Blind Spot 35: Whisper of the Heart

This month’s blind spot pick marks a big accomplishment in my animation blogging career: I have now seen every Studio Ghibli film! I’ve even seen the obscure 2 shorts Panda! Go, Panda! (adorable btw). This month’s entry Whisper of the Heart is my final film to check off the list and fortunately it marks another solid entry from the studio. Not my favorites but perfectly amiable animated film with some great messaging.

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Whisper of the Heart is by one-time only director Yoshifumi Kondō. It also marks the only Studio Ghibli film to have a spin-off or sequel. Covered earlier this year, The Cat Returns is about a minor character in a fantasy story that the lead character Shizuku writes.

In the movie Shizuku is a 14 year old who loves reading and writing. She loves going to the library but she starts to notice that all of the books she is checking out have already been read by a boy named Seiji. What she doesn’t know is Seiji is a young man who she is annoyed with and has to work on a school project with singing ‘Country Road, Take Me Home’ by John Denver.

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Seiji is learning to make violins and even goes to Italy to study under a master. Meanwhile Shizuku spends time with Seiji’s grandfather Nishi, who owns an antique store. He shows her the statue of the cat Baron and she decides to pursue her dreams of writing.

The romance between Seiji and Shizuku plays out like a classic romantic comedy, which I really enjoyed. I also thought the sequences with the fantasy story with the Baron were a lot of fun. As a big fan of homeschool, I also like that Shizuku decided when she wanted to focus on her writing and when she wanted to attend the public high school.

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The animation is nice and it feels like a Miyazaki movie with a young heroine, trips to Italy, flying sequences and talking cats, so you can’t go wrong there. I also enjoyed the music and overall it’s a fun little movie.

I guess what keeps it from being a favorite is at nearly 2 hours it feels a little drawn out for the plot. It would have been a little better at the 90-100 minute mark and some might find it boring.

Aside from that I would definitely recommend Whisper of the Heart. Watch it and then watch The Cat Returns and you will be delighted!

Smile Worthy

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So there you have it! My last Studio Ghibli film to watch. What other anime films would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section.

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Blind Spot 28: The Cat Returns

When I announced my 2018 Blind Spot picks I was planning on reviewing one of the last Studio Ghibli films for me to check off my list, The Cat Returns, in June but it ended up being the Studio Ghibli Fest selection for April, so I am swapping my picks and will review The Green Mile in June instead of April. (On a side note, if you aren’t seeing the Studio Ghibli Fest films you totally should! It’s an amazing opportunity to see these anime films on the big screen).

So what did I think of The Cat Returns after seeing it on the big screen? Well, while not the greatest Studio Ghibli film by any measure, I was thoroughly entertained by the creative and strange story of a young girl and her adventures in a world of cats.

The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita and is his only feature for Studio Ghibli . It is evidently based on a manga and is a pretty strange story. Like many Ghibli films, it focuses on a young girl as the lead character. Her name is Haru and one day she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Unbeknownst to her she has rescued Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In an effort to repay her she is taken to marry Lune, and she even starts to develop cat-like qualities such as whiskers and a tail.

Fortunately there are two cats who come to her defense and help her find a way out of the Cat Kingdom before it is too late: a suave debonair cat named the Baron (also featured in Whisper of the Heart evidently) and an overweight white cat named Muta.

These characters were a lot of fun. I thought the Baron had a bit of a Sherlock Holmes vibe to him. He is cocky, not very self-aware and loves to make a special kind of tea. Muta is a curmudgeon who gets a lot of the comic relief of the film.

The Cat Returns is definitely an odd film, but I found the world-building to be very unpredictable in an appealing way. It is also witty and unlike some Ghibli films, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is just a strange, comic fantasy, and I enjoyed it on that level. At 75 minutes it also doesn’t outstay its welcome and become boring.

The music by Yuji Nomi almost seemed too orchestral and grand for such a silly story but it is beautiful. The animation is of course great, and I loved the way the characters moved and flowed through scenes. Plus, there is something cute about all these cats!

It doesn’t have the emotional complexity that the great Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke have, but I still enjoyed The Cat Returns. It’s a fun little creative, strange romp through a world of cats! It kind of reminded me of Porco Rosso in a way- a comedy with anthropomorphic animals/human merging in together in unusual ways.

I did see it with the English dub that has Anne Hathaway playing Haru, Cary Elwes as the Baron and Peter Boyle as Muta. They all do a good job and are perfectly fine in their roles.

Overall Grade- B

Only one more Studio Ghibli film for me to see (Whisper of the Heart) and I will be finished their entire canon!

What do you think of The Cat Returns?

BLIND SPOT 16: FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Sometimes people think I have seen every animated film but in truth there are many I haven’t seen. Particularly in anime I have many holes. Well, this month for my monthly blind spot series I am checking a Studio Ghibli film off of my bucket list. Today we look at the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill.

This movie was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, who I still think was treated way too harshly for Tales from Earthsea which I enjoyed. However, this film is a definite step up for him as a director. It was written by his father Hayao Miyazaki but it reminded me the most of Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday. Both are films about the simple stories of every day people.

From Up on Poppy Hill will not be for everyone. Some will find it’s rather mundane story to be boring. I like slice of life films that let you walk in others shoes so I found it quite charming. It does not have supernatural characters or exciting events like many of the more popular Studio Ghibli films but sometimes I like gentler more calming films.

This tells the story of Umi and Shun. They are teenagers going to a boarding school who begin a sweet little relationship only to find out they are connected in unexpected ways. They are both children of single mothers and Uni’s mother is gone abroad most of the time. It is easy to see why these two are drawn to each other and have a connection.

At the same time there is an old building on campus where various clubs and organizations meet. The school wants to tear down the building and redevelop it into something new. The students meet and voice various ways to stop this from happening. Some are anarchists, some are more democratic and some want to protest. The girls suggest they fix up the building so that there is less reason to tear it down, which is what they do.

The animation From Up on Poppy Hill is gorgeous. I loved the watercolor feel to everything and the way the characters were designed in such approachable ways. There was nothing acerbic or strange like other Studio Ghibli films. This is just an extremely gentle, peaceful film.

There are some flaws with From Up on Poppy Hill. The music is a little too ever-present and a bit overbearing at times. Also the story does fall into melodrama on occasion but I didn’t mind that. It worked for the kind of story it was. After all, life can get melodramatic at times! Especially when you are dealing with love and romance!

So I would definitely recommend you watch From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a sweet, simple movie about likable people growing up and figuring out who they are. I enjoyed it very much and it is beautifully animated to boot.

Overall Grade- B+

Blind Spot 8: Porco Rosso

porco rosso2We are at the 8th in my monthly Blind Spot series and this month I check another anime classic off of my list, Hayao Miyazaki’s comedy-adventure Porco Rosso. This is a completely charming, delightful and a little strange comedy!

The main appeal to this movie is the stunning animation, funny dialogue and quirky weird characters. The lead is named Porco Rosso and he has been cursed to look like a pig. The movie treats this with a refreshing candor. He’s just a pig and that’s that!

porco rosso5The setting is post WWI and Porco is a bounty hunter who relaxes on the beach and likes doing things his own way. One day he gets a call to face off some pirate gangs. This leads to his plane being damaged by a man named Curtis and him landing in Milan to get it fixed.

porco rosso12In Milan there is a girl named Fio who Porco reluctantly hires to fix his plane (all the men have left Milan to find work elsewhere during the Depression). Fio is a great character who won’t take any crap from Porco but who also is vulnerable in moments.

porco rosso19There is also Gina who is love with Porco and yes they play it completely straight that she is in love with a pig man. He’s such a rogue and so confident it kind of makes sense! Unfortunately Curtis is also in love with Gina and it brings the two into conflict.

porco rosso13Curtis and Porco end up in a bet, that ends up in a race, that ends up in a fight. Fio makes the deal that if Porco wins than Curtis must pay off all of Porco’s repair bills and if he loses than Curtis can marry her. They don’t really explain why Fio wants to marry Curtis but it works. The race and then fight go on for perhaps a bit too long but I thought they were very funny.

porco rosso14The animation throughout is either adorable or breathtaking.

Adorable-

porco rosso6Breathtaking-

porco rosso8I really enjoyed Porco Rosso. I liked how different it was and how it made me laugh. I liked the way nobody thought twice about a man with a pig face and they made it work because he was such a grumbling funny character. You could see why he was charismatic enough for people to forget the nose.

porco rosso3I also loved the female characters, Fio and Gina. They thought for themselves but they weren’t cliched warrior women. Just like Porco, I couldn’t help but like both of them.

There also is some heart to the story when you finally get to hear Porco’s backstory and a little bit of a subtle Beauty and the Beast moment that is handled perfectly.

porco rosso7But mostly it will make you laugh and you will smile at these great characters!

They had a terrific dubbing cast as well with Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in the leads. The music by Joe Hisaishi is of course great as well.

I guess Porco Rosso may not be for everyone but I would think of it as Hayao’s Wes Anderson movie. It totally has that same quirky weirdness about it. It’s great!

What do you think of Porco Rosso?

Overall Grade- A

Blindspot 6: Tales from Earthsea

earthsea2One of my great animation crimes I’ve been trying to remedy the last year or so is how many Studio Ghibli films I still haven’t seen. The list is embarrassingly long! This is why I have 2 Ghibli films as my Blind Spot picks for 2016. June gave me the first with Tales from Earthsea. I’d been wanting to see this epic fantasy film for some time and now that I have I’m glad I saw it.

I don’t know if I was kinder on this film because I just saw Warcraft- a fantasy film that made no sense and bored me out of my mind. Tales from Earthsea falls prey to some of the problems of the genre but overall it’s a satisfying enough fantasy story.

It is directed by Goro Miyazaki- Hayao’s son, and it is based on a novel by Ursula Le Guin which I have actually read. To read my review of the book click here.

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Tales from Earthsea starts off with a bang. We get dragons fighting each other and the assassination of a King. (I’ll try not to spoil anything big). Our hero Aren is a very flawed character from the beginning, which I really appreciated. It made the narrative more interesting and unpredictable.

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Aren meets a man named Sparrowhawk who agrees to help him bring ‘balance’ to the world again.  They meet a girl named Therru who has a burn on her face and lives in a farm with her mother (I think) named Tenar. They introduce Aren to a slower way of life, and we get some nice quiet moments with them.

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But it can’t last long because Aren and Sparrowhawk are being pursued by an androgynous wizard named Cob and his henchman called Hare.  Cob isn’t like any other fantasy villain I’ve ever seen. He’s hypnotic and calm while also being extremely powerful.

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There are also dragons and sorcery and all kinds of fantasy adventure in the story. The animation is gorgeous of course from Studio Ghibli and for his first time I think Goro did well.

However, there are some problems with Tales of Earthsea. Like many fantasy films, it gets a little muddled and confused once it has set up its world. Particularly as it gets to the ending powers change, positions are altered and we aren’t really sure what’s going on.

They try to explain some things but don’t quite explain them enough for my satisfaction, and I was left a little confused. Also while Aren’s flawed nature makes him interesting it also can be a little hard to root for.

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That said, I enjoyed watching Tales from Earthsea. It is beautiful and makes some interesting choices that kept my attention. I was rarely bored watching this because it was always trying something new. I don’t know if those same risks would interest me on a rewatch but for this time I liked it.

The dub this time from Disney is very well done. We have Timothy Dalton, Mariska Hargitay, William Dafoe, Cheech Marin, and others.

It’s interesting that I guess Hayao Miyazaki didn’t think his son should have been promoted to director at such a young age. Evidently he was so convinced of it he didn’t talk to his son for the development of the film! I guess he eventually came around but doesn’t that just show how seriously Studio Ghibli takes their art? Even Hayao’s own son must go through the proper channels and get the experience needed.

With all of that, Goro still managed to do a decent job and I’d like to see more from him. Think of this as a very lightweight Princess Mononoke

Overall Grade- B-

Only Yesterday Review

only yesterday3Yesterday I saw the oldest new release of the year.  In a strange turn of events Isao Takahata’s 1991 anime film Only Yesterday is finally getting its US debut. So, 25 years later how does it hold up? It’s cute.  I liked it but it didn’t wow me if that makes sense.

only yesterday13Only Yesterday is about a 27 year old single woman named Taeko.  She decides to get out of the city and work on a communal farm for the summer.  While traveling and during her stay, she is reminded of herself as a little girl in the 5th grade in 1966.

The movie then switches back and forth between stories of her childhood and her time on the farm. There’s really not much else to talk about plot-wise.  It’s just about this woman’s life.

only yesterday12I personally love movies about ordinary life but some people will find Only Yesterday to be very boring.  Even I nodded off once during an adult segment.

only yesterday8It’s all very simple. Taeko goes through puberty, learns about periods, has a crush, sticks up for a poor kid, gets a spot in a play, and the family tries pineapple for the first time.  Aside from her Dad being a jerk and slapping her once there’s really no drama- just ordinary life.

only yesterday7Adult Taeko I found less engaging because it felt more generic and a little preachy in spots.  You could tell it was made in 1991 with the talks on organic farming and how the earth is part of us and we should live in harmony (that’s where I dozed off for a sec).

only yesterday15There are a few moments where Taeko daydreams of flying and rainbows but for the most part it’s just her memories without much fantasy.  Memories like struggling with math and her sister trying in vain to help her, getting a cold and sitting out from gym etc. You get the idea.

only yesterday111It probably goes without saying the animation is lovely.  It has Takahata’s watercolor style, which I enjoy. Everything in the film looks adorable especially Taeko as a little girl.  She’s so cute!

onlyyesterday007Little girl Taeko was also a really well developed character.  She’s quirky but not too quirky.  She’s shy but not abnormally so.  She has friends but also disagrees with them.  A lot of the traditional tropes of coming of age films are forgotten and instead we get a little girl facing typical problems little girls face.

Adult Taeko is more of a generic yuppie trying to find herself on the farm.  There’s a romance between her and a man named Toshio, which is sweet but a little bland.  And like I said some of the adult sections can be preachy.

only yesterday19I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a hair disappointed in Only Yesterday, but maybe that’s because I was expecting something grand and got something simple instead.

There is a lot that feels very Japanese- particularly a segment where Toshio’s Grandmother talks to Taeko about marriage.  This is fine but something about Japanese customs can feel a little cold and distant at times for a coming of age story.

The music is the most dated aspect of the film.  The synthesizer and Japanese pop songs (including a rendition of The Rose by Janis Joplin) feel very 1991 but it works fine. It just didn’t wow me like the scores from other Ghibli films by Joe Hisaishi (Only Yesterday’s score is from Katz Hoshi).

Overall, I’d say Only Yesterday is good but not up there in the best of Studio Ghibli.  The animation is lovely.  The childhood segments are very cute and charming but the adult sections drag a bit and are a little preachy.  It’s kind of strange to see adorable Taeko turn into a bland adult, but that’s the way life is.  Most of us are far more interesting as children than grown ups!

I certainly recommend seeing Only Yesterday but just calibrate your expectations to something very simple and sweet.  If you do, I think you’ll enjoy it even if it isn’t a favorite.

The English dub with Daisy Ridley as Taeko and Dev Patel as Toshio is fine.  No issues there.

It will be interesting to see how Only Yesterday does at the Oscars given it is a 25 year old film but Oscars bases off of US release date which makes it a 2016 release.  Crazy!

What do you think of Only Yesterday?  Do you find it charming or boring?  I personally liked When Marnie was There much better but that’s just me.

Overall Grade- B

My youtube review

2015 Animated Oscars: Did the Right Film Win?

I’m very excited to announce my next video reviewing the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature Film is up!  I have reviewed every year from 2001-2015.  Here’s the entire playlist and the Animated Oscars Tag videos people have done.   It’s a long video, so perhaps a good one to listen while doing another task.  If you like it please give it a thumbs up.  Thanks!

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7wz447AgL4x2fxnrGhVdu-6ZZa8v18Vl

Here are my base thoughts on each of the nominees.

boy and the world poster2Boy and the World-

A beautiful hand drawn animated film by Ale Abreu that tells the story of a little boy looking for his father.  Using basically no dialogue Abreu creates a kaleidoscope of colors and textures as the boy ventures into the city and confronts war, waste, commercialism and fear.  Sometimes it can be heavy handed and a bit self-indulgent but it’s also bright, colorful and fun.  The music is infectious and will make you smile.

anomalisaAnomalisa-

A somewhat cynical yet thought provoking stop motion animated film from Charlie Kaufman for adults. The animation is fluid and smooth as it focuses on a man named Michael who has become disenfranchised with the people in his life.  Everyone looks, behaves and even sounds the same.  Then he meets Lisa who is different and this excites him.  Some of the adult content I felt was distracting from what really made Lisa special. We could have dug deeper but instead we get superficial differences like a scar or voice. Still, it will definitely make you think and if you can handle the content worth a watch.

inside out3Inside Out-

I don’t know how I could say more about this film.  It was my favorite film of 2015 and it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite animated films of all time.  I have found myself watching it most weeks since I got it on blu-ray.  There’s just something about the dual stories of Riley and Joy that doesn’t age for me.  It improves each time I see it.  I love the humor, visual splendor, and heart.  The end when Riley admits to her parents ‘I miss home’ is perfect.  Joy’s journey when she finally realizes that happiness requires sadness is equally strong.  Perfection from Pixar.

shaun the sheep posterShaun the Sheep-

A delight from the team at Aardman.  A spin off from the TV show (which is great and you can watch on Amazon Prime) Shaun is tired of his boring routine and wants a day off.  So him and his friends go to the big city and have an adventure.  It has the spirit of a silent comedy with minimal dialogue and some great visual jokes.  I loved when the Farmer becomes a barber to the stars.  It’s a sweet, simple, endearing film.  And of course, the animation is wonderful as is usually the case from Aardman.  I wish more people in US saw their great films.

when marnie9When Marnie was There-

This film really impacted me emotionally.  Seeing the journey of Anna as she struggles with deep depression and her family’s effort to save her is very beautiful.  The main message is that we all have love in our lives.  The key is recognizing that love, both here on earth and from those who have passed on.  We all have love, and that love has power to rescue.  The animation is stunning.  I particularly loved the sound mixing and how lush everything felt.  The ending may not work for everyone but I thought it was pure truth. Great way for Studio Ghibli to go out. The music and song by Priscilla Ahn is gorgeous.

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So 5 wonderful films!  It’s funny looking over these 5 nominees I feel 2015 is a bit of a an underrated year.  It certainly was a diverse year especially when you consider 2 very strong films, Peanuts Movie and Good Dinosaur, that were not nominated.  And how amazing is it to have a year with only 1 CG film nominated for Best Animated Feature Film.  2014 only had 2. Take that 2D animation is dead crowd! 😉

Anyway, I think you guys know Inside Out is the clear winner in my books; although, I think all 5 are quality films.  As I said earlier, Inside Out is a game changer for me.  A film I will never forget.

What about you?  What do you think of the nominees and do you think the right film won?

Animated News 3/10/16

Hey guys!  I’m excited to share with you a new video series I am trying out. It’s a video where I cover all the news in both animated TV shows and movies.  I thought of this because I don’t really like reviewing trailers, so it seemed like a good way to cover the trailer but also other topics that I think are interesting.  I figured I could make my viewers aware of smaller projects or shows that might be off their radar.

There are obviously going to be room for improvement but I think it is a pretty good start.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Also, what do you think of this week’s news?  In the video I cover:

Box office for Zootopia and Boy and the Beast

Trailers for Kubo and the 2 Strings and Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarves

Movie announcements for animated Ghostbusters and Surfs Up 2: Wave Mania

Utah release of Boy and the World and Only Yesterday

Aaron Springer Billy Dilly Show

Ducktales reboot image review

Cancellation of Wander Over Yonder

Tangled Before Ever After series

Big Hero 6 series announcement

Does any of this news interest you?  Let’s discuss it in the comments section here or on the youtube video.  If you feel so inclined give it a thumbs up!  Thanks so much. 🙂

Talking 2015 Animation

My friend Art from The AtZ Show joined me to discuss the year of 2015 animation.  I had a great time discussing these films and think you all will enjoy it too.

We talk about Strange Magic, Home, Spongebob, When Marnie was There, Inside Out, Minions, The Prophet, Shaun the Sheep, Hotel Transylvania 2, The Good Dinosaur, Peanuts Movie and Anomalisa.

I would love your comments on what we discuss and if you like it put a thumbs up. Please put a comment here or on the video.  Which of these films did you see and what do you think of them?  I am going to do a ranking tomorrow of these films.

Thanks so much!