Things I looked At: Mini Streaming Reviews (February)

Here’s a short list of things I watched on Netflix and other streaming services, mostly at random. I just clicked on or rented stuff that had pretty promo pictures,  happened to be a subject I’m interested in, or was recommended to me by some algorithm. Not all of these are TV series, however. A few are movies, but I decided to include them, because watching them on a streaming service was really the only way I was ever going to watch them.

 

Rurouni Kenshin

These movies are based on the Samurai X manga. I don’t know if this is like the anime, because I have never watched that, and  have only a passing familiarity with the Manga, which I read many years ago, but remember liking. These movies (there are three of them so far, with more to come later this year), heavily remind me of Blade of the Immortal, which was brutal, bloody, fun, only these have a slightly, “relatively”, more positive message, and a sense of humor. Well, I laughed at it, but y’all know I’m weird.

In the first movie, the lead character, named Kenshin, is a former assassin, who decided to give up killing, and wander the countryside helping people. This appears to be a very popular theme, because its basically the same plot of Blade of the Immortal, and a bunch of other samurai movies. A young woman who runs a martial arts school of some kind, stumbles across the protagonist, and he decides to help her with a problem she’s having with a rival school, that wants to take over hers.

A plot by some minor government official to take over the government in some drug related scheme, and a couple of Kenshin’s old enemies coming back to get revenge, give plenty of opportunities for fight scenes ,which are also interesting, because although Kenshin has decided to give up killing, he still carries a sword, but its a a reverse katana, with the killing edge on the wrong side. He can swing it expertly, but it takes a conscious effort to use it to kill, which he has promised his love interest he would never do again, and opens up some interesting dialogues about pacifism, and to what purpose  violence is used.

But mostly, its just a lot of really exhilarating sword fights. I loved watching the fight scenes, especially Kenshin’s fighting style, which is fast, and inventive. Because he’s not actually trying to kill many of his opponents, but they have no problem taking his life, the fights never get boring, and if that’s what you’re looking for in a martial arts film, then check out the entire trilogy.

At least two of these movies are available on YouTube, and there wasn’t any English translation for the one I watched. So not having it be dubbed or subbed, made me deeply curious about the conversations the characters are having with each other, during the fight scenes, where they often pause in their sword swinging, to exchange words. When I finally got to see the translated versions, it turned out that those conversations were completely unimportant, and that most of the deeper philosophical discussions, take place during character monologues.

 

 

 

Attack on Titan

Wow! These movies were awesome, emotionally draining, and  very energetic. There are few slow moments in them, and not much of either movie’s time is wasted.

Once again, I’ve only read a couple of the books, one of which was an anthology. I’ve never watched any of the anime, and I have only a passing idea what all this is  about, from watching some of the most terrifying trailers I’ve ever seen, and people talking about it on Tumblr. I don’t know how close the plot of  this movie, and its direct sequel, is to the original manga. The basic plotline is the same though.

Humanity lives in walled cities, to protect themselves from massive, (once human), beings, that have a nasty habit of eating the smaller versions. The movie is pretty graphic about this. There’s a lot of body horror, as people are grabbed, eaten, squeezed, pulled apart, stepped on, and otherwise massacred, by these giant gluttonous monsters. There’s also a certain amount of body horror with the monsters too. They are humanoid creatures with disfigured faces, and bodies, who are always eagerly smiling.

It’s interesting that one of the tropes of Japanese Horror films is the grinning monster, with probably the only American equivalent to this being evil clowns, and Japan does not have that trope. I personally find grinning, (non-human), monsters pretty horrible too, but I don’t see as much of that in American horror, but then Americans tend to be much more emotionally open in public, too. I suppose, in a society where privacy, reserve, (and melancholy), is encouraged, someone walking around with a massive cheerful grin would immediately mark themselves as other than normal, possibly even monstrous, and certainly untrustworthy. Its not that Japanese people can’t be zany, or don’t have emotions, its just that in the interest of personal privacy, they try to keep it themselves, a close circle of friends, or on TV shows.

There’s also a group of soldiers, and volunteers who create a new method for killing the Titans, that requires them to engage in a little too up close and personal manner, as the Titans are nearly impossible to kill, in any normal fashion. There is a lot of dismemberment, and eating, of the brave soldiers. We follow their adventures, and  interactions, although I did find myself not caring too deeply about them,  because I don’t feel that the focus here was on character development. It’s not that I didn’t feel anything for the characters, so much as their relationships with each other were sort of underwhelmng, next to the horror of what was happening to them. I was also irritated with them, as there are a lot of images of them just standing about and staring, as the Titans do stuff. I kept yelling at my TV because the humans simply were not taking adequate precautions to save their own lives, like dodging, or running away. On the other hand, I do live in Tornado Alley, so I’m guessing that watching giant things move slowly across a landscape, is something that is universally hypnotic.

In the first movie, the humans are living  peacefully, the idea of the Titans  is long ago and far away, until a brand new Titan shows up, that is significantly larger and stronger than any Titan seen before it. It turns out that the Titans do have some residual intelligence, as they have deployed this new guy to break down the walls, so they can just walk in and feast, and the humans are just not ready for any of it. In the second film, the people rally, and with the help of a half human/half Titan, and even a little bit of martial arts, (because that is a requirement for all Asian action movies), they manage to defeat them, or at least make them go back  wherever they came from.

There’s a lot of nudity, because naturally the Titans don’t wear clothes, and lots of bloody and disgusting things happen to the human body, so be warned. You kind of have to be in a certain mood to watch it.

 

 

Inuyashiki

What I was expecting when I saw the trailer for this was a wacky, Japanese romp with superpowers,. To be fair, the trailer I saw didn’t have captions, and I might not have been paying as close attention as I should have been, but the trailer does mostly focus on all the action scenes. This movie is not a comedy. While its message was a bit heavy handed, and there were definitely some tears, I actually did enjoy this. It wasn’t what I expected, but I’ve learned, over the years, not to be angry at getting the unexpected in a story. I only get angry when I get LESS than what I expect, and I got a lovely and moving story of  family dynamics, reparation of father /daughter relationships, and loneliness. Keep in mind that I hadn’t even read any of the Manga, if such exists, let alone seen any anime. I walked into this movie completely blind, except  for having watched the trailer.

Inuyashiki is the story of an old man, (the title character), who is having a very bad day. He is a deeply lonely, and isolated man, who, one day, finds out that he is in the end stages of cancer, gets  bullied at work, and then loses his job. He is emotionally distant from his wife, son, and daughter, and finds it impossible to tell them not just about his impending death, but his real feelings for them. His daughter is especially angry, because he has never shown her how much he cares about them, although this is stated as a lack of protection, since he kept telling them that the reason he worked so hard, and was never home, was to protect their future. I was starting to get really annoyed with how much of an asshole she was, until I realized there was a point to it.

Inuyashiki goes to the park one night, gets kidnapped by aliens, and in their efforts to cure him, (at least that’s what I think they may have been doing, because its never stated in the movie why the aliens did this), they turn him into a machine/cyborg, who is able to manifest machine parts, weapons, and even fly, possibly done through nanites. The very first thing he does with his powers, is heal a little boy, who is dying of cancer, at his hospital. This outlines the type of man he is, that the first thing he does after getting superpowers, is to save another life. These superpowers are yet another thing he cannot tell his family, but he does confide in one of his daughter’s classmates, who coaches him in how to use his new superpowers.

At the same time, another student, the close friend of Inuyashiki’s coach, whose name is Shishigami, is also kidnapped at the park, and turned into a robot of some kind. Both he and Inuyashiki were both in the same place emotionally. They were alone and depressed, and dealing with highly volatile issues. In Shishigami’s case, it is school bullying, and the death of his mother, from cancer. Shishigami does share knowledge of his new abilities with his best friend, but it says a lot about his character that he demonstrates his abilities by killing an innocent creature. Shishigami of course meant to go on as he started. he becomes first a murderer, and then a mass killer, with his superpowers allowing him to kill people through their phones and other video screens.

We have these two men, both of them undergoing uniquely personal tragedies, but their reactions are completely different. Inuyahsiki dedicates himself to saving lives, and Shishigami decides to do the opposite. Inuyahshiki  is an old man, at the end of his life, so  finds life more precious than Shishigami, who is young and angry at having been mistreated by his classmates, and can only think of revenge. Shishigami is unable to think of life as precious, viewing people as disposable, and this is how he treats most of his victims. The first time he kills people, its just a random family whose home he invaded. He is brutal, without mercy, and unnecessarily cruel. When he finds out his mother has cancer, he saves her life, but in his rage at the unfairness of it, he decides to kill more people. For Inuyashiki, all life is  beautiful however, and he works hard not to kill Shishigami, understanding his pain, and viewing even his cruel existence as precious, and salvageable.

Needless to say, the two of them are on a collision course ,as Inuyashiki sets out to stop Shishigami from killing people, and the last third of the movie is taken up with their furious, and energetic, battling through the skies of the city of Tokyo, which is what you see in the trailer. Ultimately. during all this fighting, Inuyahsiki’s daughter’s life ends up in danger, and he gets plenty of opportunities to protect her from his nemesis. This results in her discovering her father’s superpowers, of course, and a reconciliation between them, as they both share this new thing that mom doesn’t  know about.

I found the whole thing very touching, even if it was, as I said, a little heavy handed in its messaging. One of the interesting things about a lot of Japanese genre movies is that characters rarely exchange important information with each other. The dialogue between characters is often kept very simple and unremarkable, while most of the important things get said in monologues, with characters appearing to just talk to themselves in the middle of some important event. That’s something that, once you notice it, takes a little getting used to, but over all, I liked the movie,   its message, and it was worth the time I spent watching it.

 

 

Wellington Paranormal

Ever since Barney Miller, I’ve had this thing about cop comedies, and I don’t know what that’s about. I won’t watch dramatic cop shows, and generally spurn mystery thriller cop shows, unless Black actors are the stars. From shows like Barney Miller, Reno 911, Brooklyn 99, and Monk, to movies like Beverly Hills Cop, Hot Fuzz, and Mall Cop,  to The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, I’m noticing a trend. I’m attracted to laughing at, and with, cops. So Wellington Paranormal is right up my alley ,as it contains three of my favorite topics, the paranormal, and cops who are deeply funny.

Wellington Paranormal is  a loose spinoff of the movie What We Do In The Shadows, about the adventures of four vampires living as flatmates in New Zealand. Its also the second spinoff from the movie, as the first one, a series with the same name, and basic setup,  is set in America. In the movie, there’s a scene where the police get called to the vampire’s house, because the neighbors were concerned, when the vampires were engaging in some general domestic violence.

Wackily, this show is about the two cops who get called to the house, Officers Minoghe, and O’Leary (their actual real life names). If you have seen the movie, (and if you haven’t, you need to, even if you never watch either of the spinoffs), then the blithe obviousness of the two cops is the basic attitude of the show, as the two of them get conscripted by their boss, (Sgt. Maaka Pohatu), to deal with paranormal events and situations in the city of Wellington.

In the first season, they deal with such silliness as  a body swapping demon (shoutout to The Exorcist), zombies, and werewolves, while giving each one of these issues about the same amount of portentous gravity, which means none at all. O’Leary and Minogue are the anti-Scully and Mulder of the detection world, and that is never not funny to me. The two of them find a way to make even the wildest, most batshit of circumstances, appear utterly mundane, which is where most of the humor comes from, but at least 20% of the humor comes from their interactions with each other, and their boss, who takes things way too seriously.

In the second season, they tackle a town full of alien clones of themselves, in a direct callback to  The X-Files, a possessed car, a group of high school witches, in a shoutout to the Midwich Cuckoos, and some possessed cell phones. So yeah, the creator’s reference game is on point, and another nice gesture is that their boss gets a lot more airtime in the series. The closest comparison for some people will probably be Brooklyn 99, but its really not much like that. Its more of an X-Files parody, so if you liked that show, and would like to see it treated  it with the level of  silliness it deserved, then you will probably have to pirate it, as its not available in the US.