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Archive for the ‘author Stephen Russell-Gebbett’ Category


(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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(Czechoslovakia 1965 18 minutes)

Director Jiri Trnka; Screenplay Jiri Trnka; Music Vaclav Trojan; Cinematography Jiri Safar; Editing Hana Walachova; Animators Jan Adam, Bohuslav Sramek

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Jiri Trnka, the grandfather of Czech stop-motion puppetry, wasn’t known for making films with a political slant until he made his final film – The Hand. Trnka took advantage of a reforming, relatively relaxed, period in the Communist Czechoslovakia of the mid-1960s (President Novotny rolled back censorship and encouraged the creative arts) to make a cri-de-coeur against authoritarianism.

The Hand is about an artistic, sharp-nosed and sensitive looking man living in a one-room flat. He spends his time making pots in which to arrange his plants. His life is soon disrupted, however, by a giant hand. The hand pokes through his window and walks through his door. It towers down from his ceiling and smashes his pots.

The hand encourages him to mould the clay into the shape of a hand. It encourages him to think only of the hand. The television beams images of hands that are powerful, strong and righteous. We see the Statue of Liberty’s hand holding the torch aloft and we see the hand that holds the scales of justice. Tellingly a pair of hands form the silhouette of a rabbit, well known to all children. The hand, therefore, is capable of illusion. It can appear to be something that it is not.

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(France 1934 26 min)

Director / Cinematography / Art Direction Wladyslaw Starewicz; Music Eduard Flament; Cast Toy Dog (himself)


by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

We often apply a double standard when we judge the worth of animated work. If the animation is technically impressive we forgive it its narrative weaknesses. If the story is diverting we ignore the shortcomings of an uninspiring aesthetic. We don’t often make the same allowances for live-action feature films, allowances that are, in some respects, patronising.

It is clear from the beginning of The Mascot, in which live-action sets and backdrops are blended seamlessly with animation, that Wladyslaw Starewicz is a very talented film-maker in any realm. His background was in documentaries and his panoramic understanding of film shines in every frame – in the whiplash fast chases through city traffic to the tender moments of the singular bond between child and toy.

The Mascot begins with a mother (played by the director’s wife) knitting a toy dog for her daughter (Starewicz’s daughter!) who lies ill (and blind) in a nearby bed. Animation is full of breathtaking instances of creation, where the inanimate become animate, gaining a soul and life and any moment we will be treated to something quite breathtaking…. The mother, sad, sheds a tear that falls into the stuffing of the un-stitched dog .That very tear becomes its beating heart. Even in a world where special effects might seem to make the fantastical trite, this miracle of love is heart-stopping.

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(Japan 1993 113 min)

Director Mamoru Oshii; Writer Kazunori Ito; Music Kenji Kawai; Set Decoration Satoshi Kon

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Of all animated films Patlabor 2 : The Movie, in tone, subject and style, is the last one for which you could say: “This could only be done in animation”. The film, much as Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, reconfigures perceptions of what subjects an animated film may broach; how it feels, how it unfolds.

The film concerns the attempts of a disillusioned and disenfranchised former head (called Tsuge) of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force to destabilise Tokyo with terrorist attacks designed to provoke civil and international war. The Patlabor unit of mecha (giant man-controlled robots) is deployed to try and pull the city back from the brink and dissolve Martial Law.

The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) has caused controversy in real life over its roles and remits – whether it can operate abroad or only on Japanese soil. A disastrous mission in Cambodia as part of a UN peacekeeping initiative led to the death of a soldier and great unrest. This is echoed in the first scene of Patlabor 2 where the Labors (the mecha machines) are comprehensively defeated in “South East Asia” and only one man, Tsuge, survives.

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(Czechoslovakia 1948 10 min)

Director Karel Zeman

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Inspirace is a gorgeous work of stop-motion art made entirely from glass.

In the beginning the artist (Zeman himself) peers into a tiny vulnerable world for inspiration (inspirace) and sees how, like the world’s glassy scenery, love has a soft, smooth side and a jagged, tearing edge.

A girl is formed from a pearl that leaves a scallop shell and bobs to the water’s surface where it bursts into flower. A man, dressed like an old Italian clown (one thinks of Murano figurines), is born from a dandelion seed. The petals form her dainty skirt, the seed-head his flamboyant collar. He falls in love with her as she skates with grace and poise. He admires her, worships her, desires her, falling to his knees. The world entire is more beautiful when she is around: waving reeds, galloping horses, coral, the shimmer of warped light.

And yet a sheet of ice forms between them, through which he can only long and yearn. She pays no heed to his declarations and continues to spin balletically, drawing sinuous and sensuous spirals with her sharp feet. His soul is aching. He grasps his head with his hands and his agony smashes the barrier between them, like screaming love could turn a roulette wheel in Run Lola Run.

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(China 1988 20 min)

Director / Animator Te Wei

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

The extraordinary Feeling from Mountain and Water by Te Wei takes both its style and its name from the art of Shan-Shui. Shan-Shui, which literally means “mountain-water” is a type of Chinese painting that depicts natural scenery and landscapes with brush and ink.

Feeling From Mountain and Water is a remarkable witness to this fragile art form, with his brush of watercolour and ink seeming to barely touch the paper.

Without words, an old man falls and is nursed back to health by a girl. She has a beatific smile. In return for her kindness he offers her music lessons, seeming to teach her respect for nature’s delicate balance through the crystalline clarity of plucked notes.

A ghostly apparition emerges from the fog, the hull of the boat passes gently immersed in coconut white and silken waters. It is a harmonious and studied film. Educated, one could say. It rises above and embraces the inherent holiness of the land. The film has also been known as “Love of Mountain and River”, a title that says it all but, perhaps, too much.

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