Journal, Misc.

Life is strange… and beautiful

I prefer to spend my holidays alone in my room. This has its drawbacks, but it also allows me to make some time for books, movies, etc. Losing oneself in others’ imaginations is quite enriching in my opinion.

I decided to try out Life is Strange during this short term break, a game about time travel gone wrong. The story itself is nothing new; it contains the same old message: don’t mess with time unless you’re a Time Lord. But the execution… damn! I was blown away by the way lighting and music were used to create a surreal world, that too, without intense graphics.

I must say I’m really impressed how far the gaming industry has come in such a short time. It’s sad to know that a majority of the population didn’t follow the journey and are unlikely to appreciate the evolution that took place right under their noses. It’s high time we started considering games as serious art, at par with novels, films and music. A piece of code that lets you experience a virtual reality is nothing short of a miracle.

Gaming has an incredible potential as a form of visual storytelling (I used to think the same about anime too, but it got taken over by fetishes and stereotypes). Unlike real movies, there are no real constraints on camera movement and settings. The creators are free to pursue themes and styles that are beyond the reach of film directors. The possibilities are endless and the only limits are the limits of imagination.

I hope good stuff keeps coming.

Lists, Music

Beautiful soundtracks #4 – PC Games

This is just a list off the top of my head. I might’ve missed out some of my favorites. Put on your best earphones if you plan to listen.

• The Spirit Tree, Ori and the Blind Forest

• Kids will be Skeletons, Life is Strange

• The Dragonborn Comes, Skyrim

• Quinn and Valor, League of Legends

• Ezio’s Family, Assassin’s Creed II

• Welcome to Los Santos, GTA V

• Naru Embracing the Light, Ori and the Blind Forest

• Tazer, Age of Empires II

• Main Theme, Max Payne

• From Past to Present, Skyrim

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.
Click here for part 3.

Literary, Others

If I were the wind

I found her sitting alone, facing the sea. The sky was clear rapidly, but the smell of rain was there to stay. I watched few drops fall lazily from her wet hair. I struggled to gather my wits while her muffled sobs occasionally penetrated the silence. I had never seen her cry in the last eight years.

Unable to find my words, I sat down beside her. She held out a hand, and I gladly took it.

“Your hand is warm,” she sighed after a while.
“And yours is freezing,” I retorted. “Trying to be dramatic, are you?”
“The situation calls for a bit of drama; don’t you think?”

A few meters away, the fisher folk were preparing sails to make use of the steady wind. Large numbers of fish would be gathering a few kilometers off shore right about now – where the muddy, land-washed water meets the clear ocean. Every boat wanted to be the first to reach the temporary gold mine.

“This is not the end,” I said, with a lot of determination.
“It is not,” she replied.

We talked for hours before parting – about friends back at home, about life, and about the new world that awaited her across the ocean.

On my way back, as I looked back before turning the corner, I caught her waving and shouting something. But the wind carried her words away over the waters. How I wished I was the wind then! I’d have been the wind beneath her sails, untied from this place which would soon cease to be home.

Submission for LSD, IIMA.

LSD logo blue

Misc., Others

On the Kindle Paperwhite

The Paperwhite is absolutely beautiful in the dark.

The brightness can be turned down to a diffused glow, providing just enough light to read while not hurting the eyes with unnecessary glare. I’ve never had a more soothing reading experience.

This gives it a huge edge over traditional paperbacks, especially for bedtime readers who know the pang of not having the light switch within immediate reach.

Anime, Misc.

A farewell to legends

Animated works have a magical potential to let our imaginations unfurl in far greater ways than live-action. This was proven with irrefutable force when, in 2013, two of the founders of Studio Ghibli took their final bows with two films that were extraordinary even by Ghibli’s standards.

The Wind Rises follows the tale of Jiro Horikoshi, who is driven by his desire to build beautiful airplanes. But his dreams are cursed by the prevailing war where his creations are used to slaughter countless humans. This personal conflict is tackled with care in the movie by the masterful hands of Miyazaki.

The story keeps oscillating effortlessly between dreams and reality while also exploring a beautiful lovestory between Jiro and Naoko. It is a well-executed attempt to provide a glimpse into the life of the man behind the infamous Japanese Zero fighters which created havoc during World War II. Although some aspects are fictional, this is probably the only animated documentary till date.

In looking at Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography, we find works that have ranged from the whimsical to the fantastic, but all touch deeply upon humanity’s capacity to soar to great heights as well as the frailties that lay them low. The Wind Rises is a culmination of all these elements. It leaves us with a profound sense of loss as we keenly feel the tragedy that Jiro bears. But it also instills a sense of sorrow as we bid farewell to a master of his craft.

– nihonreview

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and is a timeless story of a girl’s effort to overcome parental and societal expectations while figuring out what she really wants in life.

The film was drawn over eight years, with a unique art-style that immediately captures the wonder and attention of the viewer. Colors bleed over lines as if in a child’s painting, and at moments of heightened emotion, scenes dissolve into a frenzy of color and charcoal. Accompanied by Joe Hishashi’s music, it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

It’s a world of charcoal lines and water-coloured hues; you can almost feel the brushstrokes upon fibrous paper as the proudly hand-drawn action unfolds.

– theguardian

The void left by the retirements of these two legendary animators will never be filled. Their films made us laugh and shed tears, and taught us that beauty perseveres happiness and sorrow alike. The Ghibli movies shine as rays of hope, providing deep and meaningful insights into life rather than resorting to forced happy endings and casual comedy that dominate the mainstream animation industry of the West.

Books, Misc.

The Palace of Illusions

Review of The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

The Palace of Illusions

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little skeptical about starting this book. The concept seemed nice enough – Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective – but I didn’t want to read a deviation without knowing the original story first (I just knew a few parts here and there). But I decided to try it out anyway, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The narration is charming enough and the story flows smoothly. However, the author has a habit of going into a hinting mode – “When I did this, I didn’t know how deeply it would affect my life” or something similar – which gets a bit annoying and repetitive at times.

Also, I found myself having very little respect for many of the characters, including Draupadi. They seem very normal and naive (almost like teenagers, I might add), apart from the fact that they make crazy sacrifices and vows for silly reasons. I know I should keep such skepticism away from mythological characters, but I found it hard to. Most of the major political decisions and wars were based on personal issues and most of the major problems were brought about by unnecessary displays of honor. I don’t know how much of this would apply to the original Mahabharata, but I suspect most of it would.

As far as this book goes, I maintain that it is very well written. The dynamics between Karna and Draupadi are interesting to read, and the relationships of Draupadi with Krishna and her brother Dhri are beautifully portrayed.

I recommend it to mythology lovers.

View all my reviews

Lists, Others

Richard Dawkins quotes

I love Richard Dawkins quotes!

  • “There is an anaesthetic of familiarity, a sedative of ordinariness which dulls the senses and hides the wonder of existence. For those of us not gifted in poetry, it is at least worth while from time to time making an effort to shake off the anaesthetic. What is the best way of countering the sluggish habituation brought about by our gradual crawl from babyhood? We can’t actually fly to another planet. But we can recapture that sense of having just tumbled out to life on a new world by looking at our own world in unfamiliar ways.”
  • “The adult world may seem a cold and empty place, with no fairies and no Father Christmas, no Toyland or Narnia, no Happy Hunting Ground where mourned pets go, and no angels – guardian or garden variety. But there are also no devils, no hellfire, no wicked witches, no ghosts, no haunted houses, no daemonic possession, no bogeymen or ogres. Yes, Teddy and Dolly turn out not to be really alive. But there are warm, live, speaking, thinking, adult bed fellows to hold, and many of us find it a more rewarding kind of love than the childish affection for stuffed toys, however soft and cuddly they may be.”
  • “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?”
  • “Not to grow up properly is to retain our ‘caterpillar’ quality from childhood (where it is a virtue) into adulthood (where it becomes a vice). In childhood our credulity serves us well. It helps us to pack, with extraordinary rapidity, our skulls full of the wisdom of our parents and our ancestors. But if we don’t grow out of it in the fullness of time, our caterpillar nature makes us a sitting target for astrologers, mediums, gurus, evangelists and quacks. The genius of the human child, mental caterpillar extraordinary, is for soaking up information and ideas, not for criticizing them. If critical faculties later grow it will be in spite of, not because of, the inclinations of childhood. The blotting paper of the child’s brain is the unpromising seedbed, the base upon which later the skeptical attitude, like a struggling mustard plant, may possibly grow. We need to replace the automatic credulity of childhood with the constructive skepticism of adult science.”
  • “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
  • “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
  • “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.”
Anime, Lists, Music

Beautiful soundtracks #3 – Ghibli

This particular post is dedicated to Studio Ghibli music only. Each of their films is accompanied by a great score. I’ve handpicked few tracks which often send me spiraling into the world of wonder and magic.

• Legend of Ashitaka, Princess Mononoke

• Requiem, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

• One Summer’s Day, Spirited Away

• Carrying You, The Castle in the Sky

• Become the Wind, The Cat Returns

• Dragon Boy, Spirited Away

• The Merry-Go-Round of Life, Howl’s Moving Castle

• Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara, Kiki’s Delivery Service

• Inochi no Kioku, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

• The Path of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro

• Dream of Flight, The Wind Rises

• Always With Me, Spirited Away

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

Anime, Misc.

The Wind Rises

I had been waiting for a proper moment to watch The Wind Rises. And I finally watched it last month.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

I can’t emphasize my love for Miyazaki enough. I tend to agree vigorously with all the ideals and philosophies portrayed in his films. The world needs more people like him. Naturally, watching his last movie was a sad experience.

The Wind Rises is about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautical engineer who designed the infamous Zero fighter planes during World War II. Jiro was driven by his desire of creating beautiful aeroplanes, and the film emphasizes the innocence in the act of following one’s dreams. The war itself is ignored for the majority of the movie but its cold, lingering presence is often felt in the undercurrents. Several hints are dropped throughout about the conflict in Jiro’s mind, such as his expressions of anguish upon witnessing power-dive tests by pilots, which might have been a reference to kamikaze.

The perspective keeps shifting between dreams and reality, and manages to hold onto the old Miyazaki magic, in spite of being a very realistic movie. In his dreams Jiro keeps meeting his role model, Mr. Caproni, who was an Italian aircraft designer. Caproni’s character is masterfully made. He is a personification of Jiro’s own thoughts and aspirations, and motivates Jiro to keep going despite his doubts.

Dreams are convenient. One can go anywhere.
— Caproni

Throughout the film I kept thinking how much I want to be like Jiro. He is an almost flawless, yet a very realistic character. He perfectly defines the type of person I want to be. Another major plus of this movie is the love affair between Jiro and Naoko. It is simple, unpretentious and adorable, and very characteristic of Studio Ghibli.

The ending of the movie hit me hard. It pulls you down to reality with a brief glimpse of the outcome of the war. It is clear that Jiro never found happiness in achieving his life’s dream. The movie was an apt ending to such an illustrious career. None of Miyazaki’s other films describes himself more vividly than The Wind Rises.

Be careful, this may be a dream but you can still lose your head!
— Caproni

Overall, The Wind Rises is a beautiful film and I highly recommend it to anyone reading this.

Lists, Music

Beautiful soundtracks #2

Part 2 of the Beautiful Soundtracks series, containing tracks from various TV shows and films.

• Arrietty’s Song (Instrumental), The Secret World of Arrietty

• Intro Theme, The Pacific

• Allegro Cantabile (EP Piano Version), Nodame Cantabile

• Por Una Cabeza, used in Schindler’s List and Scent of a Woman

• The Merry-go-Round of Life, Howl’s Moving Castle

• The Money Train, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

• Mother of Dragons, Game of Thrones

• Now We Are Free, The Gladiator

• A Story of Boy Meets Girl, 500 Days of Summer

• Shipping up to Boston, The Departed

Click here for part 1.