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?
The child soldier Jonah continues to protect Koko while she brings the boom to cities across the globe. When the international arms dealer ramps up sales, her hired guns are targeted by government agencies, warmongers, and assassins - leading to some devastating betrayals and losses. Amid all the gunfire and grenades, Koko begins to work on a secret project in South Africa: Jormungand. But when she finally reveals her master plan for the future of war, not everyone is happy with the plot. As the body count starts to explode, Jonah will have to decide if he can stand by and watch his employer's blood-soaked plan for world peace unfold, or try to put a stop to it. Contains all 12 episodes of season 2. Special Features: Commentary on Episode 4, Textless Songs, Trailers. Spoken Languages: English, Japanese, English subtitles.
Opening with a running fight down a freeway where anti-tank missiles and heavy vehicles are tossed around like party favours, the first episode never lets up, setting a standard that the show maintains throughout.
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.
Redline and Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine showcase the talent of Takeshi Koike, a rising star in the anime firmament. While the two titles are very different, they’re both brash and arresting, the obverse of any safe house ‘style’...
Stephen Turnbull asks what (if anything) went wrong with the 47 Ronin?
When T. H. White’s great Arthurian fantasy The Once and Future King was first published the New York Times described it as “a glorious dream of the Middle Ages as they never were but as they should have been.” A very similar comment would not be inappropriate to describe the strange world of old Japan conjured up in the movie 47 Ronin.
It is a real testament to how far things have progressed in the U.K. that this trilogy has been released uncut; in the 1990s the BBFC would never have allowed it. In that sense, the ten years it has taken Ubukata to get his books on-screen may, despite the frustrations caused him personally, have ended up benefiting U.K. audiences.
Studio Ghibli, tattoo removal and the San Diego Comic Con in our 26th podcast
Jeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements to discuss last week’s Studio Ghibli, the San Diego Comic Con, upcoming releases, and your questions from Twitter and Facebook. Includes an inadvisable impersonation of Meryl Streep, commentary track shenanigans, and Jerome’s skateboarding stunts.
Andrew Osmond on Japan's chances at this year's Academy Awards
There are two anime among this year’s Oscar nominees: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, competing for Best Animated Feature, and Shuhei Morita’s Possessions, vying for Best Animated Short. To date, there has been only one Japanese winner in each category. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was the winning feature in 2002; Kunio Kato’s La Maison en Petits Cubes won Best Animated Short Film in 2008. What are the new films’ chances?
Pacific Rim opened a new gateway to ’bot sagas for youngsters, and for oldsters too. They’ll see del Toro’s film, learn how much he was inspired by Japanese cartoons, and then check out the originals. If they choose Eureka Seven Ao, they’ll find elements also seen in Pacific Rim, embedded in a very different show.