Death Note, Volume 1
What would you do if all you had to do was write someone’s name in a book and then forty-seconds later, that person would die of heart attack? That is the premise of this excellent manga series by created by writer Sugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata back in 2003-06. Light Yagami, Japan’s top high school student, wanders across such a book – The Death Note – one afternoon at school after it mysteriously drops from the nether realm of the Shinigami (gods of the dead). The resulting story is a great marriage of philosophy (as Light opts to rid the world of criminals, and eventual reign as a new god of a new world free of evildoers) and mystery (as the police begin to suspect something is amiss with so many criminals turning up dead, and decide – with the help of an uber detective named L – to hunt him down). Light is escorted through the cat and mouse game by a Shinigami named Ryuk, who’s scary and creepy as all get out. Death Note is a series of four volumes and I can guarantee its fascinating mix of intelligence and mystery and creepiness will have you hooked. I daresay you may even contemplate who’s name you would enter in the Death Note. Of note, three live-action films have also spawned from this series, all released in Japan, the latest in February 2008. For a great idea well executed in a gorgeous manga environment, my rating 9 out of 10.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
This cult classic is now 20 years old and while a fiasco from start to finish and wildly over-budget, it did not diminish the directing status of ex-Monty Python member, Terry Gilliam. Based on a series of tall tales written by Rudolf Erich Raspe back in 1785 called Baron Münchhausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels, it starred gobs of talent in Neville Mariner (as the Baron), Eric Idle, Oliver Reed, a young Uma Thurman (as Venus), an even younger Sarah Polly, an over-the-top and very frustrating Robin Williams (as the King of the Moon), and heck, even Sting. They story is … well … a hodgepodge of fantasy travels and fairy tales with a sort of Wizard of Oz story within a story angle, and is far too complicated to due it justice here. The film is probably a love-it or hate-it sort of venture with this reviewer decidedly on the love-it angle (with the exception of the aggravating sojourn on the moon with Robin Williams doing his tired old shtick). For the spectacle of it all and with kudos to Mariner for pulling it off, my rating 7 out of 10.
Up the Yangtze
This documentary, directed by Chinese-Canadian Yung Chang, shows us two small stories among the many that have resulted from the the creation of the Three Gorges Dam in China. The stories of spoiled single-child Chen Bo, a self-confident, self-obsessed 19 year-old and Yu Shui, a 16 year-old from a very poor farming family, cross when they both take probationary jobs on one of the many cruise ships the ferry tourists up (and down) the Yangtze River. The more compelling of the two is that of Yu Shui, who’s family is displaced as the water rises and their farm is engulfed. Chang’s film is beautifully shot, and, weepy music aside, illustrates in its 90-odd minutes the pride Chinese feel towards the achievement of the Three Gorges Dam project, the sad impact it has dealt to Chinese who lived along the river’s path, and the cultural repercussions it’s sowed on people of all economic levels. This is a super documentary that should not be missed. My rating 8 out of 10.