The Infinite Zenith

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Misaki no Mayoiga: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –Gandalf, Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

An elderly lady named Kiwa takes Yui and Hiyori to her home, located on the edge of a cliff facing the ocean. Both Hiyori and Yui were affected by the Tōhoku Earthquake, hence Kiwa’s offer to take both in. Upon arrival, Kiwa tasks the pair with cleaning up the place and making it more inviting, while she sets about preparing dinner. Yui is impressed with dinner but has her doubts about Kiwa, who shares with the pair a story about Mayoiga, a palatial home that appears to those in need, and how they’re currently living in a Mayoiga. The next morning, Yui asks for a glass of water with ice in it and is shocked the home is able to fulfil her request. She recalls a past fight with her father and grows uneasy, running out into the forest. Hiyori manages to convince Yui to stick around; Yui consents to accompany Kiwa and Hiyori on a shopping trip. The next day, Kiwa brings kappa as guests; it turns out that an ancient entity appears to have escaped. Meanwhile, Yui gives Hiyori a notepad so she can communicate with her classmates, and sets off for town, where she ends up taking up a job with the local convenience store. At school, Hiyori befriends some of her classmates and agrees the join the Fox Dance in the local festival, but becomes traumatised upon hearing the drumbeat. Yui later reassures her and learns of Hiyori’s background: Kiwa explains that Hiyori is mute from the trauma of having lost her parents in a car accident, and was subsequently devastated by the earthquake. Hearing this prompts Yui to keep a closer eye on Hiyori, especially since unusual snakes have been spotted in the area. Kiwa fills in some of the details for Hiyori and Yui. Long ago, a serpent named Agame had come to the area and drove the residents off by projecting horrific visions on those who met its gaze, but a hero took up an enchanted blade and cut Agame down. As Agame’s power grows, Yui herself spots her father in the area and panics. Meanwhile, more supernatural beings meet with Kiwa, promising to provide assistance when the time is right. Kiwa ends up taking Yui and Hiyori to a larger Mayoiga and met with a contingent of deities who are here to answer the threat of Agame. Kiwa sets off to fight Agame on her own, locking Yui and Hiyori in the Mayoiga, but Yui manages to convince Mayoiga to let her render whatever assistance she can. Although she faces down another vision of her father en route, Hiyori overcomes her mutism and shouts out to Yui, who forces away the vision. The pair join Kiwa on the beach, where she’s already duelling Agame, and while Hiyori plays the flute to distract the serpent, Yui uses a conjured arrow to strike down Agame for all time. In the aftermath, Yui promises to be Hiyori’s older sister, and Kiwa mentions that no one recalls the previous day’s events, allowing them to continue living out their days in peace while Yui works out what she’d like for her future.

In the aftermath of the Tōhoku Earthquake, hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced, and even in the present, the earthquake’s impacts are still felt. Misaki no Mayoiga (The House of the Lost on the Cape) speaks to the feelings of despair and uncertainty these people would have experienced; through Yui and Hiyori’s perspectives, the film voices something that everyone affected by the earthquake and tsunami would have likely asked themselves: “why me?”, “what did I do to deserve this?”. Hiyori lost her parents in an accident, and after she moved to live with other relatives, the earthquake struck. Yui ran away from an abusive home, and found herself in the Tōhoku region when the earthquake occurred. Misfortune has come to deeply impact their lives, but in response to the question they pose of the skies, the answer is “nothing”. Hardship and adversity can affect all individuals with equal probability, and while it can prove immensely challenging to extricate oneself and better their situation, Misaki no Mayoiga also suggests that community bonds and family provides the support one needs to begin taking those first steps forward. Hiyori, who’d become mute from the trauma following her parents’ deaths, finds it in her to speak again after forming a bond with Yui. Yui similarly overcomes her fears of her father and is able to find strength to protect Hiyori. All of this comes as a result of Yui and Hiyori spending time with Kiwa, a kindly, if mysterious, elderly lady with a profound knowledge of the local folklore and mythology. While Yui is initially mistrustful of Kiwa, seeing Kiwa’s generosity and patience, as well as a nascent connection with Hiyori leads her to slowly open up to the community, too. Similarly, Hiyori begins to integrate with the community; she’s a little quicker to trust Kiwa and accept things. The interplay between the central characters, when scaled up, shows how faith, trust and mutual respect for one another provides those critical first steps towards recovery. Much as how Hiyori and Yui both find a renewed reason to appreciate life and community thanks to Kiwa and their shared time together, Misaki no Mayoiga suggests that following the Tōhoku Earthquake, recovery efforts and the courage to move onwards stems from people’s shared wills to live, and a mutual desire to help one another out in a collective effort to get everyone back on their feet.

Misaki no Mayoiga introduces one additional element to accelerate Yui and Hiyori’s recovery through Mayoiga, mythological homes that provide for those in need. As Kiwa states, if one takes care of their home, their home will take care of them. Here in Misaki no Mayoiga, the home that Kiwa brings Hiyori and Yui to provides them with a dependable place to retreat to, and regroup. In Kiwa’s story, a woman finds the Mayoiga and, while intrigued by the luxary it provides, chooses to leave without taking anything. In return, the Mayoiga rewards her honesty. In Yui and Hiyori’s case, the Mayoiga provides them with a place to live and supports them in its own way. While a house that can provide meals on its own is something that remains relegated to the realm of fiction, homes do care for and support their inhabitants; in addition to keep out the elements, it also acts as a reliable, steadfast place one can return to at the end of the day. Having a home is what provides familiar comfort for Yui and Hiyori during the more turbulent moments of Misaki no Mayoiga, and when the family visit a larger, more stately Mayoiga later, Yui and Hiyori both agree that despite the large one’s grandeur, their smaller home feels more comforting. In this way, the sea serpent, Agame, becomes a metaphor for the uncertainty and fear resulting from not having a home to return to: in driving people out of its domain, Agame breeds enmity and discord by depriving people of their right to shelter. This aspect of Misaki no Mayoiga is addressed when Yui, Hiyori and Kiwa work together with the other deities to destroy Agame once and for all; the titanic clash becomes a visceral show of how important people’s homes are to them ― these are things that are worth standing up and fighting for. In the aftermath of this conflict, both Yui and Hiyori are grateful to have somewhere to return to at the end of each day. Kiwa promises that for as long as Yui needs to rediscover her own path, she is welcome to call Mayoiga home, and having this reassurance means that Yui is, at the film’s end, left in a position where she can move forward from the problems that had previously impacted her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I vividly remember the day the Tōhoku Earthquake occurred: I was reading about it right before my organic chemistry lecture began. Even though the news footage was showing the scope and scale of the destruction, I instinctively felt that the footage itself wouldn’t capture the tragedy. When Fukushima Daiichi began undergoing a meltdown and forced the creation of an exclusion zone, the threat of a nuclear disaster suddenly overtook the consequences of the earthquake and tsunami. It did feel as though other affected areas were suddenly forgotten.

  • As such, to see films like Misaki no Mayoiga being produced shows a respectful acknowledgement of those who were impacted by the disaster. Films that show the resilience of the human spirit is a reminder that, as devastating as things were in 2011, people have still found a way to recover. If memory serves, Misaki no Mayoiga was released last August in Japanese theatres, and the home release became available half a year later, in February of this year. I’d been looking forwards to watching this, but by February, it was all hands on deck as I geared up for a move of my own.

  • Yui and Hiyori are Misaki no Mayoiga‘s protagonists. In the beginning, viewers have almost no context as to what’s happening in the movie: Yui and Hiyori, for all intents and purposes, are accompanying someone who appears to their grandmother to her rural home on a remote cliff. Misaki no Mayoiga slowly rolls back its curtain to expose more of the story to viewers over time, and in using this approach, the film holds the viewer’s attention. Out of the gates, Yui reminds me of Her Blue Sky‘s Akane Aioi in manner and appearance. Both are sullen teenagers who appear reluctant to participate in what’s happening around them.

  • However, the similarities end here. Akane had opened up after learning of her older sister’s lingering feelings for Shinno, whereas here in Misaki no Mayoiga, Yui comes from a difficult background; her mother had left the family, and her father held her responsible. From what happened, I would hazard a guess that Yui’s father was abusive towards both herself and her mother, which left Yui with a deep-seated mistrust of others and an unwillingness to open up to those around her. Joining Kiwa and Hiyori to a quite house on the cape would be the starting point for a new chapter of her life.

  • Misaki no Mayoiga renders 迷い家 as マヨイガ, likely a deliberate way to indicate that in this case, Mayoiga is a proper noun referring to the mythical houses that provided for their occupants. Generally speaking, 迷い家 are well-kept and often, formerly-opulent homes that were abandoned in rural areas. In reality, abandoned houses aren’t always safe to inhabit or even explore: an unmaintained building exposed to the elements may not be structurally sound, and possess both pathogens, mould and pest infestations. In Jordy Meow’s Abandoned Japan, however, the abandoned homes Meow visits possess a melancholy about them, and when personal belongings are left behind, one cannot help but wonder what the inhabitant’s stories were.

  • Hiyori and Yui both feel uncomfortable in the beginning with their new surroundings, although Hiyori seems a little more receptive towards things. Upon entering the old house, the place immediately exudes a sense of warmth despite clearly having not been inhabited for some time. By the time the lights come on, it becomes clear that, save for a layer of dust covering things, the place is still in excellent condition, and moreover, the place is already furnished, possessing both couches, tables and chairs of a contemporary design, as well as a modern kitchen.

  • In a flashback, it turns out that Yui had been alone at one of the evacuation shelters, and met Hiyori while out and about. Hiyori had been trying to dislodge a branch that had fallen on the Komainu. She brings Hiyori back to the shelter and became enraged when another man knocks down Hiyori. Before things escalate, Kiwa shows up and covers for the two, saying that they’re her grandchildren. Although such a happenstance may come across as a bit suspect, and caution is a suitable response, for Misaki no Mayoiga, accepting the kindness of strangers is merely a part of the story.

  • It is instinctive to give a new home a good cleaning before moving in proper: from a hygienic point of view, this eliminates any dust and other things that may have accumulated while the building was vacant. After possession date, we made it a point to clean the place out, giving every square inch a thorough scrubbing and vacuuming. Of course, there are some Chinese traditions associated with moving in, and among these traditions, I’m familiar with carrying in a bag of rice over the threshold, opening all of the windows and putting on a kettle right away.

  • Having now moved in for almost a half year, I dust the place daily, vacuum and clean the bathrooms weekly, and mop the floors bi-weekly. The improved ventilation means it’s significantly less dusty than the old place, but a good amount of dust still accumulates. Back in Misaki no Mayogi, Yui’s reaction to a proper home-cooked meal hints at her own background: while surprised by Kiwa’s cooking, she finds dinner to be most enjoyable despite originally wondering why Kiwa was using what she’d considered to be weeds in her cooking. The Salisbury Steak turns her around, and as she sits down to eat, she finds everything delicious.

  • Normalcy is precisely how people can weather extraordinary circumstances, and Les Stroud has, in Survivorman, mentioned how important it is to keep doing what one can in their usual manner. For instance, when out in survival, being able to drink hot water can be enough to remind one of their humanity. Similarly, cooking the food he finds gives a sense of comfort. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Hiyori and Yui have not likely sat down to a proper meal for some time, so the opportunity to do so with Kiwa represents a welcome return of something familiar.

  • After dinner, Kiwa tells the tale of Mayoiga, and a farming lady who had stumbled upon an incredibly ornate home. Despite how opulent everything was, the lady simply decided to return home, and the Mayoiga would end up giving her an enchanted rice bowl that would keep her family well-fed for the remainder of their days. The moral of this story is that integrity will be rewarded, but the story also sets the groundwork for the mysteries surrounding Yui and Hiyori’s new home. The stories are animated in a completely different style than the main narrative in Misaki no Mayoiga and resemble a picture book brought to life.

  • The next morning, Yui wakes up and, when greeting Kiwa, remarks that ordinary water would be fine. A glass of water immediately appears, and out of curiosity, Yui comments that some ice would be nice. She hears the clink of ice, and Kiwa returns; she explains the house is doing this for Yui’s sake. This causes Yui to flash back to a fight she had with her father, and a fear overtakes her. While Misaki no Mayoiga doesn’t choose to go intro further details, one can immediately infer that aside from what was shown on screen, Yui’s father had been abusive and unkind to the point where Yui felt compelled to run away from home.

  • Fearing the same might happen here at Mayoiga, Yui runs off, but she eventually comes around thanks to Hiyori’s kindness. Although it is the case that Hiyori and Yui hadn’t met prior to the earthquake, the pair immediately develop a bond of sorts, and Hiyori’s actions show that she does care about Yui. After Yui gathers herself, she consents to go shopping with Kiwa and Hiyori: while Mayoiga is capable of answering things like water and patching itself up, there are some luxuries that even a mythical house cannot provide for its inhabitants.

  • In showing that the Mayoiga can only provide some things, Misaki no Mayoiga‘s interpretation of things is that that even small gestures matter. In exchange for being looked after and being lived in, the house gives Kiwa, Yui and Hiyori a few conveniences to show its appreciation of their presence. However, in limiting what it can do, Misaki no Mayoiga shows that for people, it ultimately is through their own initiative and resolve that their desires can be attained. The house is merely an aid in the process, but an important piece, giving people a place to regroup and rest up for their endeavours.

  • The shopping trip represents a chance for Hiyori and Yui to enjoy normalcy: they pick up clothing, household appliances and even swing by a bookstore. The day’s excursions would be counted as unremarkable under most circumstances, but both Yui and Hiyori have been through quite a bit, so going out to the local mall becomes a treat. While such a thought would seem quite difficult, the global health crisis and its impact on our everyday lives is nontrivial: at its height, shopping centres, theatres, restaurants and event venues emptied out as the pandemic ravaged the world.

  • As such, when I began returning to the mall and eating out again, things did feel a little unusual for the first little while and was worth writing about: I still vividly remember the first time I went back to a shopping mall before picking up burgers from A & W for our afternoon meal a year ago. While it was nice to begin returning to doing the things I’d been long accustomed to, the global health crisis was also a reminder for me to be more appreciative of the things I’d come to take for granted, too. Misaki no Mayoiga is conveying the same: going to the mall might feel ordinary, but under extraordinary circumstances, it’s a luxury people may not always have.

  • At the bookstore, Yui had also picked up a notebook for Hiyori: while Hiyori has become mute from her past experiences, she’s actively trying to speak and, even without words, she’s very expressive. A notebook allows Hiyori to communicate with everyone else, and en route to school, Hiyori befriends another classmate. That Yui had thought far enough ahead to get Hiyori a notebook shows how, despite her sullen appearance, she’s actually kind and compassionate. Kiwa had spotted this immediately in Yui, and while this isn’t initially apparent, gestures like these show that Kiwa’s observations are correct. Over time, Kiwa becomes a repository of wisdom and knowledge, someone viewers can trust to guide Yui and Hiyori as they navigate difficult times in their lives.

  • Meanwhile, Yui ends up picking up a moped and a part-time job at the local convenience store. While she’d dropped out of secondary school, the locals here are quite understanding, and in a fortuitous turn of events, it turns out Yui’s paperwork is accounted for, allowing her and Hiyori to both remain with Kiwa. Yui is reluctant to accept the moped and the job, but spotting that the townspeople are being genuinely thoughtful, she accepts things. This notion of community, and of the collective good, is something that Misaki no Mayoiga excels in conveying: here, collective good isn’t about sacrificing individual rights for the sake of others, but simply, being there for people in need.

  • One aspect of Misaki no Mayoiga I liked was watching Hiyori’s efforts to become a part of the community. Her classmate, Makio, manages to convince her to check out the Fox Dance they’re set to perform at a local festival – by actively participating in a community tradition, Hiyori is doing her best to make the most of things, and this also shows a willingness to learn the local traditions and customs. One of the adults running the show asks if Hiyori would like to play the flute for them, but upon hearing the flute and drums, Hoyori is gripped with an overwhelming sense of grief and loneliness as she recalls her parents’ funerals.

  • Hiyori subsequently runs off: she’s unable to express herself to the others at this point, and can only return home to Mayoiga. The idea that certain stimuli can evoke very specific memories has been one that’s challenged neuroscientists for some time: it is thought that stimuli like sounds or smells, which fired specific neurological pathways when a memory was made, would also fire those same pathways when experienced at a later date. This is why when I returned to campus and walked the ICT buildings, the smells there immediately reminded me of my graduate thesis. I imagine that for Hiyori, the instruments used for the Fox Dance might’ve been played at her parents’ funeral, and the rhythms would’ve led her to recall the loss that day.

  • When Hiyori isn’t able to elaborate on things initially, she does mention the Fox Dance, and Kiwa fills in the gaps. She explains that in the areas, foxes are sacred because fox spirits helped the locals in fending off Agame, a monstrous sea serpent that fed off despair and sought to claim human territory for its own. Per Kiwa’s story, foxes gave an elderly man the dagger Makiri to defeat Agame with, and since then, the Fox Dance was performed to honour this deed. With Kiwa’s story, Hiyori is able to share her past, and one of the townspeople subsequently arrive with a stray cat. Kiwa is okay with taking the cat in and naming him Kofuku. The presence of a cat lifts Hiyori’s spirits considerably, and as Kiwa notes, it’s the small blessings that make a difference.

  • The next day, Hiyori invites Makio over for a picnic overlooking the cape. While imagery of the Tōhoku Earthquake usually portrays Sendai and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, located on the coastal plains, the earthquake and tsunami also affected the mountainous areas east of Ishinomaki. Misaki no Mayoiga is set in the Tōhoku area, but the specific area is not shown to viewers to reinforce the idea that this is a film about Tōhoku in general, rather than any specific area. On their picnic, Makio enjoys Kiwa’s cooking and mentions how lucky Hiyori is to live with such a fantastic cook. Kiwa later shares a story about the underwater grottoes that were disrupted by the tsunami.

  • On the morning their special guests arrive, Hiyori meets kappa for the first time. Traditionally portrayed as being antagonistic towards people, kappa are also fiercely loyal, and when afforded with the proper respect, are helpful and friendly. The kappa that show up at Mayoiga know Kiwa as an old friend, and because kappa tend to stick with people they respect for a lifetime, it stands to reason that long ago, Kiwa must’ve done something to help them out before. The kappa are more than happy to help Kiwa check out the damaged grottoes and confirm that something is amiss.

  • As thanks to their guests, Kiwa’s prepared a feast of sorts for the kappa, including their favourite vegetable, cucumber. It turns out that, as a cook, Yui is no slouch, either – while her father never appreciated her cooking, it’s the case that while Yui might not have a head for numbers, she does seem to be deft hand in the culinary arts. The kappa have a great time at dinner, and one of the kappa even begins to sing a song. In this moment, although the kappa might be deities, they feel very human. Hiyori has no problems with them, and demonstrating the traits of an older sister, Yui accepts them quite readily, too, saying that Hiyori’s happiness is her own.

  • While delivering some sake to the locals, Yui’s route takes her right by the place where Hiyori’s been practising for the Fox Dance. Having encouragement means that Hiyori’s been able to pick herself up, and she’s now participating with her whole heart. Hiyori is all smiles, and one of the men decide to ask Yui to join the Fox Dance, as well. Although Yui is reluctant to participate, Hiyori persuades her to join in. In this way, an entire afternoon passes joyfully. However, as the afternoon grows late, clouds roll into the area.

  • Some of the townsfolk discuss unusual occurrences that have been observed around the area: dogs have been barking at an unseen entity, and some people have had terrifying visions, similar to what Kiwa had described in her story about Agame. This is tied to the mysterious snake-like creature with glowing red eyes that shows up. Kofuku attempts to chase it, and Yui wakes up, wondering if it was a snake. Although this is forgotten, it’s an ominous sign of what’s to come in Misaki no Mayoiga. The tenour here reminds me of a conversation in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when Bree’s night watchman mentions that “there’s talk of strange folk abroad” to Frodo and his friends.

  • The townspeople suggest Yui and Hiyori head straight home, but in the wooded path leading back to Mayoiga, they come face to face with the snake-like beings. Before any harm can come to them, a pair of lion-dogs appear and drive them off. It is here that Kiwa explains the remainder of the story behind Agame, that Agame is responsible for creating feelings of unease and enmity, and Hiyori poses the question that motivates the page quote. There is no easy answer to this, but folks who’ve gone through a great deal and come out the other side often say that in the moment, they don’t care quite that they’re affected, but rather, care about finding the strength to reach the other side, to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and endure the moment in the hopes for a better tomorrow.

  • Kiwa reassures Hiyori that she’s not alone, that there’s also many others who wonder the same thing. Negativity in the community manifests as Agame, but the arrival of the Lion-Dogs and Jizo show that, while the spirits might be preparing to fend off calamity, the people living in the earthly realm have these unseen guardians looking over them. The next day, when Makio shares her concerns about how her best friend hasn’t once written since she’d moved, Hiyori takes some of the strength she’s learnt from Kiwa and does her best to reassure Makio, too.

  • When one of the snakes enters the shop Yui’s working in, it manifests as her worst fear, causing Yui to run out into the day and scream her lungs out in panic. Although viewers know it’s an illusion thanks to Kiwa’s story (and the unlikelihood of Yui’s father actually showing up in town), the moment speaks to how desperately Yui had wanted to escape her old life. Curiously, the music in Misaki no Mayoiga doesn’t really connect with the emotional tenour of some moments; when Yui panics, a gentle guitar piece is playing in the background. This disconnect means the scene won’t convey to viewers what Yui is feeling, and the impression I got from the moment was that it’s meant to show that the town is safe and peaceful, but the snakes that are appearing will disrupt this.

  • Yuri Miyauchi composes Misaki no  Mayoiga‘s incidental music, which has an aural tenour most similar to the soundtrack from Little Forest. Both Misaki no Mayoiga and Little Forest are set in the Tōhoku region of Japan and have an emphasis on a rural locale, and while the films are separated by their emphasis on the supernatural (Little Forest does not have any supernatural pieces to it at all), the similarities in the music indicate that the Tōhoku region is a peaceful setting. Taken together, I would imagine that the music in Misaki no Mayoiga is meant to show that the peaceful setting is enough to help Yui to regroup and return home.

  • On this evening, it is Yui who returns home disheartened and worried, and it is Hiyori’s turn to comfort her. Similarly to Hiyori, the fact that Yui has a home to return to is a vital part of getting her back on her feet. As families do, Hiyori and Yui support one another, and in an environment where there is no judgment, everyone is free to be open with how they feel about things. While this is a part of Mayoiga’s magic, in reality, having a home is a source of refuge from the troubles of the world. When Hiyori and Yui return to Mayoiga, Kiwa is always on hand to provide words of guidance and wisdom.

  • More so than the accommodations and food, this is probably what Yui was lacking most in her old life, so being able to love and be loved here at Mayoiga is a game-changer for Yui, allowing her to be her best self. Kiwa has an excursion planned out for them for the next day, but before this is shown, Misaki no Mayoiga cuts to scenes of the snakes consuming flowers around various townsfolk. The scenes are completely silent and lack any background music; although music is utilised to set a mood, the soundtrack in Misaki no Mayoiga has been peaceful so far, so the absence of music is equally effective in conveying unease.

  • It turns out that Kiwa’s excursion is to visit another, grander and older Mayoiga. The kappa are more than happy to help them move their boat along a narrow canyon, which is beautifully rendered and brings to mind the tributary leading out of Lothlórien into Anduin towards the end of The Fellowship of the Rings, and again when the Fellowship cross the Gate of Argonath into Nen Hithoel. The grandeur in Misaki no Mayoiga is plainly not to the same scale that is seen in Lord of the Rings, but there is a majesty about the landscapes that Yui, Hiyori and Kiwa pass through.

  • On the topic of Lord of the Rings, the page quote was selected from a remark Gandalf makes to Frodo: this bit of wisdom has become an iconic part of Lord of the Rings, and simply means that while one cannot choose their circumstances, they have the agency and power to make the decisions that’s best for them. Hiyori lost her parents, and Yui ran away from an abusive father. Both were affected by the earthquake, but in the present day, they are actively choosing to live their lives as best as they can by becoming part of their new community.

  • Stills like these are commonplace in Misaki no Mayoiga – the Japanese countryside is gorgeous, and I’ve long fantasised about spending a week living in the inaka. However, this isn’t to say the rural areas in my home province aren’t beautiful. During this past weekend, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, I went with family to a sunflower farm an hour north of town. My immediate impression was that this is an immensely peaceful place to be: while exploring the sunflower maze, I reached the edge and glanced westward. The plains beyond the fields reminded me of the Shire, and while the day had been extremely smoky, we were lucky to have sunlight by the time we arrived.

  • After a pleasant afternoon amongst the sunflowers and corn stalks, we turned around and made our way back home for dinner. Since it was the Mid-Autumn Festival, we celebrated with a 3-course Peking Duck special dinner (which comes with duck fried noodles and duck soup on top of the Peking Duck itself) with a beef and Chinese Broccoli stir-fry. The lateness of the evening meant that I ended up skipping the Moon Cake, and by that point, the smoke had returned, blocking out the moon. However, on Sunday, I was able to enjoy a slice of Moon Cake. While I’ve not previously been fond of the yolk, I’ve since come around and now enjoy Moon Cake fully.

  • The outing takes Kiwa, Yui and Hiyori to a torii leading up a hillside, and this path takes some time to climb: by the time everyone reaches their destination, the sun’s begun to set. As it turns out, Kiwa’s plan had been to temporarily relocate to a much older and grander Mayoiga ahead of the impending doom of their time. Along the way, Kiwa shares her story with Yui and Hiyori: as a child, Kiwa was fond of playing in the forests, and one day, she’d gotten lost. By sheer stroke of luck, she came upon a Mayoiga, and presumably, had become very familiar with the supernatural entities as a result.

  • Because of the scale of things, one can surmise this Mayoiga is likely the one in Kiwa’s story. The presence of multiple Mayoiga seem to suggest that these homes reveal themselves to those who need it, looking after those who find them. However, because stories like these always come with a tradeoff, I imagined that to encounter a Mayoiga also means accepting the service that is expected of those who find it. In reality, this is why I believe in honesty and integrity: folks who game a system so they can benefit at someone else’s expense will always be unpleasantly surprised when the consequences of their decisions catch up to them.

  • Both Hiyori and Yui are impressed with how ornate and luxurious everything is, but this Mayoiga lacks the same feeling of home that their original Mayoiga had. Unsurprisingly, a major part of a home is being a place where one can be true to themselves and retreat from the world. This is why when I travelled to an Airbnb in Canmore as a company retreat some years earlier, even though the place had been a resort condominium that was comfortably furnished, the place didn’t quite feel like home. When I completed my move half a year earlier, I had felt that the new place exuded a similar feeling, resembling an Airbnb rather than a home, but over time, that’s changed.

  • To Yui and Hiyori’s surprise, all manner of deities and spirits have gathered, promising to lend their powers in helping Kiwa to fend off the threat that Agame represents. Having already met the kappa, and listened to Kiwa’s stories, both Yui and Hiyori are accustomed to the existence of such beings. Kiwa thanks everyone for showing up, and following suit, Yui and Hiyori bow, as well. When they complete their bow, everyone’s already taken off, leaving Yui, Hiyori and Kiwa to enjoy dinner. I imagine that people with extensive background in Japanese mythology and folklore would be familiar with everyone assembled here, but I lack such a background. Consequently, I’m only familiar with a few, such as the yuki-onna, but everyone’s presence here suggests that contrary to our existing perception of these spirits, they’re actually benevolent.

  • Following dinner, Hiyori enjoys some fireworks with the Mayoiga’s Zashiki-warashi, a spirit that is said to bestow good fortune upon the homes they inhabit. Although this particular spirit is shy, she gets along fine with Hiyori. Yui and Kiwa share a conversation about Yui’s future – because her life had been so hectic, Yui hasn’t had a chance to really define her goals or aspirations. Kiwa’s completely okay with this and suggests that for Yui, she has time yet to figure something out. If I had to guess, Yui’s enjoyment of cooking would mean that she’d probably find a fulfilling career in a culinary arts programme.

  • Before turning in, Hiyori and Yui share a conversation about the Mayoiga. This one’s grander than theirs, and while there’s nothing wrong with it per se, the pair both agree that the smaller one they previously lived in felt more like a home. There is truth in this – while some people justify larger homes as having more space for storage and privacy, the realities are that larger homes come with more property tax and increased utility costs, on top of time needed to keep everything ship-shape. In 2017, Chris Foye published a paper to the Journal of Happiness Studies that found people actually up-size their homes not for practical reasons, but as a status symbol, so having a larger house didn’t correlate to increased happiness in the long term.

  • Home developers continue to insist that two thousand square foot single-family homes are sustainable even where there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that urban sprawl is unsustainable, whereas in reality, there is an upper bound for how much space people need to be at their happiest. Back in Misaki no Mayoiga, Kiwa receives an enchanted dagger from a pair of foxes. The inevitable reality becomes clear: Agame has become a sufficient threat such that intervention is now necessary, and Kiwa sets off to deal with Agame on her own.

  • The next morning, Yui and Hiyori are shocked to find that the Mayoiga has only laid out breakfast for two and swiftly realise that Kiwa’s gone to take on Agame on her own. They search the whole of the Mayoiga to find nothing and set off to find Kiwa, only to learn that the Mayoiga has sealed them in per Kiwa’s wishes. While Kiwa had done this to protect Yui and Hoyori, par the course for anime films, the story is always going to be written in such a way so that tensions are increased. Kiwa’s decision thus speaks firmly to the fact that she alone cannot handle Agame.

  • The Mayoiga relents and unlocks its front gates after Yui implores it to let them help Kiwa out, that this is what being a family means. Despite only spending a short amount of time together, Yui and Hiyori have come to view Kiwa as an indispensable part of their family, enough to take the initiative and act according to their own judgement. It is the case that the elders are often more protective of youth, whereas youth are always striving to prove their worth. In stories like Misaki no Mayoiga, the characters’ decisions and the corresponding outcomes tend towards showing adults should give youth a chance.

  • Giving Yui and Hiyori a chance to catch up to Kiwa means giving the producers a chance to showcase the town by morning: it’s a pleasant day with blue skies, and the morning calm shows how there’s still time for Yui and Hiyori. The visuals and animation in Misaki no Mayoiga are of a fine quality, and the film itself is produced by David Production, whose repertoire includes Planetarian, Strike Witches: Road to Berlin and Cells at Work. While varying greatly in style, and perhaps not quite as visually distinct as studios like P.A. Works and Kyoto Animation, David Production’s work is still solid.

  • Before we enter the film’s climax, I’ll go on a brief tangent and comment on the recent iPhone 14 Pro preorders, which opened last Friday at 0600 MDT. I placed my order shortly before my workday started, and Apple’s estimate now is that my order is likely to ship early October. While this delay is apparently newsworthy, as was Apple’s online store folding from the volume of orders, I’m not terribly worried; I’m in no rush for a new phone (the iPhone Xʀ I’m running is still in excellent shape). I will be giving my own impressions of the device once I receive mine – online technology sites suggest the device is overwhelmingly positive, and critics are suggesting the new features aren’t sufficiently innovative. I expect that the iPhone 14 Pro will be a serious upgrade over the Xʀ, and that my reaction will be somewhere between the news outlets and the critics’ opinions.

  • Back in Misaki no Mayoiga, Hiyori and Yui had correctly deduced that Kiwa had set off to take on Agame on her own, feeling it to be her responsibility to protect those around her. Contrasting the other scenes in the movie, the skies here are truly dark and grim, setting the stage for Misaki no Mayoiga‘s climax. Weather is an element that is utilised extensively in anime to convey a specific atmosphere or mood, and viewers with an eye for these details will quickly discern nuances in each moment: subtle differences in lighting and sky conditions can speak volumes to what a moment intends to convey.

  • Although the blade is imbibed with the power to cut down Agame, the engorged Agame has been bolstered by the negative energies surrounding the earthquake and tsunami survivors. Calling all of the smaller serpents in the area, it grows to a tremendous size, far greater than had been described in the tales and far exceeding what Kiwa can handle alone. For her efforts, Kiwa is unsuccessful, and the enchanted blade is shattered.

  • Yui and Hiyori are temporarily impeded when Yui’s father seemingly appears out of nowhere, intent on bringing her home. Defeated, Yui has no choice but to follow, and in this moment, recalling all of the memories they shared together, Hiyori regains use of her voice and calls out to Yui. Surprised that Hiyori’s come to care so deeply for her, Yui rejects her “father” and casts him aside, breaking the serpent’s illusion. Yui and Hiyori share a moment together; the two could not have grown to the extent they did without one another. Caring for one another has allowed Hiyori to speak again, and Yui manages to find enough strength to make peace with her past.

  • With Agame calling all serpents to it, a massive snake eye-like orb begins manifesting in the skies. The final act of Misaki no Mayoiga ventures into the realm of fantasy as the fight is finally taken to Agame, and here, I remark that anime films do have a tendency towards flooring the accelerator towards the end. Both A Whisker Away and Hello World had similar pacing, with the story beginning slowly, but steadily, only to wildly speed up towards the ending. This approach is not one that all viewers appreciate, as it conveys the sense that the film had miscalculated early on and must now accommodate for everything that was hitherto unresolved so that a resolution can be reached.

  • In Misaki no Mayoiga, the clash with Agame did seem surprising: Agame felt more like a metaphor for sadness and desolation, so giving it a physical presence and plunging the story into the realm of fantasy can seem jarring. At the same time, this route also means that Misaki no Mayoiga presents a very visceral portrayal of how people might overcome despair and melancholy. Alone, Kiwa had no chance of defeating this monstrosity, but having spotted that they’d become a family, Yui and Hiyori had reasoned that their best odds of besting Agame is also together.

  • The lion-dogs thus bring the pair to the seawall where Agame is manifesting, and the other supernatural entities that had shown up at the large Mayoiga have also arrived. Because of their cordial relationship with Kiwa, it stands to reason that similarly to the kappa, Kiwa must’ve also encountered them previously; preparations for this fight might’ve been a long time in the coming. While Agame hurls bolts of lightning in an attempt to set the nearby forests alight and keep the spirits busy, it is too distracted to notice two arrivals.

  • Drawing parallels with their roles in the Fox Dance, Hiyori begins playing the flute. The melodies diminish Agame’s power, and the skies begin clearing as a result. Kiwa’s original story had mentioned that Agame was weak against music, and as such, nothing that happens here in the climactic fight comes across as being contrived; no matter how small, all details that are mentioned are fair game when it comes to being utilised for helping to resolve a plot. Speaking to how much effort she’s put into practising, Hiyori’s flute skills are enough to tangible slow Agame down.

  • Meanwhile, Yui’s gained access to an enchanted bow. She’d reluctantly accepted the role of playing one of the dancers in the Fox Dance, and becomes well-suited for being the one to land the blow that will finish Agame off. Unlike the other sections of Misaki no Mayoiga, where there hadn’t been any incidental music during the tenser moments, the lead-up to the showdown against Agame has an intimidating choral piece. The final fight itself is set to the Fox Dance music, consisting of traditional flute and percussion mixed in with orchestral elements. This was deliberately selected to emphasise the scope and scale of the battle, and of the songs on the soundtrack, these ones stand out from the gentler slice-of-life pieces.

  • While the music may slow Agame down, it begins rising towards the vast orb in the skies. No explanation is directly provided as to what this orb is, but thanks to Kiwa’s stories and the emotional tenour surrounding the confrontation, it stands to reason that this orb would confer Agame with the power to spread discord and chaos to a much wider region that extends beyond Tōhoku. Before Agame can reach the orb, the skies suddenly clear out, and Yui readies an enchanted arrow, ready to shoot Agame in the eye and stripping it of its power.

  • Yui resolves to do what she can, signifying that she’s managed to let go of her past and live in the present. She subsequently fires an arrow that hits Agame squarely in the eye, and with its source of power gone, Agame explosively unravels. Agame resembles the Basilisk, a mythical reptile of European origin whose gaze was said to be lethal, and whose movements left a trail of deadly venom in its wake. Unlike Agame, and the Basilisk of Harry Potter, the original creature was no more than a foot long. Unlike the Basilisk, Agame’s gaze induces horrifying visions; Misaki no Mayoiga suggests the strange comings and goings were a result of Agame’s influence.

  • The next morning, Hiyori awakens to find Yui and Kiwa with her. Kiwa had caught Yui up to things and notes that the townspeople remember nothing. Hiyori has fully regained the use of her voice and implores that she be allowed to remain with Kiwa and Yui so that she can continue exploring the world of mythological beings. Kiwa finally reveals a bit more about her background: she too had lost her parents and wandered from place to place. In this moment, Yui realises that she and Kiwa are more similar than she’d thought, and expresses a desire to continue living at Mayoiga, which she now counts as a home.

  • Walking out into the garden, Kiwa points out a cherry tree sapling that has begun growing. The tree has put down its roots, and when it matures, it will provide Yui, Hiyori and Kiwa with sakura blossoms every spring. Putting down roots is not a small decision, and the presence of this tree shows that Yui, Hiyori and Kiwa are finally ready to settle down, having found a place to call home and the people to cherish life’s moments with. Overall, Misaki no Mayoiga was an enjoyable film, and while I’m out of my depth when it comes to Japanese mythology, the movie’s overall themes and progression were consistent and meaningful.

  • Coupled with good visuals and a wonderful soundtrack, Misaki no Mayoiga is a movie that has my recommendation: the movie earns an A grade (4.0 of 4.0, or 9 of 10) in my books. I am glad to have taken the time to watch this movie, and with this, my talk on Misaki no Mayoiga draws to a close. We’re now halfway through September, and this corresponds to the ending of the summer anime season. I’ve been following Luminous Witches and Kanojo Okarishimasu on a weekly basis, and will write about both once they wrap up. Lycoris Recoil and RWBY, I am planning to watch in once they conclude in full, and with the time I’ve got, I’ve been catching up on Spy × Family ahead of its second season, which is set to air come October.

Misaki no Mayoiga utilises both the mundane and the supernatural in order to convey its messages, resulting in a film that masterfully combines stunning portrayals of landscapes with vividly detailed renderings of supernatural beings that seamlessly blend together in a touching and meaningful story about recovery following the Tōhoku Earthquake. The topic remains a poignant one because, although more than a decade has elapsed since the earthquake, its impacts are still felt today. Works like Misaki no Mayoiga are an uplifting and encouraging tale for folks, reminding them that so long as they’ve got one another, they can rebuild their homes and communities, and so long as they’ve got their homes, they have a base from which to rebuild their lives and help others to do the same. While the supernatural elements in the film are quite bombastic and stand in stark contrast with the gentler slice-of-life aspects, they serve an important purpose in reminding viewers of how the past may yield some encouragement for people in the present day. Much as how Kiwa draws on mythology to provide Yui and Hiyori stories of strength, and how there is precedence for the problems they each face, Misaki no Mayoiga reminds viewers that lessons from the past remain relevant now. Being a tectonically active nation, earthquakes and volcanos have long impacted the nation, but its people have always been resilient, and will continue to find a way even during moments when it seems that all hope has faded. Overall, while the supernatural piece may come across as a bit jarring compared to the remainder of the aesthetic and tenour within the movie, it is there for a reason, and Misaki no Mayoiga ends up being a worthwhile film to watch; it speaks volumes to the idea of Japanese stoicism and resilience in the face of adversity is, in part, a consequence of community, and also gives viewers the sense that while the disaster may have impacted hundreds of thousands of people, even to this day, the spirit within Japan remains strong, and people have found their way in that time frame.

Ten Years After The Dark Knight Rises: Revisiting a Batman Masterpiece and The Last Weeks of Summer

I see a beautiful city. And a brilliant people, rising from this abyss. I see the lives, for which I lay down my life – peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

Eight years after Harvey Dent’s death, and the Batman’s vanishing, Bane kidnaps a nuclear physicist over Uzbekistan in preparations for his plans to finish Ra’s al Ghul’s work of destroying Gotham and avenging his death. Having been out of action for eight years, Bruce Wayne is unprepared for Bane’s arrival and is brutally beaten in a fistfight with Bane. Bane condemns Bruce to the same prison he was once held in, before setting in motion his plan to destroy Gotham using the fusion reactor Bruce Enterprises had been working on. Refusing to see his city die, Bruce trains relentlessly and eventually makes the jump, escaping the pit and returning to Gotham, where he forms an unlikely alliance with the cat burglar Selina Kyle, who ends up returning and killing Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. With help from Commissioner Jim Gordon, police officer Johnathan Blake and his longtime friend, Lucius Fox, Bruce manages to secure the weaponised reactor and uses the Bat to fly the core over the bay, where it detonates harmlessly. Batman is presumed dead in the aftermath, but Alfred spots Bruce and Selina while on vacation. Meanwhile, Blake resigns from the police force, receives a package from Bruce and discovers the Batcave. When The Dark Knight Rises premièred ten years earlier, it became the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight triology, which approached Batman and Bruce Wayne’s character with a then-novel position: Nolan strove to present a more realistic, human side to Batman and the duality that existed in Bruce. Although Nolan’s films are known for involving aspects of philosophy, such existential and ethical themes, into his works, he also has a talent for ensuring that his films are approachable. Here in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan uses Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as an allegory for messages of revolution and revival. Sydney Carton’s willingness to sacrifice himself at the guillotine is paralleled in Batman’s decision to fly the bomb out over the bay; Carton’s actions give hope that Paris will be restored, much as how restoring the Batman’s legacy through sacrifice gives Gotham new hope, especially after Dent’s accomplishments was revealed to be a sham. Similarly, in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens suggests that while revolution in and of itself is commendable, the violence surrounding it is deplorable; fighting fire with fire simply shows that the revolutionaries only perpetuate violence, and generally speaking, the mob’s actions are never justified. Nolan chooses to present this more directly: while Bane inspires a revolution in Gotham, the violence and spoils ultimately amount to nothing because Bane simply had planned to kill everyone anyways. Nolan thus adds to Dickens by suggesting that getting caught up in the pillaging and looting is counterproductive because the revolutionaries may use the mob to their own end, but otherwise never had any intentions of helping them.

While chock-full of references to A Tale of Two Cities, The Dark Knight Rises remains immensely accessible to viewers, even those who’ve never seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight: in previous films, Nolan’s villains are highly intelligent and calculating, preferring to match wits with Batman using wits rather than physical force. Ra’s al Ghul plays on patience to advance his plan, while the Joker’s chaos and machinations mean that conventional means have no impact on him. In this way, Batman had previously counted on being a superior martial artist and support from his allies to get him close enough to his foes in order to outsmart them and play on their weaknesses (e.g. Ra’s al Ghul’s incorrect belief in Batman’s compassion, and the Joker’s belief that people are monsters by default when the chips are down) to triumph. Bane represented a new kind of villian, being both clever and apt; while the most traditional of the villains seen in the Dark Knight trilogy, Bane’s plans and actions mean that he is remarkably easy to follow, and this in turn makes The Dark Knight Rises very straightforward: it’s a film that speaks to two central messages. The first of these messages is the idea that “evil rises where [one] buried it”. During a terse conversation between Jim and Batman following Jim’s hospitalisation after falling into the sewers and encountering Bane, Jim’s remarks reveal his guilt at having allowed himself to live with the lie that Harvey Dent had stayed uncorrupted to the end; this lie had allowed Gotham to nearly completely eliminate organised crime, but the lie also came with a price. However, things had been so dark in The Dark Knight that Jim was forced to take this route, a band-aid solution, and so, when Bane appears, he finds the perfect weapon to use against Gotham. There are numerous parallels with reality in that band-aid solutions never last long-term, and in some cases, may even cause more trouble than they solve. For instance, if an app is written such that a text label displays error codes that cuts off, a band-aid solution would be to truncate the string if it exceeds a certain length. However, this doesn’t address the underlying problem: the server might be returning bad data and could potentially suffer from an exception if this isn’t dealt with server-side. The Dark Knight Rises thus indicates that the consequences of trying to bury a problem won’t cut it: the truth always gets out, and the consequences can be devastating.

While evil can fester where it is buried, evil does not exist in a vacuum, and in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce finds the strength within himself to revive what he’d once lost. Speaking to themes of duality in A Tale of Two Cities, if evil can rise, so too can good. Trapped at the bottom of the pit, the other prisoners help Bruce to recall his old strength, and while Bruce believes that his body makes the jump, the elderly prisoner is right in that the mind drives the body. Bruce had largely acted without fear before, feeling that his aim was to overcome his fears by embracing it, but in time, he’d grown accustomed to embodying fear without understanding what it felt like. This is what Bane refers to when he remarks that “victory has defeated [Batman]”. Nolan had previously shown Bruce as striving to compartmentalise his fear and overcome it. However, operating in the absence of fear can be an impediment, as well. This is akin to stress management: in the absence of stress, one becomes complacent and lazy. Too much stress can immobilise an individual and render it impossible to act. In the middle, stress drives one to work harder and push past their doubts. Similarly, in the absence of fear, Batman fights with the expectation that his foes will fall, and so, when faced with an opponent like Bane, who is familiar with the League of Shadows’ methods, the same tricks fail, and Batman is defeated. When Bruce learns to rediscover fear again, he fights with a greater intensity, of knowing what the stakes are should he lose again. In this way, Batman and Bruce Wayne are both reborn after being thrown into the pit. Rediscovering fear acts as a form of resurrection, and the only way this was possible was because Batman and Bruce Wayne fell. Through The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan also suggests that one can improve, and be their best self, after being knocked down. This message had been alluded to in Batman Begins, but here in The Dark Knight Rises, it is explored fully. Between its accessible themes, deeper allegories and philosophical pieces, excellent choreography and a compelling soundtrack, The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Even though The Dark Knight Rises was my first Batman movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it acted as a fitting way of kicking off my post-MCAT summer a decade earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Dark Knight Rises opens with what has become the trilogy’s most-parodied moment: an unknown CIA agent takes custody of the masked man known as Bane, but in parodies, is ridiculed for his efforts to maintain control and keep cool. In the theatre, I had no idea of what to expect, but this scene was meant to establish that Bane is a sufficiently cunning foe that he can plan things out and maintain control of a situation flawlessly, as well as the fact that his henchmen are willing to sacrifice themselves for Bane’s cause.

  • Beyond establishing Bane’s character, the opening sequence also has Bane seize a Russian nuclear physicist, Leonid Pavel, foreshadowing Bane’s plans for the film. The use of nuclear weapons in film is an age-old plot device: their terrifying firepower and immense destructive potential have meant that fiction gravitates towards them because they immediately convey what’s at stake. In mere moments, Bane’s men takes control of the plane, kills off most of the soldiers on board and gives Bane the space he needs to secure Pavel.

  • For his role as Bane, Tom Hardy put on some 30 pounds of muscle, but what makes Hardy’s performance especially brilliant is the fact that as Bane, he’s wearing a special mask throughout the entire movie. Despite only acting with his body language, eyes and eyebrows, Hardy manages to convey emotion and intensity anyways. Unlike the Bane of the comics, this mask supplies Bane with a painkiller gas, and all of Bane’s physical feats in the film are otherwise under his own power, making him a plausible match for Batman, who, in Nolan’s trilogy, is similarly a highly experienced martial artist with prototype gear meant for the armed forces.

  • Without any of the over-the-top elements, such as Batman’s peak human conditioning, or Bane’s Venom (a sort of strength-enhancing substance), the Dark Knight trilogy is firmly grounded in reality, and Nolan uses this to explore the human side of each character that the previous films had not emphasised. Further to this, Nolan also chooses to shoot the Dark Knight trilogy in real world locations, rather than using a highly-stylised portrayal of Gotham: in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Chicago and Manhattan stand in, giving Gotham a much cleaner feeling compared to the rainy, grimy and gritty feel of the comic Gotham. 2022’s The Batman and Batman Begins are both more faithful to the originals in this regard.

  • After a congressman goes missing after Harvey Dent Day, Commissioner Jim Gordon heads off to search for him, while Bruce Wayne deals with the fact that they’d been robbed, and that his mother’s pearls have gone missing. The congressman is found, and Jim chases some of the culprits into the sewers, where he is knocked out and captured by some uncommonly well-equipped thugs. It is here that Jim runs into Bane for the first time, and viewers gain a modicum of insight into how extensive Bane’s plans must be.

  • While the internet’s parodies of the CIA plane scene abound, the YouTube channel and musical group, Auralnauts, took things one step further, using their incredibly sophisticated skill in sound engineering and video editing to create hilarious videos parodying virtually everything Bane does. In their Bane Outtakes video, they portray Bane as a heavy-savvy terrorist who’s more concerned with people’s dietary preferences and eating well, rather than blowing Gotham City to kingdom come. Seeing these parodies helped me to lighten up considerably.

  • It turns out that the fingerprints the cat burglar had lifted are used to help Bane and his men carry out a hit on the stock exchange, where they use Bruce’s fingerprints to purchase future options illegally, effectively rendering Bruce penniless. This segment of the film really got me into The Dark Knight Rises: besides the suspense conveyed throughout the entire sequence, watching Bane burst out of the stock exchange after commenting that the stock exchange is where people go to steal money from others proved to be an excellent juxtaposition that again emphasises how Bane has the brains to go with the brawn.

  • The resulting chase sequence marks Bruce’s first appearance as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, and while he’s been out of action for eight years, Batman still operates the Batpod expertly, using an EMP gun to stop one of Bane’s mercenaries before continuing on the chase. The entire way this vehicle pursuit was done is brilliant: use of the lighting from the sirens and city lights and Hans Zimmer’s crescendoing soundtrack acts to convey the intensity of things. However, this scene also acts as a stunning visual metaphor: in the dark, Batman’s weaknesses are concealed, and he’s able to take down the mercenaries and retrieve their tablet only because of a technological advantage.

  • Nolan is well known for how he uses symbolism in his films, but despite covering topics that can be highly complex and thought-provoking, Nolan does so in an approachable manner, presenting challenging questions and moral dilemmas in a way that people can readily understand. This is something I especially respect: as a university student, my supervisor constantly reiterated the importance of being able to communicate scientific concepts well, and in fact, his lab’s aims were to showcase swarm behaviours in a way that was visual.

  • My undergraduate thesis project was the task of taking the model of physical flow I’d built a year earlier and then scaling it up so that a mathematical model could be used to influence behaviours back at the agent level. In retrospect, I didn’t accomplish much with this project, since the mathematical model was doing almost all of the heavy lifting and simply fed parameters back into the agent-based model. At the undergraduate level, however, this project was deemed to be of a satisfactory difficulty, and I therefore spent the next six months building and tuning my model.

  • The thesis project was actually more about the research process, development of the project and presentation of the results, rather than the work itself, and looking back, this proved to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Batman asks to be taken to Bane for a confrontation. Having not trained for the past eight years, Batman’s lack of physicality is apparent. Upon encountering Bane for the first time, Batman launches into a frenzied attack, but his blows deal no appreciable damage. Bane then effortlessly kicks Batman over the railing.

  • It was actually quite terrifying to see Batman getting beat so easily: although I’d not seen the previous movies, the reputation surrounding Batman is legendary. I would later watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, when Batman was at his prime. His technique here lacks the same strength and precision, speaking to how out of shape he is. While perhaps at his peak, Batman may have traded with Bane, here, he is outmatched. For the viewer’s benefit, Bane even voices as such; nothing in Batman’s arsenal, whether it be his smoke grenades or martial arts, is doing anything of note.

  • The fight ends when Bane reveals a part of his plan, which entails stealing Bruce Enterprises’ hidden armoury, before he breaks Batman’s back on his knee in an iconic moment inspired from the comics. In the aftermath, Bane has Bruce delivered to a remote prison in an ancient part of the world, and Selina disappears, hoping to get out of country before Bane carries out his plans. However, the new cop, John Blake, happens to catch her after visiting Bruce Manor and finding no-one there: Alfred has already left at this point, and Bruce is nowhere to be found. The worst that Alfred had feared has come to pass; Alfred (Michael Caine) has a much smaller role in this movie, but his moments on screen are especially poignant.

  • Although Blake is seen as a liability because he’s meticulous and dedicated, Jim quickly promotes him to a detective and has him look into the unusual comings and goings around Gotham. With a sharp mind, Blake quickly works out that the construction companies around town have been pouring concrete laced with explosives, and moreover, since the disappearance of the entire Wayne Enterprises board, Gotham’s police force have decided to go underground in an attempt to flush out the mercenaries under the guise of a training exercise.

  • Unfortunately for Blake and Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley, Blake’s discovery comes way too late: during a football game, Bane sets off the explosive charges that trap the entire police force underground and isolates Gotham from the rest of the world. Without any cops, or National Guard to intervene, Bane’s plan is now able to go ahead unimpeded, and Bane himself reveals himself from the darkness. Much of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight take place at night, where darkness conceals things and make things look more intimidating than they are.

  • Still recovering from his sojourn in Gotham’s sewers, Jim continues to recover and can only watch as Bane takes control of the situation. Throughout The Dark Knight Rises, Jim is presented as being at war during peacetime, and his fellow police officers comment on how, since the events of The Dark Knight, Jim’s wife and children have left him. As a sort of coping measure, Jim immersed himself in his work and puts in strenuous hours even as other cops take it easy in the knowledge that Gotham’s organised crime engine is all but dismantled. When Bane reveals himself, his mercenaries head to the hospital to take out Jim, but Jim hasn’t lost his edge.

  • Bane and some of his mercenaries take to the football pitch and announce their plan to put the detonator of a now-primed nuclear device in the hand of, in Bane’s words, an “ordinary citizen”. He kills Pavel in full sight after the latter had converted Bruce’s fusion reactor into a neutron bomb with a ten kilometre blast radius. Although Nolan commits to realism, there are some oversights here in The Dark Knight Rises: fusion reactors are safe by definition because a fusion reaction requires very specific conditions in order to proceed, and if these conditions are removed, the reaction would fizzle out and stop. However, a fusion reaction does yield a large neutron burst, and when the right casing is picked, free neutrons from the reaction escape. Such a device should have a very low blast yield, below ten kilotons: Dr. Pavel suggests it is a four megaton device, but a blast of this size would have a fireball exceeding the irradiated area. While the weapon itself doesn’t work in concept, it prompts the existing story to a satisfactory extent.

  • Coming out into the open by day thus reminds viewers that Bane is unlike any foe that Batman has previously faced. Bane’s speeches and promises felt outlandish and ludicrous back in 2012, but it is ironic that some of the colour revolutions out there have people flocking to the cause and its leaders in the same way that Bane’s accrued a group of fanatical followers. The irony lies in the fact that Bane cares very little for those who support his cause: the very fact is that Bane doesn’t actually just hand the detonator to anyone. As Bruce quickly figures out, Bane’s likely got the detonator, and that his speech was purely metaphoric. Here, Bane announces the truth behind Harvey Dent and frees Blackgate’s prisoners, creating total chaos on Gotham as the underprivileged classes begin looting, and wealthier members of society are hunted down, beaten and killed.

  • Seeing the chaos unfold gives Bruce the motivation he needs to try and escape the pit. In his spare time, he trains to overcome his injuries and old limitations: Bane had knocked a vertebra from his spine, but one of the prison doctors replaces it, and over time, with his old discipline and will, Bruce recovers quickly. If memory serves, a half year passes, giving Bruce time to rebuild his strength. While he becomes physically strong enough to make the attempt, initially, he fails. One of the prisoners states that in order to succeed, Bruce must not mask his fear, but use it as a source of motivation.

  • I’d long seen fear as something to be overcome, set aside and compartmentalised. However, Nolan boldly shows, in The Dark Knight Rises, that fear is a powerful motivator. In order to save Gotham, Bruce must make the jump, and failing would permanently stop him from doing so. The realisation that failure is final is what gives Bruce the psychological boost he needs, to push himself further and harder than ever before. In the years after, I came to see this for myself: under the threat of failure and defeat, I found myself producing work of a standard higher than I could before.

  • The prisoners chant deshi basara, which composer Hans Zimmer has indicated to mean “rise up”. Folks fluent in Arabic state that it’s actually as تيجي بسرعة (Tījī basara’ah), which translates literally as “come quickly”. The scene with Bruce’s final jump, without the rope, was the most inspiring of the moment in the whole of The Dark Knight Rises, and when he succeeds, the music crescendos to a triumphant flourish as the prisoners cheer wildly, having witness what would’ve been a miracle. This is the turning point for Bruce Wayne: he’s found his will again, and as Ra’s al Ghul had stated, the will is everything.

  • As a gesture of compassion, Bruce throws a heavy rope into the pit, inviting the prisoners to free themselves, before making his way back to Gotham. Looking around the production notes, this particular part of the film was filmed in Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. However, the interior of the prison itself was constructed on a sound stage. With Bruce’s resolve back in full now, and the occupation of Gotham under way, the stage is set for the inevitable rematch between Batman and Bane.

  • In the six months or so that have passed, Gotham’s residents have kept their heads down while Bane’s mercenaries and Blackgate’s thugs roam the streets unchallenged. Although ordinary folks live in constant fear, and the presence of the neutron bomb prevents the remainder of America from intervening, common citizens appear to have gotten off easy, while society’s top echelon, the so-called one percent, have been harshly punished. Cillian Murphy makes a cameo here, reprising his role as Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), and here, he acts as the judge to a kangaroo court, clearing enjoying sending out the wealthy to their deaths.

  • While Bane and his mercenaries have more or less taken complete control of Gotham, they’ve not explored every nook and cranny. This is to Bruce and Fox’s advantage: after arriving home, the pair locate the old underground saferoom where Bruce had kept spares of his Batsuit, along with other equipment that he’d previously used. When Bruce Manor had burned down in Batman Begins, while it was undergoing reconstruction, Bruce built a second saferoom to store his gear. By the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce shuts the room down.

  • The Batsuit in the Dark Knight trilogy is one of my favourite portrayals of the Batsuit in general: Fox had previously outfitted Bruce with a heavily customised Nomex suit which provided protection from blunt tools and lighter bullets but restricted his mobility. By The Dark Knight, Bruce approaches Fox with a new design, consisting of hardened kevlar plates on a titanium-dipped fiber. This suit provided a significant improvement to mobility at a cost to defense, and could not withstand gunshots from even pistol calibres at close range. In Batman v. Superman, the Batsuit Ben Affleck’s Batman wears is heavily armoured, to the point where it could even repel a pistol to the cowl at contact distance. The vulnerabilities in Nolan’s Batsuit is another sign of this trilogy’s commitment to realism, and that as Batman, Bruce Wayne must find other ways to win.

  • Since Batman had left the Bat high on the rooftops of Gotham, Bane’s mercenaries never found it, and this vehicle, a curiosity at the film’s beginning, becomes instrumental in saving Gotham. There is a sense of reassurance in knowing the Bat had been allowed to stay here all this time – as far reaching as Bane’s impact is, even he has his limitations, and subtle cues reinforce this. Here, Lower Manhattan’s financial district can be seen: the shot is north-facing, and the One World Trade Center is seen under construction.

  • Bane personally kills a special forces leader sent in to Gotham to help, and out of options, Blake decides to try and help out. Bane’s mercenaries promptly stop him. Meanwhile, Jim’s also been captured, and after a brief show trial, Crane decides to exile him. However, on the cold river ice, the Batman makes a return; after the guards are taken out, he invites Jim to light a flare that ignites a fire on the bridge tower, making the shape of the Bat-logo.

  • Bane is shocked to see this, and in this moment, the assured calm he’s held begins vanishing. Knowing the Batman will likely go for Miranda Tate, he orders his men to keep her close. Bruce had fallen for Miranda earlier on, and in the novelisation, meeting her marks the first time he’d not thought about Rachel Dawes in eight years. A major part of Bruce’s depression here in The Dark Knight Rises comes from his guilt at failing to save her and the belief that she was the person he wanted to be with in the future. The letter she’d written for Bruce would’ve been to signify that she no longer would wait for him, and this would’ve presumably led Bruce to continue being the Batman. Alfred burns the letter to spare Bruce of the pain.

  • I’m very familiar with what Bruce had been feeling: after the friend I’d wished to ask out began seeing another fellow, I felt a combination of disappointment, dejection and anger – this individual had supported me throughout my MCAT and my undergraduate thesis project, and I became convinced I might’ve had a shot. However, I channeled this frustration into a different direction, and also forced myself to re-evaluate my own values, which impacted how I approach things today. I’ve heard faint rumours that said individual, who became an expatriate in Japan, isn’t doing so well at present. Although this friend and I no longer communicate on a regular basis, if we were to chat again, I’d do my best to help her talk through things.

  • I note here that while this friend has a sizeable social media presence, support from strangers on Twitter or Twitch end up being empty words – there is no substitute for a heart-to-heart conversation from family or friends. While I wish I could do more, I’ve moved on, and it feels unwise for me to re-enter her life unexpectedly. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Jim, Batman also ends up beating down the mercenaries about to shoot Bane. Once the last of the mercenaries are cleaned up, Batman offers a suggestion to Blake – this moment was especially touching, since Batman had not, until now, ever considered the idea of someone else taking on his role. During The Dark Knight, Batman had adamantly rejected any help, but now, he imparts advice for Blake, to operate in a way to protect those around him.

  • Once the cops are freed, Batman passes a special EMP jammer to Jim, who’s tasked with putting it on the truck carrying the nuclear bomb. While Jim and a small group of allies work to locate the truck, the other cops will march on Bane’s base of operations, and they will be joined by Batman. Foley had been trying to keep his head down throughout the crisis, but spurred on my Jim’s words, and the Batman’s return, he ends up donning his dress blues and leads the cops downtown to assault Bane’s headquarters.

  • Every person seen in this scene is an extra, and in a behind-the-scenes commentary, Nolan describes how this scene was controlled chaos. Off-camera, all of the extras playing both the cops and Bane’s mercenaries are shown as sharing friendly banter – I always love the special features that accompany a movie, as it serves to show how much effort went into making things.

  • Although she’d been reluctant to help, after Bruce returns to Gotham, she agrees to take the Batpod and clear a path. Despite being relatively new to the highly-customised motorcycle, Selina wields it well, and quickly blasts a hole in the barrier. However, something compels her to go back into the heart of the fight, showing that Bruce was right about her. I’ll admit that as Selina Kyle, Anne Hathaway appears to have a natural affinity for the Batpod in a way that even the Batman didn’t: it does feel as though this vehicle was designed for her style.

  • When Batman appears for his second showdown with Bane, it marks the first time viewers see Batman in broad daylight. By no longer hiding in the shadows and operating by night, Nolan emphasises the idea that Batman and Bruce Wayne are reborn to the extent where he is no longer bound by his old limitations. In this fight, Batman fights Bane in a much more measured fashion, striking at the mask and using blocks rather than attempting to absorb Bane’s blows, before creating openings and landing hits of his own.

  • Although Bane starts the fight confident and calm, as Batman deals more damage to his mask, the painkillers no longer are delivered to Bane, and pain begins creeping in. Bane abandons his more refined fighting style for something more animalistic. Eventually, Batman is able to overcome Bane and kicks him into the hall of a building, demanding that Bane reveal the location of the trigger in one of The Dark Knight Rises‘ most hilarious moments. While this aspect of Batman is virtually unheard of, it’s probably Nolan’s way of reminding viewers that here, Bruce isn’t the old Batman, and he’s basically fighting Bane as himself, albeit kitted out in a specialised suit of armour.

  • While the fighting is going down, Blake gathers the children from the orphanage and asks them to help spread the word to evacuate in the event that the Batman cannot succeed in stopping the bomb. The Dark Knight Rises‘ climax is gripping, and I found myself rivetted to the screen on the day that I’d watched this film, precisely a decade earlier. At this point in time, my summer had really begun: I’d finished the MCAT for two days, and after taking the previous day easy by sleeping in (I don’t actually recall what else I did that day), the next day, I went to the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises and stopped by the bookstore to pick up some new books.

  • I had about twenty days of summer left to me after the MCAT ended, and I resolved to make the most of this time. I ended up using most of that time to spearhead an effort to get a paper published to the provincial undergraduate journal, and in my spare time, I began conceptualising what my undergraduate thesis project looked like. This allowed me to occupy the remainder of my summer in a productive manner: I subsequently lost the inclination to game, as I’d lost all of my cosmetics in MicroVolts and began attributing the game with my pre-MCAT jitters.

  • Besides getting the journal publication done and rapidly catching up with my peers on laying down the groundwork for my undergraduate thesis project, I had enough time left over to build the MG 00 Gundam Seven Swords/G, and also spent a weekend with the family out in Cranbrook a province over. After visiting the Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass, the first day ended in Cranbrook, where we enjoyed a steak dinner. The second day saw us drive up the Banff–Windermere Highway, stopping in Invermere for lunch before passing through Radium for home.

  • Thus, even though I “only” had twenty days of summer vacation left to me, I entered my undergraduate thesis year fully rejuvenated and refreshed. This year proved to be my strongest: after the MCAT, I developed a much more relaxed attitude about challenges, and this newfound confidence allowed me to approach exams with a sense of purpose rather than worry. It is striking as to how much time has passed since then, and in that time, The Dark Knight Rises has aged very gracefully. I ended up making a habit of watching the film every New Year’s Eve, with a glass of champagne in hand, ever since rewatching the film during the New Year’s Eve leading to 2013.

  • Although Batman defeats Bane, Miranda Tate betrays him and reveals herself as Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s. Shocked, Batman is unable to respond, but he is saved at the last second when Selina appears and blasts Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. The pair subsequently work together in an attempt to stop Talia, with Batman taking to the skies in the Bat. Meanwhile, Blake’s now reached the bridge, and he implores the guards there to open the bridge and let them across, since the nuclear device is about to go off. This moment proved to showcase some of the finest acting in a film chock-full of excellent acting.

  • The cop is so utterly gripped with fear that this is tangible in his voice and body language. In a moment of panic, he orders the bridge blown, stranding Blake and the convoy behind him. Although Gotham’s citizens and Bruce’s allies have maintained a dignified composure about them, the fear that this cop conveys must’ve reflected on the sort of fear and concern Gotham’s citizens must’ve surely felt. With this bridge down, everything now falls on Batman and Selina’s efforts to secure and stop the reactor; the original plan had been to force Talia’s convoy back to the reactor coupling in an attempt to stablise it.

  • The scene of the cop setting off the charges and blowing the bridge shows that this was filmed at the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge facing north on the East River: Roosevelt Island can be seen below. However, the location has been digitally modified: Randall’s Island cannot be seen, and Astoria appears to be cut off, although the Ravenswood Generating Station and its distinct chimneys can still be seen. The Dark Knight Rises presents Manhattan as Gotham, and it did feel curious that The Avengers, which I’d watched with friends a few months earlier, was also set in New York. The dramatically different stakes and contexts illustrate the gaps between the MCU and Dark Knight trilogy, and I remember being about as lost in The Avengers as I was in The Dark Knight Rises.

  • That is to say, I wasn’t terribly lost with either films despite having only a minimal background in both; while there’s some prerequisite information one must be familiar with in order to appreciate all of the events and references, I found both movies were well-written enough so that even someone coming in new could enjoy things. In both cases, I would be compelled to watch all of the previous movies in full. For the Dark Knight trilogy, I ended up doing this in December 2012, after I’d finished all of my finals, while for the MCU, I ended up doing a full-scale watch-through after Thor: Ragnarok came out.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that this year’s summer is rapidly dwindling: this week, I began noticing that I now need my alarm clock to wake up again, since the sun no longer illuminates my room before 0600. Having now settled in, I’ve capitalised on the time I’ve got to make use of some of my vacation days, and earlier this week, I decided to take my parents out to Cochrane, a tranquil small town located half an hour northwest of the city. Here, we explored the Cochrane Ranche park under gorgeous skies. I’ve not been back since 2017, when the Kantai Collection movie became available, and because it’d been a Monday, we more or less had the entire park to ourselves.

  • Because I’d already gone out for fried chicken pancakes, and then a Swiss Mushroom grill burger with poutine over the weekend, and because my parents were longing for a full breakfast, we ended up swinging by the A&W on the quieter west side of town. I ended up enjoying an Bacon Cheddar Uncle Burger, a heartier burger that was delicious as always. The afternoon was spent visiting Glenbow Ranch, a stunning provincial park of rolling hills and grasslands overlooking the Bow River. From this park, an eagle-eyed visitor can even spot the city center: with more or less perfect weather, we walked along the pathway until reaching Vista Pointe, whereupon we turned back. This wound up being the perfect day to wrap up my own long weekend, and I returned to work refreshed.

  • Looking back at the summer thus far, I’ve begun making some progress on some of the things I had wished to do post-move, especially with regard to getting to know the community better. Besides swinging by the bookstore on quiet weekends and enjoying sushi from the place across the way, I’ve also gotten to know a handful of the people in the area better, too. This has made lifting weights in the mornings more spirited. I’ve also capitalised on the hot summer weather to try working out of the local Starbucks with a Mango-Dragonfruit beverage: it represents a livelier environment than the quiet of my home office, and it hits me that this wouldn’t be a bad way to work if I’ve got days where my assignments are less intense. I ended up helping another patron with connecting to the free Starbucks WiFi.

  • In making use of the Bat, the final effort to stop Talia’s convoy sees Batman use the Bat’s full arsenal to try and stop the extremely heavily-armoured truck. The upgraded Tumblers give the Bat some trouble, but fortunately, Selina’s on station to blow them away, and in the end, Batman manages to destroy a Tumbler by flying some of its own guided missiles back to the sender. With the Tumblers gone, Batman trains the Bat’s rockets on the truck, and while the truck is able to resist these lower-caliber rockets, the resulting explosions create enough of a visual obstruction such that Talia crashes into the underground freeway.

  • Talia dies shortly after, and Batman decides that, with time running out (as well as the fact that Talia activated the reactor’s emergency flood protocol), there’s only one way to get rid of a bomb. He hooks the reactor to the Bat and flies off with it, but not before revealing to Jim indirectly that he’s Bruce Wayne. The revelation is a shocker, but it also gives Jim a sense of closure regarding what had happened years earlier, and everything that had transpired since. In a way, becoming the Batman and helping Jim fight the mob became Bruce’s way of expressing thanks.

  • The scene of Batman flying the reactor core out over the bay reminds me of a much more comical and light-hearted moment in Adam West’s 1966 Batman, during which Batman has a similar struggle of disposing of an active bomb and removing it from a populated area. However, with Nolan’s interpretation, things become considerably more grim and heroic: the weight of the reactor alters the Bat’s handling characteristics, forcing Batman to use the remaining missiles to blast a hole in the buildings in front of him to gain more breathing space.

  • Before taking off, Batman explains that the Bat has no auto-pilot, which led to a bit of ambiguity in this scene surrounding whether or not Batman makes it out okay. I’ve heard that some eagle-eyed viewers would’ve noticed that shadows flicker around the Batman moments before the bomb explodes, but flying over an open ocean, there shouldn’t be any shadows (presumably cast by the buildings). On this reasoning, some viewers felt that The Dark Knight Rises did an excellent job of hinting at Bruce’s survival, and moreover, one shouldn’t need an auto-pilot to fly in a straight line.

  • With the nuclear device dealt with, and the cops gaining the upper hand over the remainder of Bane’s forces, The Dark Knight Rises draws to a close – I found the film’s message about violent revolution to be a well-written one, and in it, Nolan conveys the idea that the methods Bane utilises are deplorable and untenable. At the same time, The Dark Knight Rises also indicates that modern society is one that teeters on the brink of revolution, a consequence of widening inequality.

  • Although there isn’t a Batman equivalent in the real world, Nolan reiterates that anyone can be a hero – the reason why society hasn’t folded outright despite increasing inequality and unrest is because, at least for now, the number of people committed to doing good still exceeds the number of people who desire disorder. Here, I define “doing good” to be actions with tangible consequences: donating to the local food bank and giving blood qualifies as doing good, whereas retweeting activists or trying to get a political hashtag to trend on social media does not make the cut by a longshot.

  • While Bane’s mercenaries were originally so devoted they would be willing to die for him, after Bane’s death, the remainder of the mercenaries are shown as surrendering rather than fighting to the death. This could be seen as a sign that in the absence of a charismatic leader, people would not view their cause as being so important as to lay down their life for it. Seeing this in The Dark Knight Rises creates a sense of catharsis – viewers know that with the nuclear device no longer a threat, and Bane dead, Gotham now has a fresh start. The truth about Harvey Dent is out, but so is the reality that Batman has just saved a city of 12 million.

  • Seeing the injustices of the world, and how governments become shackles prompts Blake to throw his detective’s badge into the river. While order and systems ostensibly exist to protect the people, over time, systems can and do become corrupted. The absence of any order and system is similarly undesirable, and the fact that humanity operates best somewhere in the middle, a balance of individual freedom and social responsibility, is spoken to in The Dark Knight Rises – Nolan’s genius is that in his films, he never espouses one extreme as being better over the other. Instead, in implying that there is a happy medium that people thrive under, Nolan leaves viewers to decide for themselves what works best, only enforcing the idea that extremes are bad.

  • Once the climax passes, The Dark Knight Rises enters its dénouement. Bruce Wayne is believed to be dead, and his estate is settled. The Batman becomes recognised as a symbol of hope and heroics, and Gotham begins picking itself back up. The entire scene is set to Hans Zimmer’s iconic incidental music: Zimmer creates a soundscape that constantly creates a sort of suspense and anticipation for Nolan’s movies, and because the sound is ever-present, silence becomes even more noticeable.

  • When one of Fox’s technicians tell him that the autopilot to the Bat had been fixed, he’s surprised – I imagine that Bruce was using some sort of version control, like Git, and since these repositories are reasonably secure (Git, for instance, accepts SSH keys as a means of authenticating a user prior to a commit), this was the biggest sign that Bruce is alive and well. In 2012, I was an undergraduate student, and my lab used SVN. The principals behind both are different when it comes to management, although from a user standpoint, there are similarities, and so, I transitioned over to Git from SVN without too much difficulty after entering industry.

  • At the end of The Dark Knight, Jim had smashed the Bat-Signal as a symbol of his reluctant disavowal of the Dark Knight for his “crimes”, but here, seeing the repaired Bat-Signal reminds him that even though Bruce Wayne is gone as the Batman, what the Batman stands for will now endure.

  • For me, the best part of The Dark Knight Rises was seeing Alfred enjoying his drink in Florence, and then spotting Bruce with Selina. He’d long expressed a wish for Bruce to move past Batman and live his life out. Years after my own experience with unrequited love, I’ve come to relate with the events of The Dark Knight Rises, and throughout the film, Alfred and Lucius Fox’s remarks about the women in Bruce’s life parallel remarks I’ve been given. The Dark Knight Rises suggests that Bruce was held back by the belief Rachel would wait for him, but it ultimately takes a rebirth of sorts for him to see what there had been out there, beyond the cowl and memories from eight years earlier.

  • The optimism The Dark Knight Rises demonstrates here made the film’s ending decidedly positive, a fitting and decisive conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy and shows how the combination of time and experience allows one to open back up – even it takes a great deal of time, the important thing is to allow this healing process to take place at once’s own pace. The sum of the messages in The Dark Knight Rises makes for an exceptional movie, and although the film might be ten years old, it has aged remarkably well, just like K-On! The Movie. The themes are still relevant, the action sequences hold up very well, and the execution makes the story timeless.

  • Because of the film’s ability to speak to so many topics so effectively, and because the film easily withstands the test of time, I count The Dark Knight Rises to be a masterpiece of a movie. I’m not alone in this stance, and I’d hazard a guess that the reason why so many enjoy The Dark Knight Rises is because Nolan is able to hit so many points in a way that works for different people; in fact, I’d expect readers to tell me that they’ll have enjoyed this movie for completely different reasons, and drew completely different conclusions than I did. This speaks to strength of the writing in this film, which ends with Blake taking up the mantle of the Dark Knight, and with both this film and my reflections at a close, it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a bit and finally begin looking at submissions for Jon’s Creative Showcase.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fantastic film, raising the bar for what a superhero film could convey well beyond providing thrilling action sequences: The Dark Knight Rises is thought-provoking, inspiring and emotional. In fact, after finishing The Dark Knight Rises, I later would watch Iron Man 3 and wonder why Aldrich Killian’s motivations felt so shallow compared to those of Bane – in fact, it did feel as though villains of other films suddenly became superficial, and for a time, I found myself with a decreased enjoyment for Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This subsequently dissipated after I watched Captain America: Civil War; the MCU’s films are fine, and speak to a different set of ideas than do Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The experience I had resulting from The Dark Knight Rises is a phase that some consumers of fiction go through: after watching something especially well-done, expectations are raised, and going into another film with a different director can often alter one’s enjoyment of things. Unlike the Dark Knight trilogy, the MCU is a long-running series whose greatest strength lies in how well-connected the stories are, and the masterful use of humour. It is therefore unsurprising that the aesthetic, tenour and end messages differ so dramatically, and failing to appreciate this is why the me of a decade earlier initially was more reluctant to watch MCU films. Fortunately, an open mind allowed me to turn around, and in the years subsequent, I would come to greatly enjoy the MCU for what it succeeded in presenting. However, not everyone follows this path: for instance, shortly after K-On! The Movie became available to international audiences, Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review was quick to dismiss K-On! The Movie as being “disingenuous” and “false advertising” for not delivering the same level of though-provoking content as his favourite work, Ergo Proxy. Such a mindset precludes one from broadening their perspectives; had I remained stuck on that path, I would’ve never been open to enjoying things like Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War and Endgame. However, I am ultimately glad to have seen The Dark Knight Rises because it represented a unique experience. My enjoyment of this movie led me to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and help me appreciate different interpretations of the Batman, whether it was Ben Affleck or Robert Pattinson’s portrayals (Pattinson proved a solid detective Batman, Affleck captures Batman’s physicality and resourcefulness, but for me, Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne hands down) – it goes without saying that an open mind allows one to have the most complete experience, and in taking such a method, also deepens one’s understanding and enjoyment of a work (or genre) by appreciating different interpretations and perspectives of things.

Summer Ghost: An Anime Movie Review and Reflection

“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.” –Alice Walker

During the summer, legends begin circulating about a ghost that is said to only appear to those who burn fireworks at an abandoned airfield. Curiosity surrounding these legends bring together Tomoya Sugisaki, Aoi Harukawa, and Ryō Kobayashi, who share an interest in seeing this ghost: Tomoya is academically brilliant but yearns to be an artist, while Aoi is bullied by classmates. Ryō suffers from a terminal illness and is forced to give up his passion, basketball. One evening, the three gather at the airfield’s runway and light some fireworks together, and although the summer ghost looks little more than a legend, she soon appears and reveals she can only be seen by those who are near death. They learn that her name is Ayane, and of everyone, Tomoya is the most affected by things, and he begins to visit her more often. Over time, Ayane reveals she died after she’d gotten into a disagreement with her mother, and after running out into a storm, was hit by a vehicle. While death might offer freedom from the world’s obligations, it is also an unimaginably lonely experience. The incident did not kill her, but in a panic, the driver shoved her body into a suitcase, buried said suitcase and left her for dead. Since then, Ayane’s spirit had been searching for her body so she could give her mother some closure. However, with summer rapidly ending, Tomoya’s mother insists that he spend more time on his studies to secure admissions at a top university, and Tomoya begins to wonder if death would offer him freedom from his mother’s expectations. Certain that helping Ayane find her body would also help him find an answer, he begins to accompany Ayane more often, even imploring Aoi and Ryō to help one evening. Ryō refuses, stating that Tomoya hasn’t an inkling of what he’s going through, but after Aoi comforts him, the pair decide to help Tomoya find Ayane’s body, which was buried in a landfill. With Ayane’s body found, they return her brooch to her mother and begin moving forwards with their own lives. Tomoya ends up being upfront with his mother about his interests in art, and Aoi becomes more confident in herself, telling the bullies off. Ryō, on the other hand, succumbs to his illness, but he is determined to see the spring one last time before he dies. A year later, Tomoya and Aoi meet at the same runway, where Ryō’s spirit tells them to live their best lives. This is Summer Ghost, a film that released back in November 2021 and whose home release became available in March this year; Summer Ghost is a ways removed from the shows I’m wont to writing about, but longtime readers will likely have spotted that summer is usually when I tend to write about films that deal in more abstract themes.

At the heart of Summer Ghost, lies the poignant question of what it means to live – at the film’s beginning, Tomoya, Aoi and Ryō are united by, in Ayane’s words, their closeness to death and a desire to understand it further. This is especially apparent with Tomoya, who’s fallen into a depression because of the disconnect between his dreams and his mother’s expectations for him. Feeling as though he is backed into a corner, Tomoya begins to wonder if death might be a means of gaining the freedom he yearns for. This drives his curiosity in the summer ghost, and while Tomoya himself believes that Ayane’s existence is one of unrestricted liberty, Ayane herself conveys that, despite whatever the afterlife may appear to be, it’s a lonely place. Ayane was untimely torn from the world of the living, and as such, never had the chance to experience romance or even travel. Conversely, she notes that, so long as Tomoya is alive, he will have a chance to turn things around in his life. This ultimately ends up being the main message in Summer Ghost: it’s a poignant reminder that while it may seem appropriate to take this way as a means of escape, the finality of death means one is permanently unable to affect any other decisions in their life. This is why Ayane is insistent on pushing Tomoya to live on and pursue his own goals, as opposed to helping her locate her body. Although Tomoya is not explicitly suicidal, one can spot that he’s feeling trapped, and in this moment, while he’s not seeking death per se, he’s certainly curious about it. Upon learning about Ayane’s story, however, his desire to help her overrides any wish to understand death. By treating Ayane’s spirit as he would anyone who’s flesh-and-blood, Tomoya begins to understand what standing firm for his own principles means; he feels strongly about becoming an artist, but previously lacks the courage to express his thoughts to his mother. Pursuing his heart and helping Ayane thus gives Tomoya a stronger sense of what being true to oneself means, and with his newfound friends’ help, Tomoya ends up locating Ayane’s body, allowing her spirit to move on, and giving her mother closure. As a result of these experiences, Tomoya is able to be truthful to his mother, and pursues a career path in the visual arts. Similarly, these experiences also give Aoi a newfound resilience: she stands up to her bullies by the film’s conclusion. Although the outcomes in Summer Ghost could have been accomplished through alternate means (akin to how a journey to Antarctica helped each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki of A Place Further Than The Universe to gain perspective and regain their footing in life), the choice to explore melancholy and a fascination with death in Summer Ghost helps the series to show viewers the merit of living on and doing one’s utmost to make the most of the hand they are dealt, even in the face of adversity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Senkō hanabi (線香花火, literally “incense-stick fireworks”) are a traditional Japanese firework said to embody the idea of Mono no Aware, and fireworks here in Summer Ghost becomes a symbol for representing life as being a transient, but spirited existence akin to the fireworks itself – although short-lived, it is beautiful, varied and unique. Films like Summer Ghost are fun to write for because they challenge me to step outside my usual realm of discussions, and the outcome of writing about these films is that I get to appreciate their message a little more strongly than if I’d just watched the film.

  • Summer Ghost begins a year after the events of the film proper, with Ryō, Tomoya and Aoi assembling to enjoy fireworks as they had a year previously. In life, I’ve always found a sort of tranquility in returning to do something in the future, at a time when things are perhaps not as hectic as they had been when I had first partaken in something. Although I’m drawn to doing things in this way, a bit of introspection finds the reason why is because this allows me to see the same experience, but on a different day and from a different perspective; this in turn creates a deeper connection to and appreciation of said experience.

  • A year earlier, three students, Aoi, Tomoya and Ryō meet up for the first time to pursue a local legend, which tells that the ghost of a young woman who had apparently committed suicide will appear if one were to light fireworks at an abandoned airfield by a summer’s evening. Admittedly, I had no a priori knowledge of what this film would entail, and entered with a clean slate. As such, when the idea of a local legend was presented, I had no idea if the film was going to introduce the supernatural and make this a reality, or if this would be a catalyst for something else.

  • This is the joy about watching something completely in the absence of all external information, even something as simple as a synopsis. By having no expectations, I would not be able to look for anything specific ahead of time, and therefore, would be made to actively pay attention to the film and pull in everything I see, deciding if in the moment, my thoughts have any merit. However, I never record my thoughts in a moment – without full knowledge of what happens next, any assumptions I make in a given instant could easily be dispelled in a subsequent scene.

  • Real-time reactions are perhaps most appropriate if one is streaming an experience live to viewers, but in a blog setting, it is difficult to convey this in my style. As such, I choose to talk about things only once I’ve finished something wholly. This makes all of my reviews spoiler-laden by definition, but I find it significantly easier to do things this way because it eliminates the speculation and allows me to connect things from a work’s beginnings to what is seen in the climax and falling action. There is, of course, not a single right way to do things – other bloggers have found ways of making reaction-type posts and spoiler-free discussions with great success.

  • Summer Ghost is characterised by an extremely simplistic set of character designs, and the backgrounds initially seem quite flat compared to anime with more detailed visuals. While Summer Ghost might not have the most impressive visuals, the film does make use of excellent lighting to convey its messages. The decision to go with this style becomes apparent as the film continues.

  • The disparate group’s efforts seem to have been in vain – despite following the rumours’ instructions closely, the summer ghost does not appear. The practise the three engage in here is known in North America as “legend tripping”, visiting a site with alleged phenomenon as a means of testing one’s courage. For the most part, such practises allow youth to bond with one another, although when taken too far, accidents may occur, and charges might be laid. In Summer Ghost, Tomoya, Aoi and Ryō may be busted for trespassing on the airfield’s runway, but because this film doesn’t deal with those elements, it becomes a non-issue.

  • After Tomoya lights one final senkō hanabi, the three suddenly see the ghost of legend. Unlike the onryō that J-Horror cinema have popularised, the ghost is a stricking, well-kempt young woman. Her presence surprises everyone, who are shocked to learn that there was truth to the rumours after all. When the ghost speaks, she indicates that many have visited the site and attempted to draw her out, but there is a caveat: only those who are close to death in some way will be able to see her.

  • The use of fireworks to make her visible is perhaps indicative of the fact that senkō hanabi are similar to the traditional incense that the Chinese burn to show respect to their ancestors: burning senkō hanabi might be seen as closing the distance between the worlds of the living and dead, and those who have come to make an offering might be granted a chance to have their questions heard. The revelation that Ayane only shows up to those who are “near” death is a chilling one, and it suggests that each of Tomoya, Aoi and Ryō’s lives are filled with their share of troubles.

  • The choice of using an abandoned airfield creates a sense of isolation in Summer Ghost: the location is secluded and removed from populated areas. This further accentuates the fact that Aoi, Ryō and Tomoya are quite alone as members of society; had they been in a better situation, they would not likely have been drawn in by this particular rumour and instead, spoken with either friends or family about things. However, I do appreciate that this is much easier said than done, and folks who are in a difficult place might not be willing to open up about things, especially if they feel like they are alone in their troubles.

  • This is why it’s so important to at least have one person, like a best friend, that can be counted upon: although I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never felt close to death as Tomoya or Aoi do, I have previously experienced mild depression, and it is being able to talk things out that helped me to overcome this. Back in Summer Ghost, Rina Kawaei voices Ayane: I’m not familiar with her previous roles in animated works, but she is known for being a former AKB48 member who was involved in an attack during a handshake event back in 2014. On the other hand, Miyuri Shimabukuro voices Aoi, and I know her best as Harukana Receive‘s Narumi Tōi.

  • My depression had originated from briefly losing my direction after I finished my undergraduate degree nine summers earlier. This coincided with the Great Flood of 2013, which left me unable to do a kokuhaku. The story itself is old hat for longtime readers, but even in those days, what got me motivated enough to get out of bed every morning was the fact that I loved the work I was doing for the lab I was with. That particular summer, I’d been working on a distributed simulation of the renal and cardiovascular systems, and I was able to lose myself in this work. In the long term, discovering that I found enjoyment in software and figuring out a more concrete path for myself would lead me out of this depression.

  • Tomoya ends up feeling drawn to Ayane and begins seeking out her spirit more to speak with her further. In response, she takes him of a trip around the world she now knows, surprising him with an ability to fly freely in this space. This ability gives Tomoya a glimpse of what death must be like, and he begins seeing it as a release from his own problems. However, Ayane rightly notes that her experiences in this realm is a pale imitation of what she’d be able to do otherwise, and that Tomoya should cherish life more wholly. This idea is not new, and countless authors, writers and creators have spoken to how there is much to live for.

  • The summer season is, coincidentally, the best time of year to really live life – long days and beautiful weather gives one limitless opportunity to explore, both the world and themselves. Activities such as hiking, drinking lemonade and eating watermelon are long associated with the summer, and in particular, being outside is a way to both journey outward and inward. As it turns out, being in nature helps one feel more connected with the land, and this is why people generally report being at peace when enjoying the great outdoors.

  • As the morning transitioned into the afternoon, we decided to turn back, stopping along a waterfall in the trail before returning to Canmore. Here, we stopped for lunch at Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. Here, we ordered their Fig-Bison-n’-Brie Pizza and “The Meats” (Italian Sausage, Valbella All Beef Pepperoni, Smoked Bacon) flatbreads; besides the fact that their wood-fired flatbreads are especially delicious, the staff were also remarkably attentive and friendly. This marks the first time we’d been to Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.: previously, Canmore was a poutine location, but the pandemic forced them to close. I’m glad to have broadened my experiences, and perhaps on a return visit, I’ll give their West Coast smoked salmon flatbread a go.

  • We subsequently walked the Spur Line trail and stopped by Gap Lake before making the drive home ahead of a Southern Fried Chicken dinner with family. Back in Summer Ghost, Ayane explains that despite Tomoya’s curiosity about her world, she’d actually longed to live a fulfilling and complete love, experiencing things like travelling and falling in love. Instead, one evening, she’d gotten into a disagreement with her mother and stormed off into the night. Because a typhoon had been raging, she didn’t see an oncoming car and was knocked unconscious. The unknown driver, in a panic, had thought Ayane dead, and stuffed her body into a suitcase, before burying it at an unknown location. Ayane’s spirit, then, results from her undying wish to locate the body and at least give her mother some closure.

  • The day concluded with a walk around the Spur Line Trail, and we stopped by Gap Lake before returning home, where a Southern Fried Chicken dinner with family awaited. Back in Summer Ghosti, upon hearing Ayane’s story, Tomoya feels compelled to help her and begins spending more time in this ghostly world, even shirking his real-world obligations to do so. This decision baffles Ayane, who’s surprised anyone from the world of the living would care so much and go to such lengths to help her. For Tomoya, however, helping Ayane represents the first bit of agency he’s had in life for quite some time, and as seen through his academic performance, Tomoya seems to be the sort of person who gives everything his all, so it is unsurprising that Tomoya would be so unyielding.

  • Tomoya’s determination to help Ayane is great enough for him to request Aoi and Ryō’s help; Ryō suffers from a terminal illness and hasn’t long to live, so his frustrations boil over, and he refuses to help out. Since he and Aoi barely know Tomoya, there isn’t a chance to properly explain everything – this creates that bit of tension towards the end, but in a film as short as Summer Ghost, things get resolved fairly quickly after Aoi goes after Ryō and manages to help him regroup. Both subsequently rush off to pick up some fireworks with the intent of helping Tomoya.

  • Ryō and Aoi’s timing couldn’t be better; Tomoya’s just depleted his fireworks stockpile, but now, with two more people in his corner, there is the possibility of exploring a larger area. Tomoya gratefully accepts their help and immediately returns to the spirit realm. While the search space seems overwhelming, Ayane herself recalls a handful of clues that end up being helpful to the three. The topic of living and dying, at least in fiction, universally presents life as the path people should take, and works present suicide as being the route people should veer away from. Life is indeed of immeasurable value, and the topic of suicide is one that is brought up whenever mental health is a topic.

  • I have found that increasing awareness of mental health has meant that suicide prevention and maintaining balance in life has led to improved conversations and countermeasures for at-risk individuals. However, there remain subsets of the online community that appear to believe that it is somehow acceptable to tell someone to shuffle off this mortal coil, and previously, tragedies have occurred because of online remarks of this nature. Experts have previously written about how anonymity brings out the worst in people, and members of certain online communities, in their insecurity and lack of fulfilment in life, take to the internet to perpetuate anti-social behaviours. As such, I feel that mental health and wellness services should also necessarily include training and information pertaining to managing problems that come from the internet.

  • The symboism in Summer Ghost isn’t exactly subtle, and this helps viewers to quickly grasp what a given moment or scene is supposed to convey. For Tomoya, even after he and his friends help Ayane to locate her body, there’s still a barrier that prevents them from spending more time together. For Tomoya, this remains the last conflict that he faces, and in the moment, his conscious thoughts are focused purely on finding Ayane’s body and finishing off his promise to her, even though once this is done, Ayane’s spirit will be at peace and vanish.

  • When Tomoya first flew with Ayane, he’d been surprised by her ability to fly, but having now spent so much time in the spirit world, Tomoya is completely at home with things. Ryō and Aoi are immediately at home with flight, and with their help, Ayane is able to work out where her body had been. With her information, Tomoya and the others deduce that the culprit had buried Ayane’s body in the landfill after sealing it in a luggage case, and they set off for the local landfill.

  • Tomoya ends up locating the suitcase, and while he begins to dig for it, an unknown force suddenly seizes him – a part of Tomoya doesn’t wish to continue and would rather move on into the next world, but Tomoya is able to overcome this particular barrier and convince his other self that there is merit in living, after all. Although Ryō and Aoi cannot see what’s overtaken Tomoya, they are relieved when he is able to take control and finish his fight.

  • I’d been a little worried about what Tomoya would find: while there is nothing inherently frightening about a body, the implications of what happened to Ayane in the time since she’d gone missing and what we’d seen of her would be quite unsettling. Summer Ghost has the tact to leave this part unseen, and Tomoya’s reaction is one of relief rather than of horror. In the aftermath, Tomoya returns Ayane’s brooch to her mother and prepares to pursue his own path as an artist.

  • Summer Ghost shows that Tomoya is able to convince his mother to allow him to pursue his own career path, and in this way, his world suddenly opens up, no longer being as suffocating as he had once known it to be. The efficacy of this approach of parenting has long been debated – proponents suggest that children need discipline to be successful, but the reality is that people are at their best when allowed to follow their own dreams (within reason). It is unsurprising that moderation is the best approach, and I would imagine that, as a result of his experiences with Ayane, Tomoya is able to firmly draw the line in the sand and perhaps strike a compromise with his mother.

  • Meanwhile, Aoi has become more creative in overcoming her bullies. A great deal has occurred in the past year, but unfortunately, Ryō passes away from his illness. Although he’d held out long enough to watch the cherry blossoms bloom, he doesn’t make it. Thus, when Aoi and Tomoya visit a year later, they are visiting Ryō’s spirit, and he’s able to pass on in the knowledge that both Aoi and Tomoya have both found their way: before he departs, he wishes both will be able to live out their lives to the fullest extent possible.

  • There’s a melancholy seeing Tomoya and Aoi without Ryō, and the flatness of this terrain accentuates this. However, on the flipside, the colours here are more vivid than at any other point in Summer Ghost – because the colours do convey the tenour of a moment, one can conclude there’s a sort of catharsis here, as well. Both Tomoya and Aoi are plainly in a better place here than they’d been a year earlier. However, while their direction is a little more concrete, viewers hoping that Aoi and Tomoya may find solace in one another’s company may be a little disappointed.

  • Visual cues in the moment, such as the distance between Tomoya and Aoi, speak to this. On the other hand, those who do not approach Summer Ghost as a romance will find that its messages on life and death may hold some merit. This is a film that I found worthwhile to watch, and while it is a bit more open-ended than most of the films I’ve previously watched, the overarching themes are still plain.

  • Altogether, I found Summer Ghost to be an enjoyable and meaningful experience – the film’s short runtime precludes exploring things in more detail, but sometimes, less is more, and leaving some elements to the viewer’s interpretation means this film can impact a broad range of viewers in accordance to their own experiences and thoughts. With this, I have one final post left for July: the beginning of August is going to be very busy on the blogging front, as I finish off some posts marking the milestones to the events of a decade earlier.

From a thematic perspective, Summer Ghost tends towards the more abstract, but remains very accessible and clear. The messages in Summer Ghost are accentuated by the distinct visuals. Colours are liberally applied to convey a specific aesthetic – moments of melancholy are washed out and tend towards monochrome, while poignant moments are cast in a deep blue. To indicate the monotony of everyday life, sunlight is typically faded. On the other hand, the once Tomoya and Aoi have taken steps forwards, and gather to communicate with Ryō’s spirit, who is at peace, the sky is vividly coloured to remind viewers of how much possibility there is in the world. Simple details like these help viewers to connect with the emotional tenour in a moment; Summer Ghost might not be the most profound story or visual impressive work out there, but it succeeds in capturing the idea that the long days of summer are conducive towards exploration. Where other anime would stick with exploring one’s world, Summer Ghost takes a bold stab at showing what a journey inwards might look like. In this area, Summer Ghost is able to present an introspective journey: the idea of travelling into a world that spirits inhabit, a world that is devoid of energy and activity, is no different than self-reflection and overcoming the foes that threaten one from within, and in the end, Tomoya is able to find himself. In finding Ayane, the journey also helps Aoi and Ryō make peace with their own situations. Altogether, while Summer Ghost might not prima facie be a conventional summer anime, it definitely has the elements that make it a film worth watching during the summer, representing a different sort of journey that is, while a world apart from the typical fixtures of summer, like hikes, days at the beach and a watermelon in hand, still shows how the longest days of the year invite people to look within and better understand that, life is worth living because, so long as one is alive, there will always be the agency to seize the initiative and make the most of things.

Her Blue Sky: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

Shinnosuke Kanamuro and Akane Aioi are members of a high school band; Shinnosuke is an aspiring musician and inspires Akane’s younger sister, Aoi, to become a bassist. When Akane and Aoi’s parents die in a vehicular accident, Akane is left to look after Aoi, turning down Shinnosuke’s offer to accompany him to Tokyo. Thirteen years later, Aoi has become a high school student, and Akane works at the municipal office alongside former drummer Masamichi Nakamura. As Akane and Masamichi work on a music festival to bolster the town’s tourism, Aoi encounters what she initially mistakes to be Shinnosuke’s spirit. When Aoi and Akane head to the train station to welcome enka singer Dankichi Nitobe, Aoi is shocked to see Shinnosuke present. She deduces that the younger Shinnosuke (dubbed Shinno) must’ve returned for a reason, and working with Masamichi’s son, Masatsugu, the pair learn that Shinno had been in love with Akane, and resolve to try and help the two fulfil a decade-long dream of getting them back together. Aoi’s intentions had been to leave town so as not to hold Akane back as soon as she graduated, and feels that doing this would allow Akane to live the future she’d once dreamt of. When two musicians performing in Dankichi’s band fall ill, however, Aoi learns that the older Shinnosuke is unfriendly and distant after she is asked to perform in their place. Moreover, things further become complicated when Chika Ōtaki decides to help out with the festival, hoping to get to know the performers better. As Aoi practises for the upcoming festival performance and contemplates her future, she struggles to put into words about why she’s chosen the path that she did. As it turns out, Aoi had long felt that she had been holding Akane back from her ambitions, and moreover, has begun to fall in love with Shinno. Aoi also learns that Akane had never once felt restricted in looking after her, and begins to wonder if she really should leave town after all. Amidst the preparations for the festival, Akane heads off to search for Dankichi’s pendant, but is caught in a landslide. Shinnosuke ends up heading to the temple where Shinno is and meets his younger self for the first time; when the older Shinnosuke is reluctant to act, his younger self manages to break free of the curse leaving him tied to the temple, and he takes Aoi with him. It turns out that Akane was unharmed, and he rescues her from the caved-in tunnel. Aoi decides to leave Akane with Shinnosuke and Shinno to share a conversation, and when Akane implies that her feelings for Shinnosuke remained after all this time, Shinno vanishes. Walking home, Aoi notices that perhaps, the sky was a little too blue. The music festival is a great success, and some time in the future, Aoi graduates from high school, while Akane and Shinnosuke get married. This is Her Blue Sky (空の青さを知る人よ, Hepburn Sora no Aosa o Shiru Hito yo, literally “To Those Who Know of the Blueness of the Sky”), a film that was announced in March 2019 and released in October later that year. With Mari Okada’s writing and Tatsuyuki Nagai directing, Her Blue Sky follows in the footsteps of AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, presenting a heartfelt coming-of-age story about pursuit of the future, regrets and their resolution.

At its core, Her Blue Sky speaks to the idea of appreciation and counting one’s blessings, and the idea that while dreams can change, people come to nonetheless find value and enjoyment in what they do; consequently, dreams are never really lost even as their form becomes different. In Aoi’s case, her single objective had been motivated by a desire to let Akane live her own life; after their parents’ death, Akane had taken care of Aoi every step of the way, and the neighbours began talking. For Aoi, she aimed to return Akane’s kindness by becoming self-sufficient and making it on her own, leaving Akane to direct her efforts at whatever future she desired. However, upon finding that Akane had made the decision to look after Aoi as best as she could, Aoi realises that she’s been so set on the future that she’d been oblivious to the fact that Akane had found new happiness. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinnosuke had reached the aspirations he had started out with and became a musician, but this came at a cost to his other dream of being with Akane. This desire manifests as a spirit; like AnoHana, Shinno is spirited, encouraging and uplifting, but also laments his older self’s lethargy and lack of drive. When he returns to town, his past memories prompt him to regard old friends with distance, but over time, as the older Shinnosuke learns of how some things didn’t really change since the day Akane turned him down, he begins to open up a little, as well; he plays a song for Akane and later shares a conversation with her about how he feels. Her Blue Sky shows that some dreams are never really forgotten, and that there may be a chance to recapture them if one were willing to reach out and take a chance. Bearing Okada’s signature style, Her Blue Sky is a poignant and turbulent film, pulling no punches in its portrayal of raw emotions that speaks to viewers about taking a hold of the moment, as well as how no matter how final some decisions may be, fate may be kind enough to offer second chances and give people a chance to follow their dreams, now that they’ve been given some time to consider their decision.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Her Blue Sky‘s lead creative team (Tatsuyuki Nagai, Mari Okada and Masayoshi Tanaka) is referred to as the Super Peace Busters and previously did both AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, both of which I’d watched and written about. Altogether, I found that Her Blue Sky was very similar to AnoHana in terms of themes, and followed the method used in Anthem of the Heart in terms of plot structure. While this renders Her Blue Sky somewhat predictable, the Super Peace Buster’s 2019 film is enjoyable in its own right, being a film whose journey matters rather more than the destination. In all cases, one of my favourite aspects about each film is that it takes some time to warm up to the characters, making the journey all the more rewarding.

  • Entering Her Blue Sky, I had no idea what to expect: I saw a fifteen-second preview indicating that such a movie was in production back in March 2019, but beyond this, had not otherwise read on any details surrounding the film. Discussions and hype had been next to non-existent, so without even a synopsis to go on, I watched Her Blue Sky completely in the absence of any a priori knowledge, and as a result, my experience was superbly enjoyable. In an earlier time, a band’s members spend their halcyon days together making music, setting the stage for the film’s events.

  • Her Blue Sky is produced by Cloverworks (SaeKano: The Movie and Aobuta: The Movie): it should be unsurprising that visually, the movie is a visual treat to behold. Compared to AnoHana, background artwork remains of a high standard, but it was the character designs I especially liked; they’re a cross between the designs seen in AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart. It’s been around seven years since I watched AnoHana, and five years since Anthem of the Heart: in spite of the time that’s passed, I still distinctly remember both series as having their own strong points that made them enjoyable.

  • In the beginning, Her Blue Sky indicates that music and community would form the bulk of the premise surrounding the film. Given that it’s Okada helming the writing, I imagined that past and present would also be a core element in the film. Finally, because of the track record AnoHana and Anthem of The Heart leave, I imagined that it was possible that some sort of supernatural element would be around, as well.

  • The existence of a supernatural piece in Her Blue Sky was soon affirmed when Shinno reappears. The film’s opening moments may come across as a little unrelated, but what’s happening here is a juxtaposition between the current Shinnosuke packing his guitar away, and the spirit form of Shinnosuke appearing at about the same time. In Japanese folklore, these living spirits are known as ikiryō, and their appearance indicates that there is some sort of unfinished busniess that needs to be attended to. Such spirits can be benevolent or malevolent, and Okada’s use of ghosts in her writings paint spirits as people who have past regrets they wish to sort out. By reappearing, they guide the living to a path that helps the individual to overcome their regrets. In doing so, they also have a tangible beneficial impact on the living.

  • Shinno’s reappearance shocks Aoi, who had been in the middle of practise. Aoi is the opposite of Akane: whereas the latter is personable, cheerful and capable, Aoi is sullen and moody. From what is seen of Aoi while she’s at school, she badmouths the other students in the music clubs, tends to keep to herself and doesn’t really appear to have much direction. In appearance, she’s resembles Anthem of the Heart‘s Jun. While Aoi concentrates on her own world, Akane is helping organise a special promotional event with the hope of increasing tourism to their area.

  • Like AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, Saitama: this city of 63 358 is located some 55 kilometres northeast of Saitama city, in a valley surrounded by mountains, and the Chichibu Park Bridge, with its distinct cable-stayed span, is an iconic part of both AnoHana and Her Blue Sky. The city’s economy is primarily based on silk farming and limestone mining, but has shifted towards tourism in recent years, taking advantage of the area’s beautiful scenic attractions to draw visitors in. Within Her Blue Sky, this exact sort of project is occurring, and the municipal staff decide to hire Dankichi Nitobe, a famous enka singer. to sing praises for their city.

  • Accompanying Dankichi is Shinnosuke, and this initial revelation creates bemusement amongst the characters, as well as the viewer. As soon as it is established that the younger Shinno is a ikiryōHer Blue Sky‘s themes fall into place very quickly: ghosts and spirits, being of a different plane, are typically presented as having uncommon wisdom and knowledge with which to guide the livnig. It becomes apparent that Shinnosuke had left behind something important on his pursuit of the future, specifically, pertaining to matters of the heart. Right out of the gates, there is a marked contrast between the younger Shinno and the current-day Shinnosuke.

  • While Aoi is initially irritated by Shinno, there is a kindness and energy about his character that makes him immensely likeable. Flashbacks reveal that he had encouraged Aoi to take up the bass and promised that they’d one day perform together. Conversely, Shinnosuke appears distant, detached and irritable. The gap between their personalities is not unjustified: youth are often optimistic and engaged, filled with hope about making it big in the world. It is with some apprehension that I remark I understand how Shinnosuke feels. Reality is cruel, unfeeling, and the path to one’s goals is often littered with broken promises and shattered dreams, which can render one cynical and unhappy.

  • While browsing through old yearbooks, Aoi finds entries from Akane, who’d poetically written about how the proverbial frog-in-a-well and suggested that while ignorant of the outside world, the flip-side was that this frog’s entire world could still be one of beauty, since its limited reach would force the frog to appreciate what others take for granted (and therefore, miss). The story of the frog-in-the-well has its origins as either a Sanskrit or Chinese saying: the Sanskrit phrase kupamanduka (कूपमण्डूक) is very similar to the Chinese phrase 井底之蛙 (jyutping zeng2 dai2 zi1 waa1) in meaning, referring to someone who is complicit in their knowledge. By taking this phrase and presenting a different perspective on things, Her Blue Sky challenges the viewer to consider how things can often be a matter of perspective, and this holds especially true for Aoi, whose motivations are driven by her existing understanding of things.

  • When the bassist and drummer for Dankichi over-indulge and succumb to food poisoning, the music festival appears to be jeopardised. Conveniently, Aoi and Masamichi are on hand to assist: having continued her dream of becoming a bassist since she had been a child, she’s become proficient with the bass guitar, and similarly, while Masamichi no longer performs or practises, his skill as a drummer remain reasonably intact. Dankichi decides to have the pair audition, and if their performance is satisfactory, then he would be happy to have them as substitutes.

  • It turns out there was never any doubt: sullen attitude aside, Aoi is a capable bassist, and Dankichi is convinced that she’ll get the job done for the music festival. Like Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Aoi is able to sing and play at the same time, although it goes without saying that her style is considerably different: if memory serves, Mio became a bassist because she prefers being away from the spotlight,

  • It turns out that Shinno can be seen by most everyone, so he hides when Akane shows up. Shinno’s spirit manifests as a corporeal entity whose only constraint is that he cannot leave the temple walls: whenever he tries to exit, an invisible force prevents him from exiting. Such a phenomenon must be vexing to experience: for much of the movie, Shinno is confined to this building, and while he has no need to eat, he does enjoy the food that Aoi (and Akane) brings him. A recurring theme in the film is Shinno’s wish to try mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri from Akane, but the latter insists on making kelp-filled onigiri for Aoi, symbolising what Akane’s priorities were at the time.

  • Shinnosuke’s remarks to both Aoi and Masamichi conveys a sense of elitism and unprofessionalism: this was done to really accentuate how different Shinno and Shinnosuke are. Shinnosuke is acting in such a manner deliberately to keep the distance between a former friend and his love interest’s sister, and I’ve noted that people will often be overly critical of others to cover their own insecurities in a workplace setting. Someone who is genuinely knowledgable and comfortable with the extent of their knowledge will be critical in a constructive manner, offering solutions in conjunction with pointing out a shortcoming – the simple act of proposing a solution (or even a suggestion of how to begin tackling a problem) is all that makes the difference in whether or not someone is being professional.

  • Because Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, its portrayal of the area is faithful to that of the original. With anime, it never fails to impress me as to how faithfully real-world locations are rendered. Here, Masamichi shares a conversation with Aoi and her classmate, Chika, concerning practise. Shinnosuke is disinterested, and Aoi leaves to practise on her own, while Chika manages to run into Shinnosuke and strikes up a conversation with him.

  • The next day at school, Aoi confronts Chika about her previous encounter with Shinnosuke – Chika had long expressed a desire to date a musician, and Shinnosuke is presented as getting along with the ladies, having gone to a nightclub earlier. I imagine that Shinnosuke is simply detached from his world as a result of his experience (primarily, when Akane turned down his offer to accompany him to Tokyo) and does what he does to dull the pain. However, being impulsive and brash, Aoi assumes that Chika managed to hit a home run with Shinnosuke and refuses to speak with her after that.

  • Masamichi had long had feelings for Akane, but never acted on them out of respect to her and Shinnosuke. Aoi never really felt that there was anyone for Akane other than Shinnosuke, but incensed that Shinnosuke supposedly got it on with a high school student, she decides to help Masamichi. Masatsugu, on the other hand, is more-level headed about things. Despite only being a mere ten years of age, he is mature and observant, preferring to advise and watch.

  • Chika is insistent that nothing of the sort has happened; while Shinnosuke might be an unscrupulous fellow, it is unlikely that he would do the sorts of things that Aoi imagine has happened. Viewers can take Chika’s words as truthful – she notes that Shinnosuke isn’t exactly what she had in mind about musicians, and there’s a hint of disappointment here that clearly indicates that Aoi is overthinking things. Further compounding the issue, Aoi herself has begun falling in love with Shinno and his boundless optimism for the future.

  • After a disastrous attempt at the hotel when a drunken Shinnosuke attempts to sweet-talk Akane, the two do not have a proper conversation again. The two meet again while Akane is breaking from event planning, and finds Shinnosuke playing his guitar. Without the effects of alcohol impairing his judgement, he properly articulates how he feels to Akane, implicitly expressing a longing for his old dream of being with her. Akane tactfully indicates that after all this time, things might not have changed, and asks him to sing for her his debut song, “Her Blue Sky”, which gives the film its title. The old Shinno begins appearing in Shinnosuke – he livens up his singing considerably, leading Akane to laugh and recall their old times together.

  • Upon seeing Akane cry after Shinnosuke heads off, Aoi begins to understand what Shinnosuke meant to her. However, one rainy day, while looking for ointment for an itch, she stumbles upon an old notebook Akane had been using to draft out things to keep Aoi happy. Realising that Akane had been doing what she did of her own choosing, and that Akane’s dreams were never really given up (just postponed), Aoi feels compelled to be truthful with how she feels about things, as well.

  • Earlier, Masatsugu had spoken with Shinno, expressing that he’d fallen in love with Aoi and intends to become someone who can support her. Masatsugu is very perceptive, and correctly deduced that Aoi had fallen in love with Shinno: once she realises the extent of what Akane’s feelings and dreams had been, she confesses her feelings for Shinno, as well. Kokuhaku and feelings in Her Blue Sky are raw, rough around the edges – AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart was similarly done to accentuate the idea that love is a messy business, never as elegant or neatly-structured as færietales would have us believe.

  • The rainy, moody weather of the day before had served to provide a backdrop for Aoi coming to terms with her feelings. The next day, it is beautiful and sunny, conveying a newfound sense of hope. Aoi apologises to Chika for having lashed out at her: overall, throughout Her Blue Sky, I never did get the impression that Chika was an unsavoury character. While perhaps a bit more carefree than others, she’s genuinely kind and gets along with Aoi. I imagine that until now, Aoi never really had a friend, and Chika had only begun speaking to her because she imagined Aoi was secretly dating and had been curious to find out.

  • Preparations for the festival are now in full-swing, but Dankichi laments that he’d lost his pendant, which is a sort of good-luck charm he uses in performances. Dankichi’s unusual demands and requirements probably speak to the eccentricities of creatives – they might possess approaches and methods that seem a little befuddling for others, but once they hit their stride, are capable of creating magic. This is why working with artists always requires understanding and patience: inspiration can come from anywhere, and giving artists the appropriate (and reasonable) amount of freedom allows for a product quality to result. After looking through Dankichi’s phone, the staff work out the location he’d likely dropped it.

  • Akane sets off for the pendant’s last known location to search for it: a remote mountain tunnel in a park nearby. However, in typical Okada fashion, unexpected calamity strikes when a small earthquake sets off a landslide, trapping Akane inside the tunnel. Undeterred, Akane continues looking for the pendant. Aoi cannot help but feel that Akane might be in danger, and with the staff only promising to assess the situation before sending out someone to look, Aoi decides to take matters into her own hands and seeks out Shinno. An unexpected setback right as things are on the right track seems to be Okada’s signature style, raising the tension ahead of the story’s climax.

  • Shinnosuke and Shinno finally meet for the first time, and predictably, Shinno is disappointed his older self has become so pessimistic and apathetic, while Shinnosuke feels his younger self is ignorant and naïve. Shinno decides that, if Shinnosuke will not help to search for Akane, he’ll do it himself. Spurred on by Aoi, Shinno manages to break free of the force holding him at the temple and takes to the skies with Aoi in two. Shinno’s being bound to the temple was a metaphor for his own being held back by old feelings: for now, with his eyes on the present, with someone who cares for him, he is able to take ahold of the moment.

  • Shinno and Aoi soaring above Chichibu acts as the film’s climax – in the skies above, Aoi comes to understand what she’d wanted to do for Akane and knows that helping her to find her happiness with Shinnosuke is going to be her way of saying thanks. On the ground below, Shinnosuke finally is pushed to chase his dreams in a very literal sense: chasing after his younger self represents a very tangible objective for Shinnosuke to catch. This final scene is rich in symbolism: in the deep blue skies above Chichibu, Aoi finally appreciates how beautiful her home is.

  • Akane is unperturbed to meet with Shinno: they briefly share a heart-to-heart conversation before Shinno extracts her from the collapsed tunnel. As Akane and Aoi embrace, Shinnosuke struggles to find the words for the scene, while Shinno smiles. With Akane confirmed to be safe, they inform the others and prepare to head back. Aoi decides to give Akane some private time with Shinnosuke: during the ride, Shinnosuke expresses to Akane that as a musician now, he’d only really reached half of his dreams, and still yearns to be with her.

  • When Akane says she’d like to make mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri, Shinno vanishes. The onigiri had come to symbolise where Akane’s heart was – after all this time, she’d been intent on looking out for Aoi, but now that she is aware of how much Aoi’s grown, she finally feels ready to pursue her own future. Making the sort of onigiri that Shinnosuke likes comes to represent how she’s now able to return his feelings in full, confident that Aoi will find her own path as well. Satisfied his regrets have been addressed, Shinno disappears, leaving Shinnosuke, Akane and Aoi to pursue their futures.

  • The sun thus sets over Chichibu as the day draws to a close, and this moment is only one of many that showcase the beautiful landscape artwork in Her Blue Sky. On an unrelated note, as yesterday was New Year’s Day, we did our annual 打邊爐 (jyutping daa2 bin1 lou4) – it’s a tradition I’m fond of, featuring fish balls, squid balls, beef, lamb, fish, prawns, fresh oysters, cuttlefish, lettuce and cabbage, rounded off with yi mien to absorb all of the flavours from the resulting broth. Hot pots originate from Mongolia and are common across Asia, being best for cold evenings. With this being said, the contents of a Cantonese-style hot pot are always delicious: yesterday night, a Chinook resulted in temperatures remaining a balmy 2ºC even after sunset, but this didn’t stop things from being delicious.

  • Her Blue Sky scores an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.5 of 10) in my books – it was an immensely satisfying and meaningful tale of appreciation and of what it means to properly pursue a dream. I understand that the home release for Her Blue Sky came out back in June 2020, but it was only now that I managed to find some time to sit down and watch this properly. Having managed to avoid all spoilers and discussions for the film, I ended up with the best possible experience of Her Blue Sky. With this review in the books, I start 2021 strong with a positive post, and before the winter season kicks off, I’ll aim to finish off my thoughts on Warlords of Sigrdrifa – my reason for kicking off 2021 with a talk on Her Blue Sky rather than Warlords of Sigrdrifa will soon become apparent. At present, I’m still working out the most optimal posting pattern for the anime I intend to follow this upcoming season.

Her Blue Sky thus ends up being a fine film to kick off a New Year with: with messages of second chances, and appreciation of what one has, Her Blue Sky suggests that life is a series of trade-offs and compromises. A mind in the proverbial well may be ignorant of the world, but is assured a view of the blue sky that busier minds may take for granted and consequently, miss. This film seeks to suggest that stepping back and taking stock of a situation allows one to better understand where things are headed, although in the heat of an emotionally-charged moment, people often forget this, leading to regret and longing. However, by employing a little help from the supernatural, Her Blue Sky provides Akane, Shinnosuke and Aoi with their happy endings; altogether, Her Blue Sky is a superb and moving film. In conjunction with Cloverworks’ technically excellence, Her Blue Sky is an experience for viewers, capturing hearts and minds with a compelling story and impressive visuals. Returning viewers to the town of Chichibu, Saitama, Her Blue Sky brings back memories of AnoHana, and like AnoHana, incorporates supernatural elements to convey a specific idea. While Mari Okada often receives flak for creating what is felt to be excessively melodramatic situations, I’ve long found that her works are always solid thematically: Okada’s use of emotion is always strong, and the tears are never really that far off as a result of how scenarios in her stories are presented. Consequently, I found in Her Blue Sky a particularly moving story for beginning the year with, encouraging viewers to grasp their dreams more firmly the first time around, or for folks (like myself) who miss an opportunity the first time around, realise that sometimes, second chances are offered, and more often than not, are offered with the same sincerity as they were initially.

Skyfall: A Reflection and Revisitation of Themes and Triumphs In The Twenty-Third James Bond Film

“Chairman, ministers: today, I’ve repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. Why do we need agents, the 00 section? Isn’t it all rather quaint? Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me. I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they aren’t nations. They are individuals. And look around you – who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No, our world is not more transparent now, it’s more opaque! It’s in the shadows – that’s where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves – how safe do you feel?” –M

MI6 Agent James Bond and trainee Eve are in pursuit of an agent who has made off with a hard drive containing the identities of British operatives embedded in terrorist cells around the world. When a pursuit ends in Bond being accidentally shot, the hard drive is lost, and Bond is presumed dead. Three months later, after a public inquiry, M is pushed to retire by Gareth Mallory, and MI6 is compromised. When Bond learns of this, he returns to London. Despite failing physical and aptitude tests, M authorises his return to the field with the aim of having Bond retrieve the hard drive and eliminate the assassin who’d originally taken it. Tailing the assassin to Shanghai, Bond kills him before learning the identity of his employer, but a poker chip sends him to a Macau casino, where he encounters Sévérine. She promises to help Bond out if he can eliminate her employer, bringing him to a derelict island. Here, Bond meets and captures Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who was captured by foreign actors and fell to counter-terrorism. Back in London, Q attempts to decryt Silva’s laptop, inadvertently introducing a virus into their system and allowing Silva to escape. It turns out that Silva was desiring revenge against M for having abandoned him on an assignment decades earlier, and he plans to attack a public inquiry. Bond deduces Silva’s intentions and thwarts the attack before taking M to Skyfall, his childhood home in Scotland. Q and Bill Tanner design an electronic trail to lure Silva out with Mallory’s tacit approval. After arriving in Scotland, with gamekeeper Kincaid’s help, Bond and M prepare the house for an attack. They fend off the first of Silva’s men, but Silva himself appears later and lays siege to the house with incendiary grenades. Kincaid leads M through a priest’s hole to a church, and Bond rigs explosives that destroys the house, along with the helicopter. Silva pursues them and reaches the church before Bond, begging M to kill them both, but Bond kills Silva with a knife. M succumbs to her wounds and dies. After M’s funeral, Eve introduces herself as Moneypenny, and Mallory is appointed as the new M, briefing a Bond who is ready to take up his next assignment. Skyfall is the twenty-third 007 movie in the franchise and released in 2012 to positive reception for reintroducing classic elements from James Bond films with a modernised spin.

At its core, Skyfall covers the idea surrounding the worth of human resources in an age where SIGINT has begun to vastly outperform HUMINT in terms of efficacy, accuracy and safety. These themes permeate the film: while M continues to run the 00-section and use field operatives, villain Raoul Silva specialises in electronic communications and cyberwarfare, exploiting lapses in MI6’s security to accomplish his revenge. Q remarks he can do more damage with a few well-placed lines of code than 007 could in a month. At the public inquiry, the minister questioning M wonders why there’s a need for human intelligence at all when almost all of it can seemingly be gathered with a keyboard and mouse. The vulnerability of MI6 to this novel form of intelligence, then, speaks to society’s shift away from more conventional means of getting things done. As M rightly puts, enemies no longer operate behind unified banners or a centralised organisation. They are becoming increasingly anonymous and decentralised. Even with the best technology in the world, good guys operate against an enemy that is cunning, ruthless and elusive. However, as formidable as they are with a keyboard, the cleverest villain still has weaknesses, and this is something that one cannot pick up from behind a screen – upon meeting Q for the first time, Bond remarks that what HUMINT offers that SIGINT cannot is the ability to make a crack decision, whether or not to metaphorically (or literally) pull a trigger. There are things that one can ascertain in person that would be much trickier to investigate remotely, and hence, there remains a need to strike a balance between the old and the new. This balance is demonstrated as Q and Bond work together during Silva’s escape, as well as when they lure Silva to Skyfall estate for the climactic conclusion: away from his keyboard and mouse, Silva and his thugs are mortal men vulnerable to bullets, blades and fire. In the end, Skyfall indicates that against foes that would hide behind a keyboard, it is a combination of the old and new ways that work best, although even then, sacrifices often need to be made if one means to secure victory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I watched Skyfall in theatres eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with what the film had brought to the table – it was a striking balance of tradition and modernisation, reintroducing familiar characters in new roles and new personalities. The film opens with a lengthy chase sequence: after a hard drive is stolen, Bond pursues an assassin through Istanbul in an attempt to retrieve it. Dispensing with the iconic gun barrel, Skyfall continues in the vein of Craig’s movies in being grittier. I realise that, even back in 2012, Skyfall was better remembered for Adele’s rendition of the opening theme (almost to memetic levels), and while her performance of Skyfall was solid, the film itself is phenomenal. This is one of those things where I find myself at odds with the online community, who praised the song and forgot about the movie, and one of the things I aim to address in this post are the merits of Skyfall, which I feel to be under-appreciated.

  • After Bond is accidentally shot when Eve misses the assassin, he is presumed dead, and Thomas Newman’s style begins to make itself heard in Skyfall‘s soundtrack: a contemplative, melancholy tone is found in the incidental music, which mirrors the film’s themes of old and new. The Bond motif can still be heard interspersed throughout the film, cleverly woven into Newman’s compositions, but some of the songs that truly shine are those that have a purposeful sense of modernity to them. Mallory is seen speaking with M here, and in Skyfall, Judi Dench shines – she plays a regal, composed M fully aware of what her department’s purpose is, handling criticisms with dignity and a raw determination to see the job through.

  • After an unknown enemy reroutes gas lines into M’s office, triggering an explosion, MI6 moves its operations underground. This prompts Bond, who had disappeared into the tropics as retirement, to return to London. Bond’s aging was apparent here: he struggles to keep up with the tests, fares poorly as a marksman and walks out of a psychiatric test. It is in Skyfall that the realities of being a field operative are shown – Connery, Moore and Brosnan’s Bonds had suggested that being a spy would be a classy, suave occupation defined by martinis, girls and guns, but with recent thrillers like The Borne Identity, the 007 franchise has begin stepping away from the glorified, idealised vision of espionage in favour of a more down-to-earth, dangerous occupation.

  • The Craig era of 007 movies had initially struggled to make this transition, but by Skyfall, the series has found its footing. I was rather fond of Mallory’s character: he is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, a well-known actor best remembered as Harry Potter‘s Lord Voldemort. In Skyfall, Mallory seems fairly intent on seeing M’s retirement, stating that she’s had a good run and feeling the 00 section to be obsolete. He questions Bond on why he’s bothered to return before leaving M to brief Bond on the next assignment, which sends him to Shanghai.

  • While London only is presented briefly in most 007 films, Skyfall features the city as a more prominent background to remind viewers of the series’ roots. To this end, key scenes surrounding M and MI6 are set in London, and here, Bond heads to meet Q in a museum. K-On! The Movie had its home release a few months prior to Skyfall, and at the time, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the two films’ portrayals of London – both take viewers to more mundane parts of London, including the Underground and museums, but because K-On! had been about exploration, its portrayal of London is much more colourful than Skyfall‘s.

  • Ben Washaw’s Q is quite unlike Desmond Llewelyn’s Q – the latter portrayed Q as an eccentric, uncommonly talented inventor whose genius lay in being able to conceal weapons in common, everyday objects. He enjoyed a light-hearted relationship with 007, briefing him on the gadgets that would come to save Bond’s skin in each movie, and constantly lamented that his gear never came back in pristine condition. Conversely, as a younger Q, Washaw’s talents in mechanical engineering, while still impressive, are secondary to his ability as a programmer and computer scientist. Q’s first exchange with Bond is a reminder of Skyfall‘s themes, challenging viewers to consider where the line between youthfulness and age, innovation and efficiency, is struck.

  • It is therefore unsurprising that Skyfall‘s Q equips Bond with a fingerprint-encoded Walther PPK and a radio transmitter before Bond leaves for Shanghai: this is a back to the basics loadout that evokes memories of Dr. No (when Bond switches over to the PPK), From Russia With Love (Q’s first introduction), Goldfinger (the radio transmitter), License to Kill (another fingerprint-encoded rifle) and GoldenEye (mention of an exploding pen). Once in Shanghai, Bond takes the time to do laps in a pool before setting off to tail his quarry, the assassin he had been pursuing in Istanbul.

  • In Shanghai, Bond’s old strength appears to begin returning to him: the assassin enters a building for another job, and Bond is forced to cling to an elevator to ensure he doesn’t lose the assassin. While Bond cannot stop the assassination, or prevent the assassin from falling to his death in the subsequent confrontation, he does manage to find a poker chip that points him to a casino in Macau. The fight here was a visual spectacle: as Bond and the assassin struggle to gain the upper hand over the other, the electronic signage of the building adjacent floods the floor in an unearthly light, giving the fight a surreal feeling.

  • Skyfall continues to subvert expectations for what a Bond movie is, but it also finds novel ways of playing the characters off one another: a recurring occurrence in Bond films was Moneypenny and Bond’s flirtations, which had a humourous tone to them. When Eve is sent to Macau to assist Bond, she helps him freshen up before they hit the casino. It creates a more human side to Bond’s character: previous series had presented Bond as a gentleman, but a stone-cold killer who brushed off death as an occupational hazard, and remorse as an impediment to his assignment. Craig’s Bond is more layered: he is someone who struggles with the balance between his duties and finding a meaningful human connection ever since the death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

  • While ostensibly set in Macau, Skyfall‘s portrayal of the colonial city is entirely fictional: there is no district of Macau hosting a sprawling casino, and in fact, Macau counts itself as the Chinese version of Las Vegas, with hotels and casinos rivalling those of Vegas’ Strip. I concede that Skyfall probably intended to create a more exotic portrayal of Macau to set the scene apart from Shanghai, which was correctly presented as a glittering metropolis. If memory serves, Bond also visits a floating casino in Macau during the events of The Man With the Golden Gun, lending additional credence to the idea that the choice to create a fictionalised Macau was deliberate.

  • At the casino, Bond meets Sévérine, a woman who was once a sex slave and currently works for a mysterious employer, whom she remarks to be fear incarnate. She agrees to help Bond out if he promises to take her employer out, and he agrees. Bond Girls figure in most 007 movies, although the precise definition of what makes a Bond Girl is not agreed on, ranging from “love interest” to any female character with a considerable role in the film. In this sense, Skyfall breaks the convention because the film’s romantic aspects are minimal. I’ve always found the romance in James Bond movies to be generally weak, a token aspect of the film compared to the spectacle of explosions and car chases. It is only in films like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale, where Bond considers retirement to be with someone important to him, where the romance becomes more meaningful.

  • Conversely, in Skyfall, besides Sévérine, the women (Eve and M) play a much larger role in the plot itself, setting in motion the events that leads Bond to the villain. This aspect of Skyfall shows that a Bond movie could hypothetically do without Bond Girls and still tell a compelling story. With this in mind, a Bond film without a Bond Girl probably would not be counted as a true James Bond movie: this is that balance between tradition and innovation that Skyfall itself speaks to, and I feel that Skyfall itself did a decent job of exploring these new realms. Here, after cashing in the poker chip that was meant as the assassin’s payment and taking a drink, Bond defeats Sévérine’s bodyguards, convincing her that he is up to the task. The palm-encoded gun comes in handy here when one of the henchmen grabs Bond’s PPK, but it refuses to fire, leaving him to be bitten by a Komodo Dragon.

  • Ultimately, Sévérine takes Bond to meet her employer, an unusual character who is physically unimposing, but also unstable. This is Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who turned to criminal activities after being abandoned. His hideout is on an island that resembles Hashima Island: the real Hashima Island was originally a coal-mining island, and had been home to mines since 1887. By 1916, the island’s first concrete apartment was constructed to accommodate miners and their families. These structures were intended to protect against typhoons and would soon dominate the island over the next five decades, but when the coal seams began running dry in the 1970s, the island was abandoned. Here, Silva’s setup can be seen: he’s running servers in a large room that resemble the crudely-assembled rigs that crypto-currency miners use.

  • For Sévérine’s betrayal, Silva decides to execute her, concealing it as a sporting game where the object is to knock a shot of Scotch from her head using an old Percussion Cap Ardesa 1871 Duelling Pistol. Aware that Bond’s marksmanship is poor, Silva anticipates that Bond might accidentally hit Sévérine in the process. Bond deliberately misses, and Silva shoots her himself, declaring himself the winner of that contest. However, Bond manages to turn the tables on Silva and kills all of his guards, just as a contingent of helicopters arrive to take Silva in.

  • In a way, Silva represents a proper modern villain, driven not by grandiose plans for changing the world, but rather, petty revenge. Given the prevalence of petty flame wars on social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, Silva’s motivations are in keeping with the times, and I’ve found the world’s blind faith in social media opinions to be a disturbing one. I imagine that many of the people behind popular hate memes and misinformation campaigns out there would resemble Silva: possessing some talent, but ultimately, unstable and motivated by trivial reasons. Just because Silva is petty, however, does not mean he is any less dangerous.

  • As Q quickly discovers, breaches in a computer network do not usually result just from an adversary having a superior algorithm for defeating security, but rather, as a result of being played. Social engineering, rather than an uncommon brilliance with writing algorithms that can crack encryption hashing, is how most hacks are carried out – while most films suggest that all one needs is a strong mathematics background, Linux or Ubuntu and fast fingers to be a hacker, the reality is that hackers are frighteningly good actors, counting on their ability to lie and deceive their way into a position where they can access sensitive data. Silva’s done precisely this, engineering his capture and counting on Q to be careless in order to break into MI6’s systems and create enough disorder to go after M.

  • During the inquiry, the minister questioning M goes on such a long-winded spiel about the usefulness of field agents coming to the end, that Mallory asks her to allow M to speak, as this was the purpose of the hearing. The minister is played by Helen Elizabeth McCrory, and while I initially thought she had played Dolores Umbridge, it turns out she’s actually the actress for Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter. Despite the claims against her approach, M remains calm and explains that she stands by her work because of the changing world: it is precisely because the world is changing that tried and true ways need to be retained and act as a measure of defending things the old fashioned way while newer techniques are refined.

  • Having eluded Bond in the London Underground, Silva arrives at the hearing and opens a firefight, hoping to kill M. Fortunately, Bond is not too far behind Silva and dispatches most of Silva’s henchmen. Mallory takes a bullet during the firefight while trying to protect M, and after Bond shoots a pair of fire extinguishers to create a smoke cover, Silva is forced to flee when he’s lost the initiative lost. With Silva gone for now and M safe, Bond decides it’s time to head elsewhere, on account of Silva’s considerable reach and resources, somewhere where they’d have the edge over Silva.

  • To ensure that Silva can locate M and himself, Bond asks Q to create a trail for Silva to follow, likely by mimicking the tracking signals used by MI6 company cars, with the aim of luring Silva into the open. The operation is not strictly by-the-book or legal, prompting Q to remark that his “promising career in espionage” might be over before it really began. While it took some getting used to, Washaw’s Q is actually a nice change of pace from Llewelyn and Cleese’s Q – while as brilliant as his predecessors, Washaw’s Q is still learning the ropes surrounding intelligence, and makes mistakes on the job, making him more relatable. I’ve long joked that Cillian Murphy might be suited for portraying Hibike! Euphonium‘s Noboru Taki, but now that I think about it, Washaw wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

  • A part of keeping M safe includes switching over to the Aston Martin DB5, which first made its debut in Goldfinger. Capable of reaching 100 km/h from zero in eight seconds and reaching a top speed of 233 km/h, the DB5 became famous as being the first Bond car to be equipped with an array of unusual features: an oil slick, tire spikes, front-facing .30 calibre machine guns and an ejector seat. In Skyfall, this appears to be the original DB5 from the Goldfinger days in-universe, as the car is equipped with the ejector seat. In a in a bit of a humourous moment, Bond idly fingers the button under the transmission column when M remarks the car isn’t very comfortable, and it seems she knows precisely what the ejector seat is about.

  • When Mallory notices Bill Tanner and Q writing a phoney tracking signal, rather than reprimand them, he instead suggests to set the Scotland segment of the signal down the A9, which is the longest road in Scotland and therefore, well covered by traffic cameras. Mallory begins the film as someone who questions M’s efficacy, but over the course of Skyfall, comes to see M’s standpoint on why having field agents and HUMINT is so important – the attempt on M’s life and his efforts to defend her show that Mallory is someone who does what he feels is best, and moreover, is someone who isn’t unwilling to admit when there are merits to the other side’s perspective.

  • The unique terrain in Scotland accounts for its world-famous gloomy weather, where it is rainy and overcast for a fair portion of the year. The weather is so prevalent that the Scots even have their own word to describe it: dreich. It seems appropriate to send Bond and M up here: there is a sort of melancholy about as they make their way to Bond’s childhood home. I am generally not fond of weather such as this, but I concede that there is a charm about the miserable, grey weather that is perfect when one feels the inclination to do some introspection and brood a little.

  • After arriving at Skyfall, M and Bond meet gamekeeper Kincaid, a gruff but warm individual not unlike Hagrid. One would be forgiven for thinking they could find Hogwarts nearby – the famous School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is also set in the Scottish Highlands, and up here, Bond’s comment about going back in time holds true. An ancient stone house in the middle of nowhere, far removed from the wireless connections of the world, feels like a place befitting of a “better man wins” face-off. With Kincaid’s help, Bond and M rig the old home with improvised traps and uses whatever’s available to prepare for the inevitable firefight against Silva and his henchmen. Bond initially asks Kincaid to sit this one out, but ever loyal to the Bond family, Kincaid declines and readies his Charles Parker 1878 double-barrelled shotgun for the fight.

  • As evening sets in, Silva’s first wave of men begin showing up. Bond uses the DB5’s machine guns to mow them down, and then picks off survivors with a double-barrelled Anderson Wheeler 500 NE. Inside the house, the various traps finish off any stragglers. A lull steals across the landscape, and in the distance, The Animal’s cover of Boom Boom begins playing, announcing Silva’s arrival. I know The Animals best for their classic, House of the Rising Sun, and listening to the lyrics in Boom Boom, it seems an appropriate choice of song for Silva, expressing his thoughts about wiping M and Bond out. This creates a jovial atmosphere that stands in complete contrast with the mood that surrounds Skyfall and its final firefight.

  • After disposing of the first wave of Silva’s henchmen, Bond picks up an HK-416 D10RS to provide himself with more firepower. Considered to be one of the best assault rifles around, handling very well and shooting accurately, the HK-416 uses a short-stroke piston system that was based on the G36 line of rifles but sports a frame similar to the AR-15 family of rifles. The D10RS has a barrel length of 264 mm and is one of the more compact variants of the HK-416. After Silva arrives, he orders the DB5 destroyed and begins tossing incendiary grenades into the house in an attempt to flush M and Bond out. Kincaid takes M through the priest tunnel, and Bond rigs some dynamite he’d retrieved from the quarry to blow a pair of large gas tanks.

  • Kincaid and M make it through the priest tunnel and find the home burning: when the gas tanks exploded, it killed most of Silva’s men, and stunned the helicopter pilots, causing them to crash into the house. The resulting explosion is even larger than the first and flattens the old stone house. Bond himself barely escapes in the priest tunnel and comes out the other end, but unlike Kincaid, who knows the area well, he is forced to traverse a frozen lake and defeats the remainder of Silva’s men after falling into the frozen water.

  • Climactic battles in James Bond movies are always my favourite part of the film, featuring some of the most impressive action scenes. Some of the best final fights include the raid on Fort Knox in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice‘s assault on Blofeld’s volcano hideout, the firefight on Stromberg’s Liparus in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker‘s space battle, which marks the only time a James Bond ever was in space. While Moonraker‘s fight can be seen as ludicrous, as my first 007 movie, I personally enjoyed it greatly. By comparison, Skyfall‘s final fight is nothing outrageous or of an impressive scale, but it works well enough for the story, being an old-fashioned gun fight in a field where skill with a keyboard and mouse has no bearing.

  • While Bond is distracted fighting the remaining henchman, Silva notices Kincaid’s flashlight and follows it to find M and Kincaid in an old chapel. He implores M to shoot them both so they die together for their sins, but fortunately, Bond arrives just in time to throw a knife into Silva’s chest, killing him. It’s a bit of an anti-climactic death for Silva to symbolise the futility of his actions, and that for all of his field experience and knowledge in cyber-warfare, he is still just an ordinary man.

  • In Skyfall‘s most poignant moment, M succumbs to her wounds and dies. However, rather than dying to someone who had a vendetta against her, she dies in the company of her best 00 Agent – while Bond might not be the most by the book 00 Agent she has, he’s the most resourceful and committed to doing his job, no matter the cost, and there is a symbolism about dying in a chapel, just as her current job of identifying and bringing the perpetrator Silva to justice comes to a close. With Judi Dench’s M deceased, her role as M draws to a close, and I admit that I was very fond of her portrayal as M – previous Ms were played by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, who portrayed a stern, serious intelligence head that embodies the English spirit. Dench, on the other hand, handles the post-Cold War MI6 with a matronly dignity.

  • After M’s death, Mallory is promoted to be the new M. Bond briefly contemplates the old M’s passing before returning to his duties. However, M’s death weighs on Bond heavily, and in Spectre, it is revealed that Bond is secretly investigating a lead M had been working on prior to her death, similarly to how Harry, Ron and Hermione continued to pursue Horcruxes after Dumbledore’s death. With this, my revisit of Skyfall draws to a close. For the themes that it covers and the fact that it weaves its themes into the very fabric of how the film was presented, Skyfall is probably my favourite James Bond movie from a story perspective. Despite eight years having passed since I first watched and wrote about the film, Skyfall‘s themes and messages remain relevant today. The film also evokes memories of my undergraduate thesis project, but I will be saving those thoughts when I write about Halo 4, which released in November 2012.

Overall, Skyfall was a superb James Bond experience, being my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film insofar, and while I’ve yet to see No Time To Die, which is supposed to be the last of the Craig Bond films, I imagine that Skyfall will continue to hold the crown of being the top Craig 007 film on account of its themes, presentation and balance between classic Bond experiences, as well as the grittier Craig-style 007. Skyfall cemented Daniel Craig’s suitability as performing James Bond during its run: Casino Royale had presented Bond as being inexperienced, a blunt instrument, and Quantum of Solace was a bit of a disappointment. By Skyfall, Craig plays an aging 007 who is past his prime, determined to continue serving his country even though he is declining both physically and mentally: the idea of returning to old places and older ideas is a recurring theme in the movie, as well, and indicate that while technology has advanced incredibly, the crutch that superior technology offers might not always out-compete raw experience. Skyfall is therefore compelling, telling a story that speaks to the realities of espionage and the world at large: fancy gadgets, fast cars and beautiful women are sidelined in favour of considering relevant social and political conditions in this 007 movie, and consequently, Skyfall does stand out as being one of the more thought-provoking James Bond films for striking a balance between old and new, the overt and the subtle, and respecting the series’ roots while presenting a contemporary, current theme at its core. Eight years ago, Skyfall was an immensely enjoyable film, and presently, topics that the movie covers remain relevant – even more of the world is connected now than it had been in 2012, and the dangers of an over-reliance on technology, as well as not fully understanding what bad-faith actors are utilising technology for, remain ever-present threats on the principles and values that form our institutions. As Skyfall suggests, it is only through a merger of the old and new, experience and innovation, that enemies of our system can be understood and if not overcome, held at bay.