Friday, July 4, 2008

What film got you hooked?

A continuing feature that asks prominent cinephiles "What film got you hooked on Japanese cinema?"

Robotech by Andrew Mack

Trying to pin down the exact moment I knew Japanese cinema would forever be a part of my life is proving to be difficult. When you grow up outside a city like Vancouver which boasts one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Hong Kong and China you cannot help but notice their culture. Credit is due to them because it was thanks to their presence that I became fascinated with Asian cultures. But despite their significant presence in the Lower Mainland of B.C. it was still Japanese animated shows and live action dramas that were the most accessible on television during my younger years.

Near as I can recall the first live action films I saw from Japan came from the public broadcasting channel based out of Seattle. From there I would see Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and marvel at its epic scale, bright colors, and vividly remembering seeing the shot of the soldier dying with an arrow in his eye. Oh my God, an arrow in his eye! I’m pretty confident I also saw Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai on that channel as well.

But what got my juices really cooking was every couple years Robotech would make the rounds of after school viewing lineups. When you are a young lad is there anything cooler than a jet that turns into a robot? I think not. But what was also shocking to me was that people died in Robotech. People don’t die in cartoons! Yet here we were, my brother and I, watching giant robots fight giant aliens, praying to God that our mother wouldn’t come downstairs and see this cartoon violence splash out on the television screen. It would be many years later until I found the original Japanese broadcasts and understand that there was also a human drama unfolding in those Macross series. So much was lost and toned down in the cross over.

The first Japanese film I ever rented on VHS was Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira. It was Gene Siskel and Roger Eibert’s Video Pick of the Week.

Andrew Mack is a contributing editor to and a permanent fixture in the Toronto film scene.

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