New Zealand's greatest writer-director-actor has some big new projects coming up, but it's worth looking back at his previous work
A lot of filmmakers keep themselves apart from their work.
You can watch all of their films, learn to recognize their style and vision, and still be left with the mystery of who their creator is. That's not the case with New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi.
1. Eagle Vs. Shark (2007)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="865a56bb1507d40fc5d6598b6865e141"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-dqW6ZAxbp0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Waititi's first feature-length film was 2007's <em>Eagle Vs. Shark</em>, a charming low-budget look at socially-awkward romance, starring Waititi's friends Jemaine Clement (<em>Flight of the Conchords</em>) as Jarrod and Loren Horsley as Lily. Aptly compared to 2004's <em>Napoeleon Dynamite</em>, <em>Eagle Vs. Shark</em>'s comedy leaned heavily on Jarrod's cringeworthy attempts to be tough and to live up to his dead brother Gordon (played by Waititi), who was a star athlete.</p><p>While the film offers a lot of sweet and funny moments, and the use of charming stop-motion sequences add to its appeal, it's clear that Waititi was still finding his voice, and the final result lacks the strength of vision and emotional depth of his later work.<i></i></p>
2. Boy (2010)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3480389206571831f0aceb58c5f6ffc5"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ESD3mlgpSwM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The fact that 2010's <em>Boy</em> is number five on this list is a testament to Waititi's talent, because <em>Boy</em> is a sweet, disarming, and silly look at childhood for a young Māori boy in 1980s New Zealand. Boy, AKA Alamein, lives with his little brother Rocky and a large extended family. Their mother died in childbirth, and Alamein paints their father (for whom he's named) as a mythic hero who is off saving the world somewhere. In reality their father (played by Waititi) is in prison, but when he gets out, he comes home with his lackeys to bond with his sons, commit petty crimes, and search for the money he buried years ago.</p><p>At first Boy is ecstatic to have his father back and is wholly impressed by all his apparent toughness. But eventually it becomes clear that the elder Alamein is as much a child as his sons and that beneath his posturing he's a sad, pathetic man. Ultimately Boy learns from him who he doesn't want to be.</p><p>The film's blend of sincerity and silliness is endearing, and its meandering story delivers a compelling emotional arc. It's not quite as polished as most of Waititi's later work, but everything that makes him a great director is there in <em>Boy</em>.</p>
3. Thor Ragnarok (2017)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5b5ec8473729ff2d1b53c8f496babae"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ue80QwXMRHg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>2017's <em>Thor: Ragnarok</em> is by far Taika Waititi's most successful film, with box office sales just over $850 million. It's also a legitimately great movie and possibly the only Marvel movie to be genuinely funny throughout. While Waititi brings his sense of humor and his keen directorial eye to this story of super-powered gladiators and intergalactic apocalypse (as well as his voice in the figure of Korg, the would-be revolutionary made of stone), this is the only film on the list that wasn't also written by Waititi.</p><p>So while Waititi definitely <a href="https://screenrant.com/thor-ragnarok-original-movie-plan-before-waititi/" target="_blank">had a significant influence on the film's story</a>—which may explain the emphasis on Thor's relationship with his father, as well as his struggle to define himself without his hammer—the restrictions of working in an existing franchise mean that it doesn't quite fit into the mold of his other works, which are purely his vision.<br></p>
4. Jojo Rabbit (2019)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8777a725839ef20896e892912d887aa0"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tL4McUzXfFI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>Jojo Rabbit</em> is Waititi's 2019 film telling of the story of Jojo, a young Austrian boy whose imaginary friend and father-figure is his hero...Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi). Ostensibly adapted from Christine Leunen's dark novel <em>Caging Skies</em>, <em>Jojo Rabbit</em> explores concepts of war, nationalism, and xenophobia through a child's perspective, and won Waititi the academy award for Best Adapted Screenplay.<br></p><p>While there's something deeply unsettling about <em>Jojo Rabbit's</em> madcap humor being set in Nazi Germany near its collapse, the movie succeeds in portraying the universal challenges of childhood and the struggle to understand a world that is full of deception and hate. Waititi—whose Grandfather was a Russian Jew—humanizes some of the film's Nazis, not to diminish their crimes, but to show how even decent people can end up participating in terrible evil if they don't actively resist. While Jojo initially demonizes the Jewish girl he finds hidden behind his mother's bedroom wall, in the end she's the only one he has left.</p><p>Some will no doubt find that Waititi's humor undercuts the poignancy of the film's message, but the film's outstanding cast holds it together, and the thrilling moment when Jojo finally rejects Nazi ideology (by telling Hitler to f*** off, and kicking him out a window) is irresistibly cathartic.</p>
5. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="88c70af30da13e42b21e31f5971309a9"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wxt2DSWS_eI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>2014's <em>What We Do in the Shadows</em> is an absurdist mockumentary that tells the story of a group of vampires from different eras, living together in modern-day New Zealand. While it doesn't attempt to touch the sort of serious drama that some of Waititi's other work touches on, it doesn't have to, because it's his funniest movie. From confrontations with a gang of polite werewolves to the fruitless hunt for virgins, <em>What We Do in the Shadows</em>' semi-improvisational style delivers frequent laughs as the vampires struggle to navigate the modern world.</p><p>Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi wrote the movie together, as well as portraying two of the main vampires. As silly as the movie is, it still has an emotional core, provided mainly by Waititi's character, Viago—a lovelorn 18th century dandy. While it's since been adapted into a TV series for FX, Waititi's original remain's untouchable for silly vampiric humor.<span></span></p>
6. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7d2b72c873a19446680735f7e749f702"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dPaU4Gymt3E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>According to Waititi, 2016's <em>Hunt for the Wilderpeople</em> was the first film in which he really found his directorial voice, and it shows. Following young delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his cantankerous foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill), who go on the run together in the untamed wilderness of New Zealand. It's a touching exploration of boyhood and manhood and the dynamic relationship between the two. It also features what might be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32QcvEuJYFA" target="_blank">the greatest funerary sermon</a> in cinematic history, delivered by Waititi's minister character. While all of Waititi's movies are worth watching, <em>Hunt for the Wilderpeople</em>—which he spent more than a decade adapting from the stories of acclaimed New Zealand writer Barry Crump—delivers more of the heartfelt and joyful strangeness that makes his movies so satisfying.</p>
Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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Never tell me the odds.
In February New Zealand writer-director-actor Taika Waititi was awarded an Oscar for the screenplay of his film Jojo Rabbit.
On May the 4th—the holiest of Star Wars holidays (Revenge of the 5th is sacrilege)—it was announced that he'd received what might be an even bigger honor: He's going to co-write and direct a new Star Wars movie.
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