Tag Archives: 1950-1959

My Neighbor Totoro (1988 Movie)

Studio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Satsuki, her father,  and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.

Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker



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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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Twelve Angry Men

Author: Reginald Rose

Twelve men enter the jury room, having heard the evidence from a murder trial. It seems a foregone conclusion: obviously guilty. Yet one juror holds out and votes “not guilty,” not so much because he is convinced of the boy’s innocence as that it doesn’t seem right to condemn the boy without at least discussing the case first. Gradually, the juror drags the others unwillingly back through the evidence, not so much even trying to convince them as just to get them to look at the evidence clearly themselves. And surprisingly, through much persistence, he is able to do just that . . . resulting in an unexpected conclusion of “not guilty!”

I think Twelve Angry Men is a play that everyone should see or read at least once. First of all, it provides a clear look at what really makes the American judicial system, at its core, what it is–and I must say, this play makes things clearer to me than a textbook ever did. But I think even more than that, this story is a fascinating character study. The eighth juror (the holdout) is obviously a logical, nice guy–one who’s willing to stand up against the flow of popular opinion. It’s really intriguing to see, as the jurors’ discussion proceeds, how each of the members reacts. Particularly interesting is they way in which each person’s prior experiences, character, and mental patterns play in to what piece of evidence or argument convinces them to change their vote. The writing shows a great knowledge and observation of people’s character, of what makes different people tick. Seriously, if you haven’t already, you should read Twelve Angry Men; it’s a great play, plus it’s short enough to read in one sitting.

Note: Although this post particularly focuses on the play Twelve Angry Men in its script form, I would also highly recommend the 1957 movie version, which is very similar and is performed with an excellent cast.

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A Season of Gifts

a season of giftsAuthor: Richard Peck

My rating: 5 of 5

Companion Works: A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder

This story was truly a treat in many ways: colorful characters, a solid plot line, and just enough period detail to make the setting come to life. Peck relates the trials of Bob and his family as they move to a small town where everyone knows everyone–and their business. Not only that, but they move in right next to the eccentric and ornery Mrs. Dowdel. Peck’s juxtaposition of Bob’s family’s difficulties and Mrs. Dowdel’s hijinks provides an excellent balance of humor and seriousness. The historical setting is also interesting–small town Illinois in 1958–and Peck’s details, such as the Barnhart family’s green Nash, sock hops, and Elvis being enlisted, add vibrancy to the history. Finally, a niggling feeling pervades the story that Mrs. Dowdel might not be exactly as ornery and selfish as she seems, and seeing this feeling confirmed in the end is rewarding. I would recommend this story for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, children’s fiction, or just a good story. Definitely a good read.

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