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…)

Tonka (1958)

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