Tag: hayao miyazaki

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

As a child, Jiro (voiced by Hideaki Anno) wished to fly planes but he knew his myopia would ultimately hinder him from reaching his goal. In a dream, Jiro’s hero, an aircraft designed named Giovanni Caproni (Nomura Mansai), told him that building planes was even better than flying them. Jiro will grow up to be a plane engineer whose work is to be used during World War II.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “The Wind Rises” is initially engaging but it turns into a somewhat drawn out picture about a boy with physical limitations whose determination overcomes his shortcomings. For the most part, it is saved by fine touches that are not found in works of its type.

Despite the medium from which the story is told, the film is a mature work in that the themes it tackles require a bit of thought, far detached from easy lessons meant to remind than to be considered carefully. I admired that the main character’s journey is not so much about how difficult it is for him to reroute his dream and achieve an alternate goal. It is partly that although his life as an aircraft engineer is more about trial and error, a metaphor for how we come to live our lives. We watch in anticipation whether his latest work will finally live up to expectations—maybe even surpass them.

The animation, as expected from a Miyazaki movie, is beautiful. During the first third, there are more than a handful of dream sequences but it takes a bit of getting used to for us to be able to tell whether what we are seeing is a dream or reality. This is necessary given that Jiro, as a boy when we come to meet him, is very much a dreamer, a kid who is thoughtful, kind, gifted, brimming with the potential to be great at something. Although the hand-drawn animation does not fill in every minute detail—say, of a face or an environment—what matters is that we are in the moment, that we are feeling or thinking what the protagonist may be going through.

Although we get to know about two important people in Jiro’s life, such as a friend and a colleague named Honjo (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as well as Naoko (Miori Takimoto) the romantic interest, the connection between Jiro and his sister, Kayo (Mirai Shida), is undercooked. There is a would-be emotional payoff involving the younger sister during the latter half but because she is not a fully established character, she comes across as an element in the plot meant to tug at the heart strings rather than someone who is completely integrated into the story’s fiber.

There are a few interesting details involving Japan being considered backwards at the time from the perspective of its subjects. For instance, oxen are required to pull on the newly built aircraft for days because the airstrip is very far from where the parts are actually put together. Another scene shows that Japanese planes are made of canvas and wood while German planes are made of metal. Jiro represents his country in more ways than one in terms of starting point and ambition.

“Kaze tachinu” is likely to disappoint those who expect magical elements expected from a Miyazaki feature film. Also, it is less efficient compared to such works in terms of emotional payoff. However, there are familiar Miyazaki elements to be found here. It is a more mature work worthy of a slower pace and contemplation.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Director Mami Sunada spends about a year filming inside the renowned Studio Ghibli, responsible for giving movie lovers around the globe masterpieces such as “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “From Up on Poppy Hill.” This is where the legendary Hayao Miyazaki creates his memorable works, along with the help of many animators, and the documentary also turns its attention on the process of making his final film, “The Wind Rises.”

“The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” is a documentary told through a poet’s perspective. It is quite an experience to sit through because it likes to take its time drawing us into the images. For instance, when Miyazaki is working on storyboards, we see what is being drawn or colored and yet we cannot help but squint just a little as to absorb the more minute details of the artwork. I was amused by this because I had seen “The Wind Rises” prior to watching this film and yet I was still inspired to look at the raw images, hopefully recognizing the scene that the images belong to. It helps that the camera lingers for a few seconds in order to give us that chance.

It offers surprising details about Miyazaki: how he works, his perspective on life, and how others view him. For example, he admits that even though he works on the storyboards himself, he does not really know what kind of film he’ll end up with. This sentiment is particularly relevant to “Spirited Away,” understandable because that film offers so many rich, bizarre, amusing, curious images and turn of events.

Particularly memorable is when the man decides to speak to the artists that there is a difference between how the Japanese bow in modern times versus the era of the Second World War. Nowadays, people bow and then return to standing up straight. Back then, people bowed but they kept their backs at an acute angle relative to the ground. Straightening it completely would have communicated rudeness. Since “The Wind Rises” takes place during World War II, the customs during that time must be reflected in the animation. He then mentions that drawing characters glancing sideways while turning around is an egregious mistake. He offers a wonderful explanation as to why.

At one point in the documentary, Miyazaki claims that “what drives animation is the will of the characters.” I thought this insight defines the studio’s work. It continues to release high quality films because it is character-driven first. We get to understand them as much as—if not better than—live actors performing a role. The magic is in the screenplay and everything else, like the quality and style of animation, seemingly happens to fall into place. On a rare occasion that they do not, we forgive easily because it is likely that there is something about the story that gets to our core.

Throughout the course of the two-hour film, it becomes clear that the studio and the people in it are like family—including a stray cat that likes to lounge about but smart enough never to bother Miyazaki while he is working. We see the camaraderie between Miyazaki and his colleagues. Miyazaki is honest about the work and how much effort is put into it. The latter is also given a chance to tell the truth. A handful of people claim—some joke—that the man is tough and has high expectations. Some people happen to fail living up to them. And yet despite these truths, the place still comes across as an awesome place to work, play, and create.

From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Ever since the death of her father during the Korean War, a sadness resides in Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) that she finds unable to shake off. To keep her mind off the questions and thoughts that plague her, she devotes her time balancing schoolwork and managing grandmother’s business. Her comfortable routine begins to change, however, after she meets Shun (Anton Yelchin), an energetic classmate with whom she believes to have written a poem about her in the school paper. Together, they work to save a clubhouse called the Latin Quarter, student organizations’ meeting place, from getting demolished prior to the 1964 Summer Olympics. The majority think that the building is a simply an eyesore—an embarrassment—to foreigners who will inevitably come to visit.

Since ““Kokuriko-zaka kara,” also known as “From Up on Poppy Hill,” is from Studio Ghibli and directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the great Hayao Miyazaki, many people expect a high level of fantasy and magic to course through its veins. And since it lacks such qualities, it is unfairly labeled as a mild disappointment—completely overlooking the fact that the story’s magic lies in its realism and that animation is being used to tell a dramatic story with plenty to say about the importance being connected to one’s past but at the same time not being afraid to move forward and continue living.

We get a real sense of the simplicity and elegance of the Japanese culture’s bygone era. I enjoyed that it dares to have a plot that one might consider to be minimalistic. While plot is necessary to push its story forward, I think one of the major goals of the picture is rumination. With Umi in the middle, comparisons can be made, for instance, between her life at home and her life at school. In addition, one can observe the youth’s relationship with adults. When I think about the Japanese culture, “respect” is a word that quickly comes to mind. That word is beautifully canvassed here not just in terms of community but also in how a sensitive topic or issue is addressed.

The hand-drawn images, accompanied by sublime music, open up the material in such a way that we want to know or connect with the protagonist on a deeper level. With each day that Umi wakes up, prepares a meal for her family, attends to school, socializes with her friends, and takes care of whatever chores need to be finished before bed, we get a chance to understand what kind of person she is without the screenplay relying on a supporting character as a sounding board to her thoughts and feelings. There is almost a crippling sadness to her and she deals with it by consistently providing to others. Meanwhile, day in and day out, because she does not give enough to herself and everyone assuming that she is fine since she appears to be very happy on the outside, she is unable to move on from what pains her.

This is why one of my favorite scenes in the film—compelling from the opening credits right up to the very end—lasts about three seconds and only one line of dialogue is uttered. Walking home after buying meat at the market with a snack in hand that was given by Shun, she expresses genuine happiness to herself. (Even though she is running late to prepare dinner.) It is a small but important turning point: a simple thing like a schedule being interrupted allows her a bit of time to feel and really absorb the life she is missing.

I see a lot of movies every year but only about a dozen—maybe less in some years—are able to move me in such a way that they force me to think about how I am living, to ask questions like if I am okay, and whether I like where my life is going. It is a shame that many people prefer to see overt enchantment, especially when it comes to animated movies, rather than experiencing and striving to find the magic in the unexpected.

The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) was sent to live with his aunt in the province because he needed to rest prior to an impending heart surgery. Walking up to the backyard, he noticed something strange: a rustling in the bushes and then suddenly a little person named Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a “borrower” about the size of our thumbs, dashing across the green jungle in hopes of being elusive enough as to not to be seen. If recognized by humans, to the borrowers known as “beings,” they were to pack up and move immediately in order not to risk their safety. Based on the screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, for all the fantastic discoveries made by the characters in “Kari-gurashi no Arietti,” it was surprising that its entertainment value was only middling. Perhaps it had something to do with its purposefully unhurried pace. In some instances, it worked. When, for instance, Arrietty stopped running around the garden to admire the vast surroundings that we humans take for granted, the material placed me in her mindset. For a lot of us, although there are plenty of things to see in the world, either we choose not to open our eyes to the natural marvels in front of us or we lack the means, financially, for example, to venture outside of our regular spaces and explore. During its slower moments, it was nice that we had a choice between boredom and introspection. In some scenes, its sluggish pacing did not work. A lot of time was dedicated to Hara (Carol Burnett), the household’s helper, suspecting and snooping around the house for the borrowers. The script seemed intent in making her a villain but her intentions weren’t always so clear. Why was she so desperate to catch a borrower? If she captured one, what would she do with it? Did she want fame or money? She had stated that over the years, things around the house had gone missing. Was she blamed for these missing items and therefore wanted to prove her innocence? These questions were not answered because the screenplay seemed stuck in pushing us to dislike her. Even though her hunt had gotten so desperate that she eventually hired pest control to lure out Arrietty and her family, I didn’t see her as a terrible human being. In fact, I was able to relate to her curiosity. If I stumbled upon evidence that there really were borrowers living in my house, I would want to see one for myself even if it meant looking at the back of storage closets and underneath floorboards. What I enjoyed was the film’s keen attention to detail. Although the vibrant colors jumped out in an attempt to snag our attention, I liked looking at the molds and stains on the walls as Arrietty and her father (Will Arnett) made their way to the kitchen to get some sugar and tissue paper. It made me feel like I was their size and I was alert of the little dangers–and not-so-little bugs–that could be waiting around the corner. Even though the scene mostly consisted of walking, it felt like a big adventure because there was a level of danger that threatened the characters and a certain aura of discovery considering that it was our protagonist’s first time venturing into the kitchen. Based on the novel “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton, I sensed that “The Secret World of Arrietty,” directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, held itself back. It wasn’t a rich experience, just an adequate one.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

When a spirit that guarded the forest had turned into a demon, in a form of a giant boar, threatened to attack a small village, Prince Ashitaka (voiced by Billy Crudup) killed the suffering spirit. But Ashitaka did not leave the battle unscathed. The demon managed to touch his arm and put a curse on him. One of the wise men from the tribe claimed that there could be a possible cure out in the West. However, if Ashitaka left the village, he could never return. “Princess Mononoke,” written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was branded by fans and critics as a classic. I don’t believe it was as strong as it should have been. While I admired that it used animation not just as a medium to entertain younger children, personified by gory beheadings and limbs cut into pieces, its pacing felt uneven and the way story unfolded eventually became redundant. There was a war between guardians of the forest, led by a giant white wolf named Moro (Gillian Anderson), and humans, led by the cunning Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver). The spirits were angry because men cut off trees and killed animals for the sake of excavating valuable iron. If the forest died, the spirits, too, would perish. Ashitaka’s stance was the middle, the one who we were supposed to relate to, and it was up to him to try to bring the two sides together. While I appreciated that there was an absence of a typical villain because the characters’ motivations were complex, there were far too many grand speeches about man’s place in the world versus man’s right to do whatever it took for the sake of progress. As the spirits and humans went to war, the story also focused on the budding romance between Ashitaka and San (Claire Danes), a human that Moro brought up as a wolf. It was an unnecessary appendage because the romantic angle took away the epic feel of the battle sequences. Just when a battle reached a high point, it would cut to Ashitaka wanting to prove his love for the wolf-girl he barely knew. The high point, instead of reaching a peak, became an emotional and visual plateau. It wasn’t clear to me why Ashitaka would fall for someone like San, who was essentially a savage being, who claimed that she hated humans, and who considered herself to be a wolf. There was a painful lack of evolution in their relationship. Did San eventually feel like she was more human than animal after spending more time with the cursed Ashitaka? What was more important to our protagonist: being with the girl he loved or the lifting off the curse so that he could continue to live? The deeper questions weren’t answered. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t deny that “Mononoke-hime” maintained a high level of imagination throughout. I especially enjoyed the adorable kodamas, spirits that lived in the oldest trees, with their rotating heads and confused expressions. If it had found a way to focus more on the big picture, without sacrificing details and actually offered us answers, it would have been a timeless work.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

In Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle,” an unextraordinary young woman named Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer) with a low self-esteem and a penchant for dressing like an old woman was cursed by the wicked Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall). Being in a body of an old woman, Grandma Sophie (now voiced by Jean Simmons) decided to go into the mountains to find another witch or wizard who could reverse her condition. In the unforgiving cold mountains, she stumbled upon a castle with legs owned by the mysterious and slightly vain Howl (Christian Bale). Out of all Miyazaki’s films, “Howl’s Moving Castle” contained my favorite group of characters. Each of them had a defined personality from the sarcastic fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal), a young magician (Josh Hutcherson) who yearned for an adult figure, to characters who did not say a word like loving Turnip-Head and Heen, an old dog with only one facial expression. There was something unexpected revealed about each of them, particularly the villainous witch who cruelly casted a spell on our protagonist. All of the core characters shared one similarity so they had a reason to keep walking forward together. They were all caught up in a senseless war. Since it wasn’t explained to us why a war was happening or which side was fighting for what reason, the violence, burning homes, and people attempting to escape with their lives were that much more compelling. In some ways, the magical world that these characters inhabited served as an escape from the harsh realities of war. With the help of the castle, they had a chance to escape and hide but only temporarily. Eventually, they would step out on a once peaceful landscape and were confronted with flying ships used to drop bombs in beautiful cities by the sea. Unfortunately, when the picture decided to focus on the romantic bond between Sophie and Howl, I began to lose interest. They did have their cheesy moments, but I was more concerned about what Sophie saw in Howl and vice-versa. Sophie claimed to love Howl but for what reason? Did she love him because of his looks? It certainly wasn’t because of his maturity because he threw tantrums like a child. Was their so-called love pre-ordained? There was an evidence of time-travel toward the end of the story. Nevertheless, I could also argue that the heart of the film wasn’t about the romance between Howl and Sophie. The friendship between humans and magical creatures and the sacrifices they made for each other during a time of need would probably make more sense. “Hauru no ugoku shiro” teemed with great detail and imagination but the story always came first. Quirky, funny, adventurous, with just the right amount of dark undertones, “Howl’s Moving Castle,” based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, will enchant both young and old.

Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

A girl named Sheeta (voiced by Anna Paquin) looked pensively out the window aboard a flying ship. She was being held by a spy for the government (Mark Hamill) and men from the military. They wanted something from her although at first it wasn’t clear what. Pirates, led by an old but very energetic lady named Dola (Cloris Leachman), attacked the ship. Out of panic, Sheeta climbed outside the window, slipped, and was in free fall toward the Earth. “Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta,” also known as “Castle in the Sky,” was a thrilling animated film which balanced adventure and heart with ease. It offered breathtaking images from grand ships maneuvering themselves in and out of danger to the small details of the mining town where Pazu (James Van Der Beek), Sheeta’s greatest ally, lived and dreamed of fantastic journeys. The chase scenes were exciting to watch not just because guns and explosions were involved but due to the fact that there were times when the laws of Physics were completely ignored (especially in the mine cart tracks) and I was completely caught by surprise. Just when we thought we had idea where one’s loyalty belonged, enemies found a commonality which allowed them to work together and maybe even learn from each other. In a way, the action sequences were just as interesting as the characters who all shared a common goal: reaching the evasive floating castle called Laputa. The spy wanted the knowledge and the technology buried deep within, the military and the pirates wanted the treasures, Pazu wanted to find closure regarding his father’s death, and Sheeta simply wanted to protect it. There were also some messages concerning the environment and perhaps a budding romance between Pazu and Sheeta but I liked the fact that such topics were purposely underplayed. It was nice to see other angles from the core story so it didn’t at all feel one-dimensional. However, I do have the admit that I felt as though the picture ran for about thirty minutes too long. I think the film spent too much time focusing on the characters aboard the mysterious castle. I began to feel restless. Personally, I would have enjoyed it more if the characters did not spend too much time there (or if none of them reached it). By doing so, it remains as a symbol or a metaphor for things that were important to the characters. To me, it really wasn’t about reaching the castle but the measures the characters would go to get there. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “Castle in the Sky” was magical, involving, and suitable for all ages. It made me think of the time when my dream was to become pilot.