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BloodBoal

The Hayao Miyazaki Retrospective Thread

272 posts in this topic

Damn, I haven't been around for while, sorry for not responding to @BloodBoal's comments from a couple of weeks ago.  Thanks for your feedback on Castle.  Looking forward to what you have to say about the other ones.  I seriously have to get to Princess Mononoke.  Jeez!

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Princess Mononoke (1997)

 

https://latimesherocomplex.files.wordpress.com/2030/04/mononoke-4.jpg

 

Miyakazi's love of nature, and his use of it as a theme, reaches its apotheosis with Princess Mononoke.  It feels like a life's work finally advancing to its inevitable peak.  If he were a lesser writer and director, he may have been perfectly satisfied shoving this message in our collective faces without a hint of creativity.  But in the hands of a master storyteller who puts considerable emphasis on characters and motivations, it comes truly alive.  This is a masterpiece.

 

It begins with a mountain range, at dawn, covered in soft mist; a basic narrative statement appears.  With the tense music filling out the rest of the sensory experience, the tone has been set.  There is an underlying sense of foreboding that is inescapable, and it will attach itself to the rest of the film.  The importance of Nature is felt immediately.  Soon thereafter we meet the character that will carry us through the story; Ashitaka, a young prince and the future of his village, and in the first major scene he is presented as capable, considerate, and reflective as he does battle with a boar that has been transformed into a demon, itself a creation of the perversion of nature.  These are many of the same traits afforded Miyazaki's other characters.  He is attracted to the idea of youth saving us from conditions brought on by generational neglect, mistreatment and abuse.  So far, these protagonists have possessed the same basic qualities while remaining pure of heart.  Their clear vision and selflessness will see us through our darkest hour and simultaneously, and more importantly, positively affect those who come in contact with them.

 

We are treated again to the majesty of landscapes as Ashitaka makes his way west after being tainted with a curse.  During this trek to discover certain truths and change his fate, Ashitaka sees a war-torn countryside, establishing the idea of civil unrest, and also showing us a higher level of violence than we were previously exposed to in these films.  Limbs and heads are brutally but neatly severed, soldiers mercilessly attack villagers; it's all quite startling, but necessary, as there is an increased level of rage and anger saturating moment to moment.

 

San makes a striking entrance as she is shown incessantly charging a caravan of Ironworks villagers hauling rice along a treacherous pass.  Here we also meet another other key figure in Lady Eboshi, as well as Moro the Wolf God and her cubs.  San's introduction to Ashitaka is even more imposing when he stumbles out of the forest to see her sucking the poisonous iron from Moro's wound, her face suffused with warrior paint and smeared with blood, a look of warning beaming back at him once he catches her attention.

 

When Eboshi and her crew make it back to Ironworks it is established that the people of the village are not antagonists.  They are loyal, humorous, and hardworking individuals who happen to perform a job in direct opposition with their surroundings.  In the middle of Ironworks is a factory with a menacing tower of stoked fire.  They mutilate the forest in order to obtain iron for trade and to make weapons.  It's populated with people whose lives have been shown little respect, and their main goal is to obtain security through fortifying themselves within the village, arming themselves with the weaponry needed to survive, and gaining financial independence.  They are focused on their livelihood, not nature.  Lady Eboshi, who governs Ironworks, will do what she feels is necessary to obtain these things for herself, and specifically the woman of her village, who she feels particularly responsible for.  Eboshi is fighting two life-long battles where she is pitted against Nature and Men.  Her arrogance is her weakness, and her narrow-minded quest for power will be her downfall.  Her misguided notion of superior-worth puts her at odds with Nature, and this eventually forces her to lose sight of her own people.  Later on, when she is away from the village on the hunt for the Deer God, she is informed that the hired samurai force has turned on the village in an attempt to usurp power, but her conceit has overshadowed the importance of her village and she dismisses it as an empty threat not worth her time.

 

The level of war and hell most of these characters have been exposed to has informed their opinions about how to conduct their business.  They feel justified in their actions as a result; that any means will do.  However, Eboshi is not innocent, and in many instances she is painted as deceptively kind.  In order to steal authority for herself she has collected a motley crew of people who are almost guaranteed not to rebel if shown a modicum of kindness:  Women purchased from slavery, but then put to labor.  Lepers taken in, but then put to labor.  These groups feel such a debt that Eboshi can easily exploit this.  They all express such unmitigated gratitude for this false freedom as to hope to be the eventual benefactors of their own labor.  It isn't until the end that Eboshi seems to reconcile her ideals with her actions.  There is irony in her line, "I fear men more than monsters."  Like many of these types of Miyazaki characters, she is not absolutely villainous.  She lacks judgement and she lustful and untempered in her search for autonomous control, but we can at the very least understand her motivations.  Her plan is simple: purge the forest of gods and the fighting will cease.

 

There is a prevailing sadness and pensiveness that permeates the entire movie, especially in the forest scenes.  The characters generally say what they're feeling, speak directly and clearly, and are not reticent or bashful.  Considering the level of allegory going on, it was refreshing to hear them speak candidly and with firm intention.  The film is cleverly built in that it is not an action film, but there is a lot of movement within the story, with a heightened atmosphere of disquiet and alarm as all of the forces speed along toward each other until they ultimately collide.  One of its great many strengths is the lack of unnecessary fighting.  When those scenes do happen, quite a bit is shown in long shot, or in quick transitions that do not linger, which makes Ashitaka's spurts of intense violence all the more astonishing.  Nothing is gratuitous.

 

Ashitaka and San's relationship is something that feels genuine.  They are not there to simply fall in love with each other.  Forming a bond between the two is hard work.  Ashitaka needs to solicit help from her in order to find the Deer God and lift the curse that will spell his doom, and she is fixed in her hatred of all humans, her entire history plagued with their ceaseless encroachment and destruction upon her home.   His ability to convince her otherwise is a difficult task, and he doesn't make it easy.  Ashitaka's almost infantile need for everyone to be in harmony is admirable, but extremely hard to accept for San, whose exposure to humans has been one of sustained punishment.  To her, an antagonist is made to be defeated, not understood, and certainly not helped or cared for.  Over the course of things, their relationship develops into something a bit more on an emotional level, but the writing respects them enough to allow them to continue on their separate journeys at the end.  Maybe one day, far up on the path, they will meet again, having a life's work behind them.  One of the most important ideas of the movie is being alive.  When the Ironworks and forest are destroyed, Ashitaka reminds everyone of this basic fact, and he sums it up nicely at the end, in one of the last things he says to San, "Together, we'll live."

 

Princess Mononoke also excels from the point of view of costume design.  I liked the details of how the outfits were put together, such as when Ashitaka removes his shirt to find that his sleeves are basically their own component.  San's costume was also insightful.  You got the feeling that she stole those clothes when she was a little girl, having been raised by wolves, and had them ever since.  The skirt frayed at the hem, with a simple shirt, but adorned in an intimidating coat of fur connected to a tooth necklace accentuating parts of her true personality.

 

I will say that the one element of the movie that should have been expounded on was the crystal dagger that Kaya gave Ashitaka in the beginning.  It didn't seem to serve much of a purpose in the long run, and it really would not change anything if it was removed from the story.  This is a trinket that his sister gave to him, which he then gives to San, but there is no history explained for it, and the item itself doesn't really come into play in a major way later on.  It's a device passed on from one person to the next to act as a visual representation of love, but it felt somewhat expendable.  It may have been different if it was established that he had fashioned it himself from materials surrounding Ironworks, then it would have had more significance, it would have been more personal, like he's giving part of himself to San and calling a truce.

 

Joe Hisaishi is someone who I haven't spoken much of in my reviews, but here his music has developed a symbiotic relationship with the material.  I feel like he rose to the challenge and provided a beautiful score from start to finish, highlighting the mood perfectly without detracting from it.   San has a beautiful theme, later set to song, and the theme for both Ashitaka and San that ends the movie is presented in glorious serenity during those closing passages.  Everything else in between is just as lovely.

 

Japanese/English Dubs:

 

The differences in the dubs are relatively minor, things like calling the Oracle "wise woman" in the English, but the most conspicuous one is felt right off the bat, when the opening is actually narrated by Okkoto and stretches on much longer.  This is not entirely effective as it trades away the music and canvas being created on screen for more information.  We get everything we need as the characters speak throughout the movie.

 

The main song, beginning when Ashitaka and San are resting in the cave, sounds like it's sung by a man in falsetto in the original but is sung by a soprano in the English version.  The latter is much more preferable, and a better performance.

 

Cultural nods lifted such as "Shogun" and a reference to Chinese rifle making being deleted in the English version.  I feel like I'm being babied when that stuff happens.  I understand that a lot of the Western audience probably doesn't know what a Shogun is, but its appropriate to include it given the context of speaking about the Emperor.  The political and militaristic temperature of the area is important to understand the character's motivations.

 

I don't recall the Japanese version referring to the woman explicitly as prostitutes, and it doesn't call the lepers that by name either.  You understand more or less without having to be told.  The English dub goes out of its way to mention "brothels" several times throughout just in case we're didn't quite comprehend what the situation was.

 

One of the funnier changes is in the scene when Ashitaka is leaving his village.  The Oracle says, in both versions, that their laws forbid the townspeople from watching him leave.  And then, in the Japanese version, finishes with a simple "Farewell."  In the English, she says, "You're dead to us forever".  It was so awkwardly vulgar given the relative politeness of the discussion up to that point that I actually burst out laughing.

 

Billy Bob Thornton's vocal performance was strangely distracting.  His voice didn't really fit the character and his acting in general wasn't the best.  He was very flat.  Speaking of Jiko, in his introductory scene, when Ashitaka leaves come daylight, he says "I'd knew he's go."  In the English he says "See you there my friend", hinting at a meeting at Ironworks, and foreshadowing his reappearance.  This alters the surprise of seeing him crop up later on since he initially seems like a trivial character.

 

Interestingly, there was some confusion on my part as to who Kaya was at first.  Watching the Japanese version, I was primarily going off the subtitles.  In them, she never calls him brother, so their final exchange as he departs the village made it appear as though she was in love with him.  In the English language version she actually calls him brother, which also made sense, but I thought it was a strange alteration, so I went back and listened to the Japanese version again, this time paying more attention to the language, and lo and behold Kaya calls him "oniisama", which means older brother.  My limited understanding of Japanese saved me on this one, so it was curious that the literal translation failed to put this in.

 

The "Together, we'll live" statement I mentioned earlier is removed in the English dub for some reason, even though it completes the ideas set up earlier which are also included in the English dub.  Another fairly important change that comes at the end is when San says "I love you" to Ashitaka, which occurs in the Japanese.  In the English she says "You mean so much to me".  I actually prefer the English on this point since her declaration of love seemed out of character.

 

Princess Mononoke charges confidently to the top of the list.  It is a nearly flawless experience that takes place at the dawn of a new era of industry and shows how people attempt to tame the natural setting around them instead of working cooperatively to share and grow within certain bounds.  Miyazaki personifies the forest, giving it legs, teeth, and a voice so it can defend and answer for itself.  This is essential, since people have a tendency to think of nature as a lifeless thing that is meant to be controlled, and our efforts to maintain domination instead of balance is at the heart of it.  This world is not ours alone, we are part of this world, and not acting in accordance with this proposal will result in total annihilation.  In the end, it is Nature that takes away life, and gives it back.

 

1) Princess Mononoke

2) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

3) My Neighbor Totoro

4) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

5) Kiki's Delivery Service

6) Lupin III:  The Castle of Cagliostro

7) Porco Roso

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:up: :up: :up:

 

An enjoyable read, sir!

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Don't feel too bad, I still haven't written about The Wind Rises, and I watched that a year ago!

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Continuing reading @nightscape94 reviews with My Neighbor Totoro!

 

On 24/04/2016 at 7:39 AM, nightscape94 said:

The story centers around two young children, Satsuki and Mei, who, along with their father, are shown moving out to the country because their mother is suffering from an unnamed illness.  My initial feeling was that she was suffering a recent nervous breakdown or from mental illness, and the relocation was to be closer to the hospital, and also give her, and them, a much needed change of scenery.  I may be misinterpreting this, but either way, the finer details of her sickness are of secondary concern.

 

[...]

 

The mother is a constant presence throughout the movie, whether it is through hospital visits, by reference, or by showing her reading Satsuki's letters.  She serves as a beacon in some ways, propelling and guiding the story onward.  She always appears peaceful, smiling, and hopeful.   When her family visits she does not grow weary of their company, does not act aggressive, and is not distant.  She is actively engaged and doesn't skip a motherly beat.  There is never any blame placed on her, no self-loathing is expressed by anyone, and they speak of her lovingly.  Even though they are separated, and there is internal tension revolving around her situation, they all are still a caring family unit that just happens to be going through a period of uncertain unrest.  Miyazaki wisely does not take dubious advantage of this story device by twisting it into an open war between the parents and their daughters.

 

I find it funny how you you payed so much attention to the mother, because I personally think she's not meant to be an important character to the story (nor is her illness meant to be an important aspect of it): it is actually her absence that is important and is at the heart of the story. The whole film is about the girls trying to deal with the fact that she is not there (and maybe won't return), and Satsuki does most of the things she does in the film because she has to take matters into her own hands, because her mother isn't here.

 

On 24/04/2016 at 7:39 AM, nightscape94 said:

The father is another important character in his limited scenes.  He is cooperative, playful, reassuring, and feeds his children's imaginations.  He is not shown as aloof or over-bearing.  When Mei insists that she has seen a giant creature in their backyard forest, he does not get angry, does not try to quiet her, and is not dismissive.  There is a calm conversation that results in his bringing the two kids to the sprawling camphor tree to pay their respects to the spirits.  In this way he encourages fantasy while also giving a cultural history lesson.

 

Interesting. Didn't consider that. What's also interesting is that while he never refutes what his daughters tell him, he never see the creatures at any point in the story. Generally, in (western) movies, adults can't see the fantastical creatures even when they're right in front of them, because they don't believe in them, they think their kids are crazy lunatics or some other similar reason. Here, the adults are fine with what their kids tell them, but they still never get to see the creatures. I wonder why that is. Is it because they can't see them but it is simply never stated? Or because Miyazaki wanted the viewers to decide whether the kids imagined those creatures or if they're real? Or some other reason? Hmmm...

 

On 24/04/2016 at 7:39 AM, nightscape94 said:

There is no real antagonist or extraneous conflict.  The straightforward story flows from the two girls, and it's everything the movie requires.  Everyone we meet is welcoming and warm-natured.  Nanny, the amiable caretaker, brings an inconsolable Mei to Satsuki's school during class.  This could have devolved into an argument dealing with Satsuki's overwhelming embarrassment, but the teacher, and her classmates in general, are friendly and nothing is made of it.  This scene exists to show Mei's inability to cope with being separated from Satsuki for too long while their mother's status is unknown and their father is now back to work.  I can't stress my appreciation for this enough.  Miyazaki has no time for useless story ornaments that cause deviations from the main narrative.  While I can imagine some viewers may have a problem with this type of cleanliness, as it may not exactly represent most people most of the time, the opening sequence tells you straight away that its target audience is children.  My Neighbor Totoro gives us enough to focus on when setting up the family dynamic; the rest is just focused on enchantment.

 

That's an aspect of the film I quite liked too: the absence of any antagonist/conflict. That's was fine with me. However, as some sort of a result of that, there is not much sense of an actual end goal to the story, there's not much of a sense of going forward, and that's was more of a problem for me. And don't misinterpret that as me not liking the slow pace of the film: I like films with a slow pace... as long as I can feel we're still going somewhere. My problem with that film is that there are moments where it feels it is going nowhere. Take the girls visiting the house: sure, it's nice for the film to take its time to introduce us to this location which will be the main one in the film so that we get accustomed to it, we get to appreciate the surroundings, etc. but there comes a moment where you'd like something to actually happen to give a semblance of story. It happens eventually, but then you're (almost) already one third into the film.

 

On 24/04/2016 at 7:39 AM, nightscape94 said:

When we finally meet the great forest spirit king, Totoro, his design is wonderful.  He is otherworldly enough to be immediately interesting, expressive enough to be inviting, and is not shown to be scary but rather just as whimsical as the children.  There is a scene where the sprightly Totoro and the children take a nighttime trip, gliding through the rice fields on a spinning top, and it's one of the most magical moments in the film.  I also like the ambiguity of Totoro and his circle of spirit friends, which includes the marvelous cat bus, grinning wide as it scales hills, trees, and even telephone wire, in order to kindly deliver passengers to their destinations.  As Mei first tells of her discovery, Satsuki mentions that he sounds like the troll from a bedtime story their mother reads to them, referencing Three Billy Goats Gruff.  At the very end of the credits there is an animation card showing them huddled under blankets with their mother as she holds the book, and we can make out a small Totoro spirit on the cover.  We're never quite sure what parts, if any, are real.  We're given evidence embracing both possibilities.

 

I personally think Miyazaki never considered that the creatures might not be real, but he probably wanted to leave it open to interpretation (with scenes like the "tree growing" one, with the tree disappearing the next morning). I also think it makes for a less interesting film if it's all in the girls' minds. :P

 

On 24/04/2016 at 7:39 AM, nightscape94 said:

Regarding the dubs, I am happy to report that this a 180 degree turn on my other experiences.  And for the sake of full disclosure, I enjoyed the English dub more.  I attribute this mostly to the lean story and simple motivations of the characters, but I give credit where credit is due.  Sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning play Satsuki and Mei which, not unexpectedly, turns out to be incredibly authentic.  Tim Daly also bests his Japanese counterpart.

 

In terms of content, aside from some minor changes that don't reshape the narrative in any profound way, there were two things in the English dub that I actually liked better than the Japanese version.  When Mei goes missing, Satsuki seeks out Totoro as a last-ditch effort to find her.  In the Japanese dub, before entering the forest, she pleads her case and then runs in.  In the English dub, she pleads her case, asks permission from the forest to see Totoro, and then runs in.  This is the kind of thing I would have expected to have happened in reverse, as it's much more effective in the second example.

 

Nice touch, and yes, I agree, it's something you'd expect Miyazaki to have written, and to be omitted from the English dub. Maybe it is actually in the original Japanese dialogue, but omitted from the English subs? ;)

 

On 24/04/2016 at 7:39 AM, nightscape94 said:

The entire film made my heart leap with gladness.  There is a running sense of discovery from start to finish.  Miyazaki spent a lot of storytelling energy giving us both Nausicaä and Castle in the Sky only to give us this streamlined and clear adventure of two little girls finding comfort in a towering fluffy spirit taking them momentarily out of their lives, giving them a means to deal with something they can't quite understand or cope with.  At least for the time being they can find escape in, well, their neighbor Totoro.

 

1) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

2) My Neighbor Totoro

3) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

4) Lupin III:  The Castle of Cagliostro

 

It's definitely an interesting film in Miyazaki's career, following three big action/adventure-oriented movies, and proving the versatility of the man. It has a charm of its own and makes for a nice relaxing viewing experience. That being said, your ranking is obviously all wrong.

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On 2/16/2017 at 10:31 AM, BloodBoal said:

Maybe it is actually in the original Japanese dialogue, but omitted from the English subs? ;)

 

This is very true, and a concern that's always in my mind.  I put a lot of faith in the subs when I'm comparing them to the dub.  There was an example recently in my Mononoke review where I picked something up simply because I know about 0.0005% Japanese, but I still heard something that did not translate in the subtitles, but it completely changed the nature of a particular character relationship.

 

On 2/16/2017 at 10:31 AM, BloodBoal said:

I find it funny how you you payed so much attention to the mother, because I personally think she's not meant to be an important character to the story (nor is her illness meant to be an important aspect of it): it is actually her absence that is important and is at the heart of the story. The whole film is about the girls trying to deal with the fact that she is not there (and maybe won't return), and Satsuki does most of the things she does in the film because she has to take matters into her own hands, because her mother isn't here.

 

That's more or less what I'm getting at.  She has a presence despite being absent.  It's clever how Miyazaki handled that throughout.  I felt that the mother, or at least the idea of her, was important, as she's truly the catalyst for these events in her children's lives.

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16 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

That's more or less what I'm getting at.

 

Well, you said it poorly. ;)

 

Just thought about something: I wonder if the film could have been more effective if the mother hadn't been shown at all (except maybe at the end). Would have possibly helped the audience feel her absence even more (it could have even made the audience wonder if she wasn't in fact dead, and her daughters had trouble accepting that. And maybe at the end, when they go see her at the hospital, the audience would have wondered if the daughters actually had died, the only way for them to be reunited with her... OK, I'm going off track...)

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Gotta keep on commenting @nightscape94's reviews! (Everytime I remember I should do that, I don't do it right away and then keep forgetting about it!)

 

On 27/04/2016 at 7:58 AM, nightscape94 said:

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

 

[...]

 

As Kiki sets off clumsily into the night on her mother's broomstick she turns on her father's radio to the tune of the catchy and old-fashioned "Rouge no Dengon", which sets the opening credits perfectly, and encapsulates her infectious personality.  At this point she encounters another witch, who is at the end of her year expedition, and is asked what her main skill concentration is.  Kiki hasn't thought of it.  Her mother specializes in potions, this new acquaintance says her's is fortune-telling.  But Kiki, she isn't sure who she is, and this plays out in the narrative later on.  Like My Neighbor Totoro, there is no villain, not even in the loosest terms.

 

It's funny, because when I watched the film, I didn't pay attention to the fact the witch she meets had ended her expedition, and I thought she was going to turn into some sort of rival for Kiki (not like a true evil villain, but you know, kind of an annoying, condescending peer) and that was to be her introduction scene, because this is generally what we would get in most coming-of-age movies: some character appears who is condescending to the hero, and then as the story unfolds this become the main antagonist, the hero's rival. But this scene isn't actually about that witch: it's all about Kiki, who, as you said, isn't sure who she is. It's interesting to see how a simple scene might lead you to expect the kind of story structure you're used to, but Miyazaki instead goes in a completely different direction (which is part of what makes his movies special).

 

On 27/04/2016 at 7:58 AM, nightscape94 said:

By my account, most of the people Kiki meets are openly sociable and welcoming.  Ursula, the young painter we meet in the forest, the aforementioned Osono, her first customer after forming her delivery service, the two older women who befriend her, and even Tombo after a few false starts.  This is not dissimilar to My Neighbor Totoro.  It's not as successful here as almost everyone is perhaps too helpful.  Kiki makes friends on the strength of her own personality without really trying.  Miyazaki is perched dangerously close to representing a too perfect world.

 

You managed to put the finger on one of the things that bothered me with that film: that everything is so perfect, that Kiki doesn't face any major problem, that everything is pretty smooth (at least up until a certain point in the film), which can be nice to watch for a while, but then I need the film to give me more than just that to hold my interest (ultimately, we do get that, but it's a bit late in the game).

 

On 27/04/2016 at 7:58 AM, nightscape94 said:

This threat of alienation builds up and is the primary source of conflict that makes her inexplicably lose her witch powers late in the film.  Of this, Kiki states, "If I lost my magic, that means I've lost absolutely everything."  She connects Self to this one attribute as though she is nothing else.  This symptomatic withdrawal intensifies and leads to one of the most nakedly vulnerable lines delivered by Kiki; in the Japanese version, "I think something's wrong with me.  I make friends, then suddenly I can't bear to be with any of them.  That other me, the cheerful and honest one...went away somewhere."  In the English, it's striped down to the point of ineffectiveness:  "I think something's wrong with me.  I meet a lot of people, and at first everything seems to be going okay, but then I start feeling like such an outsider.  You should have seen how Tombo's friends looked at me."

 

Now that's rather interesting, because if I remember correctly, the subtitles I had said something rather similar to the English dub. The original line sure is much more interesting! It's annoying when the "translation" completely changes not only the meaning of a sentence, but also the meaning of a big part of the film.

 

On 27/04/2016 at 7:58 AM, nightscape94 said:

The path to getting herself to a healthy state of mind is accomplished with the help of Ursula, a painter who has a summer cottage nearby, and who has mentally toiled her way through life only to arrive on the other side fairly content.  She picks up where Kiki's mother left off and acts as a strong relatable role model.  She teaches a valuable lesson, which is - Life is a struggle.

 

After this short pilgrimage, we are launched into the final act.  I would have preferred a quieter and more personally reflective sequence, rather than a big action spectacle, but it still feels pretty justified and acceptable as is.

 

To me, it actually felt a bit out of place. A climax for the sake of having a climax, and not a climax as a natural progression of the story. Didn't ruin the film for me, but definitely felt tacked on at the end in a bit of a clumsy way (you could say it was a bit foreshadowed, with the zeppelin being introduced a bit earlier in the film, but still... Felt a bit at odds with everything we saw prior to that nonetheless).

 

On 27/04/2016 at 7:58 AM, nightscape94 said:

It's very telling, and very appropriate, that Kiki doesn't hear Jiji speak to her at the very end.  Although she retains her skills as a flyer, which she's earned back through turmoil, she has made her first real step into adulthood.  The cat is just a cat.  Now with true friends in tow, she is better positioned to see what life as to offer.  And as a minor character named Dora says very early on, setting up the theme of the picture, "Everything changes, bit by bit."

 

No reaction to the fact Jiji actually speaks at the end in the English dub? ;)

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Well, continuing on commenting @nightscape94's reviews, even if he refuses to comment my comments!

 

On 29/06/2016 at 6:14 AM, nightscape94 said:

Porco Roso (1992)

 

Well, this is weird.  For the first time in my Miyazaki outing I have to report on a movie that didn't grab me.  To put it even more bluntly, I didn't much care for it.  I originally watched this for the first time about a month ago, but I couldn't muster the motivation to watch it a second time to keep in line with my usual English/Japanese double billing.  I finally got around to seeing it again yesterday so I could jot down my brief thoughts.

 

What we have here is a film that is structurally clumsy with characters that aren't terribly interesting, occupying a story that is not terribly compelling, which tries painfully hard to keep me distracted from its shortcomings by splashing beautiful sky canvases up on the screen and jabbing me with some zany comedy from time to time.

 

While I enjoyed the film more than you did, I can see where you're coming from. The film definitely lacks a well-defined structure, and jumps from one idea to the next without developing any that much. That being said, I think there's more beneath the surface than what is revealed through the story and dialogue. The way the characters act and look at each other (Marco and Gina, especially) convey a lot about their past history.

 

On 29/06/2016 at 6:14 AM, nightscape94 said:

Our titular character is a anthropomorphic pig who was once a man named Marco.  Although the movie explains this ham-handedly (pun intended) as a curse, it's really a not-so-subtle depiction of how Marco sees himself; figuratively, and quite literally, as a pig, now assuming the identity of Porco.  He blames himself for being the sole survivor of a World War I battle that would see all belligerents involved, including his entire battalion, and more importantly his dear friend, dead.  The set up is there, but there is no payoff as the rest of the movie is a combination of ineffective villains, underdeveloped relationships, and scene hopping.  None of this functions nearly as well as Miyazaki probably assumed it did on paper.  At the end I felt as though this was a short film blown up to feature length by padding it out, eventually making the movie feel disjointed, and leaving me rather impassive about what I just watched.

 

It was in fact originally meant as a short film (funnily enough, I made the same comment in my review regarding the length)! See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porco_Rosso#Production

 

Quote

Production

 

The film was originally planned as a short in-flight film for Japan Airlines based on Hayao Miyazaki's manga The Age of the Flying Boat, but grew into a feature-length film. The outbreak of war in Yugoslavia cast a shadow over production and prompted a more serious tone for the film, which had been set in Croatia. The airline remained a major investor in the film, and showed it as an in-flight film well before its theatrical release. Due to this, the opening text introducing the film appears simultaneously in Japanese, Italian, Korean, English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, French and German.

 

 

On 29/06/2016 at 6:14 AM, nightscape94 said:

The pirates, as well as the American Donald Curtis, are comical and not depicted as especially dangerous, the Secret Fascist Police is underused and barely mentioned, the Italian military is never really seen in a threatening way either.  No one villain is given enough time, build up, serious weight, or power to make us feel a sense of urgency.  I never felt any real danger for our hero, and his arc is sloppy.

 

To be fair, it goes with Miyazaki's usual way of handling things: none of his films have true villains (the exception remains Muska in Castle In The Sky). There are more antagonists than pure evil characters. That being said, they are generally better handled, I'll give you that. But i think the real problem the movie had is not so much that there was no real sense of danger/urgency because none of the villains were threatening, rather that there was no feeling that there was an end goal to the story, that the characters were moving towards an objective (to be honest, that's a problem I had with a few other Miyazaki films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, but given the story being told in those, that was more understandable). As a result, you're not quite sure what the movie is all about.

 

On 29/06/2016 at 6:14 AM, nightscape94 said:

Inexplicably, the movie ends with voice-over narration from someone that we meet halfway through, Fio.  She hails from a long line of young and strong female characters that Miyazaki is known for at this point, and is probably the most attractive thing about the movie, but she is in no way earns the right to end this story from her point of view.  Unfortunately when all is said and done, Fio would have made a far more fascinating central subject, with Porco portrayed as a mysterious or unknowable entity seen through her eyes, perhaps serving as the impetus to her own adventure.  As it stands, however, her epilogue was a senseless scripting decision that came off as clunky, bearing no fruit for the story that Miyazaki was telling.  At the very least he should have made Porco and Gina's relationship way more front and center; the beating heart of the film.

 

There's definitely a problem with the ending of that one, which feels like it comes a bit out of nowhere. I think I remember reading somewhere an interview of Miyazaki where he said he never planned in advance the ending of his movies, and that he often ended them whenever he felt he had no more stuff left to tell in the story, which is why it often feels (well, at least to me) like the endings show up a bit abruptly and don't necessarily feel like a natural conclusion of what came before.

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Thanks for the bump BB; I'll try to write about The Wind Rises and share my final ranking, today!

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For a while there I thought I might beat you to the finish line!  Spirited Away could be this weekend.

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Finishing reading @nightscape94's reviews with... Princess Mononoke!

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

Princess Mononoke (1997)

 

Miyakazi's love of nature, and his use of it as a theme, reaches its apotheosis with Princess Mononoke.  It feels like a life's work finally advancing to its inevitable peak.  If he were a lesser writer and director, he may have been perfectly satisfied shoving this message in our collective faces without a hint of creativity.  But in the hands of a master storyteller who puts considerable emphasis on characters and motivations, it comes truly alive.  This is a masterpiece.

 

:thumbup:

 

One of my favourite movies of all time!

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

We are treated again to the majesty of landscapes as Ashitaka makes his way west after being tainted with a curse.  During this trek to discover certain truths and change his fate, Ashitaka sees a war-torn countryside, establishing the idea of civil unrest, and also showing us a higher level of violence than we were previously exposed to in these films.  Limbs and heads are brutally but neatly severed, soldiers mercilessly attack villagers; it's all quite startling, but necessary, as there is an increased level of rage and anger saturating moment to moment.

 

Were you surprised seeing that much violence in a Miyazaki movie after having watched them all in chronological order? Had forgotten how violent it was, and when I rewatched it after having seen My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso, it made for a really startling experience, basically going from kid-friendly stuff to seeing a guy having both his arms cut off by an arrow!

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

However, Eboshi is not innocent, and in many instances she is painted as deceptively kind.  In order to steal authority for herself she has collected a motley crew of people who are almost guaranteed not to rebel if shown a modicum of kindness: Women purchased from slavery, but then put to labor. Lepers taken in, but then put to labor.  These groups feel such a debt that Eboshi can easily exploit this. They all express such unmitigated gratitude for this false freedom as to hope to be the eventual benefactors of their own labor.

 

Interesting. Never considered that. Don't remember, though: do the women say it was Eboshi who put them to work, or did they decided by themselves to help her?

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

Joe Hisaishi is someone who I haven't spoken much of in my reviews, but here his music has developed a symbiotic relationship with the material.  I feel like he rose to the challenge and provided a beautiful score from start to finish, highlighting the mood perfectly without detracting from it.   San has a beautiful theme, later set to song, and the theme for both Ashitaka and San that ends the movie is presented in glorious serenity during those closing passages.  Everything else in between is just as lovely.

 

Yeah. As I said in my review of the film, this is the first Hisaishi score that feels like a "proper" film score, so to speak (that is to say, the kind of score we're used to, with lots of themes, each developed, setpieces, etc.). While his previous ones were nice, they didn't make a huge impression and went mostly unnoticed. Here, the music truly stands out and really enhances the experience.

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

Japanese/English Dubs:

 

The differences in the dubs are relatively minor, things like calling the Oracle "wise woman" in the English, but the most conspicuous one is felt right off the bat, when the opening is actually narrated by Okkoto and stretches on much longer.  This is not entirely effective as it trades away the music and canvas being created on screen for more information.  We get everything we need as the characters speak throughout the movie.

 

Wow, seriously? Narration? That sucks. Must really kill the atmosphere of the film (especially during the opening).

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

One of the funnier changes is in the scene when Ashitaka is leaving his village.  The Oracle says, in both versions, that their laws forbid the townspeople from watching him leave.  And then, in the Japanese version, finishes with a simple "Farewell."  In the English, she says, "You're dead to us forever".  It was so awkwardly vulgar given the relative politeness of the discussion up to that point that I actually burst out laughing.

 

lol! This is ridiculously hilarious.

 

They might as well have had her say: "OK, now fuck off!"

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

Princess Mononoke charges confidently to the top of the list.  It is a nearly flawless experience that takes place at the dawn of a new era of industry and shows how people attempt to tame the natural setting around them instead of working cooperatively to share and grow within certain bounds.  Miyazaki personifies the forest, giving it legs, teeth, and a voice so it can defend and answer for itself.  This is essential, since people have a tendency to think of nature as a lifeless thing that is meant to be controlled, and our efforts to maintain domination instead of balance is at the heart of it.  This world is not ours alone, we are part of this world, and not acting in accordance with this proposal will result in total annihilation.  In the end, it is Nature that takes away life, and gives it back.

 

:thumbup::thumbup::thumbup:

 

Well said!

 

An absolutely stunning cinematic experience with a powerful message perfectly delivered by Miyazaki-san!

 

So, did you notice how similar to Nausicaä that one was?

 

On 23/01/2017 at 10:04 PM, nightscape94 said:

1) Princess Mononoke

2) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

3) My Neighbor Totoro

4) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

5) Kiki's Delivery Service

6) Lupin III:  The Castle of Cagliostro

7) Porco Roso

 

Not a bad list, though I'm sad to see The Castle Of Cagliostro so near the bottom of the list!

 

 

OK, I'm up-to-date now. Time to post your Spirited Away review!

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On 3/27/2017 at 4:40 AM, BloodBoal said:

It's funny, because when I watched the film, I didn't pay attention to the fact the witch she meets had ended her expedition, and I thought she was going to turn into some sort of rival for Kiki (not like a true evil villain, but you know, kind of an annoying, condescending peer) and that was to be her introduction scene, because this is generally what we would get in most coming-of-age movies: some character appears who is condescending to the hero, and then as the story unfolds this become the main antagonist, the hero's rival. But this scene isn't actually about that witch: it's all about Kiki, who, as you said, isn't sure who she is. It's interesting to see how a simple scene might lead you to expect the kind of story structure you're used to, but Miyazaki instead goes in a completely different direction (which is part of what makes his movies special).

 

Miyazaki films have conditioned me not to expect the expected.  Not all background characters are supporting characters, but sometimes they can support a moment.

 

On 3/27/2017 at 4:40 AM, BloodBoal said:

No reaction to the fact Jiji actually speaks at the end in the English dub? ;)

 

Oddly, I don't recall that happening.  I'll have to go back and watch!

 

On 4/20/2017 at 9:33 AM, BloodBoal said:

Well, continuing on commenting @nightscape94's reviews, even if he refuses to comment my comments!

 

I comment as fast as I write reviews ;)

 

On 4/20/2017 at 9:33 AM, BloodBoal said:

I think there's more beneath the surface than what is revealed through the story and dialogue. The way the characters act and look at each other (Marco and Gina, especially) convey a lot about their past history.

 

Most definitely, and their first interaction and dialogue at the bar provided some nice early moments that the rest of the movie didn't live up to, in my opinion.  For the most part I enjoyed their scenes together.

 

On 4/26/2017 at 5:26 PM, BloodBoal said:

Were you surprised seeing that much violence in a Miyazaki movie after having watched them all in chronological order? Had forgotten how violent it was, and when I rewatched it after having seen My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso, it made for a really startling experience, basically going from kid-friendly stuff to seeing a guy having both his arms cut off by an arrow!

 

Yes, despite having seen the film before, but now viewing them like this, with the man's career progressing and unfolding, it is a bit jarring.  But not jarring in context.  However, there is a sense that he's consciously turning much more serious with this story.  Not that his family-friendly stories are not seriously told, but I mean serious as in tone.  He is not masking the violence, whether it's human on human, human on animal, or animal on human.  Or even in the appearance of wounds.  Everything is graphically illustrated.

 

On 4/26/2017 at 5:26 PM, BloodBoal said:

Interesting. Never considered that. Don't remember, though: do the women say it was Eboshi who put them to work, or did they decided by themselves to help her?

 

I don't quite recall the exact detail, but I seem to remember that the women claimed to have been "saved" or "freed" or something akin to that.  I think part of the the brilliance of how Miyazaki writes is that you don't really know a ton about her.  Information is there to guide us along in terms of where Eboshi is in life, the type of people she envelopes around her, and how her character is defined through specific actions.  It's the impression I had that she always takes advantage of a situation, even though on some level she deeply cares for those help she exploits, to gain power to clinch her ultimate freedom from the world of men.  She takes time to grieve the loss of a soldier, or how she speaks of creating advantage for the women she's taken in, or how she speaks so gently to the lepers who need to feel included after being ostracized by society. 

 

Then again, you never know where the manipulation starts and where it ends.  She talks to each group in different ways to maximize her effectiveness.

 

On 4/26/2017 at 5:26 PM, BloodBoal said:

So, did you notice how similar to Nausicaä that one was?

 

Somewhat.  There is the inescapable Nature theme, but beyond some surface-level Miyazaki-isms I didn't feel they were too similar.

 

On 4/26/2017 at 5:26 PM, BloodBoal said:

Not a bad list, though I'm sad to see The Castle Of Cagliostro so near the bottom of the list!

 

Every now and then I still think of flipping Cagliostro and Kiki.

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On 27/04/2017 at 1:47 AM, nightscape94 said:

I comment as fast as I write reviews ;)

 

It's still faster than LeBlanc!

 

On 27/04/2017 at 1:47 AM, nightscape94 said:

Yes, despite having seen the film before, but now viewing them like this, with the man's career progressing and unfolding, it is a bit jarring.  But not jarring in context.  However, there is a sense that he's consciously turning much more serious with this story.  Not that his family-friendly stories are seriously told, but I mean serious as in tone.  He is not masking the violence, whether it's human on human, human on animal, or animal on human.  Or even in the appearance of wounds.  Everything is graphically illustrated.

 

Oh, yeah, as you said, within the film itself, it doesn't feel jarring, the violence doesn't feel gratuitious, but within the director's filmography, you can feel a sudden shift in tone with that one, the movies becoming a bit darker than they were before (especially something like Howl's Moving Castle).

 

On 27/04/2017 at 1:47 AM, nightscape94 said:

I don't quite recall the exact detail, but I seem to remember that the woman claimed to have been "saved" or "freed" or something akin to that.  I think part of the the brilliance of how Miyazaki writes is that you don't really know a ton about her.  Information is there to guide us along in terms of where Eboshi is in life, the type of people she envelopes around her, and how her character is defined through specific actions.  It's the impression I had that she always takes advantage of a situation, even though on some level she deeply cares for those help she exploits, to gain power to clinch her ultimate freedom from the world of men.  She takes time to grieve the loss of a soldier, or how she speaks of creating advantage for the women she's taken in, or how she speaks so gently to the lepers who need to feel included after being ostracized by society.

 

Then again, you never know where the manipulation starts and where it ends.  She talks to each group in different ways to maximize her effectiveness.

 

It's really an interesting way to look at it. I don't know if that's something intended by Miyazaki or not, but yeah, it can definitely be interpreted that way and adds another layer to Eboshi as a character and the story as a whole too. Nice analysis, mr. nightscape!

 

On 27/04/2017 at 1:47 AM, nightscape94 said:

Somewhat.  There is the inescapable Nature theme, but beyond some surface-level Miyazaki-isms I didn't feel they were too similar.

 

I think there's a bit more than that. Nausicaa is of course reminiscent of San, a young "princess warrior"-like character trying to protect nature, then you have Asbel who feels like a proto-Ashitaka trying to stop the conflict between everyone, Kushana is similar to Eboshi in some ways, Kurotawa shares some traits with Jigo... The two movies of course have many differences, but they also have many similarities. To me, it really feels like Miyazaki was doing a remake of sorts of Nausicäa with Princess Mononoke.

 

On 27/04/2017 at 1:47 AM, nightscape94 said:

Every now and then I still think of flipping Cagliostro and Kiki.

 

Now would be a good time to do that! ;)

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Although from what tiny glimpses we saw it didn't seem like "true" (i.e., Western Pixar/Dreamworks style) CG animation, but rather his traditional style but using the computer as the tool instead of his usual old-fashioned ink-to-paper method.

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Oh my, I need a gif of that little dance move he does at 1:33.

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Spirited Away (2001)

 

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Spirited Away is, simply put, a transcendent film experience from beginning to end.  When I saw it for the first time in 2002 I thought it was one of the greatest things I'd ever seen.  Re-watching it again this week has solidified that opinion.  Every scene works, there is no waste.  I love every frame.  It uses silence so effectively that it becomes meditative in a few spots and you get enveloped within its borders.  The lead character, Chihiro, convinces you to go on this journey of discovery, and you couldn't be happier to allow this world to unfold around you.  Aesthetically, it's one of the most colorful, vibrant, inventive, and imaginative films in existence.  If Princess Mononoke is a masterpiece then this is Miyazaki's magnum opus.  It's common territory for a Miyazaki film to contain an amazing amount of small detail threaded throughout, and Spirited Away has some of the best facial acting I've seen in an animated film.  My admiration can be summed up by describing one particular moment.  Chihiro is gathering her shoes, puts them on without socks, struggles briefly with one of the heals, and then taps the top of the other shoe against the wooden floor a couple of times to hammer it on, just like anyone might do unconsciously, since that's just how people are.  It's a glorious detail, reflecting accurate behavior.  This is all the more amazing when you realize that there is just a basic framework for a story, but it's all in the delivery and artistry on display.  You get so caught up in watching it, actually watching it, that you lose yourself.  Miyazaki doesn't reinvent himself as much as he simply intensifies the mystical and abstract elements which makes this still feel fresh, even given what's come before.

The structure is very basic, with a straightforward opening sequence that places a young girl named Chihiro in a car with her parents as they make their way to their new home and town.  After a wrong turn puts them on course through an old windy and abandoned road, they arrive at the mouth of a mysterious tunnel where they then find themselves traipsing around a bankrupt and seemingly deserted amusement park.  This beginning is important because in such a brief time span it tells us all we need to know about Chihiro, showing how nervous and anxious she is, constantly clutching at the shirt or arm of her mother and father.  This is an interesting inverse of what her parents seem to be like, as they show a youthful eagerness to explore the unknown.  Within just a handful of minutes we already find ourselves in a spirit world that Chihiro is forced to confront and navigate.

She encounters a young boy named Haku who immediately comes to her aid, giving her some quick advice.  He feels drawn to her somehow, but this isn't explored any further until the very end when they're history comes full circle.  We are very much introduced to this world the same way that Chihiro is, which is through a bombardment of sensory experiences where nothing is immediately explained.  It's supposed to be jarring as Chihiro tries to manage this overload of new information.  In continuation of this, we are introduced to several major players very shortly, such as the boilerman Kamaji, a bathhouse attendant named Lin, and the proprietor the business, who is also a powerful witch, named Yubaba, who controls the town.  When Chihiro meets this witch it to save her own life by obtaining work in her bathhouse.  Through insistence, charm, and a bit of luck, she is able to successfully procure a position, but not without Yubaba changing Chihiro's name by removing some of the kanji lettering to form the name Sen.  It's a means of control and Yubaba's calculating plan is to have ownership over her workers where she rules through fear, making them unquestioning slaves afraid to move beyond.

Haku's past and present are not clearly defined.  We know enough to place doubt in our minds about the integrity of his character; being the henchman and apprentice to Yubaba, he goes around stealing other's magic in order to gain power.  The movie is told purely through Chihiro/Sen's eyes.  The world is so new and confusing, and she's thrust into it so violently, with everything being taken from her, that she doesn't so much adapt to her new environment as skirt through it delicately maintaining a strong desire to escape.  As a result, certain aspects of this world float by her rapidly without her having much time to question it, like when she sees what appears to be a dragon drifting through a blue sky shortly after an early morning meeting with Haku.  She looks upon this in quiet wonderment, internalizing and tucking away her thoughts.  Haku himself is a mysterious figure, just as inexplicable as his surroundings.  His intentions turn out to not be as malicious as the company he kept when we find out he too was being controlled by Yubaba, and he was exercising a way to escape as well. 

Lin, Sen's caretaker at the bathhouse, even expresses her dreams of going to a far off place.  She is a great character, full of sarcasm, humor, attitude, bite, while being motherly toward Sen.

Miyazaki films have all have Love as an important component.  Not always romantic, sometimes familial or bonds of friendship, but love as a concept is as essential to his storytelling as anything else.  He's just never been explicit or overt in his use of the idea.  It's always an innocent but indispensable ingredient.  In Spirited Away, Love is played up more than in any of his other films, and the connection between Sen and Haku is established bit by bit, showing they have a shared past, even if neither can quite remember it.  Their love for each other breaks Yubaba's spell, redeems Haku, and gives Sen the confidence to get through it all.  It would be interesting if Miyazaki ever embarked on a candid romance just to see what that would look like through the lens of this gifted man.

The Bathhouse itself is a character.  It's hard to completely dismiss what a setting like that represents historically.  Even more, the character of No Face is the most mysterious because we don't initially know its motivations after noticing Sen on the bridge, later following her to the bathhouse, then drawing attention to itself by flaunting gold in order to showoff its mighty stature, and at the height of its arrogance forcefully and threateningly demanding the presence of Sen.  There is a steady escalation in its behavior.  This is the brilliance of Miyazaki by putting what constitutes very adult themes in what is a movie basically aimed at a younger audience.  After cleverly leading it outside, when Sen tells Lin that the bathhouse is driving No Face crazy you can't help but understand that an environment that is so testosterone-fueled would have a negative affect on its once-relaxed nature.  Even though the spirits appear sexless, everyone and everything is contaminated by what is unmistakably an unchecked male-centric atmosphere serviced by female attendants.  No Face is corrupted, and Sen is utilized here as the purifying spirit.  She has an indirect but positive influence on everyone and her sense of right and wrong is very strong and focused.  The idea that No Face was capable of these things is right on point.

Preceding this is a set piece involving a spirit covered in sludge and foulness.  This is a well-constructed and nicely animated series of events where we find out it's actually a river spirit that has been infected by human vileness and garbage.  This is actually an extremely important piece of information from a design standpoint.  When we see the newly cleansed spirit it intentionally reminds us the dragon that Sen saw a passing glimpse of earlier.  This sequence now establishes what a river spirit, in their true and pure form, can look like.  It subtlety implants that idea in our minds so when the flying dragon returns, Sen is at first skeptical about what she is seeing, but then intuitively makes the connection and understands that it's Haku without further debate.  When we see his green eyes, we know for sure.  This comes back nicely in the end when Sen remembers Haku's name, and he finally reaffirms his identity.

Unlike My Neighbor Totoro, there is no question that these events really happened since, not only does Chihiro still have her handmade and friend-fashioned new hair tie, but the entrance to the tunnel is completely overgrown with grass and weeds.  Significant time has clearly passed.  In a way, it would have been interesting to see what came next, but the story here is finished, and nothing more needs to be said.

There are two scenes I'd like to mention that are absolute treasures.  The first one comes after we meet Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba and Sen removes her stolen seal from Haku's stomach.  After confronting No Face and purging him of impurity of spirit, they meet up on better terms in the calmness of daylight and both board a train in order to visit with Zeniba and beg forgiveness on Haku's behalf.  This whole section of them traveling through the flooded rail line brought me close to tears.  There is a beauty and haunting sadness as it rolls along to the sound of gentle music with day changing over to night.  Without a single spoken word, both Sen and No Face sit quietly next to each other as other ghostly spirits depart one stop at a time until they are alone, awaiting their own inevitable stop.  It's difficult to put into words how affecting this is, and it's hands down one of the best scenes in any Miyazaki film.  The other scene occurs shortly after and is the very summit of this breathtaking film as Sen and Haku embark on one of the most magnificent flying sequences in cinema, accompanied by one of my favorite musical cues ever.  It's exhilarating, liberating, rapturous in its vision and realization, bringing the thematic material of the story to its destination, which is the importance of knowing more about yourself and to expose those locked away secrets of our personalities that we're sometimes too afraid to confront; the truths about ourselves as we grow into adulthood.  At least for now, in this brief moment, there is simplicity and enchantment as they fly onward through the sky, hand in hand, together.
 

1) Spirited Away

2) Princess Mononoke

3) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

4) My Neighbor Totoro

5) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

6) Kiki's Delivery Service

7) Lupin III:  The Castle of Cagliostro

8) Porco Roso

 

Post #10,000

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Addendum:

 

I didn't want to clog up my love letter to Spirited Away with anything sour, so I'll just add a couple of remarks here on the dub.

 

Overall, I don't have any serious qualms with it, and it's pretty well done in terms of acting.  There isn't much in the script to truly mess up.  I've noticed that the more problematic translations tend to be the more story-heavy ones, such as Princess Mononoke or Castle in the Sky, when actual plot is involved.  This movie is more about a streamlined experience, much like My Neighbor Totoro, which is probably why that dub is extremely well done, and my actual preferred version of that movie.  That's something that I don't anticipate will be replicated, but I'm always open to possibilities.  The problems here have more to do with filling in empty space that doesn't need to be filled because the dub supervisors seem to be scared the audience won't get certain things if they're not spelled out.  For Spirited Away there is one very poor decision, and a couple of missteps:

 

The timing of the realization that Haku is the dragon.  This is one of the few moments where the way in which the information is doled out plays an integral part in how we enjoy the story.  As I more or less outlined above, in the Japanese version there is a nice eventual realization that takes place over several scenes.  After meeting Haku on the bridge early in the morning, where he then takes Sen to see her parents, they part ways.  Then something catches her eye in the sky, and she sees a flying dragon snaking away in the distance.  There is no one to speak to, so she doesn't speak, and we see it play out on the curious expression on her face.  Even later there is hesitation when she see the dragon again, but finally she just knows.  This is a wonderful way to arrive to this recognition, and the audience shares in this "ah ha" moment.  In the English dub, after parting from Haku on the bridge, she literally says, in all of its clumsy and insensitive glory, "Haku?  I didn't know he was a dragon."  Firstly, it inserts voicing where there is none (it's spoken over the shot of the sky) but it hammers the information at us right away without any tact.  This drastically lessens the second scene since the surprise is ruined.

 

The dialogue during the flying scene is altered pretty heavily to be more explicit in Haku being a river spirit and wrapping things up about him being a good person, as though we didn't quite get the point.  I know that English speaking audiences, especially American audiences (this dub was supervised by Disney), culturally don't have the same ingrained understanding of spirits, but I would like to see them give our youth more of a fighting chance.  Children understand quite a lot without parents having to explain it.  Miyazaki isn't exactly a nebulous storyteller, he's generally direct with his meaning and dialogue.  The absence of people speaking is highly effective when the screen is already so busy, and he knows when, why, and how to use it in particular places.  To willfully taint this designed mood for the sake of adding a verbal crutch is insulting.

 

At the very end, the same thing.  As the car drives away, silence.  In the English dub, not only is there more dialogue, but it's there to further supplement the theme of Chihiro's growth when it's not needed.

 

 

 

 

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Great review, nightscape! I'm afraid there isn't much I can say about it except that I agree with everything you said. I'll still try to comment on a few things you mentioned...

 

On 03/06/2017 at 8:53 AM, nightscape94 said:

Miyazaki films have all have Love as an important component.  Not always romantic, sometimes familial or bonds of friendship, but love as a concept is as essential to his storytelling as anything else.  He's just never been explicit or overt in his use of the idea.  It's always an innocent but indispensable ingredient.  In Spirited Away, Love is played up more than in any of his other films, and the connection between Sen and Haku is established bit by bit, showing they have a shared past, even if neither can quite remember it.  Their love for each other breaks Yubaba's spell, redeems Haku, and gives Sen the confidence to get through it all.  It would be interesting if Miyazaki ever embarked on a candid romance just to see what that would look like through the lens of this gifted man.

 

Interesting. Never thought about that (I mean, apart in Princess Mononoke, where it's the most obvious). Could definitely be interesting to see a Miyazaki movie revolving around a romance. It would clearly not be your usual romantic movie!

 

On 03/06/2017 at 8:53 AM, nightscape94 said:

Unlike My Neighbor Totoro, there is no question that these events really happened since, not only does Chihiro still have her handmade and friend-fashioned new hair tie, but the entrance to the tunnel is completely overgrown with grass and weeds.  Significant time has clearly passed.

 

How did you feel about that, by the way? Would you have preferred the ending to be more ambiguous, leaving it to the viewer to decide if all that happened was "real", or "imagined", or something else... or are you fine with the movie giving a rather clear answer?

 

On 03/06/2017 at 8:53 AM, nightscape94 said:

There are two scenes I'd like to mention that are absolute treasures.  The first one comes after we meet Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba and Sen removes her stolen seal from Haku's stomach.  After confronting No Face and purging him of impurity of spirit, they meet up on better terms in the calmness of daylight and both board a train in order to visit with Zeniba and beg forgiveness on Haku's behalf.  This whole section of them traveling through the flooded rail line brought me close to tears.  There is a beauty and haunting sadness as it rolls along to the sound of gentle music with day changing over to night.  Without a single spoken word, both Sen and No Face sit quietly next to each other as other ghostly spirits depart one stop at a time until they are alone, awaiting their own inevitable stop.  It's difficult to put into words how affecting this is, and it's hands down one of the best scenes in any Miyazaki film.  The other scene occurs shortly after and is the very summit of this breathtaking film as Sen and Haku embark on one of the most magnificent flying sequences in cinema, accompanied by one of my favorite musical cues ever.

 

:thumbup::thumbup::thumbup::thumbup:

 

The first scene you mentioned stayed with me long after I had seen the film (and whenever I think of the film, it's probably the first scene that comes to my mind. Wonderfully atmospheric).

 

On 03/06/2017 at 8:53 AM, nightscape94 said:

Post #10,000

 

So, you were waiting to reach that number to post your review, weren't you? ;)

 

On 04/06/2017 at 9:19 PM, nightscape94 said:

The timing of the realization that Haku is the dragon.  This is one of the few moments where the way in which the information is doled out plays an integral part in how we enjoy the story.  As I more or less outlined above, in the Japanese version there is a nice eventual realization that takes place over several scenes.  After meeting Haku on the bridge early in the morning, where he then takes Sen to see her parents, they part ways.  Then something catches her eye in the sky, and she sees a flying dragon snaking away in the distance.  There is no one to speak to, so she doesn't speak, and we see it play out on the curious expression on her face.  Even later there is hesitation when she see the dragon again, but finally she just knows.  This is a wonderful way to arrive to this recognition, and the audience shares in this "ah ha" moment.  In the English dub, after parting from Haku on the bridge, she literally says, in all of its clumsy and insensitive glory, "Haku?  I didn't know he was a dragon."

 

lol. This is ridiculous. Not only is there no need to reveal that at this point since it is revealed pretty clearly later on (as you said), but that line sounds pretty bad.

 

On 04/06/2017 at 9:19 PM, nightscape94 said:

The dialogue during the flying scene is altered pretty heavily to be more explicit in Haku being a river spirit and wrapping things up about him being a good person, as though we didn't quite get the point.  I know that English speaking audiences, especially American audiences (this dub was supervised by Disney), culturally don't have the same ingrained understanding of spirits, but I would like to see them give our youth more of a fighting chance.  Children understand quite a lot without parents having to explain it.  Miyazaki isn't exactly a nebulous storyteller, he's generally direct with his meaning and dialogue.  The absence of people speaking is highly effective when the screen is already so busy, and he knows when, why, and now to use it in particular places.  To willfully taint this designed mood for the sake of adding a verbal crutch is insulting.

 

At the very end, the same thing.  As the car drives away, silence.  In the English dub, not only is there more dialogue, but it's there to further supplement the theme of Chihiro's growth when it's not needed.

 

 

Fuckin' Americans! Always ruining things! We hate them!

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22 minutes ago, BloodBoal said:

How did you feel about that, by the way? Would you have preferred the ending to be more ambiguous, leaving it to the viewer to decide if all that happened was "real", or "imagined", or something else... or are you fine with the movie giving a rather clear answer?

 

I have no issues with the lack of ambiguity, except now I feel bad for them.  Hope they still have a house!

 

22 minutes ago, BloodBoal said:

So, you were waiting to reach that number to post your review, weren't you? ;)

 

Once I got within reach of a certain post count I kinda sotra timed it that way. ;)

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Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

 

howls-moving-castle-disneyscreencaps.com

 

Interestingly, in my previous review, I had mused what it might've been like if Miyazaki tired to tackle a more traditional love story.  I suppose Howl's Moving Castle is the answer to that question, but now having asked for it, I only wish he had supplied us with a more satisfying response.

 

One of the pleasures of any Miyazaki film is that when you enter any of his worlds, you don't immediately know what the rules are.  The opening is nicely done, where we see the titular moving castle lumbering along a sloping country side.  We then see a young woman named Sophie busy at work in a shop, looking concentrated while sewing ornaments onto a hat, but there is a twinge of sadness in her face.  We realize quickly that this is a land filled with political unrest with soldier's lining the streets and military parades gathering onlookers and supporters.  Sophie avoids the hustle and bustle of this flashy show and is confronted with what is probably the scariest thing in the film.  Two soldiers accost her in the back alley where she is on her way to meet her sister.  They aggressively and suggestively stop her and eye her up.  A mysterious man moves in and uses a spell to send them away, and he inexplicably says to Sophie, "they're harmless".  Well, they didn't look harmless.  When this was played off in such a joking fashion it made me uncomfortable.  When the two of them are attacked by globule creatures they launch upward together and walk across the air.  When Sophie finally sees her sister, their conversation solidifies what we guessed, which is that they inhabit a world full of magic and sorcery, witches and wizards.

 

After nice setup, once Howl's character arrives it never really recovers a strong foothold with the story.  Howl's Moving Castle is plagued with pacing issues, wrong turns, and characters that could be interesting that plod along uninterestingly.  There are pieces here that work, a love story that could have been successfully pulled off, but when you put the available pieces together they do not form a coherent picture.  The Witch of the Waste's motivation is to capture the heart of Howl, whom she loves.  When she sees him with Sophie, she goes after him through her.  As such, the witch casts a cruel spell turning Sophie's appearance into that of an elderly woman.  Sophie never thought of herself as beautiful and lacked confidence in her appearance.  This spell has the reverse affect and acts as a catalyst to gain confidence since it removes her outward appearance from the equation.  As for the castle itself, it is creativity assembled, fun, containing a magical door that offers entrances to various ports throughout the kingdom.  It's one of the very best things about the movie.  Markl's presence is never explained or even touched on except we get the idea that he's some sort of apprentice, but I found him perplexing and not adding much to the story. 

 

As everything unfolds, we see the war torn world but it's not particularly integrated into the story well, especially considering how utterly important it is to the plot and to the development of Howl's character.  The outline of this conflict should have been much better defined since it plays such a vital role in his actions.  I didn't feel any real connection to the issues that faced the country or its people, or why the war was being waged to begin with.  While it didn't feel out of place it was mostly underdeveloped as a legitimate concern that deserved our attention.  The overall story should have been tighter.  For someone like Miyazaki who understands so well the importance of world-building, and has done so before effortlessly, this is a rare failure on his part to stitch the sections neatly side by side for a balanced and effective story.

 

Aside from the castle, the actual best thing about the movie is Sophie's aging being influenced depending on her mood.  It's something you might not catch right away, but when you do it's really effective.  There is one scene, when Howl creates a larger room to accommodate his growing family, and he's replicated Sophie's hat shop, where she actually gets slightly younger with just a turn of the head in the same animated movement.  This is one of the better stretches of the movie where he proceeds to show her a flower-enriched lakeside meadow.  I had the growing desire to see more of this type of enchantment.   However, with so little of this to go around, I never really bought her growing love for Howl and by the time she blurts out her declaration of love it wasn't nearly as impactful as it could have been.

 

While it's normal for his films to have nontraditional villains, the source of conflict here is still all over the map.  And although it's also normal to have even nontraditional conflicts in his movies, this story of "love interrupted" begged for one to be better established.  The Witch of the Waste seemed like the perfect foil; an old witch who tricked a young wizard into her heart but got away.  That set up turned out to be a dud.  Then we meet Suliman, Howl's old teacher, and the King's royal sorcerer, and you think maybe she'll come back as a serious force later, but doesn't.  Then you start thinking the King, who we meet once, will somehow materialize as something more threatening to be reckoned with, since he's responsible for one of the warring sides, but doesn't.  Even the armed forces are seen obscured at a distance and are nothing more than a background conflict in order to put our main characters at an inconvenience.  The story strolls along in a jerky zig zag pattern and we never get to settle into a comfortable rhythm.  This could have been resolved a bit with the Scarecrow character, whose ending felt tacked on and sudden.  If they had set up that the war was started because the Prince was missing or one side accused the other of kidnapping, then these events would have had more weight and it would have made the twist that he was the Scarecrow all along that more effective.  Instead it was a random miscalculated reveal, and when Madame Suliman sees our hero's happy ending and requests a conference with the King to "put an end to this foolish war", I didn't really care.  This was a far too violent and wide-ranging war to come to such a screeching and grindingly peaceful resolution for what are non-perceived or earned reasons.

 

Howl's Moving Castle feels like it's being pulled in several conflicting directions at once, while not taking the time to look far enough down any of those roads.  This is where Miyazaki's habit of not planning his stories in advance comes back to bite him, which is all the more baffling since it's based on published source material.  This smacks of ill-planning.  While not an entirely lifeless endeavor, and even though there are qualities to savor, this was a big step backward.

 

1) Spirited Away

2) Princess Mononoke

3) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

4) My Neighbor Totoro

5) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

6) Kiki's Delivery Service

7) Lupin III:  The Castle of Cagliostro

8) Howl's Moving Castle

9) Porco Roso

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Well, that was fast! Yet another nice review, with which I agree on almost all points (it's annoying really! Makes it harder to comment on it!)

 

22 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

Markl's presence is never explained or even touched on except we get the idea that he's some sort of apprentice, but I found him perplexing and not adding much to the story.

 

While I can't disagree he doesn't feel essential to the story, I still found him to be the most fun and likeable character of the lot. The rest of them lack a little something to make them compelling.

 

22 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

As everything unfolds, we see the war torn world but it's not particularly integrated into the story well, especially considering how utterly important it is to the plot and to the development of Howl's character.  The outline of this conflict should have been much better defined since it plays such a vital role in his actions.  I didn't feel any real connection to the issues that faced the country or its people, or why the war was being waged to begin with.  While it didn't feel out of place it was mostly underdeveloped as a legitimate concern that deserved our attention.  The overall story should have been tighter.  For someone like Miyazaki who understands so well the importance of world-building, and has done so before effortlessly, this is a rare failure on his part to stitch the sections neatly side by side for a balanced and effective story.

 

Definitely agreed. By the end of the film, you're still not quite sure who was fighting who or why, and suddenly the reappearance of the prince is supposed to solve everything for some reason... It really feels like vital information (which is apparently in the book) is missing here, information which would help the audience understand the conflict better and thus feel more invested in the story

 

22 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

Aside from the castle, the actual best thing about the movie is Sophie's aging being influenced depending on her mood.  It's something you might not catch right away, but when you do it's really effective.  There is one scene, when Howl creates a larger room to accommodate his growing family, and he's replicated Sophie's hat shop, where she actually gets slightly younger with just a turn of the head in the same animated movement.  This is one of the better stretches of the movie where he proceeds to show her a flower-enriched lakeside meadow.  I had the growing desire to see more of this type of enchantment. However, with so little of this to go around, I never really bought her growing love for Howl and by the time she blurts out her declaration of love it wasn't nearly as impactful as it could have been.

 

I think the reason for this is that the love story wasn't really what interested Miyazaki. He was more interested in Sophie and her growth as a character. At least, that's how I see it, and that's why I never really considered this film to be about a romance. There's a romance in it, of course, but it's not the main focus.

 

22 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

While it's normal for his films to have nontraditional villains, the source of conflict here is still all over the map.  And although it's also normal to have even nontraditional conflicts in his movies, this story of love interrupted begged for one to be better established.  The Witch of the Waste seemed like the perfect foil; an old witch who tricked a young wizard into her heart but got away.  That set up turned out to be a dud.  Then we meet Suliman, Howl's old teacher, and the King's royal sorcerer, and you think maybe she'll come back as a serious force later, but doesn't.  Then you start thinking the King, who we meet once, will somehow materialize as something more threatening to be reckoned with, since he's responsible for one of the warring sides, but doesn't.  Even the armed forces are seen obscured at a distance and are nothing more than a background conflict in order to put our main characters at an inconvenience.

 

Never really thought about that, but damn, this is spot-on. It's a big problem of the film indeed (though again, that problem goes back to the original novel. But of course, Miyazaki could have tried to find a solution to that during the adaptation process). If you don't have a main villain, then you don't really know what the conflict is about, thus you don't know where the story ultimately is going.

 

22 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

This could have been resolved a bit with the Scarecrow character, whose ending felt tacked on and sudden.  If they had set up that the war was started because the Prince was missing or one side accused the other of kidnapping, then I would these events would have had more weight and it would have made the twist that he was the Scarecrow all along that more effective.  Instead it was a random miscalculated reveal, and when Madame Suliman sees our hero's happy ending and requests a conference with the King to "put an end to this foolish war", I didn't really care.  This was a far too violent and wide-ranging war to come to such a screeching and grindingly peaceful resolution for what are non-perceived or earned reasons.

 

Yep. Solving the conflict in such a way makes it feel like it was no big deal in the end, and kind of cheapens all that happen prior to the reveal. There's definitely some set-up missing that would have helped make that ending more satisfying. From the summary of the book I've read, the plot felt more well-rounded there than in the film.

 

22 hours ago, nightscape94 said:

Howl's Moving Castle feels like it's being pulled in several conflicting directions at once, while not taking the time to look far enough down any of those roads.  This is where Miyazaki's habit of not planning his stories in advance comes back to bite him, which is all the more baffling since it's based on published source material.  This smacks of ill-planning.  While not an entirely lifeless endeavor, and even though there are qualities to savor, this was a big step backward.

 

Good job, buddy. One more review, and you'll have caught up with @Jay! Hell, you'll probably end your retrospective before him (and he started his two years ago)! This is ridiculous!

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16 hours ago, BloodBoal said:

I think the reason for this is that the love story wasn't really what interested Miyazaki. He was more interested in Sophie and her growth as a character. At least, that's how I see it, and that's why I never really considered this film to be about a romance. There's a romance in it, of course, but it's not the main focus.

 

It's a bit of a shame, really.  This is, at its core, a love story.  There is a great movie to be salvaged from this material, but the story's natural inclination is toward the romantic.  In my opinion, you build the entire movie around that bud and let it bloom.

 

You have a female lead who is insecure about her looks whose career revolves around making hats designed to accentuate beauty in other people, the thing she doesn't see in herself.  There's something psychologically interesting about that.  Then you have Howl, a vain man who is obsessed with true beauty after being tricked by a witch, but he still has a moral compass, and is still very kind and considerate.  The stage is set between them.  They both have an emptiness and the whole story should be about filling that emptiness with the love they eventually find for each other.  It feels right for this to have been a slow burn.  Howl quite literally gets his heart back at the end, given to him by Sophie.  If Howl was less allusive, perhaps made clearer over time through his interactions with Sophie, maybe reinforce the subplot with the missing Prince, create a more static antagonist with the Witch of the Waste still yearning for his heart, then you might have something.  There are way too many subtle parts to have not meticulously planned the details in the dialogue and structure.

 

Part of the genius here is The Witch of the Waste, who was an old woman pretending to be young to seduce Howl, puts Sophie in the exact opposite position, which is to take a young woman and make her old so she appears less desirable.  It's the witch's way of creating the absolute insult, but it doesn't have the result she was hoping for.  After all, beauty is more than your age and looks.  Howl is able to see through to the beauty of Sophie's heart and spirit right away, and is never once convinced otherwise.

 

It sounds like I'm being much harder on this film than needed.  It's actually not a bad movie, but it's that squandered potential for the same greatness that Miyazaki has offered so many times before that makes me judge it a bit harsher.

 

16 hours ago, BloodBoal said:

Good job, buddy. One more review, and you'll have caught up with @Jay! Hell, you'll probably end your retrospective before him (and he started his two years ago)! This is ridiculous!

 

And to think that if I had stuck to my original plan of reviewing one film every two weeks I would have finished a year ago.  In a weird way I feel like I'm savoring the experience more by living with it for so long.  It'll be a sad day when I have no other Miyazaki films to watch and review.  I'll have to move onto other Ghibli films, as suggested by filmmusic, like Grave of the Fireflies, and films I haven't seen like Only Yesterday, When Marnie Was There, Arrietty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, etc.

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35 minutes ago, nightscape94 said:

It's a bit of a shame, really.  This is, at its core, a love story.  There is a great movie to be salvaged from this material, but the story's natural inclination is toward the romantic.  In my opinion, you build the entire movie around that bud and let it bloom.

 

You have a female lead who is insecure about her looks whose career revolves around making hats designed to accentuate beauty in other people, the thing she doesn't see in herself.  There's something psychologically interesting about that.  Then you have Howl, a vain man who is obsessed with true beauty after being tricked by a witch, but he still has a moral compass, and is still very kind and considerate.  The stage is set between them.  They both have an emptiness and the whole story should be about filling that emptiness with the love they eventually find for each other.  It feels right for this to have been a slow burn.  Howl quite literally gets his heart back at the end, given to him by Sophie.  If Howl was less allusive, perhaps made clearer over time through his interactions with Sophie, maybe reinforce the subplot with the missing Prince, create a more static antagonist with the Witch of the Waste still yearning for his heart, then you might have something.  There are way too many subtle parts to have not meticulously planned the details in the dialogue and structure.

 

Good points. The love story indeed needed to be more fleshed out in order to make everything work better: the characters (who would have been more likeable), the themes of the film (which would have been clearer), the story itself... That way, the film would have also felt more focused. As it is, you have a love story, but this isn't really the main focus of the film. There's also a war, but it also isn't the main focus of the film. There's a Witch Of The Waste antagonist, but she isn't the main focus of the film... Too many threads, all going in too many different directions. Either some elements should have been removed, or they should have been more fleshed out and better woven together.

 

35 minutes ago, nightscape94 said:

It sounds like I'm being much harder on this film than needed.  It's actually not a bad movie, but it's that squandered potential for the same greatness that Miyazaki has offered so many times before that makes me judge it a bit harsher.

 

I don't think you sound hard on the film. It definitely has problems: nothing major, nothing that would make it bad, but definitely stuff that make it less than what it could have been, given the director. But as I said in my review, I think the book maybe simply wasn't a good choice for a Miyazaki film. Too different from his own style in terms of tone and atmosphere.

 

35 minutes ago, nightscape94 said:

And to think that if I had stuck to my original plan of reviewing one film every two weeks I would have finished a year ago.  In a weird way I feel like I'm savoring the experience more by living with it for so long.  It'll be a sad day when I have no other Miyazaki films to watch and review.  I'll have to move onto other Ghibli films, as suggested by filmmusic, like Grave of the Fireflies, and films I haven't seen like Only Yesterday, When Marnie Was There, Arrietty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, etc.

 

I actually plan on doing a Studio Ghibli retrospective at some point in the future (wanted to do that since I've finished doing the Miyazaki retrospective).

 

In fact, there are actually many other retrospectives I'd like to do (of big movie franchises (Alien, Rocky, Planet Of The Apes...), of famous directors (Tarantino, Kubrick, Kurosawa...)). Doing this Miyazaki retrospective really made me interested in doing more of those!

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Ponyo on the Cliff (2008)

 

ponyo-disneyscreencaps.com-5518.jpg

 

Or, how Miyazaki Got His Groove Back.  Artistically, it's a departure from his most recent work.  The opening scenes are intentionally exaggerated and loose, appearing more cartoonish, with their designs not trying to resemble a reality consistent with the outside world.  This works especially well with the underwater setting but it took a bit getting used to.  Oddly, something more realistic would have felt less believable since there is an immediate feeling that is geared toward a young audience, inviting you in and instantly heightens the sense of curiosity.  Even the first frame looks more like an impressionistic painting, and then we are absorbed by the vast ocean, passing a myriad jellyfish and other brilliant aquatic life as we catch a glimpse of an unknown man working magic, creating new sea life.  Ponyo is a simple story directed at children about the likewise-named little fish girl who aims to become a human after finding a warm and common bond with a boy named Sosuke.  The essential conceit is not an original idea by any stretch, but handled here by Miyazaki and his team, he makes a mostly joyful and interesting movie that avoids being entirely masterful due to some contradictory plot elements.  Still, the result is quite pleasant, and a nice rebound after Howl's Moving Castle.  I found the moments between the two children so infinitely watchable that it almost independently makes up for a murky story otherwise.

 

Miyazaki does wonders with silence, and here again we have a scene where so much is said without saying anything.  The entire beginning section gives us a confident impression of a young fish surreptitiously escaping her father's home-bound prison, where even in her basic design with limited facial range, we can see her anticipated delight of an unknowable adventure. 

 

There are some interesting themes at work here.  Most notably, at its center there is the father, Fujimoto, who continually works to exert power over his child, triggering several scenes where he attempts control her direction, her dreams, and defines what he believes are "innocent and pure" characteristics.  This is the parent's viewpoint about what it means to be a perfect child in their own mind instead of thinking of what the idea means to the child; the need to project their desires onto the child instead of letting them naturally become their own person though their own decision-making.   There is an idea of accepting for who you are and to greet and build relationships with those who we perceive as different by not thinking of those differences as roadblocks or some type of prejudicial obstruction.  Children, more often than adults, tend to overlook things that myopic adults miss or dismiss after a lifetime of conditioning and jaded worldviews.  When I watched it the first time I thought Miyazaki made a mistake in making the children so young.  After all, Sosuke is only 5, yet either ventures off entirely on his own, or is left alone several times.  Then there is the ever-important idea of Love (there it is again!) between Sosuke and Ponyo.  But this should be understood more as the love a child has for their parent or for a friend, which is innocent and pure, stripped out outward complexities, just like Fujimoto demanded of his daughter.  With the obsessiveness that he exhibits in his life, the distractions that he's brought on himself, it didn't occur to him that that Ponyo could maintain this type love while still being someone different than what he envisioned.  This general idea was more effective during my second watch.

 

Even the Nature theme makes an appearance with several scenes, some more subtle than others, but none of them obtrusive or distracting.  It actually feeds directly into Fujimoto's goals, which I'll get into later.  In fact, it's telling that the way Sosuke meets Ponyo is by saving her from being stuck in a discarded open glass container.  As he hesitantly approaches her, the surround rocky bank is also littered with trash.  After he cuts his thumb by breaking the jar open, Ponyo licks the wound closed through her magic.  The taste of blood affects her DNA which starts the process of transforming her into a human.  I would be interested in knowing the further metaphorical implications, if any, meant by Miyazaki here since there is a buried concept of becoming something on merit, by assuming its qualities, and through a willful internal acceptance and, additionally, external acknowledgement; that we're not strictly tied to our biology.  In a sense it expands on his previous Nature theme by taking it beyond just our surroundings, and brings it to a more intimate setting.  However, ultimately, it's more or less a setup to tell a simple parable.  Anything beyond that could be an interesting discussion, regardless of whether it was conceived that way.

 

I feel I have to discuss the story, because there's an actual plot in here, it's just underachieving with how it's told.  When I watched the Japanese version first, Fujimoto's motivations were confusing.  The way I understood it, over time he had amassed elixirs representing different oceanic decades and even stretching back several Periods containing ancient creatures.  In one scene he concurrently expresses regret by saying "I almost upset Nature's balance" and then immediately spells out his goal of wiping out humankind so he can usher in a new era of dominant sea life in a worldwide ocean by distilling the tides so it swallows the earth.  Ponyo spoils this plan by prematurely filling the elixir well with seawater, causing it to spill over and start a chain reaction much earlier than intended.  As such, it prevents widespread catastrophe but provokes a massive localized tsunami.  After the shipping ports swell and flood the entire area the story from Fujimoto's viewpoint shifts to his concern for Ponyo, and her wish to become human.  When he meets his wife, Gran Mamare, the Goddess of Mercy and the ocean, he again expresses fear of upsetting the balance of the world even though he was very clearly working to unbalance it.  I'm not sure if this contraction is intentional or just poorly formed, but it's never clarified.  Also, the moon approaching the earth isn't mentioned explicitly until close the end, and even then it's not explained.  In the English language version, it's fleshed out better during that same scene with Gran Mamare, when Fujimoto offers an explanation that Ponyo's actions have influenced reality itself, and that the Earth's gravitational pull is drawing the moon closer.  This is all tied to Ponyo because she cannot exist as both a human and a child of magic.  This doesn't resolve the opposing conflict of Fujimoto's initial plan, or his actions, but it helps understand the basic story, but it very well could be a subtitling issue.  Secondly, it's possible that his later regret was triggered by his sudden understanding of Ponyo's care for humans, her ability to see their goodness, as well as her ability to detect their sincere and strong love for family and the strength we feel in solidarity and community, but this is in no way clear.  I feel like I'm forcing an explanation so it makes sense.  In some way it felt like the movie got so caught up in the magic of the characters and situation and lovely scenes between Ponyo and Sosuke that it forgot to tell a coherent story.  In this way, I would actually recommend the English language version more, my first such recommendation since My Neighbor Totoro.  The scripting otherwise doesn't change many important details, though you do lose cultural quirks like Sosuke calling his parents by their first names.

 

It might have been interesting to see Fujimoto be more of a major player given his ambitions, and to actually see him be on the verge of realizing his dream, only to have Gran Mamare set things right, taking a more active role, teaching a lesson, while also assuming the Blue Fairy role in this broad Pinocchio-esque story.

 

Some odds and ends:  The Tsunami sequence is extremely powerful, simultaneously depicting the terrifying and awesome display of devastation while also containing a lot of energy with Ponyo bouncing from one wave to the next as she tails Sosuke with uninhibited and gleaming joy, desperately seeking to be reunited with him and his green pail.  Joe Hisaishi's music channels Ravel to an obvious degree, especially in the oceanic moments, but that is not a criticism.  It seems very intentional.  The music supports and strengthens all of the varying elements and ties it all together nicely.  The traditional orchestra helps to ground us, as is usually case with his later collaborative efforts with Miyazaki.  I also very much liked the detail of Ponyo reverting back to more of a fish form, even partially, when she has to use magic.  If I had the opportunity to remove one, just one, thing from the film it would be the strange fascination with Lisa's driving ability, or lack thereof.  Actually, at one point, she appears to foolishly risk both her and her son's safety when she disregards the crossing guard's advice as a massive wave and ship freighter threatens the throughway.

 

Ponyo is a brightly colored project that is filled with youthful exuberance which made me smile constantly.  It gets tangled in some of the uneven storytelling snares that Miyazaki can sometimes get tripped up on, but it stretches its legs across the finish line with conviction.   Ponyo, the character, is confident and strong-willed in the face of adversity, even more important when that opposition is a parent.  She heedlessly seeks out her dreams, knows exactly what she wants, and teaches us to pursue those endeavors to the very full extent of our being.  On the journey of discovering yourself, you may just help push others to discover themselves along the way.

 

 

1) Spirited Away

2) Princess Mononoke

3) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

4) My Neighbor Totoro

5) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

6) Ponyo on the Cliff

7) Kiki's Delivery Service

8) Lupin III:  The Castle of Cagliostro

9) Howl's Moving Castle

10) Porco Roso

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