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And Nothing Hurt

I have thought long about how to begin this post, and almost didn’t publish it, because I couldn’t come up with anything. I suppose there is the obvious: this is an end-of-year review of 2021.

Originally published on the 25th of December, 2021.

In my last post, I detailed what I was planning to do in 2021: watch 300 movies in 365 days. According to my Letterboxd profile, as of today, I have watched exactly 53. There is, of course, a reason to that, and while it essentially boils down to “I didn’t feel like it”, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Don’t get me wrong though: I still had my fair share of weird, obscure movies. So before I get into anything else, let me share just a few of my favourites from this year.

Feel Happiness

Starting off with the second most experimental film, I saw “Last and First Men” on the 22nd of January. Don’t worry, we’ll get to #1.

Having previously worked on numerous sundtracks to various successful movies, Jóhann Jóhannsson made his first and, unfortunately, also his last movie based on the novel of the same name by Olaf Stapledon (which I definitely have to read now): “As the end approaches inexorably, the last humans, living millions of years into the future, send a message to the humanity of the present that is both a plea for help and a warning, but also an epic tale of evolution, decline and hope”.

Other than that, I believe my review on Letterboxd says it all:

I wouldn’t call this a movie as much as an experience. That sounds pretentious, because it is, but it is also true. I liked the brutalist architecture a lot, and I think I don’t even need to mention how fantastic the score is (it’s Jóhann Jóhannsson, after all). It is also both way too short and the perfect length, if that makes any sense.

Staying with Jóhannsson for just a little bit longer, “Copenhagen Dreams” is by far the most obscure movie in this list. If you search it up, most results will simply lead to his soundtrack, with only very few in-between relating to the actual movie.

Some time after hearing about it, I managed to track down the (relatively small) publisher. Their website had a page dedicated to the movie, but none of the three purchase links worked anymore. Eventually, I decided to simply send them a mail, and to my surprise, a week later, I was one DVD richer.

As for the movie itself, it’s not as much a documentary as it is a “city symphony” of Denmark’s capital. Here, not people are put in the foreground, but the city itself, which makes for a really refreshing and calming watch and atmosphere.

“My uncle says we live three times as long since man invented movies.”
“How can that be?”
“It means movies give us twice what we get from daily life.”

On the 4th of May, I rewatched what’s quite possibly my favourite movie of all time: “Yi Yi”. A three hour long drama following a middle-class family in Taipei over the course of one year, where nothing really happens, and yet everything does. British critic Nigel Andrews once famously wrote that “to describe ‘Yi Yi’ as a three-hour Taiwanese family drama is like calling ‘Citizen Kane’ a film about a newspaper.”

I seem to have a soft spot for slow and tender Asian family dramas – earlier this year, in March, I also watched “The Taste of Tea”, which was great in its own right, but doesn’t come anywhere near this masterpiece.

Similar to “Copenhagen Dreams”, the atmosphere this film manages to create is something I haven’t yet found anywhere else – something truly unique. Next up: “Suzaku”.

“A Silent Voice”, which I watched on the 9th of October, 2021, is a brutally honest depiction of bullying and a few other sensitive topics. While being a success, it never achieved the status of, say, “Your Name.”, even though, in my opinion, it would’ve had every right to.

It shows something that I would ultimately come to understand through a different form of media (more on that later): There are no good or bad people. Just people who do good or bad things.

On the 14th of November, I rewatched the first anime I remember seeing: “Hotarubi no Mori e”. I don’t know when I first saw it, but it must’ve been before September of 2015, since that’s when I created my Trakt account.

At just 45 minutes, it doesn’t come near “A Silent Voice”, but I still have a soft spot for it. A little girl gets lost in the woods, meets a mountain god, they grow closer over the years that follow, and the film becomes surprisingly emotional towards the end – what’s not to love?

Finally, on the 12th of December, I watched “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty”, both the most experimental and fitting flick this year. The title is a mouthful, but justified considering the movie is 288 minutes long.

Considering that length, you might be thinking of some kind of Avengers-style epic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth: Instead, it is a collection of home movie footage, captured by director Jonas Mekas over a span of 30 years. Let that sink in for a moment! There is the occasional commentary, but most shots are simply underlined with relatively minimal piano pieces.

That is also the reason why I said it was so fitting: Both the movie and this post give detailed, intimate glimpses into the lives of their creators.

It definitely isn’t for everyone, but if it sounds like your kind of thing, it might just be your new favorite movie. I won’t lie, I did take out my phone a few times during the latter half, but still, this might have been one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Other highlights include “The Woman Who Ran”, “Paris, Texas” (pictured above) and “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”.

Right, enough of that. So, what happened? You see, my overall mood was dampened considerably by this whole pandemic thing you might have heard about by now. I wasn’t feeling depressed or extremely shitty, just really “meh” – and that was that – until sometime in the summer of this year.

It Was Always Worth It

It’s the 23th of April, 2021. A friend of mine sends a link to the new Porter Robinson album in our Discord. I remember hearing his previous, and first, album “Worlds” a while ago and liking it, so I make a mental note to listen to it at some point and go on with my day.

Fast-forward to the 29th. I’m working from home and it’s a slow day, so I decide to give it a listen. I launch Spotify, search for “Nurture” and start the playback. An hour later, I’m laying on my bed, bawling my eyes out.

There was something I didn’t know about Nurture at that point: Porter didn’t anticipate the kind of success Worlds would find – I doubt anyone would – and, following its publication, started to suffer from creative drought, always thinking whatever he did next wouldn’t be good enough, wouldn’t satisfy the masses. One thing led to another, and combined with family illness, it’s not hard to see why he faced severe emotional struggles for the years to come.

Despite all of that, Nurture is not a depressing album, quite the opposite: “Look at the Sky” is a homage to what comes after, letting you know that yes, eventually things will get better, “Mother” is an absolutely beautiful thank-you-letter to those who truly care about us, and “Trying to Feel Alive” is a collection of things Porter learned during those years, that aren’t always easy to hear, but may be among the most important things man can know – just to name a few of my favourites. Other highlights include “Musician”, “Sweet Time” and “Blossom”. In his own words: “I’m so glad I didn’t give up, and I hope you don’t either.”

Hell, even the album cover embodies this.

It is an old analogy, but it still applies: it’s as if Nurture was a mirror, that, once held in front of my face, showed me who I really was, how I got here – and asked me where I wanted to go. Thankfully, that effect wore off after three to four days, and everything returned to how it was before, though for weeks, I did not listen to any Porter Robinson song at all, out of fear I would fall into the same hole once more.

My scrobble count of Nurture over time.

And the Ambulance Died in His Arms

All of this made Nurture my AOTY in an instant – but it was, of course, not the only album I listened to in 2021. In fact, I listened to more music this year than ever before: As I’m writing this, my scrobble count for this year stands at 23,745 – a lot more compared to 2020’s 17,830 and 2019’s 17,823.

The scrobble counts for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 are inaccurate – some songs were scrobbled twice, while others weren’t submitted at all.

When, at the end of last year, I noticed that I had only about a hundred scrobbles short of 23,745, I actually tried to listen to the same exact amount of songs as I did in 2019 – but apparently Last.fm’s charts take a while to update, and I ended up accidentally scrobbling more instead.

I’m also on the road to reaching a 365-day-streak this year, compared to 2020, when one day of silence at the 16th of August cut that one short. But I digress.

The first and, if I’m being honest, pretty much only artist that comes to my mind when thinking about the music in 2021 is Jeff Rosenstock.

So, imagine this: You’re listening to the classic “Anywhere I Lay My Head” by Tom Waits (which is an insanely good song in its own right, may I add), and decide to search for covers of it on Spotify. So you find Scarlett Johansson’s cover, wonder since when she makes music, but whatever, it sounds good too! And then, you find this.

Initially taken aback, you find yourself really liking it, and wonder why the hell it works so damn well. Eventually, you find yourself listening to the rest of the album, and… okay, you get the idea.

Jeff Rosenstock was the driving force behind Bomb the Music Industry! before they disbanded, sending him off to his solo carreer. More often than not, his music combines catchy tunes with deeply personal and/or political lyrics, to the point of making you feel bad because you dance around in the kitchen while he screams “they wouldn’t be your friend if you didn’t have something they could take” – likely referring to the often corporate sponsorhip of festivals profiting anti-establishment musicians, simply because they can still make money off of it.

Every now and then though, his songs cross the line from sing-along earwigs to just straight-up really fucking depressing stories, to the point of – from what I can hear – Jeff trying to hold back tears while performing them on stage. All of that makes for a mesmerizing, at times almost paralyzing experience, which quickly pushed Jeff onto my Last.fm artist leaderboard.

God damn it, hold on…

There we go.

Granted, this comparison isn’t entirely fair – while Swans songs aren’t seldom over 15 minutes long, Jeff’s songs usually run from two to five minutes. We can, however, pretty much annihilate this argument when we look at the stats for just this year:

If you look closely, you can see that I listened to Jeff Rosenstock while taking these screenshots.

Oh, and would you look at that? OMORI at number five. How convenient.

Everything Was Beautiful

If everything goes well (and if you’re reading this, it probably did), this post goes live on the 25th of December, meaning it’s not only Christmas (merry Christmas, by the way), but also the one-year anniversary of a video game that changed, and – without overdramatizing – perhaps even saved my life.

It is the one-year anniversary of OMORI.

As with the very beginning of this post, I thought a lot about how to approach this section. My initial idea was to go through its story in detail, describing every last thing and taking an innumerable amount of screenshots. I ultimately decided against it: If I did that I would’ve never finished it by the 25th, and – perhaps most importantly – I would’ve spoiled the story for you, which I realized is the last thing I want to do, since I don’t want to rob you of the potential rollercoaster of emotions, experiences and revelations that I had (and still have) with this game. But let’s start at the beginning.

OMORI originally started out as a series of drawings on the creator’s – OMOCAT‘s – blog in 2011, before eventually turning into a Kickstarter campaign for a video game based on said series that generated almost ten times as much money as its $22,000 goal.

Originally scheduled to be released in 2015, it was delayed numerous times, before finally arriving on December 25th of last year.

Never in my life could I have predicted what would await me when, sometime in April, I clicked on the new YouTube video by Daryl Talks Games, a channel that I really enjoy watching every now and then. It was called “OMORI and Dissociative Amnesia”, and for the first few minutes, Daryl talks about the setup of the game that takes about an hour, depending on how you play. He talks about how, as Omori, you meet up with all your friends in this beautiful world where everything is fine and nothing goes wrong – until something does. Something goes really, really wrong.

At that point, he pauses for a moment, and talks about how now is the last chance to play OMORI before he spoils it. I don’t play a lot of games – and if I do, they more often than not don’t even really have a story – but somehow, I was intrigued. The combination of a Pokémon-style RPG, its colorful world, incredibly likable characters and sudden shift to the horror genre caught my attention – though, admittedly, not immediately, as I actually almost continued watching on two separate occasions. But ultimately, I paused the video, put it in my “Watch Later” playlist, went to Steam and bought the game.

And Nothing Hurt

It would take a couple more weeks until I actually started playing it. The details do get a bit fuzzy here, but I do remember playing about one third of the game before going on a vacation to Denmark. A few weeks after returning, on Saturday, the 19th of June, I sat down and played for hours on end. I was amazed by this incredibly tight friend group – hell, I was jealous of it. That day, I finished the second third, and the day after, I finished the third.

“I’m so done, dude”

Never before had a game – or any kind of media, really – elicited such strong emotions from me. I can’t remember the last time I cried this much. I probably never did. Despite all of that, I somehow managed to catch a few hours of sleep, and went back to work the following day.

I couldn’t concentrate. I barely got any work done. Even when I tried, all I could think about was this damn game. I thought it would just be another “Nurture”, that it would be gone within a few days, but when the next day it was almost getting worse, I knew that wasn’t the case – so I submitted a vacation request form for the rest of the week and went home.

For a week or so, I barely ate. My family was starting to worry, and everything culminated in a panic attack a few days later when I remembered that my closest childhood friend would soon move to India for three years due to his studies. Thankfully, my mother heard me and managed to calm me down. We talked, one thing led to another, I started seeing a counselor and, as of now, I thankfully feel a lot better.

What remains are the feels: I used to be relatively emotionless for the longest time, but OMORI gave that back to me. When I sat before my computer, crying over what I had just witnessed, something flipped a switch. Not only did I enjoy various forms of media more ever since, but I believe through this experience I also got kinder. In the words of Hank Green:

This game was in development for seven years – and it shows: It is filled to the absolute brim with secrets, side quests and Chekhov’s guns. Looking at HowLongToBeat reveals an insanely long playthrough duration (for an RPG, at least).

Both the pixel art style and the occasional more detailed one are absolutely gorgeous. The story and writing are nothing short of a 10/10. OMORI is depressing and gut-wrenching, making you want to call out to the characters and save them from their fate – but, in the end, it is also more hopeful, bright and uplifting than anything else. For the sake of completeness, here’s the review I wrote on Steam:

It sounds pretentious, I realize that. But I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t think it to be true – and I still do. And hey, I’ll admit it, I rarely wanted to hug someone so bad, fictional or personal.

Fanart by Koii via Twitter.

We Begged To Explode

Phew. This post was a bit all over the place, sorry about that. Thinking about it, that’s probably because this year was all over the place too.

So, where does that leave us? I believe that is up for the individual to decide. I, personally, can not wait for next year – partly because 2021 was absolutely insane in some parts, partly because I know 2022 will be much better in others. In any case, I am incredibly grateful for this year and everything that happened during it.

Thank you very much for reading everything (or even just skipping to this part). I don’t do analytics, so I don’t know how many of you there are, but know that it still means a lot to me, especially since this was both my longest and most personal post yet.

Be good now.


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