Kamikaze Girls

Man, I often get stuck in a reading rut and find myself pushing through books that don’t hold my attention very well, but I’ve been really lucky with my picks recently- they’ve been knocking it out of the park! My last post I reviewed The Beast Player, which is an immersive fantasy. My most recent read, however, is a more everyday sort of story, but it certainly has its share of unexpected moments.

Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto is a cult classic in Japan that inspired a film adaptation. It’s a book about two Japanese teenage girls who live in a rural prefecture and become unlikely friends. Each follows her chosen lifestyle devoutly: Momoko strictly adheres to Lolita fashion and indulgent living, while Ichigo is a full-on Yanki: a member of a motorcycle gang who thinks she’s super tough despite only having a scooter.

Cover Variant

When Momoko tries selling some of her father’s knock-off Versace pieces to make some money for buying expensive Lolita clothing, she encounters Ichigo and the two are drawn together on a fateful journey to find a legendary embroiderer.

What makes Kamikaze Girls so engaging is the humour: author Takemoto says in the afterward that Momoko is pretty much his alter-ego (p. 213), and her sarcastic narration, exasperation, and dry commentary throughout the story carry it along with tons of hilarity. You might expect an adherent of Lolita lifestyle to present herself as sweet and dainty as the fashions she wears, but Momoko is far from a delicate flower. She takes the indulgence part of Rococo style very seriously, and is quick to shut down or criticize anything that doesn’t suit her whims with a brutal retort.

Cover variant. This hardcover is the version I purchased and read.

The story is fun and at times a tad absurd, but it also feels genuine- the girls, especially Momoko, come alive as you are reading. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation yet, but I could practically imagine the whole thing in my head because it was portrayed so well. I wish I could be friends with Momoko and Ichigo! Their friendship brought to mind for me that of the Amars from Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish series: girls who may seem outwardly very dissimilar and have completely different interests, but who share some important core values and can embrace their individuality while also supporting the passions of their friends.

The ending is very suiting, with things falling into place just as they feel they should. What really earns Kamikaze Girls a special place in my heart, though, is that there is an emboldening underlying message of “let’s all get along while following our own paths and doing whatever the hell we want!” (p. 215).

Cover Variant

I’ve ordered the film based on the book through inter-library loan, and very much look forward to seeing Momoko and Ichigo come alive in a different way on the screen!

The Beast Player

Fantasy fans: you need to read The Beast Player.

I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?

(From the book jacket)

The Beast Player is an epic fantasy, a standalone story, and a philosophical musing on the futility of war. It features an inquisitive protagonist, a badass mom, a kindly father figure, and many more admirable- and not so admirable- characters, as well as some interesting creatures.

The pacing is perfect and just enough detail is given by translator Cathy Hirano to pull you into the world without becoming tedious. Even the most fantastical elements in this story are fleshed out in a thoughtful and believable way, and the actions and reactions of the characters also feel refreshingly realistic. 

Elin is a clever, independent, and interesting young woman, and a keen observer of the natural world. Her story doesn’t follow many of the expected tropes one often sees- there’s no predictable romance here, just a tight and interweaving story full of adventure.

Penguin Highway

Penguin Highway is the kind of story that pulls you along like a strong and bending current- you have NO idea where it’s going but enjoy every turn and dip of the way nonetheless. This afternoon I settled down with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream to watch the anime adaptation of this Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which has also been made into a manga in the past).

The film, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, centers around the life of a young boy, a 4th grader who will be the first to tell you that he is a bright, smart, scientifically minded kid who will surely have his pick of marriage partners when he grows up! He’s only got eyes for one woman though- a mysterious dental worker who seems to have something to do with the sudden and in-explainable appearance of penguins in the area.

penguin-highway-1

Sound confusing? Yup, like I said, you just need to let the story unfold and enjoy the ride. The strange story involves natural and unnatural phenomena, scientific experiments, adolescent longings, bullies, friends, and lots of penguins.

I especially enjoyed the friendship between the two kids who enjoy using the scientific method, documenting their findings, playing chess, and discussing the theory of relativity.

penguin-highway002

Some parts were truly mind-bending. It’s not all charts and diagrams though- there are lots of funny and sweet moments throughout this fast-paced family film! The strange phenomena start small and build into a visually and emotionally powerful climax.

While the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff will no doubt leave many viewers scratching their heads, I found the conclusion to be satisfactory in how it tied things up. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.

01241

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.

mary
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.

Modest-Heroes-Blu-Ray-Digital-Release-Date
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

kanini-and-kanino_600

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

1048713-modestheroes-lifeaintgonnalose-lr

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

78c7ef61b3140c6e16632d58c379b2791547059681_full

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.

Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

saga4

Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to think.

sagaimage2

It wasn’t until after reading a few volumes of Saga that I learned the amazing and award-winning artist Fiona Staples was Canadian. Today that I learned she was born in Calgary- so cool! Staples’ art impresses me a lot- I really appreciate it when artists show you the nitty-gritty and go all in instead of making something watered down for wider consumption.

sagahghhghg

Saga doesn’t cater to the widest possible audience, but instead presents itself authentically, unabashedly, and in-your-face, no holds barred. It’s got action, emotion, diverse characters, strange creatures, and an epic feel. It’s totally earned a spot in my top favorite comic series.

sagalyingcat

Nope, not lying!

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.

med_1475136024_image

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.

asilentvoice

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.

Image1_ASilentVoice.0

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!