Rindu kami padamu

[Screenshot]I may have missed something about this one that made me unable to appreciate it, or something. There are vignette storylines that center around a market and the claustrophobic, low-rent housing nearby, but it’s very difficult to make sense of the characters’ motivations or the extern to which their actions serve to progress the plot. I think some slipshod design on the subtitles may have also created problems: the lines were sometimes oddly flat, and when multiple actors were speaking at once, the mapping between subtitle lines and voices wasn’t very clear. All in all, I’m afraid it fell completely flat for me, in spite of my usual enthusiasm for settings and characters outside my range of experience. Not all of these experiments can be winners!

See also: IMDB.

The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker

The Mezzanine is an undeniably peculiar novel, but it was peculiar in ways I found interesting; others would probably find it maddeningly trivial and minutiae-obsessed. Nothing of extraordinary importance happens in the book: it’s basically a stream of low-drama reminiscence and musings. I like it because it’s a very familiar kind of slice of thought: it’s a very geeky thing, and one I’m plenty guilty of, to let fairly commonplace events spin one’s mind into thinking about why things happen that way, how they’ve changed over time, and how to do them better. So our nameless protagonist, a forty-something middle-class man probably named “Nicholson Baker”, spends his lunch breaks thinking about how milk cartons have changed and about the stress factors that cause shoelaces to break. If that sounds undirected and meandering to you, you’re absolutely right, and yet it’s actually a far more interesting read than this description makes it sound like, because our narrative voice has such an undiluted sense of wonder. There’s something refreshing about our narrator’s boundless enthusiasm for practically everything (He loves shoelaces and milk cartons, as mentioned. And mechanisms of all types. And footnotes. There was one page of the book which had two lines of actual book text and then about 90% of a page taken up by an extensive footnote declaring undying love for ridged things that interlock and articulate, like escalator steps) and willingness to pursue the sort of silly, somewhat trivial exploration of day-to-day activities that surely many people have but most people never actually vocalize.

The Mezzanine hit all my sweet spots, because it was excited about the same kinds of things I am, and conveyed that excitement effectively. I’m not sure if it works nearly this well for people who are not me.

See also: Wikipedia.

California Dreamin’ (Nesfârșit)

[Screenshot]I kind of expected this Romanian film to be a black comedy about Kosovo, based on the summary descriptions I read; but it’s actually a story during but incidental to the Kosovo crisis. It’s also based on a true story, but very loosely: the actual event inspiring this film was undramatic, so the causes of and the local reaction to the stranding of the unit had to be tweaked considrably.

It’s a cute slice-of-life story, which doesn’t seem to be particularly in pursuit of a particular theme, and falling into the fairly standard plot of a technoglogically and economically superior force descending upon a quiet little town and sending it into an uproar. It’s a competent play on that particular plot construction, and pleasingly non-idealistic. There are lots and lots of characters and most of them are well-enoguh characterized to feel like Real People. The acting and technical aspects are no great shakes, but they’re working with a firm story-structure foundation.

However, ultimately, slice-of-life is a bit colorless no matter how interesting the events are, which combines dangerously with the film’s ridiculous 2.5-hour length: after a while, it gets badly bogged down and it feels like too much movie for its actual plot. There is much that is good and enjoyable in this work, but I think it would actually be more enjoyable if there were considerably less of it.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

北へ。: Diamond Dust Drops

[Screenshot]If one were to take, say Macross 7, Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Diamond Daydreams and ask a random American which one is based on a videogame, probably none of them will choose right (unless they’re an even incidental anime buff, in which case they’ll already be intimately familiar with the first three and choose the fourth by process of elimination).

It’s actually a pretty clever approach to repurposing a property. Take a dating sim, remove the (necessarily cypheric) protagonist, and what do you have left? A context and a bunch of well-characterized women. That actually works astonishingly in Diamond Daydreams, shifting the genre from romance to slice-of-life realism. The underlying schtick is that the story is set in various Hokkaido locations. It’s a change of pace from anime which are usually either set in Tokyo or in ill-defind rural areas. Various Hokkaido communities are lovingly recreated in detailed backgrounds, with their own individual local geography, character and individual complications for the characters who live there. This is a series with a low barrier to entry for someone who’s not an anime buff: the whole series is only 13 episodes, but more to the point, the two-episode story arcs are each standalone — there’s even fairly minimal character crossover, and no plot crossover. As a result, there’s a certain “light snack” quality to the stories; they’ve got some drama, but they are all more-or-less resolved after 40 minutes (the closure is often only partial, which is presumably to lend verisimillitude). The characters are likable (OK, except Kyoko), and their crises are believable and sympathetic.

The only real downside of this is that the series may seem a little colorless and lacking in intensity, but, hey, it doesn’t always have to be about the world-shaking and world-ending struggles of titans, does it? Oh, and the fact that the opening animation (and awful poppy accompanying music) has essentially no thematic or plot compatibility with the series as a whole.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“What kind of crap are you reading these days?” my father asked incredulously, as I set down Anne of Green Gables on top of Pirates of Venus, having brought both along on my trip. Anne is not bad the way Pirates of Venus is bad, but evidently it is not thought meet that a 29-year-old male reads them (nonsense: if I can watch shoujo anime and hold my head high, I think my masculine pride will survive a novel targeted at 19th-century Canadian schoolgirls).

Anyways, on to Anne. I’m afraid the story never engaged me too much. As a child I might’ve loved the first three-quarters, with Anne charming the socks off everyone around her with her whimsical, innocent garrulity, but being an old, joyless fart these days, her imaginative-chatterbox routine mostly made me want to lie in a dark room with cold compresses on my eyes. There seemed to be generous timeskips near the end to get everyone where they needed to be, and Anne grew a lot less interesting (as you might have determined from above, I found young Anne wearying. But older responsible Anne just felt kinda dull. There may be some verisimillitude there, and/or an aanalogy to my own life. I’m going to stop talking now). Even the death of a major character couldn’t really rescue my interest much.

Evidently there are sequels. Lots and lots of sequels. I don’t think I’ll read them, since I find it hard to imagine this story proceeding in a direction I find terribly interesting.

See also: Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia.

Seventeen: A Tale of Youth and Summer Time and the Baxter Family…, by Booth Tarkington

I remember being seventeen. It was actually pretty good for me, which is not to say I wasn’t a bit of an ass. Who isn’t, really? Tarkington’s opus is a little slice of the life of a seventeen-year-old boy in a semi-rural community in the early twentieth century. The displacement in time and place means things were a bit different, most jarringly for a modern audience the casual racism. Leaving that aside though, we have a story whose generalities are fairly universal in capturing adolescence.

The central character is ridiculed pretty obtrusively in the story, which is admittedly hard not to do, but it’s a bit of a cheap shot. Anyone can make youthful infatuation seem ridiculous (it usually does it without authorial help, here in the real world). Make the onject of that infatuation a simpering idiot, and the paramours callow and self-centered, and, well, that’s where it turns into cheap shots, really. This sort of silly summer romance would be an impressive feat if Tarkington had tried to make it romantic, or even respectable, but playing up its absurdity isn’t much of an accomplishment.

That having been said, Seventeen has strengths in setting and voice. The characters have distinctive attitudes and voices, even if a little too much use is made of accent. And it also captures effectively its time and place, giving a pretty solid picture of a life which, honestly, doesn’t resemble much of anything I know about.

See also: Project Gutenberg e-text, Wikipedia.