Review: Samurai Jack

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In the early 2000s Genndy Tartakovsky created Samurai Jack, which aired on Cartoon Network and struck kids as being very dark and very deep compared to anything else surrounding it. Although it was full of silliness, it also accessibly exhibited strong moral lessons by pitting a pure-hearted exemplar of Bushido against corruption and decadent aspects of culture in industrial civilization.

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Taking a mythical tone, the series sometimes develped deeply spiritual motifs or intricate archetypal structures – often aided by changing art styles; for instance, there is an intense yin-yang duel in which darkness inexorably creeps up a tower with the setting sun, drowning the hero in a sea of darkness that hides his foe, but the light is a positive force: its last rays are reflected from the heroe’s blade, blinding the evil assassin just long enought for death blow. That’s a very cool way of positing that spirit and life has a mysterious power to triumph in spite of the decay, entropy, and overwhelming malevolence.

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In 2017 Tartakovsky created a fifth season of Samurai Jack that took the show to new psychological depths by developing the characters – even calling into question their entire justification for being – while retaining and calling back great memories from the original series. Without changing tone too drastically the story transformed to suit an adult audience and left us with a deep and haunting conclusion that places the story of Samurai Jack among some of the best animated works of all time.

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Review: Shin Gojira

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Shin Gojira, Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla: Resurgence – the 31st installment of the Gojira franchise – surprised me with a very fresh and bizarre take on the same classic story while not only referring to the original, but casting the source material itself in a new and interesting light.

Gojira (1954) expressed the terror felt by the Japanese people as an invulnerable nuclear force (the United States) reigned over their nation as it saw fit in the post war era. Similarly, Shin Gojira took a metaphorical political tone. As the radioactive monster emerges, the film focuses on government beurocracies paralyzed for hours in debate as if to imagine away the bizarre circumstances the characters can hardly seem to believe. This satire doubtless speaks to the Japanese people’s anger at thier government’s response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 in which officials delayed for months to deal with the seemingly unsolvable problem of Reactor 4 – which may have at any time melted down to wreak unknown damage, possibly even rendering the northern hemisphere uninhabitable. The structure of the film and the inscrutability of the monster Gojira conveyed this helplessness and fear – an almost cosmic horror.

Previous films in the series built on and changed the original creature design as technology improved, giving Gojira a more active, cognizant, and engaging feel. Shin Gojira however, seemed to ask the question: What if the original representation of the monster was not so clunky and unintelligent looking just because of the film technology at the time required it to be so? What if the 1954 representation was the correct representation of what the monster really was like? In doing so, a very strange monster is created: Gojira takes on an unsettlingly witless quality. Its big, glassed-over eyes stare off into the distance not just becuase the costume can’t do any better, but because that’s just the way the monster is. It’s creepy as hell.

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Also noteworthy is the film’s odd narrative arc and strange approach to production: both of these definitely aren’t up to modern standards and left a sort of unsatisfying feeling. This however, was great. Departure from obedience to form was bold and respectable – I’d like to see more movies willing to take risks even if that means some pretty silly campiness.

Good job, Toho!