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3-Iron (2004)
4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
One of the most remarkable films ever made, 21 November 2006

Kim Ki-Duk's films portray a black world view, one by which our selfish impulses cause us to destroy each other and, ultimately, ourselves. They are driven by the central character's desire to escape this world, in their own ways eventually finding a way out of the reality that engulfs them. In Real Fiction (2000), the protagonist disappears into a day dream in which he has revenge on all those who wronged him in the past; in Spring Summer Autumn Winter... And Spring (2003), a Buddhist monk lives, literally, on an island separated from the rest of the world; any contact with the outside world results in tragedy, be it a visiting mother fleeing with her child (she drowns, though the child, gratefully, survives), or the monk's apprentice running off with a girl (he ends up murdering her and is wanted by the police); in Bad Guy, the eponymous protagonist tries to find solace through his own love fantasy; and then there is 3 Iron, Kim Ki-Duk's magnum opus and one of the most remarkable films ever made.

3 Iron seems to tie all the visual and thematic aspects of Kim's films together, neatly and impressively, making it the "ultimate" Kim Ki-Duk film, much the same way Fitzcarraldo is the "ultimate" Herzog- or North By Northwest was the "ultimate" Hitchcock film. Like every Kim Ki-Duk film, the protagonist is a rank outsider from mainstream society. Like Bad Guy, the character plays his part almost entirely mute (and on this note, both Jo Jae-hyeon's and Lee Hyun-kyoon's performances have to be utterly applauded for being both wonderfully subtle and yet so forcefully expressive). Once again, we are faced with a latent dual reality, where the protagonist escapes the world around him, but is also brutally dragged back into it. Like Bad Guy, 3 Iron is a strange love story, albeit a far more assuasive one, where both the characters decide to disappear into "their own world".

However, 3 Iron defies explanation. Can you imagine trying to pitch this to a Hollywood producer? "Ok, there's this guy and he, like, breaks into people's houses. He washes their clothes, dishes, bathrooms -.. he even wears their clothes, sleeps in their beds, and repairs stuff for them, like clocks or broken toy guns (with hilarious consequences in the latter's case!). One day he breaks into a house, thinking he's alone, but meets an abused wife. When her husband returns, he proceeds to attack the old philanderer in a very original way (which neatly ties in with the title of the film... you'll see) and she runs off with him. They then enter "his" world and live "his" life together, breaking into houses, etc, before they get dragged back into the real world with all the pain and suffering it brings". Yeah! That'll really get the 18-25 demographic rolling down the aisles! Chances are I would have been kicked out midway through the second sentence, though if I'm really honest I wouldn't actually mind trying to pitch this to Don Simpson, just to see the reaction on his face.

But it really would be doing this movie little justice to try and "summarise" it in some neat little way. It needs to be watched, it needs to be experienced, like all the great movies. There is no real "idea" in this film, necessarily, nor is there a big "statement" of sorts - Kim Ki-Duk is not a "statement" film-maker like Godard or Eisenstein. Rather, like Lynch, he prefers to make films that work on an instinctive level, in that they draw a gut emotional reaction from you that cannot necessarily be articulated or expressed in an intellectual manner. Is it any coincidence, then, that Kim, like Lynch, primarily hails from a painting background, and actually wanted to be a painter before he became a film-maker?

Paintings are an apt analogy, since every frame is clearly carefully and thoughtfully choreographed (characters are either separated (in both the physical and emotional sense) by vertical-, or they are united by horizontal lines). But putting aside any visual- and textual comparisons to Lynch, Kim Ki-Duk also draws a lot from Wong Kar Wai in terms of narrative, and anyone who has seen Chungking Express should notice comparisons to 3 Iron in that both concentrate on a character who breaks into someone else's house/flat and lives their life without them noticing, or how one song is ceaselessly repeated to emphasise both the love between the two central characters and, furthermore, the characters' wish to escape reality (though 3 Iron does so more on a less literal level, as I mentioned before) - in Chungking Express, it was California Dreamin' (a song that will never be the same for me after that film, and I suspect a lot of people feel this way), while in 3 Iron it's "Gafsa" by Natasha Atlas.

Still, I suppose I can conceptualise and intellectualise to my heart's content - somehow I doubt that any of this will spur you to watch this movie. But I think it should. This film deserves to be seen. It's a tender, thought-provoking, and ultimately (and quite strangely) heart-warming film, as well as, quite possibly. an indication that Kim Ki-Duk is slowly coming of an age as a film-maker, moving on from an entirely pessimistic worldview to one that is more reassuring and serene. Yes, there is suffering and darkness, but there is also hope, and I think, this, ultimately is what 3 Iron is trying to tell us. It is, in short, utterly required viewing, not to mention the work of a true genius. And it's really not very often I bandy this word about.

7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Shades of Miyazaki, 10 December 2005

Laura's Star is an extremely amiable children's movie full of imagination and charm. Something tells me Hayao Miyazaki may have been an influence on De Rycker and Rothkirch, since Laura's Stern (or Laura's Star) carries with it shades of Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service and, to a slightly lesser degree, My Neighbour Totoro. I could be wrong of course, but it's easy to draw this comparison simply judging from the aesthetics and the likable narrative of this film and, if anything, it's meant as a compliment. Still, there's a hint of triumphalism here in that I'm glad to see one of my favourite film-makers having a bearing on other directors and animators, as well they should.

In any case, I have absolutely no hesitation recommending Laura's Star to anyone with young children - or for that matter people like myself who just happen to have a weakness for all things cutesy and good-natured.

44 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
A cinematic tour de force, 22 November 2005

"It is up for the viewer to take for herself what Koyanisqaatsi means. For some people it's an environmental film, for some people it's an ode to technology, for some people it's a piece of sh-t, for other people it moves them deeply. It depends on who you ask" - Godfrey Reggio

So, Koyanisqaatsi. Boring junk to some, an involving masterpiece to others, and God knows what other adjective-noun combinations are out there (you can probably guess my opinion from the rating above). Most of these descriptions are fairly subjective, but it would definitely be wrong to regard Koyanisqaatsi as anti-cinema. It is anything but. Cinema, in its purest form, is a marriage of sound and visuals; everything else is just decoration. Dialogue? Storyline? Koyanisqaatsi harks back to an age when cinema was simply a filmed record of a situation. Was it not the Lumiere brothers who are generally regarded as the first pioneers of cinema? And is it not the case that their films comprised of nothing more than situations like a couple feeding their baby, workers leaving a factory, or the (in)famous Train Leaving A Station, which went down in folklore as causing people to flee the auditorium in panic thinking they were about to be hit by a train as it approached them on-screen? Koyanisqaatsi is cinema returning to its roots, to the days when the possibilities for film as an art form were wide open, free of commercial constraints and fickle audiences too narrow in scope to accept anything other than what they view as the given norm.

In a way it's fairly irrelevant what Koyanasqaatsi meant to me on a personal level, though I might get to that later. What's important is what Koyanasqaatsi represents. It's an interesting attempt (and a successful one in my view) to illustrate how a narrative can be created simply by editing together seemingly loosely related scenes and images. It reminds me of another cinematic milestone, the Kuleshov experiment, in which two separate images where edited together to create a third meaning, and which helped establish what is now known as Russian montage (and speaking of the Russian montage tradition, anyone who has seen Vertov's The Man With The Movie Camera will no doubt find traces of it in Koyanisqaatsi and vice versa). Koyanisqaatsi takes it one step further, perhaps even to its logical conclusion, using editing to create a new meaning for the entire narrative as a whole. It works on a gut level and sparks an emotional response, in a way it demands a response, be it boredom, amazement... it really depends on the person (as illustrated by the Reggio quote above). As such it's an example of cinema at its most subjective.

Coming back to the influence Man With A Movie Camera no doubt had on this film, I think what Godfrey Reggio has done here is take this specific style of film-making and turn it into what I, personally, view as a cinematic statement on humanity- and our technology's relationship with the environment around us. It's a pessimistic film, filled with Cold War anxiety (though it hasn't lost any of its relevance) - and in retrospect, I also found it reminiscent of an age when America still had a strong avantgarde movement in the shape of people like Reggio or Laurie Anderson (and in a way it's an interesting coincidence that 1983 also gave birth to another experimental documentary, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, which is equally rich in scope and tackles the same philosophical issues, albeit from a slightly different angle).

I really wonder if the western world could produce a film like this today, in an age where cinema audiences are more fickle than ever, demanding a cut every three seconds and some sort of "surprise twist" at the end, with hardly a niche left for the Godrey Reggios of this world. But in a way I suppose it doesn't really matter. Koyanisqaatsi, to me at least, is one of the richest cinematic experiences anyone could possibly hope to have, and I doubt I'll see a film which will move me quite like this for a long time to come.

Akira (1988)
16 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Ultraviolent fantasy or eloquent Humanistic statement? Probably both, 5 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

To many, this is the movie that started it all. But what's interesting about Akira is that, while it is largely credited with introducing anime to the West, it barely raised an eyelid on its initial release. Most Japanese critics' lists from 1988 barely gave Akira a mention, instead deciding to concentrate on films like Grave Of The Fireflies or My Neighbour Totoro, at least as far as animes were concerned. But while these are perhaps (and in my opinion definitely) superior in quality, their success in western countries was more slow-moving and therefore not as much of a shock to the system as Akira was.

When Akira was first screened in Europe and North America in the early 90s, most people had simply never seen anything like it. Distributors, unaware of the tradition of adult-orientated animation in Japan, didn't have a clue how to promote this feature (some billing it as a kids' movie), and equally audiences suffered from the same confusion (in some cases parents taking their children to a film which features scenes such as a person exploding before mutating into a garish cyberpunk mess of flesh and cables). This confusion resulted in Akira being something of an underground success, but it also ensured the movie cult status across western countries, though perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Is Akira a hyperviolent, sadistic fantasy? Or an eloquent statement on modern civilisation run amok, with technology getting the better of its masters and planet Earth having its divine revenge on those who mutilated it? It's possibly both. Most aficionados of Japanese animation (and also some Japanese live action, witness films by Shinya Tsukamoto or Takashi Miike) are aware that stylised violence is nothing particularly new to the genre (for now wanting to avoid the age-old discussion of anime not being a genre in and of itself but rather a style of animation which incorporates several genres like horror, sci-fi, adventure, etc – and indeed, it would do great disservice to the artistic integrity of many anime artists to simply lump them into one category). However, another fairly consistent, and perhaps ironic, feature of these "violent" narratives is the humanistic message inherent within them, and that, as opposed to many Hollywood narratives which use violence in a Biblical way (ie. the Good guys are justified in using violence against the Bad guy), a narrative like Akira, which stems primarily from both a Buddhist- and Shinto background, avoids lazy good/bad categorisations and instead uses violence to make a clear point - That it does not lead anywhere but tragedy. While perhaps the gratuitously stylised nature of the violence ends up clouding this message, the sheer fact is that, unlike in many mainstream narratives, violence is not rewarded in films like Akira. In fact, in Akira it culminates in the end of the world. Some resolution.

As much as Akira has attracted attention for its violent content, so the convoluted narrative has caused accusations of it being confusing at best and incoherent at worst. While it's very likely that some of the Buddhist symbolism within the film (Tetsuo's final transformation into a new cosmos, as hinted at during the final credit sequence, being a case in point) will go over a few people's heads, the storyline itself is fairly simple: Tetsuo, a bullied and insecure individual, is subjected to a genetic experiment which unleashes a hidden power within him, and, in his anger, destroys the world which he feels rejected him. As well as being a somewhat abstract statement on disaffected youth (a rather appropriate topic, given that I'm writing this at the time of the Paris riots), I would regard Akira as a document of its time. Even though it's set in the future (but then any sci-fi is just an abstract futuristic representation of the time it was made in anyhow), Akira excellently sums up the blind and ravaging short-sighted materialism of our age. That aside, Tetsuo's mutation has been described by some as allegorically representing Japan's disproportionate wealth bubble of the 1980s, while Tetsuo himself is the product of a world driven by greed and avarice.

I have to admit that Akira left a huge impression on me when I initially saw it 10+ years ago. In fact, as with so many others, it probably helped to start my fondness of east Asian cinema. I wouldn't be surprised if, ten or twenty years from now, Akira is widely regarded as one of the most influential movies ever made (if it isn't seen as such already, witness the influence it had on Hollywood films like The Matrix), and that future generations will justifiably view it as an all-time classic.

Red Beard (1965)
39 out of 43 people found the following review useful:
The end of an era, 30 October 2005

Red Beard marked the end of an era for Kurosawa. It was the last of his period costume dramas (excluding Ran and Kagemusha, though these were more of a glorious revisit to his 'old' style anyhow), the last film he shot in black and white, and the last film he ever made with Toshiru Mifune, thus ending what is, to me at least, the finest director-actor pairing in the history of cinema. Perhaps it is for these reasons that I look on this film with so much fondness, and it remains one of my favourite Kurosawa films (alongside Ran and Rashomon). That aside, it is also filled with warmth and sincerity, but then that's to be expected from the man I consider to be the greatest director of all time. Highly recommended.

Notorious (1946)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Or: How Hitchcock turned an average script into a good film (again), 7 October 2005

I think this film underlines precisely why Hitchcock is, justifiably, regarded as one of the all-time greatest directors. With Notorious he basically took a fairly average script and turned what could have been a lacklustre film noir into an involving thriller, full of Hitchcock's trademark apprehension and suspense. All the Hitchcockian devices are there - the MacGuffin, those eerie pans and focuses on suspect devices (though, curiously, the heroine is not a blonde for a change but Hitchcock's one-time object of desire, the one and only Ingrid Bergman).

Say what you like about Hitchcock, he understood, possibly better than many of his contemporaries, that the script itself is merely the skeleton of a film. Neglect the rest, ie. camera, sound, editing, casting, etc, and you still end up with only less than half a body of work. The story itself is nothing special; it's the techniques Hitchcock used to tell the story which matter and which draw you into the narrative. While the set admittedly does look somewhat outdated (Grant and Bergman obviously never went anywhere near Rio De Janeiro, instead being cast in front of a screen), you can't fault Hitchcock or anyone else directly involved in the making of this film for constraints put upon them by film-making procedures of the day. In other words, blame the studio system, not the cast or the director.

Notorious, alongside Rebecca, was the movie which firmly established Hitchcock in the Hollywood elite and gave him the platform on which he could create his more experimental works, starting with Rope and moving on to Rear Window and Vertigo, and in a way it can be seen as part of the bridge between Hitchcock's noir-ish work of the 1940s and what was, to all intents and purposes, his avantgarde period of the 1950s. In other words, it's a benchmark film.

Recommended to fans of the director (though I'll suspect most of them will have seen Notorious already) and 1940s film noir in general.

17 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Tragedy masquerading as Horror, 9 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This isn't so much a review of A Tale Of Two Sisters as it is a discussion of some of the smaller plot details, so I advise you NOT to read this review if you haven't seen the film, because doing so will absolutely ruin a few surprises for you.

In a way A Tale Of Two Sisters is far from original, at least from a purely superficial aspect - some of its iconography is taken straight from Ring or Dark Water, while the storyline itself (especially what Brendt Sponseller calls the "rubber reality" aspect of the narrative) is reminiscent of films like Fight Club (lead character interacts with someone created in their mind), Mulholland Drive (character creates alternate reality in a psychogenic fugue), as well as other minor aspects of Lost Highway, Jacob's Ladder, and basically every film under the sun dealing with mental illness, plus Amenabar's films (The Others, Abre Los Ojos), Memento (particularly with regards to the torturous nature of memory), et al. Thankfully all these similarities do not detract from the film's overall emotional impact, and I personally found A Tale Of Two Sisters an extremely moving and rewarding experience.

Many people have commented on the "confusing" nature of the narrative, but I personally found the storyline to be fairly self-explanatory, even if it is in part portrayed in a non-sequential manner. The narrative only becomes confusing for some because, midway through the final third, the story switches from a purely subjective setting (ie. Soo-Mi's warped perception of reality) to an objective one, with a flashback at the end explaining the origins of Soo-Mi's nervous breakdown and subsequent mental illness. The shift in emphasis is bound to throw some people off guard, but structurally I found it somewhat reminiscent of aforementioned Mulholland Drive (even though we're not dealing with a character's perception of reality via a dream but instead their own schizophrenic tendencies - something which, in turn, reminded me of another Lynch movie, Lost Highway). To be honest, I don't really regard A Tale Of Two Sisters as a Horror movie as such, but rather a tragic story of a family's breakdown as well as an honest look at a character's mental illness (and I hasten to add that fans of psychoanalytical cinema are going to love this film).

That aside, the cinematography in A Tale Of Two Sisters is incredible and visually this is one of the most beautiful films I've seen this side of Wong Kar Wai's 2046. The performances are also fantastic without exception, and I expect to see more of the four lead actors in the future; not to mention the music, but then east Asian films without a great soundtrack seem to be few and far between these days.

It's very likely that some people will look past the finer artistic points of A Tale Of Two Sisters and simply dismiss it as "yet another Asian horror film", oblivious to its aesthetic beauty and honest psychoanalytical approach. But then each to their own. If you can ignore some of the film's platitudinous aspects and simply take it for what it is at heart, ie. an extremely tragic, heart-breaking story, then I see no reason not to recommend it.

Duma (2005)
85 out of 90 people found the following review useful:
A pleasant surprise, 19 June 2005

I have no idea why this movie got such a small-scale cinema release. It certainly can't have anything to do with the quality of the film. I was surprised by Duma, because it's an extremely well-directed film which treats its audience with far more respect and intelligence than a lot of so-called "family" fare available. Also, as opposed to many films with animal protagonists, Duma doesn't treat them as objects of half-witted hokey slapstick fun, but instead makes the entire friendship between human and animal seem extremely touching and authentic.

In a way there is something almost Miyazaki -esque about this movie, in that it draws you into the narrative not with half-baked nudge nudge wink wink references which only adults will understand, but through its intelligence and excellent sense of drama alone; not to mention the great performances by Eamonn Walker and Alexander Michaeletos - two names to look out for in the future if their performances here are anything to go by. At any rate, Duma is one of the few cases where the possibly over-used moniker "A film for all ages" definitely applies. Recommended if you can find it.

65 out of 78 people found the following review useful:
A masterstroke of allegorical film-making, 17 June 2005

I was about sixteen years old when I first saw The Spirit Of The Beehive, the first so-called "art house" movie I was ever fully confronted with. I say "confronted" because I had simply never seen anything like it before, and in a way I felt almost offended by its ambiguity and symbolism. How dare a movie suggest I tie all the loose ends together? I want everything on a plate, right there, explained! Then I watched it again. And again. And eventually it dawned on me: Film-making does not necessarily have to be about what we are *meant* to inscribe into something - it's what we, personally, subjectively, read into it, based on our experience and perspective of the world. Victor Erice's Espiritu De La Colmena introduced me to a whole new approach to film and cinema, and one which paved the way to my admiration for directors like Tarkovsky, Marker, and generally any unconventional film-maker under the sun. For that alone it holds a special resonance to me.

While there is definitely a point to be made that this film is, first and foremost, a haunting look at the innocence of childhood, the subversive political meaning was something which is primarily the result of an attempt on my behalf to tie all the loose ends together, and the conclusion below is something I arrived at based on my own personal understanding of the narrative.

On the surface, The Spirit Of The Beehive is about a family which attempts to cope with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It bears mentioning that the fact that this film even dares to address the conflict in such a direct manner suggests that, two years before Franco's death, the tight censorship regime in Spain was slowly but surely loosening its grip of the domestic film industry. Up to that point many films made in Spain during the Franco era were only able to address the civil war or Franco's regime in a strongly metaphorical manner or via subversive narratives (a case in point being much of Bunuel's work, albeit done in exile, or Saura's La Caza). In fact, much of Spanish cinema during that point in history can be regarded as an excellent case study in how allegories can be used as a way of averting tight censorship.

That said, political commentary on a tangible level would not have passed the censors even at such a late stage in Franco's reign, and thus most of the criticism in ...Colmena is driven by a sense of mutual understanding between spectator and narrative. The start of the film is a case in point: a shot of a few children watching James Whale's Frankenstein (with the narrator proclaiming that "You are about to see a monster") is followed by a cut to the girl protagonist's (Ana's) father. For now assuming that this narrative is driven exclusively by metaphors, does Victor Erice suggest, with that cut, that the girl's father is the "monster" in question? Or, does he, on a more profound level equate the word father to monster? Franco called himself the "father of the nation", and with that knowledge in mind an audience could easily read that scene as a highly ambiguous, yet still extremely effective, criticism of Franco (ie. suggestively calling Franco a monster). However, due to its strongly ambiguous nature, not a single censor would be able to pinpoint that scene and say, without any discernible doubt, that this is indeed the case. It's a wonderful example of allegorical film-making, and how film techniques can be generally used to make an intrinsic statement which relies as much to the techniques applied as it does on the audience's intelligence and ability to understand the more profound meaning behind the images.

I remember once reading the viewpoint that Ana herself represents the Spanish nation, and I can see what the intention of that statement is when you consider the monster=Franco equation I outlined above. The monster Ana meets in her daydreams (as she imagines meeting the Boris Karloff figure she saw at the Frankenstein screen) is a figure which lulls her into a false sense of security and turns out to be a threatening presence; and the symbolism itself becomes very plain once the monster=Franco and Ana=Spain (though I'll admit that this is not the most original reading of the film, and aditionally one which doesn't even begin to scrape at the amount of symbolism apparent).

If only Erice was as prolific as he is imaginative, since El Espiritu De La Colmena makes up for only one third of his entire output in over thirty years (his other two films being the equally brilliant El Sur and Quince Tree Of The Sun). Needless to say, it's cinematic genius, and a flawless work of art bar none.

16 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
A strange but wonderful animated masterpiece, 9 June 2005

Japanese animation has brought forward many films which are regarded as classics of the genre (for now ignoring the fact that anime isn't really a genre in and of itself, but rather a style of animation which encompasses several different genres, eg. horror, comedy, sci-fi, etc), but for some reason Macross: Do You Remember Love is seldom mentioned alongside gems like Akira, Ghost In The Shell, or Mononoke Hime (and pretty much every other Studio Ghibli effort) - something I find quite difficult to understand. I was lucky enough to catch this movie on late night TV several years ago and was completely spellbound by it. It has a simple storyline (boy loves girl, while humanity's future is threatened by warmongering cyborgs - hey, it's anime) but an innocence at heart which very few movies, even animated ones, are able to match. I was even luckier when I discovered a subtitled VHS copy of it, and it has since become one of my favourite animated movies of all-time.

For its time, the standard of animation is quite impressive. This movie must have taken at least a few people's breaths away when it was initially screened in 1984, because, even when you compare it to Japanese animation of the time (including Hayao Miyazaki's much-lauded feature debut Nausicaa), the level of detail and movement on display is mind-boggling. People don't just move their eyes and lips (as was the case in virtually 99% of animation then); their hair moves, their clothes show wrinkles, whilst the background details are nearly inch-perfect. Macross itself doesn't just look like a huge intergalactic space station, it also *feels* like one. I can think of few films which display a similar attention to detail as DYRL, and for that reason alone it deserves its rightful place in the animation hall of fame, next to anything Disney or Ghibli have ever brought forward.

The storyline, as mentioned before, is fairly straightforward (and admittedly clichéd at times), but thankfully this doesn't sidetrack from its unique charm, especially as the narrative progresses from a bogstandard battle of Good vs Evil into something else entirely, which I won't describe in great detail lest I completely ruin the surprise for you - however, I will say this: the ending itself is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. Quite aside from the strangely moving premise of J-pop saving the universe, the entire choreography of that scene is an utter stroke of genius. It's a bizarre ending, but strangely enough it works.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert on the Robotech series - in fact, I know pretty much next to nothing about the other instalments in the Macross/Robotech series. But I like to think that I know good film-making when I see it, and Do You Remember Love certainly is that. It's an unsung classic of Japanese animation which does not deserve to fester in obscurity, but instead requires widespread recognition as the ground-breaking work of art it truly is. Simply put, it's wonderful.

(NB, I want to point out that this review concentrates solely on the subtitled version of Macross: Do You Remember Love, not the dubbed and narrowed-down version of the movie entitled Clash Of The Bionoids, which, as many here have pointed out, is a monstrosity to be avoided.)

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