Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thermae Romae (E)

WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

First, before talking about the movie, I would like to briefly introduce the Thermae Romae manga and anime...

“When Roman architect Lucius is criticized for his “outdated” thermae designs, he retreats to the local bath to collect his thoughts. All Lucius wants is to recapture the Rome of earlier days, when one could enjoy a relaxing bath without the pressure of merchants and roughhousing patrons. Slipping deeper into the warm water, Lucius is suddenly caught in the suction and dragged through the drainage at the bottom of the bath! He emerges coughing and sputtering amid a group of strange-looking foreigners with the most peculiar bathhouse customs…over 1,500 years in the future in modern-day Japan! His contemporaries wanted him to modernize, and so, borrowing the customs of these mysterious bath-loving people, Lucius opens what quickly becomes the most popular new bathhouse in Rome—Thermae Romae!” ( from the manga publisher's website )

Thermae Romae (テルマエ · ロマエ / Roman thermal baths in Latin), was written and illustrated by Mari Yamazaki. It was first serialized by Enterbrain in their monthly seinen manga magazine Comic Beam (between February 2008 and April 2013) before being compiled into six volumes. The French translation is published by Casterman (Sakka Collection, the first five volumes have already been published) and the English translation is published by Yen Press (two volumes published so far).

Thermae Romae is a rather wacky and sometimes coarse fantastic comedy. But this is obviously not a simple comedy. This would be a average manga (good because hilarious, but no more) if it were not for its rather ingenious premise. The story is well written and supported by sound research to detail. Drawings (especially the faces and backgrounds) are in a realistic style, which is rare for a manga (especially for a comedy). Each chapter is followed by comments and explanatory notes by the author. This manga, in addition to being a pleasant entertainment, gives us a lot of information on both Japanese and Roman cultures (which, strangely, appear to have much in common).

After the first two volumes, the time traveling of Lucius whenever he quickly needs new ideas become tiresome. Fortunately, the author introduces some new elements to enliven the story (introducing a semblance of political intrigue and addressing the issue of Hadrian's succession, for example). Yamazaki's story therefore avoid running out of steam by bringing Lucius to discover a little more of Japanese culture. By comparing the two cultures, she reflects upon the experience of discovering a different culture and on how the West has perceived Japanese culture. With the fourth volume, the manga take a different direction that breaks Lucius' temporal back-and-forth cycle and gives a new life to the story. Lucius meets the brilliant Satsuki Odate, an highly educated spa geisha who is interested in ancient Rome and can speak Latin! Having an interpreter will allow Lucius to discover more aspects of modern Japanese culture. The fifth volume is less about Roman baths than various small aspects of Roman culture. The presentation of the spatio-temporal travel (which remains unexplained) is refined and the volume ends with a suspense that makes us yearn for the next and final book! A very good manga! You can read more on this manga (in french) in a previous entry of this blog.

Thermae Romae Vol. 1-5, by Mari Yamazaki. Paris, Casterman (Coll. Sakka). Vol. 1: March 2012, 186 pg., ISBN: 978-2-2030-4909-3; Vol. 2: March 2012, 202 pg., ISBN: 978-2-2030-4910-9; Vol. 3: June 2012, 194 pg., ISBN: 978-2-2030-5082-2; Vol. 4: October 2012, 194 pg., ISBN: 978-2-2030-6040-1; Vol. 5: January 2013, 194 pg., ISBN: 978-2-2030-6206-1. 13.2 x 18.1 x 1.8 cm, 7,95 € / $13.95 Can. For young adult (14+). Vol. 6 coming around the end of summer 2013.

Thermae Romae Vol. 1-2, by Mari Yamazaki. New York, Yen Press. Vol. 1: November 2012, 352 pages, ISBN: 978-0-316-22919-7; Vol. 2: May 2013, 352 pages, ISBN: 978-0-316-23219-7. 7”x 10.125, $34.99 US ($38.99 Can). For Older Teen (14+). Vol. 3 coming in February 2014.

Thermae Romae © 2009-2013 Mari Yamazaki. © Casterman 2012-2013 pour la présente édition française.

The Thermae Romae animation was produced by DreamLink Entertainment (DLE Inc.) studio under the direction of Azuma Tani with scripts by Mamoru Nakano and character designs by Toshimitsu Takechi. The three 24-min. episodes (or six 12-min. episodes) aired on Fuji TV's Noitamina block between January 12 and January 26, 2012. The series has been licensed for released in North America by Discotek Media.

The story of the anime is much simplified (exit the political plots) and covers roughly only the first three volumes, but stay relatively faithful to the manga. Unfortunately, the anime is produced using flash animation and character designs that are very caricatural. The result is a limited animation that is far from the realistic art of the manga (this short teaser on Youtube gives you an idea). It's still very funny and worth watching, but it's also an acquired taste.
Thermae Romae © 2012 Mari Yamazaki / Published by Enterbrain, Inc. /「テルマエ・ロマエ」Anime Production Committee.

“Ancient Roman architect Lucius is too serious. His inability to keep up with the fast-moving times costs him his job. When a friend takes the dejected Lucius to the public bathhouse to cheer him up, Lucius accidentally slips through time and resurfaces in a modern-day public bath in Japan. There, he meets aspiring young manga artist Mami, along with others of the "flat-faced clan". Shocked by the many inventive aspects of Japan's bathing culture, Lucius returns to ancient Rome and garners tremendous attention when he implements these novel ideas back in Rome. As he time-slips back and forth between ancient Rome and modern-day Japan, Lucius' reputation as the ingenious, new bath architect begins to grow.” (from IMDb)

The Thermae Romae movie is an excellent production. First, it includes a cast of very good actors (strangely the fact that most of the roman roles are played by Japanese actors with “less japanese faces” doesn't make the movie feel less realistic). Second, the sets and costumes are superbs (it helps that they used the specialized facilities of Cinecitta studio in Rome, as well as some barely noticeable computer animation). Finally, it offers an interesting story, full of intrigue and good natured comedy. All in all, it is quite entertaining.

Unfortunately, if you know anything about roman antiquity or if you have previously read the manga, you'll probably be very disappointed. First, emperor Hadrian is presented as a tyrant while he was in fact one of the most benevolent, cultured and caring emperor (as they said in the manga and anime: one of the five “good” emperors). Also, Ceionius (Aelius) is presented as an horrible womanizer and an incompetent which was most probably not the case. Secondly, I understand that a movie adaptation must take some liberty with the original story, but I felt in this case that it was diverging a little too much. The female character of Satsuki Odate, a scholarly spa geisha in the manga, is replaced by wannabe mangaka Manami Yamakoshi which opens for an entirely new story line. Lucius keeps meeting her in every of his time travelings (from the very beginning), until she finally comes back to Rome with him by accident. Her knowledge of history ends up changing the course of events and they must find a clever way to change things back as they should be happening. I am sure that in itself it is an interesting story but I was nevertheless quite disappointed. However, I still thinks it's funny and I nevertheless recommend it.

Finally, to have a better idea of this movie, you can read a variety of reviews (The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter and The Japan Times) and view the trailer on Youtube:

A second movie is scheduled to be released in May 2014 (AsianWiki).

Thermae Romae (テルマエ · ロマエ): Japan, 2012, 108 min.; Dir.: Hideki Takeuchi; Scr.: Shōgo Mutō (based on Mari Yamazaki's manga); Phot.: Kazushige Kawagoe; Ed.: Hiroshi Matsuo; Mus.: Norihito Sumimoto; Prod.: Chihiro Kameyama, Minami Ichikawa, Atsushi Terada, Hirokazu Hamamura; Cast: Hiroshi Abe (Lucius), Aya Ueto (Manami Yamakoshi), Kazuki Kitamura (Ceionius), Riki Takeuchi (Tateno), Kai Shishido (Antoninus), Takashi Sasano (Shuzo Yamakoshi), Masachika Ichimura (Hadrian), Midoriko Kimura (Yumi Yamakoshi), Katsuya (Marcus). It was an Official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012, the Hawaii International Film Festival 2012 and the New York Asian Film Festival 2013. It will screen at the Fantasia festival August 2nd at 4 pm in the Imperial Theatre.
For more information you can visit the following websites:
Available on DVD on these websites:
Thermae Romae © 2012「テルマエ・ロマエ」Film Production Committee.

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