Life (1982) – Book Review

Yu Lao’s Life is the story of Gao Jialin, a young man in his 20s who recently lost his job as a teacher and has to move back to his rural village and peasant life. From there, the story explores the relationship with his elders, his romantic relationship with the peasant girl Qiaozheng, and the city girl Yaping. Although he makes some big decisions that affect his personal life, Jialin’s (and everyone else) fortunes and future are greatly dependent on the government of 1980 China and the bureaucracies it creates. This social structure combined with family connections can give you advantages and also take them away, as we witness as the story plays out. Jialin deals with conflicting motivations and pressures that shift with his job situation, which take him between rural and city settings, and also between the groups of people who live in each.

Some things about the characters that resonated with me (SPOILER ALERT in the bullets):

  • Jialin’s spirit and talent even in the face of challenges. His conflicted feelings towards Qiaozhen versus Yaping were palpable, and the ultimate decision he made was certainly understandable, even if the results are somewhat heartbreaking.
  • Qioazhen’s pure heart and devotion. Even though she knows the limits that her illiteracy places on her, she takes the chance to spend her life with Jialin. I found Qiaozhen the most interesting and admirable person in Life.
  • Yaping’s prudent and opportunistic nature. She realizes her love for Jialin, and how he fits in with her future life. However, when situations change, she’s not afraid to re-evaluate.

I watched the movie version of Life / 人生 (1984) right after finishing the book, and believe that it’s best viewed as a support for the book. As a stand-alone movie, I don’t think it’s very good because events just seem to happen one after another, but you won’t know the motivations or the relationships between the people. It’s a classic case of the book having much more detail and insight than the movie. However, for me, the film added welcomed color to the book. As someone not familiar with the setting, it was great to see what the village looked like, as well as the city and the people. Lao describes the clothing they work, like the Dacron pants or patterns on Qiaozhen’s shirts and voila – there they are on the screen! Not only that, but the dialog in the movie was pretty much exactly like the book (the translations, at least). The scenes were like little visual depictions of the book’s chapters. I thought it was very helpful!

“Qiaozhen and Jialin”

I give the book my rating of 8.5, and the movie a rating of 7.

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Eleanor & Park (2012) – Book Review

I finished reading (audiobook) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I was captivated by this YA novel from beginning to end. Set in Omaha, Nebraska, it’s about two high school students’ relationship. The year is 1986, which was the year I graduated, so the references to popular culture were familiar to me. I normally am put off by too many references in books, but I enjoyed the ones in Eleanor & Park. Some were pretty obscure, like the Prefab Sprout t-shirt towards the end of the book, which I really appreciated. I feel like only a certain 80s subculture, like the one my friends and I were part of, would recognize many of the references. But others, such as Totino’s Party Pizzas (we used to eat them all the time!) are common but add a lot of context to the times.

The love story is a simple one but the details and characters were very interesting. Eleanor is a misfit, Park is half-Asian, Eleanor has a large family with an abusive stepfather, while Park’s lives in a typical household. While it’s mainly a teen romance, subjects of bullying, domestic abuse, inter-racial relationships, and racism are also talked about, but not too deeply, which is kind of a shame and I think a little bit of a missed opportunity. However, the pace of the story moves along nicely and maybe it was just the right amount of lightly touching on those heavy subjects.

One thing to note is that some of the East-Asian stereotypes can be a bit “cringey” and reading them left me a little uncomfortable, but if I think about the setting of the story, it kind of makes sense. I don’t know if the author was intentionally describing Park like that to point out the stereotyped mindset of the time, but she could have been clearer. And I have never heard of “Park” as a first name (it is a common Korean surname).

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that I thought it was excellent and I (unlike many other readers) was satisfied. That final chapter brought a big smile to my face and a little tear to my eye. 😊 Give it a read if you haven’t already!

Note: Book cover design by Olga Grlic and illustration by Harriet Russell

******** SPOILER ALERT *********

About the ending… it reminded me of the ending to Monsters Inc. It’s that same feeling.

By the way, I made a little sketch of Eleanor wearing Park’s Prefab Sprout t-shirt::

“Eleanor”


Weathering With You / 天気の子 (2019) – Movie Mini-Review

Loved this! Weathering With You is *almost* as good as Your Name, but I think I need to watch it again just to be sure. 😊 The storyline was fun and combines fantasy and reality in an original way, and seems timely considering the changes in the climate.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO6400
“Beautiful Background” Austin, 2019

Just like in Your Name, the background artwork is amazing. Some of the scenes with cloud-scapes are breathtaking! But what I really enjoyed about Weathering With You was that there was a bit more action, which was refreshing for a Makoto Shinkai film. I’m still in love with the Honda Super Cub, so seeing chase scene involving one was awesome. ❤️

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO5000
“Supercub Scene” Austin, 2019

Although Weathering With You didn’t have as many moments as Your Name that gave me “the feels”, I enjoyed it quite a bit. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments as well, so I’d say it’s a very well-rounded movie. It’s got a bit of everything: artwork, story, romance, action, and humor. It’s definitely a movie I’d like to watch several times. Highly recommended!

Star Wars Episode IX – Movie Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO5000
“Episode IX Display” Austin, 2019

Tonight I went with my two sons to see the 1:25 am showing of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It was a late showing (Sunday morning actually) because we didn’t think to get the tickets earlier, however it worked out okay for me because I had a mild migraine in the afternoon so I slept from 3 pm until 11 pm and was well-awake to see that late-night show.

*********** SPOILER ALERT ************

I enjoyed Episode IX a lot and thought it was great! I’m in the camp that thought The Last Jedi was an okay movie, but had some really cringey scenes. And when I saw “THE DEAD SPEAK!” come up on the screen for the final movie, I literally rolled my eyes and was prepared for the worst.

But I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with the story, pacing, action, dialog, and humor of the movie. There was plenty of fan-service of course, and the plot wasn’t very complex, but all-in-all it was a satisfying end to the Skywalker saga for me.

One thing I liked about the JJ Abrams movies was the quick bits of humor that were thrown in. For instance, in Episode IX when Ben Solo lands hard after jumping from a high surface, he lets out a little, “Ow” which I thought was brilliant. In the same vein, when Finn is rescued from the Rathtar by Rey in Episode VII, she just says, “That was lucky!” and the scene moves on, without skipping a beat. I loved those types of lines! In contrast, in Episode VIII, Poe’s “can you hear me?” scene with Hux was only mildy funny to begin with, but went on for far too long, and to me it was really lame that a huge part of their battle strategy was based on a silly Verizon joke.

Anyways, just like with Episode VII, I’m ready to see The Rise of Skywalker again on the big screen. And I usually enjoy the second viewings more than the first so I really looking forward to it.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO500
“Episode IX” Austin, 2019

Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow (2019) – Movie Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.2, 1/100 sec, ISO2500
“Love Live! Sunshine!! Movie” Austin, 2019

こんばんは。How’s it going?

Tonight I went with my friend Mikey to watch Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow at the local Alamo theater. I mentioned in a previous post that I was watching the first season of this anime in preparation for tonight’s movie, and I am so glad I did, otherwise I would be super-lost!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.2, 1/100 sec, ISO2500
“Yohane” Austin, 2019

The story starts with the girls moving to a new high school since their previous one was shut down, and it looks like they will have to use their “school idol” charm to win over the other students. But then the plot takes a wacky turn and the girls all end up in Italy. Although it was a weird direction for the story to go, it was a really fun setting and gave my favorite of the group, Yohane/Yoshiko, plenty of screentime, so I was happy with that aspect of it. 😄

The plot was not very cohesive, the songs and performances were great. You can tell the animators took a lot of care during these sequences as the dance moves are really well-done and realistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if they motion-captured real dancers for all the dance sequences in the movie (and the tv anime for that matter). They looked amazing!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2, 1/100 sec, ISO400
“Love Live! Sunshine!! Movie” Austin, 2019

I often go to special screenings of anime with my friend, and we enjoy seeing what the audience is like. For Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow, the crowd was small but more passionate than the ones at regular anime films. Some people wore Love Live!! t-shirts, others brought in backpacks full of stuffed toy characters, and one girl was wearing what looked like an idol-inspired outfit. And during one of the last songs, the people next to us broke out their glow-sticks. It was fun, and now I’m a Love Live! fan. Time to catch up on Season 2 and also the original series. 😊

As of this writing, Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow is showing for two more nights, so if you have a chance to see it, why not? It’s a lot of fun, even if you don’t know the characters!

またね~