Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

Review: Moon Child

September 8, 2008 Review

Moon Child is one of the few movies I actually own (well, to be fair, it was a gift). I’ve seen it a half dozen times or so and have been trying to write about it for a while. Even though it’s been years since I first saw it, writing about this movie in an objective manner has been much, much harder than I thought it would be, but here we are…

(this review does no specific spoilers, but hints at some)
Moon Child

STORY & PACING – There are ruthless mafias, extravagant fire fights, and a melancholy vampire or two, but really, Moon Child is just about friendship. To some extent, you might consider it slice-of-life, or several slices of life with the multiple time skips; that kind of format lends itself to subtlety, and it’s easy to forget about the overarching themes of the movie. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as it allows you to fall into step with the lives of the characters, to get to know them without thinking too hard about the grand scheme of things. It’s effective in portraying the realities of friendships, which are often taken for granted and not fully realized until something comes along to threaten it.

There are three time skips in the movie, essentially dividing it into four sections, though the first and final sections are very brief. We follow the life of Sho as a child, as a young adult, as a more mature adult, and then older still. The timeline is easy to follow and actually very effective in highlighting differences between the characters as they grow and change. Oddly enough, the supernatural elements of Moon Child are severely downplayed for a majority of the film. They don’t bother trying to explain the technicalities of Kei’s vampirism; the traditional aspects — frying in sunlight, need for blood, and immortality — are stumbled upon casually, and they treat him the same as any human character, which was nice because it didn’t distract from the casual and natural-feeling flow of the movie.

Moon Child doesn’t really offer a profound story. There are things within it that might have been able to offer a deeper kind of narrative, such as the racial tensions, but you could consider that reality is very much the same. People go about their lives; sometimes, it’s possible to read into events and find something profound, but most of the time, you dwell on much simpler things. So sure, Moon Child isn’t particularly thought-provoking or sophisticated, but at the very least, it’s touching.

CHARACTER & ACTINGMoon Child stars three exceptional musicians: j-rockers Gackt and hyde, as well as c-pop/j-pop artist Leehom Wang. As acting is not the primary talent of any of these men, it’s natural to approach this movie with skepticism and doubt. As a fan of all three singers, I can’t pretend to be impartial, but I was honestly surprised at all of their performances. It didn’t take long for me to shed my perception of them as Gackt, hyde, and Leehom Wang and to see them as Sho, Kei, and Son, the first two of whom, at least, were pretty solid characters. Yes, there were many scenes that were over the top and cheesy, and some were ridiculous enough that it was difficult to tell whether they were serious or satirical. And yet, there was still a certain depth to their characters, and emotions were sometimes eerily genuine. I had just as much skepticism and doubt as the next person, but I was impressed.

As the movie follows stages of Sho’s life more than anyone else’s, it makes sense that he grows and develops the most. The contrast between the younger and older stages of his adult life is especially powerful and poignant. Gackt’s acting at first appears incredibly mediocre — his pitch rises hilariously at the end of many sentences, and his voice squeaks occasionally. He appears childish and impulsive, like he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but that’s the character he’s playing. Sho acts like a hotshot because that’s how you survive on the streets, but his vulnerability shows in his fierce loyalty to his friends and brother. It’s not a unique character at all, but it was very well portrayed. As his life becomes marred with loss and betrayal, the older Sho appears lonely and jaded. His exterior is harder than it’s ever been, but he is, perhaps, even more vulnerable on the inside. Gackt’s squeaky voice completely disappears, and it becomes clear that he had perfect control of it all along. Sho does a lot of stupid things in this movie though, even as an adult, and it’s frustrating to watch him sometimes.

Kei, being immortal, does not change nearly as much. Indeed, he is essentially the same man from beginning to end, though he has to be reminded of this. His self-loathing is the most defining aspect of his character and is what causes him to lose himself at the halfway point of the movie. Once again, this is a very general archetype and is typical of many vampire or vampire-like characters. Kei delivers a few soliloquys on the subject throughout the film, and those moments best highlight the extent of hyde’s acting ability. Sadly, it isn’t nearly as impressive as Gackt’s. hyde appears forced and overdramatic, and his exaggerated facial expressions are especially hard to take seriously. His more relaxed scenes are much better though, and while his overall performance isn’t impressive, it’s not quite a disaster either. Kei, also, is decidedly less of an idiot and much more tolerable than Sho in most cases.

Son does not get quite as much spotlight as Sho or Kei, and his character is a bit harder to grasp as a result. I found his decisions later in the movie harder to understand and emphasize with, and he is sometimes more of a role than a character — his actions are solely to move the story forward, not because they stem from his personality. Leehom Wang’s acting abilities I would put on par with hyde’s, though he appears more stoic than exaggerated. The rest of the gang, namely Toshi, Shinji, and Yi-Che, also act more as roles than characters with any significant depth. We have a good friend, a brother, and a love interest. Honestly, I felt like all of them were mostly there to contribute to tragedy, but each was pretty entertaining regardless. Yi-Che was interesting because you don’t see many mute characters, but I especially liked Toshi; he was wonderfully endearing.

One of the things I liked the most about Moon Child though, was its multilingual format. The film takes place in a fictional city, presumably on mainland China; as such, a significant portion of the movie is in Mandarin, even though most of it is still in Japanese. Sho, Shinji, and Toshi are Japanese immigrants and thus speaks both languages. Kei, we’d assume to be similar even if he’s immortal, also speaks both. Son is from the mainland and does not understand Japanese. This not only provides some pretty hilarious dialogue (Son: “What are you saying!? Stop speaking Japanese!”), but is also the easiest way to see the racial tensions that exist between the mainlanders and the immigrants. And as a Mandarin speaker myself, I greatly, greatly amused by Gackt and hyde’s ventures into the language. Both were heavily accented, but reasonably understandable — their Mandarin is better than their English in any case, especially for Gackt (whose English is markedly worse than hyde’s).

I found it amusing too, that Son isn’t bilingual; in reality, Leehom Wang’s Japanese is much better than either Gackt or hyde’s Mandarin. Further, there were a few short scenes involving Cantonese speakers; these made me particularly happy because I’m a Cantonese speaker before I’m a Mandarin speaker (represent!). And finally… there’s English. There are a few Americans in the film who spoke their own language fine, but their Japanese was amusingly reminiscent of most American otaku (“Hontou ne!?”). Sho and Kei also offer some phrases in Engrish, and predictably, you can’t understand most of it. (I’ve seen this movie maybe six or seven times already; I still have no idea what the hell Sho says about ninjas in response to a comment by one of the Americans.)

MUSIC – Most of the songs inserted into the movie are actually in English, which, for some reason, isn’t all that strange. It’s just a bit of a surprise to the ears to hear English-sounding English in the middle of a movie that’s otherwise in Japanese and Mandarin. But the main musical feature of the movie is, of course, the duet between Gackt and hyde, “orenji no taiyou,” which was written specifically for the film. Can’t you just hear the fangirls all screaming? It’s a lovely song though, and the melody really resonates with that tragic bittersweetness at the end of the film, when it’s properly sung. Gackt and hyde both have beautiful voices. Unfortunately, for a majority of the song, since Gackt is singing melody and hyde, harmony, Gackt’s voice drowns out hyde’s. In the main verses of “orenji no taiyou,” you sometimes can’t hear hyde at all; only for the chorus can you really be sure that he’s even there. So I wouldn’t consider it an equal duet, but in a way, that can reflect their characters’ roles within the film: Sho hogged the spotlight, but Kei always supported him.

ANIMATION & EFFECTSMoon Child has some of the most hilarious special effects ever. And by hilarious, I mean they were bad. Really, really bad. Vampires apparently start smoking and catch fire when they’re left in the sun. Dying via sunlight is supposed to be a very tragic thing; unfortunately, you’ll probably be too busy laughing your ass off to care about that. Kei is upset and frustrated, but you can’t help but point out the fact that there’s smoke coming from under his jacket, from his ass. There’s also this one scene where they’re sitting on a rooftop observing the moon. Have you seen Bruce Almighty? Do you remember when he pulled the moon closer so it’s gigantic? …Yeah. Those are the scenes where I can’t tell if they’re serious or not, especially with comments such as “WOW! That moon is HUGE!”

The effects during the fight scenes were similarly outrageous, full of cheap effects that you’d expect from movies in the 80’s. Vampirism allows Kei to leap buses in a single bound! To dodge bullets with Matrix-esque slo-mo! And don’t forget, all mafia fire fights are like video games and the bad guys will raise up and down from behind boxes like automated targets. Good times! Seriously though, if you’re looking for anything resembling a realistic gunfight, you won’t find it here. That said, I never felt like the cheesiness of it all detracted from anything in the actual story or that it lessened the effect of any of the characters. No one ever said this was a big-budget film. :P

OTHER – Interestingly enough, Moon Child has an official R1 DVD release and is easily available on Amazon.com. The description on the back of the box is hilariously inaccurate though, and the DVD itself is pretty plain: English as its only subtitle language, and there are absolutely no bonus features. As I said, I understand both Mandarin and Cantonese (and that weeaboo splattering of Japanese), so for once, I can actually comment on subtitle quality! Most of it is pretty good, though there are a few translations that are slightly off in that pointless sort of way. For example, cries of “Nii-san!” by Sho were subtitled “Shinji!” Kind of pointless, but it doesn’t take away that much from understanding. There were also a few lines of Mandarin that would have made a lot more sense if translated more literally, but I can’t remember them off the top of my head right now.

I really wish they had subtitled the English and Engrish though. Seriously, I’d love to know what the hell Sho is saying in that one scene. It took me at least three viewings to figure out that he says “Open the showcase” in another scene.

OVERALL – Obviously, I’m fond of this movie. Friends have attributed this to the fact that it isn’t very different from something I would write myself — slice-of-life, supernatural, a peculiar absence of female characters, and a ton of tragedy and angst. All the same, I feel like Moon Child has its merits, especially considering the doubt that comes with such an all-star cast of amateur actors. Even though it isn’t particularly original, the story is solid, and it’s easy to sympathize with the characters. There’s a lot of cheesiness and there are a lot of things that are easy to laugh at, including the poor special effects, but the themes are respectable enough, and the acting is passable. The multilingual aspect is something I’d really love to see in other films as well. Most of the people that watched this movie were probably fans of one or more of the involved musicians, but even if you’ve never heard of Gackt, hyde, or Leehom Wang, if you like stories about friendships and life wrapped up in gunfights and drama, and if you can forgive some corniness and technical failures, then Moon Child is worth a watch.

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  1. Anonymous on March 11, 2009 11:00 am

    a good review ^.^ I myself found this movie to be mediocre by critical standards, but absolutely beautiful by poetic, family, and friendship standards. The plot is not the most important thing, the characters and their reactions are. Visual effects were terrible. I liked your review, it pointed out the good and bad points on an unfavoring level.^.^

  2. moritheil on September 14, 2009 12:00 am

    Thanks for this very in-depth review. Certainly a movie starring j-rockers acting appeals to the fan of the obscure in me. I may check it out sometime.