Still Walking

This 2008 film by Japanese director Kore-eda is a study of a family that is fractured by the loss of the favoured son.  The effect on the other son and daughter as they live up to parental expectations.  The film takes us through 24 hours of a visit by the other son and his family to the family home so that they can pay their respects at the grave of the dead son.  The fact that his wife has a young boy from her previous marriage adds an extra dimension in terms of who has a place within the family.

The father and mother of the dead son have daily arguments and the daughter’s husband and children add energy to the household that would be missing otherwise, even if the mother does express relief when they have left for home.  The step-son is a calmer prospect and observes everything with a reserve that earns him the nickname ‘the unsmiling prince’.

It is a hot summer day when they gather and the walk to the grave through the heat suggests this is a ritual that must be observed.  The dead son is a presence in the film.  The father, a retired doctor adjusting to a post work state, cannot see why anyone would have any profession outside medicine.  His surviving son has work problems of his own but cannot seek advice from his father who he believes does not understand him.

Throughout the film, the characters navigate their way past the difficult and the unspoken.  It is the strength of the film that we move towards the end without any of these problems solved.

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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.

Black Butler

I promised myself not to get involved in another manga series and yet here I am at the start of a trek through ‘Black Butler’ by Yana Toboso.  Of course, I could step off the track before the end or even refuse to take the next step but, having read the first volume, it seems I am hooked!

As ever with my hinterland, I was on the search for something else when I came across the character of Ciel Phantomhive and this led to the discovery that there is a ‘Black Butler’ manga, musical, film and anime.

This first manga introduces us to Ciel Phantomhive and his butler who has extraordinary gifts when serving his master.  Ciel is orphaned so is head of the Phantomhive family even though he is only thirteen years old.  He runs the company but also has a crime fighting role in the London underworld as the Queen’s Guardian.  This alternative universe appears Victorian and is intriguing because it is set in London but is Japanese in origin.

Sebastian Michaelis is the butler of the title.  He serves and protects his young master using skills that seem beyond the ordinary.   There is a household of servants supporting him but it is Sebastian who anticipates and serves his master’s every wish.  The young Phantomhive is enigmatic himself.  There are references to his parents’ death and strange circumstances that led to his position at the head of a crime fighting initiative.  The set up is enough to keep me going.  I am ready to move on to volume two!

Holland Park Kyoto Garden

In London with time on my hands so I went to Holland Park to pass by one of my favourite sculptures, ‘Boy with Bear Cubs’, and to explore the parts of the park I had not previously seen.  I wanted to see the ‘Kyoto Garden’ and was pleased to find that I was the only visitor.  The steady drizzle of February rain in London probably helped keep other visitors away!

The garden has been here since the early 90s.  It boasts a rock waterfall and a pool with Koi carp in it.  This little piece of Japan in the capital is here to celebrate the Japan festival held in 1992.  As an extension to the garden, a further area called the Fukushima Memorial Garden was opened in 2012 in gratitude of the Japanese people for British support following disasters in Japan in 2011.

The area was silent when I visited so the sense of peace I was looking for was easy to achieve.

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.

My Brother’s Husband

This manga by Japanese artist and writer Gengoroh Tagame provides an interesting insight into a society where being gay is rarely celebrated.  The story involves a visit from a foreigner whose presence in the lives of a father and his daughter makes the father reflect on his views and prejudices.

Single parent Yaichi brings up his daughter Kana, earning a living by renting out property in the local area. This gives him time to look after his daughter, something he does with great love and care.  Kana’s mother lives elsewhere but is still part of her life; she visits and stays in the family home but obviously has a high powered job elsewhere.

Into their lives comes Mike, a Canadian visiting Tokyo to see the childhood places his husband talked about before he died.  Mike’s husband, Ryoji, was Yaichi’s brother.

Kana adores Mike from first meeting and insists he stay at their house.  Yaichi feels obliged to agree and the manga tells the story of Mike’s time with the father and daughter.  Yaichi confronts his own prejudices and sees Mike through his daughter’s eyes, coming to terms as he does so with his feelings about his brother and how he handled his coming out.

It is a brilliant tale of accepting people for who they are and seeing beyond labels. The homophobia in society is raised through reactions of local people to Mike’s arrival but, in what was for me the most poignant scene, the arrival of a teenage boy to their door shows that gay people do exist in Japan and the need for validation is of high importance.

‘My Brother’s Husband’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

Gravitation

This is the first manga series I read!  Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last.  Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom.  Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki.  The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like.  Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer.  His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.

The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano.  As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.

The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes.  Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish.  ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.