As an uncle, as a brother, the oldest of three, and as a son, “Grave of the Fireflies” was a grueling film to sit through. Being a victim of a horrible sequence of events and watching your loved one fade away is something I’m all too familiar with. Watching “Grave of the Fireflies,” possibly the most heart-breaking film I’ve seen in years, you will know what that’s like too. Isao Takahatacreates a film that doesn’t need ghouls and goblins and fairies. It’s all frightening enough.
You’ve probably read this in my Miyazaki reviews possibly a thousand times, and I know if you say something enough it loses its meaning, but, who gives a crap? Miyazaki is a genius. There’s nothing else I can say. Words in the human language can’t express how brilliant Miyazaki is. Should I apologize for repeating this over and over in every review? I wouldn’t have to if you ever saw a film from the director. “My Neighbor Totoro” is the pure essence of Miyazaki. A man with a true clutch on the child spirit and imagination. He knows children, he knows how to touch children’s core emotions, and he uses that to express his wildest machinations. “My Neighbor Totoro” is without a doubt one of the sweetest and most heartbreaking animated films I’ve ever seen. Bar none.
One of the first solo directing efforts for the master, Miyazaki, “Nausicaä” is a classic environmental monster fantasy epic concerning the usual Miyazaki themes. Of course the words “typical” and “Miyazaki” could never be used in the same sentence, and Nausicaä is a sheer precursor for future projects Miyazaki would embark upon. Your courageous martyr/heroine, the valiant humble hero, the mystifying figure, the wiser hero, and a government empire seeking to destroy the land. But it’s the way Miyazaki composes these arch-types that make his films worth watching without a doubt.
“Pom Poko” is an utterly original and incredibly odd animated film that’s really not just a fantasy fable, but more of a commentary on society. The raccoons here are more or less their own worst enemies and they can’t even realize it. Rather than focusing on preserving their land, keeping their family from over-populating, and remembering their priorities they’re more concerned with eating, sleeping, and once they grab a hold of a television, they’re more concerned with what’s on than with what’s going on.
Based on the novel of the same name, “Only Yesterday” directed by Isao Takahata is considered a rare drama in the US only because it’s not really available on DVD yet. Thankfully, I was able to view it with subtitles, and uncut, but who knows what the hell Disney will do with it once they decide to release it on DVD. I gather for them, with conservative values, some scenes may not be deemed suitable in spite of the fact that Takahata’s adaptation so effortlessly and fearlessly tackles childhood trauma. What “Only Yesterday” really explores is cherishing life, and our lasting remnants of being a child.
“Whisper of the Heart” is the one and only film ever directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, a director who master Hayao Miyazaki intended to reign as his protégé. Miyazaki was going to retire from film and let Kondo take over from where he left off, however, Kondo sadly died at the age of forty-seven, and this was his only piece of art that was left by him. Obviously, Miyazaki never retired, but Kondo’s film does show traces of Miyazaki’s imagination and it’s clear why Miyazaki intended him as his successor.
I think one of the reasons why I respond so well to a Hayao Miyazaki film is that he aspires purposely to create a simple work of art, but his simplicity becomes a truly grand piece of work whether he’s aware of it or not, he makes films that resemble the golden serials of the film age, what George Lucas should have done with his “Star Wars” prequels. He relishes in opportunities to be simple providing simple plots. A humble hero, a wondrous heroine, a main villain, pirates, the amazing monster/robot, and the open sky.
“Spirited Away” has had the unfortunate distinction of being compared to “Alice in Wonderland”, and while they bear similarities in themes, characters, and oddities, but Miyazaki’s animated tale is highly superior. Miyazaki takes us into an incredible land of creatures, landscapes and spooky villains, along the injecting truly heartfelt emotions, and thematic undertones. Miyazaki’s animation and storytelling bear an aspect sorely missing in American animated films, which heart, and true sincerity. Chihiro and her parents are on the way to their new home, and while driving they stumble upon a weird tunnel. Curious, they enter the tunnel and end up in a magical field and begin journeying into a village. But when Chihiro discovers her parents have been turned into pigs, she finds that there may be no going back where came from.