The main character in this plucky little SF drama belongs to a profession that anyone reading this blog should cheer. Gaia, a young woman living in Rome, is a translator of Asian media. Specifically she’s a Chinese speaker, who’s subtitling a film at home when the phone rings. She’s offered another, much more lucrative job, acting as interpreter in an interview so urgent she must come at once. Her contact insists on blindfolding her before driving her to the interview, which rings alarm bells, but luckily she’s as curious as we are.
Arriving to a drably anonymous building, Gaia is led downstairs to a darkened room to commence the interview with the mysterious and unseen Mr Wang (voiced by Li Yong). At first the atmosphere is cordial, but after a couple of questions, the Italian interviewer – the heavy-set, pugilistic Curti – becomes aggressive, making barely-veiled threats. It’s obvious this isn’t an interview but an interrogation, though the questions take bizarre turns – “Why the Chinese language?” demands Curti out of the blue. Gaia finally insists on seeing Wang for herself, reckoning the situation is so surreal that nothing more could surprise her. The lights go on, and Gaia realises how wrong she was…
(Warning – in a moment, we’ll give away one of the film’s surprises, though it’s not much of a surprise if you've seen the trailer or even the DVD box art, and we’ll try to spoil as little as possible. If you don’t want to know any more, then click away now!)
Okay, so Mr Wang is an alien, and rather obviously so. It quickly transpires that he speaks Chinese on the grounds that it’s the most-spoken lingo on the planet, though presumably he hadn’t prepped enough to realise it might not be the most widely distributed language. Wang’s message is “We come in peace,” but Curti isn’t buying that, insisting the visitor has a hidden purpose and Curti has ways of making him talk. As an innocent and ignorant witness, Gaia plays audience surrogate, her sympathies sliding more and more as the situation intensifies.
One phrase that comes to mind watching this film is “bottle show” – an episode of an ongoing TV serial where the budget is squeezed down to the bones, often by confining the actors and action to a single room (a prison cell will do nicely). A big percentage of Wang’s running time is set in the interrogation room, plus some equally drab corridors, with three core characters and a smattering of support players. Luckily the two humans - Francesca Cuttica as Gaia and Ennio Fantastichini as Curti – are compelling, their conflict crackling with a furious chemistry. The film also gives each character some moments alone, making them believable presences.
As for the translation device – a novel solution to the hoary SF problem of conversing with aliens – it means the average non-Chinese speaking Westerner is immediately distanced from Wang’s statements, hearing everything second-hand from Gaia, and adding a layer of enigma. Of course, it’d be fascinating to hear the response of a Chinese person for whom the Italian of the “viewpoint” characters is as opaque as Mandarin is to most of us. One might reflect the Chinese language wouldn’t be quite as opaque abroad if China develops, say, an animation industry with a devoted foreign fanbase picking up the subbed colloquialisms and merrily misusing them. There’s also an unexpected reference to anime in the dialogue, where Gaia is trying to translate Wang’s techno-speak and apologises to Curti for using phrases (like “Cosmic communicator”) that sound like they come from “some Japanese cartoon.”
Either Wang turns out to be good or Wang turns out to be bad (for humans, at least), though there are riskier options, such as not answering the question at all. Which way the film-makers choose can invite blowback from the audience. For many critics and fans, this kind of SF drama isn’t just speculative storytelling but a real-world statement, whether about McCarthyism in the 1950s or asylum seekers today. Fans of Doctor Who may recall a heated spat over the Dickens episode, “The Unquiet Dead” – if not, it’s on Wikipedia. Personally I’d suggest that Wang’sonly implicit statement is there’s no ordained “right” answer to the film’s dilemma – if there was, the film wouldn’t have been worth making.
In the event, The Arrival of Wang becomes less interesting in the third act, which leaves the interrogation room for dark and sinister corridors. The ending is a squib, letting the directors show off their modest effects budget, but stopping the characters and story rather than concluding them, without any great shock or surprise to compensate. Nonetheless, Wang is an enjoyable little piece, well worth its 80-minute watching time, though it begs one great question. In a film where translation is central to the plot, didn’t the directors (brothers Antonio and Marco Manetti) think to check what a word like “Wang” might mean in some foreign territories?
From Production IG (Psycho Pass, Blood The Last Vampire, Ghost in the Shell) and the Creator of Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero comes an action-packed sci-fi adventure like you’ve never seen before. While fighting an intense inter-galactic war, a mecha pilot was accidentally warped into a space-time neither he nor the computer of his mecha could recognize. After waking up from a long-time hibernation, he found himself trapped on a planet, with human residents talking in an unknown form of language, using inferior technologies, and - most shocking to him - naturally breathable air.. Includes episodes 1-13 plus two OVA episodes.
Mamoru Oshii’s unashamedly esoteric sequel to his earlier global crossover Ghost in the Shell lent the most credibility to claims for anime as ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’, when it became the first animated film from Japan to be entered in competition at Cannes.
Jeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani and Andrew Hewson for our 23rd podcast., featuring cover woes, delayed shows, and several uses of the word Slash. Your questions answered, dodged or otherwise belittled, while Jerome confesses to his Facebook addiction, and Jeremy is reprimanded for flagging his own segues.
The story behind Hayao Miyazaki’s first and greatest heroine
“There has come the advent of the angel of light, the one who will lead you to the pure land. She who loves the forest and talks with the insects… She who calls down the wind, and rides upon it like a bird. And that one shall come to you, garbed in raiment of blue, descending upon a field of gold, to forge anew our ties with the lost land.”
Both Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Mawaru Penguindrum are strange, subversive creatures. They’re anime that borrow the ideas and imagery of cartoons for young children, but they’re aimed at much older viewers.
Some of you may have heard that the US release of the hotly anticipated Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo has been delayed. Unfortunately we can now confirm that this has had a knock-on effect for the UK DVD and Blu-ray release and as a result we have been forced to amend the release date. We are very sorry for this but it is beyond our control.
Paul Browne on the pop duo with multiple anime connections
K’s stirring theme song ‘KINGS’ comes courtesy of J-Pop duo angela. Consisting of vocalist Yamashita Atsuko and multi-instrumentalist Hirasato Katsunori (aka KATSU), angela are a familiar name when it comes to anime theme tunes.
Jonathan Clements on the movie that turns anime on its head
Boy-meets-girl has never been so strange as in this feature, in which the leads must literally cling to each other or fall away to an uncertain fate. Patema Inverted winningly plays with matters of spatial awareness, perspective and weight, regularly flipping its angles until the viewer literally can no longer remember which way is truly up.
Culture shocks and military musings, in Gen Urobuchi's hard-hitting anime
"It’s an interesting time to have a hero with a militarist outlook. This blog has discussed the arguments over the alleged political content in the blockbusting Attack on Titan and Ghibli’s film The Wind Rises. In both cases, the controversies connects to Japan’s own militarist past in the 1930s and ‘40s, and the spectres they conjure up in countries round the world; of Japanese kamikaze pilots, of torturers ruling POW camps, of the so-called “banzai charges” of soldiers sworn to die for their Emperor."
"The action scenes remain superlative, designed and executed in a way Western live-action directors would do well to study. The way character moments are woven within elevates them above mere technical exercises. The Prague shoot-out and Tokyo car chase are the sort of gems that prove that anime can still trump live-action in the same creative arenas when it wants to."