credit and one of the earliest works from landmark studio Toei, Doggie March is a pretty clear Disney-adjacent movie with a strong tint of Warner Bros.-esque hijinks and comic sequences. The shortened narrative is split up quite well with those segments focused on humor, separating it further from its direct inspiration. Shows that even all the way back in the 60s Japanese animation was distinctively looser with narrative structure.
Love Exposure (2008 Movie)
Not my first watch by any means. Sono’s magnum opus is something that must be experienced at least once a year—ideally with a friend who hasn’t seen it before. Love Exposure is a rough experience that often resorts to melodrama and shaky cam sensibilities, yet it carries with it a prestige beyond that of almost any other movie at times. It’s a tale spun through the perspectives and lives of five different characters, yet it remains shockingly intimate. The journey of Yu is one from the child of a corrupt pastor to an upskirt photographer + kung-fu artist (ask later) to a man who wants a love God won’t let him have, and if that sounds interesting to you then it probably will be. It’s an intensely rich text and a work that has fundamentally shaped my perspective on cinema as a whole.
May December (2023 Movie)
Released earlier this month on Netflix, May December is the newest feature from Todd Haynes. I can’t speak much on the man himself as I’ve only seen Carol and long ago at that, but this more recent feature does show off his skill with incorporating long, moody shots when they’re most needed. Being a narrative about a manipulative relationship where grown adult Gracie Atherton grooms an adolescent Joe Yoo into marrying and procreating with her, it’s a delicate topic told through the eyes of an outsider—actress Elizabeth Berry—who plans to play her in a film based on her life. It doesn’t take too long before she finds out that it might not be okay for an adult to form a romantic relationship with a child. Haynes frames Gracie as someone in complete control of the situation and the story at hand in a way few directors could manage. However, the real spotlight shines in front of the camera for this story. It’s an actors’ film through and through. Charles Melton, playing Yoo, is the highlight hands-down and one of the best performances I’ve seen from this year.
Poor Things (2023 Movie)
One of my most anticipated releases for 2023 and I wasn’t let down at all. I’ve been a big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos ever since I saw The Lobster, and my love continues to stay true. It’s rare to see a $35 million production which actually looks like it cost as much as it did, let alone one with even half as much creative flair as what’s seen here. Poor Things asks a simple question: what if Frankenstein looked like a pretty young lady instead of a deformed monster? The answer is ultimately a simple message told bluntly, but it’s hard not to admire the creativity on display. From the surrealist CG work to the elegantly saturated color coordination (all juxtaposed against frequent imagery of surgical operation), Lanthimos remains a master of his craft. Also, this one is super funny! Laughed out loud countless times.
Spring and Chaos (1996 TV Special)
An animated biopic of Kenji Miyazawa, Spring and Chaos’ runtime under sixty minutes matches the short lifespan of the titular writer himself. I’ve only read a few of Miyazawa’s poems and have seen some of his novels adapted for the big screen, but it’s clear to me that his imagination has deeply captivated the hearts of this film’s crew. The end result is a sporadic showcase of abstracted style between naturalistic segments—and it’s only befitting of the subject’s strained life. Some of the visuals here are genuinely unforgettable. From disturbing monsters to roughly sketched daydreams to the beautiful night sky reflected on the water, it’s a briskly edited display of the most stylish television animation you’ll ever see.
Battle Royale (2000-2005 Manga)
I went through the original Battle Royale novel during the week before last, so I decided to follow it up with the manga adaptation. I’d say all three versions of the original story are interesting in their own way. This telling boasts some pretty gorgeous artwork above all else, but it generally strikes a sweet spot between the novel and movie in terms of overall coverage. The best way to describe this narrative’s uniqueness within the trope it created is to compare it to Lord of the Flies. A somewhat hypocritical suggestion, but one that exemplifies the scattershot, complex writing of its characters and their relationships. These kids are being forced to murder each other by their fascist government, but there’s more to them than just surviving and killing. The manga in particular is still a little less dark and disturbing than the source material, so if you’re looking to test your limits it’s the novel that’s probably worth starting with.
Battle Royale 2: Blitz Royale (2003-2004 Manga)
Released during the publication of the first manga, Blitz Royale is a manga-original sequel with art from Hitoshi Tomizawa of Alien 9 fame. Not much to talk about here. It’s pretty basic and honestly quite cheesy, falling into melodrama at seemingly random. I like Tomizawa’s style a lot, though!
Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003 Movie)
Often reviled as a dumbed-down work lacking the wit or prowess of its prequel, the second Battle Royale film is a similar situation to the manga: an original sequel that just sort of turns up the shock value, tropiness, and self-seriousness of what came before. I’d probably think less of it if I viewed it after a rewatch of Kinji Fukasaku’s first movie. As a bargain-bin gorefest, it certainly does its job well enough.
Gigant (2017-2021 Manga)
I came for the cool monsters wrecking havoc and I stayed for the cool monsters wrecking havoc. Hiroya Oku’s use of CG backgrounds makes for an interesting texture, and while others aren’t fond of it I do see it as its own flavor somewhat. The giants’ designs capture this extremely unique, creepy humanoid mold where they’re so blatantly fantastical yet feel almost mechanical. Unfortunately, that’s only half of Gigant, with the other half being a romanticization of a relationship between an adolescent boy and a grown woman. Reading this and proceeding to watch May December the day after was a bad choice.
Shimeji Simulation (2019-2023 Manga)
My favorite ongoing manga series is no longer ongoing as of last week! I fell in love with Tsukumizu’s style and sensibilities the moment I laid my eyes on Girls’ Last Tour, and Shimeji Simulation only amplified my adoration. The meditative dissection of “normality” extends to its stylistic offerings as well, reflecting distortion in its characters and environments whenever necessary. As a result, it’s a highly surreal and funny story that manifests a strong melancholic tone whenever needed most. Reality falls apart into abstraction until it isn’t even recognizable as a realm of existence anymore. Few works of art successfully manage to tackle the question of existence itself, but Shimeji does so perfectly. Absolutely astonishing.
Sonic Dream Team (2023 Video Game)
I am not a fan of Sonic Frontiers. At all. In fact, I care for the game so little that I just kind of stopped believing in the official releases altogether. I didn’t play the game’s DLC at all and I couldn’t bother finishing Sonic Superstars. Sonic Dream Team, however, is more in line with the routing and terrain design of ‘ole. I fell in love with the Sonic games for their sense of energy and style, but that’s something they haven’t been able to capture for quite a while now. There’s a texture to Dream Team that hasn’t been apparent in the blue blur’s 3D outings since the mid-2000s, and its return adds flavor and originality to a franchise which has been drowning in its past for an entire decade.
Touhou Suimusou, Hisouten, and Hisoutensoku (2004, 2008, and 2009 Video Games)
Subtitled Immaterial and Missing Power, Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, and Unperceiving of Natural Law respectively, these three are the first official Touhou fighting games. They all play rather identically, with Hisoutensoku literally being an expansion for Hisouten (most of the characters in the former are locked unless you own the latter as well). Suimusou is missing flight and the weather system, which makes it vastly less fun to play in my opinion. That being said, the bar of Hisoutensoku is an insanely high one. I’ve never seen an anime fighter/air dasher this heavy on tactics and zoning. There’s somewhat of a rock-paper-scissors(?) system here with the melee attack, ranged attack, blocking, and dashing that makes every match an absolute joy to play. Also, being able to take the fight directly to the sky is a massive plus. Don’t entirely trust me here, though, as I’m not particularly an expert at fighting games. I care more about being able to play as Okuu and Youmu. Twilight Frontier’s music has an impressive amount of variety considering how hard they’re channeling ZUN.
This round-up wasn’t as heavy on film as most others will be, but I did have some lovely experiences this past week! It was great rewatching Love Exposure with a friend who adored it, Shimeji Simulation’s finale left me with a beautiful hole in my heart, and going through the Battle Royale works felt like a long-awaited sigh of satisfaction. See you next time!