Modest Heroes: The Power of Short Film

I just finished watching Modest Heroes, a collection of three short films by Studio Ponoc. It’s an excellent anthology for any age with gorgeous animation, whimsical imagery, and universal themes— I wasn’t expecting any less, as Studio Ponoc was founded by former lead producer of Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, and the strong team of dedicated animators had already won my heart with their first feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower, 2017

Each of the the three stories making up Modest Heroes is crafted by a different director- Hiromasa Yonebayashi,  Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. Each is very different in style, situation, and tone, but they are unified by the larger theme of life- it’s precariousness, hardships, and beautiful moments.

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Modest Heroes, 2018

I won’t spoil the charming stories of Modest Heroes— to do so would be a grave misstep for me— but I’ll give a taste of each to entice potential viewers of this family-friendly collection.

First, we have:

Kanini and Kanino

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Mixing hand drawn animation with dazzling CGI, this story is a feast for the eyes, with lifelike realism in a lush natural world blended with stylized wide-eyed characters. The minimalist “crab language” spoken throughout, largely improvised ad-lib by the voice actors, is no hindrance to communication, as the expressive animation carries the story along.

Life Ain’t Gonna Lose

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In Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, young Sota Shinohara makes his voice acting debut as Shuu, a boy who has a very severe allergy to eggs. This short film is based on a true story, and indeed feels very real. The everyday routines of people in Tokyo are painstakingly rendered in bright and detailed scenes, and the complexity of human instincts and emotions are lovingly portrayed.

Invisible

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The last film in this trio has a somewhat darker and grittier feel, but is still full of surprise and whimsy. It confronts what it means to be invisible, both literally and figuratively.

We should not live without recognizing or caring about others. There are many people who are sad, happy, suffering, or angry around us. If the world today doesn’t have anything to offer them, then we should deal with those invisible people in our film.

-Yoshiaki Nishimura


 

The bonus materials on the DVD are definitely worth a watch, and include features such as interviews, a press conference video, art galleries, and trailers. I found these extras to have a lot of depth compared to the fluff-filled bonus features that are often included with films. The creators of Modest Heroes, from the animators to the voice actors, music producers, and so on, share thoughtful, funny, and interesting insights from the making of the project. For example, Studio Ponoc’s founder Yoshiaki Nishimura expressed his strong belief in the validity of short film as a format with its own intrinsic value and no less capable than feature length films. He also explained the focus of Studio Ponoc being firstly and foremost to create quality films to entertain children with authenticity and depth, capturing their hearts and inevitably inspiring adults in the process.

It is happily evident that the true spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on with Studio Ponoc.

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A Silent Voice Spoke to Me

Last night I watched A Silent Voice, the anime adaptation of the manga by the same name. I’d previously read the first volume of the manga, so I had an idea what the movie was about and expected it to be an emotional film, but it surprised me with its masterful and deliberate techniques. It brought a few tears even to my eyes, and I very rarely am able to cry.

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A Silent Voice focuses on the relationship between Shōya, a young man who was once a habitual bully, and Shōko, the deaf girl who used to be his favorite person to tease and bother. The movie weaves naturally between the memories of the past and the raw emotions of the present day, wherein Shōya is trying to make amends for the callousness of his past actions.

Many moments of the movie hinge upon the subtleties of communication and mixed messages— through spoken word, written word, and sign language. It also touches upon the delicate ties maintained between former friends and acquaintances, and how efforts to rekindle or mend former friendships can open oneself to vulnerability and shame.

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At the same time, A Silent Voice highlights the maturity and bravery of making choices that open up this vulnerability, and the struggles and rewards that are born of it. The deeply personal messages of the film, as well as the several gutdropping and heartstopping moments throughout, punctuated by moments of silence and crescendo, make for a truly thoughtful and moving film.

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Japanese Candy Wrapper Journal Video Tour

I love Japanese candy and snacks- they are often packaged very creatively and cutely, and feature all kinds of unique textures and flavours. For a while I had a subscription to a Japanese snack box (best birthday present ever) which gave me the chance to try out all kinds of different stuff. I love the cool packaging of these treats so much that I thought it was a shame to toss out the wrappers, and so I decided to start a Candy & Snack Journal. I’ve since added more and more as I’ve gotten candy as gifts, at shops, and on my trip to Japan in 2017.

When I first started this blog I made a post with a quick peek of my journal, but I decided it would be fun to make a video going through each page. I’ve enjoyed looking back at the candies and snacks I’ve tried, and hope that some others will enjoy the video too!

 

 

 

Rilakkuma and Kaoru on Netflix!

It’s out! And I just binge-watched the whole thing!

I was waiting and waiting for this from the moment I saw the trailer: Rilakkuma and Kaoru, an adorable Netflix original made using stop-motion animation!

Rilakkuma is by far my absolute favorite cute character to emerge from Japan. Rilakkuma (the brown bear) is a character from SanX. He made his debut in 2003, and is a lazy bear with the most endearing face I’ve ever seen. Just seeing Rilakkuma, or his friends Korilakkuma and Kiroitoiri, gives me a really warm, happy feeling that is instantaneous and all consuming.

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I don’t know quite what it is that makes Rilakkuma so squee-inducing. Perhaps it’s his black eyes— perfectly round and peering into my soul— or the placement of his ears, or the way he creases when he moves. Everything about him is proportioned and outfitted to positively scream “CUTE”. Japan has cute down to a science. I have my own Rilakkuma and friends at home, I just couldn’t resist them.

I enjoyed Rilakkuma and Kaoru very much— at first glance it might look like a simple children’s show, but it’s got a lot more depth than one might expect. Kaoru is an office worker in Tokyo who comes home one day dreaming about getting a pet cat, only to find Rilakkuma has randomly appeared in her apartment, with Korilakkuma (the white bear) following shortly after. Kaoru, and her pet bird Kiroitori, quickly become accustomed to having these two strange bears around, and they build a friendship.

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Kaoru struggles with questions that any young woman might- why am I so indecisive? What is my worth in this life? What am I meant to do? Am I being held back? Will I decide what I want in life? Rilakkuma and friends are there as a comforting presence and help Kaoru learn lessons throughout the show. They are also very funny, ridiculously cute, and genuinely heartwarming.

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This is the kind of show that I will probably watch again someday, and put on an episode now and then to have as a comforting background while I go about my day— the stop-motion animation is lovely in its details, and the overall feel of the show is very calming, relaxing, uplifting and cosy.

That said, it often went places I totally wasn’t expecting, and certainly wasn’t boring. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that not even aliens or ghosts are immune to the charms of Rilakkuma!

 

 

Japan Memories: Videos!

Last October was the 1 year anniversary of our 2017 trip to Japan, and I revisited all of the memories in a series of daily blog posts featuring my photographs and journal writings (check them out if you’d like, starting with day 1 here!)

I miss Japan very much- it’s like a reverse homesickness where I have a special place in my heart that aches to visit this far away place again. I am still thinking about Japan every day, and I convinced Dustin that we need to go back sooner rather than later- so we are going to spend Christmas in Tokyo this year!

When we went in 2017 we traveled around from Tokyo using a JR pass to get to Gunma, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kinosaki. We saw so many gorgeous places and ate so much amazing food. It was a fantastic trip.

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This Christmas we are planning to spend the whole time in Tokyo so that we aren’t moving from place to place so much (resettling into new inns and hotels, moving our luggage around) and we can just explore at leisure from our home base in Ikebukuro. There are so many spots in Tokyo that we have only barely explored, or not at all. I can’t wait. I even have 2 tattoo appointments penciled in with a studio in Shibuya!

Wish us luck! I’m saving all of my pennies… (well, figuratively- they don’t make pennies anymore in Canada…)


 

I finally made some videos with clips from our 2017 trips around Japan 🙂

These are just mashups of videos taken from my cell phone, my camera, and probably a little bit of Dustin’s cell and camera too. Some parts are a bit shaky but I kept them in because they were still cool memories. A few of these seem to be things that I didn’t even realize I was filming at the time… each video has a whole bunch of quick clips featuring some of the cool and beautiful things we saw in Japan.

Video 1: Tokyo- Ikebukuro, Ikebukuro street festival, Shinjuku, Shinjuku park, Shibuya, Shin Okubo, Harajuku, Ueno, Nagano Broadway, etc.

Video 2: Gunma- Takaragawa Osenkaku onsen ryokan (family run hot spring inn)

Video 3: Kyoto, Osaka- Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan, Harry Potter World, Kyoto Station, etc.

Video 4: Kinosaki- Mikunia onsen ryokan and ryokan town (hot springs town), autumn street festival, kaiseki meals, etc.

 

 

Mini Review: I’m Sakamoto, You Know?

For the last couple weeks I’ve been watching this anime in bits and pieces on my lunch breaks at the library:

 

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Haven’t you heard? I’m Sakamoto, or alternately I’m Sakamoto, You Know?

While I picked the Sakamoto anime up on a whim and haven’t yet read the manga, I thoroughly enjoyed this series and recommend it for anyone who wants a lighthearted and humorous romp.

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That said, a lot of the humor may be lost on people who aren’t already familiar with anime tropes- much of the hilarity comes from the ridiculous setups, recognizable character models, and punny wordplay, all of which generally poke fun at often overused or exaggerated scenarios.

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Sakamoto himself is the star of the show, of course, and he is a character that is impossible not to like- some students love him, some want to be him (or beat him), but he is completely on another level- aloof and magically skilled at never being uncool. At the same time, he’s also kind and chivalrous.You can’t rustle his feathers, no matter how hard you try. The best part, though, is the variety of inventive and ridiculous ways he manages to circumvent every attempt to thwart him or take him off guard.

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The show takes itself just serious enough to get you invested in the characters a bit, but it’s extremely fun to simply go along for the ride and see how many times suspension of disbelief can be crushed, or how many times the fourth wall can be broken by a side-character’s casual observance.

I recommend Sakamoto for you, your Mom, your dog, your boss, and every childhood friend you no longer communicate with.

Try Sakamoto today!

Japan Memories Day 22: A Day of Sighing, Awkward Taxi Situation, and Last Fun at Narita

This is the final day of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 22, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 22, October 22nd, 2017

Today is a day of sighing. A few sighs of contentment (one last soak together in the big tub, tenpura and shaved ice at the airport), but mostly it’s sighs of sadness to be leaving Japan. I am looking forward to seeing my friends, my dogs, and Dad of course, but this is the only time I’ve never felt the weird ache of homesickness while travelling- just pure enjoyment. I may have had a few more quiet tears as well…  T.T

We packed and prepped until checkout time, when Sawanoya summoned a cab for us. I gave them some candies and one of my paintings. Our taxi driver was flustered trying to fit our luggage into his tiny car in the pouring rain, and we didn’t know what we could do to help, but he finally managed eventually. Although we thanked them repeatedly and expected them to go back inside, the staff of Sawanoya all stood outside the entrance of the ryokan in the pouring rain, bowing to us until our taxi was out of sight. Such a lovely family, and a welcoming ryokan. 

We took the Skyliner from Ueno station to the airport and ate some delicious aforementioned food, bought sweets for the long plane rides ahead, used up the rest of our coins in the gashapon machines, and bought a few last-minute gifts and souvenirs.

And well, here we are. Narita airport is the most fun and interesting airport I’ve ever been to, but it’s still an airport… meaning we have to face the fact that we are leaving. 

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We are on our first plane now. We’ve had delays already due to the extreme wind and rain, so it looks like we will miss our connection in Vancouver? Oh well, we’ve finished our trip so I don’t really care at this point. I joked that I’d love if the typhoon stranded us here… of course, we’d have to go home eventually, but I have to say, Japan has been the trip of my life and I definitely, definitely want to go back again someday! ❤ 

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