Black Hollow Cage is a slow-paced movie in which the protagonist receives a warning note from a time machine she discovered in the forest, about the strangers who will soon appear at her home. The deliberate decision to withhold background information about the main characters hurts the movie more than what the weak payoff provides. The only thing that is good in this movie is the unique perspective of showing different people move around the house. While certain ideas are slightly interesting, most of them are done much better in the masterpiece Triangle (2009).
Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (Blu-ray release 2018-4-18) is an anime based on the 1993 live action Japanese TV drama of the same name. A schoolgirl tries to get away from home and is caught by her mother, who is moving away to live with the third husband. The protagonist, who has a crush on her and in a rage, throws a beautiful glass ball she found earlier. This act causes time to reverse, so he gets a chance to choose a different path. However, the world also becomes different.
This is a charming and pure love story with spectacular dream-like visuals. Following the perfect Your Name (2016) time travel anime love story, we get another great time travel parallel universe anime love story in 2017. Although it is rather clear what must happen at the end, it is not tragic at all and at no point does the movie try to be tear jerking.
Second Summer, Never See You Again (Blu-ray release 2018-2-23) is a Japanese romance movie. The protagonist confesses his love to a classmate just before she dies. The girl is not impressed and tells him to go away. Magically he is given a second chance to time travel back to 6 months ago. He decides that this time he will not confess, yet her behavior changes slightly.
I’m not impressed by this plot. I think the girl’s initial reaction is unreasonable. How it ends is odd too. The movie often refers to a legendary band that inspired the whole thing, but keeps it a secret. The final revelation of the secret is dull and only makes the story more incomplete. I think the time travel is used merely as an excuse to create a movie that tries to be tear jerking.
Based on a novel, The Miracles of the Namiya General Store (Blu-ray release 2018-3-23) is a Japanese drama that employs a mailbox that sends and receives letters across time, similar to Il Mare (2000) / The Lake House (2006). Instead of using it for romance, this plot device is used to bring a positive view of life via a group of characters. Three thieves go into an old and deserted general store to hide, but suddenly receives letters from decades ago seeking advice in life.
I like this movie for several reasons. I love time travel. Unlike other movies, here a bunch of people benefit from it. Often profiting from a knowledge of future is branded as a bad thing, as in Back to the Future II (1989), but we see a positive result here. At the end a special letter is involved – I think its role in the story is brilliant. It even manages to provide a reason for the existence of the time travel mailbox.
Note: There is a Chinese remake of this movie.
逆時營救 (Reset) (2017) is a Chinese sci-fi movie. The Chinese title translates to “rescue by time reversal”. The protagonist is a single mother, who works in a laboratory that creates a time machine that transports the subject to a parallel world. Bad guys try to steal the research data by kidnapping the son of her. In spite of complying to the demands, she witnesses her son getting killed. So she goes back in time to save him. However, instead of simply succeeding, the time travel drama becomes more complex that I rather not spoil.
It is always commendable for a mainstream movie to tell a non-trivial time travel parallel universe story, because such stuff is not easily understandable by everyone. In fact, some of the negative Chinese reviews fail to understand the parallel universe view of time travel, and why conventional time paradox does not apply in this movie. Although the action and the car chases are average, and at one point the mother suddenly becomes good at shooting and athletic for no reason, this is still an enjoyable movie. Note that certain aspects of the movie are similar to Triangle (2009), which is a masterpiece, but this correlation is unfortunately ignored by the Western reviews I’ve read.
Diverge (Blu-ray release 2018-2-6) starts in a post-apocalyptic world of wasteland. A man and his wife try to survive with limited food. She dies soon due to a global virus, and he is captured by a mysterious man, sending him on a mission to save the world.
Although it has multiple awards and reminds me of 12 Monkeys (1995), I do not like this movie for multiple reasons. The first scenes showing the post apocalyptic life are far too long. In the climax, certain people should be asking important questions to understand the life threatening situation they are facing, but they just keep silent. I hate open endings. We do not really know whether the world is saved or not. There is another important aspect that is not addressed as well. The only thing that I find interesting is how the plot takes advantage of its perspective of time paradox.
Before I Fall (Bu-ray release 2017-5-30) is a time loop movie based on a novel. The protagonist has several mean girl friends. She rejects a nice guy and prepares to lose her virginity to her bad boyfriend. They are cruel to a lesbian classmate, and to another girl whom they consider to be a freak.
Given the generally positive reviews of it, I suppose I fail to appreciate it because I’m not the target demographic. It was immediately obvious to me what the key is to deal with the time loop after all characters are introduced. The protagonist ignores the important stuff but spends her time loops in doing meaningless things such as arguing with her friends, dressing up as a whore and seducing her teacher – if this is supposed to be a common girl fantasy then I don’t know.
Doraemon the Movie 2017: Great Adventure in the Antarctic Kachi Kochi (Blu-ray 2017-8-2) follows the series formula with one minor difference: time travel. Although Doraemon movies have always involved some form of time travel, they were mostly limited to transporting the characters to a special place to tell a story. In this movie the plot involves multiple time travels to solve a crisis. For this reason I find it special and enjoyed it mostly. However, its monster design plagiarizes a certain classic movie, for the second time in this series. Note that at the very end of the movie, what happens to the alien planet defies physics, unless the aliens happen to have the Doraemon Anywhere Door.
Sagrada / Sakurada Reset is a light novel series. It is adapted as a 24-episode anime series and a two-part live action movies (Blu-ray release 2017-10-27). This story is about a town in which many people have supernatural abilities. In particular, the combination of the abilities of the two protagonists allow them to reset time to 1-3 days earlier and give them a chance to make things happen in a different way. While supernatural abilities are not new in fiction, this anime is unique in that the protagonists use their abilities to combat sadness, such as making a mother remembering her love for her daughter instead of deciding to abandon her, or saving a cat from a traffic accident. However, through these resets a friend died mysteriously, and they are led into life threatening situations, which gradually reveal a great conspiracy.
Another unique aspect of the anime is that it spends a lot of time discussing philosophy, such as what is right, justice, god, evil, friend, happiness, whether one still loves one’s romantic partner if he is turned into a stone, whether a newly appeared person who duplicates a dead person is the same person, whether it is worthwhile to sacrifice a few people to save a lot of people, etc. Normally I do not like talky drama. Incredibly it does not only discuss philosophy, these topics go beyond discussion and manifest in various aspects of the various plot lines. What makes it great is also its weakness. Talky philosophy and monotonic voicing will make a lot of audience find it boring and give it up in the first few episodes. Only those who appreciate the value of sci-fi combined with philosophy has the potential to truly appreciate it, and they will be rewarded with a conspiracy that takes complicated turns to solve, and a great love story. Even then, various things in the story are difficult to understand, because they depend on inventive logic of arbitrary rules of the combination of various super powers. To make things worse, the narrative jumps forward and backward in time.
The live action movies do a reasonable job of telling the complex conspiracy in two movies, with most of the characters retained. Most of the plot changes seem essential to trim the time required to tell the story. Just as it is unreasonable to expect a live action Ghost in the Shell to discuss the philosophy of what differentiates an android from human, here it is unreasonable to expect the live action movies to retain the philosophical emphasis of this story. I commend the movies for trying to make it less difficult to understand, with more explanations and a more streamlined flow.
My concern with the movies are not with the necessary plot changes, but the reduced screen time for the love story, especially from the point of view from the dead girl. It is no longer apparent how much sacrifice she did, and how much pain she went through, to make things happen. The other change is to villainize the antagonist. In the anime it is clear that he is not fundamentally a bad guy – he chooses his path for his own valid reasons. In the movie he really acts like a bad guy – I think this is more unfaithful to the story than the plot changes. This becomes a bigger problem when the bad guy does not receive an ending appropriate for a bad guy – because the original ending is about two smart guys trying to outwit each other, not a good vs evil thing.
[Note: Although I tagged this as time travel, there is a crucial difference between it and reset: someone is able to nullify the reset.]
A Ghost Story (Blu-ray release 2017-10-3) is not a horror movie. It has a nice idea that I find interesting, but the pace of the movie is too slow for my taste. A guy dies in an accident, his ghost stays in the house and watches his girlfriend without her knowing his existence. Eventually she hides a paper in the wall before she moves out, in order to leave her memory there. He is still stuck in the house, and goes to haunt the newly moved in families.
SPOILER – Ending explained
This movie does what Back to the Future II (1989) did – goes back to the past and observes one’s prior self. The ghost jumps off the future building, goes to the past, sees an earlier and still living version of himself moving in to the house with his girlfriend. Eventually he gets a chance to get the paper she hid in the wall, thereby freeing himself.