Well, the film festival is over, so here's the rundown.
November 15th - 22nd (Sunday - Sunday): HIFF 2015
The Hawaii International Film Festival is in it's 35th year, though this is only my second year attending. Connie and I went to four different movies (all Japanese) over the course of the festival. Here's the quick reviews.
Our Huff and Puff Journey
Four Japanese high school girls run away from home with little money and even less of a plan to see their favorite band in concert in Tokyo. It's basically a teen road trip comedy that's about half regular film and half videos taken by the girls. All in all it was...ok. It was kinda amusing but not especially funny, so it's didn't really grab me with the comedy, and the whole road trip story was fairly generic. That really just left the characters. Unfortunately, they seemed to give up on character development about halfway through the movie, dropping the handful of threads that had been started. So, in the end, you have a movie that's ok, but doesn't really stand out in any way.
Kakekomi is a word referring to woman who ran away from their owners or husbands. See, in ancient Japan, only men could file for a divorce, with one exception. If the woman ran away and made it to Tokeiji Temple in Kamakura (a city a short distance south of Tokyo), she'd be protected and allowed to live there for two years as a nun, after which, her husband would be forced to divorce her. Kakekomi (the movie) is about several such women, each running away from very different circumstances, who meet on their journey to Tokeiji. It mostly focuses on their time in the temple and their relationship with the family running one of the nearby inns. It's a period piece and, as far as I can tell, fairy historically accurate. The movie description listed it as a comedy action movie, but a handful of jokes and a couple fight scenes isn't enough to quality it for either. It's really a drama with a little bit of romance mixed in (though that isn't really the focus either). While I found the incorrect description annoying, it's still an interesting movie and grants a rare glimpse into the role Tokeiji played in Japanese society. That said, there are just too many plot threads to cover in a movie. The main three fair decently, but the rest feel rushed and underdeveloped. Seeing as the movie is based on a book, this is probably due to trying to cram too much of the source material into the film's limited time frame. While it doesn't ruin the film as a whole, I get the feeling that it could have been a lot better had they dropped most of the subplots and just focused on the main characters.
Hana's Miso Soup
This seems to be one of those movies that primarily exists to make its audience cry. It starts out as a romantic comedy, but takes on a much more serious tone when the main character is diagnosed with breast cancer. From then on, the film tracer her life as she and her husband struggle with their situation and, eventually, the challenge of raising their young daughter, Hana. There's no grand lesson (other than, perhaps, make the most of the your life) or larger plot. It's pure bittersweet emotion from start to finish. Very well done, but not the type of thing I'd normally watch. How much you enjoy it will really depend on how you like that type of movie.
The Boy and the Beast
The latest anime film from Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children, etc.), The Boy and the Beast follows Ren, a young runaway Japanese boy who stumbles into a world of magical beasts (creatures about halfway between animals and humans). He's taken in by Kumatetsu, a bear man skilled in the martial arts but unable to keep a pupil due to his belligerent attitude. Over time, the two begin to bond but, as Ren grows older, he finds himself torn between the beast world and the human world, giving the film a bit of a Jungle Book vibe. Add in the competition between Kumatetsu and his rival Iozen to become their city's new lord, and some drama related to the darkness within human hearts, and you have a fun and moderately touching shonen adventure. The story is the type that will appeal to just about all ages and the animation is great (not Ghibli level, but still good).
I enjoyed it quite a bit (more than any of the above movies), though it doesn't quite surpass the barrier between very good and excellent. I know some people are calling Hosoda the next Miyazaki, but I don't see it. Hosoda does great movies, but they just don't reach the impressive bar set by Studio Ghibli in either art or story. Honestly, I think Anthem of the Heart (which I saw a couple weeks back, though not as part of the festival) came far closer than any of Hosoda's films. With all that said, I definitely recommend The Boy and the Beast. It's not at Miyazaki's level, but not much is. Enjoy it for what it is and you've got a fine movie.
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The past couple of weeks, while they didn't leave me with quite as much free time as I hoped, have been nice. Next week though, things will likely get pretty busy again. Some of that's a good busy, with Thanksgiving prep. On the other hand, work is going to be ramping up soon, with finals only a few weeks away. Though, that also means the semester is almost done, which means winter break. Though I'll have some class prep to do over that so it's not a total break from work. The main thing coming up though is that, on Monday, I start on my second Master's degree. It could be a kinda interesting program, though I'm not thrilled about the time and money involved. Unfortunately, there are reasons I have to do it so that's that. Hopefully it won't eat up all my non-work time, since I've got plenty of other things I need and/or want to devote some time to as well. But there's nothing to do except wait and see.