REVIEW: Icons of Anime: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Every time I see a movie, I have a particular feeling afterwords, where I take on some of the characters’ attitudes, style, or mannerisms. Depending on how good the movie was, this can last for quite some time. For instance, I watched Billy Madison weeks ago and I still straighten into first position when I feel myself slouching. And though I have neither the time nor money to get into ballet lessons, my heart yearns to sign up for a beginner’s class.

The mood of absolute coolness is overpowering in Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I regret forgetting to wear a shirt with a poppable collar; I felt beyond out of place amongst Spike Spiegel, Electra Ovilo, and Faye Valentine, lightyears behind them, fashion-wise (and name-wise of course). The landscape of the city made me feel small, but the characters walked through it with confidence: they owned the streets, moving in long strides, self-assuredly occupying space.

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The variety of color schemes was greatly influential in making the movie’s aesthetic unique. The different settings (Moroccan Street, the bounty hunter crew’s home, the warehouse, downtown, etcetera) were distinct in tone, the characters’ clothing standing out enough within these spaces but also blending in well. The omnipresence of shades of earthy brown is representative of the 1990s and early 2000s, but still allowed for a futuristic feeling. Though many of the colors were muted, they worked well in accentuating the artists’ highly contrasted shading technique.

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In terms of the movie’s concept, its originality brought new life to what could have easily been a standard, unremarkable action flick. The focus on fight scenes was thankfully minimal (for me at least, there is no greater sleeping pill than any of the Jason Bourne movies), instead there was more emphasis on the nature of the bioterrorism device. They actively developed the idea, including scientific details that fleshed it out more than I expected. It was a bit unrealistic that the researchers attempting to find out more about the biological agent came up with absolutely nothing, while the cowboy gang figured it all out so quickly. It would have been less distractingly odd had the scientists started to gain more understanding. This choice could have made the agent more complex, more terrifying in a more real way.

Throughout the movie, I found these places where small occurrences slyly slipped by. In the first hospital scene, a woman lies on a bed, reaching up at nothing, most likely in the process of dying. The shootout on the trains traveling over water has a moment where two trains pass each other just so, drawing darkness in and out so smoothly.

Also, the soundtrack was great. The music was as widely varied as the settings, and some of the song titles are as out there as the characters’ names. The whole soundtrack is by one music group (Seatbelts) on the album Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: O.S.T. Future Blues. This would be the perfect album to listen to while cooking a fancy, complicated dessert, or an enormous bowl of homemade ramen.

The U of M Center for Japanese Studies is continuing this film series Wednesdays at 7PM at the Michigan Theater. The next movie is on March 13: Ghost in the Shell (1995). Be sure to mark your calendars!



On Tuesday December 4th, I attended the UMMA’s Heroes and Icons Film Series. Every Tuesday night at 7 pm, the Student Programming Advisory Council hosts a film in the auditorium of the UMMA, featuring pioneering artists who have made strong statements through their life’s work. This week featured China’s most infamous and controversial artist Ai Weiwei.

If you don’t know anything about Chinese history or its contemporary art movement, thats ok. I will give you the briefest and most topical- and opinionated- overview: in China, the government imposes very strict and fearful censorship on the public expression of its people. This issue has been of particular debate in the past decade because of the rise of social networking and Internet communication. Ai Weiwei is an international artist who has made numerous controversial pieces since he began his work int he early 70’s. Most recently, he has created a photographic documentation daily life in China. His gallery space is unconventional however; his exhibition is displayed via  Twitter.

In 2008, a massive earthquake in the Sichuan province shattered the lives of thousands of citizens, many of whom were children attending a poorly constructed public school building. The government tried to hide the extent of the destruction by refusing to release numbers of casualties or names of victims. Infuriated and inspired, Ai Weiwei ventured to the Sichuan province and began documenting and Tweeting his findings. As you might imagine, the government was displeased with the dissemination of his opinions and came to his hotel room late at night. They kicked in the door and entered unwarranted. The rolling camera captured the sound of a police man hitting Ai Wei Wei’s head.

One year later, the artist finds himself in Munich trying to build an installation to honor the lost lives of the children in the Sichuan earthquake when he discovers that the lingering trauma from the beating will require surgery. The premise of the film, therefore, follows Ai Weiwei’s recovery process and continued defiance of government restriction through his artwork. This particular installation is a mosaic of 70,000 children’s backpacks hoisted onto the façade of Haus der Kunst, a German building connected to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. This statement, called “Remembering,” is one that is difficult to forget.

Film maker Alison Klayman tells a very detailed story of an irreverent and soulful man who has powerfully challenged the fundamentals of the Chinese society through his artwork. I was particularly excited to see this film for that reason AND because I spent the summer in Beijing interning at an architecture studio that is right across the street from Ai Weiwei’s! The second image above (the turquoise door) is the entrance to his studio Fake in ArtZone Caochangdi. That was the view I saw every single day for months whenever I exited or entered my studio. Unfortunately, however, I never got the chance to see  Ai Weiwei. That is partially because he was on house arrest the entire time I was there. During his trial, a group of policemen blocked the street and tried to stop him from attending. A very dramatic, 24-hour police stake-out took place on our block for over a week, involving trucks, cameras, and many men in uniform. There was a great deal of publicity on the conflict, and  our studio’s exterior was featured here in the New York Times! See the elderly onlooker peering out from behind the bricks in the back? I know her!