Categories
Anime Reviews

Blood tastes like iron

Even when there’s a guy like Masaaki Yuasa handling the adaptation of one of your favourite stories, there’s always a small worry that something won’t click. In Ping Pong‘s case especially, pairing Yuasa with mangaka Taiyou Matsumoto was almost too perfect, because as any one who has read Matsumoto’s other works will know (Tekkonkinkreet and Sunny amongst them,) his drawing style is really unique, favouring jagged and uneven lines, an aesthetic that’s also much like Yuasa’s own for Mind Game, Kemonozume and Kick Heart.
Visually then, these two guys go against the grain, but that in itself is just a superficial thing and not reason enough to care. They also happen to be masters of their respective crafts. Kaiba, The Tatami Galaxy, Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong and Sunny. These two are amongst the best working in animanga today, so when the Ping Pong anime was announced, it felt too perfect; too much like a dream; something had to go wrong, right?!

Categories
Editorials Live action Manga Music

Japanese punk

Lately, I’ve felt a little empty. Waiting for something to spark a little inspiration in me. So, as I often do, I ended-up on YouTube, listening to music, when The Blue Hearts appeared with their song, Linda Linda. It’s a Japanese punk-rock song that you’ll have heard before if you’ve seen the film Linda Linda Linda (which I reviewed years ago.) Anyway, I’ve always liked punk music, aesthetics and all, and it’s interesting to see such a Japanese take on it. Ripped jeans, snarling faces and funny dancing.

Categories
Manga Reviews

Taiyo Matsumoto’s new manga, Sunny: melancholy and wonderful

I’ve long been a fan of Taiyo Matsumoto, a guy who for years has ranked amongst my favourite mangaka. Hopefully you’ll know him as the author of Tekkonkinkreet (Black & White,) or GoGo Monster, or perhaps even Ping Pong? If not, you really should, because he’s a genius.

Categories
Reviews

"It stopped, the rain. Wanted to check my tree, the apple." Review of Tekkonkinkreet

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Coming from the dream combination of the emphatically cool Studio 4C and much admired manga-ka Taiyou “Ping Pong” Matsumoto, Tekkonkinkreet is a movie I’ve long waited to see. Based on those two names alone, you should expect several things – let’s start with moody and stylish visuals; almost-surreal art that gleefully shuns fan-pandering anime conventions and embraces the meaning of creative freedom, and then there is Matsumoto’s dazzling talent for empathetic story telling; his subtle use of natural dialogue and eccentric body language that’s clearly intent on plumbing the darkest depths of the human soul.

Categories
Live action Reviews

A movie about Ping Pong, can't be good, surely?

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Table tennis, ping pong, whatever you want to call it, is a specialist sport played mostly by an enthusiastic collection of hardcores, eccentrics and oddballs. Examining the game with unloving eyes, all you may uncover is a baffling blur of squeaking shoes and pumped up grunts. So, amidst this boring confusion of pings and pongs, we miss the compelling battle of wits taking place; that moment the winning player realises he can fly, while his losing opponent watches his cherished dreams come crashing down around him.
Ping Pong (2002, YouTube trailer) is a Japanese live action movie penned by the legendary manga-ka Taiyou Matsumoto, and there’s no beating around the bush here, it is one of my favourite films of all time; a charming and philosophical portrait of human nature painted by an eccentric quartet of characters in love with ping pong. Here’s why.
At the centre of the story are two teenaged best friends; Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and Smile (Arata). They are both preciously talented table tennis players who seem to struggle when under pressure. Goof-ball Peco dreams of becoming the best in the world, but blows off practice to gorge on junk food, while Smile doesn’t care about the game at all; he only plays to hang out with his best mate. They’ve shared a strong bond of friendship since childhood because Peco saved Smile (so named because he never does) from bullies, thus Smile idolises Peco as his hero; some one who, when the world’s about to end, saves the day.
The two other most notable characters are intense, aggressive skin-heads; nicknamed Akuma (Demon) and Dragon. Akuma is a hack player with no talent, but so desperately wants to be good, while Dragon is the local champion but works so hard at training and practise that he’s lost all love for the game; despite winning it all, he never smiles.
Ping Pong is punctuated with colourful humour, a fist-pumping soundtrack (with a lot of music from SUPERCAR) and a lot of exciting (CG-assisted) action, but its true brilliance lies within its characters, who in distinctive Japanese style, grow to embody their own particular philosophical flavours.
Peco is running from Smile’s admiration, afraid of not living up to the expectations of his friend, while Akuma, try as he might, can’t accept that his talents lay elsewhere. Even Dragon, the champion, locks himself in a cubicle through out tournaments because he gets so envious of players with real ability.
It feels so heart-filled and compelling because these are issues that transcend the sport in question and impact on us all; some of us want to be the best at what we do yet hopelessly fail, others may be talented but flit it all away, we can even try so hard that we lose sight of whatever made it fun in the first place. Ping Pong is about learning to fly, or in other words, growing up and realising your place in the world; it’s a moving, eccentric and funny film that I hope you run out and pick up right now.
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