Let’s celebrate the new month with a new post! As usual, hover over red text to see additional text.
I had the fortune of going to see The Wolverine with my friends at the Scotiabank theatre on Tuesday (which I highly recommend, as Tuesday ticket prices are at its lowest). I was intrigued by the trailer for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, though at the same time a little disappointed as, just like the first movie, it had deviated drastically from the book. While I am not the most genre-savvy with regards to the X-Men in the cinema (that honour goes to my friend Kevin, 1st place for Timeplay), the action scenes were quite fun to watch. Spoilers ahead (as usual).
Unlike past X-Men movies, most of it (anything but the first 20 or 30 minutes) takes place in Japan, where Logan (Hugh Jackman) goes to see an ex-soldier, Ichirou Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi/Ken Yamamura), whom he helped save during World War II when the atomic bomb drops over Nagasaki, on his deathbed. There, he meets Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (first-time actor Tao Okamoto), who while quite demure and comes off as a Yamato Nadeshiko, can hold her own with martial arts against the Yakuza when they attempt to kidnap her at Yashida’s funeral.
The movie is less action-y and more introspective of Logan’s character. Yes, the fight on the roof of the bullet train and the climactic final battle were a sight to see, but most of it focuses on Logan’s resolve to do something rather than stay a recluse in the Yukon. It’s eerily Harry Potter-esque with the Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) visions that coax him to join her in the afterlife on very white sets. Early on Yashida offers Logan a chance to “die an ordinary death” by transferring his healing capabilities into him. Logan refuses, and discovers the following day that they have somehow disappeared and his wounds don’t heal near-instantaneously. This premise is quite rare (even though it’s been done before) and it’s always a treat to see a once implacable man being brought down to normal. Logan is also quite jaded this time ’round (okay, so there’s
one two smooches [corrected courtesy by Kevin] between him and Mariko. Just one two), such that when he and Mariko run into a love hotel to escape the Yakuza pursuers, he chooses the Mars expedition room instead of the dungeon or nurse’s office.
Logan is accompanied early on by a mysterious Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who while very badass isn’t as seen as much as I would have expected. Logan spends much more screentime with Mariko, and this character seems to serve only as a plot device to escort Logan to Japan and fend off Mariko’s kidnappers. She comes off as very aloof and emotionally distant, and the attempt to develop her character by giving the old “found as an orphan and taken in” story and her mutant power of being able to see the instance in which a person dies doesn’t do her much justice. In fact, this mutant power of hers isn’t even fully elaborated on; when she first meets Logan in the Canadian pub, she foresees that the hunters he had a beef with will die within a week; this is never mentioned again in the rest of the film. By the end of the film she appears to travel with Logan for a while, but by the time the mid-credits scene appears (which takes place 2 years after the end) she’s gone. Naturally, she and Logan have gone their separate ways, but with the amount of presence she had, it’s almost okay for this to happen.
The mutant baddie known only as Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is the sexy villain of the movie and has the ability to spit/inject toxins into her victims. Over the course of the film (as some of my friends have noted) she sheds her clothing until she’s in somewhat typical supervillainess attire (and then she sheds for real and ends up looking like a cancer patient). She serves under Yashida to acquire Logan’s regeneration and adamantium from him, but it’s never made clear as to how she and her boss became acquainted with one another, nor what she gets out of it. One of the things that really irked me was when she boasted to Logan that not only was she a biochemist (quite plausible, given her affinity for venoms and poisons), but a metaphysicist as well. Here are some definitions of metaphysics:
1. the branch of philosophy that treats of first principles, includes ontology and cosmology, and is intimately connected with epistemology.
2. philosophy, especially in its more abstruse branches.
3. the underlying theoretical principles of a subject or field of inquiry.
Seriously? A metaphysicist? It’s an interesting little tidbit, but it has no value whatsoever in the movie and it comes off as the writers trying to sound cool and scientific by attaching the prefix “meta-” to an actual scientific profession.
Now, to turn to the more cultural aspect of the film…
Due to this taking place in Japan (and most of it really is filmed there), it makes sense for both heroes and villains to be Japanese, and it bypasses the trends the American TV/film industry have set:
If you are Asian and have a prominent role, you will be at least one of the below:
- an evil communist
- a nerd
- adept at martial arts
- desexualised if you’re male
- occasionally hypersexualised if you’re female
- distraught by the death of a loved one
- a FOB with heavily accented English
And while some of the above criteria are met, it’s not as bad or apparent as it would have been if this took place in the West.
The biggest issue I have with the movie is this: You should have a basic understanding of Japanese before seeing it. Why? Because the use of subtitles is incredibly inconsistent and some of it makes me want to club baby seals.
Even though I managed to understand more than half of what was going on without subtitles, I’m fairly sure that the rest of the audience had “what the hell just happened” going through their minds. For one, the very, very beginning of the film. We hear sirens in the background and cries of 「逃げろ」 while the Japnese are fleeing. It’d be nice if that were translated as it adds to the urgency of the scene.
A really small insignificant peeve that I have is the omission of an occasional phrase, but that doesn’t change the intention of what is being said, so I’ll let it go.
Then we have Mariko reuniting with Yukio where they share a sisterly moment, and the only thing that’s translated is “you haven’t answered my emails.” Nothing else. Cool beans.
The most notorious misuse of Japanese is dropping it between two villainous Japanese characters right after using it to address a flunky. That’s right, they use accented English to carry out their treacherous dealings because a foreign language might not be serious enough. Forgive me, but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back that is my willing suspension of disbelief.
Then there’s the egregiously named Silver Samurai introduced during the funeral scene. Yes, it’s pronounced “SHIRUBAA samurai,” giving off the impression that its conception was influenced by Anglophiles (though this may be because of canon; confirm?). If they were going for something more Eastern, they could have gone with “Shirogane no Samurai.”
That isn’t to say that there’s no bilingual bonus to this, though. You can see the awning ｢いい夢ホテル」of the love hotel Logan and Mariko go into, for one. You can also read the inscription on the sword that Yashida attempts to give to Logan in the well: 「不老不死不滅」, roughly meaning “never-aging, never-dying, indestructible,” qualities that are attributed to Logan. There could be some symbolism in him rejecting the sword and returning it to Yashida which leads to him (unwillingly) giving his powers away.
The most jarring one is when Yashida keeps mumbling 「クズリ」 (which I mistook for “medicine” the first few times), which is somewhat explained by Mariko to be a magical tenacious creature that doesn’t back down. Guess what, guys? This creature does exist: it’s called a wolverine (hence the title of this blog post). It’s understandable as to why she wouldn’t explain what it really is, as it would be too contrived of a coincidence for her grandfather to utter the very codename that Logan has. Props to screenwrights Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, and Scott Frank for adding it in though, those sneaky bastards.
All in all, the movie was good: the fight scenes, dashes of dry humour, and taking place in a non-American locale without attempting to bring American influence or “educating” the populace with another culture. I just wish they’d done something different with translations, though.