White Elephant Blogathon: Feeding Boys, Ayaya (2003)

Image Source: Lustralboy

Synopsis:In modern-day Beijing, two boys from the same family end up on opposite ends of the same moral spectrum. Xiao Bo, seeking a career that allows him adventure and freedom from commitment while providing enough cash to keep him in designer clothes, turns to a life of prostitution. His brother Dabin is an Evangelical Christian who wants to save his brother from eternal damnation. Scheming to convince the boys of Beijing to reform their ways and find a path to happiness that doesn’t force them to sell their bodies on the streets, Dabin himself gets involved in prostitution when Xiao Bo goes missing. But will Dabin’s outrageous plan to martyr himself to his cause pay off – or will he fall into the same inescapable trap that ensnared his little brother?

This film was assigned to me by another sadistic participant in the White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only. Now in its fifth year, the WE seeks to showcase “cinema’s widows and orphans – notorious stinkers, cult favorites, so-bad-they’re-great classics, and movies that time almost forgot.” Check out Silly Hats today and all this weekend to watch the contributions pour in, including a review of the film I submitted, 1984’s Runaway, a futuristic crime drama starring Tom Selleck and KISS frontman Gene Simmons.

I know exactly what you’re thinking. “Hey! We suffered through all those Japanese animation reviews, but then she promised us she’d get back to classic film! And now we gotta read about some obscure direct-to-video Chinese movie from 2003? What gives?!? Is this an April Fools’ joke?”

Well, yes. But it’s not an April Fools’ joke on you – it’s a joke on me.

A “white elephant” is defined as “a possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner.” It’s almost as if Zi’en Cui, the writer/director/producer of Feeding Boys, Ayaya (which I have been referring to around the house as Feeding Boys, Aye Carumba!), expected his film to become a white elephant, and therefore put as little time, money, and effort into it as possible. It doesn’t really matter if your film doesn’t make any profit whatsoever when you only spent $4 on it to begin with. Then again, it also turns the whole thing into a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn’t it? Because, at its core, I don’t believe Feeding Boys is a bad film. The premise – about an Evangelical virgin in Beijing who seeks to infiltrate the world of male prostitution only to help its members see the light and reform their ways – is intriguing and original to say the least. But it’s not only the extremely low budget the film suffers from; the filmmakers also seem to lack even a basic understanding of how to make a movie. I wonder if the director has even seen a movie. The camera wobbles constantly, performers are perpetually out of frame – they filmed an entire daytime scene against a plate glass window, for goodness’ sake! I try pretty hard not to blame a filmmaker for things that are out of their control, such as budget and lack of formal training – but really, I’m only human. There’s only so much I can forgive. (more…)

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: The Cat Returns (2002)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Shy and awkward Haru Yoshioka feels like she never does anything right. She can never wake up in time for school and is always tripping over things. When Haru performs a good deed by saving a cat from getting hit by a truck, the animal responds by thankingher and promising to repay her kindness! Soon Haru is getting all kinds of gifts from the Kingdom of Cats, including cattails in her garden (which make her sneeze) and live mice in her locker (which make her squeamish)! Haru regrets helping the cat, because now his brethren won’t leave her alone. But things really turn serious when the Cat King decides to bestow upon Haru what he views to be the ultimate gift: the hand of his son, the prince, in marriage! Desperate to avoid being taken to the Cat Kingdom and turned into a cat forever, Haru seeks the help of the Baron, a dapper kitty in a formal suit, along with his fat and grumpy friend Muta and a crow named Toto. But before her new friends can stop them, representatives of the Cat Kingdom come and steal Haru away in the night. Can Haru find her way out of the Kingdom before she’s completely and permanently transformed?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

The fifth and final installment in my week-long tribute to Studio Ghibli started off as a twenty-minute short about cats commissioned by a Japanese theme park. Banking on the popularity of the two felines from 1995’s Whisper of the Heart – Muta/Moon, the fat train-riding cat, and Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, the well-dressed figurine in the antique shop which provided inspiration for the main character’s novel – Hayao Miyazaki wanted to bring both characters back in anthropomorphic form for the short. He hired Aoi Hiiragi, who had written the manga on which Whisper was based, to pen the manga equivalent of the new film. However, when the theme park pulled out of the deal, Miyazaki instead decided to keep the existing material and expand the film as a training exercise for future Ghibli directors. Hiroyuki Morita, who had done previous animation work for the studio on Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), was handed the task of directing based on the 525 pages of storyboards he created based on Hiiragi’s manga. (more…)

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: It’s Christmas Eve in Japan, but the only present friends Gin, Hana, and Miyuki are hoping for is a decent meal and a warm place to sleep. Gin’s gambling debts have reduced him to scrounging on the street; Hana is a former night club performer who lost her job and, with it, the only family she ever knew; and Miyuki is a teenage runaway trying to keep her distance from her repressive father. All three are homeless, and have joined together in a makeshift family to help each other survive another night on the cold streets of Tokyo. But their lives are forever changed when they encounter a small baby abandoned in a pile of trash. While Gin thinks they should take the infant to the police, Hana sees the serendipitous discovery as a Christmas miracle, and makes it her mission (and Gin and Miyuki’s mission as well, much to their chagrin) to return the lost child to her family.

Satoshi Kon (October 12, 1963 – August 24, 2010) was born in Kushiro, Hokkaidō, Japan. He studied graphic design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, graduating in 1982. In 1984 he published his first manga, the short story Toriko, which won him a runner-up spot in Young Magazine‘s 10th Annual Tetsuya Chiba Awards. He then found work as an assistant to Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the renowned manga Akira. In the late 1980s, Kon slowly transitioned to film work, acting as occasional animator, layout artist, and screenwriter. In 1995 he acted as writer, layout artist, and art director of “Magnetic Rose,” the first of three short films adapted from Otomo’s work and compiled in the anime omnibus Memories. Kon made his directorial debut with 1998’s Perfect Blue, a psychological thriller loosely based on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel of the same name. He followed this with 2001’s Millennium Actress, which won high acclaim as well as numerous international awards, including tying for Grand Prize with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs’ Media Arts Festival. He followed this with 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers, which won an Excellence Prize at the Media Arts Festival; and the thirteen-episode television series Paranoia Agent, which he created, wrote, and directed. In 2006 he released Paprika, which won the Best Feature Length Theatrical Anime Award at the sixth annual Tokyo Anime Awards (and is now credited as being highly influential on Christopher Nolan’s 2010 smash box office hit Inception). He then began work on his next film The Dream Machine, described by Kon as “a road movie for robots” targeted at younger audiences. Tragically, in May 2010 Satoshi Kon was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Though he showed relatively few signs of illness, the cancer rapidly progressed, and Kon passed away on August 24, 2010, shocking his friends and fans the world over. He was 46 years old.

Yes, I know an anime movie from 2003 doesn’t seem to fit in with the theme of classic film on the surface, but, like Zelda Rubinstein, I can’t let my In Memoriam series end without talking about Satoshi Kon. Like Rubinstein, I feel Kon’s death has gone unnoticed by the majority of film fans who simply may be unaware of his work and his importance to Japanese animation. I know I mucked it up by not getting all my planned reviews done in December, so a lot of important people who died in 2010 are going unmentioned; this is to be my last review in this series, and out of all of them, Satoshi Kon is the only one I couldn’t bring myself to leave out. That should show you how important his work is to me, Tokyo Godfathers in particular. (more…)