The World is Still Beautiful Ends

At the time I wrote my “early impressions” post I thought The World is Still Beautiful” (Crunchyroll) was my favorite anime of the Spring season. It later fell in my estimation, but I have to admit that the ending was great!
Grandmother and ship
While a traditional fairy tale would commonly end at the point where the heroine was chosen to marry the king, this one starts at that point. It is wise enough to recognize that this is when her real problems would begin.

But the show lost some energy in the middle section. Livi seemed most interesting when he was a spoiled tyrant. Things seemed to sag a bit once he started spouting the romantic lines expected of a shoujo leading man. That had to happen eventually but I couldn’t help feeling that Nike won him over too quickly. Part of the problem may stem from the difficulties of cramming 7 manga volumes into 12 anime episodes.
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Kawai Complex Ends

Bokura Minna Kawaisou title cardThe just-completed The Kawai Complex…” (Crunchyroll) is lightweight but fun–especially if you have fond memories of the 1980s anime classic Maison Ikkoku. Like that genre-defining classic it is a slice-of-life/romantic comedy about the misadventures of a student who shares a run-down apartment building with a collection of disreputable characters. The tone of the series is quite similar even if the characters are somewhat different.
Usa-kun
The hero is Kazunari Usa who has just been admitted to a high school far from home, and who prevailed on his parents to let him live on his own. (Unlike the hero of Maison Ikkoku he is not an infuriating loser, just young and naive.) His parents have booked him into an inexpensive boarding house called Kawai Manor (Kawaisou). Due to various complications he will only be able to check out his new accommodations after attending his first day of high school.
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One Week Friends Ends

Somewhat to my surprise One Week Friends (Isshuukan Friends) (Crunchyroll) turned out to be my favorite anime of the season. As you may recall from my “early impressions” post, I started out with pretty low expectations.
Fujimia with diary and Yuuki
I still wouldn’t call this a great classic. It’s too small a story. But small stories are something that anime sometimes tells very well.

The creators of this series are not trying to awe us with razzle-dazzle. They just tell a simple story about ordinary people, and tell it very well indeed. The result is sentimental without being maudlin and heartwarming without being cloying. It’s full of nice subtle touches.
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Mushi-shi Season 2–Anime Midseason Impressions

Mushi-shi Sequel Series (Crunchyroll) turns out to be a split season, like Fate/Zero in 2011-2013 (but without the cliffhanger.) They’ve stopped after 11 episodes, but promised to restart in the Fall.
Ginko in rice field
Why did they do that? Almost certainly for financial rather than artistic reasons. They probably need to raise the money for the remaining episodes. This has always been an “arty” niche series–high quality without the prospect of blockbuster DVD sales. Hopefully they will be able to raise the money to keep going.
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Chef (Movie Review)

4 Stars
Chef posterChef (IMDB) is a simple, funny unpretentious film about a man who has become so wrapped up in his career that he has lost touch with what is really important.

Jon Favreau (who also wrote and directed) plays Carl Casper, the Chef de Cuisine at a prestigious California restaurant. He’s well-regarded but frustrated because the cantankerous owner (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him make any changes to the menu. His frustrations boil over when he bumbles his way into a social media flame war with an obnoxious food critic (Oliver Platt).

Having lost his job and made himself more or less untouchable, he ends up going back to Miami, his home town, buys a beat-up food truck, and fixes it up. Conveniently his ex-wife (Sofía Vergara) leaves his neglected son (EmJay Anthony) in his care, giving him an opportunity to rebuild their relationship. He is joined by Martin (John Leguizamo) his loyal line cook from the restaurant.

Eventually the three of them set out on a male-bonding road trip from Miami back to California.

Yeah, I know. Legally a food truck could not drive into a new town every day and start selling food. This is a fantasy; let it pass. At least it’s a charming and heart-warming fantasy with an excellent cast.

The Railway Man–Movie Review

3.5 Stars
The Railway Man poster The Railway Man (IMDB) is a somewhat-fictionalized adaptation of Eric Lomax’s autobiographical book of the same title. The movie is affecting and heartwarming. However it makes some dramatic exaggerations while at the same time pulling some punches. I think this makes it less effective than in could have been.

Here are the bare facts. Eric Lomax (Colin Firth, played as a young man by Jeremy Irvine) was a British signals officer, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was sent with his fellow soldiers to a prison camp in Thailand to work on the construction of the Siam-Burma railway, an enterprise that cost thousands of lives.

Lomax was singled out for torture and starvation because he helped his fellow prisoners build a radio and had drawn a map of the railway. Somehow he managed to survive but he was psychologically scarred. In the 1980s he married a nurse (played by Nicole Kidman) who became alarmed by his erratic behavior and urged him to seek treatment.

Eventually he learned that Takeshi Nagase, one of his interrogators, was working as a tour guide in Thailand. (Nagase is played as a young man by Tanroh Ishida and as an older man by Hiroyuki Sanada.) Seeking closure, Lomax traveled to Thailand to meet with Nagase. It turned out that Nagase was haunted by his memories of the war and had devoted his life to working for peace.
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Belle–Movie Review

4.5 Stars
Belle posterBelle is yet another elegant British costume drama, though this one is a bit off the beaten track. It claims to be “based on a true story” but it is really a work of historical fiction, based on a portrait and not much more.

The story is about Dido Elisabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), born around 1761 as the daughter of an African slave and a British naval captain named John Lindsey. After her mother died he sent Dido to live in England with his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of England (Tom Wilkinson). Though childless, Murray was raising another niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon). The two grew up almost like sisters.

Dido’s life was more privileged than any slave, indeed it was more privileged than that of most women in England at the time, but her position within her own family was decidedly ambiguous. She was not allowed to dine with the family when guests were present, but as a member of the gentry she was not allowed to dine with the servants either. Her marriage prospects seemed very uncertain. Family honor decreed that she could only marry a member of the gentry, but few English gentlemen would be interested in marrying a black woman.
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Draft Day–Movie Review

2.5 Stars
Draft Day posterDraft Day (IMDB) is a disappointing football movie. It’s a Kevin Costner vehicle and an extended commercial for the NFL.

Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Browns. He has to deal with a girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) who looks much too young for him, an arrogant head coach (Denis Leary) who has his own ideas about how the team should be run, and a sniveling young intern (Griffin Newman).

On the morning before the NFL draft Sonny has a meeting with the team’s owner (Frank Langella), a billionaire who knows everything about marketing and little about football. The owner wants him to do whatever is necessary to draft Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and general media darling. Every instinct tells Sonny that Callahan is overrated and that the cost of getting him will be ruinous to the team’s future. Nevertheless he lets himself be bullied into making the necessary trades.
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One Week Friends–Anime Early Impressions

Isshukan Friends posterI didn’t have high hopes for One Week Friends (Isshuukan Friends) (Crunchyroll). The premise sounded maudlin and not very original–probably lifted directly from a mediocre American movie called 50 First Dates (IMDB).

In fact I’m really enjoying it so far. The originality of the premise is much less important than how well it is executed. The execution here–the directing, writing and acting–all feel perfect.
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