Extensive listening thread 👂 (2023)

Inspired by the extensive reading challenge, here is the extensive listening challenge thread!

This is a place to make goals and/or talk about anything related to listening comprehension. If we practice listening more now, we’ll be able to understand more later, right? You decide what the medium is (anime, dramas, podcasts, etc) and what your subtitle method is (native language, Japanese, none at all).

Feel free to use this thread to introduce yourself and your goals, to discuss what you’re watching and listening to, and/or to describe any particular difficulties or triumphs when it comes to Japanese listening comprehension. Giving or requesting recommendations for material is also encouraged. There are also other threads about listening material on the forums, with a recent one being here.

Spoilers welcome so long as you tag them.

Super long discussions could go in one of these

like this.

Previous threads: 2021, 2022

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Previous year’s versions of this thread have used the “challenge” framing, and had a wiki post for tracking stuff you watched or listened to…

… But this year’s doesn’t!
Just relax and listen to stuff! And post here about what it was you listened to or how it went if you would like to!
(but you can feel free to make a post to track things yourself, and I’m posting this as a second post in case there’s a clamor to wikify it and make it into a tracker again)

If it’s got spoken word (or I suppose sung word or text-to-speechified word, etc.) involved in it somehow, I feel like it counts as “listening.”

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My music player has several tracks of "free talk"s from various Drama CDs. So, on my daily commute to work, interspersed with what is mostly Japanese sung music, I get to listen to seiyuus chatting about various stuff. ^>^

It could be reflections about their role in the drama CD, but often it turns much more personal. They’re often given questions to read and answer, which vaguely connect to the story somehow. It could be about if they feel any kind of kinship with their character, about various life experiences they’ve had or just something as simple as their favorite food.

What I love about it, is being shown a glimpse of seiyuus real personalities and hear their real voices, with no tweaking to push it higher or lower, making it more gruff or smooth etc. Just being themselves. :slight_smile: it often helps you better understand how they’re attacking a role and giving it life I feel. ^^

And, you also get a much better understanding of the different dynamics between actors. :eyes: Some are clearly quite tense and having a hard time with this sort of thing, others are relaxed and constantly joking among themselves. It never fails to put a smile on my face though. XD

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Listening and speaking are my two weakest areas. But I’m partially deaf, so I try to extend myself some grace.

My two go-to things for practice are Japanese With Noriko and YouTube’s trending page. I used to listen to NHK during my commute, but then they disabled international access. I still miss it.

I also do italki lessons. It took ages to talk myself into it, but I’m really fond of my tutor as a teacher and person. I only meet with her once every two-ish weeks, but even that’s been great. I’m thinking about getting several more, just to diversify my practice.

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It’s hard to plan that far into the future when I am learning. Also, I don’t think I would track everything.

Medium Goal Subtitles
Drama / anime series
12-13 EP = 1 series
0 / 5 Japanese
Movies 0 / 5 Japanese
Audiobooks 0 / 3 with text
Youtube > 20 min 0 / 30 perhaps no sub
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Happy new year, all! I was lurking a little bit in the last thread, and listening’s been on my to-do list for what feels like forever, so I’m going to try to make an effort to post here this year!

I probably (?) won’t be formally tracking anything, but I do have a few goals I’m aiming for this year:

  • Listen through Teppei’s archive of the first 700 intermediate podcast episodes he did. This one is the one I’m hoping to make a habit; something to dig into my brain until I can eventually drop it/finish it and still have my brain ping me with, “shouldn’t you go seek out some Japanese?”
  • Listening to the Flesh&Blood drama CDs with @ekg and friends! I’m a big fan of the book series, so I’m extremely excited to try the drama CDs out. My big goal with those is to get to the point where I can listen to and understand the free talk CDs ekg mentioned above, as well as the CDs with 外伝 story content. :eyes:

I’m hoping to intersperse my listening with more variety as the year rolls onward, but these are my two definite activities I want to focus on, if nothing else.

And so in that vein, I’m happy to report I started with Teppei yesterday and listened to episodes 1 & 2! My thoughts are to listen to two episodes per day; enough to build a habit, but not something that’s going to necessarily eat up all my time. I’m not incredibly sure how I want to handle sections/episodes that completely go over my head: try to transcribe them? Listen again several more times? Do nothing and go with the flow? All three options have their place and time; might just be a matter of where I’m at and what I’m doing at the time.

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I finished watching both seasons.
I had a ton of fun with it, though the quality is not consistent throughout the series. With 16 episodes over 2 seasons, I feel it was exactly the right length.
For those who don’t know what it is, think roughly along the lines of squid game to get a feel for it. I watched it in Japanese with Japanese subtitles.

Points I liked about 今際:

  • Starts off strong. Hooks you right with episode 1.
  • Games can be pretty creative, I would say I liked 80% of them. The queen of spades was stupid though and all games after weren’t as great.
  • Production value is top-notch. Especially enjoyable for people who have visited Tokyo at least once.
  • Finished story.
  • Can be enjoyed even if one doesn’t catch all the language. Though, enjoyment is enhanced the more one understands what’s happening in the games.

Points I wasn’t so fond off:

  • Some characters surviving all the time became a running gag for me. Seriously… (アグニ???)
  • Some characters were sometimes doing stupid stuff for the stories’ sake -.-.
  • Pacing wasn’t perfect. Mid season 1 and first episode season 2 as well as 6/7 felt a little off.
  • Needed a dictionary pretty regularly to understand everything that was going on ^^. This is more of a problem in season 2.

Favorite Characters:
チシヤ, ミラ I liked it whenever they were on screen ^^.

Would love to talk smack with spoilers about the series if somebody else watched it and has opinions. So feel free to write down your own thoughts about the series please!

Overall, I would recommend everybody to watch it. If you can stomach a little gore (has 16 age rating) and darker stories, it can be quite the enjoyable watch.

Now I need something more mellow, though. Me thinks I should get on the Bochi the Rock hype train :smiley:

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I saw netflix added a mix of episodes of はじめておつかい!under season 2. So I’ll be watching those here and there.

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I watched a bunch of movies!

続・座頭市物語

This is the second Zatoichi movie (2 Zato 2 1?). Released less than a year after the first, and barely over an hour long, with 20+ sequels to follow it, I didn’t really have incredibly high expectations for this being more than a quick retread. But overall I was pleasantly surprised! In particular, I fully expected the story to just be an additional self-contained episode in the wandering life of Zatoichi, but other characters turn up to, like he goes back and meets the love interest he dodged at the end of the first movie, and I particularly like that if I remember right there’s a scene at a lake where he pines for the guy he met and bonded with and killed in a duel in the first movie.

It’s a fine samurai movie in its own right too, with this whole thing involving a brother who’s both Zatoichi’s older brother, and played by Tomisaburo Wakayama of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, who is the older brother of Shintaro Katsu, Zatoichi’s brother. That’s pretty neat! And I remember some good scenes with both of them.

I do feel though like it feels a notch or two less special than the first movie, which I suppose is to be expected. In particular, I feel like Zatoichi is much more of a standard samurai action hero in terms of his swordsmanship, where I remember the first movie getting a lot of especially cool mileage out of him being specifically like, an unsheathing artist, so duels would end in one slash. Here he’s fighting hordes of dudes all over the place with plenty of slashes.

I watched the movie without subtitles, and while there were definitely a handful of plot details I didn’t really pick up on (I wasn’t sure if the two characters were literally brothers or not, and I didn’t pick up on exactly the reason people were trying to kill Zatoichi), when I read a synopsis afterward I at least could clearly remember which scenes conveyed that information and could slot in the new information perfectly well (sort of like the listening equivalent of like, unknown words in a text being clearly identifiable as such instead of just not understanding the whole thing perhaps?) so I suppose that’s a victory of sorts anyhow.


ゴジラ・モスラ・キングギドラ 大怪獣総攻撃

As 2000s Godzilla movies go so far, I thought this one was especially interesting! It’s the most outright malicious Godzilla has been portrayed in a very long time, and it’s a very solid kaiju disaster movie in those terms, with the human characters and plenty of other monsters trying to stop the extremely intimidating threat of Godzilla.

It’s also interesting that it uses a lot more like, Shinto / Japan folklore type elements than I’ve seen a Godzilla movie do before, with the birth of a handful of other guardian monsters triggered by like, various cliches of disruptive people in modern Japanese society (暴走族 etc.) knocking over statues at shrines and stuff, and also I didn’t fully catch it while watching originally, but at one point Godzilla is said to be like, embodying the vengeful souls of everybody on all sides who died in WW2. It came across by the end as a bit jingoistic to me, but I guess that’s in line with how disaster movies around this time were in general.

The reconfiguration of the monsters to put them all in opposition to an actively malicious Godzilla rankles with me a little bit… King Ghidorah’s not a good three-headed dragon from Earth! He’s an evil three-headed dragon from space, dammit! But I mean, it’s not really a big deal (and a movie with a three-headed dragon of any kind in it is surely better for it I think we can all agree on that). I do also think it’s very funny that Baragon is just dropped from the over-descriptive title (but also agree that Baragon is notably less cool than Godzilla, Mothra, or King Ghidorah).

Anyway, the stuff with the human protagonists works particularly well here, with a plucky reporter and her military general dad being a good throughline through the monster goings on. It ends up a very fun monster movie!


女番長 野良猫ロック

I’ve already seen Meiko Kaji in the later Female Prisoner Scorpion and Lady Snowblood series, and liked them a lot, so now it’s Stray Cat Rock!

I enjoyed it a lot! It’s got a super fun 1970 girl gang aesthetic, with Akiko Wada being extremely cool as this very tall, androgynously dressed biker, and I also really appreciate that like… Meiko Kaji gets to play, like, an actual human with relatable emotions for once? Like Female Prisoner Scorpion and Lady Snowblood are both very cool and all – but they’re definitely much more like, grim specters of revenge than they are people you would ever meet in real life (Lady Snowblood’s backstory in particular makes her entire life from birth 100% devoted to revenge), whereas here she’s a girl in this small time gang whose boyfriend screws up real bad. She definitely still does lots of piercing stares though, it is Meiko Kaji after all. Other performances I enjoyed: Ken Sanders has one of the more fully fleshed out roles I’ve seen for a non-Japanese actor in a movie like this. And I half convinced myself that Goro Mutsumi playing the villain might be a young Takeshi Kitano because of how much threatening, expressionless glowering he does.

The movie has some fun stylistic flourishes, with things like emotional moments highlighted by a solid color cutout surrounding the actor’s face. They aren’t nearly as over the top as what would be in a later movie, but they’re still pretty fun! One particularly odd one is whenever a date is given in an establishing shot, it’s like – flashes rapidly on the screen, cutting between the establishing shot and the date in a disorienting way.

I also appreciate that there’s relatively little exploitation movie type content (at least in this first movie), bar an unpleasant torture scene or two.

The movie’s climax involves a chase between a motorcycle and a very small car weaving through the city streets which I enjoyed very much.

I watched this one without subtitles and I feel like I understood what was going on fine even if I didn’t pick up on every word of dialogue.


姿三四郎

This is Akira Kurosawa’s directorial debut, and I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I enjoyed it a whole lot!! Like Castle of Cagliostro with Miyazaki which I watched recently – it feels a bit like definitely a fully fledged movie of the director, even if the subject material isn’t fully what you would expect from their later work.

Sanshiro Sugata is about the rise of judo and its clashes with the established jujutsu, which I don’t know much about but provides a fine martial arts story with a Meiji era background that I LOVE. There’s something a little magical about watching a movie from 80 years ago, that itself is portraying a time 60 years before that. Like, the movie being temporally closer to the time portrayed despite both gaps being so large makes it somehow feel like you’re getting an even closer view of that farther back time than you really are. And period piece elements like Sugata’s mustachioed, extremely Meiji-era-looking rival are just very fun.

There’s a ton of cool touches in the movie as well. I love for example, there’s a series of shots conveying time is passing after the first main brawl where like, a discarded geta is shown as it lingers on the side of the road, exposed to the elements, eventually falling in the river and drifting away. Or there’s the extremely windswept hillside setting of the main final fight, which looks extremely cool (reminding me a bit of a later, similarly cool hillside fight, the snowy one in The Chinese Boxer). And there’s emotionally rich scenes like Sugata demonstrating his commitment to learning by hanging on to a stick submerged in a pond, until a lotus blooms in front of him, or a good scene where he and a possible love interest converse on some stairs in town.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed it despite its intimidating age (and trimmed runtime due to war-time censors). And Takashi Shimura is even there! I guess it really is a Kurosawa movie.

I watched this with English subtitles I couldn’t turn off, and I think I might have been able to understand what was going on without them?


プロメア

I recall this making quite a stir when it was out in theaters, and so this is my finally getting around to watch it after that.

I can certainly see why it made an impact! The action is often dazzling, and the characters and a particular duo in particular seem very geared towards fandom tastes. It’s a neat and tidy package and I enjoyed it.

… I felt quite unengaged with the story though. I feel like they hit the (pretty familiar) beats they needed to perfectly fine, but they left no room at all for world or character building outside of those beats. So like the protagonist gets to go from naively trusting the authority figure → to questioning him → to having conflicted feelings about him → to the authority figure definitely 100% discarding him and being flagged as the outright villain for sure in just like, A to B to C steps. The settings and setpieces in the path of the main plot are well-designed to be cool, but they don’t feel like they exist in any meaningful way outside of that path. There’s also a crucial plot beat that occurs entirely be happenstance and the characters admit. None of that’s necessarily wrong! And it suits the flash of the movie in some ways. But it does remind me of, for example, a stylistically great graphic novel I would check out from the library on a whim, read it and enjoy it and turn it in, and then never think about it again. Not a bad outcome by any means but certainly not as fun as discovering something that grabs me completely.

I watched this with English subtitles I couldn’t turn off, and the freneticism and frequency of in-universe lingo meant that I didn’t try all that hard to avoid looking at them, and mostly did that “half paying attention to the subtitles, half to the audio” scheme.

This completes a queue of five in my backlog system, of Perfect Blue, Mirai, Your Name, A Letter to Momo, and Promare. All fine and well made, but it’s A Letter to Momo all the way for me out of those five! I should probably replace it with another queue of modern anime movies, but I’m not sure if I have enough I’ve been meaning to get around to to fill one at the moment.


…And a couple of tv shows!

ウルトラマンレオ

This is the 7th “Ultra” show and the last one in the second generation of Ultraman shows in the early 70s.

After Ultraman Taro, I remember feeling that Ultraman had probably settled into a formula, but right out of the gate this show felt the most distinct in terms of tone out of any of them so far, with a much grimmer tone, action clearly heavily inspired by kung fu movies, and a grizzled Ultraseven (or rather, Moroboshi Dan) returning to fill the role of mentor figure for the new protagonist (where previously, characters from previous shows generally only ever returned in a fantasy, “Ultra Brothers” type of context). A lot of those first handful of episodes are tense fighting against overcast skies and rain, karate training montages, or aliens murdering people. I was especially scandalized by one of the first episodes showing onscreen the bisected corpse of a kindly old man, guardian to a couple of kids who watched him die.

That first run of episodes really really hit that “aliens are a threat to everyone you love and will show up to kill people and only you can stop them, Leo” angle, to kind of a ridiculous degree. I remember one episode in particular where the lesson for Leo was essentially that he needs to be EVER VIGILANT against threats to the women in his life, and the episode ends with him trying to do karate on a bee that was buzzing around them. Moroboshi Dan’s lessons that he instills in Leo are very harsh and usually accompanied with attacking him with his crutch in some way.

Still though, I found myself really appreciating the coherence of this tone and the strength of the supporting cast around the protagonist. All Ultraman shows I’ve seen involve a protagonist who’s Ultraman’s secret identity, and he’s a part of this like, kaiju fighting force that for whatever reason always has a different name in every show, usually an acronym (in this case it’s MAT), and those fellow squadmembers are usually the main supporting cast for the show. Here though, Except for Dan as the leader, none of the MAT members are consequential at all, and they even end up as redshirts a handful of times. And I think that’s honestly a good thing, as it lets the protagonist, Ootori Gen, have an actual human personal life with a more full cast than in any of these shows I’ve seen before (not saying that much) – he spends a lot of time at an athletic club, and he and his sorta girlfriend are like, surrogate mothers basically for these two kids who got orphaned, tying into Gen’s own backstory where he’s really an alien from a planet that got destroyed by an alien force. And so anyway, I think the storylines dealing with those two kids, and the relatively complex depictions of like, emotionally processing that bleack backstory, are some of the strengths of the show and work well alongside all the karate and alien murderers and stuff.

… But I did find myself worrying that EVERY episode was going to a bleak miniature action movie with alien murder and a karate training sequence. After all, one of the things I love about Ultraman (in contrast to the Toei Sentai/Kamen Rider shows from what I’ve seen), is that there’s really no set structure or topic for an episode other than Ultraman will presumably show up and fight something at the end. Other than that, episodes can be about anything, and can very wildly in town, and that grab bag aspect makes it super fun to go into a new episode not knowing at all what to expect. And it worried me a bit that it seemed like I could expect a Leo episode to be a harrowing ordeal put on Gen that he has to train to overcome with karate, every time.

The second generation of Ultraman shows have trained me to suspect that the end of a show was probably going to end with a very different tone and setup compared to the beginning, though. And yep! The show starts heavily lightening up, with a goofy episode involving a slapstick character inflating like a balloon, and a bit later with a long line of folktale-inspired stories that are definitely some of my favorite episodes in the show. From that point on, the bleak action content is a lot more in the background, with the grab bag appeal of Ultraman fully in force.

And then there’s the sudden, wild mid season pivot, which again – I’ve kind of come to expect at this point, otherwise I would have been more shocked and upset about it. The whole supporting cast except Gen and the boy he was taking care of (including the sports center friends, apparently all of MAT and Ultraseven, the sorta girlfriend, and the little girl) are all killed off by a flying saucer alien, and then for the rest of the show (~10 episodes or so? Maybe like the last fifth) Gen and the boy are adopted by a nurse and her family of two other girls, and so the supporting cast is completely rearranged and every episode is about Leo fighting additional flying saucer enemies.
I don’t know anything at all about the production of these shows (someday I will have to find books to read about it), and I’m so so curious what goes into a choice like this. I assumed with previous second-generation Ultraman shows that it was probably like, the studio deciding between production schedules to pivot in a different direction or something, and that probably is the likeliest scenario still? But so much went into the tone of the start of the show being coherent this time around, and the way the cast is killed off deliberately and effectively evokes families looking over the list of confirmed dead following air raids, that it does make me wonder if there’s an intentional arc behind it. Since if there is – it does seem like there’s something potentially interesting to explore about how ultimately all the tough love lessons drilled into Gen weren’t enough to ensure that his loved ones wouldn’t randomly be killed, and at the end of the show he does seem a lot happier with a mother figure who shows actual warmth, than he was with the always cold and demanding father figure of Dan. Still seems like an intense and unhappy (especially about the little girl) way of showing that arc if it is coherent like that – but in this particular time period I have to imagine the war factors a lot into how the creators of the show are portraying masculinity and childrens’ development in a show like this, so it’s hard to be like “seems a bit intense and sad huh” about it when like… well yeah, clearly unimaginably intense and sad things happen while people are growing up, huh.

So anyway, it’s an interesting show! I think of the second-generation Ultraman shows, it’s probably my favorite? But that could 100% just be because of the nicer setup I have now with the wireless earbuds and new tv and stuff. I watched the whole show while exercising and got through it pretty much as fast as possible that way (roughly a month), which shows I was engaged enough to consistently exercise to it.

I watched the show without subtitles and did not have major problems.

In general the first three Ultra shows: Ultra Q, Ultraman, and Ultraseven, are total classics that I’d recommend to absolutely anybody to at least give a shot and see if you like it.
And the second-generation of Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Taro, and Ultraman Leo, are all still very good, very fun shows with a ton of varied things on offer, but they’ve definitely each got less of a cohesive classic feel and feel more like slightly flawed additional fun things to definitely check out if you’ve established you like Ultraman. (It’s extremely cool that all are readily available to English language markets).

Some especially memorable episodes:

I loved the 一寸法師 inspired episode ウルトラマンキング対魔法使い which introduces Ultraman King and involves fun tiny Ultraman Leo effects and a villainous wizard!

There’s a couple of fun throwback episodes right after that, where Dan gets closure with his love interest from Ultraseven, and then actors from the original Ultraman play different characters.

I really liked the spooky one where the little girl gets lured by a mirror-themed alien.

And I LOVE the blood red parasiticてるてる坊主 in an episode near the end.
image


美少女戦士セーラームーンR

Parallel to Ultraman Leo, I got in the habit of using a time slot for watching a tv show while not exercising (which isn’t something I’ve done very often in the past, but I wanna since I mean, there are shows I want to watch that aren’t gonna get watched otherwise), and watched Sailor Moon R! The second series/season/whatever of Sailor Moon (the first of which I watched a few years ago or so while exercising, before I was turning off subtitles in a show like this). I was in the mood one night for something light and fun to watch where I wouldn’t have problems understanding it, and watched a couple of episodes of this and enjoyed it a lot and ended up watching the whole series at about the same pace as Ultraman Leo.

Sailor Moon’s a lot of fun! And this is definitely more Sailor Moon. Neon, transformations, sinister forces absorbing girls’ life force, goofy comedy, etc. The first show ended with plenty of closure, and that is hastily done away with here within an episode or two. I haven’t read more than a volume of Sailor Moon the manga (yet) so I’m not sure if any of this follows the manga or not.

R covers two arcs: the first is short and is pretty much exactly what I was in the mood for at the time – a pretty simple and light-hearted storyline where two aliens turn up and cause trouble, but their secret identities attend school and provide enough fish out of water comedy that it’s telegraphed very directly that they’re going to get redeemed. The second arc involves a small child who looks suspiciously similar to Usagi and has a robot Luna helper thingy so everyone calls her Chibiusa and she gets injected into Usagi’s life like Dawn in that one season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (huh, come to think of it, that show was probably just cribbing off of Sailor Moon a lot of the time…). And anyway it’s presented kind of strangely because it’s a very very weird circumstance but no one really has any good guesses for why it’s happening so the only obvious possible explanation – that she’s Usagi and Mamoru’s kid from the future – is, well, yeah, that one is the one that turns out to be explanation. Genuinely what else would explain any of that? and anyway that’s the emotional core of that second chunk, which builds as you would expect to various battles against evil. Chibiusa took a while to grow on me, but I guess she’s okay.

Overall, I’m personally very neutral on like, Sailor Moon cosmology, so when things start getting intense and involve magic backstories and explanations of who exactly the different invading aliens are, I’m a little not interested. But I really enjoy the sillier episodes, especially the ones that focus on one or two of the girls interacting with the others, like the one where Venus is trying to take care of the others while they’re sick but she’s very bad at it, or any episode focusing on Sailor Mercury. I’m also a sucker for the protagonists repeatedly converting secondary bad guys over to their side.

I’d like to watch the next series, Sailor Moon S, but it will probably be a similarly long gap before I get to it. I do definitely hope to keep the non-exercising tv-watching timeslot open though for other things…
I watched Sailor Moon R without subtitles and had no major problems. (I feel like occasionally zoning out was a bigger threat to understanding than language knowledge)

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Just finished the first episode of My Beautiful Man 美しい彼 and I am not a fan of him as yet. I will continue with the show to see both of their character development and it is an interesting show. Watched with Language Reactor and Japanese subs and understood maybe 80% because of course there’s grammar I don’t know and LR sometimes highlights wrong bits so you miss some vocab too.

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Wrote this over on Natively but sharing here as well:

JFF released new independant films streaming from today on their website here: https://jff.jpf.go.jp/watch/independent-cinema/film-lineup/

From past experience I know it won’t work in some places (notably Japan as its meant as a tourism initiative I think?) but in unrelated news, VPNs can make it appear you’re browsing the web from a different location than you are.

In the Distance and Drive into Night are the ones that appeal to me - any that you all are thinking of watching? :popcorn:

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I watched some movies!

マルサの女 (A Taxing Woman)

I was so thoroughly charmed by The Funeral and Tampopo, that pretty much any movie with Juzo Itami’s peculiarly charming writing and direction, and leads Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki was just kind of inherently going to be a hit, and so A Taxing Woman (appropriately about another famously inextricably ordinary life experience after movies about death and food: taxes) was thoroughly enjoyable to me even though I have a hard time pointing to exactly why. It’s fun to follow this tax cop as she attempts to catch out this tax fraudster, in a way sort of reminiscent of Fargo in that like – using the form of a movie that’s usually about more serious or grandiose things, to show a more ordinary and goofy kind of cat and mouse game – sort of way. I didn’t necessarily feel intensely drawn into how it all plays out though. The relationship it sketches between the two leads is interesting, although I’m not sure exactly what to make of it – I suppose that it speaks to Yamazaki’s character using romance as a way to control women and stay ahead of the law, while Miyamoto’s character’s disinterest in responding to that, and sober motherliness with respect to his kid speaks to the seriousness that lets her be his undoing? Or something like that? (it has been a bit since I saw the movie). And the movie plays with the like, sense of justice vs. needless irritation that this tax enforcement means for people, in interesting and strange ways like the odd scene where the lady is made to strip as the male tax agents are sure she’s hidden secret profits away somewhere on her person. But overall it’s just a really enjoyable time anyway I thought. Beginning with a strange mirror of Tampopo, in a way.

One mistake I made: I made sure to do my taxes before watching the movie, because I thought vaguely I’d feel guilty if I didn’t… but the main musical theme used throughout the movie comes across as “doing tax fraud” montage music, and it would have been a lot more fun doing my taxes with that in the background! Oh well!

I watched this with Japanese subtitles and still didn’t do amazingly great at following the exact intricacies of the various tax machinations involved.


プロジェクトA子 (Project A-Ko)

I didn’t really know anything concrete about this going in – I get the impression that it was a major touchstone for a particular generation of anime fans well before my time in any adjacent scene.

It’s pretty fun! I enjoyed it. It’s light and kinda dumb and 100% not trying to be anything it isn’t, and it’s a pretty good time! About a sort of gay love triangle between the super-strong-for-no-reason A-ko, the sweet but always out of it C-ko who’s her best friend, and the jealous B-ko trying to split them apart and have C-ko to herself via mech warfare. And there’s… aliens? I think? If I’m remembering right?

The best part is definitely the good nature, where possible villains tend to end up pals, or at least not serious enough to be actual villains, and even the A-ko/B-ko rivalry seems more like part of a weird triangular relationship than exactly a negative thing.

Not all of it ages great – there’s one of those “female character with the build and voice acting of a muscular male character” designs I never ever like – and it takes a certain level of endurance for… stereotypically anime things and (nearly) all that implies, since in a lot of ways it feels a bit like The General Idea of What Anime Is: The Movie.

I’m seen comparisons specifically to Kill La Kill as something directly inspired by this, which makes sense.

There’s a number of sequels I will also likely check out at some point.

I watched this without subtitles and I think it went just fine.


晩春 (Late Spring)

This is my second Ozu, after Tokyo Story. This one comes before that, but they’re definitely very linked, in both starring Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu (and others) and depicting a normal, bittersweet part of life and the changing relationship between parent and child.

Just like that movie, I thought it was great! I watched this one with no subtitles at all, and while I don’t think I tracked all of the dialogue at all, I think mainly what I was missing out on are the small warm details and little jokes and humanity and stuff that fill these movies, rather than intricate plot details or anything like that, since it’s one that can be summed up quite succinctly: Hara’s character is a single woman who lives with her somewhat sickly father, and the movie is about him encouraging her to get married and leave for her own household.

There were times while watching, that my distance from that central dynamic - in temporal terms in the way that expectations put on women around marriage are much different now than they were then, as well as in personal terms in the way that I would not necessarily be inclined to view going for the marriage in this scenario as the right outcome - did produce distance to the work, moreso than with Tokyo Story (which deals with dynamics that I would say have certainly changed less over the years), but I think that what makes the movie work very well by the end is I don’t think it comes across as a conservative “this is the way we should live” sort of movie, so much as it is very focused depicting the mundane emotion in the ways that we do, in general, tend to live, and the strange mix of excitement and pain, encouragement and regret involved with that kind of nest-leaving (whether because of marriage or whatever else) is certainly I think a very relatable dynamic for many even today. An example of how it focuses in on that is the way that the potential husband is described but never actually shown – the future that Hara’s character is facing remains in all respects a complete unknown to the standpoint of the film.

I found myself a little jealous of the daughter and father’s relationship in the movie. Not that my relationship with my own father is bad at all – but some of the best scenes in the movie are emotional heart-to-heart talks. And the two characters clearly value their time with each other, and it’s not difficult to believe, even for the daughter’s perspective, because Chishu Ryu gives off such a warm feeling.

Without subtitles, I mentioned my listening comprehension wasn’t too great, but it was good enough to cry quite a lot at the ending so it can’t have been that bad. The very last shot with the father back home alone is a real heartbreaker - not because anything particularly bad is going to happen, not because anyone’s arguments earlier in the movie were invalid… just because of the inevitable passage of time, I suppose.

Looking online, it seems like I maybe accidentally two of Ozu’s most lauded to watch of his filmography first, which wasn’t necessarily my intention, but I’m pretty much on board for any of his work now.


狂猿 (KYO-EN: The Documentary of a man who SHINES IN BLOOD)

this is the Jun Kasai documentary! Kasai is a famous deathmatch pro wrestler, who I’m not the most familiar with in the world, but I’ve certainly loved at least one of his matches recently, and he seems like a cool dude.

The blu-ray actually comes with English subtitles (but no Japanese ones - which is odd for a Japanese movie, but I suppose come to think of it completely normal for Japanese pro wrestling videography), but I went without. Since it’s a documentary it’s all people talking normally, so I wouldn’t say that I understood all of it very well at all, but it held my attention at least.

It’s pretty all right! I wouldn’t say that the documentary has a huge like, story to it? In the sense that it’s mainly just following Kasai in his path in-ring and out, and outside of the ring Kasai seems like a pretty normal down to earth dude, even while in-ring he’s the crazy monkey everyone knows and loves.
What almost ends up the main story is it turns out it’s a COVID-era documentary, so we see the full arc from “looking forward to this tournament in America” to “travel plans are canceled…” to everything in wrestling being shutdown for a while, to slightly awkward bittersweet return matches with limited crowds. That makes it a definitely interesting artifact, although one that’s maybe a bit early to revisit…

One aspect of the movie that I found actually really strong, is the deathmatch footage itself. If you aren’t familiar with deathmatch wrestling (or maybe even if you are) this might be a ROUGH movie to watch in terms of violence, albeit via a weirdly different calculus than violence in both either fictional movies, or where the violence isn’t a consensual performance. There’s a lot of slow motion footage of a few matches, which definitely produces a lingering effect moreso than watching them live. There’s a bit in one where they both stick a sharp wire straight through both of their cheeks (I feel like I should blur that) and I still don’t really understand how the body will mainly just like, heal after that kind of thing. The wonders of nature!

There’s a bit of material about Kasai going to the doctor and his injuries, and some material about the psychology of what makes someone go be a deathmatch wrestler, but I wouldn’t necessarily say either is the focal point. I would say my takeaway from the movie is that Jun Kasai is… Jun Kasai, and all that implies, and there’s something of a triumph just to that fact that someone so peculiar and peculiarly inspiring can exist and be in a spotlight. The man really does shine in blood.

Since my listening comprehension was poor, (and I’m usually very bad at discerning this anyway) I wasn’t sure exactly where we’re at on the kayfabe-o-meter. In the talking heads portions where folks from Kasai’s past like Tomoaki Honma talked about his rise and stuff like that, I caught some ヤラセ type keywords, particularly in reference to non-deathmatch wrestling. And there’s plenty of stuff about Kasai getting booked for shows, and like, planning out what to bring and stuff. But on the other hand the footage for the climactic match feels somehow a bit like the climax in a regular sports movie, where the contender goes out and does his best win or lose. And I do feel like at least from what I’ve seen – I suppose because of the inherent violence of deathmatch wrestling, I feel like in the scene in some ways the cooperative spectacle is more overt. Like you might say you’re gonna kill the guy before the match, but if anyone actually thought you were trying to permanently, actively harm the other person with any of the many many weapons in the ring… like, the police would show up, right? The “we bleed in the ring together” element seems strong I guess is what I mean, and I’m not well-versed or good at listening enough to pick apart that from full-on breaking character.

Some of my favorite moments in the documentary were the smaller domestic scenes, like meeting Kasai’s mom, who has a whole bunch of his pictures up on the wall, or Kasai buying razor blades and then meticulously glueing them into a styrofoam board to use in the match later, sitting on the floor in his own home.

All in all, pretty neat, although I wouldn’t call it revelatory or necessary for watching if you don’t already know who Jun Kasai is.


激突! 殺人拳 (The Streetfighter)

This is an action movie starring Sonny Chiba, and it definitely leans very heavily on the “antihero” side of the equation for my taste (Chiba’s character is a giant piece of shit), but it’s definitely got cool elements and it pretty well won me over by the end.

I’ve seen a lot of Hong Kong kung fu movies recently, and so something I appreciated a lot is Chiba’s character is an expert in karate, and (although I’m absolutely no expert of any kind in martial arts) that different style feels like it makes its influence very much known in the fights, which are a lot less about fluid, stylized movements, and more about getting a good solid thwack in. The fight with the teacher in the middle of the movie showcases that well I think. Not necessarily related to karate as far as I know, but he’s also got these bracer things he uses in fights, and makes a lot of kinda odd poses and expressions (different from the ones say, Bruce Lee does) that are one of those things that I felt like weren’t cool at first but kinda warmed to.

It’s very much the particular kind of action movie that makes you go “oooooooo!!! that had to hurt!” a lot. One choice example (among a lot) is when Chiba hits a guy in the head and it full-on does a Mortal Kombat x-ray, with an effects shot showing the guy’s skull inside his head shattering. That may or may not sound fun based on that description, but it’s awfully fun.

Honestly… It’s pretty much just the violence of the movie that makes an impact, but it does make a hell of an impact. So there’s that.

This is one where I hadn’t heard of it until recently, but I get the impression it is or was a pretty big touchstone, and might be what Sonny Chiba’s most famous for.

I watched this without subtitles and I think it went fine.


東京フィスト (Tokyo Fist)

It’s a Shinya Tsukamoto movie! This is my first non-Tetsuo one of his (unless you count Utility Pole Boy), and I was a little bit unsure what to expect - would it just be a straightforward, maybe stylish drama?

I needn’t really have worried - it is 100% clear that the same person who directed Tetsuo directed this. The music… the body horror… the occasional bits of stop-motion… the general sense of modern malaise… Stylistically I was 100% on board and had a great time.

I’m a little bit unclear in retrospect story-wise though - part of that might definitely be that I watched it without subtitles and my listening comprehension isn’t great (although at least reading a summary on wikipedia didn’t reveal new broad insights that I missed), part of it might just be that it’s a bit of a strange movie.
I feel like I had a reading of it forming right after I watched it… I’m not sure I can call it back now, though. The trio at the heart of the movie, and some of the things they do to each other and how they end up, are certainly memorable, in any case.

Regardless, I enjoyed it quite a bit! And I look forward to watching more of Shinya Tsukamoto’s movies.


And a tv show!

ジャイアントロボ (Giant Robo)

This is the 1967 live action tokusatsu show, NOT the OVA series that I haven’t see but have heard extremely good things about.

I bought this as a Japanese DVD edition off of CD Japan, partly because talk of the OVA made me curious about Giant Robo in general (and I like tokusatsu enough to be down to watch pretty much anything of it), and also partly just because I wanted to see the giant eyeball on the DVD cover move around and stuff. The suit looks so good! Love that thing. And I’ve seen it referenced sometimes in anime, etc. as a famous tokusatsu monster too.

The show’s fun! It’s pretty much a kid’s spy show, with the centerpiece being the titular Giant Robo, who happens to only be controllable by our protagonist little boy, Daisaku, surrounded by various not-too-serious but action-packed espionage plots between the good guys, BF団, and the bad guys, led by ギロチン帝王. That spy tone gives it a fun, adventurous feel that’s a bit more playful than say, the slightly older / more action movie-ish tone of Kamen Rider. And I think the series really excels at having the kids in the show be along with the adventure. The little boy gets to be a full fledged agent, U7, and he’s joined by a little girl, U6, and while they tease each other a little bit, they’re both treated 100% like teammembers, to the point that there’s multiple cases where U6 grabs a gun from adults standing nearby and shoots the bad guy herself. Frankly - she gets more to do than most of the adult women on kaiju-fighting teams in UItraman! I think all that does a great job at presenting the adventure on the kids’ one terms - it feels a little bit like watching a make-believe session, where everyone is playing along with the kids on their grand adventure. It’s sweet!
A lot of credit should also go to the child actors as well, and the adult actors interacting with them. They all help build that tone.

And that giant eyeball is awfully good, although it doesn’t show up until the very end of the first DVD set and I was getting impatient… a weakness of the show is definitely that the monster designs can be a bit bland and primitive compared to later shows. You can see why ガンモンス is the poster child. But there’s some charm to them anyhow.

I watched the show while exercising, and because it’s a DVD outside my region, the logistics to watch it were a little more complicated, since I had to plug in the hdmi from my computer to the tv each time and couldn’t use a remote. So while initially I was very charmed with the show, and I ended up very charmed with the show, in the middle at times the logistics + the slight stuffiness and childishness of the show (versus later tokusatsu alternatives) did take their toll and I lost some momentum. But overall I really do think it’s a fun thing, and I’m happy to be able to access this kind of corner of the genre.

I did not have subtitles and I don’t think I had trouble understanding anything.


It seems cool, but my backlog system is pretty terrible at even months-long time limits :sweat_smile:

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I watched the second season they added to netflix of はじめとおづかい a while back. Seems to be a bit of selection, based on idk. I would love to see more of it tho. It’s good fun and relaxing to watch.

I’m hoping to spend some more time a bit more actively on watching/listening things in the coming period.

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I’ve got some review notes on stuff accumulated through a busy month or two!

(spoilers marked under the jump also, where appropriate)

海底軍艦

This is a Toho sci-fi movie I watched… a pretty long time ago now!
I recall it being pretty fun - it involves some hostile Atlanteans, and a fancy boat/ship combo that can tunnel through anything. It’s got Ishiro Honda directing and Eiji Tsubaraya doing the special effects, so the pedigree is definitely there although I wouldn’t call it nearly as interesting as Matango and certainly not a classic like Godzilla.

But hey it’s pretty fun - I remember around the climax there’s a lot of underwater special effects shots involving a long snakey dragon, and I wouldn’t say that they manage to make this a tense, exciting scene, but there’s a certain kind of a appeal and majesty to the underwater dragon effect anyhow.

The emotional plot of the movie, such as it is, involves I would say putting aside the grudges of WW2, since there’s a captain who wrecked things with his daughter by hiding out for years instead of disarming, who learns the error of his ways, and I remember a kind of shocking final stinger where the queen of the invading underwater people chooses death with her people instead of surrender, played for tragedy. So there’s some kick under the very silly veneer.

I watched this with a Japanese blu ray. I think it had subtitles? I don’t actually remember.


呪怨 and 呪怨 2 (video editions), 呪怨 and 呪怨 2 (theater editions), 呪怨 白い老女 and 呪怨 黒い少女

So Arrow Video released a box set of the Ju-On movies, which I thought looked cool enough that I belatedly realized I could switch the blu-ray player on my pc (which I built before I had a tv and wanted to have a disk player to play movies from the library) to region B in order to be able to play disks like this that come out in the UK. So first of all I’m sort of grateful to these movies for making me realize I could do that (although now that I’m finally curbing the disk-buying in favor of saving… maybe I should be vindictive instead of grateful). I ended up watching right through the set, since in my English language movie watching, I was watching through The Matrix movies, and it felt sort of appropriate somehow to intermingle another 2000s era franchise in with those.

Anyway, 呪怨 as a franchise is very very consistently like… 4 out of 5 stars for me, is I guess the way to put it. I’m always baseline interested in what’s happening on the screen, because it’s always some fine horror business going on. But the fragmented way that the stories are told (the trademark Ju-On format is a series of somewhat interconnected vignettes broken up by titlecards showing the name of the person who’s going to get consumed by a ghost or whatever in this next chapter) means that they feel more like pretty good short story collections to me than full novels, and I end up remembering very few specifics. For example, it was 2019 when I saw the only Ju-On movie I’d seen before, but it’s not like I would have been able to tell you much about exactly what happened in it since I’d forgotten it all, and now a month or two out from when I watched that movie again, I feel pretty much exactly the same way about it still.

I associate the series also with being difficult to find or pin down (presumably just since I didn’t ever bother to look into this video/theater split in the installments) and having an outsized allure past my actual enthusiasm for them, so they’re nonetheless somehow extra appealing as a boxset like this. And it’s also just nice to have a series that’s consistently low stakes enough in terms of engagement (because of the short interconnected format and generally simple spooky goings-on) to not have it feel like a chore or a risk to watch without subtitles.

The biggest specific strength the movies have is I think the house. It’s a perfect mix for a movie haunted house of mundane but specific enough to be memorable, with just enough odd corners and a claustrophobic staircase to allow for some creepy atmosphere. With the connections between stories sometimes being too tenuous or corny for me to really care, I could at least always fall back “that house! Stay out of it! It’s got creepy ghosts!!”

For the two video releases specifically, I remember the teacher guy visiting the house with just the kid there at the beginning of the first one being a real good, mundane hook. I remember also a scene with a couple of school girls talking giving me the peculiar feeling of noticing stilted dialogue in a foreign language (Ring is I think definitely stronger when it comes to characters I think…).
One thing I definitely remember about video version #2 is that it reuses lots of the same footage from the first one, retelling some of the stories the same way. This was irritating since I watched them I think on consecutive days - but hey at least it gave me another swing at some of the dialogue I didn’t quite understand (there was a thread where sake tasting bad to psychically sensitive people was a sign of ghosts that I only picked up this time around). The core thing in these, with the guy killing his wife and the wife of the guy she had an unhealthy crush on is garish, and I think doesn’t come across great with the budget they had, but there’s parts that are really effective (like I remember the murderer stumbling down the road and encountering a ghost).
OH also I gotta say about this franchise in general but especially these: I really don’t find a kid holding his mouth open and making a meow sound especially scary? Like, ghostly throat creak I totally get, meows like a kitty cat, don’t really get.

呪怨 and 呪怨 2, the theater editions, I think are definitely more polished and probably better than the videos… but maybe less memorable for it? The first is probably the best encapsulation of what Ju-On is doing, but again I feel like I should remember more of it considering I’ve seen it twice now. The second is the one with the horror actress character, I think. With the thumps on the wall that turn out to be future echoes of the guy hanged and swinging against the wall, I think. Oh and doesn’t it end in a mystical pregnancy? That was… something.

Then 呪怨 白い老女 and 呪怨 黒い少女 are kinda the odd ones out, since they aren’t directed by the guy who directed all of those others, they’re more like more unique “lets see what this other person’s take on Ju-On would be” kinds of movies.
白い老女 I remember mainly for a genuinely shocking and horrible scene where a child gets their head sawed off. They don’t quite show it but they sure show it enough to where you imagine it and it’s maybe worse than if they somehow tried to show it. If I remember right, it kind of leans on the ghost influencing a guy to snap and kill his family idea of the backstory of the series, and it’s maybe one of the more effective of the series, but maybe not in a pleasant way. Oh and it uses the image of an old lady with a basketball for some reason? The basketball is a lot like the meowing for me. I don’t… I don’t understand why it would be scary.
黒い少女… Oooohhhh right that’s the like, exorcism one. I thought this one was fine! it goes more of a Japanese religious route than the others. I think I remember it being effective but occasionally harmed by some not great effects shots. Which could describe the whole series, really.

I watched these without subtitles and didn’t particularly have major trouble. The title cards are good excuses to feel smug about your name-reading abilities!


地球戦隊ファイブマン

This is a Sentai show from the 90s that I watched while exercising a while back. Originally I started it when I wanted a more action-packed break from Giant Robo. At first I was a bit worried, since I’ve generally been watching tokusatsu shows from the 70s, whether maybe I would have a hard time adjusting to a show from the 1990 and wouldn’t like it as much. But then I started it up and remembered synthesizers exist! So I had no trouble at all.

The show’s quite fun. It’s got a goofy premise where the 5 heroes are all siblings, and all schoolteachers at the same elementary school, and of course they’ve got pun-heavy names related to the subject they teach: 学 (がく) is the science teacher and leader, 健 (けん) is the PE teacher, 文矢 (ふみや) is the 国語 teacher, 数美 (かずみ) teaches math, and レミ teaches music. Cute! It’s a good bit. Honestly I feel like that gimmick could probably have come up more. There’s some good stuff like the language teacher for whatever reason also being able to speak alien languages, but mostly it’s just a little bit of character flavor coloring their background, and the sibling thing comes up more (they lost contact with their parents somewhere in space and boy do they have a complex about it).

This show has a sort of more… sitcom? Sort of feel? Compared to other tokusatsu shows I’ve watched. Like 70s tokusatsu, at least that I’ve seen, as silly as it might be, is usually drawing on thriller storylines of one kind or another, and villains are usually fully portrayed as evil threats even when they lose all the time. Here the villains, evil though they may be, are treated more like a second half of the cast, with more opportunities for silly comeuppance or comic relief sections, like there’s a whole bit where this one bad guy (who has a spectacular moustache) gets his position reversed in the evil hierarchy for a while and is performing janitorial duties. The tone can be pretty fun and inventive! A good example is there’s an episode involving a villain making puppets of the rangers, that come alive. And then in subsequent episodes, those puppets (which survived the episode but were put somewhere safe) are somehow watching the action of the episode and commenting on them in cutaways. Some cute fun continuity. I also really liked when the giant robot performed Drunken Fist, or the extended plotline involving a guy who uses the same theme song as excellent professional wrestler Hyper Misao, culminating in a giant robot theme song battle. The downside though is the silliness and low sense of stakes can make it a bit more apparent that you’re spending your time watching kitschy disposable media for kids. But hey that really comes with the territory.

The biggest drawback for me compared to the other sentai show I’ve watched, the original Himitsu Sentai Goranger, is that I find the villain costumes SIGNIFICANTLY less charming and interesting. I don’t find most of the villains of the week particularly compelling here, and the formula can get especially tiring sometimes.

Still, I enjoyed it, and would be game to watch more sentai while exercising. Which is good, since I watched this one since it was the first series available in DVD in the states, and let’s say it wasn’t the only one that I bought…

I watched these without subtitles and did just fine.


お茶漬の味

This is a Yasujiro Ozu movie! It’s pretty much about a guy and his wife, and how they don’t quite get along because roughly the guy is quite simple and boring dispositionally-speaking, and the wife is a lot more inclined towards excitement and fun. As you would expect from an Ozu movie, it’s very good at depicting that mundane dynamic. I was pretty on-board throughout (I remember a good scene where the wife and her friends are at an onsen comparing their husbands to the carp in a pond, for example) but I where the movie really becomes great for me is at the end when the wife doesn’t come to see the husband off for a trip, but the trip ends up being canceled, and so they find themselves unexpectedly both at home together, and they end up giddily making the dish in the title of the movie, and it’s a really sweet culmination of what the movie is going for, seeing these two people find common ground in a surprisingly intimate feeling little moment of ordinary tenderness, thanks to a coincidence that left them without the guard up that they’d had the rest of the movie. One thing I also appreciate the movie for: I was thinking about the movie title and though “you know… that sounds really good actually!” and especially after seeing the movie, I had to try it out, so I made お茶漬 just with green tea over rice (or, confusingly, as it can also be and I think is in the movie, with miso soup over rice), and by gum I was right it’s really really good. Just this extremely simple but delicious little pleasure. I sort of wish I was in the habit more often of making enough rice to have leftovers, so I could make it as a late night snack what they do in the movie. But even with fresh made rice I oughtta remember to make it now and then.
It’s not like, the kind of destination dish to really get excited about, to be clear. It’s literally just green tea over rice (+ furikake of course) but I guess the lesson is that green tea and rice go really well together.

I watched this without subtitles and got that “I definitely didn’t catch every detail but reading a summary afterward I’m not like, shocked about anything so I guess I did alright” kind of result


ゴジラ

I have, of course, seen Godzilla before, but this time I got to see it in a theater, with my dad and sister!
My dad was talking beforehand too about how it’s probably one of his favorite movies, and how he cries during it, so I was especially primed to appreciate the gravitas of the movie this time around. Last time I saw it I think it probably would have been on my laptop or computer screen, when I was in a “hey I could really go for a kaiju movie! It’s been a long time” kind of mood, and I remember it being significantly campier than it really is, since I mostly remembered there was a scientist with an eyepatch in a lab with a strange invention.

This time around I was very very much struck with what a sober telling of a disaster the movie is. Like, it reminded me quite a bit of that Chernobyl HBO series from a while ago, in retrospect. It spends a long amount of time meticulously showing you scenes from different parts of Japan leading up to the tragedy of Godzilla’s attack, and plenty of time also showing you scenes of the consequences of Godzilla’s attack, giving lots of weight to the dilemma the characters are left with: whether to use the oxygen destroyer on Godzilla or not. The effects are indeed effective, and I mean, obviously, the score is phenomenal.

I’m glad to much better appreciate this stone cold classic!

I watched this in a theater with English subtitles and I did the sort of “half pay attention to the subtitles half to the dialogue” kind of thing.


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I’ve been neglecting this thread for a while! (and it’s an awfully quiet thread in the first place…)

If these notes dumps are interesting to anyone, you might be interested also in the notion site I’ve been working on where I’ve dumped the entirety of my media backlog and notes tracking system, going back in evolving form about a decade (so essentially it’s just… these posts but for more stuff and with a convoluted system attached for picking next things). I’m not sure that it’s especially interesting in and of itself but I’m hopeful that maintaining it will encourage me to explore more public or polished kinds of writing, or at least to leave less of a gap between finishing something and putting down notes about it.

Anyway, here are some thing I watched in Japanese, although truth be told probably most of my Japanese listening was in pro wrestling in this chunk of time (there’s a lot of tournaments in the summer) and I put all that over in the pro wrestling thread.

Some movies:

上意討ち 拝領妻始末

This is Samurai Rebellion! I watched in on the Criterion Channel since Masaki Kobayashi may well be one of my favorite directors (originally by way of Kwaidan) and I want to see more of his work.
I read the original short story before watching this! It’s an interesting one… It’s quite a bleak story, and the written version especially has hardly anything in the way of like, action or hope? (to my eyes anyway). The gist from what I remember is that a daimyo loses interest in a wife of his, and gifts her to a vassal’s son, even though he already had a son by her. The vassal and the son aren’t into this but go along with it because well, he’s the lord. Then the lord’s heir dies, and so the son of this woman becomes the heir, and because it would be shameful to have the heir’s mother be married to someone else, the lord commands the vassal’s son to give the wife back to him, which is where the vassal and son and wife dig in their heels at how monstrously fucked up this whole thing is, and refuse, only for the lord to eventually get his way because, well, he’s the lord. The short story ends with the lord immediately dying of unrelated causes (underlining the pointlessness of this entire thing), the vassal and son imprisoned indefinitely for their rebellion, and the wife (now mother of the lord) refusing to use her status to grant them pardon, because it would mean acknowledging that she’s not a part of their family. It’s a tremendously sad story about the harm wrought by the flippant injustice of those in power.

The adaptation, written by Shinobu Hashimoto and directed by Masaki Kobayashi, preserves that, but it does definitely make it into more of like, a movie. I think sacrificing some of the like, spare, parable-feeling tragedy in favor of high drama in the process. There’s a lot more of a sense here that Toshiro Mifune, as the vassal, might actually accomplish something in his rebellion (primarily by alerting the wider public to the injustice) which is not something I remember at all from the story, and the climax ends up being a duel with Tatsuya Nakadai as a fellow vassal who recognizes the injustice but is still bound by duty to stop Mifune despite that, with Mifune winning to give the movie some sense of triumph, even though he is afterward killed. The romance between the son and his wife is similarly spiced up and made more cinematic, with a big noble death scene subbed in for the cold quiet tragedy of the book.

In that capacity though, it’s great!!
I LOVE the scene in the garden when the father and son are making their last stand at their house and soldiers come to kill them. The usage of the garden in the shots is just fantastic. And you certainly won’t see me complain about finding a way to insert a Toshiro Mifune vs. Tatsuya Nakadai duel into your movie (although I confess I was a little disappointed that they’re both very very very much playing to their own familiar types here – I don’t think of these characters very much as roles beyond “Mifune” and “Nakadai”).
The scenes of growing indignation against the lord’s messengers are also strong.
My favorite scene of the movie that I can remember though, is actually the first important scene between the son and his new wife: the movie pretty much completely hinges on this scene working, since this is going to be the relationship that the whole conflict is going to be set into motion to try desperately to preserve, and I think the blocking and performances (of I believe Yoko Tsukasa and Go Kato) knock it out of the park, with Ichi describing her sadness and anger at the situation she was put through, not expecting any kind of understanding, and his extending empathy in that circumstance is 100% enough to be like “oh, yes, definitely, she cannot go back there at all costs, this is a better place for her.”

So I really liked the movie! I think this kind of story of injustice and institutional failings is right in Kobayashi’s wheelhouse, Nakadai and Mifune are great as always, and the romance and rebellion work. I was a touch disappointed that it isn’t quite as uncompromising as the story, but I mean, they’re pretty reasonable changes.


VERSUS

I’ve been meaning to watch this a long time, expecting to enjoy it. I enjoyed it! This felt very much like a movie where if I managed to watch it when I was in exactly the right mood for it, I’d be over the moon for it, but as it happened I was only in a pretty decent mood for it, so I enjoyed it quite a bit but had a bit of trouble getting lost into it, if that makes sense.
It’s pretty much “it’s the year 2000, let’s all film us having silly fights in the woods!”: The Movie, in the best possible way. I’d have liked to add more than that – but it’s been a bit of time since I watched it.
I remember the main yakuza guy in the suit reminded me of like – Paul Dano playing Goro Majima? Which I was definitely down for.

I remember finding the rule of 3 gag of the guy knocking the girl out to keep her out of fights before she learns to dodge it quite funny. Something about the cartoonish ease with which he knocks people out makes it land on the funny side to me.

The audio mixing made it an interesting challenge listening comprehension-wise. It’s not an extraordinaly complicated plot, but it seems like intentionally, everyone is ADR’d to be very sort of, whispery? Like it sounds oddly intimate in contrast to the woodsy setting. This makes it intimidating to pick up everything they’re saying. But I think I did okay without subtitles.
I watched regular Versus rather than the expanded Ultimate Versus, mostly just since it was the default on the disk. The existence of the latter could be a good excuse to watch it again down the line.


續姿三四郎

This is the second Sanshiro Sugata movie, and I loved the first one, but I don’t think I was fully in the right mood for this one, and it also definitely suffers more from a… wartime propaganda vibe, with a plotline involving Sugata being saddened by garish ~ American ~ boxing imposing on Japanese martial arts (which I can’t even particularly be into even outside of 1945, since I’m too all-in on the most garish of American combat sports’ influence on Japanese martial arts…). I also think the plotline of the movie struggles with the sequel problem of having the main character already kinda retread the arc he had more successfully in the first movie already, as he’s presented as an established judo guy but still has to learn again to balance brashness and composure.
I do really like the “Meiji-era nerd for American stuff” character though, and the finale in the snow is definitely cool. I wanna say to the best of my memory the villains were like, uncouth karate guys from Kyushu?
I watched this on the Criterion Channel and so English subtitles were baked in and I suspect I didn’t especially avoid them.


Some TV:

ザ☆ウルトラマン

This is THE Ultraman, an animated series take on Ultraman, produced I believe by Sunrise, just before the extremely famous and successful original Mobile Suit Gundam – which definitely adds some interest!

I remember I picked this out after I finished Sailor Moon R – having enjoyed that a lot watching it mainly in the evening after work – fully expecting this to slot right into the same timeslot and it would be a quick lark before I move on to something else.

Unfortunately, it was another case of my over-assuming that any material at all would work just as well in the same circumstance. What watching The Ultraman taught me is that, well, you just can’t expect every anime series to be as fun as Sailor Moon.

The Ultraman isn’t exactly… bad? But it is… lacking pizzazz. The initial realization was that the main thing I come to Ultraman for is, well, the tokusatsu – the 特撮, the 撮! Take away the live action and special effects from Ultraman… what are the bones you’re left with? A gallant protagonist on a team of underdeveloped uniformed monster battlers take on aliens and whatnot – a fine platform for ~ something else ~ but bland without that additional something or other to give it a spark. Like at the end of the day – Ultraman in live action is cool because it’s cool to see a guy made to look like he’s the size of a tall building. Whereas if you want to make Ultraman look like the size of a building in animated form… you just draw that… right? The impressiveness level of the bread and butter undertaking is significantly lessened.

That could absolutely be made up with with other elements though! And my initial thought was that maybe Sunrise would show what made Gundam so interesting – but the main difference here is The Ultraman has significantly less emphasis on lasting emotional turmoil and trauma. At least for the first half of the show, The Ultraman seems pretty content to do regular episodic Ultraman stuff, and the cast is as underdeveloped as any of the Ultraman crews (which again, is normally pretty much fine since they don’t need to do so much when the tokusatsu can handle a lot of the burden of interest).
This meant I found the show very boring. Across the entire show, I definitely learned that one episode of The Ultraman is enough for an night – it really doesn’t stand up to more, but it’s pleasant enough for one, and I did end up sticking with it and seeing the whole thing.

I was hoping that The Ultraman would make up for the issues I mentioned by expanding in directions left untapped by the live action shows, and they did! Once the Ultra homeworld is introduced there’s a definite uptick in interest, and they even rearrange the cast into a more tense and interesting configuration resembling White Base in the original Gundam by the end. But I still wouldn’t necessarily call that second half of the show drastically interesting (the Ultra planet for one still suffers from like, Krypton syndrome of just being vaguely utopian and idyllic without a lot of specific oomph to it)– it is improved and pretty all right though.

One element of the show that I think at least grew on me into being a highlight is the comic relief robot character based on Pigmon from Ultraman, ピグ and his little monkey friend. The episode where モンキ is transformed and in grave danger is probably my single favorite in the series just since ピグ’s desperation for the safety of his friend is surprisingly touching. With the rest of the cast not being especially colorful, he definitely stands out.

I watched The Ultraman with no subtitles variously while exercising and not exercising and had no trouble with it at all. There was one time I turned on English subtitles to try to catch a joke (turned out it was a 雲/蜘蛛 pun) and it did make me at last realize why some people complain about these cheap Mill Creek releases… the English subtitles seemed bad and made no attempt whatsoever to explain the joke in this case (and didn’t extend to the ‘next time on…’ either). Glad I don’t need them I guess!
More than anything, The Ultraman reminded me of Star Trek: The Animated Series (but without the benefit of recognizable characters and actors) – pretty okay but overly bland and not finding what spark could make the animated version unique until a bit too late. I wouldn’t say there’s a gem in the rough quite as bright as “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” in here though…

Glad to be done with it so I can move on hopefully to some live action Ultraman again…


宇宙刑事ギャバン

This is Space Sheriff Gavan! It’s a tokusatsu show that I watched while exercising.
Space Sheriff Gavan’s strength is EXTREMELY the galactic, fanciful backgrounds for the fights in each episode. The way I put it is that sometimes I tend to think of giant monster tokusatsu, and “let’s all fight in a quarry” tokusatsu, since a lot of times that’s what Kamen Rider, Super Sentai et. al. Can tend to feel like – people fighting in a location where the filmmakers are allowed to set off explosives.
Space Sheriff Gavan by that accounting is “let’s fight on the side of a van” tokusatsu, because in each fight the villains engage a sort of meaningless sci-fi dimensional/black hole contraption to warp the fight into a special dimension where everything is wild and in space and ridiculous. It’s really fun! I LOVE some of the things the crew do with matte paintings, like this one I had to take a picture of:
image

There’s really no earthly sense applied to whether these fight locations apply to the rules of physics or whether they’re especially convincing – it’s just fun, and rule of cool definitely applies. There’s a shot that I think about all the time in one episode, where they’re fighting and Gavan appears to… duck a planet? Like a 2D cutout of a planet rotates into frame above the actor’s head and he ducks to avoid it. I just keep thinking about the implications of Gavan ducking to avoid a planet.

The other major strength along these lines is ドル, Gavan’s dragon space ship!!! He rides it by standing on the snout! It’s great!! I love ドル! I would buy a reasonably priced toy of it in a heartbeat.
image

Unfortunately my enthusiasm for ドル (which initially was peak – just utter maximum enthusiasm for ドル at first) was not sustained past the first few episodes, as it kind of doesn’t really do anything beyond fight spaceships, and I’m never really clear on where the spaceships are supposed to be coming from since they’re in the space dimension, and so who cares really.

Sadly, Space Sheriff Gavan is definitely a show min-maxed with the max put into those couple strengths I mentioned, and the dump stats are like… interesting villains or bothering to connect the fights to the plot. The show has major “the fight at the end of the episode just resolves everything and all threads are dropped immediately as taken care of” syndrome (which is of course easy to fall into with this genre…), and I’m also really not clear what the designers were going for when it came to the big bad villain for the show, because they like… built a guy into another larger guy’s torso? But the larger guy is like, an immobile statue? And the smaller guy is an actor maybe but he doesn’t move either and his arms are also a statue?

I just don’t get what it’s going for at all (and in practice it’s just – boss villain and no more).
The lead is a pretty good action lead at least, and I like his dynamic with Mimi – who I believe is a space princess or something (there’s definitely a Star Wars influence here) and who can turn into a bird (although she doesn’t all that often). Midseason there’s briefly one of those awkward situations where I assume someone had a schedule conflict, and Mimi is briefly replaced by someone different, but honestly I did not find myself very emotionally invested in this show anyway.

I went back and forth frequently on this show as to whether the cool fights and effects were enough to make me enthusiastic to watch more and exercise to it. By the end of the show I was trying a system where I paired one episode of one show with one episode of another show for one exercise session, instead of two back to back. Mostly it was to get through The Ultraman that way though, but in a different way two episodes of Gavan can be a little much too…

With that expanded palette, and the afternoon timeslot I’d been thinking might develop for watching TV type stuff dissolving after all, I’ve been unusually reticent to jump into more tokusatsu – which had formerly monopolized all to itself the exercise role.

I guess it remains to be seen how I’ll approach it, but I am of course still interested in the Gavan follow up “metal hero” series! As much as in some ways I’m lukewarm on the story content of this show and a bit satiated for now, this is still 100% my bread and butter. And I was super taken with it starting out.


呪怨:呪いの家

This is a six-episode live action Ju-On show (Ju-On: Origins or something like that in English) that I watched while exercising.

I feel about it the same way I feel about the Ju-On movies! It’s pretty cool! There’s always something pretty interesting and spooky happening, and it may not come together to be something that I love and remember, but I certainly don’t mind watching it.

The Ju-On format, already being kind of an anthology, is pretty much a ready made for a tv format (although they nix the name title card affectation, as the stories are intermixed together instead of one after another). There’s ju-on type stuff that happens, like I said it’s pretty good.

I don’t think it’s exactly the same house as from the original movies, but the house they got is still I think well-suited for being haunted. That right mix of normal enough to be mundane but notable enough to be memorable and tightly arranged enough to be creepy.

My favorite elements were the fetus monsters. I saw in the credits Screaming Mad George worked as a puppeteer on this! Neat! I do think I detected, and responded positively to, his trademark… stretchiness.

A bit I remember more negatively is a silly moment where they have the ghost or whatever just kind of wipe a guy out of existence, and they just kind of digitally removed him between frames with a sound effect. I feel like they were going for something like that one Junji Ito story where something invisible squishes people into pancakes and it’s absolutely horrible, but there was no way they were going to pull off that effect, so there just sort of… isn’t one, and it stands out.

I also remember the different threads not reeeeaaally coming to a satsifying conclusion, but honestly I guess that’s kinda true to the series huh.

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