THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY [2010] movie review

March 15, 2012

I am extremely thankful for every movie touched by Hayao Miyazaki that Studio Ghibli produces, never knowing if it will be the last one.  If THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is the last, it would offer one final look into the imaginary world Miyazaki finds in the countryside of Japan.  The animation style of Studio Ghibli remains a wonder to behold on screen and provides further proof that today’s children are really missing out being only exposed to new movie releases in CGI.  When Studio Ghibli draws rain, I feel like I am getting wet.  When Arrietty buttons her bag, I can feel the textures of it.  Watching ARRIETTY is an organic experience.

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PONYO [2008] review

December 5, 2009

In what is probably the very last Hayao Miyazaki film, PONYO unfortunately does not place a cherry on top of a grand collection of animation masterpieces, but rather puts an odd bookend of a movie with almost no story and a pointless climax utterly free of suspense.

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PORCO ROSSO [1992] review

March 30, 2008

After watching PORCO ROSSO tonight, there are no Miyazaki movies left for me, save for his new one coming out this summer. What began with either PRINCESS MONONOKE or NAUSICAA quite a few years ago, has ended tonight with the fitting PORCO ROSSO. One last trip into the enchanted Miyazaki universe with its unparalleled animation and score. I just kept thinking, I’d take Miyazaki’s traditional 2D animation over any CG animation ever made, and no matter how good CG gets, I would still take Miyazaki’s animation over it any day.

PORCO is a simple story following the simple life of a pig-man that just happens to be the best pilot in Italy in the 1920’s. And he speaks Japanese, as do all the other characters, though all signs and labels are in Italian as well. There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding him that is only revealed to us seemingly in a whisper, but it is enough to make us like Porco and see why others do as well.

The ending may have been a little too ambiguous, either part of Miyazaki writing himself into a corner, or just wanting the mystery surrounding Porco’s fate too live on in the viewer’s imagination all the stronger.

I’d classify PORCO as one of Miyazaki’s more industrial, anti-war movies, in line with LAPUTA and HOWL’S. These are all great movies, but I prefer his overtly Nature worship movies like NAUSICAA (one of the few truly flawless films I’ve ever seen) and TOTORO.

CASTLE IN THE SKY [1986] review

April 15, 2007

Totoro and I watched CASTLE IN THE SKY tonight, my seventh Miyazaki film. CASTLE stands in stark contrast to most other Miyazaki films, maybe most closely resembling HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, in that it depicts the machinery of war a lot. This is by far the most action packed Miyazaki film I’ve seen. Maybe Miyazaki himself was aware of this, for his next movie, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, including not even a single enemy or machine of war. There were moments of contemplation and wonder in CASTLE, but they were just brief pauses between long action sequences and explosions.

Not surprisingly my two favorite scenes were when Sheeta and Pazu encounter Uncle Pom where the latter tells a tale of a magical, forgotten element. The other was when Sheeta and Pazu follow someone through a garden of wonder.

Driving all the action and adventure is another solid story from Miyazaki’s bountiful imagination with the usual assortment of colorful characters, with the standout Dola–female pirate captain. The story reveals its secrets and revelations with the usual sense of wonder. Things introduced to us as simple things, later show their full power.

Sheeta is a strong and determined heroine, bring joy and energy to all around her. She quickly earns the loyalty of Pazu, a fellow orphan who eagerly protects her and is pleased to find out they share a similar pursuit, learning of the legendary castle in the sky. The climax of the movie is an explosion of bittersweet action. Though not quite as magical as other Miyazaki films, it still had plenty to make it a great movie.


I wonder why the spell for “save me” is a complicated set of about 5 words but the spell for “destruction” is a simple two-syllable word??

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO [1988] review

March 10, 2007

Because he knows this, the spirits in MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, are all the more magical. Totoro seems to understand Japanese just fine, but he/she/it only ever replies with a series of deep bellows and wide grins. When Totoro is wake, his/her/its eyes are in a constant state of wide-openness so that he/she/it always looks surprised. … And Totoro’s reaction of first fright to a raindrop hitting he/she/its umbrella then gradually turning to delight is quite the magical movie scene. I loved the way his/her/its fur all frizzed out in reaction.

…As always Miyazaki paints a landscape that anyone would yearn to live in. The whole movie I was questioning why the hell do I live in the city? … The worst part about the movie was that it ended without giving me another scene in its enchanted forest.

At first I was surprised to see a male lead character in a Miyazaki film, as I thought he always uses girls. When another boy reacted with great embarrassment upon first seeing the male lead, I thought that was strange. … But once the male lead stepped out into the open I saw he was wearing a skirt, and then there was no doubt it was a girl after the numerous trademark Miyazaki bloopers exposing shots.

…The two girls moved into a deserted country home with their father while their mother finishes recovering from a never named illness. … Right away we learn that the house was not actually deserted but filled with tiny dust ball creatures. Soon thereafter we are introduced to Totoro, who apparently is quite a deep sleeper not easily roused.

The score by Joe Hisaishi (he does all of Miyazaki’s films) was especially good with a great theme for whenever Totoro comes on screen or something magical happens.

The story is incredibly simple, and the plot and climax of the movie involve quite simple things, which made me eager for more, more, more Totoro. I plan on buying a Totoro stuffed toy for my room as soon as I can.

UPDATE #1 — I did buy a stuffed Totoro who resides on my bed in the day time.

UPDATE #2 — my second viewing of Totoro on Saturday 25, 2008

There was only one movie I could watch after my final skimboarding session in Japan, and that was MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.  It’s the only movie pure enough to accompany and complement the purity of skimboarding and the Sea.  I also got to watch it with Aya too, our first Miyazaki movie together.

I found the character of Mai to be kind of annoying this time, and thought she was misbehaving too much and being unreasonable.  Other than that, the scene where Totoro waits for the bus in the rain along with the two heroine girls of the story remains one of my all-time favorite movie scenes.

I liked the Cat Bus much more this time, maybe because Aya likes it so much.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE [2005] review

February 27, 2006

I am of the camp that Hayao Miyazaki is the greatest film animator of all-time. His imagination is second to none. His ability to visualize the deepest parts of his imagination up on the screen makes each one of his movies something to be relished. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE retains his great visuals, but I feel does not have as strong a story backing it as his other films.

What I loved about HOWL’S were the characters, especially Calcifer. I was fortunate to get to see the movie with the original Japanese voices and English subtitles. My only very, very basic understanding of Japanese was enough to often understand what Calcifer was saying. The silent Turniphead, Markl, and later obachan all made up a nice family. Yet I didn’t really ever know why Howl himself didn’t like war. And I didn’t know clearly who the two opposing sides were or why they were fighting. Maybe these weren’t so important.

My favorite visual sequence was toward the end, when the falling stars bounced upon the surface of a lake transforming into a tiny figure than lightly danced a few steps before fading from existence. The accompanying music made for a pure Miyazaki piece of visual poetry.