Black Butler: the film

Next in my exploration of the world of ‘Black Butler’ was the live action film version released in 2014.  There are differences from the manga but the parallel world (part Victorian or Edwardian) is still here and the central characters of butler and his master are in place.  Yet, the biggest surprise was that the master was not Ciel Phantomhive but Earl Kiyohara Genpu and, wait for it, he was a she!

The master served by the butler is a girl at the start of the film and, like the manga, she is involved in fighting the underworld but, once rescued from the hands of villains in the film’s opening scene, she appears as a boy.  For the rest of the film s/he is the master served by the butler.  Central to this film is the need to revenge the death of his/her parents and discover which forces are behind attempts to destroy him/her.

The action sequences are good showing the super human skill of the butler as he deals with all comers.  The master- servant relationship also works well as the power play between the two provides hints that this story is not yet over.  Hiro Mizushima plays Sebastian and Ayame Gouriki plays his master.

I haven’t reached the purist stage yet so the departure from the story line of the manga did not worry me.


Your Name Manga

I loved the anime ‘Your Name’ so much that I bought the first volume of the manga version.  I understand that the manga followed the film, which is interesting since more often it is the other way around.  In this case, the book covers only part of the film even if it is the most interesting part: where rural high school student Mitsuha longs for a life in the big city and wakes up in the body of Taki, a high school boy in Tokyo; he wakes up as her.  Their confusion and then accommodation of this situation gave the story the real drama and the real interest.

Mitsuha lives in a town called Itomori, a fictional construct for the story.  She gets what she wants when she wakes as Taki but it is unclear why he should become her, there is no equivalent desire to become a girl.  Nevertheless, he is most interested in the idea of having breasts and is usually caught out by Mitsuha’s younger sister physically exploring him/herself each morning!

The switch and switch back give the story interest but it is Taki whose personality is the most affected.  He returns to his own body to find his dad is charmed by being called ‘daddy’ and the interest he has in a slightly older woman at his casual job moves on a pace when he finds a date has been arranged for him when Mitsuha was in his body.

The manga volume ends when the switching stops, something of a half way point in the film.  The film takes several viewings so a manga version adds little but consolidates the sense that this was a fascinating story.

Yin + Yang

This film about film is an interesting exploration of gender in Chinese cinema by director Stanley Kwan Kam-pang.  The sub-title, ‘Gender in Chinese Cinema’ sets us up for a documentary of interviews and film clips around gender fluidity in films by Chinese directors.

Many of the films are ones I am familiar with such as ‘Farewell My Concubine’ and ‘Vive L’amour’ but there were others that have now been added to the list of films to hunt down.  Interestingly, many of the directors and actors deny any connection between their work and the idea of being gay, and even deny the work having gay themes.  Leslie Cheung answers questions about so frequently being cast in effeminate roles as recognising in himself a certain degree of vulnerability.

Kwan presents the film in ‘chapters’ starting with his own experiences as a child, being taken to the male bath houses by his father and ending with his interview with his mother when he asks her if it concerns her that she has a gay son.  Between, we see images of male bonding from martial arts films and others and images of masculinity in both men and women.  The Chinese Opera is a rich resource for crossing gender norms and this is explored, yet it seems, in the late 90s at least, that Hong Kong and Taiwan were more open to expressions of homosexuality than mainland China.  It may have changed!

It comes across as something of a period piece itself, now, but the documentary, narrated by Tony Rayns, is worth watching for the signs that things are shifting in cinema.


Your Name

This excellent 2016 anime from Japan makes you think about identity and gender.  The concept of a boy and a girl changing places is one that has been explored in other films but this one has an extra dimension of time and chronology to add to the mix.  The high school boy from Tokyo and the girl of the same age from rural Japan swap places unwillingly and realise that this new life is bringing around changes in their personalities as well as their fortunes.

There is a lot of fun to be had from the gender swap concept but the film is less interested in gender difference and more interested in personality.  This makes it a more perceptive film.  Their friends notice the differences in their manners before they do.  In agreeing to communicate with each other, they set up a very modern solution to the problem: mobile phones are used to record diary entries.  When back in their own bodies, they can see what ‘they’ might have done the day before.  This is best shown when the boy goes on a date his other self set up for him.

Then the swapping stops!  To lose the central idea of the film about two thirds through is a brave choice as the story develops into one of a young man pursuing a young woman who knows him like nobody else.  This task seems impossible when his research in news media tells him it would be a waste of time.

I watched the version with sub-titles so that I could hear the Japanese language, even though I don’t understand it.  I could not cope with American voices taking over, acting like a cultural gravy over the whole affair.

Mokoto Shinkai directed the film.  Ryunosuke Kamiki played the young man and Mone Kamishiraishi played the young woman.

‘Your Name’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Power

This novel by Naomi Alderman is one to set the mind racing.  It was such a good conceit that I had to keep reading as I could not see how it could be concluded in a satisfactory way.  The fact that the ending worked so well shows what an amazing novelist Naomi Alderman is.

In a world where it is girls rather than boys who have the power, the relationships and attitudes of the genders is explored through several key characters from different parts of the world whose lives intersect.  It starts with teenage girls who discover an ability to transmit a sort of electric current through their finger tips.  As the young women reach an age when they are finding a place in the world, it becomes an interesting idea that these girls flex their metaphorical and literal muscles.  Some are kind and some are not.

What works best of all in this novel is that we are not immersed in an alternative reality but see the awakening of something new.  Therefore, it is not a case of genders having switched places but rather a genuine power- play between males and females, with the females seeming to come out on top.  In the small details is a larger picture revealed: boys educated in single sex schools for their own safety; some boys dressing as

Naomi Alderman encourages us to reflect on the imbalance of power between men and women but also explores deeper themes of morality of those who hold power, whatever their gender.  The resulting novel takes us through several years of shifting ground until we reach a point where it is clear that boys and men will grow up as the weaker sex; the character of Tunde perfectly illustrates the change for young men who thought their world of entitlement was a birth right.

‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?


Letters from Baghdad

I have long thought that Gertrude Bell’s life would make an amazing film.  Not only did she tread a path that few women had in her time but she also was another Westerner who fell in love with the East.  In the ways of the British Empire, she was in love with a part of the world that the British controlled and aware that there was a conflict in admiring the people who were subjugated to British rule. No matter how benevolent the rule was, it was rule nevertheless.

The documentary has Tilda Swinton reading extracts from her letters, usually to those ‘back home’ while archive footage and photographs of Bell are shown on-screen.  That we never see Tilda Swinton ‘as’ Gertrude Bell is a wise move since the photographic image of her is not affected.  Other people feature, people who knew her well, such as T. E. Lawrence, but these people are played by actors and we see them in black and white addressing the camera. Bell’s non- presence is all the more powerful because of this technique.

The story of the young woman who gained a First in History and who then turned East is a wonderful one.  Her knowledge of the people and places of the Middle East made her a key figure in the peace conference following the First World War.  Her role in setting up a country called Iraq before serving the government there in the field of archaeology illustrates well the way women were treated and viewed.  In many cases, she was referred to as a ‘right hand man’.  She understood she did not fit in when the social occasions were put on, organised as they were for the men and their wives.  She was not really accepted in either group.

The film is in black and white throughout making the archive footage stand out.  It is a very good introduction to the life of an amazing woman.  ‘Letters from Baghdad’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?




Days Without End

BlogDaysWithoutEndThis powerful novel by Sebastian Barry spoke to my heart, not only because it tells the story of two men in love with each other, an easy love that did not bring each other heartache or soul- searching, but because it was a story of making your way in the world with all its difficulties in such an unassuming way.  It is also a novel of identity, national as well as personal since this is America in the middle of the nineteenth century and the states are anything but united and the tribes that predated the white settlers are suffering from the move west.

Thomas McNulty and John Cole are in love.  He has arrived in America from Sligo, Ireland by way of Quebec and fits in as a soldier since that is a way of earning a living. His love, John Cole, is an American he meets under a bush.  Together they travel and earn a loving, first as dancers, dressed in female attire, and then as soldiers.  Throughout the story Thomas is fluid in the expression of his gender, something that has deeper importance as the book reaches the denouement.  What never changes is their love for each other and their determination to stay together.  This is something that is ‘understood’ by those around them if not always remarked on; it is never an issue.  This is not a coming out novel with the requisite angst!

The novel takes us to the frontier where ‘Indians’ are being forced from the land.  Whatever Thomas McNulty thinks  of this, he does his duty and in doing so becomes a surrogate parent with John Cole for Winona.  It is the power of the writing that makes you want the very best outcomes for these characters despite the harsh conditions and historical events that seem sure to tear them all apart.

This is a novel to care about and one that uses the singular voice of Thomas McNulty to speak up for people who we now call gay but who then were just people in love.  ‘Days Without End’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?