Thursday, June 3, 2010

"I like subtitles. Sometimes I wish all movies had subtitles." ~ Gena Rowlands

I don't know who Gena Rowlands is, but I agree. I have to watch Shakespeare with subtitles, as well as any movies where people have insane accents.

I realize some people really mind subtitled movies. I guess the reason I don’t is partly because I prefer reading to watching movies anyway, and subtitles sort of combine the two pastimes. But some people would rather have English dubbed over the original sounds because they don’t feel quite comfortable with the foreign dialogue (or they can’t read very well?). Some people don’t even like foreign movies. I was raised on a steady diet of Bruce Lee (who deserves a post here sometime), so I was always comfortable with foreign movies. They were dubbed admittedly at times, but I think that gave me a comfort that helped me, once I developed a Japan obsession in the 11th grade, to segue into watching subbed (subtitled) anime, drama, and movies.

I don’t watch much subtitled anything lately, because I’ve been too busy with school and Three of Swords, but I still love my favorites from before I was so busy…and I have a new favorite that I saw at the end of last semester in one of my favorite classes (History 10.W with Professor Meyer). So here’s four subtitled movies I personally adore in no particular order (there was going to be five but I got too tired--forgive me). Please comment with any opinions and please do feel free to share any subtitled recommendations! It’s summer and I have time to watch movies on YouTube—and hopefully in a few months we’ll be getting Netflix again.

NANA (2005) (directed by Kentaro Otani; starring Mika Nakashima, Aoi Miyazaki, Yuna Ito, Hiroki Narimiya, Ken’ichi Matsuyama, & Ryuhei Matsuda)
Japanese & random near-unintelligible or surprisingly good English 

NANA is based on the manga (Japanese comic book) by Ai Yazawa, but unlike most adaptations, it’s insane how much like the manga this movie is. The scenes, the costumes, the actors, the dialogue—they cut down about four or five of the books into 113 minutes, but it really is superb. You don’t need to have read it to see this—in fact, the movie is about seventy-five percent cleaner, so it’s definitely a safer bet you’ll enjoy it.

It’s basically about two 20-year-old Japanese girls who happen to both be named Nana (which means “seven” in Japanese—thus the ever-present 7-motif in the movie) and happen to both take the same train to Tokyo AND happen to end up looking at the same apartment and splitting the rent. But Nana Komatsu (Miyazaki) and Nana Osaki (Nakashima) couldn’t be more different on the surface—Nana K. is a bubbly girly-girl who is moving to Tokyo to hang out with her boyfriend Shoji and buy cute clothes, while Nana O. is a tough punk rocker who is moving to Tokyo to be a successful rock star. From there comes one of the best portrayals of female friendship ever, as their lives begin to blend together and they become each other’s strongest supporter. It kind of makes you want to be like, “Who needs guys when I got my girlfriends?!”

But NANA is rich in the romance department and may actually leave you curling up in a ball asking why you don’t have those moments in your life. (Hey, I'm honest.) The scenes with the guys are excellent also, and they’ve got great (good-looking IMHO) male characters. Nana O.’s band is just awesome, with two of my favorite Japanese actors—Hiroki Narimiya (“Kagen no Tsuki”, with Hyde [teehee] and Chiaki Kuriyama [Kill Bill; Battle Royale]) and Ken’ichi Matsuyama (L from the “Death Note” movie) stealing the scene at times. Love them. The flashbacks are a great way of showing what happened previously, and oh those flashbacks have some of my favorite movie moments ever. So romantic. I died.
This sent my 16-year-old self into conniptions. "Oh, I wanna put a locked necklace on a guy's neck and keep the key!~" The almost possessive passion of Nana O. & Ren's relationship still gets me every time.

It’s not rated, but I’d give it a PG-13 for mild language, sensuality, and some sexual references (depending on the translation of the subtitles and your IQ, that may not even come through). The music is just amazing, with a fun and cute soundtrack that also can rip your heart out with emotion, and the amount of rock star characters mean they actually DO rock out and perform frequently, so you’ve got some great rock music by Japanese superstars Mika Nakashima (Nana O.) and Yuna Ito (Reira). It ends satisfyingly, with a simple resolution—but there is a sequel, which I never finished, that I hear is not so good. The manga is a real downer later on…but the movie remains cheery. And it is my favorite movie right alongside Braveheart and Boondock Saints, so I recommend it very highly.

El Laberinto del Fauno (2006) (Pan’s Labyrinth) (directed by Guillermo del Toro; starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, & Sergi Lopez i Ayats)

I wasn’t sure at first if I even wanted to see this, but I loved this movie. It’s not for everyone because it is a painful watch, but it is powerfully and masterfully done. It’s serious as hell, and there were parts I covered my eyes, but I recommend it. I see people online comparing it to Narnia and I sort of get that. Similar idea. But Pan’s Labyrinth is harsh and while it does have some beautiful moments, those are compounded with ugly moments—sort of like real life, I guess.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale about a little princess who escaped to earth, and her parents from the Underground Realm wish she she would find her way back. But more prominently what is shown is the story of a little girl named Ofelia in post-Civil War Spain (1944 to be exact), who loves books and stories, and goes with her pregnant mother to live with Captain Vidal (Lopez), her new stepfather. Vidal is easily one of the most evil movie characters I’ve ever seen and he proves that in one of the only scenes of violence I’ve ever covered my eyes at, where he kills a rebel with a bottle. Gah. It’s intense. Cover your eyes. So while Vidal is cruel and insane, and only obsessed with having a son, Ofelia manages to dream and explore, meeting a strange faun who tells her she is the lost princess and must complete three tasks to prove that—then he will bring her home to her real father.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but the visuals are just incredible and the acting is like whoa. Ofelia is one of my favorite movie characters, and my heart just ached for her—when it wasn’t up in my throat during the scary scenes. Because these scenes are scary. Try deciding which is scarier though, creatures like the Pale Man, or real evil men who are monsters, like Vidal. Yikes. It’s rated R for violence and mild language, so be warned. Have your hands ready to cover those eyes. Have the tissues ready to mop up the tears. Inform everyone about the volume level of your scream. Don’t come and tell me I didn’t warn you about all this.
You will never forget this scene. Even if you want to. Google the Pale Man now.

Battle Royale (2000) (directed by Kinji Fukasaku; starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Chiaki Kuriyama, Kou Shibasaki, Masanobu Ando, & Takeshi Kitano)

Battle Royale was actually based on the book of the same name by Koushun Takami, and while it doesn’t accurately cover everything in the book, it is still incredibly compelling and gets the same message across. The character development doesn’t have as much opportunity to be as rich as it is in the novel, but the main characters are all well-developed and believable. I loved this movie so much, and haven’t seen it in three years—though I’ve read the novel two or three times since. The Japanese government flipped over this film, and the Japanese rating system did their best to keep teenagers from seeing it. The U.S. still hasn’t quite released it properly here. So if you’re a teenager, be a rebel and watch it, at least just because lots of people don’t want you to.

“At the dawn of the millennium, the [Japanese] nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act—AKA: The BR Act...” The BR act is the Battle Royale act, which serves dual purposes, one being to diminish the amount of youths (who are potentially dangerous), the second being to remind everyone of the government’s power. One class of ninth-graders are selected each year to be isolated on a government-controlled location, where they are given weapons and told to kill each other until only one is left. If more than one is left after three days, they will all be killed by the explosive collars on their necks. These explosive collars also serve to keep them moving around the area—because at certain times, certain locations are closed off and anyone on them will have their collar triggered. The movie focuses on Shuya (Fujiwara), whose best friend Nobu is killed for refusing to play the game. Shuya goes into the game resolving to not play by the rules and commits himself to protecting the girl Nobu always liked—Noriko (Maeda). Initially, Shuya believes no one would actually play—but he’s wrong, of course, and as it turns out, some of his classmates are selfish idiots, clever and ruthless killers, and certifiable psychopaths. A bloodbath ensues, and Shuya and Noriko find themselves banding with Shogo, an experienced fighter with a secret (secret: he's awesome. It's not a very secret secret.).
Shuya, Noriko, and Shogo. Shuya has a girly scream that is really sad compared to Shogo's awesomeness and bandanna.

The conflicts are so multi-layered. What will people do in the most dire of situations? Will best friends kill each other in a machine-gun melee the moment they feel suspicious? Will the chubby geek be the first to start the massacre? What will the quiet kids do? Will the lovers commit suicide rather than hurt each other? Will the computer geeks save the day? (<3 Maybe a little.) People compare this film to Lord of the Flies, which I’ve never read. But from what I understand about Lord of the Flies, the message is something about us all being vicious and horrible at our core. Battle Royale’s message is that we are all something at our core. Vicious maybe. Killers, possibly. But will we kill the guy who swings an axe at our best friend? Or will we swing an axe at our best friend? Sometimes whatever’s deep inside is beautiful goodness and bravery. Sometimes it isn’t. Let’s not pretend we’d all do the same thing in a Battle Royale.

Rated R, if it is was rated by the MPAA which it isn’t. Buckets of violence, some language, some innuendo. Watch for Chiaki Kuriyama, Gogo from Kill Bill: Volume I—she is amazing as Takako Chigusa, the track runner. Seeing BR sent Quentin Tarantino into a frenzy to have Kuriyama and Kou Shibasaki (who plays the gorgeous and dangerous Mitsuko) in his movie. He only got Kuriyama, and she sort of stole the scene in Kill Bill, IMHO. Oh and Death Note fans--Tatsuya Fujiwara who plays Shuya, was Light/Raito in the Death Note movie. Return to topic: The last scene of BR was so right and so good. I could analyze the complexities of this movie forever, but this isn’t a BR post.

La Grande Illusion (1937) (directed by Jean Renoir; starring Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio, Erich von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay, & Dita Parlo)
French, German, & a smattering of surprisingly good English

This is an old historical movie about WWI with an amazing history in itself. The first foreign movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, it was also considered “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1” by the Nazis, who banned it. Mussolini banned it too, and the film actually was seized when the Germans took Paris! Even once WWII was over, the original film was hidden away in Berlin, and wasn’t found until the 1960s, then wasn’t restored and re-realeased till the 1990s! If that doesn’t convince you this is a must-see, I’ve got more artillery (LOLOLOL this is a war movie so must make war jokes LOLOLOL). It’s an anti-war message, about people and class division and it pretty much sticks its tongue out at anti-Semitism by having an awesome Jewish character and saying flat-out just the sorts of things Nazis hate hearing.

Aristocratic and mustachioed Captain de Boeldieu (Fresney) and working-class, swoon-worthy blond Lieutenant Marechal (Gabin) are two French aviators who end up getting their plane shot down by the Germans in WWI. They are sent to a POW camp, where they are treated pretty well, except that they are prisoners with curfews and the threat of being shot if they misbehave. The soldiers they end up rooming with have a plan however, and they all throw themselves into the secret work of digging an escape tunnel every night—though by day they are model prisoners and do fun stuff like participating in musicals and drinking together. Unfortunately, they are re-located before they can escape, but that doesn’t deter them. After many failed escape attempts and re-locations, they finally are sent to a camp under Count von Rauffenstein (Stroheim), which is a serious camp that doesn’t take any crap and is willing to kill. But von Rauffenstein knows Boeldieu and is like “let’s be bffs” (which doesn’t work so well in the jailer-prisoner situation) because they are both aristocrats and are so alike. Boeldieu is torn between this weird friendship and his friendship with his comrades, who are his fellow Frenchmen but are not of his class. What’s more important—class or nationality? Or just human kindness? Gah. It gets soo good, I can’t even describe it.

This movie had the most amazing bromances ever. Seriously. Okay, Holmes & Watson, Frodo & Sam; David & Jonathan—guys, you are awesome. But Boeldieu & Marechal? Marechal & Rosenthal the not-so-popular Jew (Dalio)? It just gets unbelievably good. There is cross-dressing. There is banter. There is an epic romance (not to be confused with the bromance). There is anti-Semitism looming like the Smoke Monster in the background, and being deflated by the awesomeness that is Marechal & Rosenthal’s bromance. There is Boeldieu’s adorable smirk and raised eyebrows and arrogance. There is Marechal being ticklish and uber-manly. There is Rosenthal’s sighs and sarcasm and general brilliance. There is von Rauffenstein’s awesome collar. Also, FDR said, “Everyone who believes in democracy should see this.” Let’s just take out the part that says “believes in democracy.” Everyone should see this. Now.

Clockwise from the top left: Rosenthal, two guys I mixed up constantly but called Tall Guy and Funny Hat in my head, Boeldieu, Cartier, & Marechal. THE BROMANCE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL I CAN'T EVEN.

I was going to have Spirited Away here too, and I'm horrible for not putting it, but I'm too tired. Watch Spirited Away--it's made by Hayao Miyazaki (Nausicaa, Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbot Totoro, etc.) and it is possibly the best children's movie ever YOU KNOW WHAT sometime I'll do a children's movie post and include it. In the meantime, you now have so many movies to watch. You don't have time for Spirited Away. You're going to squeal over Nana & Ren, scream over the Pale Man, shudder over Battle Royale, and get all worried that your favorite character in Grande Illusion will die (He might.). But try not to cover your eyes--you should see the movie! Unless you have eyes like the Pale Man. Then by all means,  put those hands up. Yowzah.


  1. All movie, tv shows, basically anything that I watch, I watch with subs. It always pisses my friends off, but the Diehl household needs them. It's mostly so we can talk over the show and still know what everyone is saying...
    And as far as foreign films go, I do NOT believe in dubbing! I mean, half of the beauty of acting is in the voice; emotion is in the voice. Reading some subtitles is not going to kill me.

  2. Ahh! I've only seen one of these--Pan's Labyrinth, which torn me up so much that I cried for hours. It is brutal, yet beautiful. I don't remember watching it with subtitles, though. Hmm.

    I now need to see the other movies, especially Nana and La Grande Illusion.

  3. I love NANA!!! <333

    Pan's Labyrinth creeped me out, lol. >.<

  4. I've seen Nana before, but not Pan's Labyrinth! I'd really like to see it sometime....maybe. That picture of "The Pale Man" really freaked me out. And I know I would probably bawl my eyes out. lol