Tag Archives: Studio Ghibli

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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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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The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi

Ever since he was young, Jiro Horikoshi has dreamed of the sky and the aircraft that inhabit it so gracefully. He would have loved to be a pilot, but due to his poor eyesight, that dream would never come to pass. Realizing this early on, he takes a note from his hero, the Italian airplane designer Caproni, and pursues a career in aircraft design. A combination of innate talent and unflagging work keep him on the path, designing better and better planes, always pursuing the ideal craft that exists only in his dreams.

Over the years, I have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli, and from Hayao Miyazaki in particular–and I must say The Wind Rises is something special indeed. It is, at its core, nearly a documentary on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero–a plane used by Japan during the second World War. Yet Miyazaki transforms this young man’s life story into something beautiful and spectacular. Jiro deals, throughout the story, with the impossible question: would you pursue your dreams, even knowing what you create may be used in war, or would you live in a world where you abandon your dreams and refuse to create? The telling of the story itself is fascinating–you are given snapshots of various important events in the life of Horikoshi, but each is filled out in great detail, enough to give a good idea of who the characters are. I love that Miyazaki included Jiro’s brief, fateful relationship with Nahoko his beautiful, sickly wife (although I find Nahoko herself a strikingly Mamoru Hosoda sort of heroine). All the aircraft that are included only serve to emphasize that this is a Hayao Miyazaki movie–they’re kind of his trademark. The art is classic Studio Ghibli–breathtakingly beautiful. I think the inclusion of certain rather surreal elements, particularly in Jiro’s dreams, adds a lot to the story as well. I think my favorite Miyazaki movies will always be his fantasies like Spirited Away and Howl, but The Wind Rises is pretty incredible as well–you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or of older planes.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The town is abuzz with talk of the war. Which naturally leads to talk of the wizards the king is dragging in to help with the war efforts. Which then leads, of course, to talk of the Wizard Howl–notable for holding out on the king, for living in a moving castle that roves the wastes, and for only coming into town to seduce beautiful young women. Not that young Sophie cares for such gossip; she’s always been a homely, responsible girl, and Howl’s not the least interested in that sort of woman. That’s what they say, anyhow. When Sophie runs afoul of a rather nasty witch and finds herself burdened with a curse that makes her appear (and feel) like an old woman, she leaves her home and wanders into the wastes where she happens to run right into Howl’s castle! Given a courage she never had when she looked young, Sophie elbows her way in and firmly settles herself as the new cleaning lady (and yes, they desperately need one!). What she finds while there is a prissy, womanizing, rather hopeless young wizard, to be sure, but there’s more to Howl that gossip would suggest, and Sophie’s bound to find it out.

I absolutely love Howl’s Moving Castle! Of course, it’s a fusion of two things I absolutely love already: Diana Wynne Jones and Studio Ghibli. The story is one of those amazing cases where the book and the movie–while having some characters, ideas, and events in common–are essentially unique and can be regarded as completely separate stories. They’re different enough that I can enjoy both without constantly comparing the two (and so, I will review the book another time). Ghibli’s Howl is incredible: a blend of the absurdly humorous, the epically fantastic, and the sweetly romantic that creates something greater than the sum of the parts. The scenery is gorgeous in the extreme, especially the mountain landscapes. The machines are fascinating (slightly steampunk, but not quite)–from the classic Miyazaki flying machines to the train running through town to the cobbled-together castle walking on four legs. A strong anti-war message permeates the story (but not overpoweringly)–again classic Miyazaki/Ghibli, it seems. The soundtrack is also amazing, absolutely beautiful (Joe Hisaishi, what else need be said?). Perhaps most outstanding in this movie are the characters: Sophie, who always underestimates herself. Calcifer, the stubborn fire-demon who’s actually quite cute (and very good for comic relief). Cute little Markl, Howl’s apprentice. And of course, Howl himself–indecipherable, devastatingly beautiful, selfish, secretive, overly dramatic, too concerned about his looks, yet somehow so much better a person than he seems like he could be. (May I just say, I love the green ooze tantrum?!) All in all, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my absolute favorite movies, one I come back to regularly and never find disappointing. You should check it out!

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Porco Rosso

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi

Once a WWI ace fighter pilot, Porco Rosso is now a hero and an iconic figure around the Adriatic as he flies his legendary red sea plane to hunt down the sea-plane pirates who plague the area. It’s not uncommon for reporters to track him down at his friend Gina’s bar, looking for an exclusive story . . . although Porco prefers isolating himself in an upstairs room where Gina has a table set aside just for him. Of course, he’s not popular with everyone; some of his enemies actually plot against him to get his plane shot down! And when he goes to Milan to get his plane repaired, well, things get even more interesting, since the Italians have a warrant out for his head.

I absolutely love Studio Ghibli movies, and Hayao Miyazaki’s ones in particular. Porco Rosso is no exception, although it’s pretty different from some of his other stories. It’s one of the most centered in a real place and time–in spite of the whole fantasy element of Porco’s being turned into a pig, which is never explained in great detail. The story has a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, and romance, even while dealing with difficult topics like war; I find that quite impressive. Plus, between Gina and Fio, there are some incredible, gutsy heroines (Miyazaki’s heroines in general are some of the best!). I’m not really into aircraft, but Miyazaki’s planes in here are really neat to see (even if not 100% realistic)–if you can’t tell, aircraft is something of an obsession for him (just watch his other movies, and you’ll see what I mean). The art in Porco Rosso is really pretty too–not to a Spirited Away level of detail, but very nice still–and the setting is absolutely beautiful. I love the open ending, too. Overall, I think Porco Rosso is a fun, touching movie–although I would only recommend it for an older (PG 13) audience because of some of the allusions and language.

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Spirited Away

spirited awayStudio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Young Chihiro is not only bummed out about moving, but is slightly scared as well. When her family gets lost taking a “shortcut” to their new home (thanks again, Dad), her life takes a serious turn for the scarier as Chihiro finds herself in an Alice-in-Wonderland-like world of Japanese spirits, her parents transformed into pigs, and herself quickly becoming translucent. Haku, a local spirit boy who seems to know her, takes Chihiro under wing, but when it turns out that he’s the head henchman under the evil ruler of this place, you have to wonder if he’s really looking out for Chihiro . . . ?

Spirited Away is a masterpiece of a movie. The story is complex and very Japanese–kind of a zen version of Alice in Wonderland, really. The character development in Chihiro is excellent; it’s fascinating to watch her grow from a whiny brat to a brave girl who is willing to work hard and risk a lot for others. The animation in Spirited Away is incredible–there’s an intricate attention–to detail, light, texture, and even the way people actually move–that is absolutely breathtaking. Seriously pay attention to the water . . . it’s not just some puddle of blue, but actually looks like real water! The creativity and detail put into the plethora of side characters and settings is remarkable as well. Might I also mention that the soundtrack is wonderful–great for setting the mood, plus just absolutely beautiful. And the English dubs are actually good too, which is a shocker; usually anime dubs are terrible (in my personal opinion). Basically, Spirited Away is one of my favorite movies ever, possibly my absolute favorite. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono, & Bunta Sugawara

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