Tag Archive: Hayao Miyazaki


Review by C.J. Bunce

A new series of graphic novels begins this week Abrams ComicArts.  Phenomena (available at comic shops and here at Amazon) begins with the first volume The Golden City of Eyes, a hardcover graphic novel about a pair of Littles who become a part of another traveler’s epic “hero’s journey.”  But first the hero must reclaim his sword.  Continuing the mash-up sci-fi and fantasy adventure stories found in Jean-Claude Mézières’ Valerian and Laureline, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Cowboy Bebop, writer Brian Michael Bendis and Portuguese artist André Limr Araújo create a future Earth where a kid named Boldon from Borzubo (which used to be Toronto) arrives in the metropolis of Versalani.  On his way to the City of Golden Eyes he meets a sleeping Comedor and foils a Borcus…

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If you thought that dystopian science fiction had exhausted itself, a new mash-up of future dreary and fantasy may change your mind.  Vesper is an independent project coming this month from IFC Films, and it looks like it could have been the product of some of cinema’s master genre auteurs.  It takes place in post-environmental collapse Earth, making it science fiction with imagery in its trailer reminiscent of Luc Besson.  But it’s also fantasy, with the visual imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, and it’s the brand of darker fantasy that looks like it could have been created by Guillermo del Toro.  And it has a plot that sounds like A Boy and His Dog meets His Dark Materials.

From Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte and French writer-director Bruno Samper, Vesper stars 13-year-old Raffiella Chapman (His Dark Materials, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) as Vesper, a young teenage survivor, experimenting with seeds as her ailing father accompanies her from his bed via a drone (that looks oddly like the volleyball from Cast Away).  Her uncle is played by genre movie familiar Eddie Marsan (the Cornetto trilogy, Sherlock Holmes, Deadpool 2).  And there may be zombies who aren’t really zombies.

And it looks incredible.  Definitely fantasy, but something new.  Take a look at the trailer for Vesper:

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Hayao Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart may be the anime master’s most heart-warming story.  Based on the 1989 manga by artist Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 romance and drama about a teenage girl who wants to be a writer, and with the determination and self-discipline necessary, she is successful at completing her first novel.  The story within a story that she writes is about an ornamental cat in a store window that she names The Baron.  In a fun twist, Hiiragi wrote the girl’s story into another manga, titled The Cat’s Repayment, and that story was adapted into Studio Ghibli’s 2002 anime film The Cat Returns.  “The Cat” returns to theaters today (June 26) and tomorrow (June 27) as part of the Fathom Events series to launch Studio Ghibli Fest 2022, which wraps next April with the 25th anniversary screenings of Hayao Miyazaki’s sprawling fantasy Princess Mononoke.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From a new comics imprint of Abrams ComicArts comes Hardears, an alternate fantasy world inspired by the Caribbean cultures of Barbados.  Barbados writer Nigel Lynch joins Barbados artist Matthew Clarke in the next alternate world.   It is too lazy to refer to Hardears as another take on the Wakanda of Black Panther (it’s actually more like Alan Moore’s Watchmen).  Hardears is worthy of a deeper analysis.

Taking place in an alternate version of Barbados called Hardears (which seems to mean a particularly bad future ahead), this graphic novel is as unique as Frank Miller’s look at ancient Sparta in 300.  The artwork of this fantasy society has the flowy aura of P. Craig Russell’s interpretation of Wagner’s The Ring, and the mythology will spark curiosity like we saw in Paul Guinan’s Aztec Empire

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Over the Moon is Netflix’s latest achievement in animation, a Chinese-American production with Pearl Studio about a young girl named Fei Fei (meaning “to fly”) who decides to build a rocket to the moon.  The animation style is a mix of 1990s Disney, elaborate and surreal Fantasia-inspired sequences of color and texture, with doses of Japanese anime and kawaii characters while immersed in Chinese culture–and it’s a musical.   In a word the film is ambitious… in a good way.  At its best, visually the 3D CGI visual effects may recall the groundbreaking imagery of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  The sweet and innocent girl’s story is built on the idea that a kid can actually build a ship to go into outer space (just as in the 1980s film Explorers).  But as with many animated movies, like Bambi and Dumbo, its focus is on the serious issue of overcoming grief, and in this case it’s moving on after the death of a parent, so the audience for the film may be a bit narrow.  To take Netflix viewers on a deeper journey, film critic and historian Leonard Maltin has written a behind the scenes look at the making of the film and its stunning artwork.  Below we have a preview of his Over the Moon: Illuminating the Journey for borg readers.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It really is the ultimate holiday gift for your favorite Star Wars fan.  The nostalgia in the ideas for the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, as illustrated and explained in The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, is exactly what fans were hoping for in their next Star Wars experience, probably dating all the way back to the anticipation of the release of Return of the Jedi back in 1983.  There’s a reason for the universal praise for the series, and why it’s one of the best television series of the past ten years, if not one of the best Westerns ever.  Jon Favreau, Doug Chiang, & Co. figured out how to please a diverse fandom.  By including the concept artwork in the end credits for each episode, they took us back to the Ralph McQuarrie paintings that inspired the first Star Wars film.  But those images are only the beginning.

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This past February we reported writer/artist Stan Sakai would be bringing his world of the swordsrabbit Miyamoto Usagi to IDW Publishing with stories old and new.  That begins tomorrow with the first issue of the new three-part, full-color series–yep, the black and white comic will be in full color for the first time, written, drawn, and lettered by comics legend Sakai with colors by Tom Luth (Groo the Wanderer).  Readers will catch up with Usagi caught-up in his own new drama set during the Edo period of 17th century Japan.  The first story, titled “Bunraku,” a word for Japanese puppetry, captures many elements that make the world of Usagi Yojimbo unique: adventure filled with culture, folklore, and history.  IDW also plans to bring all 35 years of Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo stories into new collected editions.  So Issue #1 of Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku is only the beginning.

First published in 1984, Usagi Yojimbo garnered five Eisner Awards for Sakai, the 2014 Inkwell Award, 2007 Harvey Award, 2002 National Cartoonists Society Comic Book Division Awards, and the Cultural Ambassador Award from the Japanese American Museum.  Haven’t checked out Usagi Yojimbo yet?  The humor is similar to Mike Norton’s Battlepug, or Mike Wieringo’s Tellos, full of action, classic Conan, Tarzan, John Carter-level adventure, with the epic feel of Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki.  Note: Another book is now available for pre-order from Sakai’s earlier publisher.  Last week Dark Horse Comics announced Usagi Yojimbo: 35 Years of Covers, a complete hardcover collection of Sakai’s greatest covers (you can pre-order it now here at Amazon).

Usagi Yojimbo #1 will be released in a main cover by Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson–1:10 retailer incentive, Kevin Eastman–1:50 retailer incentive, comics legend Walt Simonson–1:25 retailer incentive, and a two-part Sakai cover that connects with Ragnarok: The Breaking of Helheim, Issue #1, plus store exclusives from Buzz (500, Legends), Maria Caligari (500, AOD Collectables), J. Scott Campbell (color or B&W, Comics & Ponies), Mike Choi (logo–600, virgin–200, Collector’s Paradise, Knowhere), Chris Johnson (1,000, Brave New World), Alex Kotkin (Excelsior), Linh Nguyen (Incredible Con), Ian Nichols (w/Tick, 500, New England), Tessa Rose (1,000, Jak’s), blank cover from Sakai for use with watercolors, another Sakai cover (500, Other Realms), Julie Sakai (500, Dogū), Mike Vasquez (500, Frankie’s Comics), and the great Charles Vess (color–750, B&W–500, HeroesCon).

Here’s a preview of Usagi Yojimbo–Bunraku, Issue #1, plus previews of the covers for Issues #2 and #3, and all 24 variants for Issue #1, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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With Spirited Away, director Hayao Miyazaki transported Japanese anime into the mainstream consciousness in the United States.  A dramatic fantasy story with gravitas and an incredible journey, Spirited Away would win the Oscar for Best Animated Film–Miyazaki’s only Oscar (except his lifetime honorary Oscar).  A modern fable in the classic tradition, 17 years ago audiences first met Chihiro Ogino, a brave ten-year-old girl not happy with her parents moving her into a new neighborhood.  But when she wanders off, she finds herself trapped in a world of spirits, beasts, and uniquely imaginative surprises.  Wondrous, curious, and even grotesque, something of everything is tucked into Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is not just any other movie.  Like Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, the film transcends the typical use of animated cinema, providing the kind of experience that will leave audiences discussing it long afterward.  Critics across the globe lined up in agreement–not only was it the highest grossing film in Japan’s history, the critical acclaim seems to know no end.  In 2016 it was listed as the fourth best film of the 21st century as picked by 177 international film critics.  Last year the New York Times called it the second best film of the century so far.

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The film is back in theaters for a limited three-day release beginning tonight as part of the Fathom Events series, in partnership with Studio Ghibli and GKids.  Spirited Away follows the brave young girl who enters a spirit world to rescue her parents and herself.  It is an incredible fantasy, with dark undertones about real-world concerns including human greed, borrowing from classic children’s stories Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Pinocchio.  It offers spectacular characters and is a story of great courage.

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Some of the very best genre favorites are heading back to the big screen in September and October, with many screenings celebrating some landmark anniversaries.  All of the films are part of the Fathom Events series (see FathomEvents.com for local listings), bringing classic movies to theaters as a retrospective treat for fans and an opportunity to introduce a new generation to some of Hollywood and Japan’s significant achievements in film.  So if you’re looking for your sci-fi/adventure/suspense fix, it’s on its way, along with one of the best fantasy films of all time, an animated movie milestone, and the film that defined cool in the 1960s.

First in theaters is Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel of archaeology meeting the future in Jurassic Park Throw all the sequels out the window, this is the only entry in the franchise you need to see.  One of film’s greatest moments was Spielberg’s first full-screen of a modern Earth populated with dinosaurs.  John Williams provided one of his most memorable themes.  And Samuel L. Jackson told us all to hold onto our butts as he shut down the park’s security system.  It’s really been 25 years since we first saw a dinosaur in the rearview mirror.  You’ll have too many reasons to see this one on the big screen again or for the first time, and no reason not to.  It’s showing Sunday, September 16, Tuesday, September 18, and Wednesday, September 19 nationwide.

Then, as part of Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, the enchanting and beloved Hayao Miyazaki anime classic My Neighbor Totoro is back.  Join Satsuki, Mei, Granny, everyone’s friend Totoro, and the fantastic Cat Bus for an imaginative fantasy adventure story.  It’s been called delightful, strange, extraordinary, and magical.  It’s all that and more.  Audiences will have two options for watching Totoro, either the original Japanese version with English subtitles on Monday, October 1, or the American dubbed version featuring the young sister voice actors Dakota and Elle Fanning, Sunday, September 30, or Wednesday, October 3.

Before there was a Fast and the Furious series, before Baby Driver, before Clint was Dirty Harry, before Smokey met the Bandit, or before Max ever got mad, there was Steve McQueen in Bullitt.  You may try but you’re unlikely to conjure up a film that defines cool more than McQueen does as a San Francisco cop trying to protect a witness in a major case.  For 50 years the Oscar-winning car chase (from editor Frank B. Keller) has topped best action scene lists from film critics and everyone else.  Robert Vaughn was hardly better than as the demanding Senator Chalmers.  The music of the great Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Starsky and Hutch, Planet of the Apes) perfectly encapsulates the era, complete with a jazz flute interlude.  There’s a reason Hollywood kept returning to Schifrin for action movie scores, like Kelly’s Heroes, Enter the Dragon, Brubaker, Charley Varrick, Cool Hand Luke, THX 1138, and the Dirty Harry and Rush Hour movies–the music is that memorable.  We are lucky to have a dozen great Steve McQueen movies to re-visit, and this is one of the best.  Plus you can only look to James Bond movies for an opening credits montage as compelling as you’ll find in Bullitt.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Hayao Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart may be the anime master’s most heart-warming story.  Based on the 1989 manga by artist Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 romance and drama about a teenage girl who wants to be a writer, and with the determination and self-discipline necessary, she is successful at completing her first novel.  The story within a story that she writes is about an ornamental cat in a store window that she names The Baron.  In a fun twist, Hiiragi wrote the girl’s story into another manga, titled The Cat’s Repayment, and that story was adapted into Studio Ghibli’s 2002 anime film The Cat Returns.  “The Cat” returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events series and Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, and has its final screening at theaters nationwide Wednesday evening, April 25, 2018, at 7 p.m. local time.  Find theater information and order tickets here.

This month’s release of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs was inspired by the anime films of Studio Ghibli, and you can see the influences from The Cat Returns in particular.  The Cat Returns is a much lighter film with none of the violence of Isle of Dogs.  It has rightly been referred to as “delightful,” “sweet,” and “cute.”  Its appeal for cat fans is the sincerity and authenticity of director Hiroyuki Morita (Akira, Perfect Blue, My Neighbors the Yamadas), and his use of real cats for some of the cat dialogue.  The story centers on a high school student named Haru.  When Haru rescues a cat in the road from an oncoming truck, the cat stands upright and speaks to thank her, and she soon learns he is a cat prince whose father the Cat King grants her the blessing of total happiness.  She finds she could always hear and communicate with cats, but lost that sense years ago.  Cats from the kingdom pile on the gifts, not realizing people don’t like mice and catnip as much as cats, and when the gifts and rewards get too great and the Cat King goes overboard, she is helped by a well-dressed cat at the Cat Business Office–The Baron.

Haru meets a rather skeptical, rotund, white cat along the way named Muta, who is possibly the finest, most realistic cat ever translated to film.  Soon the Cat King determines Haru should marry his son, and Haru, The Baron, and Muta embark on an escape from the palace through a labyrinthine maze.  Studio Ghibli, with creators Miyazaki and Morita, have visually presented the most believable cats in their numerous productions over the decades.  In The Cat Returns the characters are not so much photo-real as in Miyazaki’s directorial efforts (here he serves as executive producer), yet the charming story is truly everything any cat lover will love.  It is also filled with good humor, an engaging fantasy story, and lots of silliness that both kids and adults will appreciate.

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