The Wonderland (Bāsudē Wandārando) 2019

Even as I type this, I’m sick of my own go-to thought being something like ‘compare this one to Ghibli’, because that’s lazy of me.

Moreover, Studio Ghibli hasn’t released a non-CGI feature for six years or so. And nor do they own ‘awe and whimsy’. No studio does, of course! (Having said that, I know Wonderland has been compared to Ghibli and Miyazaki films in particular.)

But it is different in terms of tone and execution.


The Wonderland is an old-school portal fantasy (or ‘Isakei’ to use the anime lingo) where characters are led into a fairy-tale world (rather than a game), which makes sense considering that it’s based on a children’s story from 1988*.

And the world that Akane and her aunt must save is a real draw for me since it’s got plenty of surprises and fun, whimsical settings, characters and moments. There’s also a classic ‘reluctant hero’ plot and it’s nice to see Akane quickly become less selfish as the story progresses.

(Of course, there’s an understandable reluctance – being asked to save a magical world you never knew existed would be worrisome to say the least).

As much as I enjoyed most of the film, there was something missing from the narrative. Perhaps strong ties to the central problem Akane is being asked to solve? Or maybe I wanted more from the villain too?

Still, the art and animation was beautiful and Chii was an interesting addition to the leads, and so I didn’t mind. And there were funny moments to balance the menacing ones too (without spoilers) like with Akane and the cats or Hippocrates’ transformation.

The Wonderland is aimed at younger audiences but it’s not G-rated either, so there’s violence but I don’t actually remember blood. Having noted the target audience, I found it interesting that an adult from the real world was allowed to come along for the adventure, which is kinda rare in YA fiction.

Directed by Keiichi Hara, (Miss Hokusai), this adaption was only released a few years ago now but I don’t remember hearing about it, not back then and not very often now either. I’m curious if anyone else had a chance to see it?

Maybe 4 Stars is a little generous in terms of a rating but for me, in a visual medium the visuals sometimes make up for other issues 😀

*Chikashitsu Kara no Fushigi na Tabi (Strange Journey from the Basement) by Sachiko Kashiwaba

Miss Hokusai (Sarusuberi: Miss Hokusai)

Miss Hokusai (Sarusuberi: Miss Hokusai) 2015

I definitely enjoyed this film, as I tend to gravitate toward stories that are about artists of just about any form, but this was bright and memorable for me in terms of visuals and characters too, if not the storyline, precisely. More on that below however.

Obviously I’m hardly qualified to discuss the source material in terms of its balance between historical fact and drama, but I wouldn’t say I was surprised to see Hokusai often relied on his daughter to finish commissions and so Ōi’s work probably went unrecognised fairly often.

Though that wasn’t precisely the main source of tension in the film for me, I think the family relationships and Ōi’s efforts to help her younger sister took up a bigger portion – that and Ōi’s personal struggles with her work and identity.

I know some folks didn’t enjoy the episodic nature of the storytelling and maybe I personally would have preferred a more conventional approach in some ways, because I think I’m somewhat conditioned to expect that when a film is biographical.

And yet, asking and expecting that would kinda be a bit reductive of me… because in a way, I think the film now rests in my memory as a collection of impressionistic moments that aren’t necessarily connected to the cause and effect of a traditional linear narrative, and that’s probably just as impactful anyway!

Overall, I think I was most excited to be offered a look at the lifestyles of painters during the Edo period and ended up really enjoying the detours into mythology, along with the actual artworks themselves of course.

Definitely recommended if you like somewhat meandering family dramas or biographical films that don’t precisely play out in a typical fashion.

4 Stars