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Tag Archive: anime


Review by C.J. Bunce

In a year of retrospectives that included the return to theaters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), would you have guessed that the film to fill the most theater seats would be Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind?  Sunday I saw just that, as Ghibli Fest 2017 and Fathom Events presented the first of three screenings nationwide.  Tonight you, too, can see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at select theaters nationwide, the subtitled version, followed by the 2005 English dubbed version screening again Wednesday.  Check out the Fathom Events website here for participating theaters and to get tickets.  If you are a fan of Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, epic fantasy films, or great cinema in general, Nausicaä is a completely different film in the theater than as seen on the small screen.  In the theater you will be immersed in Miyazaki’s sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, post-apocalyptic world.  You’ll surrounded by the prolific composer Joe Hisaishi’s sweeping, gorgeous melodies and breathtaking emotional cues.  And if you’re an anime fan debating which of Miyazaki’s creations is the best–Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or My Neighbor Totoro…  you may decide Nausicaä is the winner.

Nausicaä is chillingly timeless and current.  I discovered what began as a rather chatty theater suddenly became quiet as the story’s themes unfolded: the consequences of unchecked technological advances, the price of decades of polluting the environment, the likely outcome of warring nations bent on total destruction of the other, the results of failing to take responsibility for the animal kingdom.  Miyazaki combined more compelling and important drama in one film than many top directors have created in the entirety of their careers.  But the film is not the stuff of your typical bland mainstream drama–it’s chock full of action and daring adventure of the fantastical variety while also considered a science fiction tale because of its dystopian vision of the future.  Set one thousand years into the future, the world was once ravaged, and cities destroyed, by mutated insects and beasts created by humans as bioweapons that laid waste to everything like military tanks, all during the horrible Seven Days of Fire.

But over the centuries a balance has formed between the Toxic Jungle, humans, and the animal world.  A young woman named Nausicaä, a princess of the Valley of the Wind, is praised and respected by her people.  She studies the forest, its creatures, dangerous spores, and the environment, all in secret, searching for anything to help her preserve the progress that has been made.  Her world is soon upset by the people of Tomekia, militant humans led by Princess Kushana (voiced in the English version by Uma Thurman) bent on destroying the insects and sending the world out of balance.  But it is Princess Nausicaä that steals every scene.  From the very beginning she emerges as a great leader, clever and resourceful, never hesitating to protect the people and things she cares about.  And the plot threads are entirely unpredictable–Miyazaki’s entire grasp of fantasy, interlocked with amazing special effects for an animated film, suck us down into the quicksand with Nausicaä and a boy named Asbel.  Miyazaki created a flying contraption for our heroine, a glider so wonderfully conceptualized every viewer will believe it could be real, based on sound aeronautic principles, from the soaring trajectories, weight, and movement in flight to Nausicaä’s different ways she grasps the ship to maneuver it.  Even the enormous multi-eyed Ohms feel ominous and threatening.

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Think fast, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon players–where can you find the lead actors of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica all in one film?

He is one of the top ten filmmakers of all time–Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki, known for Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and much more, but Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is considered by many to be his masterwork.  It is a grand work that the film medium could not yet hope to transform into live action—a devastated world destroyed by atmospheric poisons, and barraged by gigantic insect beasts, sweeping cinematography, and a post-apocalyptic world layers and layers deep.  And from this arises a young woman named Nausicaä, princess of the Valley of the Wind.  Innocent and driven, can she piece back together what divides man and nature?

It’s a story of dangers and sacrifices, of epic scope, feuds between warring clans, a dying planet, and the forging of a new heroine.  A sci-fi adventure fantasy first released in Japan in 1984, Nausicaä’s story of protecting nature is a timeless tale.  Miyazaki adapted his own 1982 manga story for the screen, celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with so many other great science fiction works internationally.  The film stars the voice talents of Sumi Shimamoto, Goro Naya, Yoji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, and Iemasa Kayumi in this month’s subtitled screenings, with English voice actors including Alison Lohman, Uma Thurman, Patrick Stewart, Mark Hamill, Edward James Olmos, Shia LaBeouf, and Chris Sarandon in the dubbed screenings.

Frequently ranked as one of the greatest animated films of all time, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is being presented by Fathom Events in the States as part of Studio Ghibli Fest 2017.  Tickets are available now here at the Fathom Events website.

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Writer Brian Wood, who dazzled us with several series including Dark Horse Comics’ final successful Star Wars title before the brand returned to Marvel, will bring a classic animated series into the 21st century this summer.  Robotech, the show that introduced many American viewers to the world of anime for the first time, will be getting its own monthly from Titan Comics, as announced this weekend at C2E2 2017.

The series is expected to touch on elements from every past iteration of Robotech, including Harmony Gold producer Carl Macek’s original vision that was famously modified by Cannon Films.  Originally a Revell model kit line, Robotech is best known for its 85-episode sci-fi anime cartoon series that began airing in the States in 1985.  Expect to revisit Macross Island with familiar characters Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes, Lynn Minmei, Roy Fokker, Claudia Grant, and Henry Gloval.

   

Artist Marco Turini and colorist Marco Lesko have created some beautiful interior imagery for the series.  Check out a preview of Issue #1 below.  Issue #1 will feature alternate covers from Stanley Lau, Karl Kerschl, Michael Dialynas, Blair Shedd, and The Waltrip Bros.

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When Marnie Was There

We have yet to be disappointed with any anime production from the house of Studio Ghibli.  Whether it’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Whisper of the Heart (1995), Princess Mononoke (1997), the Oscar award winning Spirited Away (2001), or Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), you know you’re getting sumptuous visuals and a compelling story.  It’s been rumored that the production company’s next release may be its last, after years of success from the studio’s now retired director Hayao Miyazaki.  That next, and potentially last, film from Studio Ghibli is director Hiromasa Yonebayashi‘s When Marnie Was There, based on a Joan G. Robinson novel from 1971.

The American dubbed version hits theaters in the U.S. this month, featuring the voices of several award winning actors, including Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, and John C. Reilly.

When Marnie Was Here

After the break, check out the trailer for When Marnie Was There:

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On February 17, 2012, Studio Ghibli releases Arrietty, its first Hayao Miyazaki project since Ponyo in 2008.   Miyazaki, for anyone who hasn’t explored anime before, is considered to be the master of the medium, and if you have watched any Disney or Pixar DVD special features you will be hard pressed not to have seen John Lassiter and his American animator brethren praising Miyazaki as their mentor, and their inspiration for their own animated storytelling.

Miyazaki has served as writer, artist and director, often painting frame after frame of his own films, where other studios might rely on studio artists for detail work.  For Arrietty, Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, based on Mary Morton’s The Borrowers.  Arrietty is a little girl, a very little girl, who lives in a world of tiny people called the Borrowers, who live by borrowing items when humans are not around, in the spirit of the fairy tales told in Miyazaki’s past films.  She befriends a human boy and encounters trials not unlike other “incredible shrinking person” stories.  Released last year in Japan and soon in the UK, Arrietty won’t hit U.S. theaters until next year.  In the meantime several great anime films are available on video to get caught up on Miyazaki’s works and other Studio Ghibli films.

Years ago we stumbled upon an AMC Network Monday night marathon that played two Studio Ghibli movies per night.  First up was Princess Mononoke (1997), and we were sucked right in.  It played first in English dubbed with American voices, but later we re-watched it in its original Japanese, with added English subtitles, and it was a different, far better film.  We are not fans of movies with subtitles, but this communicated its story seamlessly, and pretty much every other Miyazaki film we have seen plays better without the American dubbed actors.  The dubbing choices for Ghibli are typically known actors and actresses and they can sometimes detract from the story and are a bit distracting.

Princess Mononoke at first viewing reflects the animated movie Battle for Terra, in its interesting and inventive visuals, exciting action and mythic story.  Princess Mononoke surpasses that film and is a more complex story, but it plays like Star Wars in its energy.  Clone Wars should be this good.  The soundtrack is spectacular.  The story centers around a warrior on a quest to cure a curse.  He must walk a line between competing factions of a village and the forest and along the way encounters natural and spirit world obstacles.  Nothing is predictable in this world, but elements like sword fights, bravery, and sacrifice make the story familiar to any audience.

Another worthy film from Ghibli and Miyazaki is Spirited Away (2001).  A little girl is literally and figuratively spirited away when she wanders away from her parents and enters a strange and bizarre world of unique creatures, gods, witches and unworldly monstrosities.  She is forced to work for the creatures in a bath house.  The story and direction is imaginative and descriptions of the admittedly bizarre plot do not do justice to the compassion and angst you feel for the lost girl of the story.

Characteristic of Miyazaki is his sweeping panoramas of nature, whether through water, mountains or forests.  No film surrounds the viewer in these elements more than Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984).  Both written and directed by Miyazaki, Nausicaa follows a young princess who must forge through warring factions in her attempts to save her world.  Nausicaa is an ecological parable and a satisfying and sweet film.   Miyazaki’s storyboards were once available in book form (now out of print, but can still be found from time to time on eBay).  They showed in still form the great details and care he used in making the film.

The most fun of Miyazaki’s films is the first movie that made him a global name, My Neighbor Totoro (1988).  Two girls move to the country to be with their ailing mother and befriend several strange nearby animal creatures called Totoros.  This is a charming story of children having a fun adventure, despite the realities of their lives.  One highlight is a giant 12-footed wide-smiling Cheshire cat that serves as a bus to transport the girls and their spirit friends.  A story in the realm of Alice and Wonderland, but without all the dark and twisted places.

1995’s Whisper of the Heart marks a departure from Miyazaki’s trademark fantasy, focusing on a sweet romance between two Tokyo teens. But Studio Ghibli lavished the same care and detail on the scenery and cinematography of Whisper that characterized such masterpieces as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and the result is a fully-realized and richly layered film that gives depth and majesty to this deceptively simple tale of two young people learning to follow their dreams.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) plumbs the darker potential of anime, turning the delicate artistry and storytelling to this heartbreaking tale of two young siblings struggling to survive in Postwar Japan. This film pulls no punches, exploring the war’s effects on the Japanese homeland, a side of history seldom presented in Western film, with tremendous empathy and perspective.

The above are our top Ghibli recommendations. Other notable Studio Ghibli films include Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Ponyo.

C.J. Bunce and Elizabeth C. Bunce

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