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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The Secret World of Arrietty–Movie Review

4 Stars

Heard on the radio last Friday:

Radio Host:The Secret World of Arrietty is opening this weekend. I wish I still had a small child. I’d really like to see it.”
Co-Host: “Yeah. I know a guy who likes to borrow his nephew so that he can go to movies like that.”

This exchange goes a long way to explain what is wrong with animation in America today. Is it surprising that all the good animation seems to come from countries where adults are allowed to watch animated movies without being accompanied by a small child, or indeed where studios are allowed to make animated movies that aren’t aimed at children?

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you break the rules and see The Secret World of Arrietty anyway. It may well be the best choice in the theaters at the moment, animated or live-action, at least if you’ve already seen The Artist.

(In spite of the talk about “small children” I would recommend this only for audiences who are school-age and up. Some of the material is likely to be disturbing to preschoolers.)
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Ni no Kuni–The Future of Animation?

Ars Technica links to some demo footage of Ni no Kuni: The Another World, a video game being developed by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli.

There’s only so much you can tell from a 2-minute promo clip. The gameplay itself doesn’t look like a breakthrough–sort of Pokemonish in fact. The graphics on the other hand do indeed look amazing. It’s obviously computer-generated, but it looks surprisingly like a Studio Ghibli hand-drawn anime.

On closer examination, the quality isn’t really at a Studio Ghibli level. Maybe more like a second-tier studio’s imitation of Studio Ghibli. Nevertheless it looks vastly better than what we have come to expect from computer generated animation.

Could this approach become good enough to revolutionize CG animation? Possibly. Could it become good enough to kill off hand-drawn animation? Regrettably that’s also possible. We shall see.

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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