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!).
Top Five Favorite Studio Ghibli Films
5. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – The sweet story of a little witch trying to find her niche during her mandatory year of independence in the big city. A talking cat, a wondrous bakery, and a truly lovable heroine make this one unforgettably heartwarming.
4. Ponyo (2008) – Escaping the clutches of her overbearing father, a goldfish princess comes ashore and begins an exciting adventure with a human boy. Startling and stunning underwater scenes and a lot of humor and sweetness prove that Miyazaki is still at the top of his game after all these years.
3. Spirited Away (2001) – This tale of a girl whisked away from the human world to work at a bathhouse for spirits and monsters remains the only non-English-language film to have ever won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The creatures, setting, and interweaving of Japanese folklore make this one of Studio Ghibli’s most imaginative and inspiring films.
2. Princess Mononoke (1997) – On a quest to cure a curse, a young warrior meets a mysterious princess and enlists her help in saving the Forest God from certain death at the hands of a greedy female general. The first time I saw this I gripped Molly’s arm so hard I almost left welts. Sometimes talking animals aren’t cute and can actually be pretty terrifying. This is such an indescribably powerful film and takes animation to a whole new level. Gut-wrenching and gorgeous.
1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – When two little girls move to the country to be closer to their ailing mother, they discover a gigantic fuzzy spirit living in the woods near their house who takes them on new adventures. Alright, so maybe it’s not quite as sophisticated as Mononoke, but I have to explain why Totoro will always hold the top spot in my heart. I first saw this film at a friend’s house when I was about six or seven years old. Literally, for years afterward, I searched high and low for this film, and asked anyone and everyone if they had heard of it, but no one had any idea what I was talking about. This was still before Google (oh yes I am just ancient), so even though I knew the film’s name I still couldn’t confirm that it existed. Finally, when I was about thirteen, I found someone who knew what I was talking about and could indeed confirm that this wasn’t some childhood fantasy and was a real movie. (Incidentally, both the friend who originally showed me the film and the friend who later confirmed its existence were Japanese-American, so maybe that’s why they were more in-the-know than everybody else.) Then, maybe another year later (whenever Fox released its English dub), my mom came home from the store with a copy of the long-treasured Totoro, which she had intended to send to my younger cousin as a birthday present. Needless to say, I immediately informed her that she was going to need to find another gift, because this one was mine. That is the tale of how Totoro entered my life, left again, and then joyously returned. Every time I watch it, I feel the same unadulterated joy and wonder I felt when I first saw it at six years old, and it takes me back to that time. Animation can do many things, one of which is to surprise us into feeling like a kid again; that is what Totoro does for me, and it’s one of my favorite things about the works of Studio Ghibli. No matter how old we are, we can all be inspired and entranced by the pictures they put before us, which they bring to life in a way no studio has surpassed either before or since.
Well! It’s now 3AM, I’m feeling relatively guilt-free, so I suppose it’s off to bed. Thank you for letting me ramble. And to my fellow old souls, do not fret! I’ll be back to classic fare soon enough! Thank you so much for humoring me and allowing this little sidetrack for a good cause. The karma will do you wonders.