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?
Things seemed to be going so well for Muneakira Yagyu. On top of dealing with Jubei, the immortal samurai warrior who fell out of the sky and into his arms and lips, he used his ability to awaken the latent power of a female samurai with a kiss to successfully juggle a handful of very powerful, very female master samurai, AND led them all to victory against the minion of a great evil. So was it too much to ask for a little break in the routine of saving Japan?
Apparently it was, as another great evil has appeared in the land, this one even stronger than the last. However, that's the least of Muneakira's problems, because with all the women he's kissed in order to awaken their latent samurai powers, the inevitable has finally happened. Someone's taking the long walk down the aisle with a samurai girl! It's going to be a really old fashioned wedding and any resistance by the groom will be totally feudal!
Bleach series 13 continues the clash between Soul Society’s Shinigami and Sousuke Aizen’s Arrancar army. It also brings with it a new talent in Japanese pop-rock: miwa. This fresh-faced female, armed with a guitar and an arsenal of upbeat pop-rock songs, provides the series’ twelfth opening theme, ‘chAngE’.
Tom Smith on the newest numero-enchanted musicians
It may sound odd to English ears, but 7!!’s choice of pronunciation makes sense (well, a tiny bit of sense) when put into the context of where the band grew up; Okinawa. It’s an area that’s closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan, and one that’s had a heavy US military presence since the Second World War. These factors, among plenty of others, have had an affect on the cultural evolution of the islands, and one of the most evident examples can be found in local popular music scene.
Suzuki’s swansong will be the ultimate in exclusivity
Rough artwork has been leaked of Studio Ghibi’s next film, announced as the ultimate in collectibles: a film released in a single print, with a guarantee of no DVD or Blu-ray release. Slated for release in one year’s time, Gertie the Dinosaur began with the most unlikely of inspirations for a much-loved children’s studio.
This is the burning question for Attack on Titan fans, and it’s certainly not answered in the second volume of the anime series. Rather, Volume 2 shows a world which is still in the process of expanding, bringing on a great many vivid new characters – and arguably the most vivid of all isn’t even a human, but a sexy woman Titan who stomps all over the series.
Eric Khoo's film focuses on one of the founders of gekiga, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who died on 7th March. The framing story is Tatsumi’s account of his life and development, growing up with a difficult family. He had none of the technology and luxuries that we take for granted, no reason to think he could ever make a living from the fledgling manga industry. And yet he was utterly driven to draw comics, like his hero Osamu Tezuka.
Amber Lawrence on the top ten ways to perfect cosplay without ending up on a snark site.
The most important thing anyone needs to know about cosplay is that it’s all about putting on a silly costume for a day, hanging out with your fellow geeks and revelling in geekish joy. But if you combine the increasing numbers of people getting into cosplay and the speedy and anonymous nature of the internet, you end up with a lot of websites out there dedicated to showcasing “Cosplay Fail”. So, if you want to have some costumed fun for the weekend but are worried about faceless internet critics nitpicking at your efforts afterwards, here are our survival tips…
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.