aka 黒執事 aka Kuroshitsuji 2014 Written by Tsutomu Kuroiwa
Based on the manga created by Yana Toboso
Directed by Kentaro Otani and Keiichi Sato
Demon butlers, terrorist conspiracies, gender-hiding revenge plots, English-Japanese hybrid toy baron nobles, and an alternate world with only two spheres of influence is the setting for a murder mystery that soon balloons into a wild tale that could only be a live-action manga tale. And, yes, it is. Kuroshitsuji (黒執事) – aka Black Butler – features a demonic butler named Sebastian who aides his master in her revenge quest in return for the permission to devour her soul once it’s completed. Despite the overly-complicated world building, the resulting film is entertaining and fun, delivering a cool story without biting off too much and feeling like everything is rushed.
Black Butler takes a train into gender confusion land. We first run across Ayame Gouriki held captive by human traffickers. After the action sequence is finished, she rips off her wig to reveal shorter hair beneath. It’s not until a scene or two later (like 20 minutes into the film) that I figure out she’s pretending to be a man named Earl Kiyoharu Genpo. Which means in her first appearance, she’s a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl. Like Connie Chan or Polly Shang Kuan, there is a zero percent chance that anyone would think that Ayame Gouriki was a male, which makes the scenes even more confusing.
Shiori is under disguise because her whole family was wiped out by a traitor. She survived only by promising her soul to the demon Sebastian, who posed as her guardian servant, and Shiori posed as the illegitimate son of her father, named Kiyoharu Genpo. Why the illegitimate son has the same last name as the dad is best unanswered. She keeps up the ruse while trying to track down who hire the hitmen who slaughtered her family, and while running her family’s very successful toy company. Sadly, the toy company doesn’t factor into the plot as much as it should.
Black Butler Sebastian (Hiro Mizushima) – Mysterious demon butler servant of Earl Kiyoharu Genpo that no one has noticed hasn’t aged at all in 12 years. Because no one looks at the servants, naturally!
Earl Kiyoharu Genpo / Shiori (Ayame Gouriki) – Earl Kiyoharu Genpo is the eye-patch wearing bastard heir to the Genpo fortune and the head of the East’s most successful toy company, Funtom Company. He’s also really the lone surviving Genpo daughter, Shiori, who faked her death and is now faking her gender after selling her soul to Sebastian in order to get revenge. Is also an agent known as The Queen’s Watchdog
Maid Rin (Mizuki Yamamoto) – Rin is the clumsy maid that serves the Genpo family like her family has for generations. Which is sort of sad because that’s like slavery or something. Also, despite the fact she’s a gigantic klutz, she’s also a secret super double gun wielding crack shot killer that mows downs all sorts of goons to protect her master.
Hanae Wakatsuki (Yuka) – Earl Kyoharu Genpo’s Aunt (though really the sister of Shiori’s mom, which would make her unrelated to Kiyoharu Genpo even though she’s related to Shiori) and helped raise the Earl and run the toy company while he was still a child.
aka Space Battleship ヤマト aka Supesu Batorushippu Yamato
2010 Written by Shimako Sato
Story by Yoshinobu Nishizaki
Directed by Takashi Yamazaki
With the remake trains heading at full speed down the tracks of the movie world, it is only natural that popular franchises like Space Battleship Yamato would become one of the train stations. Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト) was an anime series begun in 1974, it features a continual story arc and was followed up by several sequel series and films and lawsuits. Released in the west as Star Blazers, the anime gained a faithful cult following overseas as well as home. I’ve never seen Star Blazers, though it’s popular enough I’ve become familiar with the concept. Earth under attack by powerful aliens, a lone ship sent on a desperate mission. And that ship just happens to be built in the hull of the infamous World War II battleship Yamato.
This reboot of Space Battleship Yamato takes some cues from the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. More than some cues. Okay, it’s almost a carbon copy of Battlestar Galactica. From the 9-11 inspired opening destruction of Earth’s fleet (which rings way more hollow and is an interesting look at 9-11 from a non-American country) to the characters with templates lifted wholesale (including gender swaps!) to the made up story of hope to inspire a journey across the galaxy, deja vu will deja vu your deja vu. Space Battleship Yamato owes almost its entire existence to Battlestar Galactica, which is odd considering it has a whole original canon to use.
The general concept of the original cartoon using the Yamato was a reference to the final mission of the battleship, which was generally seen as a brave but futile effort to defend Japan before the inevitable defeat. Yamato was seen as a metaphor for the Japanese Empire, double-downed by the name Yamato being a poetic name. Space Battleship Yamato borrows this line of thinking, even going so far as to spell it out to the audience. But the liberal borrowing of concepts and themes from Battlestar Galactica muddies the water. After the Yamato is launched, it becomes a series of episodes with the theme of sacrifice for the greater good. Susumu Kodai has a chip on his shoulder against Captain Okita, believing he abandoned his brother to die. Yuki Mori thinks Kodai leaving the military was abandoning his duty. Kodai violates orders to try to save crew members, endangering the entire ship, but later learns that you can’t avoid Kobayashi Maru forever and sometimes people have to die. Even the ending of the film works on this concept of sacrifice, from the cast thinning to the final actions of Kodai. Characters die, and the survivors will spend far too long thinking about the death in the middle of the action. Time is of the essence, people! These reactions are meant to emphasize the sacrifices, but are so overdone they become distracting. Oddly enough, this focus on duty and sacrifice above all else gives Space Battleship Yamato themes that mimic the thinking of the time of the real battleship Yamato.
The mixed messages cause Space Battleship Yamato to flounder around and lose the emotional punches it needed. I am not familiar enough with the original show to know if it was similarly muddled. The liberal borrowing from another source is also a big red mark against it. The visual effects are wonderful, especially considering the lower budget. It is a nice looking film. But looks are only skin deep, and Space Battleship Yamato is like one of those hollow chocolate bunnies. You know it should be filled with chocolate, but it just isn’t, and it’s not what you wanted.
Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura) – Former fighter squad leader (the Black Tigers) who left the service, only to come back into action for the Yamato mission. His best friend is an analyzer, basically an iPhone. Lost his brother in the Gamilas ambush. Definitely not Lee Adama.
Yuki Mori (Meisa Kuroki) – Expert Cosmos Tiger fighter pilot who is always prepared. Definitely not Starbuck. Meisa Kuroki was also in Assault Girls.
Captain Juzo Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki) – Old grizzled captain of the Yamato. Gruff but recognizes potential in people. Able to make tough decisions. Lost his son to the Gamilas forces. Definitely not Bill Adama.
Gamilas (CGI and Masato Ibu) – Aliens who start attacking Earth for unknown reasons. Then tries to stop the humans when they fight back. Desla is the named Gamilas, who are both individuals and a collective mind.
aka Gojira tai Megagirasu: Ji shometsu sakusen aka Godzilla vs. Megaguirus: The G Annihilation Strategy
Misato Tanaka as Kiriko Tsujimori
Shosuke Tanihara as Hajime Kudo
Masato Ibu as Motohiko Sugiura
Yuriko Hoshi as Yoshino Yoshizawa
Toshiyuki Nagashima as Takuji Miyagawa
Tsutomu Kitagawa as Godzilla
Minoru Watanabe as Megaguirus Directed by Masaaki Tezuka
Godzilla fights a giant bug! Sound familiar? Because most of this movie is, and has been done before much better. There are a few nice scenes, but for the most part the movie is just a pale imitation of its forbearers, a legacy it can never hope to be part of. The second film of the “Millennium” series (Shinsei series), where the story can ignore continuity at will to make things however they want. Sure, that allowed this movie to potentially do some neat things, but in the end, they just floundered with them, and the whole thing fizzled.
Godzilla attacks the mainland periodically, but as they only follow the first film, Godzilla can attack whenever they want him to. Godzilla’s main foe is Megaguirus, who is one of the lamest monsters. So far, the Millennium series does have one point of continuity: they all created crappy new villains for Big G. Eventually they just gave up and went back to reusing older monsters, for much better effect. Until then, we have to deal with this Megaguirus. Megaguirus is a large, prehistoric dragonfly. Sure, prehistoric dragonflies were lizard-looking giant monsters who never had to flap their wings. They probably fought Anguilusaurus all the time during the time of the Fire Monsters. Megaguirus’s little henchbugs are the Meganula, who are the smaller, only people sized prehistoric dragonflies, which have a wingless and mature winged form. They like to snack on tasty people.
Good ideas, bad execution, tired story. A few good points, outshadowed by the many bad. Not the hallmarks of a film you want to see, but at this point we have no choice, for the DVD is bought, and the play button has been activated! Continue reading →