On Turning Thirty (Notes from the Diary of a Literary Rebel)

Many of my friends are turning thirty this year. Since today is my birthday (born 12:46 pm CT time), I thought it’d be a good time to look back at what I wrote on approaching that milestone two years ago.

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Many of my friends are turning thirty this year.  Since today is my birthday (born 12:46 pm CT time), I thought it’d be a good time to look back at what I wrote on approaching that milestone two years ago.  Also, as I shall be leaving for Ebertfest tomorrow, this will be my last entry for a couple of weeks.

Apr 20, 2009

Current mood:contemplative
In less than a week, I will be another decade older.  When I was twenty-five, I remember looking back at what I had accomplished and thinking, “I should have accomplished more.”  Little did I know then that, a little over a year later, I would be teaching English in Japan.

Now that my Japanese adventure has ended, however, I am left with memories and experiences, but with no future path, other than the one I have wanted to pursue since elementary school: become a published writer.  Technically, I already am: I self-published a poetry book six years ago (though “self-published” is not the right word, since someone else published it for me.  Rather, I paid them for the copies, rather than them paying me for sales.).  But though self-published authors may believe that how a book is published is not important, so long as it is published, I disagree.  Of course, with amazon.com and with some vanity presses now involved in helping with distribution, the world of self-publishing is better than what it was years ago.  Still, one cannot conquer the world if few strangers read one’s words.

But, getting back to turning thirty.  Again, it’s a time for me to reflect on what has been accomplished.  Certainly, I should not thumb my nose at my academic successes, but they were so long ago now as to belong to another lifetime.  My Japanese experiences are still fresh enough to be drawn on as a source of pride, but how long until those experiences, too, shall fade into the background?  I’ve thought about going back there, perfecting my Japanese, and living happily ever after, but a country that would blur out all male and female genitalia in its publications and movies–even to the point of censoring art-house films (I imagine this to be true, though I have not done research into it)–is not a place I would be comfortable in.  Better to censor too little than to censor at all.

Also, to move my entire life there would not be easy.  Though I find Buddhism an interesting religion, I want too many things to ever be good at practicing that faith, and I love my material possessions too much.  Wattage would not be a problem (like it would be in Europe), but who wants to travel fourteen hours on a plane to see friends and family?  According to Popular Science, supersonic jets and “spaceliners” will be available in the future (the latter able to travel from New York to Sydney in ninety minutes, a trip that now takes close to twenty-four hours to complete), but how long until we see these marvels (2015, supposedly, for the next fleet of supersonics)?  And how much will they cost?

Places with thousands of years of history interest me the most, which may be why I am drawn to Asia and Europe.  The culture of Europe is closer to my own, while the novelties within Asian culture make me want to learn more about it, especially Japan.  I took an “Asian to 1600” class in college, where India and China were the main countries covered, though we took brief forays into Korea and Japan.  But to study about a different culture and to live within that culture are two different things.  I do hope to visit Japan again in the future.  Perhaps I will meet some of my students again, too, once they have become adults.  I wonder sometimes how they are doing, and if they understand that I left because it was time for me to go, not because I didn’t like teaching them.

Last week, I received an email concerning the Semester in London program at JMU.  I realized that next year will be the tenth anniversary of my trip over there (this year is the 30th anniversary of the program–fall 1979 is when the first group of students went over there, making me slightly older than the program).  Putting that in perspective, the children of the couple who looked after Madison House while we were there, who were then around the age of my nieces (the girl was younger, the boy was older), would now be teenagers.  In fact, the boy might be old enough to drive.  My friends who went there haven’t aged much (maybe after they have kids…;-)), but to think of it in terms of the young children who were there…now that’s frightening.

If I were working right now, and supporting myself, no matter what the job was, I would welcome my thirties as the beginning of the rest of my life.  My early and mid-twenties were pretty crappy (minus London and the Mark Twain House), but my late-twenties were awesome (minus this final year, under circumstances that I have control over and yet often feel that I do not).  The three years in Japan, though not always easy and not always fun, were always full of LIFE.  And while I saw my friends in Japan less and less as the years went on–partly because some of them left Japan, partly because they and I switched jobs–I got to do more and more.

Looking back at thirty years on this earth, there are things I wish I had done differently.  Coming back home from Japan was necessary, but I should have stuck to my plan once here, instead of letting it dissolve into nothingness.  Maybe then I’d be writing this from my apartment, instead of from my parents’ house.  I’m hoping that my advanced age 😉 and the nice weather we’ve been having will force me to act, though the truth is that I am the only one who can force myself to act.  I already have acted in ways to help with my job search.  I’ve gone to several sessions at MCC on resume writing, job searching, cover letters, and interviewing.  I’ve joined the Connecticut Poetry Society (guaranteed one published poem in their magazine).  I’ve researched associations at Rockville Public Library…and scraped the right side of my blue van in the process (Wall: 1, Car: 0).

Now I need to apply my knowledge.  Apply it, and start sending out resumes.  Or look for a master’s program, or some skill set that I wish to pick up, both for my benefit and for the benefit of a future career.

I need to rejoin society and begin participating in activities that I find enjoyable.  I need to reconnect with people, and not just through the cold, unfeeling medium of the Internet.  But, most of all, I need to believe that I am in control of whether or not my thirties surpass my twenties, or fall short.  For though “we cannot control the wind, we can adjust our sails.” (Anonymous)

Maid Cafes, Part 1 and 2 (Notes from the Diary of a Literary Rebel)

Maids Near Akihabara Station

With all that is going on in Japan, now seemed a good time to polish off my posts about maid cafes.  Those of you who just rolled your eyes at me, keep in mind that I was in my late twenties, single, shy, and looking for opportunities to converse with cute girls.  Strangely enough, the first two times I went to maid cafes were with women, and yet it wasn’t until my third trip there–solo, on my 27th birthday–that I started to enjoy the experience (more below).

Sadly, once my favorite maid cafe closed, I stopped enjoying the experience as much.  It became too commercialized and popular for my taste.  Plus, with my days off changing from Tuesday and Wednesday to Saturday and Sunday, Akihabara became too crowded, and opportunities to speak to the maids less and less.

Since they are both rather short (even though I mention at the end of the first one how long it is), I’ve combined my two original posts on maid cafes into one large post (with tiny edits, and the addition of photos).  And you have to love all the cliches I employ. I hope I’ve gotten better as a writer since then 🙂

Mar 19, 2009

Current mood:thoughtful

For those of you who received my emails from Japan, you might remember my talking about maid cafes, where young, cute Japanese girls would dress up in a variety of maid-themed (or anime or video game influenced) costumes while serving food, conversing with customers, and, depending on the place, playing games.

What I don’t remember is whether or not I told people via email that I ranked the many maid cafes that I went to, and while it might be possible now to go to all of the maid cafes in Akihabara (where the majority of them are located), since interest in them has slowed down a bit, such was not the case when I was in Japan, particularly during my first full year there.  In fact, I never got to some of the original maid cafes because they closed before I got the chance, and some of the ones that I will review in this blog–as well as in at least one other blog–may have closed since reviewing them.  In fact, my favorite of all of the maid cafes–the Amusement Cafe (a.k.a. Maid in Japan–get it?), closed while I was still in Japan.

In addition to maid cafes, I also went to a maid bar and maid reflexology places.  I will save those reviews, however, for another time.  While there are maid cafes outside of Akihabara, all of the maid cafes I review here are or were located there.  Finally, my review of the cafes is unscientific and based only on my observations on the particular day (or days) that I visited them.  All reviews are based on five stars.  Ratings for maids are based on their looks and their costumes, since that is what people go to maid cafes for–not the food. 🙂

@home Cafe (www.cafe-athome.com)
Hours: 1130-2200                                  Times There: 1
Features: Play cards with a French maid, book birthday parties, two locations  (see next review)
What’s Good: has a small stage and contests, whole building a maid mecca
What’s Bad: drab costumes, 300 yen sitting fee (roughly $3)
Maids: ***         Food:**1/2         Ranking: ***
Location: 7th floor Mishima Building, Chuo Dori, 1-11-4 Soto Kanda

This is considered one of the better maid cafes.  I found it to be average.  The games were cool (lots of janken–the Japanese version of rock, paper, scissors), with cool music and lights.  On the other hand, the costumes were frilly black and white numbers with long dresses.  Not sexy, not cute.  The maids themselves weren’t bad-looking, but none of them knocked me out, either.  If you don’t go on a weekday during non-meal hours, be prepared for long waits for a table.  Even when I went on a weekday afternoon, it was crowded.  Still, with the closing of the Amusement Cafe, this is one of the better cafes with games.

@home Don Kihote (www.cafe-athome.com/athome_donki/index.html)
Hours: 1100-2200                                        Times There: 1
Features: counter staff, @living annex (waitress will wear a costume of the customer’s choosing)
What’s Good: better costumes than @home Cafe, living annex is separate from the cafe
What’s Bad: too much smoke!!, no games, small area
Maids: ***1/2      Food: ***     Ranking: **
Location: 5th floor Don Kihote, 4-3-3 Soto Kanda

First of all, I didn’t try the living annex, which looks like a house in which you can take photos of a maid in your favorite costume.  I believe you also get to dress up.  As for the cafe itself, the maids look better, but the place is incredibly smokey and is slightly larger than an average bedroom in America.  If you can stand the smoke, you might like this place.  Otherwise, go to the original @home Cafe for a better experience.  Smoking is allowed there, as well, but it doesn’t coat the area in its filth.

Amusement Cafe
Hours: CLOSED!!                                     Times There: 14
Features: Maid on Stage, games with maids, a stage
What’s Good: really friendly, a little English spoken, NO SMOKING
What’s Bad: crowded at dinnertime and early afternoon (like most maid cafes)
Maids: ****        Food: ****    Ranking: *****
Location: B1, Laox Computer Store (CLOSED!!), Soto Kanda 1-7-6

It’s appropriate, in a way, that I saw two things before I left Japan: NOVA’s bankruptcy, and the closing of my favorite maid cafe.  For me, they signaled the ending of an era.

Some people wonder why I left Japan when I so obviously loved living there.  There’s more than one answer to this question, but part of the reason is that I had done all that I could do, and staying in Japan would have been akin to beating  a dead horse.  Plus, unless I became fluent in Japanese (which I’m working on, as well as becoming fluent in French), some problems would continue to frustrate me while there.  Finally, of the few foreigners with whom I hung out, most of them had left for home by the time I left.  Though I still had Japanese friends (and still do), seeing them on a regular basis was becoming more difficult.  No doubt I would have met more people had I stayed, but let’s leave that for another blog and focus on the Amusement Cafe.

This cafe was only the third maid cafe that I visited, but I visited it on a very special day, and in fact, if I had not enjoyed the experience there, I may not have gone on to visit other maid cafes.  That day was my 27th birthday.

As luck would have it, a camera crew was filming there on that day, so that somewhere, I am on stock footage.  I don’t think they ever showed that sketch on TV (or, if they did, at a different time than they told me), but the maids got me up onstage at a lull in the action (the sketch was scripted) and sang happy birthday to me, along with everyone in the place.  Two actors and two actresses were sitting at the table right next to mine, and when I got back to my table, the two actors wished me happy birthday and shook my hand (one shook it when they left, too).  In addition, the TV crew talked to me while they were setting up, and the producer for the show said afterwards that she thought I had beautiful eyes (the Japanese love big eyes).

So, how could I not love this place?  In addition, the games onstage were fun to play, with the reward for winning being a picture with the maid that you beat.  They included ring toss games, jenga, and video games.  Maid on Stage would have one of the maids sing (or lipsync) along to a prerecorded anime track, where she would also do all of the moves.

One of the reasons that the cafe may have gone under was that its management changed.  It also could be that the store they were in closed, which is too bad, seeing as they were packed most nights and were one of the few maid cafes that I saw quite a few foreigners go to.  They became even more foreigner friendly during their last year of business, where they had English menus in addition to the Japanese ones.  Plus, you could surf their website if you chose to sit at the “counter.”  Heck, I even took my parents here.

Though I have many more maid cafes to review, I will stop here, since it seems appropriate to end with one of my greatest maid cafe experiences, which also led to a pretty long entry.  That way, too, I can start with the two maid cafes that introduced me to this brave new world.  Until next time…

My Favorite Maid from the Amusement Cafe

[Note: there was a post in between these two posts, but I will save that for another time.]

May 20, 2009

Current mood:understimulated

Since I am feeling particularly unmotivated today, I have decided to continue with my maid cafe rankings.  This entry will knock off the remaining maid cafes in Akihabara that I visited, starting with the first maid cafe I ever visited.

Cafe and Dimension (ph: 03/5818-5221)
Hours: 1130-2200                                  Times There: 1
Features: long Victorian maid costumes
What’s Good: maids are pretty cute
What’s Bad: too tame, no excitement
Maids: ****         Food:***       Ranking: **
Location: B1 Yamato Bldg, 5-1-6 Ueno, near Kuramaebashi St., Showa Hwy Intersection

I went here with one of my staff at NOVA, learning two things in the process: 1.) just because a Japanese girl wants to go somewhere with you doesn’t mean she’s single, and 2.) the only way to find out this fact is by accident (which I did, before we went), or, I guess, by asking them directly, since they don’t talk much about their boyfriends over there (or maybe not with business employees).  ANYWAY, that tells you nothing about the cafe.

This place was nothing more than stairs leading down to a basement where, past a glass door, was a dining area.  The maids wore the usual black-and-white maid getup, with long skirts that hung below the knee.  No games, no giggling, just pretty girls dressed up in drab outfits.  A safe place to go with a woman whom I didn’t know that well–and a safe introduction to a maid cafe–but nothing there to hint at how fun they could be.

Cafe & Kitchen Cos-Cha (www.cos-cha.com)
Hours: 1150-2300 M-Sa, 1100-2200 Su                   Times There: 2
Features: photo of a maid, maids will blow on food, skimpy outfits, HS desks
What’s Good: cute maids
What’s Bad: expensive food, small servings
Maids: ****         Food:****        Ranking: ***1/2
Location: 3-7-12 Soto Kanda (near Sue Hirochou Sta.)

This place was the second maid cafe I ever visited, and it benefitted from being visited twice, particularly as regards the food, which was better (and bigger) the second time I went there.  The first time, I got a free cup of cappucino that I could have drunk like a shot of whiskey.

The maids there, unlike at Cafe and Dimension, were not conservatively dressed.  If memory serves me correctly, they each wore different outfits, too.  They were also more cutesy, and you could either sit at a table (which I did), or at desks (like at school).  Certainly more of the wild side on display here, and while you couldn’t play games with the maids, you could “order” a Polaroid photo of one of them (since you had to take the photo, using their camera, you couldn’t be in it with her), or “order” a meal that one of them would blow on and serve you the first bite (which I didn’t do).

I ate at this place with my Japanese language exchange partners the first time, and with a German friend of one of my Japanese friends the second time.  It still didn’t turn me on to maid cafes (as I mentioned, it took a visit to the Amusement Cafe on my birthday to do that), but I got my first maid photo.

Cure Maid Cafe (www.curemaid.jp)
Hours: 1100-2000                                Times There: 1
Features: buy cards, figures, 1st maid cafe in Akihabara
What’s Good: fast and friendly service, quiet and peaceful atmosphere, non-smoking seats available
What’s Bad: only two maids working at a time, though they’re kind
Maids: **         Food:****         Ranking: ***
Location: 6th Floor Jiisutoa Akiba Bldg, 3-15-5 Soto Kanda

Of course, I had to visit the first maid cafe to open in Japan.  What’s interesting is how different it was from some of the ones that came after it.  While most other places have at least three maids working the floor, this place had only two.  Also, the place was larger (with larger tables) than most of the other maid cafes, and it actually had windows you could look out of (to see…other buildings).  Finally, the focus was on the coffee shop aspect of it (calm, peaceful), rather than the manga influence (card games, crazy costumes).  I believe music played in the background, but otherwise, nothing to distract the senses.   And while the maids weren’t anything special to look at (costume-wise or attraction-wise), they were kind and attentive to their customers, witnessed by how fast they refilled my water glass.

Cute M (www.cute-m.com)
Hours: 1100-2200 M-Sa, 1100-2100 Su                   Times There: 1
Features: show a movie while you eat
What’s Good: background music (classical), one maid (at least) speaks English
What’s Bad: only three maids total, one or two at a time, no games
Maids: ***         Food:***         Ranking: ***
Location: 4th-5th Fl. Senya Bldg, 1-8-4 Soto Kanda

I don’t remember much about this maid cafe.  I have a feeling that the atmosphere was very much like the Cure Maid Cafe.  I also believe that the movie shown there was Spirited Away, which has a much different title in Japanese.

Doll Cafe Tokyo (www.cafedoll.com/tokyo)
Hours: 1100-2200                                  Times There: 1
Features: “Diary of a Maid” (website), Doll Cafe Osaka in Osaka
What’s Good: food, janken for yen off of the bill
What’s Bad: a little far from the station, only two maids working
Maids: ***         Food:****         Ranking: ***
Location: 1st Fl. Fenikkusu Bldg, 3-16-7 Soto Kanda

Like the Amusement Cafe and some other maid cafes, customers could get stamp cards here.  Get all of the boxes stamped, and you get a free coffee or something along those lines.  Oh, and janken is “rock, paper, scissors” in Japanese [as I mentioned in the post above].  You play with the maid at the register.

This place also had windows so that you could see out into the street.  I remember it being a nice little out-of-the-way place, and not that crowded.  Then again, I went during the week.  Also, from my review it looks like the food was, at least, cooked well, and possibly in bigger portions than the usual fare.

Little BSD (Little Beauty’s Satanic Dining) (http://littlebsd.com)
Hours: Su-Th 1700-2300, F-Sa 1800-500                         Times There: 1
Features: izakaya, maids wear different costumes each day
What’s Good: you can take photos with them, they know conversational English, great atmosphere and costumes
What’s Bad: smoky (it is an izakaya), as small as most maid cafes
Maids: ****         Food:****        Ranking: ***1/2
Location: 4th Fl. Dai 8 Isamiya Bldg, 3-7-12 Soto Kanda

I agree with the website where I discovered this place: it has the coolest name of all of the maid cafes.  It actually is an izakaya (think of a restaurant with lots of choices for food and drink, but in small portions that everyone shares), but since they serve food, I’m grouping them with the other maid cafes.

The atmosphere (and the costumes) were the best part of the place.  Since I was with a female friend (a different one from the other maid cafe visits), I didn’t ask about photos, but the website I went to said that you could take them without having to pay for them.  On the other hand, the dark lighting (lots of red, very atmospheric), might make picture-taking tough.  And, like most izakayas, it was way too smoky, though not as bad as the @home Don Kihote.

Pash Cafe Nagomi (www.nagomi.tv)
Hours: 1100-2200                                  Times There: 1
Features: games, janken for 200 yen off the lunch set
What’s Good: many maids, attentive
What’s Bad: very small, little anime bling
Maids: ***1/2         Food:****         Ranking: ***1/2
Location: 2nd Fl. Senya Bldg (below Cute M), 1-8-4 Soto Kanda

I went there with a bunch of guy friends when we didn’t have enough time to wait for a spot at the @home Cafe.  One of them was my former roommate, who flirted (in Japanese) with our waitress.

So, nice-looking maids, pretty good costumes, but not enough of an anime influence, and too much bustle to be like the Cure Maid Cafe.  Oh, and I think I lost in janken, too.

Pinafore (www.pinafore.jp)
Hours: 1100-2200                                  Times There: 3
Features: super otaku setup (merchandise, outfits on the walls)
What’s Good: sexy outfits, one super hot maid
What’s Bad: submissive, childish voices can get on your nerves, smoking
Maids: ****1/2 (costumes are *****)         Food:***        Ranking: ****
Location: 1st Fl. Yamanaka Bldg, 1-19 Kanda Sakumacho

Annually voted the best maid cafe in Akihabara, it certainly makes my top three.  While there are nonsmoking tables in the middle of the cafe (under a big fan), good luck trying to sit there, even on a weekday.  Still, the place is not always filled with smoke–just when salarymen stop by.

If you want the ultimate otaku (Japanese for nerd, computer geek, etc.) experience, or some of the best eye-candy in a maid cafe, this is the place for you.  I found some of the patrons to be quite interesting, as well.  If smoke bothers you a lot, however, go when it’s not that busy.  Also, you can get a stamp card, where you get the ultimate prize after going there thirty times: a picture with one of the hot maids.

Royal Milk Cafe (www.r-milk.com)
Hours: 1200-2200    (closed 2nd and 4th Wed. of each month)      Times There: 1
Features: pink maids (therapeutic care), b&w maids (specialize in cafe service)
What’s Good: really fun maids, some English spoken
What’s Bad: no non-smoking areas, no games, massages are super expensive
Maids: ****         Food:***         Ranking: ****
Location: 2nd Fl. Nikka Sekiyu Bldg, 3-10-12 Soto Kanda

First off, the last time I went by this cafe, more than a year ago, it had a different look and name.  For all I know, they don’t do massages there anymore.  I always intended to go back and see, but since they were so expensive, now the world will never know.

I would rank this cafe, as it was, between the Amusement Cafe and Pinafore.  Much of one’s experience in a maid cafe depends on one’s interactions with the maids, which means that if one happens to go on a certain day when a certain maid is there, one might have a much better time there than if one went on another day.  So, as I said before, these aren’t definitive rankings.  Mostly, they reflect my experiences with different maid cafes in Japan, rather than reflect on the maid cafes themselves.

In this case, there was one particularly goofy, funny, and attentive maid who, with the other maids, helped me feel comfortable by letting me join in their fun (i.e. interaction).  I also remember there being a movie screen up on the wall, though I don’t remember which movie they showed.  I think they showed Akira first, then switched to a Disney movie.  At one point, I think this maid slipped and almost fell on the floor.  The other maids laughed at her, but she outdid them by laughing at herself.

As for the smoke, the maids opened some of the windows to help with that.

メイドルカフェ (Meidoru Cafe, or Maid Cafe)
Hours: ??                                 Times There: 2
Features: food, games, photos, girls
What’s Good: maids and costumes are hot!, games cheaper than at Amusement Cafe
What’s Bad: point card (cost: 315 yen) only for taking photos, a little cramped, feel rushed inside
Maids: *****         Food:***1/2        Ranking: ***
Location: down first side st. heading away from SEGA Club toward Laox Computer ken

How can this be?  How can the cafe with the best-looking maids (5 out of 5 stars), games like the Amusement Cafe (and cheaper), and okay food only get a final ranking of three stars?  Simple.  While the maids are beautiful, the whole place was much too busy for my taste.  True, I went there on a weekend, no longer having Tuesdays free, but even when I went to the Amusement Cafe on a crowded day, the maids were nice to me.  Here, I truly felt how limited I was in my Japanese skills.  Even bringing one of my friends here (one of the guy friends who went with me to the Pash Cafe Nagomi) only exacerbated the situation.

So, in short, beautiful maids, good prizes for games (photos with the maids), but the atmosphere leaves something to be desired.  Also, don’t go in when it’s busy.

—–
While the last maid cafe that I reviewed was Little BSD (there was a maid bar, but that will be in another entry, as it was outside of Akihabara), I actually went to one more maid cafe in Japan.  It was called Maid Station, and it was a nice, non-smoking place that had pretty good food, and the option to pay for a photo with a maid.  I actually got my friend (same one who went with me to the メイドルかフィ) and his friends to pose with me, though I got to touch knuckles with the maid in order to make a heart.  I probably just forgot to rate it, but now, so far removed from the event, I feel any guess on my part would be highly inaccurate.  Still, I remember my last time at a maid cafe in Akihabara to be an enjoyable one, though not as enjoyable as the last maid-themed place that I went to: a maid bar in Nakano…

 

Come Back Soon!

Slumdog Millionaire and Millions (Notes from the Diary of a Literary Rebel)

With all of the attention that Slumdog Millionaire is getting, I thought it was a good time to discuss a lesser known Danny Boyle movie, 2004’s Millions, particularly because it shares characteristics with Slumdog Millionaire. Not that they are carbon copies of each other (like the plots of Forrest Gump and The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button seem to be), but they do share some of the same themes.

My earliest comparison review.  I did a similar comparison review between Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.  Since some of the writing in the original review was not so great, I have done some editing before posting it here.

Feb 6, 2009

Current mood:lazy
With all of the attention that Slumdog Millionaire is getting, I thought it was a good time to discuss a lesser known Danny Boyle movie, 2004’s Millions, particularly because it shares characteristics with Slumdog Millionaire.  Not that they are carbon copies of each other (like the plots of Forrest Gump and The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button seem to be), but they do share some of the same themes.

Millions deal with two brothers, the younger of whom sees saints and comes across a bag of money one day while talking to a saint near the train tracks.  He feels that the money was given to him by God, and throughout the movie tries to find ways of using it for good.  His brother, who is the only person he tells about the money, prefers to spend it on hi-tech toys and a “security detail” that accompanies him to school.  One boy is materialistic, the other idealistic.  The older brother tries to protect the younger brother from his naivety, such as when the younger brother gives way too much money to a charity at school (raising the suspicions of the principal), and when he tells someone whom he thinks is poor that he can give him lots of money–even though the man may not be looking for lots of money because he is poor.

Slumdog Millionaire also deals with two brothers, though in this case, they grow from childhood to early adulthood during the course of the movie, and the plot includes a love interest.  Again, it’s the younger (and more idealist) brother who needs protecting by the older brother, who saves him from danger when necessary and is practical about making money, but not in ways that the younger brother approves of.  And while there is no bag of money that is found, fame is used in much the same way, with the younger brother going on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire not to win, but to be seen by and reunited with the movie’s love interest.

Two other threads run through each movie: the death of a mother (offscreen in Millions, and more central to the story; onscreen in Slumdog Millionaire) and an ending that will make you cry–for the same reason (though I won’t say whether it’s a happy or a sad reason, or both).  There is more space, however, between the director and his subject in Slumdog Millionaire.  Not that he is detached from that story, but he seems more objective about the lives of the characters involved.  Millions, on the other hand, seems closer Boyle’s heart.  He has mentioned in interviews that he thought about joining the priesthood when younger, so perhaps the younger brother’s infatuation with saints spoke to Boyle more personally than did characters living in a Mumbai slum.  After 28 Days LaterMillions shows the sweeter side of Boyle, which may be why it did not get as much attention as his current film is, with its grittiness mixed with sweetness.  Certainly the grittiness was no surprise, considering that this is the same director who did Trainspotting, but for those surprised by the softer side of the story, and how well Boyle presents it, look no further than Millions.

On a final note, I have not decided which one is the better movie.  The buzz surrounding Slumdog Millionaire would make it seem like the better film, but in some ways, Millions is better.  On the other hand, Slumdog Millionaire‘s ending is better.  I saw each movie within a day of each other, but as I did not do a side-by-side comparison, and great movies become better the more times you watch it, I would recommend seeing both movies and deciding for yourself.  They are both worth the time.