The Wind Rises–Movie Review

5 Stars

“All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”
–Jiro Horikoshi

The Wind Rises posterIf you live near an art-house theater you might have a chance to see The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) (IMDB), which may well be the last animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. But you’d better act fast.

Of all Miyazaki’s work, this may be the least suited to the American market: a sad, romantic story about a nerdy but pure-hearted engineer. It is very loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane.

As a young boy in a relatively poor and backward country Jiro (voiced as a child by Zach Callison and as an adult by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is fascinated by airplanes but frustrated by the knowledge that his poor eyesight will keep him from ever becoming a pilot.

In a vivid lucid dream he meets Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci) the famous aircraft designer. Caproni, who claims that he is also dreaming, shows Jiro his plans for a gigantic trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft. Inspired, Jiro vows to become an aeronautical engineer.
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From Up on Poppy Hill–Movie Review

3.5 Stars

From Up on Poppy Hill PosterFrom Up on Poppy Hill (IMDB) (Kokuriko-zaka Kara) is not the greatest movie that Studio Ghibli ever made. Still, even a second-rank Studio Ghibli film probably beats a first-rank film from any other animation studio. If you are an anime fan or just interested in Japanese culture you probably will want to see this, but it may leave the average American viewer cold. In any case it seems to be getting a fairly limited theatrical release, so if you want to see it in a theater you probably need to move fast.

The screenplay was co-written by Hayao Miyazaki and the movie was directed by his son Gorou. The story is set in 1963 and perhaps deliberately the animation has an old-fashioned look, more like Totoro than Arrietty. (Of course that means it looks like late-1980s anime, not like early-1960s anime which would be very crude by comparison.)

The story, based on a 1980 shoujo manga, is a low-key high school romance and coming-of-age story. Umi Matsuzaki helps run her grandmother’s boarding house located on top of “Poppy Hill.” Every morning she goes to the flagpole in the garden and runs up naval signal flags spelling out a message to her father, the captain of a supply ship that went down during the Korean War.

At her school some of the boys are trying to save a decrepit building called “The Latin Quarter” which serves as their clubhouse. A boy named Shun Kazama catches her eye with a dangerous stunt and she is gradually drawn into the campaign. It seems hopeless since Japan in 1963 is focused on modernization rather than preserving the past. She has the insight that the only chance to convince the adults to preserve the building is to make it more presentable.
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Ponyo (DVD)–Anime Review

4.5 Stars

I wrote a capsule movie review of Ponyo back when it was released in American movie theaters. Now that I have had a chance to examine the DVD version I am going to write an updated review.

A movie review necessarily gives my first impression after viewing it once. Having a DVD allows me to examine the work in detail, which often changes my impression of it–sometime for the better and sometimes for the worse.
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Is Ponyo a Classic?

is everything Miyazaki makes is now an instant classc? How about Howl’s Moving Castle?

And BTW, 20 miles is a big deal now? What a whiner. Just move somewhere where they built freeways or something. And be happy it was shown 20 miles away. Tokikake was only shown in LA and NY, 2000 miles away for me.

I’ve never seen Howl’s Moving Castle, so I can’t say whether it’s a classic. All I know is that everyone seems to hate it, which doesn’t encourage me to watch it.

As for Ponyo, I think it does qualify as a classic in the category of children’s movies. Or if it’s too early to say that, I predict that it will come to be considered a classic. The obvious comparison is to Totoro, which most people consider a classic. The two are similar in many ways, including the fact that the endings are too low-key for some adults, but are appropriate to the story and the intended audience.

As for the 20 miles, there are about 10 theaters in that driving radius and only one was showing Ponyo, which I think is a good indication of Disney’s level of commitment to the film. They could have done a lot worse, but they also could have done better.

The sad thing is, I think this is an anime that mainstream Americans could really appreciate, since it’s a really good movie for children. Most Americans can’t accept an animated movie like Princess Mononoke, but they probably would have no problem with this one.

Ponyo–Movie Review

4 Stars
Finally after all these years I got to see a Hayao Miyazaki movie in a theater on a big screen. This mini-review is based on the dubbed version currently in the theaters. When I get hold of the DVD I will probably write a more detailed review with pictures.

Ponyo is a gentle children’s story comparable to My Neighbor Totoro. If you are in the mood for something like that, this is pretty good. The story is supposedly inspired by “The Little Mermaid”, but it has little resemblance to either the Disney version or the grim original story by Hans Christian Anderson.
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Spirited Away–Anime Review

5 Stars
This is probably the most acclaimed anime ever made. It won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Feature, the only foreign-language film ever to do so. It is one of the great classics of animation, and if you haven’t seen it you probably should.

This movie shows Hayao Miyazaki at the top of his form. It is a splendid example of the art of storytelling, with a main character who is both believable and captivating. The artwork is absolutely stunning. My screen captures don’t really do it justice; you just have to see it for yourself.
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Whisper of the Heart–Anime Review

5 Stars
Studio Ghibli is the most prestigious of all anime studios. A small studio founded by acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki, it primarily does theatrical movies with clever, original screenplays and top-quality animation. Disney has an exclusive deal to import these movies and usually gives them a limited theatrical run.

I can’t say for sure that every Studio Ghibli movie is worth watching, since I haven’t seen all of them, but I’ve been pleased with all the ones that I have watched (and someday I’ll get around to reviewing all of them.)

Whisper of the Heart is one of the less known Studio Ghibli films. It’s a small, simple story, but just about perfectly executed. It could hardly be simpler: a teenaged girl finds her ideal boyfriend, then learns that he is about to move out of the country, and she has to decide how she is going to deal with that. And that’s it; no battles, no explosions, no monsters, not even any magic.

Or maybe there is some magic. (That cat sure looks like he knows more than he’s saying.) Let’s just say that everything has a possible rational explanation. Perhaps the real point is that the heroine has the ability to see the magic underlying ordinary life.

I can’t help comparing this to Revolutionary Road, the last movie I reviewed, not because they are similar but because they are opposites. Revolutionary Road explores the dangers of not having a dream (while thinking that you do.) Whisper of the Heart is about what it really means to have a dream.
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