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 war between the Levamme Empire and the Amatsukami Imperium has been raging for years. In the midst of this struggle, the prince of the Levamme Empire declares his love for Juana del Moral and vows to end the war in one year as part of his marriage proposal. When the Amatsukami catch wind of this, they assault the del Moral residence, targeting Juana's life. As a last-ditch effort to bring the prince his bride, the San Maltilia Airforce employs a mercenary of mixed blood - a bestado - to fly Juana to the prince in secret. The pilot, Charles, accepts the mission... but traversing an ocean alone, and into enemy territory, proves a much more dangerous ordeal than anyone could have anticipated.
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.
Fans of K-On! The Movie’s lovely and realistic vision of London may not be aware that in between that film and Steamboy’s loving depiction of a steampunk-era Manchester and London rests a show that is as accurate as either, and yet is also arguably the most English anime show ever made. Yet it still cannot be bought on DVD in the UK itself.
Jonathan Clements on Jackie Chan and the Garden of Gardens
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Stephen Turnbull risks nine deaths in the eye of the ninja storm... or does he?
There is more to the ninja myth than meets the eye. By 1638 all wars had ceased under the police state of the Tokugawa family, yet within twenty years armchair generals were busily writing manuals of military theory, including speculations about sneak attacks, night-fighting and backstabbing.
Spoilers for part one ahead, as Andrew Osmond gets timey-wimey
The show’s finale is squarely in anime traditions, combining heartfelt child-parent reunions, a boy’s resolution to ‘lift the curse’ of his origins, and an orgasmically explosive deus ex machina that lets a character write the end he wants – one that happens to have shades of another Gainax anime classic, Gunbuster. There’s fanservice for you!
Jasper Sharp reviews a book-length collection on the “God of Manga”
Tezuka’s Manga Life is a scholarly and much-needed attempt to sort out the wheat from the chaff of the Tezuka myth, with its 22 contributors spread over 300+ pages attempting to put the vast output of the prodigious manga artist into context.
Tom Smith finds another band with an unspellable name
Meet Ling tosite sigure. Their name may be confusing to pronounce (for anyone interested, it’s more like ‘rin tosh-teh shi-goo-reh’), but that didn’t holdback Japan’s music-loving community from rushing to their local CD-shops and grabbing a copy of the band’s latest album i’mperfect, out now also in the UK thanks to JPU Records.