Blogathon Followup + Ghibli Top 5

Greetings, people of earth! (Apologies, it’s 2AM and I’m only posting because sleep is eluding me.) I wanted to make a wee follow-up post and say that the Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief has now drawn to a close, with 63 posts contributed, five of them (or 8% if you’re counting) coming from me. I hope our united efforts to spotlight the work of Japanese filmmakers inspired you to dig a little deeper and cough up some more dough for Japan, which could really use the help right now.

I did notice that, in my five days of marathon posting, not a single person clicked on my link to Mollybot’s fantastic fundraiser for Animal Refuge Kansai, where she was giving out adorable free animal paintings left and right, all for the low low cost of a ¥1000 ($13) donation to this deserving Japanese animal rescue organization. (What, you didn’t think I’d notice? Two words: site stats, baby!) Well, the joke’s on you, because even without your help, she has now raised an astounding ¥66,000 for ARK. That’s over $800!!! I have experienced firsthand Molly’s grass-roots effort to raise these funds – hey, I do live with her – and she has been painting herself into a coma over here, with zero help from me, who is hopelessly talentless in that department. Sadly, we’re running low on paint and pretty maps of Japan, so if you still want a painting, get your donation in quick, because she’s capping it at 50 and she’s already done 46. Fortunately, plans are in the works to start another round of art-for-donations, this time with bigger custom paintings for a higher premium. Believe me, it’s definitely worth it for this caliber of work. Even I’dpay for these paintings, and I can get them for free.

Last but not least, allow me to expiate a little guilt. When I set out on my journey to pay homage to Japan with a marathon of Studio Ghibli reviews, I did so as a fan and as a great admirer of the works of this remarkable studio. I think Studio Ghibli is irrefutably the best animation studio still in operation today – better than the billion people working for Sylvain Chomet, way better than Pixar. So it may have surprised some of you – hell, it even surprised me – that I did not award any of the films I reviewed from this incredible company more than four stars. And I feel bad about it. I think of myself as a pretty tough reviewer, and I seem to be especially hard on stuff I love. (I’m not joking when I say I’d probably give my own favorite movie a 2 – but we’ll get to that someday.) My explanation for the Ghibli ratings is this: I deliberately reviewed second-tier films, and I judged them against the better works of the studio which I was not reviewing. Confusing, no? And so, in lieu of going back over the last week of posts and re-rating everything in a flurry of regret, I’m just going to give you my list of Top Five Ghibli Films, all of which would easily receive five stars (but don’t quote me on that if I ever give them full reviews in the future!). (more…)

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: The Cat Returns (2002)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Shy and awkward Haru Yoshioka feels like she never does anything right. She can never wake up in time for school and is always tripping over things. When Haru performs a good deed by saving a cat from getting hit by a truck, the animal responds by thankingher and promising to repay her kindness! Soon Haru is getting all kinds of gifts from the Kingdom of Cats, including cattails in her garden (which make her sneeze) and live mice in her locker (which make her squeamish)! Haru regrets helping the cat, because now his brethren won’t leave her alone. But things really turn serious when the Cat King decides to bestow upon Haru what he views to be the ultimate gift: the hand of his son, the prince, in marriage! Desperate to avoid being taken to the Cat Kingdom and turned into a cat forever, Haru seeks the help of the Baron, a dapper kitty in a formal suit, along with his fat and grumpy friend Muta and a crow named Toto. But before her new friends can stop them, representatives of the Cat Kingdom come and steal Haru away in the night. Can Haru find her way out of the Kingdom before she’s completely and permanently transformed?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

The fifth and final installment in my week-long tribute to Studio Ghibli started off as a twenty-minute short about cats commissioned by a Japanese theme park. Banking on the popularity of the two felines from 1995′s Whisper of the Heart – Muta/Moon, the fat train-riding cat, and Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, the well-dressed figurine in the antique shop which provided inspiration for the main character’s novel – Hayao Miyazaki wanted to bring both characters back in anthropomorphic form for the short. He hired Aoi Hiiragi, who had written the manga on which Whisper was based, to pen the manga equivalent of the new film. However, when the theme park pulled out of the deal, Miyazaki instead decided to keep the existing material and expand the film as a training exercise for future Ghibli directors. Hiroyuki Morita, who had done previous animation work for the studio on Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), was handed the task of directing based on the 525 pages of storyboards he created based on Hiiragi’s manga. (more…)

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Image Source: Syoutokuumako

Synopsis: Junior high school student Shizuku Tsukishima finds her life becoming increasingly mysterious when she notices that the same person is checking out every book in the library she reads – beforeshe reads them. Putting aside this conundrum, she attempts to write a song for her school’s graduation ceremony; but when she forgets her notebook on a bench and returns to find a strange boy reading it, who then labels her lyrics “corny,” she feels discouraged. Riding the train one day, she notices a cat on board, seemingly traveling all by itself. Following the animal out of the station, Shizuku discovers a magical antique shop which awakens her creative spirit. She meets the owner, a kindly old man – and his grandson, who just so happens to be the same boy who insulted her song! Learning that the boy, Seiji, plans to skip high school to go to Italy and train as a violin-maker, Shizuku begins to question whether she truly has what it takes to realize her dream of becoming a writer. Can Shizuku find happiness within herself, before it’s too late to find it with someone else?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

The fourth film in my Ghiblithon (see the rest here) comes from director Yoshifumi Kondō; employed as a chief animator on five previous Studio Ghibli films, Kondō was the first director outside of studio heads Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata to helm a Ghibli film. He was being groomed as a successor to Miyazaki and Takahata before his untimely death at age 47 from a brain aneurysm in 1998. Believing Kondō’s death to be partially attributable to overexertion in his work, Miyazaki initially announced his own retirement that same year, only to rescind his decision and instead plan to work at a less strenuous pace (Ghibli had been putting out a film a year from 1989 to 1995, with two major releases on the same day in 1988). While Miyazaki did do a little hand-holding by penning the screenplay, drawing the storyboards, and directing some of the fantasy sequences, Whisper of the Heart definitely feels like a different director’s work; while I think I’ll always like Ghibli’s Miyazaki-directed work best, it’s still nice to see other people try their hand at it, and Kondō does a marvelous job and shows a lot of potential. It’s just a shame he wouldn’t live long enough to be able to repeat his success. (more…)

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Pom Poko (1994)

Image Source: Webry

Synopsis: On the edge of the forest of the Tokyo suburbs, a clan of wild raccoon-dogs (known in Japanese as tanuki) feel their habitat being increasingly encroached upon by the construction of human dwellings. Realizing that they will soon run out of food and places to raise their families, the good-natured but concerned tanuki band together to find a way to drive the humans out of their territory. Summoning their long-forgotten powers of shape-shifting and transformation, the tanuki begin a guerrilla campaign to scare the humans away by impersonating every deity, demon and ghost under the sun. But when it soon becomes clear that the humans won’t be chased off that easily, a militant male by the name of Gonta lobbies for more violent tactics to rid the tanuki of the human presence. Can the wise elders Tsurugame and Oruku and the rest of the clan stop Gonta and his militia before they get themselves killed? Or is resorting to violence really the animals’ last plausible hope for peace?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

My third review of this blogathon/mini-Ghiblithon focuses on the most kid-friendly film discussed so far, an escapist tale (like Porco Rosso) with an environmentalist message (like Nausicaä – isn’t it nice when everything ties together like that?). Released in 1994, Pom Poko was directed by studio co-head Isao Takahata, his third directorial effort for Ghibli following 1988′s anti-war masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies and 1991′s coming-of-age tale Only Yesterday, reviewed here by Clara of Via Margutta 51. (And in case you’re wondering, I did end up watching Fireflies, but I’ve decided not to review it for this particular blogathon. It’s kind of hard to criticize a film’s technique when you’re too busy crying your eyes out.) (more…)

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Porco Rosso (1992)

Image Source: KinoPoisk.Ru

Synopsis: Trained as an ace fighter pilot for the Italian Air Force during World War I, pig-headed (literally) Porco Rosso now answers to no one but himself – and anyone with enough cash to hire his services as a bounty hunter, of course. He maintains a friendly rivalry with the local “air pirates,” bandits in sea planes who swipe their booty from passing ships. Instead of joining their band of merry thieves, Porco makes his money stealing backtheir plunder on behalf of the victims! Yet after dark they always put their differences aside and come together to share a drink at the bar of the Hotel Adriano, owned by the lovely and tragic Gina. But when hotshot American pilot Curtis arrives on the scene, he makes it his mission to take down the meddlesome Porco once and for all. With the help of his immature yet skilled mechanic and co-pilot Fio, can Porco defeat Curtis in the ultimate dogfight – and finally win the affections of the beautiful Gina?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

This is my second contribution to this very worthy blogathon, as well as the second entry in my own mini-marathon of Studio Ghibli reviews. I apologize for skipping around in time a bit; I had planned to review these lesser-known (though by no means obscure) Ghibli films in chronological order, meaning Grave of the Fireflies (1988) should be next after Nausicaä (1984), but as I am not yet emotionally prepared to tackle that one, Porco Rosso it is. Like Nausicaä, Porco is based on a manga penned by Hayao Miyazaki himself, Hikōtei Jidai (The Age of the Flying Boat), originally published in three parts in Model Graphix, a monthly magazine for scale model enthusiasts. Miyazaki also directs (which may sound like a given, but remember Isao Takahata directed two of the first seven Ghibli films). The film takes place between the two World Wars in and around the Adriatic Sea; the location was intended to be more specifically indicated as Croatia, but the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia during production prompted the filmmakers to leave the location a bit more ambiguous. Still, of the films directed by Miyazaki, having a clearly-defined historical and geographical setting makes Porco Rosso unusually reality-based. Aside from the fact that, you know, he’s a pig. (more…)

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