Discussion: Essential Masterpieces, 24/11/2008

In our class on 24/11/2009 we reviewed and discussed ten ‘esssential masterpieces’ chosen by Helen. The class divided into groups to discuss what each person considered the ‘essential masterpieces’ that they would recommend to new fans, and why. Each group fed back through one person. The group could choose the same title/s, or each member choose a different one, and they could be titles from Helen’s list or others. These are Helen’s notes of the feedback.

Azusa, Becky, Sarah: Although we considered titles outside the list, Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbour Totoro has to be among our recommended titles because it’s suitable for all ages from child to adult. We would recommend the same director’s Princess Mononoke for anyone aged 14 plus. The male and female leads are both equally strong and important to the story, so it’s good for both genders. The powerful focus on the conflict between ecology and civilisation is thought-provoking. We would also include Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, because, as an Oscar winner, it ‘s a film than non-fans have probably heard of, so it makes a good access point. Winning the Oscar raised anime’s profile in mainstream media.

Andrew, Brian, Naomi, Soraya: We all consider Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and My Neighbour Totoro essential viewing for new fans. But to introduce people to anime we would choose titles to appeal to the individual, as different films appeal to different people. For example, Soraya got into anime through a four-part historical fantasy/horror tile called Doomed Megalopolis, (directed by Rintaro) a very uncomfortable story about honour which showed her the power of anime. Yet her sister thought it was “wierd” and that Princess Mononoke was “rubbish”. Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku and samurai anime like Ninja Scroll (all three titles directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri) were also mentioned as possible access points.

Adam, Rhiannon, Ruth, Steve: We think Akira and Shinchiro Watanabe’s TV series Cowboy Bebop are essential viewing. Akira has everything Western viewers want –  a dystopian future, super-powered orphan children, a corrupt military brotherhood, hero-worship, idols shot down, grotesque elements, fabulous technology, guns and sadly no boobs. It was animated to a very high standard and still looks fabulous. A key character dies, which is not normal in Western films. Being a movie, it has a higher “prestige value” than a TV series, perceived as more serious. After watching this, it’s interesting to watch Cowboy Bebop and see where the two coincide. Cowboy Bebop has a tiny story where nothing much happens. It’s very episodic and bitty. It has a wider appeal in that it has boobs and guns but also hot male characters so it appeals to both genders. There’s a downbeat, unhappy ending, a doomed love story and a theme of failure. The technology of its world is good, but not in the foreground of the story (as in Akira.) The soundtrack is wonderful.

After the feedback was complete, Sarah added that the works of Makoto Shinkai should also be recommended to new fans, as well as the movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Towards the end of the session, the class broke into the same groups to discuss the clips reviewed. Each group was asked to decide which one title from Helen’s list they would recommend to new fans as ‘essential viewing’, and why. One person fed back for each group.

Adam, Rhiannon, Ruth, Steve: We would recommend Akira. We think movies are easier to “get into” than TV shows, which demand more time and attention than a new fan might be willing/able to give. Also, Akira is visually stunning and very stylish – if you like Akira you will like anime. It’s very fast and action-packed, unlike say Ghost In The Shell which is more story based. Newcomers need more time to get into anime so they can learn to appreciate more complex stories and older material.

Andrew, Brian, Naomi, Soraya: We would recommend Ghost in the Shell. We agree with the point about TV series, that they are harder to get into so a movie is the best starting point. Visually, Ghost in the Shell has a lot to recommend it. We think the more adult story is a plus point – many people see anime as childish, and it counters that argument.

Azusa, Becky, Sarah: We think that all the points made about Ghost In The Shell are correct, but we would choose My Neighbour Totoro. It’s accessible to people of any age, and it’s one of those stories where you would not feel ashamed to admit you like it, even though it’s very simple. Also, not everyone is into science fiction so not everyone would find a story like Ghost In The Shell accessible, even though it does raise a lot of interesting points for discussion whether you like anime or not.

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