Tag Archive: Mari Natsuki


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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.

spirited-away

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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Review by C.J. Bunce

In that niche area of dystopian dog movies (that’s the adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and his Dog and… ?), Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs not only soars to the top of the list, it’s a great film in all sorts of categories: it’s new, yet a classic children’s story, it’s a timely political allegory, and it’s a solid movie about dogs.  We knew Anderson had a grasp on animals in his surprisingly good Fantastic Mr. Fox, but audiences will soon learn he also understands dogs and dog behavior.  The trailers don’t really prepare moviegoers for what lies ahead.  Sure, it’s about an island of exiled dogs so of course audiences are in for a bleak ride, complete with at least one dead canine, lots of dogs in peril as well as many mutilated and diseased.  Yet Isle of Dogs is surprisingly grand in scope, thought-provoking, and even heartwarming.  And epic–don’t be surprised if you start thinking about the closest Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick movie while you’re glued to the screen.  Despite some witty dialogue in places from Anderson’s smart script, this is less comedy and more drama than his past efforts.

The dystopian world is better realized, bigger in scope, and yet more personal than typical futurist visions, beyond that dismal hopeless doom of Mad Max, The Postman, Escape From New York, Twelve Monkeys, Snowpiercer, Looper, Logan’s Run, and District 9.  Isle of Dogs is probably closer to WALL-E and Planet of the Apes in feel.  Isle of Dogs is gloomy and dark and bleak, but it offers a ray of hope for the future from a 12-year-old Japanese boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) and a freckle-faced, high school exchange student named Tracy from Ohio (Greta Gerwig), both out to defy an autocratic government’s ban on dogs.  That’s thanks in major part to the vivid, eye-popping world of future Japan filmed by celebrated Aardman Animations stop-motion cinematographer Tristan Oliver (A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers, Chicken Run), and the encompassing sounds from this year’s Oscar-winning composer for The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter series, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Golden Compass).  As to the stop-motion, audiences can marvel at how far Hollywood has come since the Ray Harryhausen era.  The film follows Anderson’s design choices first seen in his Fantastic Mr. Fox and only continues to add to the unbelievable magical movements carried forward by Aardman’s achievements.  And instead of a typical Romantic, programmatic score, Desplat’s best choices can be found in his use of loud, almost frightening Japanese taiko drums, Fumio Hayasaka’s haunting theme from Seven Samurai, the more celebratory bits from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, and a simple recurring dog whistle.

Anderson offers up admirable tributes to Japanese culture and film, everywhere from costume design to modern TV reporting stylings, to Hayao Miyazaki themes and Akira Kurosawa landscapes, to traditional imagery like beautiful ukiyo-e on walls and cherry blossoms floating by at the right time.  Isle of Dogs finds a firm footing on the children’s classics shelf of your film library, alongside Roald Dahl’s Mr. Fox but also his Willy Wonka.  It also has much in common in tone with Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  The political allegory is thick and layered, a mix of the nuanced and the obvious, a mirror reflection of society that you’d have found years ago in a Frank Capra movie.  Science is mocked, scorned, and worse.  Experts are traitorous and immigrants are exiled.  It’s also graphic in parts at a baser level, showing an animated meal from a dumpster with creepy crawlies that may make your stomach turn, plus an open chest surgery, bloody, torn body parts, and dogs with missing eyes and open wounds.

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Following the success of last year’s Studio Ghibli Fest, animated film distributor GKIDS and Fathom Events are bringing back to U.S. theaters nine critically acclaimed films throughout the year for Studio Ghibli Fest 2018.  Starting this weekend the series will feature both dubbed and subtitled versions of Studio Ghibli classics, beginning with a 10th anniversary screening of the fan-favorite family adventure Ponyo (2008) on March 25 (dubbed), 26 (subtitled), and 28 (dubbed), with original actors Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, and Yuria Nara in the subtitled version and Cate Blanchett, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, and Matt Damon in the dubbed version. In a spin-off of the Hayao Miyazaki story Whisper of the Heart, the character Baron re-emerges in The Cat Returns (2002), back in theaters April 22 (dubbed), 23 (subtitled), and 25 (dubbed), with stars Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, and Aki Maeda in the subtitled version, and Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, and Tim Curry in the dubbed version.  Miyazaki directs his tale of a pigman pilot bounty hunter in Porco Rosso (1992), back in theaters May 20 (dubbed), 21 (subtitled), and 23 (dubbed), with original stars Shûichirô Moriyama, Tokiko Katô, and Bunshi Katsura Vi in the subtitled version, and Michael Keaton and David Ogden Stiers in the dubbed version.

Studio Ghibli’s village of magical raccoon dogs fight back in Pom Poko (1994), in theaters June 17 (dubbed), 18 (subtitled), and 20 (dubbed), starring Shinchô Kokontei, Makoto Nonomura, and Yuriko Ishida in the subtitled version, and Clancy Brown and J.K. Simmons in the dubbed version.  One of Miyazaki’s most thrilling films, the legendary Princess Mononoke (1997) is back July 22 (dubbed), 23 (subtitled), and 25 (dubbed), starring Yôji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, and Yûko Tanaka in the subtitled version, and Minnie Driver, Clare Danes, and Gillian Anderson in the dubbed version.  Director Isao Takahata offers one of the finest World War II stories in all of cinema in his gut-wrenching Grave of the Fireflies (1988), back in theaters August 12 (dubbed), 13 (subtitled), and 15 (dubbed), starring Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, and Akemi Yamaguchi in the subtitled version, and Adam Gibbs and Emily Neves in the dubbed version.

Everyone’s favorite gentle giant cat is back September 30 (dubbed), October 1 (subtitled), and October 3 (dubbed), when My Neighbor Totoro (1988) returns, starring Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, and Chika Sakamoto in the subtitled version, and Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, and Tim Daly in the dubbed version.  Perhaps Miyazaki’s most acclaimed film, the fantastical, spiritual, riveting epic Spirited Away (2001) is in theaters October 28 (dubbed), 29 (subtitled), and 30 (dubbed), starring Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, and Mari Natsuki in the subtitled version, and Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, and James Marsden in the dubbed version.  And finally, a boy and girl search for a floating castle in Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky (1986), in theaters November 18 (dubbed), 29 (subtitled), and 20 (dubbed), starring Keiko Yokozawa, Mayumi Tanaka, and Kotoe Hatsui in the subtitled version, and Anna Paquin, Mark Hamill, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, and Mandy Patinkin in the dubbed version.

Here is a quick preview of Studio Ghibli Fest 2018:

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