I pondered a few notions while watching PARADISE LOST, but I’m not sure I'd call this movie thought-provoking. Mainly, I was thinking about what exactly constitutes conflict, suspense and, well, action in a movie, because this once again felt like a gun and chase flick with a conspicuous shortage of guns and chases. Is it thrilling enough to see some people trying to do something while another group of people’s trying to interfere with their trying (albeit rather half-assedly?) Nobody’s going to call this slice-of-life drama, and nobody’s going to call it a larger-than-life thriller, either. It’s idling somewhere in the middle, satisfying few expectations of either extreme.
I also pondered the reasons for rendering a plot with drawings instead of staging it with live actors. Sure, there’s that enduring argument about how animation’s an art form, not a genre, that can include every size, shape and texture of story - - but c’mon, let’s be real. There’s little about PARADISE LOST, aside from the international locales, that benefits from ‘tooning, and it isn’t stylized enough to make many claims at expressionism. Instead, it feels like a political thriller whose scope’s hindered by the sort of less-than-inspiring budget constraints animation is supposed to free of. I’ve grown used to the uniquely-Japanese breed of non-ending by now, but this time it’s capping off a non-plot.
Earlier installments of this EDEN OF THE EAST “mega series” invited plenty of comparisons to Robert Ludlum’s BOURNE books, but DAYS OF OUR LIVES feels more appropriate for this finale because, really, what’s more fitting to compare a plot so largely concerned with paternity test results to? Yes, PARADISE LOST is largely about our earnest-but-dim hero Takizawa searching for an answer to why his mother abandoned him New York as a boy with only ¥500 to help him along. If it turns out that he was actually the love child of the recently-deceased prime minister, then his “terroristic” actions will spell terrible consequences for Japan’s reputation in the international community. So the major crux of the story does, in fact, come down to the results of a DNA test the PM’s shrewish widow subjects our fairly-lax firebrand Takizawa to.
The last movie, THE KING OF EDEN, had an undeniably appealing performance in Takizawa’s not-quite love interest, Saki, to keep its score up. Leah Clark continues to give the character an irresistible screen presence, even when her screen time’s so often concerned with casually interviewing a barista over incongruously-important affairs. Again, I wish she’d amble along into a better story.
Actually, the dub work on the whole is another respectable accomplishment for FUNimation. Much like VAMPIRE BUND, you get the sense you’re seeing a talented team doing their best to make the best of the material they’ve been assigned. Thankfully, they’re not softening the “trickiness” of gross loli T&A this time, but infusing textbook scenes (as in, they’re as dry as copy in a textbook) with a stronger sense of drama. You can distill what they have to work with into how Takizawa’s flashbacks of abandonment actually do get rather moving, emotionally, before they’re hosed down with a truly wishy-washy outcome.
PARADISE LOST makes a fumbling statement about youth culture re-defining democracy and taking their country back… or something. There’s so much talk of Takizawa’s “Air King” persona inspiring a movement, but the movement only manifests as a mob of kids essentially moving into a mall. I almost want to believe it’s some sort of twice-removed post-modern self-commentary.
You read so much about how the Millenials are "the I-Generation," or the "Me Generation," and how this critical mass of media has dissolved all sense of meaning and commitment. Maybe such commentary holds no truth beyond the margins of a NEWSWEEK editorial, but I feel like the half-hearted, non-committal revolution depicted in this flick would certainly match such a zeitgeist. When Takizawa delivers what is supposed to be his fiery rallying call to every citizen in Japan through their cell phones, I was half-expecting an emoticon-laden text to interrupt and distract him mid-sentence.
In roundabout fashion, I’ve come to the end of a 13-part-series that I was turned off of from the first episode. The premise of some mysterious benefactor giving a bunch of random strangers large sums of cash with the simple instruction to use their gifts to make their country better (shades of the comic 100 BULLETS, if you swapped rounds for yen, actually) is a rich one. Such a scheme is a gamble, of course, and the dice roll's landed this "Mr. Outside" guy some lesser candidates. PARADISE LOST shows him heading off with an open avenue to start all over again, though. Hopefully his next try at the game will find players who aim for less vaporous ends.