Tag Archives: Studio Ghibli

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

TheTaleofThePrincessKaguya_US_poster

Genre: Animation, Drama

Cast: Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii

Synopsis: A bamboo cutter discovers a miniature girl inside a bamboo shoot. Believing her to be divine, he takes her home and raises the girl to be a princess.

Most people hate January. I, on the other hand, quite enjoy it because of one reason: Oscar season. This year I managed to see most of the big films that have been nominated. I have my favourites but I am of the opinion that certain mistakes were made by the academy. One big mistake was the failure to nominate The Lego Movie for best animated feature. However, the academy managed to get it right when it decided to nominate Song of the Sea and this Studio Ghibli film.

As you all know, I am a massive Ghibli fan. I love them so much I would marry Totoro if I could. So it comes a no surprise then that I thoroughly enjoyed this offering from Isao Takahata, who is responsible for other classics such as Pom Poko, Only Yesterday, and Grave of the Fireflies. Based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the film is about the life of a girl found in a bamboo shoot who is raised to be a princess during the Heian period. Despite being a princess, she goes through all the troubles young girls face such as falling in love, learning to become a lady, and celebrating her first visit from Aunt Rose by throwing a party for all the horny gentlemen in the surrounding area.

Period CakeThe traditional period cake

First of all, let me just say that this is one of the most exquisitely animated films Studio Ghibli has ever produced. I wasn’t sure if a film with a watercolour aesthetic would work but I was pleasantly surprised. The watercolours not only give the film a delicate feel but also a fluidity and level of simplicity that was much appreciated. Every frame in this film could have been a painting, and the animators at the studio have again displayed their talents as well as added to the studio’s reputation as a heavy-hitter in animation world. Two scenes in particular that stand out are the scene where the princess visits the cherry tree and the scene where she runs out of her period party. Both scenes are so beautiful you will have to rewatch them.

Visual beauty is not the only strength to this film. As always, Joe Hisaishi hits the nail on the head with his beautiful score and the script is sharp and injects appropriate humour in all the right places. Moreover, the film is yet another example of why Studio Ghibli is one of the most revolutionary film studios out there for presenting strong female characters and advocating a feminist message. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya essentially functions as a feminist critique of traditional Japanese culture. As such, the movie belongs to be placed on the same shelf with other pro-feminism movies such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. The film also examines another important theme: the burdens parents place on children and the transitory beauty of youth.

If I were to be completely objective, I would say that the film’s length is its downfall. Towards the end, the audience will begin to get twitchy and it doesn’t help that the last half gets pretty odd by Western standards. As much as I love ‘Japan WTF’ moments, even I found the kidnapping by Buddha weird.

buddhaFilthy bastard

However, these flaws don’t detract from the fact that this is a beautiful and moving work of art. I would like to see this win the Oscar for best animated feature, but it faces stiff competition.

High-lights:

  • Spectacular animation and a well-formed script.
  • “A girl needs to LOL every now and then.” You go girl! I want you as my future daughter.
  • Beautiful and transfixing music and sound.
  • I wish I were a Heian princess….only without the whole “YAY it’s your period” thing.

Downers:

  • A bit too long.
  • Gets weird in places.

Summary:

Another fine film for Studio Ghibli’s portfolio. While it isn’t the best film the studio’s produced, I am confident that it is one that will be fondly remembered in years to come and it will most definitely be one that I show my future daughter (assuming I have one). Do yourself a favour and watch this as soon as possible.

8/10

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Filed under Action/Adventure, Drama, Great

Spirited Away (2001)

Genre: Kids, Animation, Drama, Romance

Cast: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Michael Chiklis

Synopsis: A sullen young girl enters the world or spirits after her parents are turned into pigs for eating food that didn’t belong to them. She must work in a bath house for the spirits and discover her courage to save her parents and return home.

Spirited Away is the Studio Ghibli film that everyone has heard about and the one that is considered Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus. Whilst the latter is certainly debatable, there is no doubt that this movie is an absolute masterpiece. It’s a sumptuously animated coming of age tale about a girl who is trapped in the world of spirits and must work at a bath house for a witch. Whilst at the bath house, she encounters a marvelous array of characters and is forced to look within herself and learn valuable lessons about courage, conviction, and love.

This movie won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The win was well-deserved. In contrast to many western animated features, Spirited Away never patronizes its audience. The central themes of the movie, though simple and familiar, are presented with a touching complexity that possesses a resonant honesty. Nothing is black and white. Instead, everything lies somewhere in the middle. There is no pure good or pure evil, the key is to find the inner strength that enables us to turn our backs on the bad and to find the conviction to keep moving forward towards the good. This message is perhaps exemplified in the relationship between Chihiro and No-Face, the film’s semi-antagonist. Chihiro understands No-Face’s unhappiness and, in the face of certain death, sacrifices her own chance of saving her parents for his own well-being. She understands his dark side but sees his good side too and encourages it to flourish. In my opinion, films too often occupy themselves with the idea that evil can be vanquished but that’s a mistake and doesn’t reflect reality. Evil and sadness are innate and, instead of killing them outright, we should face these problems, accept them and not feed them so that they grow out of control. Evil will always be a part of us but we all have the power to control it. This is a theme that is featured in a lot of Miyazaki’s work, such as Princess Mononoke, but it feels a lot more accessible in Spirited Away and a lot more relatable.

With regard to the visuals, I can’t begin to describe the beauty of the animation. Everything is crafted with expert precision. There are times in this movie when I have to be completely silent in order to appreciate the splendor of it all. Whether it’s a train gliding across the ocean, a bustling bath house stretches out like a fortress, or a walk through walls of wild flowers, the most basic scenes possess a resounding gorgeousness that can be appreciated by everyone.

Whilst this is definitely a kids’ film, I think that a lot of the themes will be lost on the young. However, Spirited Away is a film that stays with you and the more you watch it the more you understand. As such, it’s essential viewing for people with young kids. As I have said numerous times, I plan to force my kids to watch the entire Studio Ghibli catalog. I think it’ll make them grow up to be good people. I hope it will at least. For adults, I think the messages are still applicable. Even though it’s a story about growth and maturity, we’re always growing and learning. Spirited Away has the power to remind us of our strength.

High-lights:

  • Spectacular animation.
  • Complex characters that really satisfy. There is no weak-link here.
  • The ending. The unsure and almost mournful look back to the past and that strong and confident turn to confront what lies ahead, safe with the knowledge that accomplishments can be made.
  • LOOK!!! HE’S CUTTING AND EATING THE CAKE!!!! Kawaii!

Downers:

  • None.

Summary:

This movie probably isn’t to everyone’s tastes but it needs to be seen at least once. Also, I’d recommend watching the original Japanese version. The dub is good too but I think the original dialogue has a little more depth to it. Weed isn’t necessary to enjoy this movie but it certainly adds an interesting perspective to the viewing experience. I’d prefer to watch this after smoking something that will give a cerebral high. The animation and color become all the more vivid as a result. Keep this movie for a sad day and for when you need cheering up. It’s the perfect remedy for the blues.

10/10

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Filed under Animation, Drama, Kids, Mind Blowingly Awesome, Romance

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Genre: Animation, Kids

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo

Synopsis: Kiki, a young witch in training, must leave home for one year to live alone and make her way in the world. The film chronicles Kiki’s time away from home and the difficulties she faces in being independent and discovering who she is and what her talents may be.

Not a lot of people know this, but my dream is to write for a living. I currently work as a journalist for a legal publication but my real passion is writing fiction or, perhaps more realistically, dreaming about writing fiction. Every time I try to write something I’m overcome with anxiety. I worry that nothing I write is good and, as a result, I back myself into this destructive cycle where I hardly write because I don’t think I can do it well enough and what I do write I criticize harshly, thus corroborating my theory that I can’t write well. My lack of confidence in my abilities has been weighing heavily on my mind these past few weeks. I had an idea of a story I wanted to write. I wanted it to be personal and for it to explore wide themes of maturity and how events from our past can provide inspiration as well as scar us. However, I couldn’t move past my writer’s block. Kiki’s Delivery Service helped me work through these issues. It truly is a remarkable film that everyone should watch, especially those who are trying to discover their passion in life.

As already mentioned, the movie follows the misadventures of Kiki, a 13 year old witch who has to live away from home for a year as part of her training. She leaves home for the bright lights of a beautiful port city where she meets all sorts of fascinating people. Kiki, during her time away from home, must face a number of challenges such as finding work and accommodation, dealing with boys, and losing her powers and spirit. The movie has a whole treasure chest of valuable life lessons: work is work and it’s important to put your best into everything you do; you will experience bad things in life and meet selfish people but you have to look at the instances of good and beauty to give you hope; there are times when you’ll lose faith in yourself and all you’ll want to do is quit but you mustn’t because you have something special in you. Everyone has the power to be good and to create something wonderful. You just have to have confidence. If you have that confidence then you’ll find your inspiration. It was everything I needed to hear.

Beyond the valuable messages, Kiki’s Delivery Service offers a lot to both children and adults. For starters, the animation is crisp, detailed, and wondrous. It’s like stepping into another world and, at times, it’s possible to forget that you’re actually watching an animated movie (being high probably helps with this). The characters are all complex and never patronizing. In many respects it’s not a childish film. Any film which has a bunch of crows scrambling to claw out a girl’s eyes can’t really be for kids. Finally, the film came across as being very pro-women. It’s about the strength of sisterhood and women helping one another. In that respect, it’s typical Studio Ghibli which is well known for focusing its films on female characters as opposed to male ones. All in all, there’s just so much to take away from this film that I could keep going on and on but hopefully I’ve adequately conveyed they magic behind this charming coming of age tale.

High-lights:

  • The beautiful animation and the whimsical story.
  • All the valuable life-lessons that every teenager should know. I will force my children to watch this movie.
  • The film contains a touching but age appropriate romance.
  • The scene in which Kiki sees the painting in the cabin is just mesmerizing.

Downers:

  • At first I wished that I could have found the Japanese version but, to be honest, it really isn’t much of an issue because the English language dub is still very good.

Summary:

An absolutely wonderful and inspiring piece of cinema. This movie helped me chase away a lot of inner demons I was struggling with and, because of that, it has skyrocketed onto my list for all-time favorite movies. The message is personal so I advise that you watch this on your own when you’re feeling low. I have no doubt that the magic of this movie will help to raise your spirits and will spur you to take on the world.

10/10

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Filed under Animation, Kids, Mind Blowingly Awesome

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Cast: Brittany Snow, Ashley Tisdale, Cary Elwes

Synopsis: A heart-warming and insanely illustrated tale about a Japanese schoolgirl who struggles to find her passion in life. Inspired by a young violin maker, she sets out to write a fantasy novel that features no hentai or tentacle porn.

Before we go any further it should be noted that I am an anime fan and that I am borderline obsessed with Studio Ghibli movies. Everything about Studio Ghibli movies captivates me: the stories that tug at your feels, the beautiful animation, and the messages that are conveyed. There is something so magical about them and it’s actually come as a surprise to me that I’ve never watched any of them high. Well, that has just changed.

I was having a rather tough and emotional day and I needed something to pick me up and restore my faith in humanity. One bowl of Amnesia Haze later and I was set. I was initially stuck choosing between Kiki’s Delivery Service and Whisper of the Heart but ultimately chose the latter and I am glad I did. This movie has a special place in my heart because it’s the movie I was watching when I received notification that I had been awarded a scholarship to study in the States and so began the happiest two years of my life in the US (except for that one time I got strep throat without any insurance. That was not a happy time. Seriously America, sort out your healthcare system).

As far as the story goes, it’s actually rather simple. The film follows a teenage girl named Shizuku who doesn’t have a clue about what she wants to do in life. Then, through a series of random events, she meets a young violin maker. The two become friends and continue to inspire and push each other on the road towards their dreams. It’s a very sweet coming-of-age tale that explores the difficult process of finding oneself whilst injecting touches of soft romance. It’s a movie in which many feels are felt and contains a central premise that I think a lot of people can relate to.

The real star of this movie though is the insane animation. Everything is just so God damn detailed. A beautifully rendered Tokyo plays host to the movie and the level of intricacy is just astounding. From the cramped apartments to the labyrinth like streets of the suburbs, everything is just so vivid and realistic. If nothing else, it made me want to buy a ticket straight to Japan. The thing that’s even more amazing is that the movie is almost 20 years old and it is not dated in the slightest. The scenes that Shizuku creates for her novel are kind of trippy. The use of color in these scenes is fantastic and the animators should really pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Whisper of the Heart stands out among other Studio Ghibli films and other films in the genre for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s quite a subdued film in terms of action and adventure. Those of you who love Castle in the Sky or Princess Mononoke should be aware that this is nothing like those films. Secondly, it’s not really a kids’ movie in the traditional sense. It’s not patronizing at all and it deals with subject matter that is a little more adult. Finally, it’s a film that is grounded in reality. Ultimately it makes the film more accessible to an audience but it might not be what you’re looking for in the long run and, as I said, it’s a film that is largely devoid of Japanese weirdness and tentacle sex.

High-lights:

  • In case you didn’t quite get it from my review: THE ANIMATION IS SPECTACULAR.
  • It has a lot to do with cats. The internet rejoices!

Downers:

  • Sometimes it felt that the dialogue didn’t translate so well into English. If you can, watch the Japanese version with subtitles but the English dub is still really good.
  • Maybe the voice acting was not as good as the other Studio Ghibli movies.

Summary:

This film is a real gem and should be watched by as many people as possible. Ultimately, it’s probably better to watch when you’re chilling on your own and when you can pay attention to it. The movie would be great with all kinds of strains. Sativa strains will allow you to concentrate on the detail of the animation and will allow you to appreciate the beauty of the film. The story is really simple and easy to follow meaning that it’s a really great movie to watch if you prefer indica strains too. It’s really a win-win situation!

8.5/10

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Filed under Animation, Drama, Great, Romance