Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Movie House Experience with Naruto

Last Saturday, I needed to get my mind off of things. Michigan had just lost a heartbreaker of a football game, and that kind of loss grates on you.

So I decided to take a leap and go see a movie, by myself, in downtown Denver. The reason I headed there was because the movie I wanted to see was a Japanese anime import, and it was only being shown in the area in one location: the Sei FilmCenter.

I honestly had no idea what to expect as I drove down to the theater. Would the place be empty? Would I find ample parking? Would the movie be any good? Out of all of these, the last question was the least of my concerns. After all, I had a lot of experience with this particular Japanese anime.

So a little background first...

The Series: Naruto


See that white-haired guy at the top?
He's my favorite character, Kakashi.
Don't be fooled - he's always had
white hair - he's only 30 years old!
Over ten years ago, my big brother convinced me to watch this Japanese show that he and his friends were watching online. I had watched Pokemon way back with my little brother, so I was aware of many of the quirks of Japanese anime. Since my brother was the one getting me to watch it, I knew it would be a bit more kid-friendly than some other Japanese anime out there.

The show was called Naruto. It had been going on for a few years, based on a manga (Japanese graphic novel) that had started in 1999. The story revolved around a 12-year-old boy named Naruto, who as a baby had a demon nine-tailed fox sealed inside him to stop the fox from destroying his village. Oh - did I mention that this is a village that trains ninjas? So the boy goes to the ninja academy and does horribly, but his hard work and perseverance helps him improve in his skills. He also has a huge rivalry with his team member, named Sasuke. He has a whole backstory that you don't really need to know.

The TV series is funny, scary, serious, and dramatic - something I wouldn't expect from a cartoon, but is routine for an anime. It took me a bit to get used to it, but I kept coming back.

The first arc revolved around Naruto and his team - the aforementioned Sasuke, a pink-haired girl named Sakura, and their sensei, Kakashi. That arc helped to introduce the core four characters (well, except Kakashi, but his backstory was huge and deserved more build-up than this) and see how the different kinds of things ninjas in this world could do.

It was the second arc that got me hooked. The "beginner" ninjas (genin) can apply to be promoted to the next level of ninja, called a chunin. This introduced us to many other characters in the village, and they were all fantastic. They had unique abilities and unique personalities, and it made for incredible stories.

Once I got into the Chunin Exam arc, I couldn't stop. My brother and I would watch multiple episodes at a time, marveling at how the characters were developing. None of them got stuck as a one-note character. And even after the Chunin Exam arc, the show still got better.

One of my favorite parts was the opening credits. Every 20 or 30 episodes, the opening song and credit sequence would change, depending on the story arc. Some of the songs were okay, and some were incredible! One of my favorites is below.


...And then we caught up with the Japanese airings. It was just about the time that the Naruto anime had caught up with the manga, so to keep the show fresh in people's minds, the anime made a bunch of episodes that weren't from the manga. (Filler episodes.) They were part of the story, but didn't have the same emotional impact.

They made over 80 of these filler episodes, and I just wanted to get back to the main story. So my brother and I both stopped watching. I hoped that someday I would get back into it.

Fast forward to this September. I had just bought Netflix to watch another amazing cartoon, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and saw that they had Naruto! I put it on my queue, and came back to it when the fall shows still hadn't premiered.

I re-watched all the episodes I'd seen over 10 years ago and loved it all over again. I had forgotten a few things and was surprised once again. My favorite characters back then (Shikamaru, Lee, Gaara) were still my favorite characters now. And best of all? The anime had gone back to airing manga episodes about eight years ago, and I had 400 new episodes to watch on Hulu!

Needless to say I raced through the new anime, called Naruto Shippuden, showing all the characters grown up into teenagers (the setting was 3 years after Naruto ended). Everything got more awesome, and I ate it up.

There were two arcs in particular that had me on the edge of my seat as I watched it - one involving one of my favorite characters, Shikamaru, and the other featured Naruto at his best and finally revealed a pretty major plot point. I will rewatch those episodes as much as possible.

But then the anime stopped! And it wasn't done with the story! I checked online, and saw that the manga had wrapped up last fall in Japan, but the final mangas had only recently been translated into English and released in the States. As a matter of fact, the final volume had only been released just three days previous from the time I checked.

To my delight and amazement, my local libraries carry the Naruto manga! So I checked out the final four volumes and was able to complete the story. I was so pleased with the ending, and pleased with myself that I was able to finish it without being too spoiled.


But now what? Would I just go on Pinterest and pin Naruto fanart until Star Wars comes out? Well, yes. But I also saw that the animators had also made several Naruto movies - one of which had just been released on DVD in the States called The Last! (I was having amazing luck with timing.)

I bought it and watched it and loved it, and then saw there was an even more recent movie about the next generation of ninja. Like the other movie, I checked online to see where I could buy the DVD. But it turned out, the movie had just been released in theaters in the States, and to my shock, the movie was showing at the Sei FilmCenter in Denver the exact same day that I was researching it online. And that day only.

The stars were aligned. I had to go.

The Theater

I made it to the theater without any problems and in plenty of time. They had a nice little lobby where they were showing playoff baseball on a TV and a few small tables and chairs. Like any theater, there was a concession stand, but I've trained myself not to even bother. Plus, this showing was at 9:30 at night, so I wasn't very hungry.

There was another movie showing at the same time, but as I drove into the parking garage, the first people I saw were actually doing cosplay of Naruto characters, so I knew there would be at least a few people in my theater.

When I got out of the bathroom I milled around by the theater entrance, which was still being cleaned from a previous movie showing. I wasn't thinking anything of it as I checked my phone and picked up a poster I saw on a table, but then I turned around. There was a line of people waiting to get into my theater! That made me excited.

I was close enough to the front of the line to snag my favorite theater seat: front row of the back section with the railing to put up my feet. I got in a conversation with the girls next to me who were recommending other Japanese anime, and right before 9:30 I took a look around.

It was so awesome; the theater was packed! I definitely was not expecting that. Even when the show started, people were still coming in and couldn't find a seat - they sat on the stairs!

Two guys I sat by must have worked in the theater, because one of the workers went up to them before the movie started and said, "So I guess I'll have to show more anime, huh?" He was clearly as shocked as I was that the theater was so full for a kid's anime. Nearly everyone was in their 20s or 30s, except for a girl who must have been 7 or 8. I almost gave her a high-five for her good taste, but held back.

The Experience

Most of you - if not all of you - have had experience watching shows on your computer. While it is incredibly convenient, the screen is pretty small and the sound quality is merely adequate. I had just spent 6-7 weeks watching an entire anime series this way - and by myself, with only my own comments and reactions.

So you could imagine my eyes widening and my jaw dropping when the first scene of the movie came up, and it was a massive fight scene. The surround sound! The animation! The cheers! I was swept up immediately from the first frame.

The crowd in the theater was great. They laughed at the comedy, they expressed shock at the dramatic parts, and they cheered when something great happened. This movie took place 15 years (or so) after the anime, so whenever a character returned looking older, everyone got really excited.

The movie was very good. The experience was phenomenal. It was so great to be sitting in a theater with people who loved this anime and manga just as much as I did. It can be hard to fall in love with a show or movie and not have people around you to appreciate it with you. This theater experience was just what I needed.


Would I do any more of these small theater/international movie showings? Absolutely. The Sei FilmCenter was a very nice place to watch a movie, and I would go there again. Clearly it knows what will attract an audience.

As I got into my car, I was relieved for those hours that I had spent not thinking about that awful football game and just relishing the opportunity I'd been given. It was worth every cent I spent!

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