Archive for the ‘author Stephen Russell-Gebbett’ Category

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

(Japan 1997, 61min – aka It’s Keiko; Keiko Desu Kedo) not available on DVD

Director, Writer Sion Sono Starring Keiko Suzuki

Keiko Suzuki is a 21 year-old girl. Her father passed away a year ago and the film (part diary, part document, all fiction) depicts her life and her grief, which lasts.

We see a clock and she counts the seconds. 1, 2, 3, she walks down the street for minutes on end counting each step as she goes (as you can imagine this can dip into boredom a couple of times, but not only briefly). The passing of time fascinates her; her loss has made her aware of what comes and goes. Each second a struggle without him, each second forward to, perhaps, peace. She is comforted and daunted by the fact that life goes on regardless; what moves seems to be standing still, what stands still seems to slip away. Time is even more of a fetish here than in Wong Kar Wai’s stories.

We will see her smile a little, and watch her continue to return, almost imperceptibly, back to herself.

At the very beginning, she tells us that the film will last precisely 1 hour, 1 minute and 1 second, after which we can leave (“This film will be over at exactly 8:23”). She doesn’t want to intrude but she appears to need us as an audience (she lives alone) and, frankly, when that 1 hour, 1 minute and 1 second is over, it has been a privilege. How often do we feel as an audience that we are of use? Therefore I expected the film to end exactly as it did, with one simple word in Japanese, two in English.



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by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for November is “Animated Animals.”

While Joel has selected all the titles, certain films have been assigned to guest writers. This week Checking on My Sausages‘ Stephen, who conducted the Animation Countdown on Wonders in the Dark, takes a look at the pros and cons of Disney’s 1941 cartoon.

Dumbo (1941/United States/directed by Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen)

stars the voices of Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards, Herman Bing

written by Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Otto Englander, Bill Peet, Aurelius Battaglia, Joe Rinaldi, Vernon Stallings, Webb Smith from the book by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl • music by Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace • animation department: Art Babbitt, James Bodrero, Ward Kimbell, John Lounesbury, John P. Miller, Maurice Noble, Elmer Plummer, Martin Provenson, Woolie Reitherman, Vladimir Tytla, John Walbridge, Frank Thomas, and others • produced by Walt Disney

The Story: Dumbo, an elephant with big ears, is born to a circus animal. Shunned by the rest of the herd (“his disgrace is our own shame”), he is mocked and ridiculed by man and beast alike. Mrs. Jumbo, his mother, is whipped and caged for trying to protect her child. Separated from her, a sad Dumbo tries, with the help of a mouse and a band of crows, to get by in the circus business and find a way to be reunited with his mother.

Maybe those ears, those very things that held him down, will carry him up and up…


The character of Dumbo, the elephant who can (spoilers ahead) fly, is said to have been inspired by a comic strip on the back of a cereal box. Dumbo the story is itself a brief and simple sketch, but one hour long. The style is simple too, recalling the animations of pioneer Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur) in both line and movement. After the flamboyant excesses, and financial losses, of Fantasia, Dumbo is Disney pared down and relatively unassuming.

The opening scene in which the animals board a (anthropomorphised) train, is as colourful as a nursery and has a curiosity and energy that is quite different from the sickly nannying charm offensive that afflicts many Disney films. It is during this journey a stork delivers a child to Mrs.Jumbo. The train choo choos through the landscape and as it grinds to a halt at its destination, the music too slows down to a stop. It’s fun.

Once the characters are properly introduced and the story gets going, this energy becomes trying when applied to every situation and almost every animal and person. It’s all big. There are quite a lot of children’s films that think that, to be enjoyed by children, everybody in them has to act like a child or a fool. It is like the adult who leans into the pram and goes “coochy-coo!”.


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(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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