Updated: Jan 4
Our world gets smaller by the day, and our options for entertainment grow in proportion. In this article we will cover in two sections: 'International TV & MOVIES' and 'World MUSIC'.
Everything mentioned in this article is in their native tongue. The movies and TV are subtitled. The music - hey just let the musicianship do the communicating.
INTERNATIONAL TV & MOVIES
In 2020 there weren't a whole lot of new domestic movies to sink our teeth into (combined we saw 2 movies in the theatre, and streamed Bill & Teds 3 when it was released). So we picked up our remotes and surfed through Netflix (& other streaming services) and found some excellent cinema from far away lands. Many were NEW for 2020, others were simply 'new to us'.
Here are some that we feel are worthy of mention and why:
PANDORA (South Korea)
Although this movie came out in 2016 it was 'new to us' so we went ahead and gave it a spin. TRAIN TO BUSAN showed that South Koreans know how to instill sheer terror into its viewers, so we had high hopes for this movie.
It did not disappoint.
The movie is simple at it's core: A nuclear power plant is in jeopardy of melting down and heroic efforts must be undertaken to ensure the catastrophe does not reach apocalyptic proportions. Anyone that has studied the world's two most harrowing nuclear disasters (Chernobyl and Fukushima) will see that the events that transpired in both of those heavily influenced the plot line of this movie. Some of what happens in this movie would seem unbelievable if it did not take place in the real world 'fallout' from these disasters and the attempts to contain them.
What makes this movie really pop is that although its a disaster movie, it's driven by some intense personal drama. The intertwining of their gut-wrenching decisions with the impending meltdown, and how both get complicated by political indecision and coverups make the final act of this movie one that has you screaming at the TV hoping that they can come up with a solution that does not result in any more personal loss.
#ALIVE (South Korea)
If there’s one thing Korean cinema does well, it’s tension. Their ability to pull a viewer in and take them on a roller coaster of emotions for two hours is top-notch, and #Alive is no exception. The premise of the movie is fairly simple - a young man living in a high rise apartment is forced to barricade himself inside as a zombie apocalypse breaks out all around him. This film is very timely in that it touches deeply on the psychology of one of our most basic human needs; the interaction and company of other people. We don’t want to say much more about this because doing so would be robbing you of the opportunity to experience it the way it was intended.
#Alive is an emotional, well acted, intense ride all the way up until it’s final moments.
KINGDOM (South Korea)
We know what you’re probably saying - ANOTHER zombie show? What makes this one so special? We had similar hesitations going into this series, but Kingdom quickly proves that there are intelligent ways to turn this genre on its head. Beautifully filmed and with compelling characters, it does an excellent job of blending a fascinating period piece with the horror of those flesh eating monsters.
We also felt that the source of that “disease” was completely original and well crafted. Yes, unless you happen to know Korean, you’ll have to watch this with subtitles (an interesting fact about that later). We found that this actually helped our understanding of what was going on, though, since it forced us to focus more. By far one of the best television shows we watched all year.
BONUS ITEM: Not all subtitles are the same! While partaking in KINGDOM from Florida and California respectively we realized that there were two different sets of English translations. We surmise that one was Netflix own translation, and one was Korean to English supplied to the show itself. This provided us with extra entertainment, comparing the two different subtitles for the same part. We didn't realize 'gosh' and 'scram' were such common words in 17th century Korea!
ALICE IN BORDERLAND (Japan)
After partaking in quite a bit of South Korean cinema, there was some culture shock while sinking our teeth into this Japanese series. At the onset the vibe is more 'upbeat' and silly which made us question if darkness would ever come... well it did... and quickly.
The series follows three friends (Arisu, Chota, and Karube) who hide in a bathroom stall (at Tokyo's busiest intersection) to evade police. They step out into a desolate world where the only way to survive is to complete 'game levels' and increase the number of days on your 'visa' (the level of difficulty and type of game is determined based on a deck of cards). Let your visa expire or don't complete the game and you'll meet your mortal end, many times in the most gruesome of ways.
Although this is an eight episode season, it felt like three mini arcs as the story shifted wildly between the these break points. Nonetheless, that was part of what made the season as good as it was: It could have EASILY fallen into a formulaic presentation, but each episode changed up the formula, keeping it fresh, and keeping you on your toes.
Even for fantasy are there some plot holes that you could drive a freight train through? Are there some questions that beg to be answered in season two? Absolutely. Are they plot holes that would make us not come back? Absolutely not.
INTERNATIONAL / WORLD MUSIC
That's it for international cinema which Steph and I tag teamed. As we move into the music section I (Matt) will fly solo here. Just like with Part 2 of 4 in this series this in my personal opinion on these bands, and these views may or may not be shared by others :-)
So you might be asking yourself: 'Self, didn't they just cover music yesterday?' On one hand, yes, but that focused completely on METAL. Today will focus on more world based music, where the groups involve their culture in their music as much as their instruments.
It's happened to everyone: You watch a video on YouTube, and click on another that's 'recommended'. The next thing you know you've fallen into a deep rabbit hole. Many times the results are forgettable, others you uncover hidden games that become engrained in your daily existence.
There were three international bands that made their mark on me, that I listened to repetitively, and that I subjected those around me to regardless of if they shared they same love for said artists (They'll come around one day).
The three bands areas follows:
WAGAKKI BAND (Japan)
I have deep respect for bands that are able to utilize traditional instruments and bring them into the modern world, thus preserving some aspect of history and culture and making them appealing to newer generations. Wagakki Band is to JAPAN what Chthonic is to TAIWAN. Although metal, their songs are rooted deep in tradition. While Suzuhana's traditional vocals may be too tasteful a cup of tea for some (pun intended), the musicianship should be enough to carry you past.
I actually sat through an entire documentary video on this band during their first tour of the USA that was all in Japanese with zero subtitles. Just like with the music, I did not need to know the language they were speaking in to understand what they were communicating or the heart with which it was done.
Here's the first song that caught me from these guys, the live version of HOMURA (that just seems like a well played anthem - but when 'Beni' comes out at 2:28 your suspicions are confirmed that this is no ordinary arena rock band):
Digging deeper I was able to see that this octet (that impressively has not had a member change since it's inception) has MUCH more to their sound:
They have so much content online that you could get lost in their music videos and live recordings for hours.
FAST FACT: It was down to a choice between WAGAKKI BAND and BABY METAL to perform at the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It will be interesting to see if either get chosen for the 2021 version.
Deeper down the rabbit hole hails the Slovokian folk band HRDZA. There's just something about Baltic rhythms and melodies that really catch me. Maybe it's because as an American we really don't have any 'old country' to look back on (as a relatively young nation in the world scene). So hearing melodies that derive from a time many hundreds of years just evoke something in me that's difficult to explain.
The song 'Stephen' was a cute introduction to the band, but songs like 'The Shirt' and 'He Lives In The Mountains' really grabbed me and mainlined Slovokian rhythms right into my bloodstream.
"He Lives In The Mountains"
OTAVA YO (Russia)
From the deepest, darkest recesses of the rabbit hole comes the brightest ray of light and the final band I'll unveil, St. Petersburg, Russia's OTAVA YO. Steampunk readers and fans of ours REJOICE because this is for you!
This band has its origins in 'busking' (Russian street music performers) nearly 20 years ago. Fast forward to modern day and they are one of the biggest bands in all of Russia.
Because we have steampunk graphic novel series and also because we dress in steampunk for all of our live appearances, we get asked all the time: "What is Steampunk anyways?" From fashion, time period, and aesthetic senses that's easy to answer, from a 'sound perspective', not so much. Now I can simply point to Otava Yo and that question is answered.
The first song I heard from them was 'My Myrusya' and I've been hooked ever since. One of the absolute highlights to me is the flute /violin solo at the 3:37 mark.
"Sumetskaya" features some pretty cool Russian 'fight dancing' and has 39 MILLION VIEWS! Get outta here!
Here's another of my favorites about a lonely whaler:
It blows my mind that there are artists that are HUGE around the globe, that would sell out massive arenas, but their name or melodies had not crossed my ears until 'lockdown surfing'.
I wonder what will be uncovered in 2021! Join us on Monday as we'll conclude our four part series with 'What We're Looking Forward To In The New Year".
Got a comment? Leave it below! Missed out on one of our titles and need to get your hands on it NOW? Head over to our store: www.tinyurl.com/INSYMSHOP