Death Note: The Last Name/デスノート: The Last Name

[Screenshot]The original Death Note was deliberately open-ended, what with adapting a few chapters of a manga with a long-running plot. We met Misa at the end of the first film, so folks who know the franchise would, of course, expect her to play a major role in this. She is, of course, intolerably annoying, which is about par for the course: she’s supposed to be irksome, screechy, clingy, and completely insane. This is actually done very well. Also, we get more of L, who is also brilliantly unsettlingly acted. All in all, I’m extremely pleased with the acting. Everyone is pretty creepy and unsettlingly intense, and, well, they’re supposed to be. It retains thematic and, for the most part, plot consistency with the other media. This means this is actually in some ways unpleasant to watch, because there’s a lot of real Badshit (such as the above-pictured confinement scene). I wouldn’t watch this before the first Death Note live-action (or the first several episodes of the anime, which get to the same plot point), so anyone in a position to see this already knows if they’ll find it interesting. But I offer my assurances that characterwise, it’s better than the first film (in spite of Misa being far less tolerable than Shiori, I have to admit she’s a more interesting character).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Her Torrid Temporary Marriage, by Sara Orwig

Some explanation may be in order here. The University of Louisville Exstrom library has a spinner rack near the checkout for paperback exchange. I’ve found some OK stuff there: I’ve picked up, copies of My Antonia and The Awakening there, as well as a Lillian Jackson Braun novel. However, the equilibrium state of the spinner rack seems to be “full of trashy romance novels”, and my attempts to disrupt the equilibrium with Graham Greene, Douglas Adams, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been mostly unsuccessful. Part of disrupting the equilibrium is not just putting down good books but removing the bad, so I decided to remove the book with the most ridiculous title I could find (It’s a good thing I didn’t try this experiment 2 months later, or I would’ve ended up with the mildly horrifyingly-titled Pregnancy Countdown). And having gotten the book, I figured I might as well read the awful thing.

I do not read romance novels generally. I got the vague impression they’re porn for people who don’t like porn. They’re not quite well-developed enough, from a literary standpoint, to be erotica as such, but they put in an at least half-decent effort. These impressions were mostly confirmed by Temporary Marriage. We get roughly half a book of smouldering looks and shy flirtation. Having gone through that, we are deemed worthy to spend the other half of the book in a world of throbbing manhoods and heaving bosoms. Or something. I don’t necessarily understand the psychological aspect, but there’s a point where the plot development, such as it is, decides to stop dead, and we can spend 20 or so pages (in a book that’s really not all that long) on sex. Not that the plot development is much, mind. One can see in the first chapter how it’s going to end, and it’s just a matter of getting there.

It was an interesting experiment. I see little reason to read other romance novels (although I continue to look at the spinner rack, and snicker at titles and pseudonyms), but I wouldn’t recommend it as entertainment unless you actually like them already.

A side note: the top of the front cover has these little badges on it which say “Marry Me, Cowboy” and “Conveniently Wed”. Are these kind of tags-in-the-web-2.0 sense, helping the prospective reader filter to their particular story style? The industry is, unlike the books themselves, actually fascinatingly competent, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some system there.


There is an easy piece of praise for Watchmen: it is the Alan Moore film adaptation which is most respectful of the source material. Alan Moore has been subjected to metaphorical rape by the studios so much that, at this point, he is pre-emptively opting out of credit and hoping film-producers go for the decoy Alan Moore RealDoll instead.

Leaving aside the sodomy metaphors, how does Watchmen actually fare? As mentioned above, it is quite faithful to the comic, which is not necessarily an advantage. One problem is that it is really fucking long. Another problem is that it tries to make cinematic sense out of comic-book stylistic choices, which is a bit hard to do: Watchmen wasn’t written with film in mind, and it’s hard to do justice to things like symmetric layouts of panels or word-boxes appearing over visuals which they concur with in time but not space (yes, you can do voiceovers, but those get annoying fast). So I think in many ways the artistic effect of the comic is greatly dulled, and without the artistry, it loses much of what mae it a seminal work. The addition of cinematic art-effects is, well, dubious, since all the art-effects they chose to use seemed to be cribbed from The Matrix, and they’re really thematically wrong, what with The Watchmen‘s notable absence (or even, one might say, negation) of badassery.

Of course, in an adapted work one has to talk a bit about the plot-faithfulness of the adaptation. As mentioned above, Watchmen makes a valiant attempt, but it’s so damn long everything doesn’t really fit. I won’t talk about the great “squid vs. no-squid” debate, because that’s been done, but what struck me is that, in attempting to squeeze everything in, shone light in several plot-element-shaped holes better left unexplored. The two particularly conspicuous ones for me had to do with Rorschach: first, his interactions with the psychiatrist, and, second, the function of the New Frontiersman. These are significant sidelights in the comic, and here they’re given just enough lip-service to make you wonder respectively why they bothered and if you missed something, since the psychiatrist-encounters are rushed and the nature of the New Frontiersman, as an institution, is revealed only very briefly and at the end.

I’m glad it’s been made, just so that we can stop worrying about how they’ll hack it up when they make it. But give me the comics any day.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Cat Who Sang for the Birds, by Lillian Jackson Braun

I know Lillian Jackson Braun wrote a bunch of these, but beyond that I don’t know much about the franchise, but this one was on the library’s bookswap spinner, so I grabbed it. I’m not much of a mystery reader, but I get the impression they’re generally a bit more, ah, investigative. Qwilleran is awfully complacent, even for an armchair detective. In fact, one thing that struck me about this book is its oddly rose-colored view of isolated communities. Moose County is a ridiculously idyllic place with a highly educated and sophisticated populace, fine arts, fine dining, and comfortably middle-class demographics. There are resort communities somewhat like this, but I get the impression there’s something of a constant tension between the residents-of-leisure and the folks who provide services to them, which is really not how Moose County is described. The entire setting felt so artificial as to distract me from the narrative, which is kinda fine, since the narrative is one of those comfortably non-illusion-destroying ones where everyone who is initially presented as unpleasant is guilty of something, and everyone who is initially presented as decent in fact is. In other words, not much to chew on here. The eponymous cat gets to display a fair amount of random intuition which I guess is a signature element of the series but seems completely irrelevant.

See also: Wikipedia

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I have a fair amount of respect for Michael Chabon. His Kavalier and Clay had a magical intersection with the kinds of thing I liked, and I liked his style. My father loved The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and urged me to read it. I liked it pretty well, albeit not quite as much as K&C. It’s undeniably clever, crafting an interesting and well-researched (if absurd) alternative history. Chabon is good at carrying this through to its conclusions, and the worldview is well-thought-out, and raises interesting thematic issues of cultural autonomy and interaction: the Jewish refugees’ interactions with both the Tlingit natives and larger American government play a significant role, while Jewish culture, isolated in Alaska, becomes more insular than Jewish America is today. it’s an interesting book, a quirky one, and touches on several issues I find interesting if not quite pushing my buttons the way K&C dod. However, Chabon, no matter what he’s writing, seems to always be possessed of a quick wit and an engrossing style, so this book is an easy and enjoyable read.

See also: Wikipedia.

East of Eden

[Screenshot]I confess, at the risk of seeming an even greater philistine than I’m already known to be, that I do not like the well-known James Dean vehicle which shares characters and some amount of plot with the famous John Steinbeck novel. The movie focuses on a single crisis in the book, ignoring that which leads up to it and deleting characters willy-nilly. As a fan of the book, I found this disappointing. So when I heard about this rather more detailed miniseries, I hoped it would fill that ole in my heart.

My hopes were, alas, not to be completely realized. This series is much better at touching on the plot elements of the novel than the film was: it has pretty much every major character from the book, and includes most of the plot-relevant scenes. But soemhow it manages to avoid any actual themes and characterization from the book. The character of Cathy is twisted around in such a manner as to be nearly unrecognizable, for instance. She is not a terribly subtle character in the book: she’s a power-hungry and misandristic sociopath, and Steinbeck does not try to justify her monstrosity. In this miniseries, though, one might be deluded into thinking she’s not an out-and-out villain, a rather questionable and weakening choice. The other set of characters which aren’t really fleshed out properly, to this program’s discredit, are Aron and Cal. We never get a feel for them, and especially not for Aron, and since their rivalry is so defined by their characters, this is a serious lapse.

I’d still recommend this series for anyone who wants to see a video adaptation of the Steinbeck novel, because it’s the best out there, and within its limitations it does an OK job. The acting is passable if not inspired, and the scenery and cinemacraft are appropriate.

See also: IMDB.

鐵扇公主/Princess Iron Fan

[Screenshot]Animation is something of an interest of mine: its development as an art form, the differences in cultural perspectives, and so forth. So Princess Iron Fan, as one of the first examples of east Asian animation (and one of the original motivators for the now huge Japanese animation industry) was on the agenda. The bad news is, it’s nearly unwatchable. The Criterion edition I saw had ostensibly been restored: I shudder to think of what the unrestored version must’ve been like. Many frames are badly damaged and the watching experience is extremely jarring. Other than its historical place, and the low quality of the actual print, there’s not much to this: it’s an adaptation of a single incident from the mythological novel Journey to the West, and stylistically quite derivative of early Disney films. The eyes are rotoscoped, though, which is more than a little unsettling.

An unusual historical comment: Princess Iron Fan was made in 1941, which puts it up there with Münchhausen and The Thief of Bagdad as “expensive cinematic fantasies created by nations that really should’ve had other things on their minds”. I guess escapism was worth paying a premium for during a big ugly war.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Internet Archive.