Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Your Name, and Other Stories
Well, I really enjoyed Makoto Shinkai's Your Name (Kimi no na ha) - the anime film that's taken Japan by storm this summer. I watched it at the local multiplex, but I think it's got a limited release more generally, and I highly recommend it as a film that is a) beautiful, b) funny, c) clever, d) touching. There's no doubt it deserves all its plaudits. Some of the scenes were stunning; there was a great running gag about breast-fondling; and I don't think I'll easily forget how to make sake from rice and spit.

And yet... I don't know, I was expecting to be more moved by it. Perhaps my expectations were too high (I'd been excited for weeks); perhaps the bottle of Wiper and True IPA I took into the cinema had its effect; perhaps I was in the wrong mood, although I don't think so. I cry easily at films, and at much worse ones than this, but Your Name left my ducts untapped despite having just the sort of plot that should have had me bawling. I've been thinking about it since with pleasure, but largely intellectual pleasure, mixed with a slight sense of irritation. I wonder why?

The feeling is rather reminiscent of the one I tend to get from the novels of Neil Gaiman. When reading, say, Coraline or The Ocean at the End of the Lane or The Graveyard Book I feel, here is someone who is thoroughly steeped in fantasy convention, has all the tools well within his command, and knows exactly how to use them. A craftsman, in fact, and a good one - but still, there's something missing that makes my admiration fall short of love. When I read Gaiman, I involuntarily switch into a mode somewhere between writer and critic (rather than reader), noticing his techniques, his devices, his references, and quite unable to keep my head below water. I like his work, but can't bring myself to love it; many worse writers engage me more.

Probably the fault is in myself rather than these stars, but if I were to turn this into a kind of back-handed compliment, I'd say that Gaiman (at least in the books I've read) has stayed too far within his own safety zone, doing the things he knows he can do well. Because he can do many things well, his safety zone is very large - so large, in fact, that it's in danger of turning into a pocket universe from which he can't escape.

But escape he must.

Everything I've read by Gaiman I feel like I've read before, and it was better the first time.

Well, let's just say that I understand that feeling!

I'm always kind of happy to see other people who don't quite accept the Gaiman hype. I like the way you describe him here - it's a very good way of articulating my own feelings about his work.

Jenna Moran, who you may have noticed is one of my favorite writers ever, is very clearly and fairly explicitly influenced by Gaiman, which is weird - I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the same things that don't quite work for me in Gaiman's stuff are so much more effective in Moran's!

Edited at 2016-12-06 08:19 pm (UTC)

I've not read any Jenna Moran. Is there a place you'd recommend I start?

Well, Jenna Moran is the author of Hitherby Dragons, which I constantly babble about on LJ. I actually have a whole post about my advice on how to read Hitherby. That having been said, I don't think I've ever managed to get anyone to read Hitherby through my advice. Maybe it's just too daunting, or it may be that my taste is too different from that of almost everyone I know (I have gotten my cousin abangaku to read and enjoy at least some Hitherby, but we obviously have unusually similar tastes).

Since mostly everything I love that Moran has written has been Hitherby, the best way to read what I think is great about her is to read stuff on Hitherby. But there are some more digestible Hitherby-related texts that she's published, if you are willing to spend money on trying her out. Magical Bears in the Context of Contemporary Political Theory is a collection of some of the Hitherby "legends" (non-canonical stories) which can be read just as a collection of whimsical fantasy short stories. I recommend that one because it includes "The Alphabet Game," which is one of my favorites, but it is also available for free online. Meanwhile, An Unclean Legacy started out as a series of legends on Hitherby - one can read the original version by starting here and clicking next after finishing each chapter - but was expanded into a full-length book. I would also recommend that because it's its own coherent text that doesn't depend on understanding any of the context of Hitherby canon, but is still a pretty good story (although I probably like the original, short version just as much as the longer version that's for sale).

Thank you! I will try the free one first, and see how I go - but how do you pronounce Hitherby? Is it bee or buy? I'm not sure I can proceed further until this is resolved!

Well, obviously, I hope you enjoy ;-) I honestly like the free stuff as much as or better than the paid stuff, anyway.

Hitherby Dragons is meant to be a takeoff on "Here there be dragons." As explained here, for example. So it must be "bee."

I wonder if this is something Gaiman himself is aware of? Much of what he said about The Ocean at the End of the Lane ahead of publication was that this was more psersonal, higher risk, than anything he had done before - yet this really didn't come through in my reading od the book. I thought he had said much the same things, in a more concentrated form, in Troll Bridge. Now, given that's a story about someone who goes through his life at one remove...

I don't know, but I think he is a good enough reader that he probably is aware of it.

I was literally JUST talking about this movie with one of my students! This year for anime club (I teach middle schoolers), instead of watching shows everyone has seen, I've been having them choose movies that I sift through. We've watched Spirited Away and Summer Wars this year. Kimi no na ha will be in our next round of voting!

Well, please don't let anything I've said here put you off seeing it (if you haven't already). I don't think it rivals Spirited Away, but I far prefer it to Summer Wars.

Oh, nothing did! I try to include Ghibli movies in all voting because they have great messages, and movies like Summer Wars and others by that studio (such as Wolf Children) are very middle-school-age. I'd LOVE to show them Satoshi Kon movies, but I think they're far too adult for school.

Edited at 2016-12-08 12:51 am (UTC)


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