You know that there was a temptation to make this one PG as well. After The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was terrified that the MPAA would just see animation and minimal cursing and just decide that the movie would be PG. I always kind of wondered why most of Wes Anderson's films were considered R or PG. Isle of Dogs might be the perfect example of what a PG-13 movie should be. There's some disturbing stuff, but nothing too insane. I found it weird that I heard a kid talking in the movie behind me. There's some blood and language. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
It's so good! Okay, there's more to it than that, but if you want to leave now and go see it in select theaters (how did Cincinnati make the "select theaters" list?), please do. You can read this later. Then you can argue with me if you want, but the movie really is very good. What makes it good, though, is that it has the tone of a Wes Anderson movie, but it doesn't simply rely on his normal storytelling methods to get him by. I love Wes Anderson, like a lot. I know that makes me a little bit of a hipster, but I am unapologetic when it comes to my admiration for his movies. But I also know that sometimes his plots and narratives get a bit lazy. I recently reviewed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and was kind of blown away by how meandering the movie really was. The story for Life Aquatic really provided a template for a fun action movie, but it was really just a loose structure for Anderson to tell a bunch of jokes with Bill Murray at the helm. Instead, Isle of Dogs works mostly because it has a really tight plot with great characters involved in a very bizarre version of the near future.
I mean, the plot isn't the most impressive in the world. I am really praising it because all of the beats really work. There is a functional narrative and there is a certain need to know what is going to happen next. The story is fun and that's something that I haven't really seen in Anderson's movies before. Mostly, his films are great character studies. I thing Grand Budapest might have had a decent plot, but I've only seen that one once. (It's going to get a Criterion release someday, so why would I shell out cash for a version that's going to be replaced someday? What am I? Single Tim who did that often? Not likely.) Anderson still has pretty solid character stuff. I know that they're dogs, but what Anderson did with this one and Mr. Fox is intentionally juxtaposing very human personalities with their visual counterparts. They still have these fun characters. I can't, in all honestly, say that these characters are deep. I say that Anderson does these great character studies and I can stand by it, but they are also very thin. But they are fun character. Anderson isn't one for nuance and depth to his characters. This isn't absolute. Some of the characters in The Royal Tenenbaums are marvelously deep. Isle of Dogs doesn't really offer that. Chief, as the protagonist of the story, has a certain degree of depth. He is a dynamic character. But his character arc is similar to that of other movies. But, honestly, Chief as the protagonist is the least interesting part of the movie. (Sorry, Brian Cranston. You did a great job, but the character is playing across from Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum. That's a challenge if I've ever seen one.) It's the world that he built that is way more interesting.
This world is absolutely bizarre. I'm seeing a lot of articles that Anderson has the white man's idea of Japan rather than an actual understanding of that. I don't know if I'm qualified to comment on that. They might have a point, but I am interested in how Anderson views the bizarre near future. I know it might be irresponsible to divorce the two, but I think that Anderson's view of Japan and how silly he is about the secret politics of cats oddly works. It's no mistake that the movie is named after the setting of the film. I don't want to downplay anyone's upset about the cultural appropriation that may be going on, but the movie only really kind of works with this as its backdrop. Yeah, there are a lot of jokes at its expense, but Anderson is really trying to go out of his way to avoid hitting a lot of Orientalism with this movie. Sure, he hits a couple of beats that, in isolation, would be cringy. But the movie treats the future Japan / Megasaki as a fleshed out, real world. Yeah, there is a white character, but she doesn't really read as the White Savior. (I'm paraphrasing the crap out of a New York Times article right now. I apologize.) Could this take place in the U.S.? Sure, but the tone would be all wrong. Honestly, I don't think I could take another thinly veiled Trump allegory. The man is primed for parody, but I've just seen so many takes on that character. I don't think anything new would be presented. Instead, there is this richly detailed land comprised of two dueling worlds. There is Megasaki, a world bordering on a police state that is comical yet a little terrifying. Then there is Trash Island, a world that is disgusting and terrifying, yet hides this weirdly rich history that is super-dee-duper cool. Anderson's details have always been on the Twee side. They are always hip versions of reality and the details are bordering on what fun artistic details can be added. In Dogs, he goes to a new level. There are the details that we would see in Rushmore, but he's creating his own fictional land that takes it to a new level. He does that thing I really like in cinema where he makes the ugly look gorgeous. Isle of Dogs has to bring in something new to the conversation. A lot of "White Japan" goes in with the attitude of "Wouldn't it be cool if we set it in Japan?" That tends to lead to stereotypes and a Western attitude forcing itself where it doesn't belong. I honestly get the vibe that Wes Anderson made this movie out of love. While it may not be his place to make an authentically Japanese film, he treats the Japanese stuff with such a level of respect. I'm now probably the worst person to be commenting on this, considering the image that graces my front page. But none of this is just "cool" to him. It seems like he has a desire to understand and that's pretty nifty. But again, you can just tell me to go to heck and that's probably an equally valid comment.
I mentioned that this isn't Anderson's funniest movie. It is definitely funny, but it also worries less about being funny than his other works. I will say that Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum crush in this movie. They are utilized perfectly. (Sorry, John. You are smarter than I am, but "utilized" sounds right...which is a terrible thing for an English teacher to use as a justification.) They are in small doses and everything they say is absolutely the best thing that their characters can say. It's so weird because they are all throughout the movie. But they are actually serving a better purpose. They are the comic relief. I know that a guy like Wes Anderson, who has exclusively made comedies, must be tempted to make everyone a comic relief. Instead, there are funny moments that the straight characters play, but they are still pursuing their own goals. Like, Harvey Keitel is in the movie. His part is absolutely minuscule and it is hilarious. But he doesn't say anything funny. A lot of the belly laughs that come from this movie is the fact that these performances are said so well and performed so realistically that you can't help but laughing how these are dogs fighting robot dogs. The concept is so silly, but Anderson nails an overall funny tone without actually having to be wildly clever. When the movie needs to be clever, it is. I'm not trying to say that any part falls flat or fails to be clever. But Anderson knows what tone to set and when to break that tone. It's pretty fantastic. As such, I feel like the scale of Isle of Dogs might be the most ambitious one yet. I'm thinking of the bigger movies that he's made (Zissou, Darjeeling Limited, and Grand Budapest) and this movie just somehow feels bigger. Honestly, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, despite the fact that it shares an animation style, seems small in comparison. There is just this understanding of the big picture that I haven't really seen from him in other movies. I wonder if this movie was intimidating to make. He focuses so well on the small and the big simultaneously. It just feels like there had to be a million balls in the air and Anderson juggled each one flawlessly.
Isle of Dogs isn't my favorite Anderson, but I really liked it. My wife asked me if I'd ever watch it again and I almost feel like I have to. There's so much here to digest and it is so funny that Anderson can master a medium like animation considering that he's a traditionally live-action director. This movie rocks so hard and I'm a little worried that I'm just riding the high of it being my last Wes Anderson movie. Regardless, I really dug this one and I hope I'm not crazy for thinking that it is great.
So, he does an impression of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Like, that part, but that's probably as bad as it gets. It's Singin' in the Rain, guys. This one is pretty darn wholesome. I mean, there's plenty of smoking and there are threats of lawsuits, but I honestly can't think of anything that should be rated inappropriately. It's the Ark of the Covenant guys: a live-action G rating.
DIRECTORS: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
HOW CAN A MOVIE BRING ME SUCH HAPPINESS? Honestly, I'm a grump most of the time about movies. The more of a bummer it is, the happier I am. This movie is the opposite of grumpy. It is earnest and honest. It has a good time. It's flashy and fun and I can't stop getting this movie into my system. While not necessarily a choice because we simply own a lot of box sets, I own too many copies of this movie. I don't mind. I have a copy at work because I show it every year. It is one of the greatest American movies ever made and I can't stop enjoying it.
There's something about impressive tap dancing that drives me wild. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies might be the coolest things that exist in the world of musicals. Now, I'm sounding like a big musical guy. I think I pride myself (and lie to myself) that I'm not a musical guy, but that I just really like the good stuff. I know that I'm making enemies once again, but I can't stand stuff like the Rogers and Hammerstein make. I'm more about funny romantic tap dancing to get me through my day. One thing that I can't really explain that I absolutely love is that Singin' in the Rain might be one of the most obvious plots ever. I do love the look at cinema's history. As a film buff, a look at Tinseltown of Yesteryear is a good time for me. I like the idea that the entire movie is centered around the end of the silent film and the transition into talkies. That's a fun bit of history. It's just that the plot works for everyone, film buffs aside. (Okay, I know specifically someone who wouldn't enjoy this movie, but he's the exception to the rule and he has awful tastes.) But the plot is overall pretty lazy. The relationship between Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon is just Hollywood all the way. Heck, nowadays, I suppose that it would be considered antiquated and inappropriate. When a girl says that she doesn't like you, he shouldn't pursue or be aggressive. Don even uses his power dynamic to influence her feelings and that's pretty gross. But it's so weird. No one in the room cared. There is something fundamentally charming about Gene Kelly (despite the fact that I heard that he was an absolute monster to Debbie Reynolds in this movie). Heck, the plot is so thin that there had to be this insanely long dream ballet simply to cover the lack of story to explore. I know that Gene Kelly loves dream ballets. I'm thinking of the sequence in An American in Paris that does the same bit. I think he just likes a shameless excuse to show off his dancing ability, so he seems to add these in to break up the story. This one feels exceptionally long. I think I mentioned to my class that, had that been the beginning of The Dancing Cavalier, that would be the most insanely convoluted plot of all time. But all of this is a general "who cares". Weirdly enough, the movie is so good that one of the coolest looking dream ballets in film history is one of the most boring parts of the film. That is more of a testament to how fun the movie is.
Cosmo has to be the best unacknowledged character in film history. I get so hyped for "Make 'em Laugh" every time. It got so intense that I actually got self-conscious that it might not be as funny as I thought. That might not be the best experience going into one of your favorite scenes. I laughed less than I normally do, but there were so many great moments that I still got caught off guard for. Honestly, the last part of the song, where he's doing the flips...I knew what was coming. I knew it. I had that part memorized and I still was completely cracking up when it came to that moment. This character is so joyful and totally unnecessary to the script. I think this analysis of Singin' in the Rain all comes down to the fact that it works despite the fact that it spits in the face of everything that I find valuable. I mean, this movie doesn't exactly scream art-house films. In fact, it criticizes snobs openly. This thing is ruthlessly corporate. One of the heroes of the movie is a studio head. (And a terrible actor. Millard Mitchell, who plays R.F., can't deliver a line in this movie to save his life. It's not like the guy didn't have a career, but it seems he played Army and Air Force tough guys more than anything else.) But there is value in spectacle done right, I suppose. This movie might be the ground argument. A lot of that comes down to casting. Again, with the exception of Millard Mitchell, may God rest his soul. Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor really play well together. While I love the romance between Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly, it's the Don and Cosmo friendship that really tears up scenes. Honestly, it's the two of them together that are the best scenes in the movie by far. The movie has a really short time to warm up. Having them doing the fiddle dance in the movie is one of the best icebreakers and tone setters (that's a term that's going places, folks!) that I've ever seen. It is a shame that one of the best deliveries that I've ever seen is right before the Don / Cosmo fiddle dance because I still giggle at the guy with the closeup in the first minute in the movie. I might be the only one giggling, but that's pretty par for the course. Add onto that "Moses" and you have a nearly perfect pairing of the two of them. I also really love Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden. I again can't stress how rough it must have been for her in this movie with Kelly being a turd to her, but she must be a professional. (Okay, when it wasn't related to driving her daughter up the wall. Again, may both their souls rest in peace.) Reynolds might be nearly perfect casting and takes what should be a fairly thankless role and makes it something kind of amazing. Selden is nothing special in terms of backstory or character, yet that character really shines. It's even more amazing to think that Reynolds is in constant danger of being upstaged by one of the most likable antagonists that I could think of: Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. Oh. My. Goodness. This is a movie about things that shouldn't work. Lina is a one-note character but I never want that note to end. Honestly, her entire character is comprised of silly voices, dumb insights, and mispronouncing words. I don't care. I could watch a supercut of just Lina stuff and laugh all the way through the movie. I mean, it would be worse than the movie as a whole, but her scenes are just the funniest in the world. Again, this movie is about perfect casting...kind of. Sorry, the estate of Millard Mitchell. He was taken too soon. Also, he was born in Cuba. Not saying that as a bad thing. It was just weird and I saw it on his IMDB page.
But what can make a movie like this as iconic as it is. I normally try finding more obscure images from the movies I analyze. I think it is the indie-pride / the dirty hipster trying to come out that makes me want to find something less than memorable. It makes it feel more authentic. The first billion images were the image I found above, but I actually didn't care. The actual song "Singin' in the Rain" is so memorable. It's only every American film highlight reel ever. I love how the opening credits has "Inspired by the Song, 'Singin' in the Rain'". That's pretty thin. It's like the movie Battleship being inspired by the board game. (I'm the first guy to ever make that connection and I hope it brings me fame and riches.) But there's something fundamentally special about this movie. Yes, there have probably been oodles of studies about what makes every scene work. There's probably a perfect formula that can explain why it absolutely works, but I think that might cheapen this movie at the core. There are just so many just well timed, well shot elements. The song "Singin' in the Rain" is almost unrelated to the story itself. If I just gave you a title with no context to what the movie was about, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a story about the first talkie. You might have a hint about Gene Kelly dancing and splashing in puddles, but the rest of the movie would be a complete mystery. It's even more bizarre when the movie gets really meta and the movie that they make at the end is named "Singin' in the Rain". I can only imagine that it is about a group of actors named Gene Kelly, Donald O' Connor, and Debbie Reynolds --played by Don Lockwood, Cosmo Brown, and Kathy Selden, respectively --arguing on a set in hopes to make a really good picture. But this movie is just pretty. One of my students who had not seen it before claimed that it was the best thing I showed this year. Admittedly, I've also shown Battleship Potemkin this year, so she wasn't exactly pulling a muscle to say that, but it might be the most fun movie that I've ever seen. I love this movie so much and I think I've established that pretty well, despite the really critical things I've said about it. It is a movie that works in spite of the fact that there is no reason it should work. I can't make heads or tails about it, but I know it will be on next year's syllabus and on the syllabus the year after that. For the five people who haven't seen this movie, just do it. Don't be above it or say that you don't like old movies (that's the guy I was talking about!). It's such a good time and there's no excuse at this point. Heck, if you know me, I'll lend you one of my many copies.
Why must PG Studio Ghibli releases be all over the place? I Googled which ones were family friendly and Castle in the Sky was on the more-mature side of the PG releases. Castle in the Sky is a little violent and Henry would have hated it, but my daughter would have loved this. It's not that scary. It's a kids' adventure movie. How great is that? It's got goofy pirates and robots. Yes, it has an evil military force and the actual bad guy can get a little menacing, but this one is an actual PG movie. Well done, MPAA!
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
Too many people told me that I was going to love Castle in the Sky. Why would people do this? I felt so ashamed for not seeing this one before this moment and then I saw it...and it was okay, I guess? Part of the whole thing that kicks me in the butt and busts my chops (I'm sticking with it) is that it is really just a fun adventure movie. This movie is allowed to be a fun adventure movie, but considering how deep some of the other Miyazaki films get, the fun adventure movie doesn't grab me as much as it should. Is that this movie's fault? Absolutely not. The movie shouldn't cater to my expectations and fun adventure movies are really necessary to the animated landscape. But, c'mon! I want something that really tears at my soul. I want something that makes me question my very morality and lets me see the world in a new light. Rather, this is Miyazaki indulging his motifs to their heaviest extent.
I realized quite early that this would be one of the sillier Miyazakis. The gaudy air pirates as the bad guys kind of brought about an Indiana Jones for kids feeling in the first few minutes of the movie. I mean, I love the opening. Having the protagonist drop out of a zeppelin is an absolutely fabulous hook. The tone of that pre-credit sequence is perfect. I was so on board with that mysterious dive into action, but that is diffused by the use of pirates. The pirates, as a concept, are silly to me to some extent. Similar pirates are in Porco Rosso, so I guess these guys are one of Miyazaki's buttons. But these guys aren't for me. SPOILERS: It's so weird to have the action sequences with the pirates, especially with the knowledge of what happens with them later on. Those pirates are ruthless from the beginning of the movie. They straight up want those kids dead. If they don't want the kids dead, they don't mind that as an option because the lengths they go to in the pursuit of the gem endangers the kids' lives pretty clearly. To have Dola be this great moral character by the end makes not a lick of sense. I like the rogue archetype. It usually makes a story really fun. There's a weird reason why people resonate to Han Solo. But Han Solo's moral code is very clearly laid out. Dola does more of a lightswitch moment. She just kind of joins the good guys because she's asked very nicely. This could be defended by hardcore Castle in the Sky fans, but from a guy watching it for the first time, it just seemed that Dola's moral switch was simply in service of the storyline. It was fun to have her as a bad guy at the beginning, but she is a necessity to drive the plot forward. I don't know. As amazingly scaled as this movie is, this plot point really bothers me.
I'm also not a fan of the overall plot and bad guy. (Geez, it sounds like I really hate this one. I can simply state that this one isn't my favorite.) I don't know what line was crossed with me. But the movie kept saying the name "Laputa" like I wasn't supposed to be laughing at it the whole time. I know. I'm a bad person. But treating this mythical land of Laputa as more important that it really was is silly. I don't know what light went off in my head that I couldn't just accept that this technologically advanced superstate was worth dying for, but I just couldn't. When Laputa was historically tied to Pazu (oddly played by James Van Der Beek), I could get behind it. It was Indiana Jones again and I could accept it. But the whole "stop-the-Nazis" element of Indiana Jones seems oddly forced in this. I think it is because I keep finding the connections to Raiders of the Lost Ark that I might be harder on this movie. Then there is Mark Hamill's character. He's the big bad and since I've already established SPOILERS, I can mention that the character's secret is kind of dumb. It is meant to be this big revelation but I can't really get behind it. I think the character is plenty menacing even without the big change in plot. He's established to be without a heart and his position as this secret agent makes anything he wants to do acceptable. I know, everyone has to have a secret tie to each other. But it just reads like a bit of melodrama in this one. (I swear, I overall liked this one, but I can't stop seeing things that upset me.)
I'm really being unfair to this movie. I have watched way too many Miyazaki movies back-to-back. The design is typical of his '80s stuff. The animation is a little choppier than his later stuff, which I should be able to get past. I really love the design of the moss covered robots, but I don't love the robots in general. The nature stuff, as usual, rocks and is very very pretty. But I don't know why I can't get past the lack of vulnerability in this movie. It's a very standard action movie, only starring animated kids played by adults. I mentioned this with Howl's Moving Castle. Animated action isn't all that impressive to me. Howl's has a lot going on with it, so I can ignore the action. I think Nausicaa is so bananas that the action mostly works. It's just that this is a reskinned Raiders of the Lost Ark and that's kind of a bummer to me. It's fun for what it is, but I don't see the masterpiece that everyone really swears by. If I want a good time, I'm going to watch Castle in the Sky. If I want deep characters who explore human nature, I'm going to watch My Neighbor Totoro.
Um...not rated, because it can barely be considered a movie. Honestly, I went back and forth on whether I should even review this one. It's borderline a TV episode put on DVD, but it is an hour and fifteen minutes. That's technically movie length and it was never an episode of either Scooby-Doo or of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. There's nothing outwardly offensive in this one. Scooby-Doo fights people who look like ghosts. Batman fights bad guys, but this is The Brave and the Bold Batman. This is the most kid friendly Batman show, mirroring the Adam West Batman more than the Paul Dini and Bruce Timm Batman. Regardless, it isn't rated and my son literally told me, "Dad, I'd probably like that when I'm older because it was too scary." My son called me out for being an irresponsible parent when it came to showing him Scooby-Doo.
DIRECTOR: Jake Castorena
I've never been one for Scooby-Doo. I know that automatically takes away so much of my street cred, but I just never found Scooby-Doo as a brand or as a character entertaining. Sure, I'd walk around the house saying, "Zoinks, Scoob!" because I sported Shaggy's infamous goatee all throughout college, but I think I like the concept of Scooby-Doo more than I actually like the storytelling. Part of what makes Scooby-Doo weird, especially in the 21st Century, is that that it only works nowadays due to the fact that it is painfully self-aware. The old show, to my limited knowledge, was all about genuinely solving mysteries. The characters actually thought, with the exception of the intellectual Velma, that they were chasing down real ghosts that could possibly be human. Now, the show has embraced its own tropes so hard that the show honestly doesn't work if the characters don't address that the ghost is always something outside of the supernatural. Well, except for Shaggy and Scooby. Will those two ever learn? But I am a big fan of Batman. I never really watched The Brave and the Bold. I'd like to think that I'm above that kind of kid stuff, but I am not. It's just that I never really have the time for animated television outside of the stuff that is aimed at my kids. I'm going to love when my son is eight or nine -assuming that he gets over his painful fear of everything -because I'll be able to catch all of these awesome superhero shows that are just filling up my Netflix queue.
As not a fan of Scooby-Doo, the movie ended up being mildly watchable. You have to understand, I had really low expectations and I was watching it while doing the dishes. I never consider this a real watch, but I found myself really paying attention to most of the film as I was doing dishes. I had a really good vantage point and the audio was blasting, probably to the chagrin of my pregnant wife and apparently more-than-a-little-bit-scared son. What works in this fabulously long titled DVD release is that no one ever questions that Batman and Scooby-Doo should be working together. I get the idea that The Brave and the Bold is a kids' show, but they do an awesome job establishing the tone of the universe very quickly. Batman is adorably gruff and crime isn't the real kind of crime. I love that. This is the '60s comic of Batman, where the dynamic due would fight bakers on giant cakes. I'm not sure if this actually happened, but I could completely see this happening. The show pays homage to the many iterations of Batman, addressing that Batman had sidekicks, even down to Ace the Bathound. The title of The Brave and the Bold was always about the issues when two superheroes would team up to take down a bad guy. The way I understand the format for the TV show, that is exactly what would happen. As such, the movie has supporting cast in the form of Aquaman, the Black Canary, the Martian Manhunter, and the Question. (I just realized that many of these superheroes have a definite article in front of their monikers. Weird.) Mystery Incorporated teaming up in this world kind of just makes sense for everyone involved because it is the format of the show. I really like that. I know that there had to be some temptation to have Batman hesitant to team up with these kids, but I think we've seen that story before and having Batman all in makes for a fun time. The show goes from there to throw both formats into a pot to mix them. Both the rules of Scooby-Doo and the villains of Batman really mix together quite nicely. Rather than Scooby-Doo having to introduce a litany of characters that we'll never see again, they draw from the Batman rogues gallery, giving the suspects a little bit of weight and joy to their choices. Like, every Batman villain shows up. It's a little silly, but this is Scooby-Doo and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. (I hate writing that title.)
It is far from being a perfect direct-to-DVD release. Like many things that don't get a theatrical release, there is a certain degree of laziness to the storytelling. Characters just change their traits to suit the needs of the very loosey-goosey plot. MILD SPOILERS: When Mystery Incorporated is framed for the events of the story, Harvey Bullock instantly goes full force on Batman and his team. That I can kind of live with. Bullock is an "as the winds blow" kind of guy. But then all of Batman's team turns on Batman and Mystery Incorporated. I know that this isn't the first time that we have people on Batman's team question Batman. Heck, it's even a fun trope to see Batman make a moral choice to turn on his friends in what he believes is right. But usually, Batman's team is being reasonable and Batman is ratcheting up the drama to 11 with how intensely he stands by his convictions. This being the kids' Batman, Batman is the reasonable one and the team just acts like insane people. Like, every one of them think that Batman just changed sides to help criminals and that's ridiculous. But this is also the same story that defuses Martian Manhunter with a box of cookies. (I love this so much, but at least make them kind of look like Oreos. I wonder if there was a legal issue, not with Oreos, but with Hydrox. Those Hydrox fascists!) It's stuff like this. Honestly, there is one point where Scooby-Doo, who is driving the Mystery Machine, crashes the car into a bar full of Batman themed supervillains like the Joker and the Penguin. (Again, definite articles!) That is the only way to get these characters in their actual forms into the movie because they had nothing to do with the main plot. But who wants to watch a Scooby-Doo / Batman crossover without the grand-daddies of the supervillain set. There's nothing wrong with the tropes and choices that they are using, but the narrative is plain lazy. I also thing, for monetary reasons, that the movies tend to be limited to 75 minutes. I think almost every DC Direct to DVD has been in the ballpark of 75 minutes. Admittedly, I've missed quite a few, but I get the vibe that there is a mandate to keep the movies to a certain length. It's just long enough to say that there has been another Batman movie released, but not so long that they have to animate all that stuff that would cost money. Laziness is business and I can't actually throw stones at the filmmakers for this. This feels entirely corporate, but it doesn't actually suck altogether.
The biggest takeaway I had from this one is how fun the movie itself was. The Scooby gags have always been really dumb for me, but layering them onto a Batman cartoon works in ways that it really shouldn't. Even Batman calls them out for things working that really shouldn't, but Scooby's self-aware tone actually sells that way more than it should. I always thought of Scooby and Shaggy as kind of dumb characters. (Again, in the '80s, it was The Real Ghostbusters and nothing else. Sorry, all those franchises that I probably would have loved had I given them a chance.) But maybe it's just the adult in me and the fact that I was open to having a good time that their stupid little bits really worked. If I tried explaining some of the dumb stuff that happened in this movie, you would look at me with disappointment because I laughed. But I really did. I thought it was funny. Again, I was also rooting for the movie to not be scary, so any time that Scooby and Shaggy defused a scary scene with something marvelously stupid, I was really grateful. It's why I kept showing the movie, because Scooby and Shaggy did dumb stuff. Maybe that's why people like Scooby-Doo in general though. It showed that you didn't have to be scared of things that were trying to frighten you. Scooby and Shaggy are often laughed at for being so scared, but they overcame their fears when it needed to happen. I'm doing that thing that I always do when it comes to overthinking stuff that really doesn't deserve to be over-analyzed, but I may be onto something here. Scooby-Doo might be most people's only exposure to horror, but it also might be the thing that gets them to get past the completely innocent stuff. The ghosts are defeated. They are never real (with the exception of the one DVD movie that broke its own code). Batman, especially this iteration of Batman, always beats the bad guys. It also helps that this one smiles. This is the story that Henry probably needed. Sure, he may admonish me for showing him this, but maybe it helped him. He didn't have any nightmares and he got through the whole movie. Really, I'm just happy I got to watch something with him that had a little bit of action. Golly, he likes cheerful stuff.
I know it stinks that I'm putting this review up, especially after I just did a whole litany of Miyazaki Ghibli movies. Those movies are great and I don't want to be the animation guy. I'm not even into animation all that much. But I had a mildly good time with this one. It doesn't change what I think of Batman and it has no impact on mythology whatsoever. But it is a good time that I had with my kids and that's all it really aimed for.
Yay! I got to watch a G-rated Miyazaki film with my family. Being the resident Ponyo expert, I can say that there is nothing offensive in this movie. Okay, Ponyo actually gets her powers from drinking human blood...not unlike a vampire. Also, there's a weird relationship between a little kid and a fish. Okay, this movie is The Shape of Water for kids. Look at subversive Japanese Hollywood infiltrating our children's minds and warping them! Hard G!
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
This is the one that we had on a loop in our house when my daughter was two. I was surprised that she wasn't scared by it, but it is a ridiculously tame movie. My son got a little creeped out by it because he's the babiest of the babymen. But he cuddled up with me and powered through it. I love how the movie says that this movie was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid because this movie is absolutely insane. That said, I've never read the Anderson version of the story. I've been taking the Disney (you know what I mean!) version as the basis for the story. If you didn't know, this movie is nothing like the Ariel version. That's probably a pretty great thing. Ariel fans out there, continue liking your story. It is fine. I like the absolutely crazy goldfish-drinks-human-blood version. Honestly, this movie is just so weird but I love it.
Some animators lose their souls with the advent of technology. Looking at the new Simpsons stuff, as much as I like the movie, it does seem pretty vapid in terms of artistry. But I'm jumping back and forth throughout Miyazaki's history and I hate to say that I like the look of his later movies better. There's something about early Japanese animation, especially the stuff in the eighties, that just kind of looks cheap. The design is all there throughout all of Miyazaki's films, but the ambition doesn't really get to the level we see in Spirited Away or Ponyo. Those movies look absolutely stunning. My wife, who is not exactly on board with me binging all of this Studio Ghibli stuff, was reminded by Ponyo about how beautiful that movie really is. She loves, and I have to agree, that all of the fish are different fish. And they all look gorgeous, even when they are weird looking. This, again, ties into Miyazaki's mild obsession with nature. There is a reason that people become marine biologists and I'm pretty sure they are all somehow tied to Ponyo. (Okay, I'm actually doing a podcast with a student who is crazy into nature, so I'll get her two cents on Ponyo while that is happening.) But Ponyo with a new environment might be Miyazaki's biggest challenge. I'm so used to him making the skies look absolutely fantastic that it is interesting that he actually flourishes with aquatic environments more than anything else. I'm not saying that his other landscapes aren't impressive. But I am really impressed with how Ponyo absolutely crushes. Part of it is his color palate. It's so absolutely bizarre to have the Ponyo goldfish look nothing like goldfish. It's such a weird choice. It has to be so that the audience can relate closer to the odd relationship between Sôsuke and Ponyo. Like, anthropomorphizing these fish goes a long way to just stating that Ponyo is a human stuck in a fish body. (I don't feel like I'm spoiling anything. This is one of the few plot points it kind of shares with the Ariel version.) But having these solid colored characters interacting with these complex animals around them. I feel like Miyazaki has this odd playfulness with two very distinct animation styles. He has these technically impressive fish and designs everywhere. But then he has waves that have eyeballs and goofy crap everywhere. These shouldn't really work, but they really do. It's such a cool look to the movie and I don't understand his genius. I probably never will.
The story is really weird. Like, really weird, but I like it so much. Okay, I also acknowledge that my brain won't shut up during it. I always watch things criticially. I have to. It's the only way that I really derive joy from anything I watch. But part of my brain really wants to shut up and just enjoy the odd rollercoaster ride that occurs. From that perspective, I love it. It hits that absolutely crazy part of my brain that actually likes anime. It's not a huge part of my brain, but it does exist. I think that is why I'm always bummed out when I don't really dig anime as a whole because most of it doesn't speak to me. I know that there's something there that isn't gelling with me, but I want it to. Ponyo hits that sweet spot of bizarreness that would make me like anime. But I also can't shut off the part of my brain that says that this eight year old made a lifetime commitment to a fish who has no idea what human nature is going to be like. Like, are Ponyo and Sôsuke going to have a really intense argument one day. How do you know who you are going to love when you are eight? But, like, everyone including Sôsuke's mom are rooting for Ponyo and Sôsuke to work out. Part of it is that the moon is going to crush the Earth (Watch the movie. I couldn't spoil that if I tried.). The other part is that they all want these little kids to find happiness. This is a LIGHT SPOILER, but when Ponyo / Brunhilde's dad officially gives over his daughter, he also hands Sôsuke his toy boat. If you are handing your daughter to someone who is concerned about the status of his toy boat, there might be a problem. But the movie kind of builds this relationship into the movie quite organically. I'm not sure how I understand that. It's mostly because everyone in the movie acts normal enough to establish that this is a world unaware of magic, but they also just react to things in the most insane ways. Like mom, she drives like a maniac. Not like in a hilarious way? She's racing a typhoon and just is all over the road. I know, it's animation. But the ladies in the nursing home are acting really really weird. They have this weird dynamic and there's one who has these conspiracy theories. So when things go supernaturally weird, I guess it makes sense that everyone just plays along because they are established to be a heightened version of reality.
Can I just question chicken Ponyo? ODD SPOILERS: Ponyo turns into a weird chicken from time to time. It's supposed to be this transition stage between Ponyo the goldfish and Ponyo the girl. It's when she is using her magical abilities that she turns into chicken Ponyo. With the Ghibli binge, I noticed that one of the cool tricks that Miyazaki does is that he doing this cool morphing effect with many of the movies he works on. Sometimes these are absolutely seemless, but Ponyo completely avoids that and makes the chicken Ponyo the most jarring thing in the world. I don't mind. I find Chicken Ponyo hilarious for some reason. But considering how much of the movie is devoted to making you forget that there shouldn't be a relationship between a goldfish and a little boy, it's so weird that the movie goes out of its way to remind you that not only is Ponyo a goldfish, sometimes she looks like a chicken. Like, the movie never says that Ponyo is a chicken, but we all recognize chicken feet when it comes around to it. But Chicken Ponyo is just one element of what I consider absolutely bizarre choices when it comes to design. I know that Fujimoto looks like the wizard style of Howl. I know that has to be a cultural thing and I'm sure that Mark from the board probably knows the inside and outs of weird Japanese wizard designs, but these designs are just the weirdest. The sentient waves? Weird. The fact that Ponyo's sisters turn into eels which then turn into storm waves? Everything is just the wackiest and I just love it. As weird as Totoro gets, that movie looks straight up grounded, Catbus and all. I think that's why Ponyo might be my secret favorite for rewatchability. It is absolutely insane. Like, Ponyo eats ham. No explanation. She just loves ham. Okay. Go with it, crazy movie. And making it cool for my kids to watch definitely helps. I almost got them to eat ham. I know that isn't a major thing for most people, but these kids don't eat ham. End of story.
I love Ponyo. Both theme songs are running through my head right now and I don't mind that one bit. I don't have a Liam Neeson impression, but I do have a Liam Neeson in Ponyo impression, and that's more on brand anyway. If you haven't caught that one, please do. It's great.
References! References everywhere! Listen to our episode about Ready Player One!
The Ghibli nerds like the disturbing ones. Yeah, this one isn't a kid's movie. This is the first one where I realized that no one was really rating these by content. This is another PG movie by the MPAA and they simply saw a movie that was animated and had magic. They probably saw, "From the Director of My Neighbor Totoro" and said it was fine. It's scary as heck. There's some blood. There's some demons. Billy Crystal is a demon. Sure, he's the adorable fire demons, but there are some very scary demons in this one. While PG, I don't think it's meant for younger kids.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
This is the first time I have gotten through this one. We rented this one originally and started watching it. The second these flying demons tried attacking Howl, we turned it off. Everyone always said that this one is great and I believed them. I was excited to get through this because I was really digging it the first time around, but I'm not going to watch a movie with flying demons with my kids. I have standards. Kind of. Okay, if there wasn't going to be a consequence of all the nightmares every night, I probably would have kept going. But I have to deal with nightmares and no, thank you.
One of the things about doing a retrospective is that you find yourself thinking the same things over and over again. There are bouts of frustration trying to separate which movie goes where in your head. I used to do these things all the time. The good news is that you really can see trends in a director's work. You understand the director as an auteur and you can then claim to be a mini-expert on a director. It's great. But at the end of the day, you have the same problem that happens with binging a TV show; you don't get to enjoy the beats. It flies by a little bit. I think my mistake going into this binge was putting Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle back-to-back. There's a lot of similarities between the two. Two girls and non-magic users are thrown into the world of the occult and have to follow this mysterious male's instructions to get through it. In both cases, the girls prove to be stronger than their male companion spiritually, which pulls them through the problems that they face. In the case of Howl's Moving Castle, there is a far more linear story as opposed to the episodic trials of Spirited Away. Sophie has a clear goal, magic related like Chihiro, but Sophie seems oddly content with her predicament. Perhaps that's a misreading of the situation. One thing that is convenient for the sake of plot is that the spell she is under does not allow her to talk about the spell that has been cast on her. Like Miyazaki's other narratives, he does not spend a lot of time infodumping stuff for the audience. Rather, we simply exist in this rather awesome world of steampunk and gliders. But there is this whole political climate that I kind of started building in Nausicaa (Again, I have no time for umlauts). I have no idea what the details of this war are. Miyazaki clearly gets it, but I don't get it. It's kind of like real politics: I get just enough to follow along with the big moments. Sorry, everyone, but I kind of suck when it comes to that stuff. But the setting is another thing that makes Howl's work. Miyazaki, and I'm saying nothing new here, is the master of world building in film. He has a lot of the same motifs. The whole environmentalism and airplane stuff keeps being part of it, but these worlds definitely feel different. I don't know how to explain it, but these worlds aren't at all one Miyazaki-verse, but it feels like Miyazaki each time.
While I think Spirited Away is scarier, I think Howl's Moving Castle is a much cleaner movie. I'm mainly looking at the theme of identity. Sophie's story is great. I wouldn't even wrap it up as an allegory because I think it is expressed clearly in the movie. SPOILERS: Sophie's condition of being transformed into an old lady is always temporary. This is the smartest choice for Miyazaki. Sophie's condition is entirely self inflicted. (Now I really want to write a paper about the connections between the films of Hayao Miyazaki and The Wizard of Oz.) Those moments of Sophie switching back (which are practically a magic trick in terms of animation) are so telling about the nature of the spell and the idea of self-esteem. Sophie, throughout the story, continually mentions that she never considered herself beautiful. It's a little obvious what Miyazaki is going for in terms about self-image, but I don't mind it one bit. It's a really good message. I feel like Miyazaki puts his own little spin on that message though. Sophie always considered herself an old soul. She worked in a hat shop, dressed modestly, and sheltered herself. When she is turned into an old lady, her major complaint is that everything is hard to do. She doesn't say that she wishes that she could look like herself. There is a weird amount of bliss that people don't see her as a young kid. I think she likes being the mother / grandmother of the group with the exception when it comes to her feelings for Howl (which might be the most underbaked element of the movie). It is only in those moments where she sees her own self-worth and beauty, albeit subconsciously, that she transforms back into her younger self. But the best part about the whole thing is that the movie ends and her hair is still grey. She is gorgeous and she has mostly been returned to her old self, but she has grown into loving old Sophie. That's so interesting. She is a different person. It also might be about accepting the worst parts of yourself. You don't have to be happy about it, but you do have to acknowledge that it is part of what makes you, you. I don't know. Maybe I'm overthinking all of this. Regardless, it's pretty well done.
Miyazaki's obsession with airplanes is rubbing off. I normally find them pretty boring. Like, I kind of like The Wind Rises, but it's pretty dull to me. I really dig the way airplanes are just part of life. These airplanes are massive and overwhelming. But there are also these personal craft and they just seem like the way that life should be. He has this very casual attitude when it comes to personal transportation. The best artists make you care about their passions and I think Miyazaki definitely crushes when it comes to this. Heck, my lackadaisical attitude when it comes to the environment is challenged when I watch these movies. I started my binging with the attitude of "Cool it, Miyazaki. We get it. Garbage is bad." But as of this point, I kind of hate my old self. I'm the kind of guy who makes tire fire jokes and clubbing baby seal jokes (I told you, I'm a bad person). But Miyazaki's passion is conveyed in his movies. He gets his message across. The odd thing is that it is definitely a motif, but he doesn't get repetitive. One thing I always got annoyed with when it came to pop environmentalism is the Captain Planet vibe most things got. It was always heavy handed. Miyazaki, like his love for aviation, treats it as simply the way the world is right now. That's what makes Howl's weird. He really cuts down on the environmentalism thing. I mean, sure, there's an area that are known as "The Wastes". But he goes the opposite way with his love for airplanes. There are these machines, which add to the steampunk pastiche, but people just have the equivalent of airplane motorcycles. Juxtaposing these creations to the world of magic is also super cool. Howl's castle, of the title fame, is a magical creation that is based around the fact that it is a load of junk scrapped together. It looks like there is no magic involved until later in the film. It looks like it should belong in this world and it is only when the house starts falling apart that the world of magic actually lets itself be seen. I do like how Billy Crystal as Calcifer (which I would just love to see his face during the readthrough) ties the whole house together. The characters exist in the house in a very dynamic way. Since the house keeps shifting, they keep falling in love with the various iterations of the house. That's a nifty idea.
I feel like I really botched this review up. My kids stopped me every two seconds during this review. I'm writing this part with my son on my lap. He had two tantrums today and I've been helping film my daughter's baking show videos today. I also have a cold, so I'd like to apologize. The very short version of this story: Howl's Moving Castle is a fabulous movie that is cool because of its aesthetics and its great story. The characters are awesome, but the movie gets a bit scary for little kids. All that wandering garbage up above can be ignored. Just read this part.
Full on disagree about the MPAA on this one. The rating on this movie is "PG". There are a handful of Ghibli PG-13s. This one is most definitely deserving of PG-13. It's a straight up horror movie. Admittedly, it is a whimsical horror movie, but the movie itself is very scary. It's also visually messed up, so let's relook at this one. I got this for my birthday a few years ago and saw that it was PG. I started watching it with the kid and had to stop. It is really messed up. I think it might be the scariest outright movie of the group. There's blood and creature gore. PG.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
I didn't get a chance to write yesterday. That throws me off my game. If this review comes off as a series of mumbled half-ideas...well, that means I slid back into reviews like it was no big deal. It's so weird how this is one of the famous ones. I mean, I get it. It is an amazing movie. It's is visually his prettiest movie. It is also the most bananas screwed up thing in his entire ouevre. And the guy makes some weird stuff. I'm following this review up with Howl's Moving Castle and that thing is pretty bananas in itself. It's just that Spirited Away really shouldn't work. By the way I'm wording that, I have to establish that this movie really works way too well. It's just that, structurally, it throws you in the deep end and never asks to explain itself. It also trusts its audience more than most movies probably would. Let me explain.
Imma gunna have to use spoilers, mainly because it is early in the morning and I kind of want to go deep into some of the ideas in this movie. The movie has the smallest exposition I've ever seen before just diving head first into a movie. I've seen movies skip the exposition and that is far more subtle than what Miyazaki does with this movie. Chihiro and their family are moving, despite the fact that Chihiro doesn't want to. They take a wrong turn going to their new house. That's it. Inciting incident comes right in. Like, we're talking about the length of the opening credits to establish a lot. And that is the pace the rest of the movie will hold onto. I guess you could argue that the inciting incident would be when Chihiro's parents take the first bite of food, but Chihiro is aware that the abandoned theme park is a place of danger. She wants to escape right from that moment. But then the movie just ramps up really quickly. You want an explanation for what's going on? Too bad! I'm Hayao Miyazaki! I can do whatever I want and you have to accept it. That's fantastic. The movie just dives directly into whatever the heck is going on. We know that there is a ghost / demon bathhouse and that it is run by Yubaba. That's it. The rest of the rules are made up on the fly. Eating food from the spirit world keeps you from Marty McFlying? Check. You have to have the boiler room recommend you for a job? Sure. Humans can sometimes become employees? Why not? There's just so much that Miyazaki solves upon introducing it that you just have to run with it. Again, I might be overly flippant with this whole thing. For all I know, Spirited Away might be based on very specific legend that might be common knowledge to some people. But from my perspective, Chihiro just has every problem addressed immediately upon encountering it. Her major conflict, saving her parents and escaping the spirit realm, takes a while. But those moments to moments, easy solves. Okay, not easy, but wrapped up pretty nicely. Again, this shouldn't work. As a viewer, I suppose I normally want investment in the solution to a problem. By having Chihiro have unsolvable problems that are nearly immediately solved, I can't at all predict what is going to happen. There's a lot of false information presented to me. The stink demon is presented with a set of traits associated with it. Yubaba lets me know exactly why I should worry about a stink demon. Then we find out that the stink demon isn't a stink demon. I'm not really sure what it is, but it has a whole different set of traits to it. The good news is that it throws me out of the binary options presented to me. Instead, I'm presented with a third choice for Sen to make. That makes it more interesting, but there is also no way to anticipate what the characters could do.
The thing that makes people flock to this one is the fact that it is the most gorgeous of the Ghibli movies. We just watched Ponyo and that's a really close one for that title. But there is some absolutely bizarre creativity going on with this one. In some ways, I suppose most of Spirited Away is an excuse to just draw cool creatures. The fact that much of the movie doesn't bother explore the purpose behind characters. Like, it is really cool that Haku is a dragon. (I told you that there would be spoilers!) But does he need to be a dragon for the sake of the plot? Not really. It just turns okay scenes into cool scenes. Yubaba's power set is all over the place. She could wreck everyone. But by giving Yubaba this weird power set, it allows the movie to be playful and weird. There are just so many cool design things. I'm reminded of the way that Guillermo del Toro makes his movies. Both directors are masterful storytellers who simply want a canvas to paint with. The stories are secure and are well crafted, but these often take a backseat to absolutely gorgeous character design and animation. I mean, look at the parents turning into pigs. It might be one of the more mundane things that happens in this absolutely insane movie, but it looks terrifying. In my MPAA section, I said that I consider this to be Miyazaki's horror movie. The aesthetics and tone of the movie are absolutely terrifying. Look at No Face. (His name is No Face. That's a horror movie character name if I ever heard of it.) He's actually the most iconic element from this film and most of the Ghibli canon. No Face is haunting and tragic in design, but he becomes this violent, pulsating slug that tries to murder the protagonist. Is his mouth where you'd assume? Heck no! He has this creepy Pennywise voice. That idea that if you take anything from No Face, you'll be eaten and your personality will be absorbed? You could have made a horror movie just about No Face and it would have been the most terrifying thing I'd ever seen animated. He's really scary and he's just one small part of a much larger design. Most of the things in this movie are terrfying. Haku being chased by paper airplanes? 1) These paper airplanes are never really formally explained except for where they came from. But 2), Paper airplanes in this movie are scary as get out. Haku starts coughing up blood and it's gory as snot. It think that most people don't think about how scary this movie is because it's got a great design team, there's lots of color, and there are scenes that take place on sunny days. People who like Spirited Away? You probably like horror movies and you don't even know it.
I'm not sure what the message of Spirited Away is though. The Chihiro is quickly established to be the protagonist. She's a little spoiled, but nothing that would be detrimental to a kid not her age. Like, she doesn't do anything criminally wrong in the overly short exposition. Her parents are portrayed as irresponsible, but I'm not sure why. If the delivery was different, her parents would be considered adventurous and loved trying new things. They go a bit far when they start eating the food they find, but it is pretty heavily implied that they are under the spell of Yubaba by that point. Maybe because I'm almost 35 I now identify with parent characters. They really didn't do anything wrong outside of asking their daughter to make the best of her new home. But Miyazaki portrays them as kinds of jerks both in their design. I have to assume that the American voice director is matching the same intentions as the Japanese team, but Chiklis is coming across as a jerk despite the fact that none of the lines indicate that he should be terrible. We do see character growth come from Chihiro, but she's a pretty good character within. I'm not saying that every movie needs a message, but it is implied that there is a message here. I'm just not sure what it could be. I guess the theme that the smallest person can make a difference. Like, there's this cool moment of altruism that Chihiro provides No-Face. She makes No Face eat this thing that might have turned her parents back to human. That's really cool. But also, she is not only sacrificing herself. She is sacrificing her parents. It ended up being the right thing to do because it makes...No Face try to chase and eat her? It was the right choice because everything ended up just fine, but morally it was a weird decision to make. Her parents were marinating in pig form. When they had aged as pigs long enough, Yubaba was going to eat them. Also, Yubaba and her sister? What was going on there? There was a large baby that was a brat? If anything, the baby has a bigger character arc than Chihiro. I guess this okay. Oh, geez. This movie has the same emotional beats as The Wizard of Oz. Okay, I'm now overthinking it officially.
I really love Spirited Away, but I also really love horror movies. It's an extremely creepy and beautiful movie at the same time. Can I establish right now that I really can't wait for my kids to grow up a little bit more so we can start watching some amazing movies that would wreck them right now? Anyway, check this one out. It's a standard for the Ghibliverse.
An honest-to-goodness G rating. Okay, there's this very weird / innocent I guess family bath. Like it is as close to full on dudity as a movie can get. But it is just a family bath and it is sweet. It doesn't mean that I don't get all weird when my kids are watching this movie with me. I mean, they get it. It's just another scene for them. It's just that I get all weird. Also, the underlying theme is about kids dealing with mortality, but it only comes to a head, like, once in the movie. This might be the least scary movie in the history of ever. G.
DIRECTOR: Hiyao Miyazaki
See, I originally started exactly where I should have started. I started at My Neighbor Totoro. This wasn't a plan. I had no idea that the Ghibli logo would be taken from this movie. I knew Ghibli only from reputation and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. After seeing Totoro, I simply thought that all of Miyazaki's movies were these examinations of life in the context of magical realism. I guess there is a certain truth to that, but now I'm thinking of stuff like Spirited Away or Nausicaa (I don't have time for putting the umlaut in). This movie might be the most chill thing in the world and I barely had to comfort cowardly Henry for it. Okay, the soot spirits initially made him nervous.
The movie is entirely character study and atmosphere. It's so funny that the movie is named Totoro because he's barely in the movie. Like, it's really important knowing that he could be in the movie, but he's barely a character. You just wait, watching and wondering when the heck he is going to show up. His scenes are great because they ramp up the magic as high as they can go...unless he's taking a nap. Which is twice. Out of five times he's in the movie. But the stories about Satsuki and Mei is what the story is about. It's odd because Miyazaki never really hits you over the head about their relationship. He's more about letting it all play out. They never telegraph any tension between the two, but they are actually the rare portrayal of two sisters who actually mostly want to hang out with each other. They fight and I suppose that is to be expected because there needs to be character growth and they exist in reality. But mostly they like playing with each other. I couldn't help but think of my two kids and how they mostly get along. (I know, I should just wait until they are older, but that's also the point that Totoro might be making.) Every time I see that dynamic, it always seems that the two hate each other until the point where they have to bond over a common adversity. And these two kids are mired in adversity. Like, their life isn't terrible, but they are constantly thinking about mortality without ever having to say it. Their mother in the hospital is a really interesting conflict for these kids. There's never a conversation where the two kids info dump about how they are feeling. They have that childlike optimism that makes them push on to think that everything is going to be okay. But there is also the story of overcompensating that comes with the knowledge that things won't be okay. Miyazaki hides Mom's diagnosis from us. I have to believe that Miyazaki does that to us to keep us as children. If we got a formal diagnosis, we would have a concrete response. We would know how nervous to be. But the kids would have no context for any diagnosis. They just know that their mom is in the hospital. That's it. Miyazaki makes me feel like a kid in it. Perhaps I can't completely shut off my brain, but I'm not sure how I would approach the same situation. Instead, I have to simply be an observer of Satsuki and Mei's adventures and root for them not to get bogged down with sadness. But that sadness very sneakily exists. Satsuki's protectiveness is in overdrive for a lot of it. When Mei shows up at school, she runs out to see he sister, despite the fact that her presence mortifies her. Mei's attachment to the corn (watch the movie) stems from a need to make her mother feel better. When the eventual conflict between the sisters manifests, it makes a ton of sense. They aren't burying anything, but they just haven't had a way to deal with it naturally. Sure, I'm overthinking the crap out of this movie, but I've now seen it a bunch of times.
The last one I reviewed was from 1984. Totoro still has some of the shortcuts in animation, but it looks oodles cleaner than Nausicaa did. When I think of the beauty of Miyazaki films, I kind of think this one. (I'm most of the way through a rewatching of Spirited Away right now and that might be the prettiest movie). There is a reality that Miyazaki captures, despite the fact that the events of this movie are in the realm of the fantastic. It is so funny that Dad is so cool with the events surrounding Totoro. Like, I get that he's playing along with them to a certain extent. But the way that the character is crafted feels like he would believe if he saw the events. I'll probably never see "Mei and the Kittenbus", but I get the vibe that Dad never experiences anything completely supernatural. I kind of would love that Dad would just break down if he saw the stuff that the kids did. What is interesting about the setting that Miyazaki created is that he makes us question what is reality and what is fiction. The world is surreal at times, but could all be explained as dreams or the imagination of a child. The end implies that everything actually happened and I'd like to watch the movie as if Totoro was a real forest spirit that visited them. But it seems like all of the events surround a character getting sleepy or falling asleep. I mean, the seedling sequence is pretty telling that things didn't happen. But Miyazaki keeps feeding me conflicting data. There are so many moments that imply that the events of the movie that I'm seeing are really happening, but so many moments that this is just the world of imagination. I kind of like the frustration that accompanies wondering what is real and what is not. Mainly because none of it really matters. What matters is the kids' interaction. I called Kanta "Henry" throughout the film because they both get nonverbal when things get awkward. It's a good choice to have Kanta in the film. Kanta is the perfect outsider for the events. He has no magical time with Totoro or the Catbus. He's just a kid dealing with a crush for the first time in his life. I love it that Satsuki and Mei never mention Totoro to Kanta. Kanta just has his whole other storyline that we never really get to experience in the film. Kanta might be indicative of what kind of storyteller Miyazaki really is. All these people in the story seem to be living their own lives and the idea that something mystical is happening in this town is completely secondary to these characters lives. Mom is busy getting better and thinking that her kids have an imaginary friend. Granny likes having these new lodgers in the house. Kanta's mom is worried about her distracted kid all of the time. Kanta has a crush but doesn't want to give up playing with planes. (Holy crap, Kanta is Miyazaki! That dude loves planes.) Dad studies archaeology and ensures that his kids are somewhat well adjusted knowing that their mom is in the hospital. There's a lot going on here.
What's so weird is writing a review when there isn't much of a plot. There's one moment that has a really intense miniplot and it is hard to watch, especially if you don't know how the movie is going to resolve. But the movie is just this great look at two kids lives. It's like if Ozu was really into fantasy as opposed to stark realism. I love the beauty of this movie and I loved watching it with my kids. They got really snuggly, but never scared. Even if the movie wasn't great, I would have at least had that.
The boys welcome special guest Caitlin Ingram to discuss one of their favorite Netflix shows, Jessica Jones Season Two!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.