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Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Animation’ Category

(Japan 1988 86 min)

Director / Writer Hayao Miyazaki; Voice Acting Noriko Hidaka (Satsuki) Chika Sakamoto (Mei); Art Direction Kazuo Oga

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Satsuki (ten years old) and her younger sister Mei (four) are moving to the countryside with their father. There they can be nearer to their mother who is being cared for in a hospital nearby. During the day he goes to work, Satsuki goes to school and Mei stays with her Grandma.

Surrounded by paddy fields and dense woods their new home is a young girl’s idyll. They frolic and play act, revelling in the freedom of the land. It’s a joy to watch their hyperactive and elusive skittishness. Nothing can contain their innocent excitement, symbolised beautifully by the tadpoles Mei fails to catch in her hands. Quickly the sisters discover the hidden, enchanting wonders of the natural world – first soot sprites and then the giant cuddly Totoro, a wood spirit, and finally the mischievous-looking, eager-to-please Catbus – a cat that’s a bus.

Miyazaki understands these girls in this difficult period when their mother is ailing. The wonderful and infectious fantasy elements of the story are not a mawkish narrative contrivance but a soft light to shine on their thoughts and feelings, so meticulously and truthfully played out. They are an extension of the innocent and imaginative play of children. What is important is that these magical creatures don’t help the girls to forget their troubles but help them to cope with and confront them. Totoro and the Catbus reunite the family when Mei runs away to the hospital and take the girls to visit their mother. They help them to be the good daughters they want to be, providing them with a chance to explore rather than escape.

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(USA From 1989 Episodes = 22-26 min)

Creator Matt Groening; Writers James L Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder and 65 others; Music Alf Clausen, Richard Gibbs, Arthur B Rubinstein; Voice Acting Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson), Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson), Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson)

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Come on Homer, Japan will be fun. You liked Rashomon.

That’s not how I remember it!

There are plenty of hugely popular and long-lasting cultural phenomena that appear immune to criticism. To some extent, taking Citizen Kane and The Godfather as prime examples, the hyped, synthesised image has taken over from the real, organic one.

Not The Simpsons.

Its elevated, nay worshipped, status is based on continuous reappraisal, on being seen week in and week out by a general public that leads the way. There is no time for critics or for tyrannical consensus, or for mere forgetfulness, to take it hostage. The Simpsons has to prove itself each episode, where success isn’t in dry polls or in a phantom objectivity but ever-evolving in our living rooms.

The Simpsons is so culturally ingrained that we cannot imagine a time before it. This is a colossal achievement in itself, to become part of the fabric of people’s lives. One of the great marvels of The Simpsons is how diverse people’s responses are to it. A Simpsons fan can gleefully shout out “D’oh!” or “Woohoo!” to which another fan may roll his eyes and think “that’s not my Simpsons”. There is so much to take from it and room for so many experiences within it.

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(Germany 1922 13min)

Director Lotte Reiniger; Specially Written Verses Humbert Wolfe

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

In terms of the text Lotte Reiniger’s Cinderella is a version much like any other. In all other respects it is unique. The opening title refers to it as “a fairy film in shadow show”. This is a delightful welcome to a fabulous and astoundingly beautiful film, the swooning product perhaps of her “extraordinarily happy” childhood during which she became obsessed with Chinese puppet theatre.

To tell her story Reiniger uses silhouetted figures with varying shades of coloured, grey or white paper for depth. The characters move both daintily and deliberately as though underwater or subject to a whole different gravity. Their poses communicate deep wells of feeling coiled within – yearning, fear and barely contained passion. Finally the effect is one of a dream of the story, aggregated from all the echoes of the past lives Cinderella has led ever since she was born on the page. This Cinderella reminds us that animation is a type of impressionism, touching more sensitively upon emotional realities than physical ones.

Cinderella begins rather unsettlingly with the silhouetted hand of the creator cutting Cinderella herself out of a piece of paper. This instant of creation, with the open acknowledgement of artifice and the presence of the puppeteer, is a mark of much animation. In Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo (1911) the artist draws the characters on a board to prove to mocking onlookers that he can make them move while Karel Zeman’s superb Inspirace has the artist peering into a drop of water to gain inspiration, to see his work grow within.

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(Japan 2004 13 Episodes X 25 minutes)

Director Satoshi Kon, Takuji Endo (co-director for three episodes); Screenplay Satoshi Kon, Seishi Minakami, Tomomi Yoshino; Producer Mitsuru Uda, Satoshi Fujii

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

What does fear look like? Does it have a demented smile? Does it wear roller skates and wield a golden bat?

Society is sick. Anyone in Paranoia Agent will tell you. Violence, disrespect, a morbid obsession with pop culture, sexual depravity. What is more, people are unwilling and unable to face the aberrant and torturous realities of modern existence. They flee from the here and now, yammering into their mobile phones to some distant listener, worshipping cuddly Maromi, a soft toy totem for the latest craze.

Paranoia Agent suggests this broken Japan could be a self-fulfilling, mass psychosoma. Tsukiko, a character designer, is the first of many to be attacked by Lil’ Slugger (Shonen Bat or ‘Bat Boy’, literally). She is the first to welcome him into her life. She is under pressure, afraid of not reaching a deadline, worried that she might humiliate herself. She feels boxed in, cornered, and the teenage boy, who swings his bat with vicious force, offers her an escape – to a hospital bed and to a place outside of the system.

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(Japan 1995 111 minutes)

Director Yoshifumi Kondo; Screenplay Hayao Miyazaki, Aoi Hiragi (comic); Music Yuji Nomi; Cinematography Kitaro Koska; Voice Acting Youku Honna (Shizuku), Kazuo Takahashi (Seiji); Editing Takeshi Sayama; Art Direction Satoshi Kuroda

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Whisper of the Heart is a story of love between two teenage schoolchildren, a girl who dreams of being a writer and a boy who longs to be a professional violin maker. It is the first and only film by the late Yoshifumi Kondo, who was seen as heir apparent to Studio Ghibli’s Miyazaki-Takahata crown.

When it comes to the depiction of young love in film, or indeed in reality, we know the form. There are concerned parents who see the relationship as an obstacle to self-improvement and a distraction from exams. The teenagers are more often than not patronised – even, subtly, by the film-makers themselves – with the perception that their love is a phase, a hollow rite of passage, an emotional development they are neither ready for nor have true understanding of : ‘You don’t know what love is’. Those couples are forced to build a cocoon around themselves to shut the world out. They are forced to display the signs of ‘immaturity’, i.e. headstrongness and selfishness, to hold on to what they have.

Whisper of the Heart is one of the most refreshing films you are ever likely to see because it rejects all convention to treat this love with the unswerving respect that it deserves.

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(JAPAN 2001 125 min)

Director / Writer Hayao Miyazaki; Voice Acting Rumi Hiraki (Chihiro – Japanese), Daveigh Chase (Chihiro – English)

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

It is a privilege to see a young girl mature through the eyes of Hayao Miyazaki.

Visiting an old abandoned theme park on the way to their new home, Chihiro and her parents find a feast laid before them. Tucking greedily into the steaming spread her Mum and Dad will soon turn into pigs. Full of panic Chihiro wishes the strange world that has enveloped her to vanish but instead it is she who begins to disappear. Drawn bewildered into the other-worldly bath-house, her name, her very identity is taken from her. She is no longer Chihiro but Sen. Her journey, therefore, and the story of Spirited Away, is the creation of a new self: stronger and more determined, more responsible and more compassionate. She will not let herself fade away.

The world of the spirits represents the overwhelming and strange world of imminent adulthood. Chihiro faces challenges that few young girls face (back-breaking work, life and death battles with evil sorcery) but she will have to make choices that all young people will be faced with, choices that require an adult’s maturity and intelligence. When she is finally reunited with her parents, having passed a sphinx-like test to ensure their transformation back into human form, the prospect of a new school and a new home that had so daunted her before now seems like child’s play:

“A new home and a new school, it is a bit scary”

“I think I can handle it”

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(Japan 1998 2 Episodes X 30 min) aka Yokohama Shopping Trip

Director Takashi Anno; Character Design Atushi Yamagata; Art Director Hiroshi Kato; Chief Animator Masayuki Sekine; Voice Acting Hekiru Shiina (Alpha), Mikio Terashima (Ojisan), Akio Suyama (Takahiro), Ikuko Sugita (Doctor Koumiishi), Mikki Nagasawa (Makki), Ryu Naitou (Nai), Toshiyuki Morikawa (Ayase)

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

When you come across something startling and unexpected you tend to say: “Why haven’t I heard of this?” Well, sometimes if you want to see something different or special you have to go looking for it.

Yokohama Shopping Log is based on a manga (written and drawn by Hitoshi Ashinano), as so many anime series are. This is the story of Alpha, a ‘female’ android who runs a coffee shop while her boss is away. Her boss sends her a camera. He asks Alpha to take photos and remember what she sees. She doesn’t take many photos but her search for places to immortalise allows her to explore the world.

Japan has lived through some sort of catastrophe. There appear to be few people left alive. Mankind, if it is about to pass away, is passing peacefully: “To think that an era came to its twilight so pleasantly”, says Alpha. It is hard to imagine this and easier to reckon that Alpha is not connected emotionally to the people who have gone. However, the human characters we meet – a grinning gas station attendant, his grandson Takahiro and an older woman doctor – are melancholy rather than sorrowful. They still smile.

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