Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Directed By: Satoshi Kon

Screenplay By: Keiko Nobumoto; Satoshi Kon

Cast: Tooru Emori; Yoshiaki Umegaki; Aya Okamoto; Satomi Koorogi; Shouzou Likzuka; Seizou Katou; Hiroya Ishimaru; Ryuuji Saikachi; Yuusaku Yara; Kyouko Terase; Mamiko Noto; Akio Ootsuka; Rikiya Koyama; Kouichi Yamadera

Language: Japanese                                                

Genre: Action; Tragicomedy

Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Satoshi Kon’s Christmas tale Tokyo Godfathers is a heart-warming story of three homeless people in Tokyo finding an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. The film follows them on their miraculous misadventures as they try to locate the babe’s birth parents.

Gin (Tooru Emori) is a middle-aged alcoholic man, Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) a former drag queen and Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) is the teenage runaway staying with them. They are a makeshift family making their way on the streets. In a bid to find a suitable ‘Christmas gift’ they rummage through the items abandoned by people and in that rubbish, they find a baby. Hana is ecstatic and seeing it as an apt Christmas gift, names the baby Kiyoko which means ‘pure’. Hana does not want to return Kiyoko, after all she was abandoned. She wishes to raise the child, which for Gin is unrealistic considering their circumstances. In their journey to return the child, they cross paths with yakuza, foreign assassins, worn out taxi drivers and dysfunctional people who are striving to live.

Right from the opening sequence, Kon fuses the Nativity narrative into the film. Much like St Joseph, Gin is a foster father, reluctant he might be but his concern for Miyuki, the baby Kiyoko and his own daughter, coincidentally also called Kiyoko, is present. He and another homeless man (Ryuuji Saikachi) are attacked by the local delinquents who do not see any point in ‘trash’ living around the city. The lack of space to exist itself mirrors the Bethlehem inn’s lack of accommodation.  

Kon emphasises the idea of the found family and yet also acknowledges the fact that while the traditional family set up might be flawed, it can still be worked around. At every point that Hana stresses that she would like a family of her own, she equally backtracks and believes that things must go back to how they are supposed to be. This might be because she has been conditioned to accept a certain idea of the family. Yet every moment of the film reiterates that a found family is just as important.

Tokyo Godfathers explores homelessness with heart. People end up homeless for various reasons. Financial instability may be one part of it but it could just as well be because they feel let down or abandoned or the guilt surrounding their actions make facing up to the realities of life hard.

The animation style veers between realistic and exaggerated realism much like the story which while set within tragic circumstances is moved along through moments of humour and miracles. The kind of miracles that could happen in daily life but here all the miracles come together to make it a touching and oddly hilarious Christmas story.

The Tokyo in the title is a reference to the other main character of the film. A silent, passive presence; the city fuels homelessness through market action and yet attempts to and sometimes fails to provide a haven to the homeless.

Kantara (2022)

Directed By: Rishab Shetty

Screenplay By: Rishab Shetty

Cast: Rishab Shetty; Sapthami Gowda; Kishore; Achyuth Kumar; Pramod Shetty; Shanil Babu; Prakash Thuminad; Manasi Sudhir; Naveen D Padil; Swaraj Shetty; Deepak Rai Panaaje; Pradeep Shetty; Rakshith Ramachandra Shetty

Language: Kannada                                                 

Genre: Drama; Action; with Supernatural elements

Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Set in a fictional forested land called Kaadubettu, Kantara fuses myth, magic, horror and the supernatural in a film that is a commentary on land politics. It starts with the story of a king who looked for peace and comfort and found it in a forest god. However, his descendants looked to soothe their greed by taking back the land bequeathed to the gods and the people they protect.

Shiva (Rishab Shetty) the son, of the erstwhile Bhoot Kola performer, who disappeared during a particularly charged performance, carries trauma from that incident. His response to it? Distance himself from his calling. He and his friends are known as the vagabonds of the community. He participates in the annual Kambala competition, goes hunting and generally lives a free life. He also seems to enjoy an easy relationship with the benevolent landlord Devendra Suttooru (Achyuth Kumar). Despite his unwillingness to fulfil his calling, he does enjoy the respect of the community who knows that whatever his antics, he is the one to turn to if the people need help.

The primary antagonist seems to be a rigid forest officer Murali (Kishore) who wants the forest protected and puts a stop to animals being hunted, bursting firecrackers for celebrations, and people cutting wood. Now, all of this sounds perfectly reasonable but forest communities have practised sustainable living for centuries. The aim is to live alongside the land, the animals and not in opposition.  

There are internal restraints in how they consume. Shiva’s mother Kamala (Manasi Sudhir) tells him off every time he goes hunting. It is not out of fear of government retribution but because animals are sacred and must not be indiscriminately killed. Most certainly not for sport of to prove some ability. They are to be consumed only on occasion. Also, the forest god Panjurli is a boar god and hence one must not ill-treat his likeness. In fact, there is a rather significant moment when Shiva himself acknowledges how his people are satisfied with a frugal meal and do not give into excess.

Greed is a running theme within the film which ties with the ideas of land ownership that settled communities, that claim rights of being civilised by mere virtue of land possession, believe in. The lack of consideration for forest communities is shown playing out on one hand by feudal forces and on the other by government systems. One is not claiming that the communities that have lived by the land are repositories of complete knowledge but that their expertise is not even considered, is problematic.

The story is rather simple but the simplicity of the story is layered with much symbolism about identity and space. The characters in the beginning seem like stock representations of certain ideas but it curves making the characters more rounded figures capable of growth and learning. This is not just for Shiva and Murali but others as well. For instance, Leela (Sapthami Gowda) is the female love interest and does fulfil certain traditional romantic frameworks but she doesn’t just retire into the scenery but holds her own in how she expresses her autonomy in everything including desire.

The film is aware of the changing socio-political and ecological climate and anticipates it in how it seeks to communicate its resolution. It also uses supernatural horror to drive the action of the story, making the viewers fall deeper into a mystical experience.

Ponniyin Selvan I (2022)

Directed By: Mani Ratnam

Screenplay By: Mani Ratnam; Elango Kumaravel

Cast: Vikram; Aishwarya Rai Bachchan; Jayam Ravi; Karthi; Trisha; Jayaram; Aishwarya Lekshmi; Sobhita Dhulipala; Prabhu; R. Sarathkumar; Vikram Prabhu; Prakash Raj; Rahman; R. Parthiban; Lal

Language: Tamil                                                   

Genre: Historical; Drama; Action

Run Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan I is an adaptation of Kalki’s eponymous epic historical fiction series. It looks at the rising power and expansion of the Chola Empire during the reign of Rajaraja I or Ponniyin Selvan. The film sets the stage for the conflicts and political machinations that would complicate the story going forward.

Battles are being won and kingdoms are being annexed but besides resentful enemies, there are disgruntled courtiers who want to replace the powers that be so as to have more control over the functioning of the empire. This political plotting is complicated by personal vendettas – Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the Pazhuvoor queen wants to destroy the Chola Empire from within because of her ill-fated past with Aditha Karikalan (Vikram), the Chola crown prince.

Our introduction to the complex world of the time is through the charismatic presence of Vallavaraiyan Vanthaiyathevan (Karthi), a confidante and spy for Aditha who uncovers the courtiers’ plot and then gets further instructions that intertwine his narrative with that of the other players of the story.

The story traverses the length and breadth of the southern lands as well as Sri Lanka. Besides geographical diversity, there are race and ethnic concerns that add to the already murky undercurrents. However, on the surface, it is beautiful, witty like the charged exchange between Kundavai (Trisha), the Chola princess and Nandini. Nothing is openly revealed, but in this political chess game, the women seem to puppeteer a lot of the moves.

Kundavai, for instance, is the astute mind behind many of the ruling powers’ decisions as is Nandini in prodding her husband Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (R. Sarathkumar), the treasurer, in the direction she wants him to take. Even the erstwhile Queen, Ponniyin Selvan’s betrothed, Samudra Kumari and Oomai Rani, expertly weave the plot.

Like a true historical, it doesn’t become a cult of personality but shows how many players have to come together, how the many different actions taken will finally lead to the events we read about in history books. History books can after all be bird’s eye in its viewpoint and depending on the teller, limited in its framework. While there are fictional elements to this film and novel saga, it does create an important balance in the lopsided historical retellings of our nation.

The music and the score are exhilarating in how it accompanies the storytelling.  Also, the gold figurines that were used to give the premise of the narrative were beautifully done.

Brahmastra Part One -Shiva (2022)

Directed By: Ayan Mukerji

Written By: Ayan Mukerji

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor; Alia Bhatt; Amitabh Bachchan; Mouni Roy; Nagarjuna Akkineni; Saurav Gurjar; Rohollah Ghazi; Shah Rukh Khan

Language: Hindi                                                     

Genre: Fantasy; Action-adventure

Run Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

Ayan Mukerji’s Indian mythic fantasy film Brahmastra Part One – Shiva follows a young DJ Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) who has an uncanny relationship with fire. At a Dusshera celebration he locks eyes with a beautiful woman Isha (Alia Bhatt) but when the fire from the burning effigies seems to take a life of its own, he collapses from the experience.

Destiny throws him along Isha’s path and also awakens a strange power within him that shows him visions of things that are happening. In a bid to uncover the truth behind them, he travels with Isha to understand the forces at work. This puts him on a collision course with Junoon (Mouni Roy) and her two associates Zor (Saurav Gurjar) and Raftaar (Rohollah Ghazi) who are in search of an ancient power that slumbers. His journey leads him to the Ashram and under the tutelage of Guru Raghu (Amitabh Bachchan), he learns both about his powers and his past. While Shiva learns about his powers, Junoon too is amassing power under the guidance of an older being.

The idea of bringing the divine astras from mythology into modern times is rather cool and coupled with the phenomenal VFX, it is a great experience. The more you learn about Shiva’s past and the equation between the powers and his ancestry; the story does get exciting and yet feels rather familiar. The familiarity comes from drawing on various popular culture sources not the least of which are Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Star Wars.

That realisation is a little unpleasant but the film being a fun watch cannot be taken away. The true dampener was the rather uninspired cardboard consistency dialogues that were neither current nor an honest portrayal of the characters feelings and complex experiences. However, the acting was truly remarkable – actors of a lesser calibre could not have put the soul in a performance with such soulless language.  

All in all, Brahmastra Part One – Shiva leaves a lot of expectations for the next instalment since much of Part One is a rushed affair possibly to lead up to the actual conflicts that are hinted at.

A side note: Shah Rukh Khan’s cameo was star power at its best.

Dune (2021)

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Written By: Jon Spaiths; Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth

Cast: Timothee Chalamet; Rebecca Ferguson; Oscar Isaac; Josh Brolin; Stellan Skargard; Dave Bautista; Stephen McKinley Henderson; Zendaya; Chang Chen; Sharon Duncan-Brewster; Charlotte Rampling; Jason Momoa; Javier Bardem

Language: English                                                      

Genre: Science-Fiction; Thriller

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune. It adapts the first part of the novel that looks into the journey and rise of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). Set in the year 10191, the universe is run like a feudal system with different noble houses running planets, all of which owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor.

On the water-rich planet Caladan, the homeworld of House Atreides, the Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son Paul are preparing to relocate to the planet Arrakis – a desert planet known only for its abundant sources of the mystic spice Melange – known to elevate the limits of the mind. The spice is a highly prized commodity, because it ensures safe inter-galactic travel, besides other things.

The Fremen,the tribes that live on Arrakis, have had to see their land ravaged by Outworlders, like the House Harkonnen, who colonise, extract the spice and destroy the planet. The Atreides relocation is fraught with political danger and combined with Paul’s strange visions, there seem to be other dangers lurking.

The film manages to do justice to the source material, retaining the grandeur of the experience. It also eases viewers into a world that is clearly unfamiliar by weaving the information seamlessly into the story. It explores the various cultural and political aspects in the book, albeit tentatively which justifies the cliff-hanger ending since there is much that needs to be answered.

The haunting soundtrack, coupled with stellar performances heightens the grandeur of the film. The realistic inclusion of the almost mystic techniques of the spiritual/psychological espionage network – the Bene Gesserit; a group who function like a shadow government introduces us to a reality where technology is meant to only assist the human and not become smarter. Yet the medieval attitudes and systems at play makes one wonder as to what human advancement is supposed to look like.

Dune part one sets the stage and whets the appetite for a sci-fi experience, if a little intense. It remains to be seen how part two will build on the ideas of politics and religion embedded in Herbert’s novel and do justice to it as a cinematic undertaking.

Violet Evergarden (2018)

Directed By: Taichi Ishidate; Haruka Fujita

Written By: Kana Akatsuki

Voice cast: Violet Evergarden – Yui Ishikawa; Gilbert Bougainvillea – Daisuke Namikawa; Claudia Hodgins – Takehito Koyasu; Cattleya Baudelaire – Aya Endo; Benedict Blue – Koki Uchiyama; Erica Brown – Minori Chihara; Iris Cannary – Haruka Tomatsu; Dietfried Bougainvillea – Hidenobu Kiuchi; Luculia Marlborough – Azuka Tadokoro; Leon Stephanotis – Yuto Uemura

Language: Japanese                                                      

Genre: Coming of Age; Fantasy; War

Number of Episodes: 13 + Special

Run Time: 24 minutes each

Violet Evergarden begins where the war that ravaged the continent ends. Set in an alternate steampunk world with kingdoms that was torn apart by a four-year war. The war has ended but not without leaving its scars on the people. Not the least of which is Violet (Yui Ishikawa) herself. She lost her arms in the final decisive battle between Leidenshaftlich and the Gardarik Empire. A battle she witnessed at close quarters as the Leidenshaftlich soldier maiden or as she was considered, a weapon.

Post the war, she suffers from PTSD but doesn’t know it; purely because no one has treated her like a person. The one person who did, her superior officer Gilbert Bougainvillea (Daisuke Namikawa), is nowhere to be found and no one tells her where he is. His friend Claudia Hodgins (Takehito Koyasu), a former Lt. Colonel in the army who started a postal company decides to help her gets settled in because Gilbert asked him to look out for her. Especially if he did not return after the war. 

She decides to work for his company as an Auto Memory Doll – a female scribe who write letters on behalf of other people. Her reason to become one has to do with the fact that she wants to be able to understand people’s emotions. She feels if she does this, she may understand why Gilbert told her, “I Love You” – words she finds hard to comprehend.

A child soldier and an orphan, raised on the battlefield and growing up under violent circumstances that are barely hinted at but obvious in how she seems emotionless like the doll she looks like and is referred to due to her occupation.

Growing up as feral child and branded a weapon by Dietfried Bougainvillea (Hidenobu Kiuchi) who hands her over to his younger brother Gilbert as a ‘present’ – a tool to use during the war. Startled at the child he beheld, he decides to teach her to read and write, treating her as a person even though no one else does.

Her inability to perceive emotions comes in the way of her relationships with people as well as her letter writing but her guileless responses and innocently worded thoughts have a piercing clarity to them. Each letter writing experience helps the people involved tap into memories that they have not acknowledged to themselves and they also teach Violet how to understand her own emotions.

Since it is set right after the war, many of the letters have to do with coping with grief; grief of loss, grief of surviving, grief of being unable to communicate and the grief of not knowing whether you could survive. Much of the story is then about rebuilding; not just physically as a land but as a people.

With Luculia Marlborough (Azuka Tadokoro), Violet learns to write letters that while succinct touch the heart of the matter. With Leon Stephanotis (Yuto Uemura), she learns that recording words of the scholars past can preserve knowledge for time to come. Of course, not all the learning is from Violet’s side. Dietfried, who dislikes Violet for many reasons, not the least of which has to do with his brother’s disappearance, comes to understand the value of kindness.

A story about reclaiming, restoring and healing; Violet Evergarden restores letter-writing, heartfelt communication, the joy of the written word and love.

Nevertheless (2021)

Directed By: Kim Ga-ram

Written By: Jung Seo (Webtoon writer); Jung Won

Language: Korean                                                         

Genre: Romance; Drama

No of Episodes – 10

Run-time – 60-70 minutes

Cast:

Han So-hee – Yu Na-bi

Song Kang – Park Jae-eon

Chae Jong-hyeop – Yang Do-hyeok

Lee Yul-eum – Yoon Seol-a

Yang Hye-ji – Oh Bit-na

Kim Min-gwi – Nam Gyu-hyun

Lee Ho-jung – Yoon Sol

Yoon Seo-ah – Seo Ji-wan

Jung Jae-kwang – Ahn Kyung-joon

Han Ee-ddeum – Min-young

Yoon Sa-bong – Jung Sook-eun

Nevertheless follows the lives of young arts students in a university who are figuring out their complicated love lives amidst a modern world of cynicism and lack of commitment.

There are four plotlines with the central story focusing on Yu Na-bi (Han So-hee) and Park Jae-eon (Song Kang). The series starts by detailing Na-bi’s rather painful and humiliating break-up with her ex – an older artist. This coupled with her experience growing up with a mum who has never found stable connections, has made her a cynic, unwilling to believe in the possibility of romantic love. And yet, a chance meeting with Jae-eon, a young, attractive and suitably mysterious man makes her want for more. He draws her into a passionate non-relationship relationship that both approach from very different spaces.

Jae-eon is charming and his entry into any room considerably raises the sexual tension because he is simultaneously flirtatious and indifferent to everyone. But even Jae-eon recognises that Na-bi affects him in a manner unlike others.

Na-bi’s friend, Bit-na (Yang Hye-ji) rather perfectly compares him to a flower, beautiful, present but not exclusive – something that really underscores their bond. And since Na-bi means butterfly, it becomes a recurring motif in the series.

Nevertheless explores toxicity in relationships and does so realistically by exposing its many facets. In the sense, some people are just toxic to everyone because of how they interact; it may be gaslighting, putting them down, manipulation, stringing them along and more. But sometimes, even if you are not the toxic one in your primary relationship, your half-hearted response to someone else could make you the toxic one over there, such as Na-bi with her childhood friend Yang Do-hyeok (Chae Jong-hyeop). Hence the title track has a male and female take on it. 

Other such toxic spaces would be Seo Ji-wan’s (Yoon Seo-ah) possessive ‘friendship’ of Yun Sol (Lee Ho-jung) which is matched by her unwillingness to actually be there for Sol. Or Bit-na’s simplistic definition of being a couple that leaves Nam Gyu-hyun (Kim Min-gwi) unfulfilled and unhappy.

 In contrast to this we see the older graduate students and teaching assistants Ahn Kyung-joon (Jung Jae-kwang) and Min-young (Han Ee-ddeum) who probably with relative stability (not that they have everything figured out) show a mature development. However, the series doesn’t claim that age or time means that you will figure things out – case in point being Na-bi’s mum and Jae-eon’s mum.

But, one of the nicest things about hope in romance comes from Na-bi’s aunt Jung Sook-eun (Yoon Sa-bong) who mentions that she admires her sister for her willingness to try again and again every time she meets someone and there is a spark.

Nevertheless looks at the possibility of resolution and it doesn’t have to do with one person changing but with them finding a middle ground. Any relationship that fails to commit or forces one person to give up their essential needs becomes toxic and yet, if love can colour your world brighter, it can teach you hope.

The series has beautiful camera work that uses close-ups of the eyes and lips to show heightened emotion such as desire and sometimes to show disconnection. It thus mimics the style of a webtoon. Added to the intimacy created by the camera is the soft sensual lighting that makes the series a sensory experience especially when coupled with the beautiful haunting OST.

Steins;Gate (2011)

Directed By: Hiroshi Hamasaki; Takuya Sato; Tomoki Kobayashi

Written By: Jukki Hanada

Voice cast: Rintaro Okabe – Mamoru Miyano; Kurisu Makise – Asami Imai; Mayuri Shiina – Kana Hanazawa; Itaru “Daru” Hashida – Tomokazu Seki; Suzuha Amane – Yukari Tamura; Luka Urushibara – Yu Kobayashi; Faris NyanNyan – Haruko Momoi; Moeka Kiryu – Saori Goto; John Titor – Hiroshi Tsuchida; Yugo “Mr Braun” Tennouji – Masaki Terasoma; Nae Tennouji – Ayano Yamamoto

Language: Japanese                                                       

Genre: Psychological thriller; science fiction

Number of Episodes: 25

Run Time: 24 minutes each

Steins;Gate is an animated series that deals with time travel. It is about a group of friends who run a ‘future gadgets’ laboratory wherein they make a phone microwave that allows them to send mails to the past and affect the future as a result. The lab is headed by self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe (Mamoru Miyano), the super hacker Itaru “Daru” Hashida (Tomokazu Seki) and his childhood friend and ‘hostage’ Mayuri Shiina (Kana Hanazawa) who calls herself Mayushi.

The series starts off with a science conference on time travel and this is the first time we are introduced to the name ‘John Titor’, an enigmatic figure who claims to be from 2036. His theories become the base for the scientific plausibility of time travel. Titor is also the reason they start looking for an old computer, the IBN 500. Supposedly because it can decode the time research done by the organisation SERN.

The conference is where Okabe meets Kurisu Makise (Asami Imai), a science prodigy, for the first time. She eventually becomes a lab member and helps him perfect the device that sends their “d-mails” – futuristic messages. Kurisu even helps Okabe create other gadgets that become pivotal to the storyline. However, their first meeting ends on a traumatic note when he finds her in a pool of blood, sends Daru a message about it and accidentally sets off a d-mail that alters events.

Steins;Gate camouflages itself as a comic series because even when Okabe realises that he is the only one who is able to remember events before and after time alteration, his eccentric mannerisms and the fascinating characters he meets, hoodwink us.

For instance, Suzuha Amane (Yukari Tamura), the part-timer who works for Okabe’s landlord Yugo Tennouji (Masaki Terasoma), calls herself a warrior and eventually becomes a lab member. Moeka Kiryu (Saori Goto), a socially awkward young woman who prefers to communicate only through text messages becomes another lab member especially when Okabe and she find out that they are both in search of the IBN 500.

The changes wrought by the d-mail are minimal at first but much like the butterfly effect, everything begins to spiral out of control pretty fast and they are left dealing with consequences they did not anticipate. As the story progresses, one realises that even the seemingly delusional stories they tell each other become a mask for latent concerns.

 The series starts off as a story about an oddball group but quickly snowballs into a fast-paced thriller where time becomes an entity to combat. It is a series with undercurrents of violence that throws up questions about identity and morality.

Flower of Evil (2020)

Directed By: Kim Cheol-kyu

Written By: Yoo Jung-hee

Language: Korean                                                          

Genre: Suspense; Drama

No of Episodes – 16

Run-time – 60-70 minutes

Cast:

Lee Joon-gi – Do Hyeon-su/Baek Hee-sung

Moon Chae-won – Cha Ji-won

Jang Hee-jin – Do Hae-su

Seo Hyeon-woo – Kim Moo-jin

Kim Ji-hoon – Baek Hee-sung

Son Jong-hak – Dr. Baek Man-woo

Nam Gi-ae – Gong Mi-ja

Choi Young-joon – Choi Jae-sub

Choi Byung-mo – Do Min-seok

Jung Seo-yeon – Baek Eun-ha

Flower of Evil is a thriller drama about a man on the run, Do Hyeon-su (Lee Joon-gi) who is living under the assumed identity of Baek Hee-sung, with his devoted detective wife Cha Ji-won (Moon Chae-won) and their young daughter Baek Eun-ha (Jung Seo-yeon).

 You find yourself as a viewer thinking oh this will be a cat and mouse narrative because Ji-won in the course of her investigation is bound to come closer to finding out the real identity of her husband, whose real name Do Hyeon-su is implicated in two different horrific crimes – one, the murder of the village headman, and the other, allegedly, as his serial killer father Do Min-seok’s (Choi Byung-mo) accomplice.

As the story progresses however, one begins to wonder if all the assumptions made up till that point were simplistic because nothing is as it seems. Hyeon-su was adopted by Dr Baek Man-woo (Son Jong-hak) and his wife Gong Mi-ja (Nam Gi-ae) after their son Baek Hee-sung (Kim Ji-hoon) hit Hyeon-su with his car. Hyeon-su took his place when Hee-sung fell into coma and yet how? Why did they readily adopt him? Is there a connection that exists or were they just being humane? Else, could it be that as someone up for a promotion as hospital director Dr Baek needed to maintain their public image…many questions emerge.

The series effectively uses foreshadowing to explore the dilemmas that will affect Ji-won. The opening cases that she investigates with her partner Choi Jae-sub (Choi Young-joon) has on one hand, a woman wilfully choosing to ignore her husband’s possible subterfuge so as to maintain her façade of a happy family and on the other, the exposure of a supposedly loving caregiver’s psychopathic tendencies.

We also see Hyeon-su being tormented by the shade of his father, an eerie figure with black orbs for eyes, bottomless, pitiless and seemingly drawing him towards violence because the vision shows up every time he’s at the crossroads of a decision – one violent and the other, socially acceptable.

There is also Do Hae-su (Jang Hee-jin), Hyeon-su’s older sister, for whom time stopped the moment her father, was revealed to be a serial killer. She, at pretty much the same time, lost her boyfriend Kim Moo-jin (Seo Hyeon-woo) who backed away and her brother, who fled the village after the headman’s murder. Her separation from him has worn her out in worry.

Kim Moo-jin’s fear might have destroyed his relationship with Hae-su, yet his intimate connection with the siblings leads him to become a journalist that writes on the killings that shook his village. However, his need to write about the killings hides a sinister truth, one that threatens to be revealed when he inadvertently comes into contact with Hyeon-su, which sets off the narrative.

The series has been frequently described as a story about human suffering and that is an apt description in that it sheds light on the depravity within humans, the need to justify dishonourable decisions and being groomed into a world of violence. It looks at the scars that trauma can leave on the very fabric of a person’s soul and possibly what innocence really is.

Masterfully directed, the series does not let up on the tension even when one has a sense of where each piece fits. There is no lazy resolution to the story; it pushes to violent despair to see if after that hope can still exist.

A Place Further Than the Universe (2018)

Directed By: Atsuko Ishizuka

Written By: Jukki Hanada

Voice cast: Mari Tamaki – Inori Minase; Shirase Kobuchizawa – Kana Hanazawa; Hinata Miyake – Yuka Iguchi; Yuzuk Shiraishi – Saori Hayami; Gin Todo – Mamiko Noto; Kanae Maekawa – Yoko Hikasa; Yumiko Samejima – Lynn; Mugumi Takahashi – Hisako Kanemoto

Language: Japanese                                                      

Genre: Adventure; Comedy; Drama

Number of Episodes: 13

Run Time: 24 minutes each

A Place Further Than the Universe is a Japanese animated series. Classed as an adventure and subtitled as the story that leads to Antarctica, the series focuses on four high-school students who want to be a part of the civilian Antarctica expedition.

Mari Tamaki (Inori Minase) or known to her friends as Kimari is a high-school student whose insatiable curiosity about life and need for adventure is thwarted by her paralysing fear of failure. Her desire to live her youth fully finds expression when she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa (Kana Hanazawa), a school-mate. Shirase wants to travel to Antarctica so that she can find her mother Takako Kobuchizawa, a civilian researcher who went missing three years ago during a blizzard in Antarctica.

Shirase’s dogged pursuit of her implausible dream makes her the butt of jokes on the school campus but Kimari’s decision to stick by Shirase and be a part of her dream becomes the catalyst for the narrative.

Their enthusiastic conversations are overheard by Kimari’s colleague Hinata Miyake (Yuka Iguchi) at the convenience store she part-times at. Hinata is a high-school student who dropped out because of certain events. She wants to be a part of Shirase and Kimari’s plan so that while she waits to take her college entrance exams, she can be a part of something momentous.

Their decision to crash the meet-up for the Antarctica Civilian Research group introduces them to Yuzuki Shiraishi (Saori Hayami), a freshman high-school student who is also a popular child actress. Yuzuki’s mother/manager wants her to accompany the civilian team and do a broadcast show on living in Antarctica.

Conceptually, the story sounds laughable and yet it builds the credibility of the narrative bit by bit as the faith and desire of the holders of the dream grow. Much like a bildungsroman, the series draws on different experiences to chart growth and learning. More so, since it is centred around loss; not just for Shirase but even the adult researchers like Gin (Mamiko Noto), Kanae (Yoko Hikasa), Yumiko (Lynn), and many other members who were part of the previous ill-fated expedition.

The series is an emotional experience but it doesn’t become trite or matter of fact even when the viewers are able to sense a reveal. True to the idea of an adventure, the backdrop of the animation is dynamic and detailed, giving us a realistic insight into what the daily grind of living on a ship or working on one of the most desolate landscapes could be about.

The story has the ability to connect across age and culture largely due to its realistic characterisation, scenery and in the sense of catharsis it conveys. It also continually gives us a sense of possibility.  Kudos to its intimate portrayal of relationships such as that of Kimari and Megumi (Hisako Kanemoto), on the strains that form and the insecurities that build when people choose to follow their own path.