Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10 Movies I Must See Before I Die, Part 1

Aloha everybody!

It gives me great pleasure to present to you my first feature article for Otaku 5-0!

But first, a little backstory....

Following the departure of Star (Film & Book Contributor) from the podcast staff, I stepped in and assumed her responsibilities until a suitable replacement can be found (the search is still ongoing at this point), including both her podcast contributor reports and any feature articles that were assigned to her.

Which brings me to six weeks ago, when I actually decided to write this thing. I started by searching online for similar articles, but found most of them unhelpful. To start, most articles listed 100-1000 movies, and while I could agree with SOME of the choices, they were personal impressions by the authors themselves. However, I can understand that since I am bringing a personal touch to this article. But still, the question of how to approach this topic continued to elude me, until I settled on a literal approach by asking myself this question:

Suppose I was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Knowing that I don't have much time, which ten movies would I want to see before my death?

Thus inspired, my work began... And here I present to you the first half of my list. Enjoy!

I first saw the penultimate act of George Lucas' Star Wars saga (and one the best sequel films in movie history) on TV as a child, and I quickly found myself glued to the screen from start to finish, drawn in by its dark, unsettling atmosphere. However, it was not until years later that I would truly appreciate its greatness. In many conversations I've had with friends and family, I have stated three reasons why I prefer this film over its siblings: 1) The Imperial March, the now-famous leitmotif for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire; 2) Master Yoda, the diminutive Jedi Master who would become one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history (and if you listened to my "Gauntlet" interview a few episodes back, he is STILL my favorite Star Wars character); 3) The unhappy ending, which turned out to be a gamble on the part of the filmmakers (but one that paid off well, since everybody ended up wanting to see what happens next.) Even now, as an aspiring screenwriter, I look to this film as a valuable teaching tool in terms of characterization, pace and story.

I have never had so much enjoyment over so simple a film. Its premise: 12 individuals from different backgrounds serve jury duty and decide the fate of a young boy accused of murder. Seeing this film for the first time in my 8th-Grade English class, I learned that a great cast (in this case headlined by the legendary Henry Fonda as Juror #8) could make a decent film good and a good film great. After watching it, I was amazed by how one person, through INTENSE discussion and debate, can persuade eleven other people to his point of view (of course, it's also important that we agree with Juror #8's doubts as to the defendant's guilt.) It also showed me that if in order to discover the truth, we must deal with our own prejudices. This film would also serve as an important example of how movies are as much about the period in history they're made as the period of history they show (case in point: every single single juror is a male Caucasian, which might offend today's audiences.) But, I have always found it helpful to avoid putting modern sensibilities on anything that isn't aware of them.

After first seeing this film back in 7th grade (my parents purchased the VHS version), I liked it so much I ended up wearing out the tape. More than anything else, this film helped bring out an appreciation of music and its affect on an individual. Ironic, when you consider that although I was born into a family with strong musical roots (my grandfather played for The Royal Hawaiian Band and my father is a Hawaiian music legend in his own right), I remained profoundly ignorant of music. From start to finish, I rejoiced in seeing pieces of classical music interpreted visually via live-action cinematography (particularly in the opening piece, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) and stunning 2-D animation (there's a reason Disney was THE animation studio for the 20th Century. This film contains some of their most evocative work.) While I was quite entertained, I was shocked to later learn that it was unappreciated in Walt Disney's lifetime, even though it was one of his most personal films (For the record, my favorite sequences are the Toccata and Fugue, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite & Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.)

If I had to pick a film that served as a starting point for my interest in History, foreign cultures and Shakespeare, this would be it (and to keep the metaphor going, this is also my first Akira Kurosawa film.) I saw this film back in my 8th grade year while browsing the video store, and I had just learned about Samurai-era Japan in my history class (and also of my own samurai heritage - my maternal great-grandmother is a descendant of the Nakano line.) One of the first things I appreciated was in how Kurosawa used color to contextualize the actions and intents of the various factions in the film, which proved helpful during the film's rich battle sequences (for example, the "bad son" wore red as his color, and the "good son" wore blue.) In high school (and after I had found an interest in acting and theatre) I learned of this film's basis on Shakespeare's King Lear, and with that the lesson of telling conventional stories in an unconventional way, whether it be through a change of setting, character gender or plot. This lesson would be reaffirmed after seeing movies produced by Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., WALL-E, etc.)

For some time, I have called Pixar THE animation studio of the 21st Century, and surely I am not alone. Even the studio's most vehement critics cannot deny its profound effect on the entertainment industry. Toy Story (their first full-length feature) served as an important milestone for 3D-animation's growth into a storytelling medium, and each subsequent film has showcased the studio's skill in telling old stories in new ways. So, it seemed appropriate that I include their, "Robot Story" on this list. I saw this film during its first week in theaters (a tradition I've kept with every Pixar film since A Bug's Life) and I was amazed not only at how the film had turned a riveting story out of its simple premise (What if mankind had left Earth, and someone had forgotten to turn off the last robot?) but at how it pays homage to different genres of fiction/film - The plot has elements from Robinson Crusoe, the first hour of the movie is essentially a silent film and it features songs from a movie musical (Hello Dolly!). Top it off with a poignant blend of romance and slapstick, and you've got a masterpiece of cinema. Bravo!

Well, that's all I have to say for now. Stay tuned to this site for the remaining five films on this list.

~Totoro (Executive Producer)

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