The Incredibles is a wonderful film full of metaphor and visual splendor. Brought to the world by the brilliant storytellers at Pixar, marking their last in a brilliant string of classic films cut short by the stale Cars two years later. The Incredibles is about a family of superheroes who are no longer “legally” allowed to use their powers. The government hides and subsidizes them to not use their powers. Bob’s family has issues not terribly different from those without superpower but they are content with this life. Bob, however, is increasingly dissatisfied with his role as a spineless bureaucrat. He spends his nights listening to a police scanner, breaking the law, and saving lives. He is offered a secret job stress testing a weapon on a remote island.
Richard Linklater directs an all-star cast in the film “A Scanner Darkly”, the tale of an undercover cop in a futuristic, dystopian world, fighting on the front lines of the drug war, becoming a victim himself.
In the world the movie creates, we are only a few years down the road, in an America plagued by a dangerous new drug – Substance D. With the number of users growing and growing, the government instills a high-tech, rather invasive, security network, tracking phone calls, interpersonal interactions, and even recording you inside your home. Beyond this, they have developed a sophisticated informant network with undercover police officers, Keanu Reeves being one of them. It’s this element the action of the film revolves around – Reeves walking the line between cop and addict, the later taking over his world.
I don’t know about you, but I had absolutely no desire to be in the world while election results were coming in on Nov 8. So instead, I went to my favorite “escape from the world” place: a movie theater. A friend and I decided on Trolls. An hour and a half of bright colors and rousing musical numbers just seemed like a good idea before finding out who gets to screw up the country over the next four years.
Trolls was actually a pleasant surprise though. It wasn’t just good in a fun kids movie sort of way, it actually made me realize some important things I needed to remember as my country becomes as divided as I’ve ever seen it. [Spoilers below].
Lesson 1: We can still be happy without shitting on other people
The antagonists of this movie are the Bergens, unhappy creatures that believe the only way to be happy is to eat the trolls. What makes the dynamic of Bergentown especially interesting is that any Bergen under the age of 20, including the king of Bergentown, has never actually tasted a troll, as the trolls escaped captivity 20 years before the primary plot arc of the film. So your primary villain isn’t someone who is just straight up evil, it’s someone who has been socialized to believe a lie, and that belief inspires him to do evil things. The movie isn’t a story of good triumphing over evil, it’s a story of good teaching evil the error in their ways.
Unlike some, I personally do not believe all Trump supporters are just straight up evil. I do however, believe many view the world as a false dichotomy. They have trouble seeing how immigrants and native-born citizens can live in peace and even benefit from each other’s presence, and instead believe one group can only benefit at the expense of the other. They believe that the rights of Americans are more important than the rights of people born elsewhere, even though such people are equally human. And I think for many, those beliefs were instilled in them at a young age. They voted for Trump not because they’re just terrible human beings that Satan sent to destroy America, but because they genuinely believe that was the only way to restore their own prosperity after other systems have failed them. Sad!
Trolls is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be “us vs. them” even when the world around us constantly tells us that it is. There are ways to be happy and successful without infringing on the rights of others. (more…)
*SPOILER WARNING* This essay heavily uses textual evidence from throughout the film.
The name “Zootopia” (a portmanteau of “zoo” and “utopia”) works ambivalently as the declaration of what this animal society wants to be and as an ironic joke about its failure to meet those aspirations. The joke is on us though since it’s one large Aesop’s fable about prejudice in the real world. The city motto is “anyone can be anything [and not be limited by what they are],” an ideal that protagonist Judy Hopps takes as her own personal motivation to become the world’s first bunny police officer. However the anthropomorphic pretense of the film forces characters to test their devotion to the ideals of this claimed post-racial utopia. Judy believes that foxes can be trusted, despite personal experience and warnings from well-meaning though racist parents, but is she willing to bet her life on it? This is the “Chekov’s gun” of the film, represented by something that literally goes where Judy’s police issued side-arm would be if this weren’t a cartoon. Judy reaches for the “gun” when fear overwhelms logic for the film’s argument about how we don’t live in a society rid bigotry, but only a society that wants to be rid of it.
It’s a very daring choice to make a world full of prejudice and have this spread over into other marginalized characters as well as the main characters. It’s writing 101 to throw the worst and most unfavorable traits at your villains, not the heroes. Supporting lead Nick Wilde (a fox) carelessly calls Judy “carrots” and “cute,” which the rules of the film sates are racist slurs for rabbits. Judy accidentally performs a micro-aggression on Nick, praising him as a “real articulate fella.”. (more…)
I went to see Zootopia last week expecting a solid children’s movie. What I didn’t expect was arguably the most libertarian children’s movie in recent memory. Seriously, Ayn Rand could have written this thing. Zootopia can teach kids about all sorts of libertarian ideals, such as citizen accountability, skepticism of government officials, civil liberties, and the rejection of majority rule justification.
We start with a relatively simple premise common in kid’s movies: our lead character has a dream that the world says will never come true. In this case, that lead character is a bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants to be a police officer. A bunny has never been a police officer before, but Judy works hard and becomes the first one. What makes Zootopia somewhat unique is that it spends relatively little screen time telling us how that dream comes true. Instead, the movie focuses on all of Judy’s struggles after she becomes a cop and how sometimes dreams aren’t everything we thought they would be.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I even knew Pinocchio was a children’s novel and not a fairy tale out of Grimm’s or the like. And, boy howdy, is it a doozy; thirty-six chapters of absolutely bizarre Italian children’s literature circa 1880s. Granted, the chapters fly by like in Moby Dick, with each only being about three or four pages long. The book actually reads like an epic fable with very simple moral that is omnipresent: go to school and mind your parents.
The main differences between the book and the Disney film (I’m sticking with that adaptation for brevity’s sake) consist of a larger role for Jiminy Cricket in the film, who is only referred to as the Talking Cricket in the book; a smaller role for the fairy in the film, who is the Blue Haired Fairy in the book; and the actual character of Pinocchio, who is sweet and naive in the film as opposed to an amoral ass in the book.
In 1950 cartoonist Charles M. Shultz debuted what would become arguably the great American cartoon strip – Peanuts. Gracing the pages of nine different newspapers for the first time on October 2, 1950 was a bald headed boy named Charlie Brown. His faithful beagle, Snoopy, made his appearence just 2 days later. 65 years, and 2,600 newspapers later, Charlie Brown, and the more popular, Snoopy, would make up an marketing empire that could rival the one based on some Mouse. But Peanuts had a far more, albeit subtle, impact on the culture than Disney’s band of animal characters ever would. What Schultz and the comic strip did in the 60s and 70s really helped foster forth an era of a new normal, one that centered readers on what real diversity meant – a melting pot. And like a true melting pot, it was a slow cook.
Characters like Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and even Pig-Pen helped acknowledge that race, gender and social status shouldn’t be the focus of societial relationships. Individualism and free association is the best path to achieving a harmonious community – even if Lucy pulls the football every time. It wasn’t all Schultz’s idea though. Like many advancements, sometimes it takes some outside persistance. For instance, Schultz was nudged into introducing the Franklin character by a school teacher who insisted the time was right to introduce a black character that was just as adorable as the others. With literally the stroke of a pen, or many strokes, Schultz agreed and without ever overtly acknowledging such an introduction of a minority character, Franklin appeared and fit right in with the rest of the Peanuts gang.
It’s been awhile.
You’ll have to excuse me, I’m slowly getting accustomed to life in the outside world. Aside from going to my 9-5 job, I’d been tucked away in a corner of my apartment, furiously pounding out pages of my thesis project for grad school. My thesis was a hefty section of my novel, 120 pages to be exact, and now that the sheets have been bound, the section turned in, and my degree received, I can slowly begin to acclimate myself to normalcy. Most of this has involved slowly exposing myself to sunlight, understanding that the food pyramid is not just a giant slice of Domino’s pizza, and getting all the sleep.
But I digress.
As my time in grad school came to an end, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future, my own specifically — where would I go, what would I do, what would things look like for me a few years down the road?
But I also began to think about the future of the things I loved. With E3 in full swing, I wondered where video games were headed. What new, immersive technology would pop up, which franchises would live on, and OHMYGOD THERE’S A NEW STARFOX GAME.
Needless to say, I’ll be updating you all soon (if I can contain my excitement until then).
But I also had some similar thoughts about the future of animation. As most of you have noticed, a large portion of this list are films that were made more than five years ago, some even older still. There are one or two newer films I’ve considered putting on this list, but it’s obvious that the pool of animated films is definitely getting thinner. With Studio Ghibli’s (potentially) last film, “When Marnie Was There” in theaters and more films going the way of Pixar-style animation, it’s hard not to wonder where things are headed.
Last Monday, I sat on the hardwood floor of my apartment, leering at the white cardboard box in front of me. The box, which contained a disassembled nightstand from IKEA, had been sitting under my bed for weeks. And one night after getting home from work abnormally early (before 8 p.m.), I did the adult thing – I put a load of laundry in the wash, ordered a pizza from Dominos, dragged the box out from under my bed, and put on “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”
“Kiki’s Delivery Service,” or Majo no Takkyūbin, was a 1989 release from Studio Ghibli about a young witch, Kiki, who leaves home with her talking cat companion Jiji on her 13th birthday, part of a custom where a young witch must be apart from her family for a year and find another town to live and use her special ability in. Kiki’s ability of flight seems like an ordinary witch power, but she finds that in her new seaside town she is able to use it as a delivery girl for a bakery. But her journey to using her talent doesn’t come without obstacles. After one delivery goes sour, she seems to lose her powers. She can no longer fly or understand Jiji and becomes deeply depressed before finally regaining her confidence in herself and her abilities.
When I was looking for a film for this week, I wanted something…new.
Not in the Japanese anime style, is what I’m saying.
Yes, I realized that when it comes to my animated films, I show Studio Ghibli a lot of love. But I’m working on it. Really.
But difference in animation style isn’t the only reason I wanted to add “The Triplets of Belleville” to the list — this film is just different in general. There really isn’t a way to describe the way I feel about it. You’ll find yourself grinning once the film’s over, because it has this strange ability to be insanely dark and insanely satisfying, all at once. There isn’t just one descriptor that does it for me — weird, goofy, grotesque, odd, magical — it is all these things and more.
This 2003 comedy written and directed by Sylvain Chomet tells the story of Madame Souza, an elderly woman who lives in a slumping house in the parisian countryside with her grandson. When she finds that he is in love with cycling she buys him a bicycle and trains him until he is one of the top cyclists in the world and finally ready to compete in the Tour de France. (more…)
Sure it’s catchy, smart, and witty original song, “Everything is Awesome” was nominated for an award, but the excellent screenplay and overall achievement in, not just animation, but all of filmmaking that The Lego Movie brought this year was grossly overlooked this morning as the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced. If you’ve heard great things about this movie but still haven’t taken the time to watch. Please do, you will be pleasantly surprised. I admit it’s about 15 min too long (lots of toy explosions account for that) but it’s as original as any of the other out-of-the-box films that were nominated for big awards this morning – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, and Boyhood being prime examples.
So. It’s been awhile.
Yes, I realize this is an understatement.
But when it comes to wondering why it looked like I’d fallen off the face of the planet, you can either place the blame on my graduate thesis and full-time job — or the fact that the next movie in this countdown left me a crumpled heap of sadness, a blob of inactivity lurching its way through the holiday season and fighting the urge to live in a glass case of emotion. I hope you choose the latter.
Of course, I’m talking about the 1988 film “Grave of the Fireflies” or “Hotaru no haka.” This has everything you need for a good night in of just you, a box of tissues, and a tub of whatever ice cream you prefer, which you will immediately regret consuming throughout the course of this film.
This Isao Takahata tragedy opens in September of 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, and a crippled Japan is trying its hardest to survive. The film opens at the ending, so be prepared for a giant sorrow punch to the gut. We meet the deliverer or said punch, 14-year-old Seita who is dying of starvation at Sannomiya Station, main railway terminal for Kobe. When Seita succumbs and dies, a janitor removes his body and finds a candy tin, which the janitor throws away into a nearby field. From the tin springs the spirit of Seita’s younger sister, Setsuko. And boom, you feel another immediate gut punch as the two spirits reunite and Seita beings to narrate their backstory, beginning with the firebombing of the city of Kobe in March of 1945, where they lose their mother.
Seriously — minutes in and you already feel a little bit of your soul being consumed by the sheer amount of sad.
But oh wait, on the horizon there’s an entire mountain of sad for you get over. Because though the two siblings manage go to live with their Aunt, she becomes increasingly bitter due to the hardships brought on by the war and the quickly thinning food rations. She becomes so bitter towards the two that Seita decides to leave with Setsuko and care for her on his own. They find refuge inside an abandoned bomb shelter and release fireflies within for light.
And I’m going to leave it off here. Any more spoilers at this point would either cause you to feel so depressed about pushing this animation through your eyeholes that you’d rather not press play in the first place.
And I sincerely hope you don’t feel that way.
Because yes, Grave of the Fireflies is sad — it’s supposed to be sad, and the animators at Studio Ghibli knew what they were out to convey with this film. They do a stellar job of making you care about these two kids, which makes their hardships all the more hard to watch. Every scene is there for a reason, every decision the characters make is a real one that they turn to for extremely believable reasons, and the ending will make this film one you cannot forget — for both exciting and horrifying reasons. The animation is gorgeous, but depicts two very brutal, heartbreaking lives; the medium isn’t “real,” but brings out emotions and problems that are so real.
War is a real thing, starvation is a real thing, things experienced by children and adults today all over the globe — and this film will make you think about those things. So, go watch it, and think about some uncomfortable things for awhile. And though I know the holiday season is over, maybe think about bringing about some change when it comes to ending world hunger too. If you like, take a look at two sites that I’d really recommend: Bread for the World , a religious organization that focuses on feeding the hungry through legislation and boots-on-the-ground type work. Or, if you’d prefer an organization without any affiliation, check out The Hunger Project — both sites let you donate any amount you feel comfortable with, or maybe just read up on what world hunger looks like and educate yourself.
Or hey, maybe watch “Grave of the Fireflies” first and join me in my cave of sadness — there’s plenty of room.
That’s my immediate response to the title “Perfect Blue.” Granted, there are plenty of things to like about the 1997 release from directors Hideki Hamazumm and Satoshi Kon. It gives us a great, thrilling story, following our protagonist Mina, a popstar who is forced to drop her career and pursue an acting gig to remain relevant. Though the plot goes much deeper than that, because Mima’s sudden retirement upsets a devoted fan and she begins receiving threats, obscene calls, and things take a set of extremely upsetting turns.
This film is great in the ways of mastering suspense and using very human issues to do so, dealing with the pressures of fame and the horror of cultivating an identity that someone else loves or desires to emulate to the point of self-harm or harming others. The animation is gorgeous and uncomfortable, and I mean that in the best way. Unlike “Cat Soup,” where the visual can be stunning but often nonsensical and use that to create an air of uneasiness, Perfect Blue doesn’t dance around the issue. This is one of the first on-point animation films I’ve seen that deal with horror in a great way and use every facet to its advantage. We are meant to be shifting nervously while watching this. Facial expressions are extremely distorted at points, the line between reality and fiction is hard – even for the viewer – to follow. The film features a rape scene (though one done as a recording for a television show) and it pulls no punches. It made me uncomfortable. It would make anyone uncomfortable. And it should. For these things, I’m glad that Perfect Blue exists; it pushed the genre, and it opened animated films up in ways that were dark, complex, and very gritty and real.
But for all those good things that are built up in the first three-fourths of the film, the end just throws it all out. I won’t give away the ending by any means (because it’s a great twist that I really enjoy), but the very end shows this intense progress by our main character that seems incredibly hokey when it’s all said and done. It seems like the film has built up all this sadness, all this mental instability, but they felt required to stabilize things by the end. It just felt like a cop-out, and maybe when you check it out, you’ll know what I’m referring to.
But when the rubber hits the road, Perfect Blue did a lot more good than bad for the animated world. It’s a great thriller, paced very well and using a lot of symbolism to get the job done. I would offer the small critique of it being a little over-stylized, but I would say that judgment is a tick-tack one, if anything. I would say that I genuinely enjoy this movie because of the emotions it makes you feel. Are they good ones? Absolutely not. But I can remember getting the same feeling when I watched “Requiem for a Dream,” a film that is, by design, meant to make you feel unwanted emotions. And to know that film, especially animated film, is powerful enough to accomplish that, it can do wonders for the medium and the audience that watches.
If you’d like to check out Perfect Blue for yourself, the easiest way to get a hold of it is through Netflix’s order system. But it’s also available on Amazon and even in major retail chains like Best Buy. So, if you’re looking for an anime staple to add to your collection that really packs a punch, give this film a go. It’s not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty darn close.
Late last week, a wrench known as late postal service has kept me from getting “Perfect Blue” delivered to my apartment in time for me to write the article. So, I was left without a film to review, and I didn’t want to skip a week. So on Friday night, I started flipping through the rolodex of my brain, thinking of all the old animated films I’d seen. The longer I thought, the more I wanted to just log onto a message board or plug “The Best 25 Animated Films” into Google, because that’s what this list should be about, right? The best of the best?
But after really considering things, I decided that the “best” animated movies weren’t really standout ones on my list; they were films that I thought were memorable. Aside from Miyazaki films, my list was obscure, strange, and sometimes only watchable on YouTube. But now that I think about it, I would say that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want to lie to you, reader, and tell you to go see a film that I’d find boring or similar to every other animated film out there. No, I want you to see all the sides of animation – and that’s where “Cat Soup” comes in.
“Cat Soup,” or “Nekojiru-so” was a 30-minute film created in 2001, directed by Tatsuo Sato and inspired by the work of manga artist Nekojiru. With a hefty amount of awards endorsing it, including taking the “Best Short Film” award at the 2—1 Fantasia Festival, I was surprised I had never heard of it when a friend recommend this short film to me in college. I was also supruised that I couldn’t find the thing anywhere. Video stores, Netflix, Hulu – the thing was nowhere to be found. But I finally managed to find a full recording of it on YouTube. I remember that it was a rainy day, my roommate was out on a grocery run, and I was particularly bored, so I went for it.
The story itself is a simple one that we’re introduced to in the first 5 minutes of the film—a young cat finds out that his ill sister is being led by the spirit of death to the edge of their town. He attempts to save her, but is only able to keep a half of her. The mysterious death spirit explains that a certain orange flower can save his sister’s life, and the brother goes searching for it.
What follows can only be described as 26 minutes of animation – that’s all I can say. It’s not pretentious, it’s not plot-driven; it’s just…odd. The brother and sister journey through strange worlds and obstacles, from a flood to escaping the clutches of a very – odd – man who wants to make them into soup. There’s no dialogue, save for some indiscernible chattering and a few subtitles depicting location. The style is surreal, beautiful, and at times even a little disturbing. In short, this film is perhaps the weirdest but most magical collection of animated images I’ve ever seen.
But the reason I’m including this film on the list isn’t because it’s perfect. Yes, it’s won some great awards, and when you’re watching it, it’s easy to see why. But is it something I would put on all the time like I do with “My Neighbor Totoro?” Of course not. This film is on this list for an entirely different reason than the others I’ve mentioned so far. Though the animation is beautiful, I just want someone else to see this film. I want someone else to say, “This is the oddest thing I’ve ever seen” and then never be able to forget it. There are several scenes and images in this film that will stick with me forever. Not because they move the plot, not because they bring out a particular emotion – except perhaps for confusion, which might be the point – no, I’m including this because it has this different type of captivating effect on me, as both an animator and a animation viewer. It definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I will say that if you don’t like it, it’s only 30 minutes of your time, and I really do think it has something to say about the strangeness and awe that people experience when they watch animation.
So, reader, I could chalk this post up to being about a lot of things: wanting to get people to watch something different, what it’s like to experience animation, or – you know – an excuse for why Netflix hasn’t delivered “Perfect Blue” to my mailbox yet. But I think if anything, I’d like this post to give the impression that I’m not into playing safe with this list. Yes, I’m going to recommend some Miyazaki to you, and films like “Akira,” but I’m also going to throw some “Cat Soup” at you too. Because I should represent all the flavors of animation, even the odd ones.
You can find “Cat Soup” on YouTube, or if you’re really interested, you can purchase it on FYE or SecondSpin.com.
I love animated films. They’re inherently complex. They’re well-oiled machines. But they’re not perfect. Taking the impressiveness of CG pipelines as a given, there is a sort of visual homogeneity in the big animated films released a few times each year. They’ve become too smooth; they’re too spliney. Other forms of animation aren’t as “perfect.”
With stop-motion animation, each frame fluctuates with little imperfections in a character’s expressions. In a way, I find this more human. This is where Laika’s third feature, The Boxtrolls, excels.
Underneath the town of Cheesebridge are a group of trolls who are accused of kidnapping children. The mysterious Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) offers a proposal to the mayor of the town, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris). If Snatcher captures and kills the Boxtrolls, he will become a member of the town’s cheese-loving elite class known as the White Hats. But when Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a boy sheltered by the trolls since infancy, turns up on the surface, he soon figures out the horrors of Snatcher’s plan. Eggs enlists the help of Portley-Rind’s daughter and the two of them try to stop Snatcher at all costs.
The plot as presented is straightforward and never throws any real twists or turns, though it relies on metaphors and allegory much more than a typical children’s film. The true draw is Laika’s trademark stop-motion animation. At times the film feels a bit like a bad dream (and not in a bad way). It has all the twisted weirdness and confusion of the dreamscape without the terrors. And it’s the stop-motion, that imperfect art form, which really molds this feel. Archibald Snatcher’s repulsive cheese sickness is the most obvious example. As the film isn’t terribly bothersome to me as a (purported) adult, I can’t make the same claims for small children.
To this end, I’m not sure the metaphorical commentary on human morality quite worked. The ways which the ultimate message – the consequences of misunderstanding an entire race – weaves together are familiar and neutered. Using little clay trolls limits what can be said about the horrors of history’s holocausts. And so I wonder what the point is and more importantly, at whom the point is directed. It’s hard to imagine such an odd story as one day becoming a children’s classic. And while the odd story is fun given the context of wider film theory and criticism, I’m not sure how many adults will find the film easily beloved either. The Boxtrolls favors the metaphor over the simpler and often more effective feeling of a given moment. Where The Boxtrolls abstracts death and slaughter, a classic like The Lion King tackles the moment itself with claws in the viewers’ flesh.
All this is to say the film shines in its technical craft and should be judged with special consideration given to that craft. I fear the marvelous discipline of Laika’s artists will be forgotten because the meat of the story isn’t very noteworthy.
Akira is the type of film that many have heard of, but not too many people have actually taken the time to sit and watch, which is understandable. The film was a big deal when it was released in 1988, but now it mostly comes up as a nostalgic centerpiece for those of us who enjoy anime and have a strong love for its roots. If I had to make a list of films that I would say changed the history of animation, Akira would definitely be one of them (hence why it ended up on this list). But the first time I saw it, I was really impressed – and truthfully, really excited. Let me explain.
I saw Akira when I was maybe 12 or 13. And I came from a pretty conservative town, so those of us with any kind of inkling towards anime were immediately pegged as oddballs. Anime was viewed as this weird fantasy world filled with way too much violence and nudity and way too little plotline. True, those anime shows definitely exist, but they shouldn’t consume the entire genre or make animated films that do have a smattering of nudity or violence immediately get the “fan service” label. But Akira avoided that label, and brilliantly. The films was definitely known for its violence, and the plot – a psychic teenager in a dystopian version of 2019 Tokyo in the year 2019 — gives a lot of room for a lot of blood.
But when I first saw this film, all I could think was “It’s like The Matrix…but better!” And I think this is why Akira has such a great following, because it was really, really ahead of its time. Even watching now, I often find myself lost in the visuals and character design. Even the way the violence is depicted takes a lot of skill and is worth mentioning as artwork. But I love Akira because it brings up the question of what’s counted as permissible in anime and what’s permissible in live action by making a good quality film that mirrors a landmark film everybody knows. I’ve seen plenty of live action films with way more blood than Akira, but because Akira was animated, some reviewers were willing to criticize director Katsuhiro Otomo’s decisions when taking on the original 2182-page manga epic. In terms of plot, if you’ve read the manga, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half. But that’s not a reason to avoid it. This movie knows what it means to create a world and drop you into it with gorgeous visuals, great characters, and a lot of action.
But if you’re new to anime, think of Akira as your 101 course. It’s not an easy watch by any means, but it’s a landmark film, and it’s definitely one not to miss.
And speaking of animated films that were way ahead of their time, come back next week when I’ll be reviewing a thriller that dealt with performance personality before Black Swan’s Nina ever slipped on her ballet shoes.
About two weeks ago, I started reading “Starting Point,” a collection of essays, speeches. interviews, and newspaper articles written by Hayao Miyazaki. For those of you who don’t know, Miyazaki is one of the biggest reasons artistic animation is taken seriously in the U.S. Miyazaki animated several blockbuster hits such as “Spirited Away,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “Princess Mononoke,” one of the highest-grossing films of all time in Japan. He also animated “My Neighbor Totoro,” the first movie I remember seeing. To put it simply, he did a lot for me as a kid, mainly opening up my brain a little every time I sat down to watch one of his films. His imagination, couple with his brilliant team at Ghibli, have produced fantastic worlds that draw you in with their sights, sounds, and gorgeous rich colors.
In short, my feelings toward the guy are nothing short of adoration. And to read “Starting Point” is to feel a little closer to the person who inspired my side work in comics and made my childhood really special. I’d really recommend the book to anyone who was interested in animation, or who likes picking the brain of a creative person. I’ve loved every page of the book, and it’s full of meaningful little quotes that really make his work and personality come alive, like this one:
“A moving perspective that incorporates a sense of space in the picture, that creates a sense of liberation, and that makes our souls want to greet the wind, the clouds, and the beautiful earth we see unfolding far below – these are the wonderful scenes and machines I dream of someday depicting.”
But when it was rumored that Ghibli Studios might be putting down its pens only a few months after Miyazaki had retired, I had some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it seemed wise for them to know when to pack it in; they spent years making beautiful films and if they ended now, they could still be remembered that way, not as a company that desperately tried to cling to a reputation that had changed into something new over the years. But on the other hand, just because Miyazaki knew his time in the sun was over with, it didn’t mean the studio couldn’t go on and create more beautiful things. Plus, it’s a selfish reason, but I wanted Studio Ghibli to continue making movies because, well, why wouldn’t they? There was so much to want to cling to, there was such a large legacy there – and I know that if I was personally working there, I’d put up a fight to keep on animating.
Either way, it’s just a rumor, but there is something to think about here – how do we as creative people (and people in general) regard the things we create? I know that my own personal connection to things that I’ve written or drawn is a strong one, and I wouldn’t want to just give it up because in some small way, it proves I made something of my life, I did something worthwhile – no matter how small. And the more successful those creations get, the harder it is to come to terms with one day letting it go.
But Miyazaki had another lesson to teach me here as well. Below, you can see stills from the Studio Ghibli documentary “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness,” which was originally released in Japan last year. These stills are from Tumblr site Nicholas Kole:
To me, a statement like that takes a lot of humility to say. I think that a lot of people, including myself, would practically throw themselves at Miyazaki’s feet and beg him not to let the company go, asking him to keep it around for reasons – some big and extravagant, like making beautiful movies, and some for practical reasons, like making money or keeping jobs in the animation arena open.
Because as creative people, things like recognition and fame still matter. We still vie for the attention of others and chase the elusive, all consuming aspect of fame. But I really think that Miyazaki challenges us to remain dedicated to what we love, not what can become of it – and in a way, he also challenges us to embrace how small we are as humans. Yes, he founded one of the biggest, most successful animation studios of all time, and yes, he’ll be remembered long after he passes away. But for him, it’s about knowing when to let go, because even if Ghibli isn’t closing up shop now, it will eventually. But it seems that he knows when to say, “I have done what I loved to do, and now it’s time to rest.” There’s a certain grace to it, and it makes the argument that fame isn’t what lasts, but rather the experiences and love you share with others during the journey.
But all in all, no matter how I view the possible closing of one of my favorite companies, I do recommend Miyzaki’s book to you. Even if you aren’t into animation, it’s about much, much more than lines on a page.