These two anthology showcases of boundary-pushing animation are now at last enshrined on disc for English-speaking audiences, as they've always deserved to be
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's story, and Akira Kurosawa's movie, have endured to tell us something about the nature of truth in a time when we can hardly trust the words we hear in our own heads
Shinichiro Watanabe's new series, about two young women trying to make their music their way, either needed more SF or less of it to really work
Promare is a fantastic-looking and -feeling movie that suffers from the flaw of only being okay as a story. This flaw is not fatal; many movies with unbounded visual ambition can use that to make up for having less elsewhere to bring to the table. What irks me is that the people responsible — Studio Trigger, director Hiroyuki Imaishi, writer Kazuki Nakashima — did so well with both visuals and story before in their long-form TV productions like Kill La Kill. Here, with only 120 minutes or so to play with, it feels like they're cutting themselves off at the knees. But my recommendation is to see it anyway, especially in a theater where it can wallpaper the senses as it is designed to. It's also an original project, not a sequel or a theatrical spinoff of a franchise, something that afflicts the J-culture corner of the world as much as the mainstream. And when all else is said and done and debated, it is a heck of a lot of fun.
Creators from Japan tend to be known outside their home country in a binary way: either known for just about all of what they do, or not known at all. Akio Jissōji is something of an exception in that when he was known outside of Japan, it was generally only for one part of his career — his TV and film work for younger viewers, mainly for the Ultraman franchise. But until recently he was hardly known at all for his trilogy of Buddhist-themed films, boundary-pushing independent productions created under the aegis of the avant-garde Art Theatre Guild. Never distributed in English, seen only at film festivals or by way of bootlegs, they took on a quasi-legendary quality. Even David Desser's sourcebook on the Japanese New Wave, Eros Plus Massacre, mentions neither Jissōji nor these films. Now Arrow Academy has, after some delay, released all three movies — Mujō/This Transient Life (無常), Mandala (曼陀羅), and Uta/Poem (哥) — in a box set with lavish extras and newly restored transfers. My personal feelings about them are mixed, as they are difficult films by design, and their "trangressive" qualities sometimes come off as outright regressive. But I'm still grateful they can be at last seen by those other than the hardcore faithful.
I'm heartened by the way the light novel phenomenon, and a few other trends in exported Japanese popular culture, have made it possible for material normally out of reach for English-speaking audiences to be translated and distributed. I liked how Bungo Stray Dogs made the likes of Osamu Dazai a household name, and got that many more people interested in actually reading his work. And I like how the animated projects created from Tomihiko Morimi's novels — Penguin Highway, The Eccentric Family, and Night Is Short itself — have helped open up a market for his work in English. The Night Is Short, now in English thanks to Yen Press, is as freewheeling and loopy as the movie made from it, and what's best is how the book is freewheeling and loopy in ways that books are best at.