20 Years Ago

My friend Kyle tweeted out that today marks 20 years since the release of the film The End of Evangelion (July 19, 1997). I actually got to see it in theaters in Tokyo that summer, as part of my first visit to Japan, and this made me think back at how much my life changed that year.

It was at the start of May 1997 that I went to the city of Tianjin, China as part of a 10-week program to study Chinese at Nankai University — along with a group of students from McGill University and the Université de Montréal (where I was studying in their East Asian Studies program). The first day I was in China, I would meet the Japanese woman who is now my wife (it took a few weeks before we actually got together though). At the end of the 10 weeks, the entire group returned to Montreal, but I decided to stay — yeah, because of the girl — and so enrolled at the university there to continue my Chinese studies.

During that summer, my wife had returned to Japan (it was the university’s summer break) and I decided to go visit her for two weeks. That would be my first visit to Japan, a place I would later call home for over 15 years.

My wife is originally from Kobe, and so that’s where I went. By boat. It was a two-day journey from the port of Tianjin to the port of Kobe, and it was an amazing way to slowly take in Japan, small island by small island, until we reached the port. I still have vivid memories of listening to Fugazi’s Repeater on my walkman, while taking in the sight of Kobe as we approached.

I stayed a couple of days in Kobe, but for the majority of the trip we were in Tokyo, staying at one of my wife’s friends. It’s during that trip that I got to go see The End of Evangelion, which was my introduction to the series — I knew zero Japanese, and considering how, ahem, narratively adventurous that movie is (especially the ending), you can imagine what a trip it was to take in. That July also marked the release of Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, which I also went to see at the theater (and as I mentioned recently, it may have been my first taste of Ghibli).

I still have quite a few vivid memories from that trip — like the first time I watched Mecha Mecha Iketeru, a comedy series on TV starring the comedy duo of 99, who I’ve continued to love for 20 years. I also bought a PlayStation while I was there to bring back with me to China, and the first words of Japanese I really learned where while playing Tomb Raider and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in Japanese.

After the trip, we both returned together to Tianjin by boat (this time taking 4 days because of a tsunami), and would end up staying in China until the end of that year — at which point we went to Montreal for one semester so I could get the missing credits I needed for the program I was doing, before moving to Tokyo at the start of May 1998.

I’m certainly thankful for the interesting journey my life has taken, as well as for all of the unexpected swerves I’ve decided to take a chance on and follow.

Princess Mononoke

As I mentioned when I wrote about watching My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke is a movie I just never latched on to — and I often wonder why so many people I know seem to name it as their favorite Miyazaki film. I actually had a chance to watch it in theatres when it was released in 1997, during my first visit to Japan (by boat from China). I couldn’t understand any Japanese, so just went because it was supposed to be a big deal — I also don’t remember if it was the first Ghibli film I saw, or if I had seen some before, which is highly probable, but I can’t recall. But yeah, so I saw it not understanding anything about the story, and the visuals weren’t enough to capture my interest. I then eventually watched it another time with subs, but it still didn’t have much of an impact. Watching it again last night for probably the first time in 10-15 years, I can say that I enjoyed watching it, but it’s still far from being one of my favorite Miyazaki films, or even a favorite Ghibli film. I don’t find the story to be particularly interesting, and it’s relentlessly dark in a way that I don’t really like.

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro has always been my favorite Ghibli film, and having just watched it again this morning (for the nth time), it remains my fave. I just love everything about it, from the atmosphere, the depiction of children, the magical surrealness, all weaved around a dead simple (and at times sad) story. Think I’ll watch another Ghibli movie today, possibly Princess Monohoke, which on the opposite end I’ve never liked much.

Miyazaki Is Back (Again)

It’s not the first time he “retires,” and who knows if we’ll see the same thing happen again, but it was officially confirmed by Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki that Hayao Miyazaki is working on a new feature film for the studio. To be honest, I’m much more interested in hearing about other future plans for Ghibli, as I would certainly love to see other creators continue to make films for the studio.

The Castle of Cagliostro

the-castle-of-cagliostro

Continuing with my 80s anime run, last night I watched the Lupin the Third movie The Castle of Calgiostro. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, I’ve seen this movie countless times (and my wife even more), but it had been a while since the last time I watched it, and so it made for a fun revisit (and my wife ended up watching it too). It’s such a fantastic film, and feels like a perfect blend of Lupin and Ghibli (while being a proto Ghibli film). I had so much fun watching it that I was still in the mood to watch some more Lupin after, so went and watched the first episode of the original Lupin the Third series, that aired in the early seventies (and I believe Miyazaki was involved with the second half of that series). Tonight I discovered that a new Lupin series had aired last year, so started watching that as well (the first 2 episodes).