June 25, 2009

Doomsday Book

Posted in Science Fiction at 11:56 am by j128

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book is a science fiction novel by Connie Willis and published in 1992. It takes place in England in the year 2054 during the holiday season and a historian named Kivrin Engle time travels to the year 1348, when the plague swept across England. The title comes from the census and survey of English landowners by William the Conqueror, from the years 1085 to 1086.

It is a riveting, sometimes atmospherically tense, and exciting novel with realistic insights into the times of the horrible period of the Black Death. No wonder she won a Hugo Award for this book!

Summary

In the year 2054, time traveling is commonplace and no longer a theory or something that just exists in books. Time traveling is used as a means of documenting past history for historians, where the historian time travels to a specified time period, unless it is too dangerous, or a glitch happens in which the traveler is jumped to another period, and the base is at Oxford University.

The only way to travel back to the historian’s present time – in the story’s case, the mid-twenty-first century – is to somehow make a kind of landmark where he arrived.

Young Kivrin Engle is one of the few females to be a historian and actually qualify for time travel. She managed to persuade her instructor, Prof. James Dunworthy to allow her to travel to early fourteenth century England, as she specializes in mediaeval history.

However, she does not arrive at her destination as a a glitch occurred, known as a “slippage”, and she arrives just before the time the Black Death hits England, in the year 1348.

Meanwhile, back in twenty-first century England, a severe influenza epidemic occurs and eventually the whole city of London is quarantined. The severity of the influenza skyrocketed due to the fact that in this vision of the future, everyone has some kind of vaccine that fights against disease and nobody even suffers the common cold; however one of the men who helped set up the time travel for Kivrin wasn’t punctual about his injection and thus became contracted with influenza, and was contagious.

Kivrin hardly sets into 1348 when she contracts influenza, too, but because of her injections she got before she went traveling, she recovers quickly. Unfortunately, while she was ill, she was unable to mark her landing spot.

A priest and some rural citizens help her recover and they discover that she is literate, which, back in those days, was a rarity and so they consider her a runaway nun and prepare to send her packing her bags to a convent. It is somehow prevented, though, and she lives with her rescuers.

It is during this brief episode that she discovers she has landed in the wrong year. When the plague hits the crowded town, she tries to keep the citizens from fleeing to other towns and cities to prevent the disease from spreading, but to no avail. While Kivrin documents the history of 1348, she helplessly watches her friends, including the priest that rescued her, suffer and slowly die to their horrible deaths.

Meanwhile, in London, Prof. Dunworthy and a colleague’s nephew try to bring back Kivrin, and a flock of American tourists try to push onward with their peal of bells event at a church. The nephew is proving pretty dependent and not the brightest by means of history. In the midst of all the excitement, Prof. Dunworthy and the nephew finally get through and arrive at 1348, where they find Kivrin who is barely recognizable: she smells and is filthy with blood and dirt that has been caked on from weeks of attending to the plague victims, and she automatically still speaks Middle English. When they find her, she has just buried the priest. She has a breakdown and weeps, shaken by the hardship and grief of the ordeal, and returns to 2054 with the professor and nephew, just a few days after Christmas, and the surviving victims of the influenza return to health.

Further Notes

My review is just recapping the story briefly, as it is complex and the two time periods overlap significantly at times. Connie Willis’ writing is very good and the plot is believable as well as the possible future that she imagined.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book and it is sure not to disappoint! I place this book as one of the top science fiction time travel books next to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which I have also read and written a review of, which can be read here, and it remains my favourite by Mr. Wells to date.

I, Robot: A Critical Review

Posted in Essays, Film Criticism, Literary Criticism, Sci-fi tagged , at 12:44 am by j128

This following review is a discussion of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the 2004 movie of the same name, including history of robots.

Isaac Asimovs I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot"

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1950, and despite its title it is not related to Eando Binder’s short story of the same name. Originally, when Mr. Asimov had wished to call it Mind and Iron, and objected when the publisher renamed it.

The omnibus contains nine short stories, set within a quasi-narration (that is seen as memories) by the famous Dr. Susan Calvin, a reputed robopsychologist of U.S. Robots, who works with robots and helps them out with behavioural, psychological problems. Susan Calvin is one of the most well-grounded characters of Mr. Asimov’s robot stories.

Many times over screenplays were written for a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories for Warner Brothers but the company didn’t accept any of them. The most notable attempt was Harlan Ellison’s screenplay, which was viewed with very positive responses from Mr. Asimov himself and he said it would be the best science fiction film ever. Mr. Ellison’s screenplay can be found in the book I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. I have read it and it is definately appealing.

In 2004, a film titled I, Robot starring Will Smith was released in North America, and many fans had anticipated its release in full faith of it being a unique Asimovian film. However, many were disappointed as it had become a science fiction thriller with a deep leaning towards the “Frankenstein complex“, a colloquial term used by Mr. Asimov described as “a fear of robots and other artificial intelligence.”

Quite a few years before I had even read I, Robot I had seen many trailers for the movie, and even though at the time I wasn’t really aware of what it was about, I could definately tell it was some sort of anti-robot movie. When I actually saw the film about one and a half years ago, with references of Mr. Asimov’s stories in mind, I wasn’t impressed. Myself, I see the film as being rather lame and underdeveloped due to its high amount of action and violence, and totally lacking in character development and story structure – even during scenes of high-excitement, I was pretty aloof and there wasn’t a single moment of personal excitement for me. It was like, “Okay, what happens next?”

History of Robots in Literature

Robots have appeared throughout literature since ancient times. In Greek legend, was said to be a creature that patrolled the ancient island of Crete day and night, watching for intruders, and the animated skeletons in the legend of the Golden Fleece could be called robots.

But it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that many believe the first robot appeared in literature, despite Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to be organic. Many refer to the Creature as “Frankenstein,” but it is the creator’s name, not the creation. In the story, Victor Frankenstein creates the Creature with several recent dead remains of people, and one night it becomes alive, and it destroys everything Frankenstein loves; in the finalty the Creature kills its creator. Thus, the origin of Mr. Asimov’s “Frankenstein complex”.

Incidentally the same year Isaac Asimov was born, it was in 1923 that the word “robot” was introduced into the English language by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s (pronounced Chapek) Rossum’s Universal Robots or R.U.R. The word robot comes from the Czech word robota, meaning “slavery, forced labour”, etc., from the Czech word rab “slave.”

Despite the etymology of “robot”, slavery was not the case in R.U.R. In the play, the robots are indistinguishable from human beings – as they are organic – and they are employed by humans. Through the course of the story, the human population increasingly becomes lazy up to the point where the robots are doing all the work – until one day, the robots revolt and attack the helpless humans. The robots later develop human qualities, such as the ability to love and reproduce.

Isaac Asimov’s Robots

Mr. Asimov describes in his introduction to Robot Visions that as he was growing up, he read tons of science fiction, especially the kind that dealt with robots, but he did get tired of the ceaselessly mediocre plot of robots rebelling and wreaking havoc until they were stopped at the eleventh hour, almost a cliché.

Mr. Asimov’s robot stories really eased the fear of robots so many people had and even more so when he made the idea of a robot take-over impossible with the Three Laws of Robotics, which state as follows:

  1. A robot may not harm a human, or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.
  2. A robot must obey a human’s orders unless they conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect itself unless this conflicts with the First or Second Law.
I, Robot 2004 film (tagline)

Promotional poster for "I, Robot"

The I, Robot Movie

Rumours of a sci-fi film based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories spread quite quickly in the early stages of making I, Robot. For many years, fans had hoped a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories would be faithful to them and based on an earlier screenplay, particularly Harlan Ellison’s (see above). While his screenplay is, as mentioned, the most notable especially as he had personal support from Mr. Asimov, Warner Brothers shelved it due to the fact that at the time it would be very expensive due to the technology involved, but of course, as always, there could be other things in the shadows about the screenplay being shelved.

Anyways, the screenplay written for the film was never based on Mr. Asimov’s works, it was originally entitled as Hardwired. Sometime later 20th Century Fox acquired the copyright and around the same time, rights to Mr. Asimov’s works became available. The director was assigned, who is said to have begun referring to it as “I, Robot” almost immediately.

The film was released in 2004, having been filmed in Vancouver, B.C., but set in the U.S. around the year 2035. In the film, humanity has become accustomed to relying on their robots, and Detective Spooner (Will Smith) is constantly trying to condemn robots but with little success. He hates robots and sees no good in them at all and when the mysterious death of a prominent figure of U.S. Robotics (note the difference in the company’s name), a company that promotes the use of robots and manufactures robots. Spooner directly assumes the cause of death was by a robot, despite others insisting it was a case of suicide.

Spooner suspects one of the new line of robots,the NS-5s, nicknamed Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), yet the robot refuses he committed murder, and he even displays emotions such as anger.

To make a long story short, the high artificial intelligence V.I.K.I., which is what all the new robots are hooked up to (except Sonny), apparently corrupts the robots and the robots begin to revolt against the humans and initiate some kind of curfew. The previous robots, the NS-4s that had been replaced by the NS-5s, respond to the emergency and try to protect the humans only to be destroyed by the new robots.

Sonny, Spooner, and Dr. Susan Calvin defeat V.I.K.I and the other robots, which revert back to their normal state, and everything goes back to normal pretty much.

All that happens within the course of the film displays characteristics such as the Frankenstein complex, robot take-over, and saving humanity at the last moment. There are some references to Mr. Asimov’s works in the film, whether they’re obvious or alluded to, but they don’t really serve the same purpose as they do in the originals. These are some of the robot stories that are featured: “Little Lost Robot”, “The Bicentennial Man”, “The Evitable Conflict”, and “Robot Dreams”; a story that is prominent in the scene when Sonny is seen standing on a hill looking down at all the other robots.

I, Robot Trailer

Further Reading

I suggest reading Mr. Asimov’s I, Robot, and I would also suggest Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. Both are readily available; in late 2004 Warner Brothers packaged the screenplay in book form with I, Robot featuring the DVD cover of the movie.

June 24, 2009

The Illustrated Man

Posted in Anthologies, Science Fiction at 9:04 pm by j128

The Illustrated Man

"The Illustrated Man"

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is a collection of short stories published in 1951 and supported by the frame story of the Illustrated Man, a vagrant who has had tattoo work on his body. His tattoos tend to alarm people, thus the reason for constantly wandering, and always having to wear garments that cover his entire body even on the hottest of days – such a day when the narrator meets the Illustrated Man.

Summary

Prologue – The Illustrated Man’s tattoos are very life-like, which is one of the reasons of the alarm, and secondly at night the tattoos begin to move all over the man’s body and they all tell their own stories set far in the future – and they are true stories, things that really do happen at one time or other. The person who did the man’s tattoos was a witch and the Illustrated Man strongly believes she was from the future – how else could she have known these things were going to happen?

The narrator watches the tattoos as the Illustrated Man sleeps in the night and the stories begin.

The Veldt – Jack and Lydia are a couple who are both well off and they have two children, Peter and Wendy. They live in a is futuristic high-tech house and they haven’t a thing to do at all for everything is done for them from housework to cleaning their own bodies. There is one room, called the nursery, which is designed for their two children to help them towards recovery, as they are neurotic, and their psychologist recommended it. The nursery is a room specially designed to adapt its interior suited to the children’s thoughts. However, things become awry when the parents become suspicious due to the constant screaming coming from the nursery and they discover an African predator environment. Everything is so real from the burning sun above to the lions feeding on their recent hunt that they are freaked out and after a while Jack calls their psychologist, who says that the nursery has become far too much out of hand and must be shut down. The father does so but not without his children having a crying tantrum and Lydia telling Jack to be a bit less relentless – how could he be so cruel? This all happens as Jack continues throughout the rest of the house shutting everything off and he explains that they are starting life anew for the better and they shall be having a little vacation. Lydia is persistent about the nursery being turned on one last time and finally, her husband consents and the children stop their tears and happily go back into the nursery but for a minute only. As the children are in the nursery, the parents are alone in their room to dress and get ready as the psychologist will be arriving in half an hour to assist them with moving. But before they can do any of this, Peter calls and says they must see something. The parents rush down but find no one. Becoming scared, they enter the nursery, and the door is shut and locked behind them from none other then their children. Jack tries to negotiate with his children to open the door but all attempts are fruitless and as the lions close in, he and Lydia realize in their last moments whose screams they had been hearing.

Kaleidescope – A spaceship has just exploded due to a malfunction and the astronauts fall to their demise. It centres round one particular bitter astronaut who sees he has done nothing at all – nothing worthwhile, that is – before any of this happened. The other astronauts, several miles apart, converse with each other till their deaths. Finally, the centred astronaut wishes his life would be worth something for someone else and his wish miraculously comes true: he appears as a shooting star when he comes into contact with Earth’s atmosphere as he is incinerated.

The Other Foot – For twenty years Mars has been inhabited solely by black people during the time when the white men began to start an atomic war. Now news is coming round that white men are coming to Mars after all these years. Willie, a man who is full of hate for the white men, tells his wife who is opposite to him that they will make the white men second-class and force them to do all the work that the white men forced black people to do. This fails when an old white man tells that just now the war has ended and hardly anything is left on Earth – all of the cities and towns were bombed, nothing is left. Willie sees his foolishness in all of his previous actions and everything that had been set up for the white men is hastily destroyed. They begin anew, old hurts forgiven.

The Highway – In rural Mexico, some people live on the highway and are constantly seeing thousands of people within their cars speeding all in one direction. They do not understand the reason for this and continue on with their lives, unconcerned. One day, after getting some water for the last car filled with four women and one man, the driver, he discovers from the car’s passengers that a nuclear war is starting – the end of the world. After the car speeds off, the man is left wondering, what is the world?

The Man – A spaceship has landed with space explorers and come upon a planet with inhabitants living in a healthy state of bliss. The captain is quite irritated that the population doesn’t even notice their landing, and when Martin, the lieutenant comes back, he says that yesterday a man visited them and this man performed miracles – a blind man’s sight was restored, the mayor’s crippled arm made good as new, etc. The captain can’t believe any of this and wants scientific proof for everything, which the population can’t provide. Their only evidence are their words. Martin wants to stay on this planet, it is what he has been looking for a long time, but he hadn’t realized this what he had been trying to find. The captain says Martin is a fool and that this man is a trick of either two men who must have beaten their team and stole their glory! However, it proves not to be so when a rocket lands on the planet sometime later and the last survivor, near the brink of death, gasps to the captain and Martin that they landed in a cosmic storm and everyone is dead. Soon after he dies as well. The captain then says to Martin, supposing this man is the man that everyone has wished to meet for centuries since his death – a religious figure, possibly Jesus, though his name is never mentioned and is never given because he explains to the planet’s inhabitants that his name will be different on every planet so he has no need of a name. The captain decides to visit every other planet until he meets this man and Martin and a few of the other volunteers stay behind, but not without the captain for the last time calling them all fools.

The Long Rain – Four astronauts, originally six, but two of them have died, are stranded on the planet Venus where it rains heavily and without stopping for a second. They attempt to travel through the Venusian rain to find shelter at one of the sun domes, where there will be warmth, protection from the rain, and food, and in the centre of the dome is a large florescent sun. On the way they encounter an electric storm after they come across their rocket, which they had left behind earlier with two of their dead men. The storm comes towards where they are and they run away from the rocket and throw themselves down, hoping that the storm will strike their rocket instead. The storm comes and does strike the rocket, the two dead men near the rocket, and one of the living men, who, despite the others’ warnings, stood and ran away, scared to death. They find the sun dome, but it is destroyed. They go to the other sun dome, which is not too far off, but not without losing another comrade, who becomes insane due to the unrelenting rythme of the rain, and looks up at the sky breathing in the rain until he drowns. They continue onwards. Then another of the crew, Simmons, slowly becomes insane also because of the same reason the other man became insane, and he stops and sits on a rock, telling the captain to continue to the sun dome. He’ll shoot himself once the captain is out of sight. Unwillingly, the captain does so, he doesn’t even hear the gunshot, and just as he feels he wants to give up as well, he sees a glimmer of yellow, he continues, and discovers the sun dome. And there is food, fresh clothes, and the warm florescent sun.

The Rocket Man – Told from the viewpoint of Doug, the son of an astronaut, he tells the story about his father, how he is always away most of the time because of his job, and thus has little time to spend with his wife or his son. He hears the father come home and go to sleep with his wife and while they sleep, Doug takes his father’s suitcase, which contains his father’s uniform. The son studies it and finds all sorts of space dust on it and takes a sample, then as quietly as possible puts it back in his parents’ bedroom while they still sleep. While he is at home, Doug’s father tells him not to be like his father – not to be a rocket man (or astronaut). The father explains that the problem is that he always feels trapped. Whenever he’s up in space he wants to be back home, but then when he is home he wants to be back with the stars. Finally the father makes a decision: he will go on one last space flight and then he will stay home forever. He promises. Next morning he goes for the last time for another three months. Sadly, he never makes it home – a messenger comes with a telegram and Doug says that his father didn’t die in Mars, or Venus, or Jupiter, or Saturn. He crashed in the sun. After that, the son and his mother’s schedule entirely changed. Doug and his mother would sleep during the day and have breakfast and lunch during the night and finally at six in the morning they would have dinner. Only on days that it rained would they go on walks, as his mother promised that should her husband ever crash into any of the planets or Moon, she would never look in that direction.

The Fire Balloons – Two priests go to Mars, as missionaries, to enlighten the Martians of old sins. While there he discovers the natives are actually the blue light of pure energy and as they have no material form they cannot commit sins and do not need redemption. So the two Fathers go to the settlement to build a church, which will be of real use for the others, not the pure energy forms.

The Last Night of the World – This is a very interesting story in contrast to other stories concerning the end of the world. Everyone has a dream, about the end of the world, and with this knowledge they go on with their daily lives and continue with their normal routines of going to work, doing dishes, taking children to bed, et cetera. At last they go to sleep for the last time.

The Exiles – In the year 2100 or so books containing themes of horror and the paranormal – werewolves, witches, ghosts, were banned and burned on Earth. The holidays such as Halloween and Christmas were banned as well. Classic authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and others were exiled on the planet Mars, only living through the remaining copies of their books. Santa Claus also lives on Mars, a very withered old man barely alive. A few astronauts are going to Mars with the last copies of these classic authors. There on Mars they will burn them and all the authors will die forever, never to be reborn.

No Particular Night or Morning – The story takes place in outer space and it is centred around a man, named Hitchcock, who seems to be twisted as he has these ideas that one only live in the present, i.e. when he’s in New York, Boston doesn’t exist and vise versa. He tells his friend Clemens that space is simply nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, and a lot of empty nothings between. Through a small series of unusual events, Hitchcock is finally lost forever in space as he took himself out after dressing into a spacesuit, lost and falling in outer space, “on his way to no particular night and no particular morning.”

The Fox and the Forest – In the year 2155 A.D. war is upon the world and a couple, after hearing of a vacation available from a company called “Travel in Time, Inc.” where one may travel into the past escape in attempt from the war into the year 1938 in Mexico, but they are patiently and slowly being pursued by a government agent trying to force them to go back to 2155 against their bidding. The husband agrees to go back to the future, as long as his wife is safe and left behind. The agent, named Simms, agrees, and tells the husband to meet him in the plaza in exactly ten minutes. Ten minutes later, Simms is run over by the husband whose car had gone out of control, as he explains to his wife after the incident. The couple decide to stay with a director and his film crew, while the party drink martinis, the director suggests the husband’s wife to be an actress: enter Hollywood. And how about starring in a film set in a war period, about a couple like them, and how about set in the year 2155? The director continues on and on and as he does so the entire tale folds exactly as the couple had lived it. Suddenly the manager begins banging on the door and threatens to call the police if they do not open the door. There is a flash and possibly a minute later the manager opens the door and finds the room unbelievably empty.

The Visitor – Mars is used as a quarantine for people with deadly illnesses. And these people with their diseases are pretty much left to stay on Mars till their deaths, never again to visit Earth. One day, a young man is dropped off on Mars, who has the ability to form thought transferance and telepathy. This is a wonderful thing for the exiles, who are able to live in all sorts of places within their minds – New York City, Greece, wherever they want to go. Unfortunately the exiles begin to argue over the young man and consequently when a fight breaks out the young man is killed unintentionally.

The Concrete Mixer – Martians prepare to invade the planet Earth and sieze control… Except for one particular Martian, who is the protagonist of the story, and his name is Ettil Vrye. He has been reading Earth books documenting similar invasions upon Earth and all have been defeated by “a young man, usually lean, usually alone, usually Irish, named Mick or Rick, or Jick or Bannon.” Despite Ettil’s protests and after almost being burned alive, he is forced to participate in the invasion. However, the entire fleet is surprised when they discover Earth has given up war: the people have recently destroyed all their atom bombs, etc. and so have no weapons to defend themselves. They accept the Martians as their victors, though Ettil still remains suspicious. The rocket carrying the fleet and Ettil land in the United States of America and are given a welcome speech and the American ladies take several of the Martians and show them Earthling everday living. Finally Ettil meets a filmmaker, or more properly, approached by a filmmaker who is awfully intent on making a film about the Martian invasion. Ettil discovers that the filmmaker’s name is Rick. After this meeting, Ettil is left pondering the situation, and as the story closes he is being chased by a car full of young people pointing and laughing at the Martian – Ettil.

Marionettes, Inc. – Two middle-aged men, named Smith and Braling, find themselves in conflicting marriages. Braling’s problem is that his wife never lets him go out and she is nervous and very authoritive. Smith, however, has a wife who is madly in love with him and constantly demands his presence. The two men both long for some personal freedom and they talk of a utopian-sounding place called Rio. But pining as they are for their freedom, they endure their seperate situations considering the responsibilities of their selfish motivations. Braling surprises Smith, though, when Smith sees Braling in the upstairs window while at the same time Braling is standing next to him. Braling explains. He recently purchased an android available through an illegal company called Marionettes, Inc. and this android duplicates Braling himself in every possible way. Smith sees it as a swell idea and Braling gives Smith the business card. A conflict arises when the android Braling expresses emotions towards Braling’s wife. Smith says good night and goes off back home, excited about the prospect of Marionettes, Inc. When Smith comes home he shockingly discovers he himself has been tricked by a marionette wife after he hears the familiar tick-tick-tick in his “wife’s” chest. Meanwhile, Braling proceeds to lock up his marionette as he does not need a duplicate at the moment. Further conflict arises when the android Braling express wishes not to be locked up in the basement and the android repeats his emotions towards Mrs Braling. Towards the end the android Braling reveals its plans to travel to Rio with Mrs. Braling and to leave the human Braling in the basement. At last we come to Mr. and Mrs. Braling’s room and someone kisses Mrs. Braling. Surprised, Mrs. Braling wakes up and says something along the lines of, “You haven’t done that in a long time.” Then, whomever kissed her, either the human Braling or the android says, “We’ll see about that.”

The City – Of all the stories contained within The Illustrated Man, this is an absolute chiller. A rocket expedition from Earth lands on a seemingly unpopulated planet and there is only a city, absolutely bare or is it? One of the crew instantly picks up a dislike for the City and expresses his desire to go back to the rocket, whereas the captain wishes to continue to explore. The poor man is absolutely correct about going back to the rocket: the City is apparently contains some sort of high artificial intelligence and it has been waiting for the arrival of humans for twenty thousand years, to act out its revenge since humans, long before recorded history, wiped out their culture with biological weaponry. After the City captures, kills, and examines the astronauts (by extremely gruesome ways) they rebuild the corpses and use them as robots to issue a biological attack on Earth.

Zero Hour – Children across the America are engrossed in a new game, called “Invasion”. The parents think it is absolutely adorable and don’t really think much of it until they find out in an awful way – when it’s too late, that it wasn’t a game at all. Aliens chose their children as allies and to initiate an alien invasion through the children.

The Rocket – Set in Mexico, this is the story of Fiorello Bodoni and his family who are in the depths of unimaginable poverty and Mr. Bodoni works as a junkyard man. Despite his poverty he manages to save $3,000, enough to send one member of his family on a rocket to visit outer space – the absolute dream, the absolute journey of a lifetime. Conflict arises when nobody can decide who should go. Mr Bodoni solves the problem, though, when he uses all of his money to buy a mock-up of a rocket and the aftermath is concluded by sending his family on a journey to Mars.

Epilogue – The narrator has seen the tattoos’ stories and then his eyes wander over to the bare patch on the Illustrated Man’s left shoulder blade, where an image of the person the Illustrated Man has been with for a while shows up, usually in an hour. The image of the person shows the person’s entire life and how they shall die, man or woman. The narrator’s face appears on this very spot and as he watches, he sees his life ended by the Illustrated Man’s hands round his neck. Frightened out of his life, he dashes off the porch: away from the Illustrated Man.

I listened to this book on audio cassette from Recorded Books, unabridged, and narrated by Paul Hecht, who is a truly wonderful narrator and captures all of the stories’ essences.

There is also a copy of The Illustrated Man in book form published in June 1997 with a new introduction by the author. It is available from HarperCollins Publishers.

Spirited Away

Posted in Anime, Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli at 9:02 pm by j128

Spirited Away

"Spirited Away" DVD cover (Australian release)

Spirited Away is a 2001 film directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. This film marked the comeback of the much-acclaimed director after his assumed retirement after the release of Princess Mononoke. Mr. Miyazaki drew the inspiration for Spirited Away during a summer vacation when he met the daughter of a friend – the daughter very much resembled the film’s heroine Chihiro in character – it is said that anybody who sets within ten feet of Mr. Miyazaki is likely to become a character in one of his films. As an example Mr. Miyazaki’s other film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, the protagonist Kiki was based upon the thirteen-year-old daughter of producer Toshio Suzuki.

In Japan the original title is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi literally translated as The Spirited Away of Sen and Chihiro or Sen and the Spiriting Away of Chihiro. Spirited Away was the first anime film to win an Oscar as well as winning the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, being the first animated feature film of any kind to do so.

Summary

Excerpt from DVD insert: Hayao Miyazaki said, “I would say that this film is an adventure story even though there is no brandishing of weapons or battles involving supernatural powers. However, this story is not a showdown between right and wrong. It is a story in which the heroine will be thrown into a place where the good and the bad dwell together, and there she will experience the world. She will learn about friendship and devotion, and will survive by making full use of her brain. She sees herself through the crisis, avoids danger and gets herself back to the ordinary world somehow. She manages not because she has destroyed the ‘evil’, but because she has acquired the ability to survive.”

Chihiro is a ten-year-old girl (the same age as the inspiring girl) who is a sullen, bitter, and spoiled brat but by the end of the film she has undergone a metamorphosis into a confident and happier person. She and her parents are moving when her father gets themselves lost in which they find a seemingly abandoned theme park fashioned after a not-too-recent Japanese past.

Her parents find a stall with food and start eating despite Chihiro’s complaints. She wanders off and finds a bathhouse; as she begins to explore she encounters a young boy and he tells her to leave immediately and to get across the river before its too late. He creates an illusion to give Chihiro a chance to escape.

Chihiro finds her parents who have now tranformed into large pigs and understandably she freaks out and flees. However, she doesn’t go far, as the grassy field that her family had crossed is now covered with a large body of water. Adding more to her dilemma, she is slowly becoming transparent.

The boy finds her in her transparent state and convinces her to eat something that makes her solid again; he then helps her further by telling her she’ll need to get a job to survive in this spirit-inhabited world from the sorceress Yubaba.

Chihiro meets the boiler-man Kamajii, who directs a servant named Lin to take her to Yubaba. Chihiro reaches Yubaba’s lair after a degree of difficulty and assistance. In order for her to acquire a job at the bathhouse she has to surrender her name to the sorceress who renames Chihiro as Sen; this is how Yubaba retains control: she literally takes away a person’s name and renames them with only part of their name. While Yubaba is viewed as the antagonist, she is not exactly a villain, and is quite doting to her over-sized baby named Boh.

Chihiro (Sen) struggles at first but while forming strong relationships with Lin and “the mysterious and handsome” Haku (the young boy) she gains confidence and courage. Furthermore, she gains respect after helping a “Stink Spirit” but actually is a river god revealed after all of the pollution is cleansed of it. She also forms a relationship with Kaonashi a.k.a. “No Face” who helps her a lot several times in the film and she assists him as well in time.

No Face is a mysterious character as well. Though he assists Chihiro, he is also attracted to the staff’s greed, and thus offers them tons of gold while transforming into a grotesque monster and assumes the voices and characteristics of those he consumes.

Chihiro meets Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister who is exactly identical physically but their hearts are opposite. While Yubaba is nasty and who seems to hold no love for anyone but Boh (it seemed she had some heart for Haku until he is mortally wounded and orders him to be thrown down a hatch before he bleeds too much on the carpet) while Zeniba is a grandmotherly sort. Haku had stolen a golden seal on behalf of Yubaba and those who steal her golden seal are doomed to die. Chihiro takes it upon herself to return the golden seal to Zeniba and rescue Haku.

However, she cannot yet go to Swamp Bottom – where Zeniba resides – as she has another job to do: get Kaonashi out of the bathhouse. He is eating everything and Yubaba’s furious. Chihiro realizes that she must have let Kaonashi into the bathhouse by accident and it is up to her solely to him out.

Kaonashi tries to tempt Chihiro with gold as he did to the others but she firmly refuses; instead she gives the rest of the herbal cake that the river god had given her whom she had already given some to Haku. The herbal cake thus provokes Kaonashi to vomit everything he has consumed and he leads a rampage after Chihiro until he is his regular size.

Kaonashi accompanies Chihiro on the train to Swamp Bottom along with Boh and the hawk-like creature employed by Yubaba and both are transformed by Zeniba. The trio of heads are transformed into Boh to fool Yubaba.

Chihiro and company arrive at Swamp Bottom and are escorted to Zeniba’s cottage by an animate lamp post. Chihiro returns the golden seal even though she stepped on the slug in which she learns the slug was what Yubaba used to control Haku.

Meanwhile at the bathouse, Yubaba discovers the loss of her baby, and discusses what is necessary to release Chihiro and her parents back to the ordinary world with Haku, who is now healed and free of Yubaba’s internal control. Under Yubaba’s instruction, Haku goes off in search of Boh.

Haku finds Chihiro and the rest of the crew at Zeniba’s: Zeniba forgives Haku for the theft of the golden seal and Haku flies Chihiro and company back to the bathouse except for Kaonashi who stays with Zeniba as a helper. In the aftermath, Haku, with the assistance of Chihiro, remembers his true name, and Chihiro is given the final test – determining the fate of her family and their return to the ordinary world.

Excerpt from DVD insert: “Our story is one in which the natural strengths of the character are revealed,”Hayao Miyazaki concludes. “I wanted to show that people actually have these things in them that can be called on when they find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. That is how I wish my young friends to be and I think that this is also how they, themselves, hope to be.”

Cast and Points of Interest

Japanese Cast: (select – see first Answers.com article listed below for more detail)

  • Chihiro: Rumi Hiiragi
  • Chihiro’s dad: Takashi Naito
  • Chihiro’s mum: Yasuko Sawaguchi
  • Kamajii: Bunta Sugawara
  • Yubaba & Zeniba: Mari Natsuki

Points of Interests: Cast

  1. The signature on Chihiro’s farewell card is the first name of her voice actress.
  2. Takashi Naito, who preformed the voice of Chihiro’s dad, had been a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s film for many years before he was offered the opportunity to star in Spirited Away. During the recording, he was rather nervous as there was Mr. Miyazaki behind him.
  3. In the scene when Chihiro’s mum is trying to get Chihiro to join them at the food stall, the actress Yasuko Sawaguchi at first put her finger in her mouth to attempt the desired effect of someone talking with their mouth full. Eventually the recording crew bought KFC and the actress said her lines while eating the chicken.
  4. Yubaba’s voice actress Mari Natsuki was excellent in her roll. As she continued to become more and more involved with her character, Yubaba became more and more alive and the crew also had their share of amusement as Mari Natsuki illustrated her dialogue with gestures.
  5. Bunta Sugawara was at the time of Spirited Away in his forties and during dialogue scenes, he even began moving his arms around like Kamajii. Furthermore, in the golden seal scene when Kamajii made that gesture to Chihiro (a member of the Disney staff compared it to the Western “cootie catcher” gesture) Rumi Hiiragi did not know beforehand what the sign meant. Mr. Miyazaki had to explain it; in which one of the crew said that “the young don’t know it these days” despite it being “all over Japan.”

Characters

  1. Chihiro’s dad is based on a real-life person: like Chihiro’s dad, the real-life person loses his way in directions while driving and he gobbles up food. Even Chihiro’s mum is based on a real person: a staff member of Studio Ghibli. Chihiro’s mum greatly resembles the real-life person and she also displays the gesture of having her elbow pointing downward while eating.
  2. As mentioned earlier, Chihiro is based on the daughter of a friend of Mr. Miyazaki’s, which he met during summer vacation at his summer cottage. Mr. Miyazaki said that she inspired him to make Spirited Away, a movie for young girls, and for those who “were ten years old and for those who will be ten years old.” Despite the fact Mr. Miyazaki made it for young girls, the film is loved by audiences young and old of all ages and whether or not they are young girls or otherwise.

Locations

The theme park (it is also referred to as an amusement park in some translations) that Chihiro and her parents discover before the adventure begin is based upon a real location in Japan nearby Studio Ghibli and which Mr. Miyazaki would visit at dusk when the crowds were thin. It is, from what I have seen, pretty much the same layout as the theme park’s buildings are in Spirited Away, though they’re more modern. However, inside the modern buildings are models of the old buildings of the past. See the Nippon Television Special for more information regarding this location and the other points of interest, which can be found in the bonus features in the DVD version of Spirited Away.

Miscellaneous

The colourful, star-shaped objects that Lin feeds the soot sprites (reminiscent of another of Mr. Miyazaki’s film, My Neighbour Totoro) are a Portuguese candy called kompeito introduced to Japan in the fifteenth to sixteenth century. In the English dub, the kompeito is called confetti. See below in the external links for more information.

Always With Me

The theme song of Spirited Away, Always With Me, was preformed by Youmi Kimura, who was a virtually unknown musician, and the lyrics were written by a friend. Miss Kimura said that a melody kept playing in her head and by request, her friend wrote the lyrics to accompany it. The two women then thought of the idea to send it to Hayao Miyazaki, as both loved his films since Princess Mononoke.

Mr. Miyazaki received the tape and enjoyed it. At the time, he was working on Rin, the Chimney Cleaner, however this film was never to be as it was turned down. Because of this action, Always With Me, wasn’t heard publicly until some years later when Mr. Miyazaki listened to it again while working on Spirited Away. He then realized that it was exactly the theme of the film he was working on. When the film premiered, Always With Me was heard publicly for the first time ever.

Merchandise

Novelizations of Spirited Away are available in graphic novel form, usually consisting of one to five volumes, and contain most of the dialogue from the film, as are most of Hayao Miyazaki’s other films. See the Nausicaa.net link below for more details.

Besides books and graphic novels there are playing cards, figurines, keychains, etc., which can be found over the Internet and elsewhere.

Spirited Away 2

Spirited Away 2 is a fan-made movie based on the characters of Spirited Away, however, it does not relate very much to the original film and it also contains a resurrection of Godzilla.

Recommended Reading

The Art of Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki and Stuido Ghibli Editorial Desk. It features the concept art, cell art, etc. of Spirited Away.

Personal Thoughts

In my opinion, I think that the Spirited Away DVD is the best release of any Studio Ghibli film to date, by means of special features. All the other Studio Ghibli DVDs just have original storyboards and the original Japanese trailers usually, which can get kind of boring sometimes. I really like the Nippon Television Special.

Spirited Away Trailer

Links

Spirited Away – A detailed article of the movie, etc. at Answers.com.

Spirited Away – Australian website

Spirited Away – Nausicaa.net

Spirited Away Merchandise – GhilbiWorld.com

Image(s) [under construction]

https://i0.wp.com/thecia.com.au/reviews/s/images/spirited-away-8.jpg

One of my favourite scenes: at Zeniba's house

The Cat Returns

Posted in Studio Ghibli at 9:00 pm by j128

The Cat Returns is a 2002 anime film directed by Hiroyuki Morita and produced by Studio Ghibli. It was spawned from an earlier Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart (1995), which depicted short scenes of fantasy elements from the story that the protagonist, a young girl, was writing about, and these scenes became so popular with fans that they demanded a movie be made of Shizuku’s novel.

At first Studio Ghibli was approached in 1999 by a Japanese theme park, who requested to have them write a 20-minute short starring cats. Hayao Miyazaki wanted this short to have three key elements: Baron, Muta, and a mysterious antique shop. Later, the short was scraped as the theme park canceled the project, but nonetheless Studio Ghibli continued with the project, making a new story drawing from the short and the manga that Aoi Hiiragi had been commissioned to write as an equivalent to the short, which was written from Shizuku’s perspective, roughly years in her future. This manga was translated into English and published by VIZ Media as Baron: The Cat Returns.

This is just a rough and somewhat brief summary of the history of The Cat Returns, and if you are interested to read any additional information, please read the Wikipedia page.

Aside from the characters of Baron and Muta and the antique shop, this story is entirely its own, and hardly relates to Whisper of the Heart or Shizuku’s story, but it is still a wonderful story.

Summary

Haru is a seventeen-year-old girl, a quiet and unassuming high school student who has a unique ability to talk to cats that has been long suppressed. She isn’t well-organized: sleeping in on a weekday and is usually late for class; she is also low in self-esteem and confidence. She is sometimes depressed that she doesn’t have a boyfriend like her friend.

After an ordinary day of school, on the way home with her friend discussing boys and suchlike, they observe a strange, odd-eyed cat waiting to cross the street holding a parcel in its mouth. As they watch, the traffic starts moving just as the cat accidentally drops the parce. In a desperate, heroic feat, Haru runs across the street and rescues the cat with her, and just narrowly avoid being hit by a truck. She then discovers that she rescued a very important cat: Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom. Her friend doesn’t believe the cat spoke to Haru and thinks that maybe Haru hit her head.

At home, Haru asks her mother if cats can talk, and a recalled memory of when Haru was a little girl. A dirty and malnourished kitten had been following Haru and in an act of kindness, Haru gave the rest of the package of fish-shaped biscuits (maybe taiyaki?) to it. Her mother also recalls that Haru had told her that she had spoken to the kitten.

Haru goes to sleep but wakes up in the middle of the night, and when she looks out her window she sees a procession of cats walking on their hind legs, and they stop at her house. Natori, the bespectacled advisor of the Cat King – a creepy, ill-groomed large cat with odd eyes – gives Haru a scroll and declares that tomorrow many gifts of gratitude will be showered upon her. Haru merely nods, not knowing what she’s gotten into.

Next morning, she wakes up late again for school, but this particular morning has already started off unusual: in their front yard catnip has grown and her mother has to lay down – she thinks she hasn’t had enough sleep. When Haru woke up, she got a phone call from her friend, and the reason for the call: hundreds of rackets are all over the place.

Haru hurriedly runs down the street to school and as she does so, many cats start following her – being attracted to the catnip on her clothes. They follow her to school and when she arrives and goes to her locker, small boxes fall out, and they start moving. A second later, the boxes open, and dozens of mice emerge. She freaks out and the cats appear, chasing the mice.

She finally arrives in class and she begins studying the scroll she got the previous night, and she now realizes that it wasn’t a dream. She stays after school, doing clean up, and while doing so Haru glimpses the pretty young girl that the boy that she likes. One of the cats, named Natoru, Haru sees, and angrily shakes her. (In the Japanese version, Natoru is female, yet in the English version for some reason she was voiced as a male.) Natoru happily tells her all that’s happened but soon discovers that Haru didn’t like the gifts. Suddenly, Haru is offered Prince Lune’s hand in marriage, and before she knows it, Natoru has ran off, telling her that they’ll pick her up tonight, as she took Haru’s mixed reply as being affirmative.

Haru panics and is in a desperate situation and is unhappy with the new developments. A female voice speaks to her, telling her to go to the Cat Bureau. Haru finds a large, fat cat named Muta, whose name is parodied throughout the film due to his excessive size. He leads her to the Cat Bureau and there she meets the owner, Baron, full name: Baron Humbert von Giggingen, and Toto, a statue raven that comes to life much like Baron.

Haru explains her predicament and they discuss it over tea. Baron decides its time to visit the Cat Kingdom and they prepare to go, but Haru is suddenly whisked away by cats. Baron, riding Toto, and Toto carrying Muta chase after them, and Muta is thrown in the direction of the cats, intended to be caught by them, but they avoid him. He angrily runs after them and just manages to jump on – almost exceeding the weight limit.

Baron and Toto are forced to follow them in the human world, as Haru and Muta travel to the Cat Kingdom through portals. They finally find the Cat Kingdom: five islands in the shape of a cat paw.

There, Haru slowly becomes catlike and she is treated to a feast and entertainment, but she is too miserable to even care or take notice. Earlier, prior to the feast and entertainment, Muta gorged himself on the food and apparently drowned in a large vessel of catnip jelly and he was wheeled to the banquet. Haru is suddenly asked to a dance by a mysterious persona, whom is soon revealed to be Baron.

They make a desperate escape from the banquet amidst the confusion that ensues and the vessel containing Muta smashes, thus freeing the large cat, who attacks the cat soldiers, giving the Baron and Haru a chance to escape, with help from a royal servant, a white, blue-eyed cat named Yuki.

After being reunited with Muta, they go off to the tower – the portal to the human world and the only way Haru can go home. They are almost defeated by the King but Prince Lune comes home all of a sudden after some campaign and tells his father that he doesn’t intend to marry Haru, but Yuki. It is explained that Yuki is in fact the little kitten that Haru had helped years earlier, and in return Yuki has helped Haru. Another thing revealed is that Muta is actually a cat that has visited, or rather terrorized, the Cat Kingdom before: Renaldo Moon! According to legend, he emptied an entire lake of fish, and took off afterwards.

After some difficulties, Haru finally makes it back to the human world with the help of Baron and Toto. She thanks them and he replies that if she should ever need help again, all she must simply do is call and reminds her that she can visit as often as she likes. Haru confesses that she might have developed a slight crush on Baron.

It’s the weekend and Haru’s mother wakes up. She comes down, a little groggy, and is surprised to see Haru already up and even made breakfast! Haru is very mature and she soon goes out to visit her friend, who tells her that the boy she was interested in dumped the girl, and that if Haru wants to go out with him she’s more than welcome. But Haru doesn’t mind anymore – it doesn’t matter. Her friend is surprised about this new development and doesn’t understand. As they walk by, they pass Muta who is snoozing on one of the chairs at an outside café table.

Hero’s Journey

As it has been noted in many Studio Ghibli films, the protagonist often goes through a journey of transformation and self-discovery. At the start of the film, Haru isn’t very confident and is often unsure of herself; but by the end of the film, she has matured considerably and cannot compare to her old self, as her journey and her relationship with Baron has had an obvious affect on her.

The Cat Returns (Original Japanese Trailer)

Images

Muta
Haru and the Baron The Baron

Whisper of the Heart

Posted in Studio Ghibli at 8:52 pm by j128

Whisper of the Heart

"Whisper of the Heart" (Australian DVD release)

Whisper of the Heart is a Japanese 1995 film from Studio Ghibli and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo and the storyboard and screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. This was Mr. Kondo’s first film to direct, sadly he died three years later of an aneurysm – though others say his death also resulted from work overload – and even more, he was meant to be the successor of Mr. Miyazaki and Isao Takahata at Studio Ghibli. Whisper of the Heart was released in North America in 2006 by Disney and Buena Vista Entertainment along with Howl’s Moving Castle and the Disney version of My Neighbour Totoro.

Summary

Shizuku Tsukishima is a thirteen or fourteen-year-old girl who attends junior high school in the outskirts of a city in Japan. She loves reading and writes poetry, a recurring theme throughout the film is the song that Shizuku translates is Country Road.

Shizuku is intrigued by a boy’s name on the library cards, as he has checked out all of the books that she has read before her. His name is Seiji Amasawa. Shizuku learns that his father was a former PTA member as one of the books she borrowed has the surname Amasawa and that his son is attending the same school as she is.

One day on the train Shizuku meets a mysterious cat that she follows upon discovering an unknown neighbourhood and she also discovers a sort of antique shop where she meets the Baron, a cat doll. This is only the beginning of her adventure.

Eventually she properly meets the young boy she’s been approached by and after she’s sung her version of Country Road she finds out that the boy’s name is Seiji Amasawa and that the owner of the shop is his grandfather. Seiji makes violins and he can play a little, too, but what he’s interested in is being a violin maker. He tells Shizuku that there is a violin workshop in Cremona, Italy, and he intends to go there, but his parents are against it and his grandfather is his only ally.

Shizuku is happy for Seiji and his ambitions, though she is disappointed she does not have similar ambitions and that they couldn’t attend the same school together. Sejii’s parents give in on one condition and he leaves for Italy while Shizuku commits herself to writing a story, which Seiji’s grandfather will read, and has the Baron as the hero.

Two months go by – Seiji in Italy and Shizuku writing her story. She finishes her story, titled Whisper of the Heart, and Seiji’s grandfather reads it in which Shizuku also learns of the Baron’s past. It was rather coincidence that Shizuku gave Baron a female companion whom he became seperated from. In her story something sinister happens when an evil cat arrives at the city where the female cat and Baron were created; while in reality Baron was seperated just before the outbreak of WWII. Seiji’s grandfather wanted the cat doll but he was refused as the two dolls couldn’t be seperated and one of them was being repaired, however, a possible fiance of the grandfather’s offers that she she would take the other doll and give it to the grandfather as soon as she was repaired. The dealer accepted and the grandfather promised to come back to Germany (which was where Baron was acquired). But after the war, the grandfather couldn’t find the lady or the female cat doll, so Baron has been lonely since then.

Shizuku’s mission is accomplished: she has completed the book, now it just needs polishing. She is given a ride home by the grandfather and she tells her mother that she is finished – for now. She falls into a deep sleep and wakes up next morning, upon seeing Seiji and they ride on his bike up a hill to a special place where they watch the sunrise. Seiji proposes to Shizuku and she accepts: when they are old enough they will marry; in the meantime Shizuku will go back to school and work hard and Seiji will become a violin maker.

Notes

This film was based on the manga Mimi wo Sumaseba (If You Listen Closely) by Aoi Hiiragi.

Whisper of the Heart’s fantasy scenes depicted from Shizuku’s story became so popular with fans that Studio Ghibli released a film based on the characters called The Cat Returns, which is also a fantastic movie and I’ll also write a review of it sometime soon.

Whisper of the Heart Trailer

Links

Whisper of the Heart – Answers.com

Online English translation of the original manga

Whisper of the Heart – Nausicaa.net

Whisper of the Heart– Google Video, full length, spoken in Japanese with Engish subtitles.

Images
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Night on the Galactic Railroad

Posted in Anime at 8:50 pm by j128

\Night on the Galactic Railroad is a 1985 anime film, being based on a story of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa. The animation is really good and beautiful, the movie’s pace is leisurely and leaves one wondering what will happen next, and it is definitely worth watching.

I’ve seen a number of anime films and TV shows and this one really stands out as it is rather unusual in its overall plot: the story is densely interwoven with fantasy, philosophical matter, possibly science fiction, and it especially deals with life and death and the afterlife. It is also symbolic.

This film (and the original story) have been classified in the children’s genre but it is a story for all ages.

Please note: this summary is more or less accurate as I’m recalling the movie from memory – I haven’t seen this movie for a couple or so years. When I see it again, I’ll update and correct it as required.

Summary

Giovanni is a young blue kitten of a poor family. His father has been missing for some years, who was apparently some sort of explorer and brought artifacts from his adventures to Giovanni’s school. He has one sister and has to work hard after school to care for his mother who isn’t well, and a best friend who is a pink cat named Campanella.

One day at school, the schoolteacher asks Giovanni what the Milky Way really is. Giovanni knows that it is composed of billions of stars but he cannot answer. The schoolteacher then asks Campanella the same question, but Campanella purposefully doesn’t answer for the sake of his friend.

After school, the schoolteacher and Giovanni admire his father’s artifacts and specimens in a glass case on display. The schoolteacher asks Giovanni if he’s heard anything from his father but he hasn’t. This question is frequently asked of Giovanni throughout the film.

He walks to work while the rest of the class excitedly talk about the star festival that will be occurring that night. Thousands of people – ahem, cats – flock to what is apparently the town or city square and many of the youth float boats on the river with candles in them. Campanella watches Giovanni go to work without a word.

After work, Giovanni goes to the bakery and buys bread and also tries to get some dairy from a farmer but the cow has wandered off and they’re still trying to find her. Giovanni goes home.

His mother is ill and apparently bedridden, though the audience never sees her. His sister has already provided for his mother, who was in earlier.

When evening draws it is the star festival and Giovanni encounters another of his classmates, Zanelli, who mocks him. Giovanni goes to see if the milk is ready but it is not. On his way home, he stops on a hill and rests, looking at the stars, and falls asleep.

Giovanni hears a strange noise and wakes up to see that a train is coming and he’s in the way! Next moment, he’s on the train and Campanella is sitting across from him. Giovanni asks him how he got here and Campanella replies that he doesn’t know.

There is a kind of flashback and it looks as if it is Campanella drowning.

The two friends share a series of fantastic adventures and meet many interesting persons, including scholars or archaeologists who are finding a fossil in a large beach of crystal sands and some kind of bird hunter who makes some sort of treat out of heron for them.

Throughout the movie, people board and get off the train. The last of them are three human beings: two children, a boy and a girl, and their nanny. Through flashbacks, it appears that they drowned in some accident involving a cruise ship, similar to the tragic disaster of the Titanic.

The galactic train travels through the galaxy and in star systems and apparently transports people to the afterlife.

Once the human beings have left, Giovanni tells Campanella that they’ll travel forever and ever together on the train, but it is not to be so. When the train stops, Campanella walks to the end and disappears before Giovanni’s eyes.

Giovanni wakes up back on the hill and he rushes to the scene of the star festival. A distressed Zanelli frantically tells Giovanni what happened: Zanelli had fallen into the water, but Campanella dived in and saved him, but Campanella hasn’t resurfaced. A crowd is surrounding the water, and Giovanni shoves his way in, already knowing the truth.

He briefly talks with another cat, who was once a friend of his father’s, before leaving the festival and finally gets the milk.

Availability

Night on the Galactic Railroad is available on DVD and VHS. The English dub starred Veronica Taylor as Giovanni.

Notes

When the anime was released, it sparked some controversy as the original story clearly has human characters. Some speculate that the reason why the characters were changed mainly into cats is due to the difficulty in animating humans.

Kenji Miyazawa wrote the story drawing from his own experiences. In 1922, when he was twenty-six, his younger sister died to an illness, and this produced a profound effect on him. Grieving, he went on a railroad trip to Sakhalin, an island of southeast Russia that was colonized by the Russian and Japanese in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His trip inspired him to write this story, and he continued to polish it until his death in 1933 at age thirty-seven. The middle part of the story was never completed but published nevertheless.

In the film, many things are written in Esperanto, a language that Kenji Miyazawa had a strong interest in. Esperanto is a constructed language based on several European languages, created by and named after Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. In popular culture, this language is sometimes used in fiction literature to avoid or to not deal with the trouble of inventing a new language or get tied up in knots related to ethnicity or to give off a feel of exoticism of a foreign language; as well it is a planned international language.

Links

Night on the Galactic Railroad – Answers.com, information on the book and anime and related information.

Night on the Galactic Railroad – AnimatedBliss.com

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Posted in Anime, Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli at 8:48 pm by j128

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind DVDNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a Japanese animated film (anime), directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, and was released in 1984, the first film produced by Studio Ghibli and based on the manga of the same name by Mr. Miyazaki. It is set in the distant future on Earth, after the disasterous Seven Days of Fire, which was a global war and left the Earth a wasteland and humans barely surviving on the fringes of what is left. It contains themes of science fiction, enviromentalism, and pacifism.

This anime was actually created pre-Studio Ghibli – it hadn’t even been established and was still relatively in its infancy.

Summary

It is one thousand years after the Seven Days of Fire, a terrible global war that caused the Earth to transform into a wasteland. There are hardly any safe places left for human survival, as the Sea of Decay is constantly spreading. Within five minutes without a mask one’s lungs would rot breathing in the toxic spores released from the Sea of Decay. Humans have constantly tried to burn the Sea of Decay and rebuild civilization, but all attempts have failed as the Ohmus and insects of the Sea of Decay attack any offences directed at the jungle. Shooting of guns repeatedly volumizes the level of offence and the Ohmus’ rage.

Lord Yupa is a wandering man in search of the legendary saviour that will save the world: clothed in blue and descending upon a field of gold, after a thousand years he will reunite man with the earth. Few people believe in this legend, but some still hold strong to it: this saviour is the only hope they have left. Early on in the film Lord Yupa is saved by Nausicaa from an outraged Ohmu because Lord Yupa fired his gun at an insect carrying something he mistaken for a human child, but it is actually a fox squirrell, whom Nausicaa names Teto and becomes a pet of sorts.

Princess Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a bright girl who strives to unite the humans and insects together in a harmonious relationship without the ways of battle, which cause more destruction than helping others. Outside of the Valley war goes on humans against humans and humans against insects. She talks to the insects, rather than fighting them and producing fear on either sides, and calms them with an insect charm and/or harmless flash grenades. Her name is derived from a character in Homer’s Oddessy who helps Oddyseus and her part of her character comes from a Japanese folk hero known as “the princess who loved insects”, and the other half was inspired by the writings of Bernard Evslin who wrote a more in-depth exploration of the character Nausicaa from Oddessy.

Shortly after Lord Yupa arrives at the Valley of the Wind safely a Tolmekian airship is spotted in the sky by Nausicaa after being called out as the watchmen can feel something is amiss, but do not know what it is. Nausicaa goes after it on her mehve (glider) to steer them away from the cliffs, which is the direction they are heading. As she comes closer, she sees thousands of larvae on the front of the ship and men shooting from the inside. Nausicaa notes they must’ve landed earlier and angered the insects. She tries to tell them to turn the ship and that they’re going to crash, but they crash, but not before Nausicaa sees a young woman whom Nausicaa saves from the wreak and before the young woman dies she says she is Lastel of Peijite.

It is discovered the Tolmekian airship that had crashed had been carrying the last God Warrior, a lethal bio-weapon used in the Seven Days of Fire. It had been supposed all the God Warriors had been turned to stone, except this one, which had been sleeping for one thousand years under Peijite. Peijite unearthed it and the God Warrior was stolen from Peijite by Tolmekia.

The same day Lord Yupa and Mito discover the God Warrior (intact despite the airship’s crash) Tolmekian airships invade the Valley of the Wind and in doing so, kill King Jihl, Nausicaa’s father, who was unable to fly as the Sea of Decay’s toxins had finally taken over his body. He was helpless. Princess Kushana of Tolmekia makes a speech saying that if the Valley of the Wind join Tolmekia’s enterprise they will never have to fear the jungle or the insects ever again and they will put the jungle to the torch.

After a dispute with Obaba concerning burning the jungle and its negative influences, the Valley’s people submit to the Tolmekians and the Tolmekians start reviving the God Warrior while Kushana flies to Peijite along with five Valley of the Wind hostages, Mito, and Nausicaa.

They don’t get very far when they are attacked by a small one-man Peijite plane and it is piloted by Asbel of Peijite, twin brother of Lastel. He is about to shoot down the main Tolmekian airship, which has Nausicaa on board, but is distracted when he sees Nausicaa: he thinks it is Lastel. During his distraction, he is shot down and his plane plumets down to earth in a black cloud.

Nausicaa, Teto, Mito, and Kushana take off on the Valley of the Wind airship, which is made of indestructable Ohmu shell. They find the cargo ship, which hold the five hostages and Nausicaa convinces the hostages to remove the cargo and land in the Sea of Decay, which they are flying across.

The party land unknowingly in an Ohmu nest. Nausicaa gives out orders, and a scared Kushana fires her gun – and the Ohmus rise from their underwater nest. Nausicaa apologizes to the Ohmus saying that she and the other humans are not foes and they did not mean to harm the Sea of Decay.

An Ohmu’s narrow tendrils emit and they envelop Nausicaa in a cocoon. Within the cocoon beautiful singing occurs while the Ohmus show Nausicaa a vision of a golden field and the Earth born anew.

The Ohmus then leave abruptly, their eyes red with rage, followed by hordes of insects, and Nausicaa goes after them, telling the rest of the group to get out of the Sea of Decay and wait for her and if she does not come back in an hour to continue to the Valley of the Wind, and she saves Asbel of Peijite from being almost killed by the insects, which he had enraged with the firing of his gun.

Nausicaa’s mask is whipped off by an insect’s stinger and they crash to the jungle’s floor in quicksand and they sink to the bottom, under the Sea of Decay, where the air is pure.

Asbel and Nausicaa decide to travel to Peijite the next day. They discover thousands of dead insects and the capital city destroyed. They find out the insects were lured to the city and they are going to lure the Ohmus to the Valley of the Wind by means of a baby Ohmu, barely alive and dangling from a baloon. Nausicaa is disgusted and tries to take off on her mehve to alert her people, but she is taken as prisoner after Asbel is knocked out when he tries to help Nausicaa.

Meanwhile back in the Valley of the Wind the others have come back and the God Warrior is slowly waking up. Toxic spores have taken root in the forest and the people begin burning the forest, as it is too late to save the trees.

Asbel’s mother and another girl hear of Nausicaa’s predicament and the other girl disguises as Nausicaa while Nausicaa escapes on her mehve to go to the Valley of the Wind. Before she does a Tolmekian ship boards the Peijite ship and a bloody battle begins.

Nausicaa is far out when she meets Mito and Lord Yupa, who had gone searching for her. They shoot down the Tolmekian ship and Lord Yupa handles the situation on the Peijite ship while Mito and Nausicaa continue back to the Valley.

Kushana has broken out of her bonds and battle begins in the Valley, with the Valley’s people resisting against the Tolmekians to the point of bloodshed. Kushana brings out the God Warrior, awakend, though it begins to fall apart for it is not fully completed. It literally wipes out a few scores of Ohmus.

Nausicaa rescues the baby Ohmu, despite being shot deep in the shoulder and foot. The baloon falls on one of the islands within the Acid Lake. The Ohmus come towards Nausicaa and the baby but suddenly change direction when they sense the use of weapons in the Valley of the Wind. Nausicaa coerces the two Peijite men to carry Nausicaa and the baby Ohmu to the Valley of the Wind.

Nausicaa and the baby Ohmu land in the Valley, right before the Ohmus knock into them hard and the collision sends Nausicaa far into the sky and her body falls down in the stampede of Ohmus. The Ohmus stop finally and all eyes turn towards Nausicaa.

Many tendrils of Ohmus emit and raise Nausicaa in the air. They mend her wounds without a scar and she is resurrected. Upon Obaba’s request, two girls tell her what her eyes cannot see: Nausicaa is alive and she is wearing strange blue clothes and she seems to be walking on a golden field. Nausicaa is the long-awaited legend!

A happy reunion ensues and the Ohmus slowly make their way back home.

Through the credits we see the people of the Valley of the Wind bringing up the water from the wells, the Tolmekians going back to their homeland, people of the Valley having mehve gliding lessons, and the Earth healing.

Differences in the film and manga

The film itself is much simpler than the manga and only draws from the first three volumes. Spellings are also changed such as the Tolmekians are rendered to “Torumekians” in the manga.

Characters such as Lord Yupa and Princess Kushana are also different in both manga and movie: In the later volumes of the manga not covered in the movie, he dies, and Kushana’s body is intact and whole rather than having been attacked as a child by Ohmus.

Manga

The Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is available in all seven volumes in North America in two options: the traditional Japanese style of right-to-left or in collaborated book form read in left-to-right. They are availabe in English in the Japanese style by VIZ in North America.

Warriors of the Wind Warriors of the Wind

In America, 1985, a movie was released titled Warriors of the Wind, based on Nausicaa. It was extremely horrible and Mr. Miyazaki as well as many of his fans strongly disliked it. It was heavily edited, most of it was composed of actions sequences, and some of the characters’ names were changed (for example, Nausicaa was renamed “Princess Zandra) as well as the Ohmus being transformed into vicious enemies. Consequently, and rightly so, Studio Ghibli now has a strict policy (“no cuts”) for future films. If anyone would like more information on this film, click the link below. As far as viewing it, it appears as if it is out of circulation – Google Video and YouTube don’t have it.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Original Japanese Trailer

Links

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – the entire movie available on Google Video, English dub.

Warriors of the Wind – Review of Warriors of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Mania – Information on www.nausicaa.net

Nausicaa in America – The backstory of how the manga was translated into English

The Origin of Nausicaa – An interview with Hayao Miyazaki

Shuna’s Journey – A manga perceived by many as a prototype of Nausicaa

Images

https://i1.wp.com/www.abcb.com/nausicaa/naus_00.jpg https://i1.wp.com/koziworld.blog.playersrepublic.fr/images/medium_nausicaa_5.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/animated-views.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/naus11.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/animated-views.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/naus62.jpg

Haydee's Guzla

Posted in Music tagged at 8:41 pm by j128

Guzla In Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, the Count’s consort Haydee – a Greek princess, daughter of the noble Ali Pasha – plays an unusual instrument called the guzla.

In the Penguin Classics edition of Monte Cristo by Robin Buss, in the Notes the instrument is described as

“A Balkan musical instrument, like a violin with only one or two strings.” (pg. 1256)

After I read its said description, I was intrigued to learn more about it, and I was really surprised that there is hardly any information about it on the Internet…until I found out that the guzla is also known under different spellings. It is alternately spelled as gusla or gusle.

It is a relatively little-known instrument – or at least, in the West – in today’s world and from most sources it is described as a museum piece and quite rare; it has been compared to the Russian balalaika in appearance and it can be imperfectly reproduced in sounds by the cimbalom; it has many similarities to the rebab, which was widely played during the Ottoman Empire throughout Turkey.  

The instrument is not typically played on its own, rather it is accompanied by the player’s voice; called the guslar, when telling or singing epic stories or legends. The instrument consists of one or two strings made of horsehair with a bow made of horsetail pulled over the string(s) and a wooden sound box: often being made of maple as it is considered the best material covered with animal skin and a neck with a carved head, as illustrated in the image to the left. To play, the guslar supports it upright between the knees or legs and the long neck rests against the thigh, and the string(s) is/are plucked.

During the nineteenth-century, the East and its associated objects were seen as hallmarks of the region and were held highly with a certain degree of awe, as clearly evident in Viscount Albert’s fascination of the Orient.

The anime Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo replaces the guzla with a harp as Haydee’s instrument and she is highly skilled at playing it as she was the guzla in the original novel. The spelling of her name is also changed to Haidee.

Links

Guzla – Answers.com

Balalaika – Wikipedia definition

Cimbalom – Wikipedia definition

The Count of Monte Cristo – My review here on my blog, The World Is Quiet Here

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo – My review here on my blog, The World Is Quiet Here

Jane of Lantern Hill

Posted in Canadian Literature, Children's Literature tagged at 8:32 pm by j128

Jane of Lantern Hill

Book cover of "Jane of Lantern Hill"

Jane of Lantern Hill is a novel by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, published in 1937. The author began writing Jane in 1935 and had it completed by 1936 and she dedicated it to Lucky, her pet cat. She was planning and preparing to write a sequel but it was never completed.

Like many of L.M. Montgomery’s books, namely Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island makes a great part of the plot, yet this story begins in Toronto, Ontario.

Summary

Jane Victoria Stuart, a young girl of eleven years, lives in Toronto, Ontario with her gorgeous mother Robin, her maternal grandmother, and Aunt Gertrude, her grandmother’s sister, at 64 Gay Street. Ironical to the street’s name, Gay Street isn’t cheerful and is quite grey. It was once said that Gay Street actually lived up to its name but in Jane’s time it is awfully gloomy, her only ray of sunshine is her only friend: Jody (Josephine Turner) who is an orphan and lives next door at a boarding house, where she is a servant.

Jane is called Victoria by her family and addressed as Miss Victoria by the few servants, which consists only of a chauffeur and a cook. They don’t have a housekeeper or even a maid because Aunt Gertrude sees to keeping the entire house ruthlessly spic and span, she cannot even stand the sight of dust, and is constantly tidying things and keeping things in order.

Grandmother is a miserable old lady, extremely strict and jealous of anything or anyone that Jane’s mother loves. She is also manipulative and bends people to her will, even if it means by force and as such this is how Jane and her mother live under the same roof with Grandmother. Jane intensely dislikes living with her grandmother and would be glad at any opportunity to get away.

Jane’s mother Robin, who is of said beauty and is youthful-looking is a sad creature and her only comfort is Jane. Jane finds it strange and doesn’t understand how her mother, blessed with beauty and who attends so many parties and social events could be always so sad. Of course, she comes to the conclusion that her sadness stems from the unreasonable suppression and tyranny of her grandmother but neither mother or daughter can seem to do anything about their situation….

Jane’s gloomy world and existence takes a total transformation when she discovers that she has a father and it is confirmed that he is alive. Her whole life, Jane was taught to believe by her grandmother that her father had died, and it was only by her “charity” that Robin and Jane had managed. Naturally, she is quite surprised by this revelation, and dreams of meeting her father and wonders what he’s really like as Grandmother enforced the idea that he was too wild and adventurous for her Robin and that he abandoned her with baby Jane. He’s also a writer.

A letter arrives from Andrew Stuart, Jane’s father, and he writes a request to see “his Jane”, suggesting that she visit Prince Edward Island, where he resides and also Jane’s birthplace. Grandmother is initially against this and stubbornly refuses to let Jane go, but finally consents when an uncle thinks it would be a good idea. Jane doesn’t really want to go to the Island but once she arrives she loves it.

She prepares to go and she goes shopping with her grandmother, who just about chooses every single outfit for her. Robin tearfully chokes not to mention a single thing about her to Jane, a thing that her daughter doesn’t fully understand but obeys.

There she meets Aunt Irene, whom Jane immediately dislikes, and she stays with her overnight. Aunt Irene is her father’s sister and is an uptight aged woman with a sort of “Victorian sensibility” about her and doesn’t understand Jane’s behaviour towards her. Next morning, Jane meets her father for the first time and loves him.

She calls him Father, as she calls Robin Mother, but he tells her to call him just “Dad”, which she likes. They soon by a house for themselves on Lantern Hill and become acquainted with the locals, namely the Snowbeams and the Jimmy Johns and the twin sisters.

They establish their house, supply it with furniture, and Jane grows a little garden of her own with her favourite flowers and assumes the roll of a housekeeper, learning how to cook and also learns other womanly, traditional domestic roles – things that she was never allowed to do in Toronto because her grandmother wouldn’t allow it. She also comes to own two little kittens, which she names Big Peter and Little Peter and her father gets a dog, which they name Happy.

Aunt Irene comes to visit a few times, during which Jane loses complete control of the house as she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the forceful aunt, and is laughed at by Aunt Irene for all her hard work and taking on the job of keeping house. Jane is rightfully indignant, which she keeps under an immense self-controlled cold calm. Her father is disappointed that Jane doesn’t like his sister but she can’t bring herself to tolerate Aunt Irene, not even for Dad.

Throughout the course of the summer spent on the Island, Jane develops character and gains self-confidence as well as backbone. She reads the Bible to Dad, a thing which she always dreaded to do at home, but it is different reading it to her father and she does so excellently. They dig clams for dinner, have wild strawberries and cream for dessert (a thing deemed as “quaint” by Aunt Irene), etc.

When Jane returns, she is a changed young lady. Because of her developed character, she now stands up to Grandmother – a thing that the old lady dislikes – and relishes reading the Bible, a significant change that Grandmother and Aunt Gertrude can’t comprehend. She is no longer afraid of her grandmother or her aunt and she actually loves school now, whereas before she hated it. She also gets along much more easily with Phyllis, an older cousin of hers that used to always intimidate her.

Grandmother is again jealous of Jane’s love for her father and tries to suck up to Jane by giving her a cat as a Christmas present as she has heard tons about the Peters. Jane receives the cat with little appreciation and the cat is indifferent to her. Jane’s mother tries to make Jane love the cat just a little, for Grandmother, but Jane can’t make herself. When the cat goes missing and Jane and her mother apparently find it one wet evening, they take it home, and feed it and care for it. Suddenly, the cat is much more affectionate towards Jane and she begins to love it but Grandmother gives it away due to the fact that she insists its not the same cat she had purchased – it was another lost cat and only looked like the Christmas cat.

In the summer, Jane returns to the Island, and this summer she learns of the mystery and secret of her parents’ long separation and slowly pieces it together. Her mother and father had met and married as a young, happy couple and soon Jane was born. Despite her parents’ happy marital union, adversary was met on both sides of the family. Aunt Irene disliked Robin and Robin didn’t like Irene’s overbearing, domineering ways and who was also always butting into her relationship with Andrew (Jane’s father). Grandmother didn’t like Andrew and his seemingly “wild ways” and, of course, her jealousy applied as well. She eventually manipulated Robin into returning to Toronto and convinced her to stay there. Jane’s father sent numerous letters to Robin but none were ever replied and he assumed that Robin had dumped him. (In reality, it was Grandmother who burnt all the letters and consequently Robin was unaware.) Due to the external battles from Aunt Irene and Grandmother, Jane’s mother and father grew misunderstandings and confusions and overall, drifted apart from each other – a result and conclusion that was satisfactory for Grandmother.

Jane’s Toronto friend Jody is to be sent to an orphanage but with her intervention, she manages to get Jody adopted by the sister twins who have always wanted to have a child but have never been successful in acquiring one as they constantly argue over whether they want a boy or a girl, and the child’s age range, etc. Jane talks to them about Jody and at first they disapprove (one wants a girl, the other wants a boy and Jody’s age isn’t initially ideal for them) but in the end, they decide that they will adopt Jody.

Jody is of course overjoyed she’s going to the Island and happily anticipates seeing Jane in the summer. When Jane returns, she pieces together more of the puzzle behind her parents’ relationship and when she receives a letter from Aunt Irene that mentions her father going to Boston – probably to get a divorce and marry another young woman that Aunt Irene approves of – Jane goes back to the Island to see Dad. She walks all the way to Lantern Hill in the cold and wet and meets a surprised Dad.

She tearfully tells him about Aunt Irene’s letter and she finds that fortunately the spiteful aunt was wrong. Dad is only going to Boston to meet the publishers for a book he has written – that’s all, and for the first time in her life she cries. (Jane had always done her best not to cry because her mother had said that she’d never cried – not even when she was a tiny baby.) She quickly succumbs to pneumonia and this crisis leads her mother to journey to the Island, despite the strong contradictions by Grandmother.

Jane’s parents finally have a reunion and Jane recovers. As the story closes, Jane starts making plans for her family with her parents.

Note

This story was made into a 1990 made-for-television movie from the same people who had made the series Anne of Green Gables. From the many fan reviews and critic reviews I have read on the Internet, it wasn’t overly successful and wasn’t well-received, nor entirely faithful to the original novel.

Next to Mrs. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, Jane of Lantern Hill is my favourite book by her.

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