Film Review: Aragami

AragamiDVD

Aragami is produced by Ryuhei Kitamura who is known for his cult film Versus. Aragami follows the fate of two wounded samurai finding shelter at an isolated temple. There, they meet the lord of the temple and a woman. However, the two are not any regular beings and the situation turns tense as the man hands a difficult responsibility to the only surviving samurai and reveals his identity. Aragami is for people who can appreciate good dialogues, great acting, social dynamics and sword fights.

From the mysterious host of the temple’s true identity to the ending cameo, it never ceases to stimulate. Each dialogue and interaction has intent and moves the story forward. Aragami is well paced and builds suspense, even with the intentional long pauses of tense silence that eventually breaks out.

aragami

The acting is superb for shooting and finishing the film in 7 days — one of the requirements as part of a challenge with the director of 2LDK. Other requirements were having only 2-3 actors, one room, and one character must die. Masaya Kato who plays the mysterious lord of the temple oozes a strong, charismatic presence whereas Takao Ohsawa, the healing samurai, dons his role well as the underdog for the job the mysterious warrior has endowed on him. Kanae Uotani plays the mysterious woman accompaniment of Masaya Kato. Chemistry can be seen between the two men with their very different personalities but the audience will be drawn to the mysterious warrior, Masaya for his elegant clothes and charisma. In real life, Masaya Kato also does martial arts and has experience with sword fighting. This may be the reason he is so in character. (I have noticed in person that those with a theater, dance or martial arts background has a different posture and presence than normal people). I have left out the official names or titles to prevent spoilers because the film will be more enjoyable learning one thing at a time such as identities.

You have to applaud Ryuhei Kitamura for his ability to deliver a good story with limited characters, production time and only one room for the setting. If you love seeing a wide collection of weapons–especially swords–this movie is for you. All the swordplay and fights are entertaining and the conversations are interesting. Do not miss out on this gem!

If you’ve seen Aragami, leave your thoughts in the comments!

Book Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

stardustThis is my first Neil Gaiman book. I was a little disappointed with the writing style initially, but it works for the genre that Gaiman intends. The writing style is like an oration. Stardust is pretty much a fairytale for adults but an original story and not a retelling of classics such as Snow White. It was a quick read and satisfied my thirst for fantasy. At times, solutions are too simple–similar to Ponyo’s antclimactic climax: a disappointing moment where the solution was uttering an oath of love. Starfust is straightforward and linear, yet story arcs all lead up to each other with a nicely tied ending. Neil Gaiman succeeds at creating a hook at the end of each chapter, leaving the reader with an “a-ha!” and wanting to know more.

I thought Stardust would make a fantastic movie, and there is one! However, the quality of the movie didn’t seem up to par.

Stardust is an easy, fun read and I recommend it! It’s only 1.99 right now for Kindle.

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Fantasy & Sci-fi Books for Teenage Girls

These were my favorite fantasy and sci-fi books as a teenaged girl and highly recommend for the adventurous girl. They made me yearn for my own journeys…and also soup with bread, potatoes, onions and carrots (it always seemed so tasty in these books). I wonder why these books have not been made into movies yet because they would be perfect (compared to the ones such as teen sci-fi and paranormal romance). While I understand that teens these days may relate more and are more interested in the usual sci-fi books such as Divergent or paranormal romance such as Twilight that are set in a modern world, I believe the genre and settings of those I suggest are still great for teen girls as it instills a sense of wonder, adventure and girl power. Unfortunately, I can’t offer too much details because it has been a long time since I’ve read these books, but once I re-read them, I’ll update my reviews.

Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee

The Claidi Journals series were my first Tanith Lee books that led me to her adult books such as Silver Metal Lover. While my peers were goggling over the Harry Potter world of fantasy, I was away in a bright, colorful, land of odd building structures and animals. My sister and I still whisper in each other’s ears, “Vrrbrr,” because it is such an amusing name for an animal we encountered in The Claidi Journals. What stood out to me was the brief introduction into genetics and choosing partners based on genetic fit-ness.

Wolf Tower: The Claidi Journals I (Claidi Journals, 1)

Wolf Star: The Claidi Journals II

Wolf Queen: The Claidi Journals III

Wolf Wing: The Claidi Journals IV

Kingdom Quartet by Cynthia Voigt

The Kingdom Quartet remains my favorite. I prefer the original cover images of Vermeer’s paintings rather than the ones below for the first two books as the paintings are more fitting. Sets in a British like world across generations with characters in each book loosely tied to characters in the other three. Jackaroo is the most bland of the series, but it questions the making of legends in an interesting way. There is not much adventure in Jackaroo but set within the same place throughout the book whereas the rest of the series are all about going off into the world. I loved reading The Wings of a Falcon while listening to Sounders’ song, Tsis Muaj Koj and also Ib Zaug Ntxiv (kudos to you if you appreciate music other than American). This song has a longing, ocean-y feel to it that really sets the tone for the book. You’ll understand when you read the beginning and get to the ending. It makes more sense when you understand the lyrics which are sung in Hmong. I wish there would be a continuation of the series and even more connections between the characters because oftentimes, I’m trying to find the connections even if there may be none.

Jackaroo: A Novel of the Kingdom

On Fortune’s Wheel (Kingdom)

The Wings of a Falcon

Elske: A Novel of the Kingdom

 

East

I listened to Princessa’s Seven Days a Week while reading East, amplifying the winter setting. Old music, I know, but it matches. East is a retelling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” I have not read the original folklore but it is similar to Beauty and the Beast.

Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood (Action Packs)

The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)

Daughter of the Forest: A Sevenwaters Novel 1 (Sevenwaters Trilogy)

I have not read the rest of the books in this series so I can’t comment on the series as a whole, but book one was good!

Enchantress from the Stars

Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, but I did! I was automatically drawn to it while perusing a Scholastic Books catalog and eventually borrowed it from the public library. Never regretted it. The theme of living in a certain era and having thoughts well ahead of it saddened me. I believe this was my first sci-fi novel?

Dragon Sword and Wind Child (Tales of Magatama)

I’ve read the second book also but it pales in comparison to Dragon Sword and Wind Child. Or, maybe my literary expectations are just much higher now as an adult. I appreciated the author introduction included–the fact that she had to write and translate the tales she was told as a child instead of waiting for another person to write them.

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Videogame Review: Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush is a mediocre adventure game. It’s not often that I play videogames with a female lead so it was interesting seeing how a female lead is crafted such as personality type and values that she–the mysterious Kat–stands for.

Gravity Rush took more than 1/3 of the game for me to be interested, albeit encouragement from Twitter friends. After 1/3 of the game, Gravity Rush gets better and better, only to cut you off with an ending without solving multiple loose ends.If I had played Gravity Rush a year ago, I would be angry. I’m not angry only because I know that there is a sequel that I’m looking forward to playing. Gravity Rush would’ve been a stronger game had it offered more storyline teasers throughout. I am addicted to those mysterious scenes that actually hook me in the game wanting to know more. There is definitely more to the story with themes of fate or destiny that were just barely brushed on which we will see in the sequel.

Gravity Rush is set in an era akin to a 1940′s (think 1940′s crime mystery films) with jazzy ensembles that do not particularly stand out. Although the music matched the setting, I think more could’ve been done to spark a connection with the player as I often do not notice the difference between each piece nor do I recall any in particular.

The monsters, called Nevi, reminds me of ICO which drew my interest in the game in the first place. They’re not difficult to defeat if you collect enough gems and level up (a part I somehow glossed over and missed until I watched a walkthrough). The art of mastering gravity also took watching a walkthrough to learn and could’ve saved me considerable time and energy because I always panicked when flying in the air uncontrollably.

I was disappointed at barring the player from going inside buildings and homes. There was a lack of interaction with nonplayable characters–an aspect critical for creating a lively world.

Overall, Gravity Rush is a fun game–I stayed up late playing it. It teases with its storyline but does not offer a satisfied end result in players.

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Great Albums: Jason Mraz Before “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.”

jason mraz

One of  my favorite musical artists throughout my teenage years was Jason Mraz. Pre-We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things, specifically.I admit the first time I tried listening to his albums after falling in love with “The Remedy,” I found it boring and difficult to like. However, his music requires an acquired taste. On a second listen, I  got comfortable with his  style and  fell in love with tracks such as “You & I Both” and “Life is Wonderful” which allowed me to enjoy his other  tracks and appreciate his style and  music. I can’t just choose one album of his or target one specifically as a great album because most of them were good. Some were recorded concerts which combined songs from different albums and improvisation. I can say that a majority of the songs on each album appealed to me which is my definition of a great album.

Here’s an example of a live song and how he improvises at the end. The sound quality is superb.

I enjoyed all those albums before Jason Mraz became more mainstream. As stated by Jason Mraz, he grew as a person which affects the music he creates. That isn’t bad because we all need to  grow as individuals but the problem is his change in musical style and even lyrics.

Pre-WSWDWST Jason Mraz music was undefined. It was difficult to pinpoint what genre he fell in. Now, Jason Mraz aims for a hippy genre similar to “I’m Yours,” and even branches out to a country feel in his album Love is a Four Letter Word. His current music sounds canned and tries to fit  into predefined genres. I argue that  great art of any kind attempts to break genres and categories. They  combine genres and use whichever style best meet their expressive needs.

His  lyrics previously were raw, complex and had implied meanings rather than telling the listener directly what he feels or experiences. For example, in “Please Don’t Tell Her,” Jason Mraz never once flat out state that he misses his ex-girlfriend but implies it.

Please don’t tell her that I’ve been meaning to miss her
Because I don’t

Although he does  say the words in those lines, he’s trying to deny the fact that he in fact misses her. Here’s more:

Please don’t tell her that
‘Cause she don’t really need to know
That I’m crazy like the rest of us
And I’m crazier when I’m next to her

So why after the all of everything that came and went
I care enough to still be singing of the bitter end and broken eras
I told you I don’t but
I am only trying to be the best with my intent to cure
The rest is sure to lay me ease the plural hurts of the words of reverse psychology
That’s easier said
Easier than done
Please don’t dare tell her what I’ve become
Please don’t mention all the attention I have drawn
Please don’t bother cause she’ll feel guilty when I’m gone

Because I’m crazy like the rest of us
But I’m crazier when I’m next to her
And it’s amazing how she’s so self-assured
But I know she’d hate me if she knew my words
Do I hurt anymore
Do I hurt, well
I don’t

Here, he is showing us that he misses her without telling us. Good art shows and doesn’t tell. He’s showing what state he is in after their breakup. Basically, he’s a mess.

To contrast with that, here is what his current lyrics are like:

I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make

Here, he is almost preaching his intents rather than showing his intents. The lyrical style has changed drastically.

I understand that the change in his music is because he wants to share positive music, but he doesn’t have to change his songwriting style. His music before were quite negative, or comes from a lacking perspective. Yet, emotions and experiences were expressed true. They had more emotional depth. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. because there were actually some great tracks (ie: “A Beautiful Mess” and “Details in the Fabric”) and some with good lyrics like “Dynamo of Volition.” However, even in “Dynamo of Volition,” he is stating rather than showing.

With that said, I want the old Jason Mraz back! What do you think? Do you agree that his music has changed and which style do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

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Videogame Review: Xenoblade

Xenoblade

The only thing I really liked about Xenoblade and what stood out the most was this:

Not surprising because this ending theme is the only musical piece by Yasunori Mitsuda. The ending theme makes up for the heart-warming feeling that Xenoblades lack in its ending.

Xenoblade does not live up to the hype–acclaimed as the best JRPG of this generation. I haven’t played JRPGs of this generation but all I know is, it is mediocre compared to last generation’s JRPGs/RPGs. Yet I post it on this blog because I’ve been looking forward to it and it’s from Monolith Soft. It isn’t a poorly done videogame and is worth the time, just not up to my expectations. If this is the best JRPG of this generation, then I can only imagine how terrible other JRPGs are.

Xenoblade took god knows how long until I became a little more interested in the game. To be exact, the point where Alvis saves Shulk through a mysterious encounter, enabling Shulk to reconnect with Dunban. I never developed a love for or interest in the characters, only a small interest enough in its story. The problem with Xenoblade from the start is that there wasn’t much to love such as the town and characters. Hence, once tragedies happen, they bore little heartache for me.

There are grand themes similar to Tetsuya Takahashi’s earlier RPG’s Xenogears and Xenosaga, however, these themes are not executed as well as the aforementioned. There is a lack of scale despite grandiose themes of man versus machine and man versus god(s). The music is good but none of them stirs my heart. They often are whimsical and tries to be emotional but does not evoke any emotions. Had Yasunori Mitsuda been hired as the main composer, the music would have turned out differently–much fonder.

Other tidbits:
- Even the most serious scenes are ruined by Riki’s yapping. Can anything be more annoying than the Nopon? And people thought Chu-Chu from Xenogears was worthless…
- Sidequests and Affinity are pointless. Sidequests should supplement the game, driving the story further
- Xenoblade lacked those fun puzzles every RPG has
- Kallian is most princely *swoon* (sorry, just fan-girling)

I am in the minority with my negative review, but my stance is justified by Tetsuya Takahashi’s statement in an interview his goal of producing a videogame anyone can like. Producing an RPG anyone can like means the game is diluted for the masses while alienating those with higher expectations. It has also been said by Tetsuya that Xenoblade is only 5% of what Monolith Soft can produce and they aim to produce better games than Xenoblade. If so, I await for that day. For an RPG that can surpass Xenogears. Despite my negative review, I’m proud that Tetsuya Takahashi created RPGs viewed as the best in both this and last generation: Xenoblade and Xenogears, respectively.

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Film Review: Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

I’m not sure what to think. I watched Only God Forgives with expectations and spoiled on the plot because I already read several reviews. I went against my own code but I couldn’t help it because this is the film I’ve been hyped up for this whole year! As it turns out, for me, Only God Forgives is not amazing but not bad either. Only God Forgives is worth watching for your daily dose of art and Ryan Gosling, however, you might be repulsed by Gosling’s character Julian at times, and then merely pity him. Only God Forgives is not a film that I’ll rave about endlessly to anyone, but since I was so hyped up about it and not a terrible film per se, it deserves to be on this blog. I just wonder what my experience would have been like had I not been spoiled by many negative reviews and a few positive ones that gave major plot and themes away.

I found Julian’s brother’s dialogue unbelievable, delivered in a monotone voice throwing me off a bit. Only God Forgives did not move too slow as it has been accused of in reviews I read. I always anticipated what would happen in the next scene–what the characters’ actions might be. The horrific justice served by Chang makes me cringe each time. After a few times of serving justice and washing down the act with a karaoke ritual, it gets repetitive; almost “campy” (a film studies term). I found one or two scenes too bold, as if developed merely for coolness factor. Perhaps it’s the music playing in the scene that makes it overboard.

Thematically, Only God Forgives is quite smart. If you need convincing, read Only God Forgives Is Uncannily Freudian (after you watch the film). This is only the second time I’ve come across the theme of returning to the womb in any pieces of art. The first was Toni Morrison’s Sula which I found brilliant.

While Drive left me feeling depressed, Only God Forgives didn’t leave an aftertaste. Only God Forgives comes off as experimental while the trailer was more enthralling. For those of you who weren’t spoiled before watching the film, let me know what your experience was like in the comments!

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Kanye West’s Yeezus – New Slaves Sampling

Yeezus

My favorite track from Kanye West’s 2013 album would have to be New Slaves– a raw, frantic and paranoid track with social criticism. What I love most about it though, is the sampling. Kanye always chooses the best music to sample and match the emotions of his song. In New Slaves, Kanye sampled Omega’s track, Pearls in Her Hair. Omega is a Hungarian rock band of the 1960′s. The track is embedded below.

Here is a tidbit on the CCA and DEA that Kanye mentions. It will help you understand one perspective of what Kanye means by “new slaves.”

Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA is a company that owns and manages prisons and detention centers. CCA is the largest private corrections company in the United States and manages more than 60 facilities with a designed capacity of 90,000 beds.

The CCA has a lot of inmates that work different jobs (all under minimum wage) and the CCA has tried to get contracts with different prisons guaranteeing 90% occupancy rate. That sounds pretty irresponsible for a company to want to require prisons to be near capacity. Could result in “creating criminals” which links up with the line before, teaming up with the DEA, which has the authority to lock “niggas” up, in CCA facilities, and force them to work below minimum wage, and make them slaves.

- http://rapgenius.com


I’m not sure if Kanye and his team had looked over the lyrics translation, but in the song, the singer states that the girl with pearls in her hair will set him free at the end. This matches with the theme of modern slavery Kanye discusses in New Slaves. The music in Pearls in Her Hair also has a liberating feel to it.

For those interested, here is the English vocal version below:

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Film Review: Love Exposure, or the Lack Thereof

Love Exposure 2009 Sion Sono

 “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

- Roger Ebert

I agree. Sion Sono’s 2009 cult film Love Exposure is 4 hours of gripping story, setting the bar high for all films for me. Since watching Love Exposure, I find it difficult to enjoy a majority of films.

I’ve been holding off on this review because I want the review to justify Love Exposure’s greatness. Love Exposure is such an incredible film because it had me at the edge of my seat, gripped and tensed throughout the whole time. And when it was over, I cried because I had been taken through a long journey and found home at last. In some ways, I also felt empty. I don’t recall a film ever inducing me to tears as much as Love Exposure did, nor have I ever felt such a connection with the characters. No film ever had me tense the whole time. Love Exposure was amazing– every second of the 4 hours. Most films have scenes that bore me or makes me wish it would pass faster. Love Exposure didn’t. In some ways, I feel as if I shouldn’t like or rave about this film otherwise people will look at me with disgust but this is the sole purpose Sono tries to object.

In Love Exposure, Sion Sono covers the taboos of sexuality created by social institutions such as religion. Love Exposure follows three marginalized teens as they go on a journey seeking normalcy. Love Exposure is pure story. Sion Sono proves that a well written story will make a great film despite low quality camera and visuals. Apparently, Sono stated in interviews that he wanted to produce an A+ B film, meaning, a B film at its best. I wonder what the results would be if Sono had aimed for an A film with better cinematics.

I felt as if Sono had read my teenage blogs and journals, or somehow had gotten a glimpse inside my teenage angst mind. I found Yoko and her thoughts, her ways of dealing with her emotional pain and scars similar to mine. She was the character I connected with and understood best. I even had only two men that I loved in my young adult years: one a singer inspired by Jesus or just very spiritual (Jason Mraz) and the masculine, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Even the scene of watching rhythmic sea waves coming ashore is something I could, would and like to do to sooth my tumultuous heart.

Most of all, I was introduced to a new concept, or old concept I had forgotten but looked at with new eyes: the most beautiful delivery of Corinthians 13. Like Yoko, I held fast onto it without properly understanding and not seeing my faults. Only later on when I have reached a sense of content did it make sense to me, and understood myself.

love exposure realizationI believe Sion Sono is a master of human behavior and the human condition. I attribute this to his background as a poet. He articulates visually how emotions affect people’s behaviors which drives the film’s plot forward. He also shows the psychology behind his characters in a way that makes sense.

The only downside to this film is, people who had really normal lives may not understand the actions of the character and touts that those actions don’t make sense.

Other than that, this film deserves cult film of the decade for 2000-2010. Love Exposure won several awards but I feel love exposure should’ve gone to Cannes.

Warning: do not watch with kids or your parent around! Film contains several uncomfortable scenes but no nudity.

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monolith soft x flying mech

Monolith Soft’s tentative title X is the most anticipated videogame for me. The first teaser trailer grabbed my attention with transformable mechs. This time, we see even more of it. What really excites me though, is that red “X” at the end. Anyone who has played Xenogears can say that it is the same color as Xenogear’s logo. Whether it is a hint towards Xenogears or not, I’m game. On the other hand, the font type of the looks similar to Xenoblade’s logo font type which is silver instead.

I’m not fond of the music in this trailer. It is too J-Pop for me and cliche. Speaking of cliche, I hope this new RPG doesn’t follow Xenoblade’s storytelling because I could not connect with the character development at all in Xenoblade. One of the main character died and I wasn’t even moved by it. The script seemed like it was trying too hard to be sentimental but ended up being a turn off for me. Please stick to the maturity of Xenogears. According to this article on Xenoverse, the main writers for Xenogears were Tetsuya Takahashi, his wife Soraya Saga, Masato Kato and a few other writers, with Tetsuya and his wife being the major contributors for script and themes or scenes. If the same team of writers also work on X, there’s a possibility that it may just be as great as Xenogears. Right now I’m concerned with the music–why not collaborate with Yasunori Mitsuda again? I like his style better than the composers whose music were used for this teaser and the first one that was released. I’m also concerned whether there will be a sense of cohesiveness–a world that is lively with each person in each city with a story to tell, music that enhances the mood of a beautifully designed world.

In anycase, I’d buy a Wii U just to play this.

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