The trailer for the latest Silent Hill instalment to come from Konami filled me with a rare kind of glee. However, I haven't played a Silent Hill game since Homecoming and haven't completed one since the The Room and it made me wonder why I still get excited about the franchise. The series has seen Akira Yamaoka mutate from music director to music god to game producer, but has now left the nest to join Grasshopper games, so it is certain that his iconic and atmospheric music will not be gracing the eighth entry. The music from the trailer sounds sterling though and while an unabashed fan of his music for Silent Hill, I didn't greet the news of him leaving Konami and the franchise with anything more than a "huh".
First released: February 2004
The story goes that after Satoshi Kon's movie triumvirate - Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers - there were a surplus of ideas and the desire to break from being locked into a two and half year development cycle for movies. So with the aid of Madhouse studios, Paranoia Agent was born. Demonstrating a familiar mix of reality bending, mind melting storytelling and a flair for the symbolic and layered, the series is a stunning achievement shifting from detective thriller to black comedy to erudite social commentary with jaw dropping ease. Challenging and subversive, this is everything a Satoshi Kon fan could want: a playground where he runs free; as bleakly funny just as it is darkly incisive there are some minor hiccups along the way but it is a powerhouse of a series that rightly deserves but never demands attention.
The first story of Aoi Bungaku, No Longer Human, is covered in a soft, often wintry mist that permeates through to the character's unsurprising end. The remaining five stories however are vividly realised, varying between sharp reality and kaleidoscopic dreamscapes; each conveys the vagaries of humanity with poignancy and skill. So too changes the attitude in each story, from the purgatorial trappings of the first story to the theatrical analogy of Run, Melos! to the Rashomon-esque multiple viewpoints of Kokoro. An ambitious and vibrantly successful venture that wears its literary roots proudly, portraying characters with unflinching amorality and focusing not on full-circle stories but short vignettes of startlingly tangible people.
The first four episodes tell the story of Yozo and his attempt to come to terms with his more base instincts and emotions which more often than not lead him to psychological turmoil, not helped by his sexual reliance or penchant for escapism. The second tale is of Shigemaru, a callous thief who one day comes across the beautiful but demanding Mitsuki whose bloodthirsty attitude is tempered only by her morbid fascinations. Shigemaru battles with his fear of the forest's cherry blossom grove while capitulating to all of Mitsuki's murderous whims. The third story is of a gentleman known only as Sensei who invites a scruffy man, K, into the house where he is staying; told from two differing perspectives, both concern the daughter of the house, her affections and the results of a cross-communication between the men. The fourth narrative is of a man tasked with adapting a story for theatre but the process opens old wounds with the parallels it has with his own life. The final two stories are set within the world of a fickle and flamboyant king: the fifth sees the capture of the wicked criminal Kandata, his execution and descent into hell; the sixth follows the artist Yoshihide who, disillusioned with a kingdom he sees as rife with violence and cruelty, is ordered by the king to paint a vision of the land on the walls of his tomb.
Kuchu Buranko (Trapeze, lit. Sky Swing) is like a late night bevy of cocktails: all bright colours and mind altering effects. The first three episodes are an all out assault on aesthetics, everything is awash with luminous colours and textured with polka dots or garish swathes of clashing patterns. Sometimes barely discernible from the backdrops, the characters are animated haphazardly when they are at all, often devolving into poorly filtered live-action or blatant rotoscoping and other times jerking between poses with little warning. Like its closet meretricious sibling, Gankutsuou, the visuals are only meant to allure and the real meat of the episodes is worth risking sensory overload.
The mostly standalone stories are about individuals who have some sort of mental affliction which is examined by the whimsical psychiatrist Ichiro Irabu who changes form between an obnoxious green rabbit with permanent facial stubble, a precocious young boy whose lab coat is several sizes too large for him and an androgynous bespectacled boy in his late teens or early twenties. Even the patients are not immune to switching states, often depicted as animals which suit their condition; topping all of this madness off is a supposedly real life psychiatrist Fukuicchi who sporadically pops out of a scene for an aside on the current disorder being explored. The series so far is raucous, visually boggling and brilliant fun to watch.
Based upon well-known Japanese literature, no opening music and a simple perfunctory closing animation, Aoi Bungaku could barely be more art-house. It's an odd situation coming from a media that is still mostly marginalised, even in its country of origin: aiming for a further niche would seem counter-intuitive especially for something with such stunning production values.
At times it is breathlessly beautiful, judicious use of soft filters and colour grading means everything has an ephemeral reality to it - helped by a keen eye for details in the most fleeting of scenes. Combined with a story of childhood, loss, sex, suicide and emotion it's dangerously easy to fall in love with the series and be utterly enthralled by it. A live action introduction by Sakai Masato, notable drama actor, explains the aim of the series is to introduce viewers to well known stories, the first of which is "No Longer Human" by Dazai Osamu. At only twelve episodes long and six works to get through, the first story is the longest occupying four complete episodes and tells the life of the troubled Yozo Oba.