‘Cursed Dreams’ by Matthew Spencer

soft cartel april 2018

Spring has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. The cherry trees have come into blossom, here in the Pacific Northwest, where I am writing, and in Japan, where the esteemed director Isao Takahata has died at the age of 82. In 1985, he cofounded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. Together they are responsible, they perhaps more than anyone else, for making anime a force in global popular culture.

It feels strange to me, news of Takahata’s death, having recently watched The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the 2013 documentary on Studio Ghibli, filmed during the making of The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the last feature made by each of the directors, Miyazaki and Takahata respectively.

The latter is portrayed as a somewhat shadowy figure, his presence more alluded to than shown. Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki constantly fret about their colleague, about whether he will complete his movie at all.

The documentary ends with Miyazaki announcing his retirement. The last scene shows him strolling along a leafy street, his work behind him. Nothing more is said about The Tale of Princess Kaguya or its director. It’s as if Takahata has vanished from the earth.

Thoughts of mortality often attend the death of public figures, but watching The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness also got me thinking about anime itself, about my own conflicted feelings toward the artform.

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‘Blood Currant’ by Matthew Spencer


My wife and daughter had left, returned to the city, but I still kept watch over the house. I took a post on the back stoop, behind the kitchen, facing the orchard. The dormant trees had come into a sudden flowering. The garden hummed with returning insects, tiny life among the daffodils and tulips, among the blood currant planted beside the door. Its crimson flowers rustled in the wind.

Across the orchard, through the neat rows of trees, I could see freight trailers. They had been parked along the gravel access road. A team of forklifts were unloading pallets from them. These pallets held stacks of beehives. Vague human figures moved about the heavy equipment: the beekeepers. They wore the baggy suits and veils of the trade. They had been at work for days. There must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of hives, arranged into a pyramid shaped mound that overlooked everything.

I was growing tired. I looked at my phone log, at all the unanswered calls made, just checking on the family. The night and the morning had passed without incident. But I was afraid of what would happen if I dozed. The beekeepers had stayed to their side of the orchard. I made sure that they did. A shotgun rested across my knees, ready to fire, should anyone come forward with hostile intentions.

Continue reading “‘Blood Currant’ by Matthew Spencer”