The best film released in the U.S. in 2013 was Upstream Color, its runner-up is the gaudy and relentless Welcome to the Space Show (A-1). Produced in 2010, U.S. premiered a Otakon, finally 'released' for a week at IFC Center's GKids Fest, this anime of insane proportions is a witty, impatient visual overload cramming enough updated Disney gags to fill three movies. Unlike Miyazaki's somber, mouth-covered humor, Koji Masunari paces comedy and tragedy and pet-ophilia unevenly (no joke there), but some of the transitions achieve sublime levels. A mythic "Pet Star" remains unseen, while a mystery surrounding the Universe's biggest broadcast, the titular "Space Show" is slowly uncovered by a dog-like alien named Pochi who is found by five young students on a hike searching for their lost pet rabbit in the hills above their school. Quickly things turn crazy as space travel becomes an option and the film's mad dash for conflict delivers split-second sit-com like moments in the middle of what might be the best space opera since Star Wars. Wise beyond its years. Forget about the plasma, this one deserves a theater. And try for the subtitled version.
Best of 2013
Welcome to the Space Show
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher and Tim Kirk's tour de force opens up the next stages of movies: cog-sci)
Bioshock: Infinite / Last of Us (same two archetype pairings fight through landscapes far too cinematic to ignore, not the best vidgames of the year, among the best movies of the year)
The Wind Rises
47 Ronin - a dour, hopeless, antithesis of 2001's Fellowship of the Ring, where in feudal Japan sunlight aides duplicity and darkness reveals it, Ronin strives to evolve past the simplified otherness that's curtailed the blockbuster's psychic growth, but the butchering-by-edit robs most of the set-pieces of their lead-ins, and though the rhythm is obliterated, the probable masterpiece in here still shines at moments. Let's hope Universal sweats out the director's cut for the bluray. Now to the spoilers: You have to remember that Kira fails his first attempt to kill Asano, using the witch's beast, which creates dishonor, destroys harmony, with Kai not being given credit. And it's obvious that Kai is a demon. A penitent demon. Kai (Reeves) is neither the central character nor secondary, he is a major part of an ensemble. The burden he carries isn't merely otherness, it's his identity as part western. The Buddhist/Tengu underworld demon who procures magical swords Kai goes to meet treats him like an son, owed the rites of any challenge. He beats this demon to a sword. And the film is essentially about a suicide squadron led by a demon [it's Kai's plan, he spots the troupe]. As suicide assasins, they're disruptors of the power, of the elite's hierarchy, they take revenge and then are offered ceremonial purification by the non-heroic Shogun. They're successful, their target is met, yet their heroism is invisible to western thinking, it's antithetical in our cultural climate. That accounts for the reviewers' bloodbath, who seem to swarm over perceived failures in message (between a failed release strategy that broadcast positivist taglines and a film that held to it's fatalist vision steadfast) and the stagey delivery of lines. This is the same spell cast by reviewers over other gloomy, fatalist visual extravaganzas of the past that have earned their keep, starting with blockbusters like Blade Runner or The Thing. It's hard for the audience, maybe specifically the reviewers, to swallow endings that defy sequalization. Is their connection to movies literary in nature (a connection through the careful crafting and delivery of dialogue), rather than the spectral or visual types of languages? That disconnect of expectation seems to have turned reviewers into assasins, the bloodbath occuring across the internet is the slashing of Ronin with endlessly repeated sentences.
From the historical view, this Ronin is far expanded past the realist 47 Ronin (a real event that occured), here it's a Lady MacBeth/Throne of Blood ghost-story pieced together with Kaneto Shindo's supernaturalism by way of Lovecraft, the flick is alive visually. It's a true global blockbuster. This is the next pulse of the genre, however fatal. We want more from 47 Ronin, and it appears there's much more on the cutting room floor. It's a film that looks like a film even digitally shot and projected, even in 3-D, and in this day of visual homogenization, these are achievements all by themselves. And Rinsch seems to know it's better to show parts of things. Let us see a detail, then withdraw, he's shaky at times but that's likely the effects of editing, the craft is there. It's building towards a brilliant climax. When the final battle erupts, it happens at the edges of a freewheeling bravura performance as Kira's compound is breached. In other, broader hands, the set-up (the Ronin impersonate a travelling theater troupe) would have made the suave impersonation comedic ("letting us in on the joke"), instead it's played straight. When Kai lights a refracted candle in unison with the other stagehand Ronin, we're only adjusting to how far embedded the Ronin are. The physicality of the performances are dead-on. Rinsch slyly wants us outside full narrative knowledge (while most present day blockbusters work on a 'reveal' hiding one pivotal, lynch pin piece of info e.g: The Mandarin's unmasking in IM3). He's not explaining all his visuals with endless clever one-liners that all other blockbusters rely on. And the final duel pairings are symmetric, in every way, right down to the cuts between them, right down to the sword strokes. We quickly discover the witch's only equal was Kai while Oishi's is Kira. Nothing obvious draws them to one another for their duels, yet the organization and outcome seem effortless, invented in the heat of battle. Maybe the film's deadpan lines are stoic, even out of rhythm with Kai's cadence, but the story isn't there in the dialogue. It's all visual. It's in the gestures.
Post Tenebras Lux (Reygada's out of body experience, mistaken as a museum piece; thanks to Bryce for mentioning)
Blackfish/The Act of Killing (two films about the extremes of human paradox)
NETWORK EXECUTIVE: We at the network want a dog with attitude. He’s edgy, he’s “in your face.” You’ve heard the expression, “let’s get busy”? Well, this is a dog who gets “biz-zay!” Consistently and thoroughly.
KRUSTY: So he’s proactive, huh?
NETWORK EXECUTIVE: Oh, God, yes. We’re talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.
WRITER: Excuse me, but “proactive” and “paradigm”? Aren’t these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I’m accusing you of anything like that. [pause] I’m fired, aren’t I?
ROGER MYERS JR: Oh, yes.
Somehow, the full recordings of Harrison Fords barely used V.O. in 1982's initial release still exist, as does the material necessary to elongate the film to let it fill scenes between dialogue and action. The opening titles synch to the 'tears in rain' motif, Leon discovers Gaff's first sculpture, and the Vesper sequence is more elaborate and less mysterious. An uncanny lesson for editors.