Quick Thought: Watched This Weekend

Things I watched this weekend:

For Me and My Gal (Busby Berkeley, 1942)

I wasn’t too familiar with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly’s work together, but after seeing a clip of one of their numbers from this film I was quite interested in watching it. This was Kelly’s first film and Garland’s first role as an adult character. Berkeley’s direction is described as having “unusually elegant restraint.” That’s very true: no elaborate glittering sets constructed out of showgirls’ bodies.

I was surprised by the amount of emotional angst and drama in the story. I knew it involved World War I, yet was disconcerted by how much it became a pro-war film by the end. The movie was made during WW II, but even then was this a good way to rally patriotic support, with the message of ‘”We had such a grand time that last war, let’s do it again!”?

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Mamoru Hosoda, 2006)

In recent years there has been a trend in Japanese animated films of what I would call magical realism (though a literary scholar might object to my use of the term). Stories of ordinary people, often of middle or high school students, who have some extraordinary or magical event suddenly disrupt their lives. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was one of this first that I heard about, with the style perhaps reaching its apex with Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 your name. I want to learn more about the history and context of films such as these, and see more of the work by Hosoda, Shinkai, and others.

Young Justice (DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation)

A series long on my “to watch” list, I’m finally into the first season of this animated superhero saga. The tale of former kid sidekicks growing into adult heroes is historically the “Teen Titans,” both in comics and animation. This series sets itself apart from the history of that name. It is a separate continuity from the main DC Universe, and not based on any existing comic story, even while using classic characters from the original Teen Titans, such as Robin and Kid Flash. Newer characters such as Miss Martian and Conner Kent, along with an entirely new version of Aqualad are included as well. It is a serious adventure, with ongoing storylines and character development, influenced by the dramatic structures of Japanese animated series.

The show takes its audience seriously as well, believing viewers can follow events and situations that unfold over multiple episodes. And even while presenting new interpretations of established characters, it assumes anybody watching knows, say, who Lex Luthor is and why you shouldn’t trust him. It even takes a characters that are usually dismissed as jokes, such as Sportsmaster, and makes them a functional part of the world it is building.

Quick Thought: Whisper of the Heart

This week I had the treat of seeing the Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart on the big screen, as part of the ongoing Ghibli Fest.

Whisper is a 1995 film directed by Yoshigumi Kondo, with script and storyboards by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a small, very touching film about youth, love, and creativity. And it is a pretty good example of Kishōtenketsu story structure.

The film also is a fascinating portrait of urban life in Japan, with many real locations in the Seiseki Sakuragaoka neighborhood near Tokyo. The film is over 20 years old now, leaving me to wonder how much has changed. The lack of cell phones is striking of course, particularly given how important they are in contemporary stories, such as Makoto Shinkai’s your name.

Quick Thought: About Kishōtenketsu

In describing Pokémon GO Fest in an earlier post I framed it terms of the Four Act Kishōtenketsu story structure.

You can find a lot of discussion of this structure on the web, particularly in how it relates to Japanese video game design. But here are a couple posts about the idea that I think are instructive:

The significance of plot without conflict
This was the first detailed discussion of the structure I found on the internet.

The Kishotenketsu struture of Digimon Adventure tri: an insight to traditional Japanese storytelling
This post looks at a specific anime, but goes into the cultural background of the structure, with some references for further study. It also makes me want to rewatch Digimon Adventure tri to better understand some of the puzzling aspects of that series.