Tag Archives: animated

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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Frozen

Walt Disney Studiosfrozen

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Two sisters separated by a secret. A stunning power. A storm that could destroy the kingdom. An epic quest through the snow. The promise of true love. . . . Oh, and an adorkable snowman who dreams of warm weather.

So . . . I’ve been avoiding this movie for over two years now, mostly because I hate the whole hype. But my brother finally made me actually watch it, and I have to say that I enjoyed Frozen for the most part–certainly more than I have liked most Disney princess stories. The characters were a huge part of that; Elsa and Anna felt like real people with personalities and quirks (Elsa with a fantastic bad-girl vibe and Anna with a more funny/adorable feel). They work well together, as characters. The pacing of the story works well also, and it’s not quite so cookie-cutter Disney Prince Charming of a story–much more a girl-power and nice-sensible-normal-guy sort of story, which is great. Supposedly, this movie is based on Andersen’s The Snow Queen; I’ve only read one retelling, but as far as that goes, there’s almost no resemblance at all. Visually, Frozen is very nicely done; the CG is very attractive, with nice color schemes, great character expressions, and some absolutely stunningly gorgeous shots (most notable the whole “Let It Go” ice-castle scene). Which brings me to the music: over all great compositions that are musically attractive and that contribute a lot to the story lyrically. I really appreciated that the music was used as a story-telling element so much. And of course, the voice actors did a great job both in the acting and the singing; superb choices for the roles (I especially love Idina Menzel’s work as Elsa). There were a few minor negatives that kept this from being a full 5 stars, however. First of all, although I loved Olaf as a character, he seemed off in relation to the rest of the story–and how does a snowman created by a princess in a fairy-tale setting know about sunglasses and beach umbrellas? It just doesn’t fit. And I just don’t like the trolls, although I realize they’re a necessary storytelling element. Still, Frozen was a very enjoyable movie with a nice modern fairy-tale feel that’s great for all ages.

Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee/Produced by Peter Del Vecho/Screenplay by Jennifer Lee/Story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, & Shane Morris/Based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen/Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, & Santino Fontana/Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Christophe Beck, & Frode Fjellheim

 

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Samurai Champloo

Manglobe StudioShorewood Standard Ocard1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In a mad series of events including a bar fight, a fire, and a couple of near executions, 15-year-old barmaid Fuu loses her home and her job–and recruits two young samurai to accompany her on a harebrained quest to find a “samurai who smells of sunflowers.”  Seriously, if they didn’t owe her so much, you’d really have to question the reason of Mugen (a rakish vagabond with an obviously rough past) and Jin (a mysterious ronin who clearly has some dark secret) in following her. Not that they do it particularly well. Although they do mostly follow the same (usually hungry) path together, it seems like any mention of women, food, or a ready fight will draw Fuu’s two bodyguards away. Not that you can entirely blame them. . . .

Samurai Champloo has got to be one of the most ridiculous by fun anime that I have watched in quite a while. Just to give you an idea: it’s the only anime I can think of in which you can hear both enka and hip-hop, sometimes in the same episode! Music really is a significant factor in this story, so if you’re a music geek like me, that’s a fun factor. Similarly, the story is this huge mish-mash of history and absurdity. You totally can’t accept it as historically accurate, but at the same time, you can get a good idea of some of the major events and issues that were present in the Tokugawa (Edo) Era of Japan. But then you get all kinds of random hip-hop cultural references thrown in as well–like punk kids who beat box around town. The three main characters are fantastic, definitely the carrying force of the story. Fuu is all ditzy and cute; I could see folks being bothered by her damsel-in-distress sort of role, but I personally didn’t get that feeling so much. Jin is totally badass and scary in the quietest, most subdued way possible. Mugen, on the other hand, is equally scary, but in a noisy, rowdy sort of way that contrasts strongly with Jin’s manner. Maybe that’s why they’re always at each other’s throat. . . . In any case, the interactions between these three characters provide the majority of the humor and heart of the story, although there are plenty of outside forces causing action. Lots of impressive sword fights. And I will say, you need to be in the right mood to watch this show, because it’s just that sort of story. As for the art, it’s mostly really attractive, although a bit older; there are a few spots where the faces get somewhat distorted, like an assistant was left with the responsibility to draw them, but it doesn’t really detract from the story. The voice acting is excellent; I especially love Kazuya Nakai’s work with Mugen (well, I love his voice acting in general, but he does a particularly good job with this character). Only other thing I’d like to note is that this really is an 18+ show–there are lots of mature themes, sex, drugs, violence, etc. Lots of violence. But if you’re an adult who’s in the mood for a fun samurai anime, Samurai Champloo has a lot to offer.

Written by Shinji Obara/Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe/Produced by Takatoshi Hamano, Takashi Kochiyama, & Tetsuro Satomi/Music by Nujabes, Tsutchie, Fat Jon, & Force of Nature/Voiced by Kazuya Nakai, Ginpei Sato, &  Ayako Kawasumi

Note: This anime has two seasons for a total of 26 episodes.

 

 

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When Marnie Was There

Studio GhibliWhen Marnie was There

Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Andō, & Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura & Toshio Suzuki/Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Music by Takatsugu Muramatsu/Based on When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Anna very well understands the way the world works, the fact that some people are accepted and others are necessarily outsiders for whatever reason. She doesn’t question that she herself is an outsider, alone at school, ill-tempered at times, a worry to her foster parents. When her asthma causes the doctor to recommend she be sent away to get some fresh air away from the city though, things begin to change a bit. She stays with relatives (of her foster parents) on an out-of-the-way island where everything seems to be more laid back and she can spend time exploring and drawing alone without being fussed over so much. And in her explorations, Anna finds herself drawn to an old, abandoned manor house across the bay . . . . and it’s at that old manor that she meets Marnie, a girl who will change her life in all sorts of unexpected ways but also a girl who will baffle Anna in many ways.

Okay, before anything else, I’m just going to say that there are going to be spoilers here. Because I have no idea how to honestly review this movie without spoilers. Sorry. So . . . I truly enjoyed When Marnie Was There, although I was kind of baffled through most of the story. It was worth sitting through the confusion, because when everything was explained it was extremely moving to the point that I cried. The way the story develops is almost dreamlike at parts, or rather, it’s as though dreams are being woven throughout Anna’s reality. Or perhaps it’s more as though two disparate points in time are briefly connected. In any case, although at times confusing, the friendship that develops between Anna and Marnie is really sweet and cute. And this is where the spoilers come in: the story totally seems like it’s shoujo ai through most of the plot, but the end reveals something very unexpected and different and absolutely touching. All in all, it’s a sweet story that’s developed quite nicely with plenty of drama and mystery. I appreciate that it also delves into deep issues like child neglect and the insecurity that orphans can feel sometimes even in loving homes. And of course, being a Studio Ghibli film, the art is absolutely stunning; I always enjoy their attention to all the fine details that make the illustration not just nice but amazing. Essentially, I would recommend When Marnie Was There to pretty much anyone, although I will note that if you’re not comfortable with shoujo ai, you might find watching this a bit weird (even though it’s technically not).

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My Neighbors the Yamadas

Studio Ghiblimy neighbors the yamadas

Written & Directed by Isao Takahata/Produced by Seiichiro Ujiie, Takashi Shouji, & Toshio Suzuki/Music by Akiko Yano/Based on Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Yamada family are rather a peculiar group–certainly not your ideal Japanese family. Mr. Yamada isn’t nearly as successful and well-viewed as he’d like to imagine. Mrs. Yamada would rather snack and watch daytime TV than keep house–she’s actually a rather atrocious housekeeper. Their son, Noboru, isn’t making the grades his parents expect–but then, he’d probably do better if he studied instead of goofing off. Their little daughter Nonoko is mostly okay, I suppose, although her chatter could get old. And of course, Grandmother Shige oversees the lot of them, raining unasked advice, criticism, and archaic adages aplenty. . . . Actually, maybe they aren’t that different from the rest of us, when it comes down to it. In any case, in spite of their issues, the Yamada family are sure to be united against everything life throws at them.

I have this obsession over Studio Ghibli works–I’m determined to watch every one I can get my hands on. And I must say, My Neighbors the Yamadas is unique among the Ghibli works I’ve seen so far. It’s based on a 4-koma comic strip, and it retains that slice-of-life comedy feel. It’s arranged as a set of vignettes, which follows nicely from the 4-koma style. These vignettes are broken up by more traditional paintings decorated with traditional calligraphy, usually something by Basho or other classic poetry. (It probably says something about the movie as a whole that these divider screens were probably my favorite part of the show.) The art style is extremely different from Ghibli’s typical works, which kind of made me sad since one of the things I love most about Ghibli films is the amazing art that typifies stories such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Still, the more cartoon-like, pen-and-watercolor style does fit the Yamada family’s story, rather. Probably the best aspect of this movie is the keen observations it makes as to the relations between the Yamada family members. But still, I can definitely say that this was not my favorite Ghibli film; it probably wouldn’t go into my favorite lists at all. I would recommend My Neighbors the Yamadas mostly to folks who enjoy a more comic-strip sort of story (folks who like Peanuts and suchlike), and yes, to other people who obsessively watch all the Ghibli movies just to say they did (but for you, you probably won’t like it particularly; you’ve been warned).

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Big Hero 6

Walt Disney StudiosBig Hero 6

Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams/Produced by Roy Conli/Screenplay by Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson, & Robert L. Baird/Music by Henry Jackman/Based on the graphic novel by Steven T. Seagle & Duncan Rouleau

My rating: 5 of 5

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada has a great brain, but he’s not exactly motivated to put it to use . . . until some well-placed encouragement from his brother Tadashi and four of Tadashi’s “nerd friends” inspires him to join them at their college’s robotics program. Hiro seems set on a course for great success when the unthinkable happens: an accidental fire at the school kills his brother Tadashi and destroy’s Hiro’s robotics project as well. Overwhelmed with depression over his brother’s death, Hiro again finds himself completely unmotivated to do anything with his life. That is, until he accidentally activates Baymax, a nurse-robot that his brother had been working on. With Baymax, Hiro discovers that the fire at the school may not have been as accidental as it seemed–and so, Hiro, Baymax, and Tadashi’s four college friends team up to find the truth and bring justice where it’s due. True superhero style.

Big Hero 6 was one movie that I was actually excited to see from the time I first saw the previews, although it didn’t work out for me to see it until it came out on DVD. I wasn’t disappointed when I watched it either. Unlike many of Disney’s movies recently, I felt like this one came together extremely well. The characters were great; you could definitely tell that they were, well, based on stereotypes of sorts (probably because that worked better with their superhero transformations later), but they were also full of personality and individuality. Hiro himself is adorable in a punk sort of way . . . I think the first few minutes of the movie give a very good idea of his general character, but he also is someone who grows a lot during the story. (On that topic, the “hugging and learning” aspect of the story might be a bit much, but I guess we know it’s that kind of story going in to it.) Not that she shows up particularly much, but I really think Hiro and Tadashi’s aunt is an awesome character–I wish we saw more of her. I really appreciated the balance that was found in a lot of areas here: the combination of Japanese and American (especially in the architecture–wow), the meld of science and “superhero” tradition. It’s neat that this is based on an actual comic-book series (one I haven’t read, but it sounds interesting) by the same title . . . it sounds like the movie is almost something of an origin story from what I can tell. In any case, the use of science to explain/create the hero capabilities is fun. Also, bonus points for pretty art–I know CG has come incredibly far in just the past few years, and that’s not really even what I’m talking about–more like, the creators intentionally made pretty stuff (cloud patterns, incredible architecture, cool carp-kite wind machines, etc.) even when it wasn’t necessary. I appreciate that. So yeah, I would definitely recommend Big Hero 6 to anyone, say, elementary school and up who enjoys a solid, fun action movie with, yes, some hugging and learning mixed in.

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Hal

HalWit Studio

Directed by Ryotaro Makihara/Produced by Jouji Wada/Written by Izumi Kizara/Music by Michiru Oshima

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

 

When her boyfriend Hal dies in a plane crash, Kurumi is broken, utterly devastated and unable to function. Desperate to bring her back, the people who love her design a robot to take her boyfriend’s place–one that looks exactly look Hal. This robot’s one mission is to draw Kurumi out of her grief, and he takes to the task in his own innocent, slightly baffled but sweet way. Initially, Kurumi rejects him utterly, not wanting a fake replacement for the person she loved. But gradually, robot-Hal’s efforts begin to show fruit as he delves into the complexities of the relationship Kurumi and Hal once had. He’s not truly prepared for all he finds though, for it seems the original Hal was not such a pristine individual as he seemed on the surface. Now he must try to repair not only Kurumi’s loneliness from losing her boyfriend but the complications his original left behind in other aspects of life as well–no easy task, even for a robot!

I wasn’t particularly expecting a lot from this random anime movie I happened to stumble upon, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found Hal to actually be quite good. Probably the most immediate impression is that the animation is stunningly beautiful–there was one point where the water animation literally made me gasp out loud (yes, I’m a sucker for good water animation; it’s super-hard to do and super-rare to find done well). What creeps in next is the world building: this is set in a futuristic Japan, probably somewhere in the southern islands, and the setting is a non-stereotypical and interesting blend of advanced technology and down-to-earth simplicity. The contrast is striking, especially when so many science fiction stories are set in worlds of glistening chrome–there’s so much green in this world! Then when you get into the story proper and see Hal and Kurumi’s growing relationship, you find (or at least I certainly did) that the characters also are interesting in a breaking-stereotypes sort of way.  They’re complex and unexpected–a fact that is emphasized by details such as huge button collections scattered everywhere, wishing on Rubik’s cubes, and “pet giraffes” among other things. One thing I noticed not noticing in this movie was the music; unlike many Makoto Shinkai or Studio Ghibli movies where breathtaking music is a significant part of this story, the music in Hal gets out of the way and lets the story happen. It’s a quiet, gradual sort of story, so I feel this is quite fitting. Honestly, my one real complaint is that the story’s too short; an hour simply doesn’t allow for as much development as I would have like to see, and I feel the characters were strong enough to bear greater development. Still, what is provided is beautiful, sweet, and surprising (seriously, do NOT look at spoilers for this movie before you watch it). I would highly recommend Hal to anyone who enjoys a sweet romance story; just be prepared for more than you expect.

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