Sunday, September 20, 2009

So I’ve kicked my anime habit for the most part, but I’ve still been watching them sporadically. Here are the last three I saw.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind
The nerdy side of me quickly realized that the giant insects from the underrated Xbox 360 game Lost Planet were obviously inspired by this film. With all the Hayao Miyazaki films I’ve seen lately, this one might be my favorite. It was his first huge hit and even though it was made in the mid 80s, the only outdated thing in this movie is the awful soundtrack. Everything else, from the animation to the storyline, makes this one a classic.

Incoherent, unexplainable perfection. I don’t really know what to say about this thriller film that looks at the nature of dreams. The video clip below makes little sense, but it provides a glimpse of this excellent, bizarre movie. By the way, it’s the only non-Miyazaki film I’ve seen since I started my binge.

Porco Rosso
Brave heroine? Check. Beautiful animation? Check. Distinct lack of villains? Check.
After watching all these Miyazaki films, I’ve realized the common threads between all his films. While they work in the other films, I felt Porco Rosso was lacking compared to the other films.

The main problem is the lack of real villains. His other films, like this one, had gray areas that made them interesting, but in this movie it just creates a lack of tension. The titular character is an ace pilot that was inexplicably turned into a pig during World War I. He’s shunned society and only resurfaces to go to his favorite restaurant and rescue ships that pirates have ransacked. The pirates are all buffoons, and so is the rival pilot they hire to kill Porco Rosso. At the end of the movie, everyone is the best of friends.

One thing I liked is that while the storyline is pure fantasy, it’s set in the real world. Italy has turned to facism, and World War II is on the horizon. That real element adds some depth that Miyazaki’s purely fictional films lack. Despite how chummy all the characters in this movie are, it’s still entertaining and better than most movies. It just comes across as Miyazaki-light.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Perhaps some animes are in order: Volume 1

When I was a kid, I used to really like boobs and gore. I still enjoy such things now and then, but my parents didn’t let me watch R-rated films. To get around this, I would rent graphic unrated anime films. Since they’re animated, I don’t think my parents caught on to my scheme.

The problem with this is that I saw a lot of awful movies. I find 98 percent of the genre to be almost unbearable. All the high-pitched voices, incomprehensible action and general weirdness turned me off, but recently I’ve found myself somewhat obsessed. Five of the last six movies I've seen have all been anime (the only one what wasn’t was Basic Instinct, and that was still awesome).

Plus, almost all of them lacked nudity or violence, but I still loved them. Here’s my first volume of thoughts on the films I’ve been binging on.

Howl’s Moving Castle: Wow. When I saw Coraline in 3D a number of months ago, I left the theater overwhelmed that artists could be so creative. The plot was OK, but it was the world that stole the show in that film. That same can be said about Hayao Miyazaki’s film. Three of the four films have been by this director, and his reputation as a genius is well warranted.

Like Coraline, the storyline here is decent enough, but it’s the world and special effects that make the movie so good. Like some of Miyazaki’s other films, there are some heavy-handed messages about war, although it's not too obnoxious when there's a beautifully drawn moving castle that sort of resembles a chicken walking around the countryside.

Princess Mononoke: I actually saw this Miyazaki film when it came out more than 10 years ago, and while I recall liking the animation, I remember losing interest in the story as the film went on. The same thing happened here.

While things become less exciting as events lead up to the environmentally-friendly ending, the characters stand out. Considering the awesome animation that shows samurai battles and massive boars possessed by demons, this is no small feat. One interesting thing about Miyazaki’s films is that the enemies are almost always portrayed sympathetically.

In this film Lady Eboshi is the pseudo-villian. She clear cuts the forest and kills animal gods just to make her town’s iron business more profitable. At the same time, she’s taken in prostitutes to work in the town. They’re considered more essential to the town’s survival than the weak men. Also, she’s taken in lepers when nobody else would. Of course, it’s for selfish reasons that she bandaged them and had their wounds tended to, but it makes her a compassionate, yet occasionally cruel, mistress.

Eventually, the film devolves into babble about the Forest Gods, but this film is still worth watching. After all, it was Japan’s highest grossing film into Titanic came along.

My Neighbor Totoro: I saw this when I was about ten years old, and while I didn’t remember what happened in the movie, some of the images have remained memorable in my mind. The cat bus. The creature Totoro waiting at the bus station with a umbrella on his head. The stunning vistas of post-WWII countryside.

This is probably the first anime I’ve ever seen, and I think its one most kids should see. As the past two films, it’s also directed by Miyazaki. I watched an old DVD version put out by Fox, so the full-screen format disappointed me. Also, some of the voice acting was a bit grating. Still, the quality of the film made it easy to overlook some technical problems.

That's all for now. Soon I'll post my thoughts on yet another Miyazaki film, in addition to an anime that wasn't even directed by him.