Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) 1989 [Collaboration with Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews]

it’s been a little while since I hosted a collaboration here, so I was really happy that Scott was up for working with me on Kiki’s Delivery Service – the famous Studio Ghibli adaptation of Eiko Kadono’s book (and top-grossing film in Japan for 1989).

If you’ve not had the chance to see this film, I hope we’re able to make you at the very least, curious enough to check it out!

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) 1989

Ashley: Hey! Excited to start this collab, especially as it had definitely been a while since I’d seen Kiki’s Delivery Service and last time we worked together was on a mecha show, so this should be a fun contrast. 

How long has it been for you? I wondered if you noticed different things about the movie this time around?

Scott: Hey Ashley! I’m excited too. It’s been way too long since the last time and I think this one will be a fun one to discuss.

Honestly, it’s been way too long for me. Over a decade and half I think. Ever since my high school marching band days when we watched films on these nice buses that have tv screens that we could watch movies from. Kiki was a staple for that.

To be honest, I can’t say that I really noticed anything particularly different. The screen I watched it on was small and with the length of time, it’s like watching Kiki’s Delivery Service for the first time.

How about you?

A: Cool, what a contrast from the bus tv and environment to a more controlled one at home 🙂

It’s been a few years for me and this time around I was reminded just how key Joe Hisaishi’s music is to the overall Studio Ghibli feel for me, how it really adds to the whimsy (or the drama in some of the flying scenes) but also the scene-setting. 

I had also forgotten that Jiji is voiced by Rei Sakuma and her voice (and characterization) is obviously quite different to Phil Hartman’s, whom I had become really accustomed to. It’s an interesting contrast, especially in terms of their respective personalities in the original vs the dub – Hartman’s Jiji has a fair bit of that classic Disney sidekick comic-relief that’s not present in the Japanese release. I definitely love his performance but it was fun to see another side to Jiji.

S: Oh yeah, I agree with that feeling. The big question I have is if Joe Hisaishi didn’t do the OST for it, is it really a Ghibli film? I mean probably, but it wouldn’t feel the same.

I feel like there are always some localization changes like that in English versions of Ghibli films. Like, Princess Mononoke had a prologue narration while the Japanese version didn’t or how Spirited Away had San say “oh, it’s a bathhouse”, because that’s not a thing in the United States. So I suppose that going with that choice made sense for this film for western audiences.

So this film. Kiki is quite a film isn’t it?

A: Yes! I love coming of age films and so Kiki… automatically ticks a lot of boxes for me. 

I also really like how much dramatic tension there is in seemingly small stakes, such as those that come from delivering items, retrieving items or making the switch with Jiji etc, which is contrasted with the emotional beats of her quest for acceptance, self-discovery and of course, the bigger, action-based stuff in the latter half of the film.

S: I love them too, honestly. A well done coming of age story are some of my favorite things. So relatable and can be applied to so many scenarios to keep it fresh and interesting.

As for digging into details, there are so many of them in the story that just add so much extra fluff into it for me too. So many good little bits of micro attention that just makes the film a lot better then the viewer would first expect. I feel like that coincides with Kiki establishing herself because every moment is a little bit of tension.

A: I feel the same with those small details, like the work on the pastries or the slow warming of Osono’s Husband toward Kiki, or the stunning backgrounds, especially when it comes to the buildings. I feel like it’d be easy to do a whole post just on the scenery 😀

If you had to pick a high point for that tension around Kiki’s growth, what would it be do you reckon?

S: Exactly and there are just so many little bits like that to make the world feel so organic. Just like the bus driver given the time to actually close the door because he drives off. So many small things like that which add up and make the experience just so grounded.

Oh, the moment of tension? I feel like its centered around Kiki’s relationship with Tombo hits a whole point. Probably where she questions her magic. Very much where all the tension in the staying in that city suddenly explodes. I could be wrong about that though…

A: Same again! In fact, the questioning of her magic always made me a bit sad. The crushing, somewhat comparatively dull adult world pushing its way in? 

Maybe that’s a little negative of me – Kiki certainly finds plenty of fulfillment doing things adults do as well. Her sense of purpose and confidence from her independence, which is earned through all those non-magical things.

S: Isn’t questioning her magic so relatable though? She’s a little too early in her own life to think that was though. Especially comparing herself to her mom. Maybe she is growing up too fast by doing the usual witch tradition.

Yeah, I think her finding out she doesn’t need her magic to be around people or just live is a good way to carry this story. I think that her magic coming back from that understanding feels completely natural because of it.

A: It really is, definitely – and it suits the overall uplifting tone of the film too, huh?

So before we finish, I wanted to ask what or whether anything didn’t work so well for you?

S: I feel boring in saying in saying that I don’t have much against it? In some cases I just felt a bit rushed at some times? Some scenes didn’t have as much room to breathe as they could? That’s about it for me.

I really don’t have much to say against it. What about you?

A: For me I thought I was going to say that the film was a touch long… and yet, is that even true? Do I even have any actual criticisms – I don’t think I do, either 😀

It really feels like the Studio Ghibli team firing on all cylinders, creating a really fantastic adaptation, and visually, nailing the match of theme to visuals, of character to expression etc. So I’m like you – loved it, can’t really find anything to complain about!

And finally, huge thanks to Scott for joining me for another collaboration 🙂

Ni no Kuni Review [Collaboration with Curtis from Iridium Eye Reviews]

Greetings! It’s collaboration time again, in this one Curtis from Iridium Eye Reviews and I are going to chat about 2019 portal fantasy Ni no Kuni – a film we both enjoyed without being blown away, perhaps.

(You can see one of our previous reviews in Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers right here) Before we start, I have to say thanks to Curtis for some pretty impressive patience on this one, as it took me a bit longer than I’d hoped to get everything together 😀

Ashley: To kick things off I wanted to ask if you came to the film sort of ‘cold’ or whether you’d had a chance to play any games from the Ni No Kuni franchise? 

For me, I played Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2011) and was excited that Studio Ghibli did the cut scenes in that game, and so I went into the film expecting a certain aesthetic (which I definitely got, and really enjoyed). Having that little bit of background also took care of some world-building for me as a viewer too. I wondered if your first impressions of the film were influenced by the franchise or whether you had a more ‘clean slate’ viewing experience?

Ospreyshire/Curtis : I came into this movie cold. I have never played any of the games. All I knew was that Ghibli helped out in animating the game series, but that was pretty much it.

That’s cool with you having experience in playing this game. Studio Ghibli helping with a video game series is really cool as their skills could help a video game with the aesthetics as well as that animation company expanding their horizons in using their skills. This was purely a clean slate experience in going into this movie blind. As someone who has never played a game nor knowing anything about the world-building or exposition, I did feel like I was learning about the world much like the main characters.

I thought Ghibli was involved in the Ni no Kuni movie perhaps in a co-production or consulting role, but I was shocked to find out that OLM of all companies animated this film adaptation. Could’ve fooled me because it could pass as a Ghibli work (especially with the art, character designs, and Joe Hisaishi handling the music) instead of the same studio responsible for Gunsmith Cats, Yo-Kai Watch, and several installments of Pokemon of all things.

A: Wow, Gunsmith Cats and Ni no Kuni is a contrast 🙂

I feel the same, especially with Joe Hisaishi involved, yeah – it definitely feels like a Ghibli production in many ways, perhaps an industry they could have expanded even further into?

Here’s one of my fav questions – what jumped out for you in Ni no Kuni?

O: I know, right? I would’ve never guessed in a million years that they would’ve animated both.

I thought it was a Ghibli project going in with Joe Hisaishi and the character designs. This isn’t the first time I’ve had that feeling watching some anime projects this year. Maybe they could’ve expanded especially since they haven’t done that much in the late 2010s.

The animation and having a more mature story compared to most Ghibli works were interesting. Okay, I know this would still count as an isekai work, but it wasn’t a boring example of that genre. I legitimately wanted to know more about the world and the connections between there and earth. The alliances shifting in the second half did feel a bit intriguing.

A: I felt the same re: the changing alliances and the far less typical approach to the isekai formula.

I was interested in the way that the characters were tied to their world of origin, that vital storytelling notion of ‘cost’. An action taken by the characters has a consequence and I liked how the film resolved those issues.


O: Of course. I didn’t feel like I was watching some by-the-numbers Isekai work and there were some twists that I didn’t expect with the world building or how the characters were able to travel between worlds. It did keep me interested with the entire movie and as someone who didn’t play the games, I didn’t feel lost in any way. I thought the damsel in distress aspect did get avoided with the whole story not being about healing the princess. Even though that plot point did get awkward watching it in current times for obvious reasons, I didn’t think it was hampered by the modern world as much as let’s say (got to be brutally honest even though you know my thoughts on this) Weathering With You for example.

From an animation standpoint, this was one of the better OLM works especially if I legitimately thought it was a Ghibli movie. The animation flowed very well and the fight scenes had the right amount of fluidity to them. It felt like a movie and never felt like they were cutting corners here like they’ve done in previous works even on their best days.

A: Me too – I hadn’t put it together with all their Pokemon work say, but like you mention, the battles looked great and the buildings and cityscapes caught my eye, the sense of movement within or things like the horse charge Haru leads too.

I was a little surprised that it didn’t seem too well-received, many of the criticisms landing on it not delivering anything new. I don’t feel that originality is the most important metric out there.

For me, the film worked in part because it was familiar in terms of settings and tropes, and whatever elements were predictable in the plot didn’t bother me. I wanted to be satisfied more than surprised and while the visuals were beautiful and I was engaged with the characters (especially Yu) I was happy to go along with events.

Maybe there were exposition-heavy moments to drag things down a little but in the end I was probably most forgiving because I was keen to see how Yu and Haru’s friendship would withstand the tests it faces. It felt classic to me 🙂


O: There was certainly a ton of effort with the animation even with the little things shown in this movie.

Really? I’ve been doing my best to not look at other reviews for most of the things I watch unless it’s something I’ve previously seen before, but I wasn’t aware of the overall consensus. Ni no Kuni isn’t the most original anime which I do agree with, but it wasn’t a horrible watch nor did I feel like it was trying to copy others or coast on the Ghibli-affiliation with the video games even if I was mistaken thinking the studio animated the movie.

I certainly do my best to give my flowers when movies and series do something innovative, but there are times where the familiar can work. This wasn’t some avant-garde work, but it certainly wasn’t some genre-by-numbers dreck. I wanted to know who this was going to play out and how they’re able to go to different worlds or how Yu is able to use his abilities.

I agree the exposition got a bit much at times and the friendship between the characters had fascinating contrasts and good development as they’re both conflicted during the final act.

A: Sometimes after I’ve seen something I’ll try to seek (as best I can) a general consensus about how a film or show has been received and I very much find doing so to be a a double-edged sword 🙂

When I’m lucky I get some new insights or I pick up something I missed, but that doesn’t always happen. This time I was curious to see if people were writing about the movie in regard to disability representation. I don’t know how often Ni no Kuni got it ‘right’ when it came to portraying someone in a wheelchair, but I definitely had the sense that Yu was given proper thought and attention, especially in the earth-based scenes.

When I think about something the film didn’t deliver so well perhaps, one thing that comes to mind is maybe the Black Hooded Man, who seems a little inconsistent – or perhaps even constrained by the plot too easily (trying not to spoil certain plot points :D).

Did anything in particular strike you as a weak point? 

O: I’ve done that sometimes and it occasionally factors into my reviews. There were a few times (can’t remember which posts at the moment) where I mention the consensus and I compare/contrast with my thoughts against the masses…or at the very least Rotten Tomatoes and/or Metacritic.

You bring up an excellent point. You don’t see that many physically disabled characters in animated works. The only ones I can think of in the context of being wheelchair-bound are Pelswick, Prof. Xavier from the X-Men, and Garrett from Extreme Ghostbusters. I don’t know if I’m the most qualified person to talk about this issue, but from what I saw, Yu was a character who happens to be in a wheelchair instead of a wheelchair-using character. That makes a huge difference in the presentation. Sure, he’s clearly seen using it in the earth scenes, but his personality goes beyond that in both realms, so I do applaud that. I do wonder if Ni No Kuni would get attention from disability activists in portraying a character in that light.

Yeah, the Black Hooded Man came out of nowhere and didn’t have as much development. As I’m also trying to avoid spoilers, I did figure out his true identity by looking at the right signs. They did throw a decoy with that mystery, but I still figured it out even if it wasn’t exactly how I planned it. I could also mention how the revelation does play up a certain cliche with specific occupations, but I don’t want to give away the twist.

Outside of that issue, I did think some of the background characters didn’t get much development. It’s even more glaring in the fantasy world with so many characters of different colors, shapes, sizes, forms, and species around. Even if some had personalities, they were mainly there to show how different it is compared to earth.

One scene that I thought was very awkward was early on where those healers were trying to cure that disease by dancing or singing. Not only did it feel a bit random even if it made sense with the plot at that time, but am I the only person who thought the attire and presentation was a bit racially coded? If they were analogs of those in the East Indian or Middle Eastern communities (granted, the “earth” parallels aren’t bound by this [spoilers minimized]), then the creators should have re-thought things. I’m not saying it’s as bad as the crows in Dumbo or Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball Z for example, but that did make me raise an eyebrow there. Despite some of my issues with the more mainstream Ghibli movies where Hayao Miyazaki would be in the director’s chair, at least he would’ve really gone in detail with the world-building and have a sense of wonder. Ni no Kuni doesn’t feel like a typical Isekai work despite the obvious tropes, but they could’ve done better to stand out more. Those were a few flaws that came to mind. How about you?

A: I know what you mean about the twist and reveal there, I felt the same re: being confident that I knew who but not why precisely.

Those are good points that I’d missed, yeah. Nothing new comes to mind now that I think about it… maybe a touch more on the old man, who is probably meant to be Oliver from the game. On the other hand, maybe it’s more fun to leave open a hint of doubt!

O: Glad I’m not alone in noticing that. Sure, how it played out was a good twist, but the result was quite obvious for me.

Thanks. As someone who wasn’t familiar with the original video games, I will say that it was a decent entry into that series and I’ve certainly seen far worse examples of video game adaptations in film or TV series, so Ni no Kuni has that going for it. This not-Ghibli movie was fine, but certainly not a masterpiece in my opinion. Thanks for collaborating with me again! It’s always a pleasure having someone to team up with to review some anime.

A: My pleasure! (Am already thinking about another collab for the future :D)

Adjustable points:

Pros/add

-Add 1 point if you like classic hero stories
-Add 1-2 points if you’re a fan of fantasy anime.

Cons/subtract

-Subtract 1 point if you need a truly memorable villain
-Subtract 1-2 points if you’re not into isekai plots.

Score:
3.5 out of 5 (Ashley/The Review Heap)
3.5 out of 5 (Ospreyshire/Curtis)

Children of the Sea (Kaijū no Kodomo)

Children of the Sea (Kaijū no Kodomo) 2019

Kicking off this review with some useless trivia – I had actually arranged with my local cinema to maybe screen Children of the Sea back in January but the bushfires prevented that – and obviously, I didn’t want people to risk their lives on entertainment stuff at that point, but I was pretty excited to finally see the film last night.

And if I was rating Children of the Sea only on the visuals and animation, it’d be 5 stars no sweat, everything really is stunning.

However, the narrative lost enough of its momentum at one point, that I know I’ll end the review at 4 Stars. Does that matter? I mean, do star ratings (or even opinions) mean much? Not really – everyone has to decide whether they’ll watch something based on their own markers, but what I’m trying to say is that I loved the look of this movie, right down to the pencil-stroke aesthetic for the character faces.

I’m probably more familiar with earlier Studio 4°C works like Spriggan and Memories but I am now really looking forward to their next release, Poupelle of Chimney Town. However, to actually get back to Children of the Sea itself, I thought Ruka was a great leading character and I was quickly invested in her struggles, thanks to a clever opening. Umi is my second favourite of course, though the boundary-challenged Sora is kind of jerk 😀

Before a significant shift, and one that surprised me, the tone of the film strikes a balance between mystery, wonder and social isolation. It’s all brought together by the visuals, which are ultimately very realistic for most of the film, but can be more vividly presented, and even slightly magical.  

I won’t share the premise or too much of the plot here, because while on the surface Children of the Sea still looks like an aquatic-themed fantasy adventure film (mixed in with some coming-of-age stuff) there are two genres that are perhaps more apt when I think about the film now, because the preview certainly gave me one impression…

But I think that magical realism is more accurate than a general fantasy tag – and if I say too much about why I believe that to be the case, I might inadvertently spoil stuff. To circle back to what I mentioned re: that shift in tone, there’s a point where the movie becomes extremely metaphysical and it was there that, while the visuals remain entrancing, the storyline stalled.

Again, in the end I didn’t mind so much, and I look forward to watching Children of the Sea for a second time one day, but be prepared to go beyond the realms of what you might have first expected, if you choose to watch this!

4 Stars

(Review 148)

Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki)

Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki) 1989

Post Akira fame, I suspect studios felt that there was definitely room for more futuristic dystopian stories with cool bikes and teen rebellion on the big screen.

Maybe that helped Venus Wars get the green light back in the late 1980s but setting that aside, I think the manga must have been strong too because I think its detail and characterisation remains visible in the anime, even with a lot of focus on animating exciting chases and battles.

‘Determination’ expression close-up time here

However, Venus Wars was not well-received at home and it took a few years for the film to be released and then gain traction overseas too. I wish I could learn a little more about that reception specifically, as I’m only able to find a few quotes on retailer websites. In the same places you’ll probably come across this from author and director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko:

“Thirty years ago, I was a loser. Because of the humiliation and the irritation to myself, I decided to seal this film…Now I want to apologize to the film and everyone, and I sincerely hope you watch this film pulled from the time capsule with the eyes of the contemporary age.”

which struck me as really sad, because when I watch Venus Wars now I don’t see the work of a loser at all.

Obviously, the movie is not without flaws (perhaps the pacing at times for me) but it’s really impressive. The world-building shows a grimy, oppressive Venus; the detail on the bikes and tanks, the ships and the buildings, it’s all great. The action sequences are fluid and usually filled with tension – and perhaps most of all, the characters are believable and engaging even with a reasonably large cast and a short (compared to a series or manga) running time.

Things that deserve emotional impact are rarely rushed through and the tension grows beyond the war itself, as our battle bike heroes find rebellion has a cost – and at the same time, the viewers are reminded that the people who suffer in a war are rarely those at the top. Aside from those smaller moments re: the politics, Venus Wars devotes a bit of time to romance too, and in that respect its ability to bring the conventions of many genres together makes it feel a bit like a Hollywood blockbuster.

Switching to the visuals a moment, I really liked the use of reds, greens and shadows within Venus Wars. The palette really sells both the ‘other planet’ setting and the war itself, also feeding into the grimy look and giving even the buildings an unhealthy pallor. And if the character designs at times bring to mind Mobile Suit Gundam then that might be because Yasuhiko was responsible for both works 😀

I do have a few quibbles with the movie, one being story-based and another perhaps more of a note about the visuals, I guess – but first, I wanted to quickly mention the ‘Earth reporter’ Sue. At first, I read her as unsympathetic, despite her bravery and drive.

Chekhov, right?

Established as a reporter who is kinda hungry for war (because it would give her a scoop of course) I was ready to write her off but she does have something of a redemption arc, though it’s not presented that way because I don’t think the film sees her goals as questionable. Still, she’s important and gets more screen time than say Miranda, which is a shame because she’s far cooler 😀

Aside from perhaps a bit too much time spent at the race track early on, the other pacing issue seems to be the inclusion of a few scenes with the gay soldier (Chris) – he must have had a meaningful role in the manga, but in the film his scenes are just there to operate as jokes or something? So that’s a mark against Venus Wars for me.

Gary has a mentor role so he ended up as one of my favourites 😀

Elsewhere there are some heavily filtered ‘live action’ moments that are used to represent Sue’s camera footage – a choice I really like intellectually but seeing it, despite being integrated fairly well, I didn’t actually enjoy that much.

Overall, I think Venus Wars is definitely worth seeing for science-fiction anime fans, especially if you’re interested in fairly big budget, high quality ‘old-school’ animation or works that owe a little something to Akira.

4 Stars

I also went a little overboard on the screen caps here:

The framing here and below are a couple of examples of the camera really placing you right ‘in’ the scene
‘Venus Wars’ has a bit of fan service but doesn’t go overboard
Safety first

Robot Carnival (Robotto Kānibaru)

Robot Carnival (Robotto Kānibaru) 1987

This anthology really started something great and while for me, it’s not as strong minute-to-minute as one of Otomo’s later anthology-releases Memories, it’s still a must-see for fans of anime history, or science-fiction anime.

Just like with all anthologies out there, not everyone will enjoy every single short in the collection, but out of the nine here you’ll definitely find something to like if you dig robots. For most people, a short called Presence tends to be the favourite but I’ll come to that in a little while.

Instead I’m going to quickly mention (with spoilers for shorts 4 and 8) something from each of the other pieces, some of which basically focus on the exploration of the medium and technique, rather than narrative (but that’s not necessarily a negative at all):

1 Opening

At times, the Opening (and Ending) evokes a demented, terrifying Fantasia and as impressive as it is, it’s a kinda depressing first note.  

2 Franken’s Gears

Obviously a mechanical Frankenstein – like many of the pieces here it reveals a fantastic level of detail. And, like a few of them it’s played a bit like a silent move in terms of dialogue at least.

3 Deprive

This one feels like a straight up action sci-fi (and it is) – short and to the point, I’d have loved dialogue but all the storytelling is still there and there’s some great character designs.

4 Presence

See below 🙂

5 Star Light Angel

Watching this today it kinda feels like the perfect film-clip to a city-pop love song, and the existing music in the episode already gives off that vibe, actually. Elsewhere, musical giant Joe Hisaishi ranges from action-synth or haunting piano pieces.

6 Cloud

Occasionally folks report this animated series of illustrations as their least favourite and sure, it’s not action-packed but it has the most intense visual representations of a storm; it’s worth seeing for that passage alone.

7 Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion

This one plays as a kinda goofball comedy or parody of a propaganda film (and most of the cast is amusing) but the lead hero is pretty tedious, as his answer to every problem or question is essentially to shout “shut up”.

8 Chicken Man and Red Neck

This is fairly harrowing and again evokes a more sinister Fantasia as robots in a futuristic city rise up to party during the night – it’s incredibly complex and often frenetic, and another highlight.

9 Ending

(As above :D)

4 Presence

And finally the most compelling of the stories, for me and many folks over the years it seems, which is Presence by Yasuomi Umetsu.

Now, there’s lots to like the fourth short film, from the clever introduction to the world and its robotics, to the lush colours and distinctive character design or the memorable storyline, but I think a lot of reviews miscategorise this one as a tragedy.

For me, it’s more of an extended vignette of a villain and a coward.

The protagonist is an ungrateful sap who has refused to accept the things which should make him happy, and attempts to replace his loneliness with a robot companion. Whether the girl (whose design is reminiscent of Holiday-era Madonna) provides companionship, sex or both, becomes almost incidental as the story takes a turn.

Once she dares to request a life of self-direction, he freaks out and attacks her. After this act, he seals his creation away and just returns to his life, continuing to ignore all the things he has and worse, things which he denied to the girl he built.

At the end, after a couple of time jumps, he commits his final act of cowardice and cements his role of villain, as someone truly worthy of the viewer’s contempt.

And that’s part of what makes it such a great short film – it evoked a strong response 🙂

Okay, there we go – spoilers over! And can you believe that I set out to make this a short review? I suck at that lately!

4 Stars

Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta)

Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta) 1992

Ah, the Crimson Pig – another classic Ghibli film, and another chance for Miyazaki to explore romance and the thrill of flight, along with the planes themselves too.

Having opened with that statement I’ll quickly add that Porco Rosso is still most definitely an action film but there’s a real sense of a sweeping, even war-time Hollywood romance to a lot of the story and setting, which is no surprise given the historical aspects.

Doubtless everyone is aware that this movie was based on a Miyazaki manga and commissioned (at first) as a shorter film for flights upon Japan Airlines. But it quickly grew into a full-length feature and I reckon it’s one of his best, though Porco doesn’t get the same attention as say, Spirited Away, Howls or Totoro.

In brief, Porco Rosso is the story of an Italian ace fighter pilot who has turned his back on humanity and even cursed himself into having a pig’s head. He now works the Adriatic sea as a bounty hunter and struggles to deal with his old life – perhaps chief amongst his worries is former love Gina (voiced in the dub by Susan Egan who you might recognise as Lin from Spirited Aaway).

Again, I’ll skip away from too many details of the plot but there’s a lot of comedy in the movie too, mostly provided by Porco’s rival, the ego maniac (yet somewhat honorable) Curtis.

But there’s plenty of room for slapstick too and some good one-liners, and perhaps most amusingly, Miyazaki gets to expand upon the comical (even silly) fist fight routine he also used in Laputa: Castle in the Sky years earlier.

But I think most of what really enthrals me each time I see the film is the stunning scenery – it’s an idealised but still enchanting version of Europe – even with the fascists. And having Porco’s plane painted red really makes it pop against the sunny blues and greens; I guess it’s an obvious but still effective choice.

Of course, being a visual medium I’m gonna mention the actual plane designs and attention to detail there too, which seems stunning, and the dogfights are always fantastic. I wish I knew more about aviation to really appreciate the work I think Miyazaki and Ghibli put in to those aspects, actually.

But another aspect that stands out to me was the dub – it felt like, post the success of Spirited Away, Disney decided to put a fair bit of money behind the voice acting.

I always feel a little sad when I don’t give the original actors enough credit, since they deserve to be heard, but I’ve grown really accustomed to Michael Keaton as Porco and Cary Elwes as Curtis (in fact, all of Cary’s work for Ghibli feels perfect to me :D). There’s even a gruff Brad Garrett right around the peak of Everybody Loves Raymond in a smaller role.

Aside from the adventure, romance and aerial battles, this might be Miyazaki’s most intertexual film for Ghibli, since it comes jam-packed full of references – I’m sure I’ve missed some but it feels like there are so many: Hollywood-style movie posters, Gina’s lounge-singing scene, the Disney and Betty Boop homages in the cinema, the historical context of course and the haunting Roald Dahl scene to name a few.

I guess there’s also a few in-jokes, and maybe Fio hearkens back to Nausicaa somewhat, in the way that the fist fight looks back to Miyazaki’s earlier work too. In fact, there’s one of his quotes that I found when I went digging:

“When a man becomes middle-aged, he becomes a pig”

And I wonder if middle age (I guess he was around 50 at the time) influenced a lot of the nostalgia found in the movie? (As opposed to Miyazaki claiming that he himself was a pig).

The richness of the allusions continue to Joe Hisashi’s soundtrack too – which is perhaps not as lush as that of Howl’s Moving Castle, but when I listen to it now I wonder if it isn’t more romantic? So much is beautiful:

But there’s also the moments like this, to circle back to the allusions, where it seems Hisaishi is channeling Flight of the Bumblebee:

And I’m sure there are other aspects I missed there, but since this review ended up being far longer than I first imagined, I think I’ll wrap it up now and just say that I love this movie 😀

5 Stars

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta)

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta) 1986

The first official Ghibli film, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a steampunk adventure that will feel similar in some ways to Miyazaki’s previous epic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, though Castle in the Sky is overall, a lighter story due to the inclusion of more comedy.

It’s one of the first things I noticed when I originally saw the film actually – the slapstick and wacky characterisation even feels cartoonish this time, as if those aspects were pitched at a younger audience perhaps, but the themes and trials the characters go through are just as serious as in other Miyazaki works.

There’s more than a few echoes of Future Boy Conan too (which shouldn’t be a surprise of course) but the steampunk elements are more grounded, if you can permit me a pun, featuring one key setting of a mining town and the underground.

Of course, the classic Miyazaki delight with the power and nature of flight still features heavily in Castle in the Sky too and the ‘older civilisation with greater tech’ trope is in full force, one I suspect I will never tire of!

There’s plenty of action like chases and fights, along with top notch animation as to be expected, and I still get a bit of a chill when the Robot first comes to life and goes on its rampage.

In fact, I think the most memorable aspect might just be the Robots and the ruins of the flying city – I reckon I was almost transformed into a kid when I first saw those scenes; the sense of wonder is so strong and I suspect, even if people don’t know the film they know what the robots look like.

It was also pretty cool to see what I still think of as the clear inspiration for both Pikachu and Eevee, in the form of the Fox Squirrels from Nausicaa making a cameo in the garden scene.

Actually, I shouldn’t forget Dola and her pirate gang, she’s one of the best Miyazaki characters around – she tends to steal pretty much all the scenes she’s in 🙂

Anyway, on the off chance that you’ve never seen this adventure there’s lots of other aspects to enjoy – for instance, if you’re watching the dub, Mark Hammil is a great villain and whichever audio track you choose you can enjoy more stirring music from Joe Hisaishi – my favourite is the theme:

(It’s actually the second song here – sorry :D)

5 Stars

Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro)

Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro)
2004

Miyazaki and the Ghibli team are almost always stellar at the art of adaptation.

Back in the 1980s the title Howl’s Moving Castle referred to a fantastic, semi-satirical and wonderfully imaginative book by English writer Diana Wynne Jones – and if any anime fan out there isn’t aware of it, go grab a copy as it’s heaps of fun.

For the film adaptation of Howl’s Miyazaki created what some reviewers have argued was another visually stunning film but one that suffers from a dense plot.

Personally, I’d argue that Howl’s Moving Castle the film actually uses a simplified plot, where characters in the book might be combined into one for the film (Sophie has two sisters in the book for instance), or where subplots are either left out or melded.

(And I personally have no problem with this approach (by any filmmaker.) A film is not a book. They are meaningfully different and attempts to attack one for failing to reflect the conventions of the other is tedious :D)

But back to Howl’s Moving Castle!

Because it’s the castle itself that will probably enchant you as much as the characters or story, I thought a couple of images would be in order (just in case you’ve never come across the film) because it’s an amazing piece of work, blending CGI and cel animation in a very fluid manner.

Living in the castle is the mysterious Howl, a wizard who enchants (not literally – someone else does that) the main character, Sophie, early on in the film, establishing the strong romantic aspect of the plot. Woven between their developing relationship, is magic, war and domesticity all offset by a curse placed on young Sophie, trapping her in the body of a 90 year old woman.

As with many other Miyazaki films, there is a familiar anti-war theme, but he’s not heavy handed – even if some of Howl’s dialogue might been seen as such. More value for the viewer will probably come, once again, from characters’ relationships  –  take fire-demon Calcifer for one, whose relationship with Howl is not only complex and amusing, but vital to the plot in more ways than one.

Once again, Joe Hisaishi is on board to work on the soundtrack, with lush waltzes and sombre moments to offset the drama of the action sequences.

Two pieces really stay with me whenever I watch the film, the first is one of the most haunting pieces in the OST, with that classic Hisaishi sparseness that builds:

And the other is the signature theme – but as I really like it as performed on acoustic guitar too, I thought I’d share this by Sungha Jung:

So far of course this review has just been me blathering about how good the fulm is – well, maybe the second half isn’t quite as fun, as everything is getting more serious and that’s not actually a criticism, so much as a necessity, really so basically – I have no real complaints as a viewer.

Still, on the off chance you haven’t seen this yet – do so 😀

5 Stars