Abigail L. Dela Cruz aka “hyamei” is a Philippines-based illustrator currently working as a 3D game artist. Looking at her work, her illustrations have a wonderful narrative quality to them. I had a chance to sit down with her and pick her brain in the 390th episode of the Creative Spotlight. Read below for the full Q&A…
Can you run us through a bit about present-day Filipino artists’ overall working conditions? The country reflects a society with diverse cultural influences and traditions so how does that inspire, specifically, as an artist working there?
Can’t say much about it in detail, the only thing I feel is our working conditions could be better. We got tons of amazing artists here who do amazing work and wants to push more original content, but not much support from local TV industry/government.
Despite that, I’ve been noticing a good trend in illustration/comics/storybooks here! it’s been wonderful to be introduced to a lot of local artists, hoping it goes on the pace that keeps on growing (also, I feel the need to add this, to my fellow Filipinos, I hope you won’t be discouraged about becoming an artist: Share your work online, the internet gives the means to share our work out and find ways to connect with both local and international artists/audiences). I have learned that our culture is absolutely rich and complex due to the diversity of people that have migrated and lived here (sharing http://pinoy-culture.com/tags as a wonderful starting resource for those who’s interested). Learning about it has really made a positive impact on my perspective both as a Filipino and as an artist living here. Unfortunately, It’s sad to know our culture really doesn’t get as much spotlight outside the country, and I always believed in the idea that representation in media is so important. So although I’m still learning more about our culture, as an artist, I feel encouraged to share and incorporate more Filipino-centric elements in future projects, and hopefully help contribute something that represents the Philippine culture.
I’ve noticed you sent out alot of cards around the holidays and have been getting cards in response even into the new year. Is this a new thing you began with your fellow artists and loved ones? The response is pretty cool!
It was a new thing for me to try sending out cards! I remember in 2010 I received a lovely holiday card from one of my favorite artists I look up to, and it was one of the memorable experiences. After that, I’ve made it one of my goals to do something similar!
You are quite well versed in taking existing characters and giving them your own twist but what is the creative process like when you create an original character(s)?
Thank you! I think it’s always fun to add bits of your own interpretation when creating fanart. As for original character designing, I always think that I still have long way to go in learning. But whenever I do think about making characters: I like making the overall design as simple as a I can, just the right amount of details so it doesn’t look too busy. I also look up at various inspiration: photos, colors, fashion, themes and such. But all I can say is, though you take inspiration from other sources, I have learned you need to be really mindful not to draw too close other people’s work/design and knowing when to draw the line.
Earlier this year your work brought in charitable funds toward Dog rescues. In part you work explored childlike wonder. Does your work stem from attributes you have? Or qualities you wish you had as a person and want to explore as you create?
I guess the idea of “childlike wonder” resonated to me. I always associated that feeling whenever you discovering a part of the world you’ve never seen before, and I have to admit I’m the type of person who rarely goes out and travel, so going out to scenic places for the first time is something I always love and appreciate, which for me, there’s something magical about it sometimes. It’s the similar feeling that I try to convey when I draw, I try that by adding small bits of whimsical elements when I draw a scene in my work if I can (I hope that makes sense in some way).
Did you contribute to the ‘Spirit of the Wind’ show? If so, can you give us a few sneak peeks or details on what you plan to show?
Yes! I’ll be contributing to the Studio Ghibli Tribute show! the curators (3T’arts) were very kind enough to invite me again after the “Moon Crisis” show. No sneak peeks yet though, since I haven’t had much time to start on it yet, but hopefully soon!
As a 3-D game artist, did you enjoy playing a game you worked on?
Oh, not really! I just realized I haven’t actually played any of the games that I have been part of working. I think the fact I’ll eventually do maybe in the future?
Obviously your talent as a traditional 2-D artist and your work professional in 3-D are opposite sides of the spectrum. How do you balance the two and being proficient in both field give you an advantage in each?
There’s actually a contrast between my work and personal art. There’s not much connection I can make between it right now but the closest thing I could think of is, I was able to learn a lot of basics and technical things in 3D that I have used to create my low poly work. Regarding balancing the two, I do personal work during the weekends. At times, I do doodles during lunch break. I’ve always used personal art to counter the work stress for the week, but there are times balancing the two becomes difficult because of big workloads and consecutive deadlines.
Needless to say, we love your Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon art. What other anime resonate with you that you would love to tackle in the future?
The first thing I had in mind is definitely Card Captor Sakura! that anime never fails to give me happy feelings when I need it. Other shows I could think of at the top of my head would be Digimon and One Piece! of course, Studio Ghibli films is a given!
What’s ahead for you in 2015?
I got personal projects I’ve been thinking for quite a while, and hoping I could at least finish one this year going to try and maybe enter more gallery shows this year as well. also maybe I can finally start making my portfolio work as well! Definitely a lot to finish!
Lastly, any advice you can offer up to a struggling artist?
Don’t worry about “style”, alot of people ask me regarding that and it’s something I always found difficult to answer since I think my work is never truly consistent. I consciously stopped worrying about it every time I do work and it made learning alot more enjoyable. Never hold back on trying new things in your art just because you need to be consistent, the first important thing is that you learn what works and what doesn’t for you and grow! and always do the best of your ability every time you do work, don’t hold back just because of “style”. The more you enjoy your process and work, the more inspiring it is to keep drawing and the faster it is to find your voice in art.
A theater troupe is rehearsing a folklore Japanese play of murder and vengeance from afterlife when life begins to imitate art and, more than that, life and art begin to merge. The play being rehearsed, Yotsuya Kaidan (‘Ghost Story Of Yotsuya’), is a traditional story of Japan, one of that country’s more prevalent ghost stories and not coincidentally was itself written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku as a kabuki theatre play. It is not the first time the tale has been filmed or influenced a work of art. The tale even inspired the villainess of the Ring movie.
Two questions are relevant when discussing a Miike film. One is specific and one is general. Was the film violent, shocking or eccentric? You see he is subversive and baits the mainstream as Negisa Oshima once did. The answer is an unreserved ‘yes.’ The film is perfectly haunting. It is scary, macabre and violent right from the start. It is difficult to imagine that anyone could match old Japanese supernatural films, like Kaidan or Ugetsu Monogatari, in terms of chills and scares. Takashi Miike is the master and manages to do so. One scene, in particular, defies you to keep watching.
Was the film good? This question is perhaps especially relevant due to an existing benchmark given how the subject has already been filmed for the small and big screen in Japan. The answer is again ‘yes.’ The film is dark and tense, but simultaneously beautiful and stylish. The mixture of the modern and the traditional set, which matches the film itself, is dazzling and stylish. The chouchin lanterns, the kimono, the landscape, the entire set are frightening and attractive at the same time. The eerie music is chilling. The slow camera movement perfectly suits the ambiance. “You have already been in hell,” exclaims the female lead and she might have been speaking to the viewers. Parenthetically fans of Japanese history and cinema will marvel at the appearance of a blind masseur reminiscent of Zatoichi.
Miike stages much of the film appropriately on a Kabuki stage as a device – which might take one back to Kinoshita’s 1958 drama Ballad Of Narayama – and to remove any suspense, yes, the blood does eventually flow. The original tale of a supposedly honour-bound ronin perpetrating such foul deeds makes one wish there were in fact spirits which would come back and haunt such guilty individuals.
Coppelion is a Sci-fi/Action Fall 2013 Anime based on a manga of the same name. A short ways in the future Tokyo becomes contaminated with nuclear radiation after a power plant suffers from meltdown. Over a decade later the SDF dispatch a group of three genetically modified teenage girls into the contaminated Tokyo in hopes of serving those still surviving inside. Unfortunately these girls are about to find far more going on inside Tokyo than initially believed. As the show continues it becomes constantly hammered into the viewer that the three girls, particularly their leader Ibara, are simply too weak emotionally for their mission. This idea isn’t annoying in and of itself but the show consistently drags with this concept for the next four episodes culminating in one of the most frustrating moments of any show. Watching a character fundamentally fail to understand the situation they’re in and, when confronted with that, continuing to refuse the truth right before their eyes. Personally I find it hard to root for characters that take ages, if ever, to learn any lessons from their journey.
Without question, the series is visually striking. Meticulous attention to detail creates a bleak, ruined city in the first stages of being gradually overtaken by nature. Faint color filtering applied to the scenery saps the life and energy out of the natural setting and furthers the impression that, despite whatever birds we might hear chirping, insects we might see crawling, or moss growing on buildings, this is a desolate place by human standards. The character rendering is no less distinctive, as while the designs are relatively ordinary, the way they are animated is not. They stand in stark contrast to the miniscule detail of the backgrounds, drawn with thick lines, manga-styled shading, and in a manner which gives the feel of them being layered onto the background rather than a part of it; something similar to this effect used to be commonplace back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but this seems more like a deliberate effort to force a visual contrast rather than the cheap animation and lack of technical skill responsible in that era.
The main villains were actually my favorite characters. The Ozu sisters are Coppelion, just as the heroines, but have gone rogue on their rescue mission due to the hatred of humans they developed over time. Because they were unknowingly cloned from a murderer, they have highly volatile personalities, and the experimentation done to them has caused them to seek revenge. They struggle with the idea that they are less than human and seen as disposable, just as the leads occasionally do. On top of this, they have entertaining personalities and work well on screen together, as well as with the heroines; they went to school together, and bullied Aoi even then. This gives them everything they need to be great villains: motivation, sympathy, and likability. They are given some of the deepest characterization (although that is not saying much in an action series this short) and provide some of the best conflict right up until the very end, which is incredibly satisfying by itself. Without giving spoilers, I can say that it is a fitting conclusion, and gives more meaning to their existence than a simple fight to the death with the “good guys.”
As a thriller, Coppelion is definitely enjoyable, even with the broken plot and shaky background information. When it is given an enjoyable cast, beautiful art, and genuine edge-of-your-seat moments that I will remember for a quite a while, this anime really starts to come into its own. This was one series which I was always waiting for week to week, and would make for the perfect marathon series on a boring Friday night. While there is really nothing too amazing about it aside from the art style, Coppelion no doubt succeeded in what it set out to do: entertain the viewer and keep them hooked from beginning to end.
There are plenty of series with female protagonists and often that is an excuse for plenty of fan service; thankfully that is not the case here. I don’t mind the occasional bit but it would have been inappropriate here given the fairly grim setting. The animators did a great job of capturing the look of the abandoned city with rust and decay in almost every shot. The characters were good too; they may have been genetically engineered in a way that gave them superhuman powers as well as being radiation-proof but they were still human with the emotions and fears that go with that. The story itself seemed to move along at a good pace despite the fact that the action only covers a few days. The conclusion is dealt with well, featuring sacrifice and redemption and neither dragging nor feeling rushed. The biggest surprise is of course the subject given that it isn’t that long since the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Overall I’d say this series is well worth watching.
As the third and final part in a series of films, anyone who decides to watch this one first will be pretty bewildered as to who’s who and what motivates each character. Clearly then, as a stand-alone film, this wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, poor screen writing (or maybe translations – though, they seemed professional enough), didn’t really do this film a great deal of justice either, as some excellent directing and photography are let down by what seemed like coincidences and a lack of suspense in a plot that could have had it by the bucket-load. As with Parts I & II, the acting is good even if the dialogue is left wanting, and the action is well done – yet nothing we haven’t seen before – with the CGI, for the most part, being on a Hollywood level. I suppose what I’m getting at is that The Four 3 ticks all the boxes for a summer blockbuster-type film, but unfortunately, it also ticks that “Totally disposable entertainment” category, meaning that you’ll probably only see it because you’ve already watched the other two, but it won’t leave any kind of lasting impression.
Cold Blood aka Leng Lingqi, a former spy from a rival crime-fighting department known as Department Six previously sent to infiltrate the Constabulary and learn their secrets who has the gift (or curse) of transforming into a beast when provoked. He is in love with Emotionless (Crystal Liu Yifei), a psychic in a wheelchair who immediately recalls Professor X. Looking after Emotionless like an older brother is Iron Hands (Collin Chou), whose power is apparent from his name. And last but not least, there is Life Stealer, better known for being a fast talker and a wine lover than for any particular standout ability.
There is a whole lot of backstory in ‘The Four II’ which proves critical to understanding the narrative developments here. Emotionless has learnt the truth behind her family’s assassination as a child, which precipitates her disillusionment with Zhuge Zhengwo and Iron Hands, as well as to a certain extent Cold Blood. On the other hand, Cold Blood is caught in a love triangle with newly installed Department Six head Ji Yaohua, who is doing the bidding for a certain powerful Lord An. Lord An wants revenge for his son An Shigeng, the baddie from the first movie who is now grafted onto a tree for life. Oh, there is also a shapeshifter named Ruyan (Ada Yan) also doing Lord An’s deeds, who sets in motion the chain of events in this third movie. So despite the misgivings about ‘The Four’, this final instalment still manages to cap the trilogy at a high. In terms of storytelling, it is easily the most fluid, and in character development, the least clunky among the three. Those looking for some grand blockbuster action will still however be disappointed, as Ku Huen-chiu’s choreography still leaves much to be desired amid the slightly improved CGI. Yet, it’s as good a conclusion as one can ask for, so if it’s closure you seek, then it’s closure you’ll get; everyone else need not bother.
The film will revolve around a mystery that happens on the day of the “Justice Day” festival that celebrates Sternbild’s legendary goddess. The movie’s plot is very straightforward: we rejoin the heroes some time after the end of the TV series. Kotetsu and Barnaby are part of the Second League, but that quickly changes when a new owner buys Apollon Media. What follows is a predictable, but still entertaining story. The second Tiger & Bunny movie, “The Rising”, is definitely for the fans. Being a big Tiger & Bunny fan myself, I was very excited to see this movie. While it is not a perfect movie, it did a good job of being true to its source.
While the TV series can be seen as “Barnaby’s story”, the new movie is more focused on Kotetsu. Watching him come to terms with his new lifestyle is very heartfelt. The heroes’ struggles against the new villains doesn’t have as much emotional investment as the series, but is still action-packed. While the overarching story of The Rising is mediocre, the sub-plot involving Fire Emblem is amazing. It may be that the producers/studio realized that having a hero who is transgendered, but a successful business owner and his own sponsor was an amazing positive message. Even if that is not the case, the movie goes into a touching back-story revolving around Fire Emblem’s past insecurities, and the harassment he was forced to endure. It is a moving and very touching story, and adds more depth to his character.
The 2D animation is great, very fluid and sharp. It seems like the 3D hero suits have been given an upgrade as well. The 3D suits are not as jarring and out-of-place as the TV show (they weren’t even that bad in the show, in my opinion). The 2D and 3D are almost seamless. The new suit design for Golden Ryan is also good, incorporating lion themes to contrast Wild Tiger. A lot of themes from the show are remixed and reworked for the movie. It was great to hear familiar tunes, but it is always nice to hear new things as well. The voice acting was fine, on par with the TV show. The new hero, Ryan Goldsmith, is an interesting character. Equal parts conceited and confident, and a level-headed point-oriented hero, you don’t know if you want to hate him or love him. Ryan points out to Barnaby that he “sounds like his old partner”, and even says similar things that Barnaby said as a rookie hero. Ryan even knows that Barnaby needs Kotetsu as his partner. While he doesn’t have any development, he serves a purpose in the movie, and he does his job well; Ryan reassures both the audience and Kotetsu and Barnaby themselves that there is no one else who could possibly replace a member of this team.
The rest of the heroes get a great amount of screen time. It is fun to see what the heroes have been doing since the end of the show, and how they have changed. Small humorous bits with Rock Bison, the Second League Heroes and Kaede keep the movie from being too dramatic. While Lunatic does make an appearance, he did not get any further development, and that was a bit disappointing. If you love Tiger & Bunny, you will enjoy this movie. It is a fun, fanservice-y movie that has a good balance of old and new. If you are not a fan of the show, you might not enjoy this movie as much; many characters are not given much of an introduction, and the interactions between characters are what really drives this movie.
In the 19th century, various nations forced the weak Chinese Ch’ing leaders to accept their presence in the country. Countries like Britain, Russia, France and even Japan carved out portions of the country to be used as bases for trade and one of the ways they made money was in the opium trade. Additionally, Chinese warlords and gang leaders worked with these foreigners to exploit the country and its wealth and, not surprisingly, the common people resented this. But these foreigners and their Chinese partners were getting rich and had little regard for the damage they were causing. This led to a variety of wars (such as the Opium Wars and, later, the Boxer Rebellion) and eventually to unification and the abolishment of the Emperor–who seemed to care little about the plight of the people or the weakness of his country. One hero during this period of civil war and chaos was Wong Fei-hung. His prowess with martial arts made him a rallying point and many of his exploits have been celebrated and exaggerated in movies over the years, such as Jet Li’s “Once Upon a Time in China” and Jackie Chan’s “Drunken Master” films. The latest in a long line of semi- biographical films is “Rise of the Legend”.
In this version, the earlier part of Wong Fei-hung’s life is explored by director Roy Hin Yeung Chow and the legendary man himself is played by Eddie Peng. While Peng is not exactly a household name, his martial arts skills are superb in the film– mostly because they are both incredible to watch and generally believable. Little so called ‘wire fu’ is used in the film and heroes DO bleed and get the snot kicked out of them from time to time. The only really difficult to believe part for me was watching the familiar actor Sammo Hung fighting the hero to nearly a draw. While Hung has made a ton of martial arts films (many with his friend Jackie Chan), he is in his 60s and, well, a bit rotund (I have NO reason to talk in this department)–and seeing him battle Peng did take some suspension of belief, though Hung did amazingly well and surprised me with his performance.
The film is a bit difficult to follow, as some things in the plot the film assumes the viewer will know. Additionally, the storytelling is occasionally non-linear. So, as I watched, I found that I really needed to pay attention, understand the context and piece it all together in my mind as I watched. What you slowly come to realize is that the evil leader of the Black Tiger Gang in Canton, Lei Gong (Hung), has just made Wong Fei-hung his fourth adopted son after Wong single-handedly kills one of Gong’s rivals and takes out a HUGE number of the guy’s soldiers. You can only assume Wong is evil, as Lei Gong is rich from his profits in selling opium and slavery. However, as the film progresses, you realize that Wong is playing a very deep plan–one that aims to eventually free the slaves, destroy the opium warehouses and aid the common man. Considering that Lei Gong is ruthless, evil, has an army of his own and has three other adopted sons who are amazing with their martial arts skills, Wong’s task seems monumental to say the least!
So is this any good? Well, generally yes. The action is first- rate. While not quite as wild as you might find in many films, the martial arts fighting looks real and it will keep you on edge. Additionally, there are many story elements that work well. My only qualms are the way the story is presented. As I alluded to above, the film can be a bit hard to follow and sometimes I got the feeling that I’ve seen many similar films–and I have considering how many Wong Fei-hung films have come out of China in the last few decades! My verdict is that if you are a fan of the genre and understand the context, by all means watch this one. If not, then it’s not exactly a must-see film…though you certainly can’t go wrong watching it.
Keiko Matsui is a Japanese producer, contemporary Jazz Pianist and composer who has released 20+ albums to international acclaim in her three decade career. Matsui has worked alongside the best including Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masakela and Bob James. Keiko tours relentlessly and seeks to make a genuine connection with her audience. You can currently see her now on a massive tour across the U.S. Keiko Matsui’s new recording Soul Quest, is a riveting new collection of songs that unfold like an epic journey. She explores themes of love, loss, spirituality and environmental consciousness. Read below for the full Q&A…
What was your moment when you decided to become a musician?
I never thought about becoming a musician. But, gradually, I became a professional musician and started recording, composing for movies & my own album and touring. By learning how my music connected and had influenced other people’s life deeply, I was awakened to feel that delivering my melodies and dedicating concerts is my mission in this life.
And did that initial optimism ever get deflated?
I was not thinking to have a career in the U.S. so, I did not aim for anything. But, gradually my music had started to reach out to people in different parts of the world, and I traveled to many places. From those experiences, more and more my connection with the piano became stronger and I started thinking about my role. I believe that music has a mystic power and Music is the gift from the Universe. So. I am gaining more excitement and I am grateful to have this opportunity. That’s why I started my charity work for children last year. I went to Lima Peru to do workshops for children who are suffering to live in poor areas. I feel that Music could help to bring more hope and courage to their lives.
I’m sure your fans are aware that going on tour can affect yourself both personally and musically (such as “A Night With Cha Cha” and “Black Lion”). As you embark on your U.S. tour through the coming months, what can fans expect?
From our experiences of travel and shows, each songs & our performances have grown. We will dedicate ‘Best of Keiko‘ shows including some hits from previous albums and latest album “Soul Quest“.
It’s been over 10 years since you released a ‘Best Of…’ collection. What has been your secret for a career with such longevity?
I feel gratitude to my fans who love my music and come back to my concerts again and again.
Their support and love towards my music is the sauce of my energy. Also, I feel gratitude to my team’s support for my tour and my family’s support and understanding. I am thankful to be able to feel; this is my mission. That makes my road so special. It is not just business.It is not just concert. Not just playing music. There is deep meaning why I live and doing this. So, I am so grateful to be able to continue this.
For Japanese jazz musicians these days, going to the United States to further mastery of the genre is a much-pursued rite of passage. What was your experience like when you first started out?
I see many musicians come to U.S. to learn music. I think that is a good thing; to experience more and see different parts of the world. Well, my case, I started my professional career in Japan. And I was not thinking to start my career in U.S. But when I moved here, I made my solo album and that album was played on the radio a lot and I was recommended to start my concert after release. I discovered musician’s openness at recording. Maybe the language of English helps too. No matter you are new to music indusry or younger, I was able to communicate frankly and they respect that; what you want to hear from him for this music. Of course, music is universal language so, even I can not speck English fluently, music itself helped. It was a wonderful experience and could learn from those experience a lot.
Actually, even before that, I had opportunity to do recording in Los Angeles for Yamaha sample album (I was still student in Japan). Rhythm section was Nathan East on Bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on Drums, Alex Acuna on Percussion. That was my first recording in U.S. Very lucky! So, later, I invited Nathan and Vinnie for recording of my U.S. debut album in 1987. Since then, I had great opportunities to record and tour with many wonderful musicians in U.S.
There are all these amazing types of jazz out there, and many entry points for people who say they don’t like jazz or find it hard to get into. Your realm would be considered contemporary. Would this be a good entry point for a new jazz listener?
Maybe so. Every person has different preference and taste. But, it might be easier to start with. The important thing is you are enjoying…
After your tour wraps up do you have plans to record another album in 2015?
Yes, actually, we are making new live album & DVD at this point. So, it will be out in this spring. It has gorgeous contents including special road movie and an extra video of behind the scenes. On my web site, at front page, there’s already a count down started for Japan. For US, it will start soon. Information will be added gradually so, please keep checking..Then later half of this year, I am planning to create new studio album. But, I will be on the road between those creative progresses.
What is the creative process like when deciding who to collaborate with on an album or performance?
I follow my instinct from my composition. For me, melody is very important. So, I take lots of time for that. I sit in front of a piano without touching key. Then I start receiving melodies. And depending on that, I select instruments and musicians by considering which kind of sound I need for this. Sometimes, I set the team first. Like latest album “Soul Quest”, I decided to work with Narada Michael Walden, Chuck Loeb and Derek Nakamoto. I hear recommendation from Producers and we discuss.
For performances, to be on the road (tour) is very hard with travel schedules and sometimes conditions of the weather are hard. So, of course, musically great at same time, I select nice people to travel with. We are doing concerts but, for me, it is like dedicating music. Music is like a prayer. So, I have great band who is understanding of my music musically and spiritually with sincerity. For special projects, sometimes when we have special opportunities, I invite special guests. Latest live in Tokyo, I invited Kirk Whalum on Sax, Chuck Loeb on Guitar who was on the original album of “Soul Quest”. Also, I had Cello player for the concert at Hollywood Bowl last summer. Another thing, my favorite project is Orchestra show. United Air force band (orchestra) invited me in 80’s. Since then I developed my repertoire for Orchestra shows and did many Orchestra shows in the U.S. and Ukraine. I am open to those opportunities.
Lastly, any advice for any budding musician looking for a break?
I think keep originality is important and finding meaning of why you are doing it. Also, I would like to maintain spirituality into music. Music is like a mirror so, it will show your personality as well. Hope that you enjoy to put your soul on every notes you make and hope that we all work for creating more harmony on this earth through music.
For latest news, tour dates, and music, please visit her official website below:
The first hour of the film is basically spent on Kenshin training to get his fighting mojo back, as Kaoru was lying comatose in a hospital somewhere. Aside from a brief but exciting fight scene between Master and Student, there was a lot of talk in this hour about the fear of death and the will to live. Momentum really got bogged down by the philosophical arguments. Enter the Pause Zone, where the formerly brutal assassin decides to hold off his attack until the titular Kenshin (Takeru Sato) is caught and executed by the authorities in Tokyo. Never mind that Kenshin was last sighted off the coast of Kyoto and might well be dead—it’s time for everyone to sit around and wait. And wait. And wait. Kaoru Kamiya’s (Emi Takei) entire contribution to the film is to be asleep and then wake up. Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki) is relegated to watching Kaoru be asleep and then wake up. His only contribution comes in the last act, at which point he essentially rehashes his big semifinal fight from the first Kenshin movie in 2012. It’s fun, but it’s not much of a payoff when you’ve seen it before.
Kenshin spends much of the film on the Japanese version of Dagobah with his master, Hiko Seijuro (an effective Masaharu Fukuyama), in an effort to up his game after being defeated by Shishio and Sojiro Seta (Ryunosuke Kamiki) in the last film. The extended, artfully choreographed stick-vs-sword pummeling opens up some well-earned character development—as well as a few wounds—and could have formed a strong core to the story if the filmmakers had been able to restrict themselves to a single central character. Sadly, none of the other characters gets to develop so much as a hangnail. Shishio’s myrmidons, the Ten Swords (Juppon Gatana), are each given a single line of motivational justification narrated by a fist-fighting monk, and few get to express anything beyond fashion sense. Sojiro suffers most: the breadth and implication of Kenshin’s anti-killing philosophy have been so thinly established—and Sojiro’s background so hazily sketched—that their final conflict, while a thrillingly tight sword-and-grapple affair, has no emotional stake, and Sojiro’s subsequent breakdown lacks context or justification.
And woe be to those who question the purpose of any of the action: Aside from Kenshin’s meeting with his master, the entire trip from Tokyo to Kyoto is revealed to have been entirely unnecessary, as the finale takes place back in Tokyo anyway, and the entire cast could have just waited at home. Aoshi Shinomori (Yusuke Iseya) could have been written out of the script entirely. His fight with Kenshin is poignant, but only serves as a speed bump on the way to a conclusion that has been sitting static since the opening act. Most unforgivably for a film that has tried to be gritty and political, the setup for the finale is simply preposterous. In the previous film, Shishio had such superior intelligence capabilities that he was not only able to assassinate a government official in transit, but also make it look like the work of another group. In this film, he is somehow completely oblivious to the weeks-long construction of half a dozen cannons on an exposed hilltop within sight of his ship—which inexplicably sits stationary in open sight the entire time.
When all hell breaks loose, a longboat full of cops immediately rows right up to the broadside of the battle cruiser—over open water, in broad daylight—without dodging so much as a shot. Much hay is made of the government’s pusillanimity in firing on the battleship while the protagonists are still aboard, but the deck doesn’t so much as wobble for ten minutes at a time when the heroes have a score to settle. Does the artillery crew just go to lunch? And why doesn’t the ship just sail out of range? For that matter, why does Shishio’s sword make fire? And then, at the height of all this logic-free lunacy, something incredible happens, and even Aoshi’s otherwise pointless existence is excused. The final ten minutes of The Legend Ends represent the most innovative and inclusive four-on-one fight to ever to grace the silver screen. An expanding cast of psychos, heroes and hellraisers piles on not one after another in clichéd action fashion, but in fully choreographed five-directional fury, with every fighter bringing his own style and character to the game. The sequence is simultaneously brutal, gripping and hilarious—exhilarating and mind-blowing. It’s almost enough to make us forget all the sins committed on the way.
This was originally a late night Japanese TV series, condensed here to a 90 minute movie. It stars the six members of the girl pop group “Denpa Gumi, Inc.”. This group started in Akihabara, and the film is partly a vehicle to present them in Maid-like uniforms, swimsuits and frilly negligees. There is no sex or nudity, though.
The title means “White Witch School”. Elfen Blonde Mogami Moga is troubled because her younger sister apparently committed suicide after school bullying. She suddenly receives an email invitation to enter the White Witch School. At the school, she meets six classmates (the entire student body) and three young, enigmatic teachers (the entire faculty). They are sworn into the school. We see a demonstration of the three young teachers fighting as “White Witches” against some school bully girls. Big white CGI wings emerge from their backs, and they throw CGI light balls at the enemies, as well as punch and kick, It’s a nice scene, rather like Ultraman, etc.
The students are put on harsh physical training. We learn that each of the students has some past pain and emotional scar. This is apparently a pre-requisite for a White Witch. After a little while, all the girls manifest a single “White Witch” power through cheap CGI. At this point, the film turns much darker. The teachers announce that only one girl can finally become a White Witch. They all must fight each other to the death with their new powers until one is victor. Although all are friends by now, the teachers egg them on. For the rest of the film, this fight is what they do.
As a late-night show, this was not meant for kids. The tone is often horrific or erotic. Despite the “Magic School” setting, it is the battle to the death and emotional trauma of the students, rather than the magical training that is the primary focus. Don’t expect a Harry Potter-type movie. It is frequently gory and downbeat. If you are a fan of Denpa Gumi or the “fight to the death” genre (e.g. Battle Royale), than you’ll probably enjoy it. If you want a light-hearted film for kids, than stay away. The CGI effects and camera work are TV-quality, but acceptable. The acting is a bit over the top in a few places but also tolerable. Protagonist Mogami is always cute, even when she looks depressed or stressed, which is often here.