Book #133: A Symphony of Echoes (2013)

author: Jodi Taylor
language: English
length: 524 minutes (8 hours 44 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 April 2017

This is the sequel to Just One Damned Thing After Another, a book I listened to back in November about time travel. I was a bit lukewarm about the book, I think – it kept me interested but it was a bit too madcap for my liking.

This book is more of the same. Its historical sections are great and well-researched – this time they visit Edinburgh during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, for example, to try and “correct” the timeline. They also go forward in time to a future version of their institution, but I got confused at this point how far forward it was meant to be.

The book itself suffers a few structural problems: mainly, it’s too episodic. I feel like I’m reading (well, hearing) three or four short stories instead of one coherent novel. It’s unclear what the central conflict of the novel is meant to be. For example, at the beginning, the author introduces Jack the Ripper as this kind of monster that is difficult to kill, which they manage to do, but it’s never mentioned again. Where did it come from? Perhaps it’s for a later instalment of the series – Taylor has been pretty prolific, after all.

On a similar note, there are so many characters and timelines, it’s very easy for Taylor to just kill off characters. Like there’s a character called David, the main character’s assistant – I can’t remember when or how he was introduced, but he suddenly dies in the middle of the story of something unrelated to the main plot, and the main character is upset, but it’s ultimately inconsequential and didn’t really shed any insight.

One of the things I liked about the other book was it didn’t shy away from depicting sexual assault or the other nasty things that women often have to go through, and there was still a bit of that theme, but not as strongly as the first book. It comes up as a moral dilemma at the end, but I thought it cheapened it a bit this time, didn’t quite work as well as I would hope.

The other thing was the narrator of the audiobook. She’s good at accents, but not so good at timing her speech to match the tone of the words. There’s a bit in the middle where the main character is so shocked by something that happens, and she goes on a literal rampage, driven by these words echoing in her mind, and the way the narrator says them doesn’t match to how I think they “should” sound. It was too frantic. It’s not the only example. I feel like she was trying to read through the book as fast as possible.

The book really just needs a bit more focus, because I think there’s a lot of compelling stuff there. As it is it’s a bit of a mess. But maybe that’s the point. After all, the main character is proud – in a very English way – of how messily her cohort all work and how much they love tea. Taylor needs to learn not to apply that quite so strictly to her books, though.

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Book #132: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

aka: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death
author: Kurt Vonnegut
language: English and some German
length: 313 minutes (5 hours 13 minutes)
finished listening on: 22 March 2017

I got this on a cheap deal from Audible, and what a coincidence: it’s narrated by James Franco, who I just watched chew the scenery in King Cobra. I’ve been meaning to read some of Vonnegut’s work for a while, as he’s one of those authors that’s constantly referenced in other works – and is rightly considered a classic author of sci-fi.

The book is a kind of comedy about war, written semi-autobiographically about Vonnegut’s experiences in Dresden during World War II. In that vein, it fits well with Catch-22, but is less obviously comedic in its outlook. In fact, it is a lot more morbid than that book – Catch-22 waits until near the end of the book when we’ve become emotionally invested in its characters before it starts killing them off, but this book starts right from the beginning.

The story of the book is that the main character Billy Pilgrim gets “unstuck in time”, and later kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians, aliens who can see all of time simultaneously and are fatalistic in their worldview. Billy Pilgrim also adopts this worldview. To this end, every time a death is mentioned in the book (which is a lot), the book uses the Tralfamadorians’ catch-phrase, “So it goes”.

Like all the best books, and especially sci-fi, this book can be read on multiple levels – on the one hand, it’s the adventures of a man who travels through time a lot and meets aliens. On the other, it seems to be a depiction of PTSD flashbacks, or some other mental illness brought on by Billy’s experiences during the war. Also, because of the non-linear way the book is structured, it is probably best to read it two or three times to get everything, to really understand what is going on. Like Catch-22, jumping around so much could leave me confused as to where I was.

I also realized while listening to this that this was certainly the inspiration for the aliens in Arrival. I feel like I’ve read them in the wrong order now!

As for James Franco, honestly I don’t think he’s cut out for audiobook reading. There’s an awful lot of vocal fry and mumbling in this (especially when he repeats the Tralfamadorian mantra), and the book also contains a few sentences of untranslated German, which Franco utterly mangles. I couldn’t understand what he was saying at all. Can audiobook producers not screen that kind of stuff before producing an audiobook? I complained about Franco in my review of King Cobra recently – I also just realized that I complained about him (indirectly) in my review of 127 Hours, about five years ago, although not by name because I didn’t know him at the time. That film relied so much on his one performance, and he couldn’t quite carry it.

So I think I’d like to read this book again just to absorb it better, but maybe in print form this time. I think it’s beautifully structured, to the point that a single reading doesn’t quite cut it. Anyone else read it? What do you think?

Film #259: Your Name (2016)

kiminonawaaka: 君の名は。(Kimi no na wa)
director: Makoto Shinkai
language: Japanese
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 6 Jan 2017 (plane 2/3)

This movie has now become the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time, I heard. I actually missed it last year when it came out because it was still sold out when we tried to go. It’s still on in cinemas now, even. I heard the English-subtitled version is now on in Shinjuku (finally). I finally watched it on the plane, after Jason Bourne, and while I’d been looking forward to that film too, this was the one I really wanted to watch.

I’m kind of glad I managed to watch it with subtitles. I watched When Marnie Was There without them a couple of years back, and while I was able to understand most of the story, there were a few important details I missed out on. So this time I could understand everything.

The basic story is an unexplained body-swap that happens between two teenagers on opposite sides of the country – one boy in Tokyo (Taki) and a girl in the countryside somewhere (Mitsuha). The beginning of the film shows the two of them working out what’s happening and then rolling with it as if it’s normal. Body-swapping is nothing new, of course. This movie plays it for comedy a bit – initially Taki as a girl grabs her breasts and then acts very aggressively at school, while Mitsuha as a boy can’t work out which pronoun to use (a joke that is very hard to translate).

What people have been quite good at hiding is that there’s a twist about halfway through when we suddenly realize that (spoilers!) there’s also a time-travel element to the story, and the second act is very different from the first as a result. The plot takes on a much more layered and nuanced element from that point. I think to truly appreciate the many strands I’d have to rewatch it.

Recently when I watch movies, I’ve been scribbling notes about them (on a pad or on the notes app on my phone) as they go, kind of like liveblogging. For the last two movies it was mainly because I like to categorize the location, and Snowden and Bourne loved to travel constantly, and for a lot of the others, it’s to make the transition to this review smoother. But when I watched this film, I was so entranced I forgot to do it entirely, and as an afterthought, just wrote “wow” as my single note for the film. I think that fairly sums up my thoughts about the film.

Just to flesh out that opinion, though, I think the main thing I loved was the animation, especially the art design. It’s a lush film, to put it bluntly. The backgrounds are so detailed and colourful, and they’re incredibly realistic, too. The scenes in Tokyo are mostly set around Shinanomachi and Yotsuya, and I kept having that eery familiar feeling when I recognized the locations. I think the only other animation I know that’s been able to do that is Ghibli – I think it’s Only Yesterday (Edit: it’s actually Ocean Waves) that opens on the platform in Kichijoji station, where I lived for three years, which gave me a similar shock.

I’m quite glad I went with the crowd on this one. I was half-expecting some kind of hokey romance, especially when I first heard about it. So often the crowd in Japan just does what it’s told, and so much of the movies produced for the local market here are terrible, so to see something genuinely great is annoyingly rare. I’m trying to think of things I didn’t like about this film, actually, and coming up short. I guess the soundtrack is fairly uninspiring J-Rock… but I still liked the songs and want to try them at karaoke.

But anyway, this film is good and those who haven’t seen it yet should go out and see it. And if you have seen it… what did you think? Anything you’d like to add?

Book #123: Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013)

jodtaaauthor: Jodi Taylor
language: English
length: 570 minutes (9 hours, 30 minutes)
finished listening on: 16 November 2016

This book is another one that kept coming up in the sci-fi section of Audible, and eventually I got around to listening to it. It’s about time travel, and some historians who go back to investigate real life events and get a better insight into what actually happened.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s one that is obviously carried out lovingly by someone who’s well into her history, as a lot of things are described in great and accurate detail. Linguistic and cultural matters are not glossed over, so the characters take a great deal of training to be ready for their travels.

The book’s sense of humour very obviously takes after Terry Pratchett, especially with the idea of a very disorganized band of misfits saying “bloody hell” a lot. It works well, but I think it’s Taylor’s first book, and I think she needs to find a bit more of her own style.

One thing I found, though, was the book was so full of ideas it was often spilling over. One the one side, there are the sci-fi aspects with time travel paradoxes and the like, and the intrigue plot with the breakaway characters from the future timeline, but it’s also trying to depict a bunch of disparate time periods, and the present-day characters’ relationships and interpersonal drama – and there are also a lot of characters to juggle. There’s also frank discussion of issues such as sexual assault (which is dealt with sensibly and sensitively), but it often comes as a bit of a shock after the romping nature of a lot of the rest of the book.

I felt when listening to the audiobook that I could often miss key points due to the fast pace – the time travel paradoxes were often explained in an almost throwaway sentence, or five years suddenly pass in the middle of the book when it glosses over their years-long training period, or a character seems to go missing and I had presumed her dead until she arrives back in the story later on. I think a slower pace would work well for this. I also had a bit of trouble distinguishing minor characters, or even major characters like the “chief” and “boss”, who were different, although the narrator had a good voice for accents and could mitigate this a lot.

But the story was well-told, overall, and it left enough mystery at the end that I might like to continue with the series. I’ll see, though – it’s pretty long at about nine books already. I don’t know if I have the stamina!

Anyone else read this?

Book #120: All You Zombies (1959)

ayzauthor: Robert Heinlein
language: English
length: 19 pages
read on: 31 October 2016

I’m not sure where I got this book, but it was on a PDF on my computer, and it’s very short, so I rushed through it the same day as the last book on the Kindle. It’s a sci-fi story by Robert Heinlein, whose works I’ve never read before, so I don’t know how it sizes up to those.

It was my dad that told me the story a long time ago. It’s fairly simple to tell: it’s about a time travel paradox, where one person turns out to be every character in a story, including the mother, father, baby, and also the bartender who’s listening to the story, who turns out to be a time travelling agent. It turns out the character is what we’d now call intersex (but was called a hermaphrodite in the story), given a sex reassignment operation against her will after her pregnancy leaves her organs in a bad state. I don’t even know if such an operation would be possible in real life – I’ve never heard of someone having both sets of fertile gonads, but let’s say for argument’s sake that it’s possible. It’s an interesting question, then, whether someone could end up their own mother and father given time travel, and it totally violates causality, if there is such a thing.

The title refers to a line near the end of the story, something like “I know where I come from, but do all you zombies know where you come from?” – honestly I wasn’t all that impressed by the line, but whatever.

It’s very easy to read the story, and for such a short story, the world and rules under which the characters are living are fleshed out surprisingly well, such as the way in which the main character always keeps track of what date it is.

The treatment of gender is not so nice, though. Heinlein’s “spacers”, space travellers, are all men, and the only way for women to get in is to join a band of comfort women. Basically, women aren’t allowed into space unless they’re whores. After the main character’s sex reassignment, he’s treated completely as a male, indicating that there is some kind of underlying superiority to having a penis. He’s unhappy in his new gender, though, so it’s not all ridiculous, but it sounds like his personality changed upon becoming male.

My main feeling by the end of it was apathy. I’m curious about Heinlein, though. I’m wondering if his full novels would be fleshed out more.

Game #30: Braid (2008)

braidCreator: Jonathan Blow
Language: English
Length: 6 worlds of varying lengths; 38 levels
Played on: 12 June 2015

It’s far from the first time that I’ve played this game – I played it a few times when I first got it in 2010, but that was before this blog started, so this is the first time I’ve reviewed it. I actually suspect that I’ve played it since then and not recorded it on my diary thing, because it’s quite an easy game to pick up and play within a couple of hours.

Braid’s central mechanic is that the player can rewind time by pressing a button. It’s simple to pick up. At first, it’s mainly just a useful way to not die, but later more mechanics are introduced, like a ring that slows down time, or parts that aren’t affected by the reversal of time, and the game becomes more of a puzzle. Aside from that, the game explicitly resembles and invokes Mario, such as having “goombas” that the main character can jump on to kill, and a series of castles at the end of a level where someone tells you the Princess is in another castle.

It’s a fun game, and actually I think one of the problems is that it’s over too quickly – there is no level editor and I don’t know about any modding, but that’s probably because the artwork and backgrounds are so lush that a fanmade level probably wouldn’t live up to it.

There are some bonus stars that you can find in the game – they’re so well hidden that when I went through to find them on my second or third playthrough a while back, I had to use a guide, at least to give me a hint of what to do. They make the game a thousand times more obnoxious, not just because they’re difficult to find, but because the game practically chastises you for having the audacity and single-mindedness to bother – like the creator considers gamers too nerdy for their own good. This is a bit rich when one star literally requires you to wait two hours standing in the same spot. You can chastise all you want, and you can put in such obnoxious obstacles, but you can’t have both.

Anyway, one more point about the game was that it came early in a wave of indie games that purported to push the boundaries of artistic expression in video games. Arguments abounded on the internet about the true meaning of the game – what the MacGuffin-esque princess stands for and all that. Apparently she probably stands for the atomic bomb or the Manhattan project, but I don’t see it. I’m hesitant to give the game too much credit in this area. And with a mixture of the violin soundtrack and the red hair, I pegged the main character as Irish to start with.

I will probably keep coming back to this game, and having not played it for a few years, it’s fun to rediscover it. But it could do with a sequel or some replayability value beyond the bonus stars and the time trials.

Film #132: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

aBqD3ZDirector: Doug Liman
Language: English
Length: 113 minutes
Watched on: 22 Dec 2014

I got on a plane to go back to the UK in December. As I’m prone to doing, I immediately got to work with the entertainment system. BA doesn’t seem to be as good as the other ones, unfortunately, and although the selection was alright, it was all recent releases, without much in the way of old stuff.

In any case, this seemed like a good enough choice as a first movie, as it’s a relatively low-brow action movie and Tom Cruise vehicle. It’s probably fair to describe it as a cross between Groundhog Day and Mission Impossible, although I’ve never seen Mission Impossible and doubt that it includes aliens to such a degree.

Cruise’s character tries to desert the army because he’s a self-righteous douche who can’t take orders from a superior and gets thrown down on the battlefield with exactly zero experience ready to die at the hands of some spitting alien monster. Then he wakes up again and thus begins what is basically known by everyone as a Groundhog Day loop: whenever he dies, he begins the day again.

But the problem immediately is that we’re comparing this movie to Groundhog Day, one of the 90s’ greatest exports and a literally timeless movie classic. What with Cruise’s wooden acting (although that’s perhaps an insult to trees), Edge of Tomorrow has absolutely none of the emotional depth or grounding that Groundhog Day had. Groundhog Day‘s character development arc included a section in the middle where Bill Murray just starts getting out of bed and killing himself every day through sheer desperation. None such here, although there is, to confirm with the standard Hollywood arc, a section of milder-seeming despair about twenty minutes from the end.

What is does have, however, is both tension and plenty of action, which is what I was actually watching it for, so in that sense it did its job. Could have done without the forced romance, though.

Film #108: Timecrimes (2007)

timecrimes-2aka: Los Cronocrímines
director: Nacho Vigalondo
language: Spanish
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 31 December 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve watched any weird European films, so watching this was almost like a nostalgia trip. It’s a fairly simple film about time travel, which sticks to the point and poses a few dilemmas on the way.

It starts with the main character idly looking through binoculars at the countryside near his house – when he sees a young woman undressing in the woods he decides to go investigate, whereupon he’s chased off by a scary man wearing a pink bandage round his head. Then he ends up in a scientific facility and is essentially lured into what turns out to be a time machine.

After that is where his actions become difficult to justify, because after a small car crash he ends up bandaging his head, which makes him realize that he was himself the man in the pink bandage, and he has to all but commit heinous acts of sexual violence on a confused girl who comes over to try and help, in order to recreate the situation that he’d seen earlier. There’s a hint that this is because the man in the facility had warned him not to change the past, or something, but if I was in that situation I’d have tried to just run like hell.

Despite his stupidity, I thought the film was good, and that its main merit is its relative simplicity. There are only four characters in the film, and not nearly as many timelines to keep track of as something like Primer. It’s also fairly consistent in how the rules of time travel are governed in the film. I was half-expecting it to get more and more complicated as it went on, so this was a pleasant outcome.

On the converse side, I felt that there weren’t quite enough twists, or that the ones that did happen were very predictable, so while the film’s simplicity was a good thing overall, sometimes they could have adjusted it for a slightly more complex or compelling plot. Generally it was good, and I’d recommend it.

Film #76: Looper (2012)

looper-movie-willis-gordon-levitt-sony-picturesdirector: Rian Johnson
language: English and some French
length: 119 minutes
watched on: 7 January 2013

This was the first of four movies I watched on the plane back to Japan, trying to while away time. It’s a scifi thriller set between about 30-70 years in the future involving time travel, in which people are sent back in time in order to kill them (because it’s untraceable or something). The central idea is that when your assassin’s contract is terminated with the company, you kill your own future self. And the assassins are called loopers because they close the loop, or something. It also involves people with a mild telekinetic X-men style mutation, who like to show off. But there’s a bad mutant guy in the future who’s controlling everyone, or something (later you learn that not all is as it seems, of course).

The main character is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a ridiculous prosthetic on his face, because his future self is played by Bruce Willis, and Gordon-Levitt had to alter his face to look more like Willis’s (particularly the jaw and nose). A moment’s hesitation allows Willis to get away and potentially wreck the whole system.

Anyway, it was an OK scifi film. It’s set somewhere in the American Midwest or South in a rather uninspiring location, but that serves to show the decadence of the future. Things like wage gaps between rich and poor are shown quite realistically if hyperbolically: the loopers are practically the only rich people in the city and drive around in very souped-up hovercars, while everyone else sort of trundles round with trolleys.

One of the major flaws of the movie, however, is in breaking the principle of show, not tell. The first few minutes are Gordon-Levitt infodumping everything we need to know about the future world, instead of the more interesting route of throwing us into the action and seeing if we can just work it out on our own. A scene in the middle of the movie where Gordon-Levitt and Willis come face to face in a local diner comes across quite like this as well, except this time it’s an excuse for Willis to infodump everything he knows about the future future world to Gordon-Levitt. I found this boring, I have to admit.

Time travel is kind of handwaved in the movie. In fact, in a meta moment reminiscent of Austin Powers, Willis even challenges Gordon-Levitt not to think about it too closely because it might spoil your enjoyment of the movie. But we get several forms of time manipulation apparently co-existing, and sorry, but that spoilt my enjoyment of the movie. I like worlds where there’s at least some internal consistency. Here we get a deterministic outlook, where one knows exactly when one’s time is going to come in the future future, but we also get more than one “grandfather paradox” that is resolved by the participants (Guess who, I dare you. Spoiler alert by the way.) disappearing entirely, we get the idea that actions in the present can change right before your eyes whatever happens in the future (the present character cuts scars in his arm in order to convey a message to the future character, who sees the scars appearing on his arm, and early on in the film, another present character is being tortured and the future guy just starts randomly losing limbs), and we furthermore get a multiple world interpretation where one timeline “goes wrong” and we reset back to the point of divergence. Those things don’t go together, as far as I’m concerned.

So far, kinda sloppy. Later on, there’s a child character introduced who is simultaneously quite cute and really incredibly creepy. I don’t want to give away too much but it’s probably possible to piece together the plot now (it’s honestly not that hard). Towards the end, it does actually manage to pull out something surprisingly coherent, and we find out that we never really knew the truth of what happens in the future; we only have the world of Willis’s unreliable narrator. So actually even though it was still predictable right up to the end, I came away with a reasonable impression of the movie. It’s no classic, but it was enjoyable.

Film #64: Thermae Romae (2012)

20120903-174159.jpgaka: テルマエ・ロマエ
Director: Takeuchi Hideki
Language: Japanese and some Latin
Length: 108 minutes split between two flights
Watched on: 13th and 17th of August

I watched this film on my short flight from Japan to Korea last month. It’s relatively new, and I’ve seen a lot of posters around Tokyo advertising it, so I was mildly surprised to discover that the version they were showing on the plane had English subtitles already. But of course, this was in-flight entertainment, so for one thing, you could hardly see the subtitles on the screen – and for another, every time the cabin crew made an announcement (which they would inevitably repeat in Japanese, English and Korean), the film stopped. So somehow, on a 2:30 hour flight, I wasn’t able to complete a 1:40 film – surely they can’t have had FIFTY MINUTES worth of announcments?! In fact, I still had a full half an hour left of the film by the time we landed (I was able to finish the film on the way back), and I don’t know how they managed to pause my film so much, unless it’s actually because they managed to run ahead of schedule. Korea was nice, and cheap, incidentally, although I wouldn’t want to stay there over Japan. But this isn’t my travel blog. I should really get me one of those.

So this film, which literally translates in Latin to “Roman Baths”, is apparently based on a manga. It involves a time-travelling Roman called Lucius, who gets magically transported to modern Japan. It just so happens that he’s an influential architect of bathing facilities in his own time, and when he travels to Japan, he picks up various ideas for things that one can do with plumbing. Hilarity ensues, essentially. He also meets an attractive young Japanese woman – they seem to be fated to be together or something, because wherever he shows up in Japan she’s somewhere around. And later in the film she gets transported back to Rome. And then somehow because he’s taken ideas back with him from the future, he’s going to change the past.

Overall, the plot was quite simple to follow, and the film is meant to be a comedy, so probably shouldn’t be taken so seriously, but I have a few issues with it, primarily nitpicky historical things, perhaps, but issues nonetheless. I should start by clarifying a few things about the film and the way it’s structured: basically, all the major Roman characters are played by Japanese actors – Hiroshi Abe plays the main character, for instance – although racewise they tend to look at least ambiguous compared to the Japanese characters, and the main character’s inner monologue calls the Japanese “the Flat-Faced clan” and assumes that they must be slaves because they don’t look Roman. A lot of the extras seem to be European, though. Everyone in the Roman age speaks Japanese, in some kind of translation convention – but when Lucius is transported to Japan, although his inner monologue is still in Japanese, he can’t understand anyone else, and the few lines that he actually speaks are in Latin. Later, the girl learns Latin and they have a short conversation. But when the Japanese characters are transported to Ancient Rome, there’s no language barrier, suddenly. Got that? No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, because there are only about 15 lines of Latin in the film, presumably to be less of a tax on the brains of the actors, you essentially end up with an almost mute character of the main character – his inner monologue keeps going, describing all the things around him, but he’s surprisingly calm for someone who’s suddenly found himself in a strange foreign country with no warning. This kind of bothered me. If it happened to me, I’d be shouting all over the place and incredibly confused. But he somehow takes it all in his stride.

As for the Latin itself, I was reasonably impressed. I’ve never had training in spoken Latin, so I don’t know how it’s supposed to sound, but it seemed reasonably accurate. They did have quite a strong Japanese accent when they did speak it, though, and there were a couple of pronunciation issues in my mind, at least with the question of whether they were using Classical pronunciations or not – the character’s name, Lucius, in particular, would be /lukius/ rather than /lusius/.

In terms of other nitpicky problems I had with the film, these included the fact that Lucius somehow knows that the AD date is 135 – and yet the AD system wasn’t invented for another two or three hundred years after that, and the fact that they use carbon dating with a time-travelling object to verify that it was made in the second century. Carbon dating works by measuring the passage of time by radioactivity, so an object that skips two thousand years would lose out on that. The third inaccuracy I’m not so sure about, but I couldn’t help thinking that black Roman citizens (seen as extras in the background of some larger crowd scenes) weren’t actually a thing, and that if you had black people in Ancient Rome, they’d have probably been slaves. But feel free to prove me wrong on that point. I genuinely don’t know. Anyway, I’m willing to bet that anyone who’s studied more Classics than me could easily pick out a slew of other anachronisms, perhaps in the way people dressed or in the architecture.

The other thing is, the plot later in the film becomes one of Changing History, and the essential thrust is that if they pull together and build a big bathhouse in the right place, then war will be averted? Or something? The plot point was quite contrived, and depended on the minutiae of the relationships between the bigwig characters like Emperor Hadrian. It felt like something that was potentially quite well researched, but to me was just something to leave me confused.

Overall, the film was OK, anyway; basically what I expected from a film about time-travelling Japanese actors pretending to be Romans. The comedy was sometimes subtle and sometimes quite overt (jokes about Japanese toilets, especially), and sometimes quite slapstick – for instance, there was a leitmotif involving an opera singer whenever time travel happened, but by the end of the film he can’t be bothered getting out of his chair anymore. It wasn’t quite laugh-out-loud hilarious at any point, but overall I enjoyed it. And I like the fact that for once I can actually see a modern Japanese movie and keep up with the times – it’s something I rarely get to do, what with expensive cinema tickets to films that would have no subtitles, so I’m quite thankful for the fact that I get the chance to watch movies like this on planes sometimes. It doesn’t come with a shining recommendation from me, but it was enjoyable.