Man from Reno was a surprising delight! I’m not usually a lover of mystery movies or film noir, but Man from Reno was both serious and whimsical. After interviewing Ayako Fujitani last year we have been anxiously awaiting watching the film ever since. Man from Reno does a lot in one film by including English and Japanese dialogue, as well as an elaborate story; however, I was left fulfilled and didn’t feel like the film tried to take on too much. This movie is a great blend of fun and mystery and I would recommend it to any of my friends or family.
Man from Reno was my first foray into the films of Dave Boyle, and from what I hear, it is quite different from what he has previously made. But if any of his other films do resemble this one, I will definitely make the effort to seek them out. Man from Reno felt at once like a throwback to great 1940s noir mysteries like The Big Sleep, while also being remarkably relevant in 2015. The opening scene – driving through fog so thick you can’t see three feet in front of you – sets the tone for the rest of the movie; the plot twists and turns so much it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the new information, but it still manages to stay coherent enough that you stay on the edge of your seat, trying to grasp whatever details may stick. And through all this, a set of richly developed characters connect with you, keeping you invested in their story, even if you may not fully understand it. I left turning over the details of the movie in my head and will continue to do so for some time – hopefully a second viewing will reveal much of what I missed the first time around!
The “Man From Reno” denouement strikes me having roots in neo-noir—particularly the 70s classic, “Chinatown.” Both feature villains who “get away with it” but somehow “Reno’s” ending is not as special or striking as “Chinatown.” Film Noir, which often united the darker impulses of America post- WWII with an exhausted, disillusioned Europe, showed the world was both smaller and larger than mere borders. Dave Boyle’s new noir Man From Reno is both a step back into the contained yet expansive world of San Francisco and an up-to-the- minute dispatch from the lonely land of singles. The brilliant Pepe Serna is the aptly named sheriff, Moral, whose calm demeanor and intelligence inspires confidence. The cast, down to the bartenders, are living in this world and the darker places of the psyche. But it is talented Ayako Fujitani as the lionized author whom we want to know better. She carries her secrets like a true detective–close to vest. Secrets and dark alleys abound but the characters carry the story. This one’s a keeper– years from now it will double-bill with The Maltese Falcon at our land-marked neighborhood movie palaces. This is a very good and unusual mystery. It also has a fairly dark and uncompromising ending which only adds to its overall unpredictability and boldness of approach. This is one well worth seeking out.
This show is based off of a series of light novels (it covers the first 9 which make up their own larger arc) and when I was figuring out what fall shows to watch I came across the manga adaption and tried that out. I really liked the manga and blitzed through as many chapters as I could find but this did mean that the anime came off feeling a bit flat by comparison (probably because they’re adapting an entire book every two to four episodes which means you really have to compress the story). Once the anime got past that part the story grabbed me again but not as strongly, and then the return of a character from the very first arc (Suzuka) made me just toss up my hands and drop the show since it just wasn’t fun seeing her constantly mess with everything. Of course this means that the very next episode had a character go “hey can you knock this off and help us out with the fact that one of out friends is getting attacked every three episodes now and we don’t know by who?” “Well, it could be these guys….” And it certainly felt like the show became more enjoyable once that character dynamic was changed up and both the larger and smaller plots started making more progress.
There is one other reason I might have enjoyed the second half of the show more than the first half, I marathoned it and I’m realizing that I really do prefer that for some shows and, since this one was already spilt up into mini-arcs based on the novels, that also helped the pacing here for sure. Plus, the farther you get into the story the less exposition it has because holy cow, all three versions of this story suffer from having way too much exposition and the author feels the need to reintroduce every character and every idea every time there’s a new arc/book and I remember that driving me up the wall when I first watched the show. That is a major flaw for the show, it doesn’t understand that a lot of it’s world-building details just aren’t that useful or interesting and yet it doesn’t spend a lot of time on character-building details. I was surprised at how much I liked the extended main cast by the end of the show, they actually had gone through some rather nice growth, but they still felt a bit flat. Plus, one more detail that didn’t work for me is how the series as a whole had some trouble with pacing. Not in the actual arcs, again I can understand having trouble with compressing the books as much as they did (and this is another problem I’ve noticed while checking out the novels), but it’s really hard to get a grasp on the passage of time and I was amazed to see that the series actually covers over a year since it never felt like it and there weren’t any visual cues either. I can’t even recall the last time I had this particular problem with a show, usually they have at least a few filler shots of scenery to provide that context but it was all absent here!
The animation is a mixed bag. I like the art style, but the animation can veer into lazy territory at times and an abundance of out-of-place CGI doesn’t help matters. The battles are pretty cool, if a bit random since the rules of this magic system are so poorly defined. I think it basically boils down to, “throw some talismans around and spout of bunch of random Japanese words and magical stuff will happen!”. But still, it looks pretty cool when the shit hits the fan.
The music is actually a standout feature. It’s really good, a lot of techno-vibes with an eastern flair. The first OP is one of the best OPs I’ve heard in ages and the second ED is fantastic as well. Though the music doesn’t stand out much outside of fight sequences. Lazy directorial decisions regarding this adaptation make it an average watching experience, with some high points. But I am genuinely interested to see where it goes so I hope another season is eventually made. It’s hard to recommend because it is a bit generic and it does drag itself down at times but all in all, I don’t regret following it through to the end
As we wind down to our final episode, we feature Jon Lau, who is an illustrator based in Los Angeles. He graduated from Art Center College of Design and paints primarily with gouache, and loves garlic. We sat down to discuss his creative process, anime, and more! Read the full Q&A below…
You’ve been included in the right group shows, the right publications, and had some stellar clients. You’re a great artist, no doubt, but you must have a savy business sense in order to appear in all the right places. Could you tell us a bit about your strategy as an artist?
Thanks! Something I’m so thankful to have learned and accepted early on is that it’s essential to aim to be as visible as possible with your work. I can understand and relate to what it means to an artist to be reclusive and protective about their work, but in the professional context, it makes no sense to expect your opportunities to be consistent if you go into hiding and do nothing to promote it.
I love the calendars! You did a bit of crowd sourcing for it, correct? What is it like garnering the attention of the community to make your work see the light? A bit nervewracking?
Yes, we were able to successfully fund the Meimei + Po calendars through Kickstarter! The response we received from the community, many of which are dear friends and family, was just overwhelming. It was pretty intense, and I couldn’t have done it without my business partner Natalie, because even if it doesn’t hurt to have a good product, so much more goes into making a crowd-funding campaign effective.
I wanted to highlight one aspect of your work and that is how you articulate petals and leaves. What is your fascination with them and are they hard to illustrate since they can take so many forms?
Flowers are actually some of the hardest things for me to paint. I’m drawn to them because they seem to at once demand the most of my design and representational picture-making capabilities. Painting them occasionally reduces me to tears, ha.. Because they take so many forms, the process is more unpredictable than anything else I depict. I learned in school that an artist should be excited yet terrified as they make work…or something to that effect. I think they also seem to represent the way I make my work– leaf by leaf, petal by petal, and there’s also a meditative quality to the activity that I enjoy so much.
Tell us a bit about your time in Japan last year and how you grew as an artist?
I spent a month in Japan as an artist in residence at Shiro Oni Studio in Onishi, Gunma. Prior to my time there I’d never really been away from home, and I generally identified as a bumbling, wifi-addicted sheltered boy from the suburbs (still do). I’m so fortunate to live as comfortably as I do, but a side effect from living in Los Angeles is feeling a little too well connected to everything. It’s so easy and enticing to tune in on what trends are taking off, that at some point you just stop being curious and explorative altogether when the answers are given to you. The opportunity to sequester myself in the Japanese countryside for a month got me to ask myself the right questions in order to propel my creative vision forward, and even more importantly, reminded me why I loved to paint so much. I don’t speak Japanese, I have a horrible sense of direction, and I only really had Internet access whenever I visited 7-11’s (which are AMAZING there), but I somehow made it back in one piece, and I loved every moment.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or anime?
Anything and everything by Hayao Miyazaki, especially Spirited Away, which makes me cry Ghibli-sized tears every time. Sorry in advance that my taste in anime is so outdated but some other favorites are Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, and Tokyo Godfathers. I did recently watch Attack on Titan, so I’m excited for the second season to come out!
The fabric work on your pieces is really great. How did you stumble upon Ginza brushes and why does this particular tool suite your needs?
I stumbled upon them completely by chance at a local art supply store in Hong Kong, where I stayed with my family before I flew to Japan for the residency. The Ginza brand sadly doesn’t come up online, but I’ve had my family clear out the stocks of every stationery store in the city because I’m crazy. It turns out they’re nail art brushes that are relatively common and extremely cheap in China! They’re perfect for the level of precision and delicacy I personally crave in my work, and because they have roughly three hairs a brush, they hold no paint and they are why I complain about being so slow.
Your pieces are very whimsical. Have you ever attempted to do art while in a funk or bad mood? Do results vary?
I’m a naturally happy person, and I notice on days when I’m too caught up in something that distresses me, the overall quality of my work suffers. I view the ‘world’ in terms of possibilities, and I feel that my art reflects that– its apparent whimsicality is owed entirely to uninhibitedly asking myself and others, “what if?” and “why not?” It’s weird I know, but in essence it’s part of my job to think more healthily and be more mentally balanced to maximize my creative output. Some days you just really need a breather and a moment to collect yourself before you resume working.
When you are working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues/peers?
Always! I find it so helpful and fun to be able to think out loud with my friends and peers. I love the way ideas form and even stack on top of one another, and how they rapidly change from tangent to tangent in a conversation. It also helps to get out of your own head for a bit, precious though it may be, because I personally subscribe to art thriving best in a community. The excitement is infectious.
Want to stay on top of all of Jon’s work? Follow his cookie crumb trail below:
A blind man seeks revenge against the psychopath who took away his sight and slaughtered his wife and daughter. Eight years after the massacre, the man has returned to the desert town, now a highly trained samurai swordsman ready to seek justice. But he doesn’t know there awaits seven assassins hired by his sworn enemy who want the bounty on his head. Set in nowhere, no time, this bloody modern day fable is a new age hybrid action film with a classic samurai essence and a spaghetti western spirit. This is, “Sushi Western!” This movie is like Planet Terror, or Dead Alive. Not to be taken too seriously. It steals ideas and general storyline from movies all over the place. There’s elements from so many movies I wouldn’t even know where too start. This is B-movie cult stuff, but may be too cheesy for most viewers. The score also is pretty damn fun although I would have personally enjoyed more a more distinctive homage to Ennio Morricone’s masterful works of the 1960’s!
Its typical revenge fare and the blood and violence factor is high…there’s a lot of samurai lore involved yet it appears most the actors have no martial arts abilities…i may be mistaken, since I’ve never heard of any of them, but usually its easy to tell the difference between someone who has learnt to throw a punch or kick or swing a blade in front of the camera and someone who is a trained martial artist. And only one dude here looks like he knows what he’s doing but since no-one else does, he has to hold back from actually swinging his sword properly, or make his punches and kicks look as ineffective as everyone elses…either that or they were using real swords that were super sharp and so were afraid to swing them with any kind of real force or finesse…
There’s shades of lots of old Japanese samurai flicks, plus bits of Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Planet Terror (especially the grainy camera effects and use of ‘old looking’ filming techniques), plus Ninja Scroll, Azumi, Versus and possibly Shinobi, but its not as good as any of them…still, it was entertaining, and there’s nudity and blood, so it wasn’t all bad!
Curtis Duffy, one of the country’s most renowned chefs, is building his dream restaurant at the worst time of his personal life. Already the recipient of two coveted stars from the Michelin Guide, Duffy has ambitions for his Chicago restaurant Grace to become the best in the country. But his laser focus on his cooking career cost Duffy his marriage and two young daughters. ‘For Grace’ follows the building of Grace from concrete box to its opening night. It’s a story about food, family, balance and sacrifice. It also revisits Duffy’s turbulent childhood — How a teacher recognized talent in a troubled teenager, how an unimaginable family tragedy made Duffy seek refuge in the kitchen, and how cooking ultimately exacted a price.
Then there are the mouth-watering food shots of Duffy’s creations like the salmon meyer lemon red cabbage, oyster blueberry sea bean, scallop huckleberry liquorice and golden beet black garlic strawberry, among others. There are lots of talking head interviews with executive chefs from prestigious restaurants as well as journalist,Mark Caro. It is good to hear from Duffy’s former mentor, Grant Achatz from Alinea Restaurant (which has earned itself three Michelin stars). Achatz hopes Duffy will surpass his accolades and success, as the former believes this is the measure of a good teacher. If a complaint could be levied against “For Grace” it is that it waits far too long to hone its focus on its subject. The audience learns about his culinary career, the famous chefs he worked under and the difficulties in leaving a restaurant and opening a new one, but it takes a while to finally get into Duffy himself. There’s a turning point where Duffy opens up and talks about a tragic story involving his parents where the film immediately becomes more accessible. Even with that insight, it still seems there is so much about Duffy that remains uncovered.
It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, “For Grace” has on the interest in fine dining experiences to the general public. At $205 a person for the tasting menu, it is hard to imagine fans of the film rushing out to Duffy’s Grace restaurant for a taste of the chef’s world renowned cooking. Though the world of fine dining may be off-putting and hard to crack to the average eater, “For Grace” just skates by on its look into the inner workings of building a restaurant and the sacrifices chefs make to be the best in the world For Grace is all about a charismatic, type A personality’s love of cooking as well as a chronicle of a small town recalcitrant who went on to achieve success and Michelin stars at various Chicago eateries before his latest crescendo, his own restaurant. This documentary is inspiring and while it does contain some drama, it is ultimately uplifting. It’s a story about the ingredients to life and it should prove to be essential viewing for any self-respecting foodie.
Based on the manga written and illustrated by Sayori Ochiai, Gingitsune: Messenger Fox of the Gods follows the everyday life of Makoto Saeki, who is the 15th successor to her family’s shrine. As a result, Makoto is able to see Gintaro, a messenger of the gods who is the spirit of a sacred silver fox and has lived at the shrine for over 350 years. As a messenger of the gods, Gintaro has the ability to see into the future, and uses it to help Makoto only when she is truly in need. This is the story of friendship between a delicate teenager and a shy and stubborn messenger of the gods. This anime revolves around a “slice of life” atmosphere. Many episodes involve the little events and situations between the characters, all while relaying the importance of tradition, family and friendship. So it’s nothing new, essentially. However, that doesn’t mean this anime should be skipped. Many of the characters, although they are based around some traditional Japanese token characters, still have a sense of likability, and are still very interesting. Haru, for as obnoxious as he is, still has some things to offer in his character, such as his relationship with Satoru. You can really see this in episode 5, just keep in mind that Haru starts to lose his likability after that episode, but its just my opinion. I also have never really seen this “slice-of-life” story done around a setting that blooms with Japanese and Shinto culture. Even though you may disagree with the religion (like me *cough*), you can still be sucked in by the history aspect (you got to learn something, kids). Be warned, there are also aspects of different lover relationships, lets just say.
Since its defeat in the Second World War, Japan has done something nearly unique — arranged things so that its traditional religions can live comfortably with its rationalist economics, education, and politics. Such an accomplishment is worth trying to understand, and this anime helped me to achieve that. I could see how the Shinto shrines in the story, and the people in them, fit into the society, and brought a sense of purpose and belonging to the everyday people around them. The characters all likable, and the main characters (girl and messenger fox) have a sweet friendship. Their relationship is depicted quietly, but with artistry that conveys clearly how much feeling they have for each other. The slice of life form allows the shrine life to be depicted clearly because there is no necessity to distort motivations and causation to bring about flashy events.
From my own perspective; I noticed each episode being packed to the brim with as much story as possible, which is a welcome sight in my opinion. The animation isn’t lazy, but it isn’t hyper realistic either, kind of a comfortable medium; the depth of the characters makes up for areas of the animation that would seem lacking. It might not look real, but it certainly feels real, I like that (Note: The backgrounds and other art is gorgeous). The comedy is spread evenly throughout and works to complement rather than as a detriment to the story. And at the end of every episode, you’re left with a feeling of wanting more, but no real appreciable cliffhangers to make you wonder “what’s next” and to angrily await next week’s episode (results may vary, I was enamored to the point of anger in having to wait a week).
At the end of it all, the series is short but has so much entertainment value to keep you beaming happily with whomever you watch it with. And I think the focus on being a slice of life show, emphasising the little things in life, really brings the show to a new level among series I have seen in the past. I would highly recommend anyone sitting on the fence to give it a watch. The result is an effective depiction of a society where people feel a sense of belonging that some of us who live elsewhere can only envy. Idealized though it may be, this show can make you feel welcome too, if you’re willing to accept the basic premise of all slice of life shows: Everyday life is routine, and the important and intense stuff happens inside.
Made in Japan is Josh Bishop’s debut feature documentary telling the story of Tomi Fujiyama, the first female Japanese country music star. Though I’m familiar with pop cultural East meets West occurrences, I have to admit Tomi is completely new to me. I’d imagine the filmmakers would agree that’s the best way to go into Made in Japan. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Tomi from the get-go. Picking up her story nearly a half century later, Fujiyama, who proves to be a very endearing person, would love to be able to relive her legendary moment and return to the Opry stage. Director Bishop tells her story while following her journey to relive past glory.
Her first performance at The Opry was in 1964, when Fujiyama was in her early 20s. A half-century later, she wants the chance to repeat the greatest moment of her career. Of course, so much has changed over the years. First, The Opry isn’t even located in the same building anymore. It’s moved from the legendary Ryman Auditorium — i.e., “The Mother Church of Country Music” — to become part of a major resort well away from downtown Nashville. It’s a tall task for someone outside of Music City’s inner circle to land a gig at The Opry these days, as Fujiyama soon finds out as she journeys from her native Japan to Nashville to try and make her dream come true. You truly get the sense that, despite her upbringing, she was meant to be a country singer. While she speaks, you can certainly detect her accent, but when she sings all you hear is what sounds like an American country singer. She’s very much like Journey frontman Arnel Pineda – whose accent you hear when he speaks; but when he sings, you only hear Steve Perry.
Bishop meets with many individuals from the country music world; unfortunately for non-fans, their significance is pretty much lost, as they share their thoughts on Fujiyama and her impact on helping make music multicultural. As the film progresses, we meet the group of individuals who hope to get the ball in motion to help Fujiyama make her dream come true. One highlight is her reuniting with Rollin “Oscar” Sullivan, 91 at the time of filming, of Lonzo & Oscar, the duo responsible for bringing her to Nashville.
One of the common themes that can be found in traditional East Asian literature is that of a small village ensconced by mountains and protected by the ravages of the outside world. While the outside world might be enmeshed within the struggles of war, these secret hamlets prosper with their only concerns pertaining to daily necessities not the brutalities that man can wreck upon his fellow man. Welcome to Dongmakgol opens with a small detachment of North Korean soldiers whose numbers are continuously dwindling not only because of constant attacks, but also because they have been given the order to kill every wounded man. Sick of the murder of his own men, High Comrade Lee Su-Hwa refuses to kill the few remaining wounded soldiers. Yet his second-in-command is all to ready to follow the orders of high command and tries to stir up a mutiny versus the High Comrade. However, before the heated words are able to become firing guns, the small group is attacked and only four survive. These four men scale a steep mountain and their number is reduced to three when the fourth plummets to his death.
Wandering alone on the mountain, the medic Moon Sang-sang comes across a fellow South Korean soldier, 2nd Lt. Pyo readying himself to commit suicide. The medic stops the man from doing so, but almost gets killed himself. As with the North Korean soldiers, these two men make their way into the wilderness. The best part of the movie is the humor; the subtlety of comic scenes is fantastically portrayed. The cinematography is dazzling, every scene is crafted perfectly. The slow-motion scenes looked well-paced; the lush and green outskirts of Korea are shown with elegance, the rains are amazing.
While resting, the three North Korean soldiers encounter an odd girl dressed in traditional clothing with flowers in her hair. Although each man points a gun at her, she shows little concern and informs the men that they should move because they are standing close to a snake rock. After a snake falls on the arm of Sgt. Jang the three men unload their weapons at the rock. With their guns empty, the three men follow the girl, Yeo-il, to Dongmakgol. Later the South Korean soldiers arrive and, of course, there is a stand off between the two groups. However, after a few events, including the food storehouse blowing up and defeating a wild boar, the five Koreans, along with an American pilot named Kent Smith whose plane crashed at the very beginning of the film, are able to come to terms with each other temporarily, but with the threat of other outsiders looming on the horizon can this fragile friendship be maintained? One of South Korea’s biggest hits in 2005 Welcome to Dongmakgol is truly a visual delight. The natural scenery is quite stunning and the CG, a brilliant sequence with a wild boar and a rain of popcorn, is very well done. While not the best of friends, their friendship does shine through.
While primarily a comedy Welcome to Dongmakgol also contains a few graphic scenes of violence such as the eradication of the North Korean soldiers at the beginning of the film and a few scenes near the end of the film. While the film might be written off by some as a hurrah that both Koreas can work together, those of Western decent might be a little shocked by the portrayal of Western soldiery, i.e. American, in an otherwise comedic film.
Japan has discovered a supernatural spacial rift that allows access to a different world filled with numerous humanoid races of magical ability. Their world is still working on a feudal class system, which presents interesting complications for the company involved in trying to expand their otaku culture to this new world. Our protagonist was hired as a representative to achieve that goal, who is a full blown otaku with questionable social skills. He meets up with his half-elf maid, the human queen (16 years old), and Japanese assistant, then the chaos commences. A very interesting series that looks to have something for just about everyone. Plenty of fan service, romance potential, magic, comedy, fighting, and even social/philosophical forays. I found this to be more than your average fan service show with a surprising level of character and environmental development.
What sets Outbreak Company apart and raises it above most series is the political undertone which undermines the silliness. I feel the writers were making a political point about otaku culture and political trends. I won’t say more to not spoil the plot. In the end this was a heartwarming show that can also make you mad. Animation quality is not fantastic but it is more fitting than it is elegant. Due to this being a comical look at otaku culture, the series doesn’t warrant the animation quality of 5 centimeters per second or even Sword Art Online. I would compare it the anime Log Horizon. While the quality is not Attack on Titan, the animation does what it is asked and is able to tell the story nicely because better animation would seem almost overdoing it. Soundtrack is kind of generic though there is one track that will be remembered from this, the “Awkward moment da-da-da” track, and if you have watched this series already you know which track I am speaking of. The opening, I personally, feel is the best track of this show and fits with the comical feel of this series. The ending also holds up well in comparison though animation I feel is somewhat lacking in terms of content. Character development can be lacking though the show knows what it wants to do and be(a parody of otaku culture) and executes it well most of the time. And while the ending does leave the possibility for more, it gives a satisfying conclusion that can be appreciated by most, if not all.
If I have one complaint about this series, it’s that it seems almost too well written and conceived for the fluffy and frequently cliche harem rom-com that it is. The premise is clever and requires only a bit of suspension of belief, the characters are mostly realistic, and the setting is coherent and consistent. The protagonist is only mostly clueless, and the affection of the girls who surround him seems based on a genuine regard for his qualities; qualities that are demonstrated in ways that feel natural and not forced. Most of all, there seems to be a valid and intelligent story that is being told. Alas, that story really only covers three or four episodes, with the rest of the show focusing on somewhat-ironic otaku tropes and clever industry self-references. Still, while I can bemoan how much more they could have done with this, there’s no real sense of waste…it’s a fun anime on every level.
he plot is not over-arching but rather the plot serves to create various situations that give referenced and comical looks at various stereotypes, tropes, and cliches of many other anime and anime genres to date. While it does have its moments of series story and tone, the majority of the series consists of situations that help show the various preconceptions and obligatory-s of anime that we have all come to know and love. Outbreak Company is what it tries to be, a parody of otaku culture. While it does have some blunders here and there, it tells a nice story of comical otaku parody and heart that true anime fans will most certainly enjoy. Give it a watch and you will most certainly agree.