The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Film Review

Princess Kaguya is found by a bamboo cutter inside the stem of bamboo plant. Assuming it’s a gift from the heavens, he and his wife take the child on as their own. They then plan to organise a wetnurse, which seems like drawing a long bow sing the child magically appeared inside a tree and may not even be human. Walking across a log bridge in the forest, the old man’s wife suddenly pauses and miraculously any vestiges of her post-menopausal state seem to vanish as she removes her own breast from her blouse and begins feeding the baby.

Now you don’t get that kind of behaviour in a Disney film! (A young boy also gets punched multiple times in the face later in the film, just for stealing a chicken.)

Then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata who brought us perhaps one of the most harrowing animated features ever with Grave of the Fireflies – a film following two children in the nuclear fallout of the bombs dropped in Hiroshima during WWII. So, subtlety and quirky woodland creatures is not the order of the day for The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

Whether Kaguya is indeed a princess, is something that is debated constantly throughout the film, through the conviction of the bamboo cutter and his wife, against the sceptics who come to question how a child born in a bamboo shoot could possess regal blood. Nevertheless Kaguya does everything within her means to enchant potential suitors with her koto playing, while presenting her less attractive side for those she does not wish to be pursued by.

She is certainly an industrious and creative bamboo child. She would be a blessing to have as a daughter. She is polite, well-humoured and pretty. But she is an independent modern bamboo child. A rebel even. So for her woodcutter parents, who want nothing more than for her to be married, she looks destined to live a single life tormenting those who desire her affection.

Takahata has cleverly captured the complexities of a rebel who still suffers from her own insecurities about her appearance, while displaying a confident veneer. Kaguya’s desire to remain independent is juxtaposed against her quest to find a place where she fits in. The child, born of a bamboo tree to barren parents in a traditional patriarchal society of Japanese villagers; she is certainly an accurate representation of young adults.

Perhaps if bamboo sticks were involved more in childrearing, the world would be a better place. (Bamboo sticks used for birthing royal babies; i.e. not for beatings.)

Jurassic World – Film Review

The two main child protagonists of Jurassic World feel as though they are torn straight from the screenplay of an early 90’s family film. Subjected to the whims of their work obsessed divorcing parents, they are suffering from emotional neglect. But as an audience, we are not here to see pre-pubescent angst surrounding divorce, otherwise we’d have rented a copy of Mrs Doubtfire or Miracle on 34th Street. Surely this is the new millennium and we’re here to watch blended families, accepting them for who they are.

Additionally, we came here for dinosaurs.

Certainly Jurassic World delivers an array of prehistoric bipedal creatures creating carnage across the island jungle. One only wishes that they would tear the heads of the whiney wannabees from their shoulders. The two boys have the chance of a lifetime to experience firsthand the wonders of the Jurassic Age, and all they do is moan the whole time that their CEO aunt (charged with running the Jurassic World theme park) isn’t spending enough time with them. And if they’re not letting off steam about their absent aunty, they’re flapping on about how herds of velociraptor are about to rip them limb from limb.

For goodness sake, the velociraptors have bigger things to worry about, such as being hunted down by the Indominus Rex. In regards to their aunt’s perpetual workload, I don’t know what they expected. She is charged with the world’s largest and most ambitious fictional theme park, and she hadn’t taken any annual leave to spend time with the boys. So, it is no wonder her plate’s too full to spend quality bonding time with her nephews. She barely has time to leave herself emotionally vulnerable enough to become Chris Pratt’s damsel in distress.

In a separate act of glaring plot flaws, the most ridiculous incident involving these youths occurs when the children stumble upon the abandoned atrium of the original Jurassic Park. Discovering an old rusty jeep, from the original park, they claim to know how to hotwire it because their grandfather had a 1992 model, and had shown them how the engine worked, before he sold it.

Now, if the car was from 1992, why couldn’t the car have belonged to their parents; instead of their grandparents? 1992 is only 23 years ago. Their parents could easily have purchased the car within the lifetime of the children. There is no need for the filmmakers to make anyone over the age of 27 feel like a fossil, just because we remember the release of the original Jurassic Park in 1993. Most people who were teenagers at the time of the first film, would barely have had time to have given birth to a child, let alone have two pre-teen bumbling fools such as the two in this movie.

Maybe it’s just that dinosaurs lived more than 60 million years ago, as to why 1994 feels relatively recent; or perhaps it has been a while since the first film was released and I’m older than I feel. Either way the state of the atrium where the jeep was found, was not reflective of the period for which it had been abandoned. And on a completely different point, I don’t think grandparents should be encouraging or educating their grandchildren on how to hotwire cars. It will only lead to theft.

Finally, in a world where lessons are rarely learnt (i.e. this is the fourth time some idiot has thought it would be safe to interact with genetically cloned/modified dinosaurs on an island), one lesson is made clear: if you spend too much time fighting with your ex-husband and working too hard to pay attention to your children, eventually everything will end in a blood soaked nightmare involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the deaths of numerous characters who are inconsequential to the plot.

Kid #19 – Dealing with broken dreams

The nineteenth kid I hated had aspirations of becoming the next Steven Spielberg by sulking.

I was teaching in a sixth form college in South London, covering some media classes. Some of the students were excellent in their production skills. Others were killing time. Their interest in cinema generally did not extend to the silver screen, but dwelt somewhere between Misfits and a Twisties commercial.

The kid I hated would arrive to class late, put his feet up on the furniture, answer his phone in the middle of class, talk to his friend as soon as you tried to tell the class something and for the most part had an expression so sour you’d have assumed he’d eaten a mouthful of turned raspberries. However, unlike his apathetic counter parts he did want to make films. This was part of the problem. He spent the majority of his time away from the classroom constructing ideas and hair-brained schemes for re-imagining the special effects and Shakespearean acting he had seen in Marvel superhero films (an obsession directly caused by the course’s subject material, which included the film Spiderman 2).

Sometimes when you have a sulking teenager, you begin to think it’s something you’ve done that caused the sulking. Every time I asked for the kid’s attention he appeared to become more sullen. The mere presence of me seemed to weigh down upon him like a lead trumpet.

I soon came to realise these feelings were just my own paranoia.

I spotted him in the corridor and down by the bus stop a few times. He was equally depressive then, which made me realise he was in a perpetual state of affliction. Seemingly the world had dealt him an unfair hand and if he didn’t spar against the global population of the planet singlehandedly, he’d never become the filmmaking legend he wished to be. He was a more angst-ridden version of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek, but without the girlfriends.

Then when I finally saw his finished products, I was more than underwhelmed. One featured an escaped serial killer, who looked more like a well-shaven hipster sporting a felt-tip drawn scar under his left eye. The mise en scène was less film noir and more like the cinematographer forgot to turn the light on.

Considering schools these days are normally working with equipment one hundred times better than what I used in my final year of university (less than ten years ago), it’s disappointing when you see something that looks like it’s been recorded by an ancient relative on a handy-cam in the mid-eighties. What this student produced couldn’t even be passed off as an avant-garde David Lynch recording.

These types of students are why it’s difficult for me to teach media. I don’t profess to be any sort of Stanley Kubrick myself. So it’s not particularly the incompetence that bothers me. After all it’s my job to educate and fill the gaps in learning. But the apathy and slapdash construction of the student cinematic ‘farse’terpieces is sometimes so frustrating I want to wrench them from the editing suite shouting, “Just let me do it!”. This in itself is a bad approach, which is why for the most part I’ve decided it best to avoid teaching media classes for now. And for the pupils producing perfect moving pictures, I tend to become jealous of their potential and end off wallowing in my own self-pity regarding my broken dreams of cinematic success. So my decision to steer clear of such classes remains.

So although my former media student may have snapped out of his pubescent mood, if we met again in Hollywood I doubt I’d fork out the cash to watch his productions at the cinema; I’d wait for their DVD release – and then borrow a copy for free from the public library.