Tag Archives: Ken Watanabe

Pika Pika

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

by Hope Madden

When my son was small and we played pretend, I made believe I was Snorlax so I could lay on the couch and do nothing. Does that make me a bad parent? Well, a lazy one, anyway, but the point is, I logged countless hours on that couch watching all manner of pocket monster.

I was dragged unwillingly into the world of Pokémon. No, I am not exactly the target audience for Pokémon Detective Pikachu (read: I am in no way the target audience for this movie). But, when Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds at his Ryan Reynoldsiest) says, “Mr. Mime is the worst,” I know enough to understand that shit’s the truth.

So, there is a plot. It involves loads upon loads of daddy issues, primarily (but not exclusively) those that hang over Tim Goodman (Justice Smith). In looking for his father he falls into a mystery involving a Pikachu who is not only adorable (he admits as much himself at least twice), but is also connected to Tim. Tim can understand him.

For the uninitiated, Pokémon just repeat their own names over and over and over again in a manner that makes you want to take your own life, and yet you tolerate it because you really do love your son.

But not this Pikachu! Sure, others can only hear his cute “pika pika,” but Tim can hear actual words, and those words are telling Tim, in a humorously snarky way, that he needs to unravel this mystery and work on his interpersonal skills.

Bill Nighy shows up as an entrepreneur/philanthropist/genius. Meanwhile, Ken Watanabe languishes with bafflingly limited screen time as a detective who is, let’s be honest, not very good at his job.

Kathryn Newton is a plucky would-be investigative journalist, her trusty Psyduck in tow. (Note: Psyduck is also the worst.)

Part of the entertainment value here is the genuine fondness for the content director Rob Letterman and his army of screenwriters bring to the table. Good looking CGI, committed performances and a solidly comedic but not too ironic tone also help.

The film doesn’t shoot over the heads of the youngest fans, does embed scads of references and homages for those there for nostalgia, and throws around enough kid-friendly Reynoldsisms to entertain parents who mercifully missed out on Pokémon Gen 1 and 2.

Is it a colossal waste of Ken Watanabe’s talent? Oh God, yes. Terrible.

But honestly, otherwise I don’t have a lot of complaints.

Drowning in Sap

The Sea of Trees

by Hope Madden

In 2002, filmmaker Gus Van Sant released one of his more polarizing and thoughtful films. In Gerry, two guys named Gerry (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) hike ill-prepared into the desert to find themselves fighting for survival.

A quick glance at The Sea of Trees suggests that perhaps Van Sant returned to these themes. Matthew McConaughey loses himself in a Japanese forest, befriends another wayward traveler (Ken Watanbe), their treacherous journey offering life lessons aplenty.

Because horror writer Chris Sparling penned The Sea of Trees, I was kind of hoping the film would be a cross between Gerry and The Blair Witch Project.

It is not.

No, it’s an overtly sentimental, culturally patronizing waste of one Oscar winner and two Oscar nominees.

We wander Aokigahara, Japan’s “suicide forest,” with McConaughey’s Arthur Brennan. Brennan’s a scientist, and you know that that means. That’s right – atheist.

Van Sant falls back on the crutch of the flashback to help us understand what this handsome scientist is doing in the suicide forest. It’s in these segments that we meet Naomi Watts’s Joan Brennan and begin to unravel the mystery behind Arthur’s trip into the woods.

Watts suffers most from Sparling’s hackneyed dialog. Her few scenes need to be pivotal and weighty – we know this because of her utterly unrealistic speeches as well as Mason Bates’s condescending score.

Van Sant is no stranger to schmaltz. As great a filmmaker as he has been, sentimentality tripped him up in Promised Land, Finding Forrester and others. His career is peppered with other writers’ projects, many of them with a point to make, and those statement films tend to be Van Sant’s weakest.

Perhaps it’s because, rather than finding his own language for the story via camerawork or score, he relies on an existing style. The Sea of Trees certainly suffers from a heavy handed score. Van Sant also misses opportunities to create a sense of foreboding, claustrophobia, isolation or even redemption with the forest itself, Kasper Tuxen’s photography instead offering irrelevant yet lovely images of windblown treetops.

Trees can definitely be sappy.