Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022: The Secret World of Arrietty (2012) by Starry Traveler’s Road

Welcome back to Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022 as we continue with the second week of entries. Today’s guest is one of my own childhood friends who has slowed down on her blogging recently but always drops by with a review for the blogathon every year. Her blog, Starry Traveler’s Road now focuses on her every day things from opinions on certain societal things in Montreal to her crafts and other mom adventures and even shared some of her jewelry making progress.

This year she shares a review on The Secret World of Arrietty, a Studio Ghibli film. Remember to head over to check our her blog!

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Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

Despite all the chaos going through our lives, Bun Bun and I are back with a movie review! It was refreshing to just spend time together to reconnect. It is also fun to continue our yearly tradition especially she is now in first grade and understand the world a bit more. HUGE thank you to Kim and Drew for hosting us for the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022!

The summary as written on IMDb (https://m.imdb.com/title/tt1568921/

Fourteen-year-old Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler, Saoirse Ronan, and Mirai Shida) and the rest of the Clock family live in peaceful anonymity as they make their own home from items that they borrow from the house’s human inhabitants. However, life changes for the Clocks when a human boy discovers Arrietty.

Let me start by saying this movie is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers which is still on my book list. We watched the original Japanese movie (2010) with English caption. I took the time to read every line as we go since none of us understand Japanese and Bun Bun can only recognize sight words. We watched it over two evenings as we started on a Sunday and she had school the next day. It was a bit difficult to determine where is the best place to stop if you cannot sit through the whole movie. On Monday night, we watched the rest of the movie.

I am very proud to say that this is the FIRST movie that Bun and I saw without her running away to hide when things got scary (she did not like the housekeeper). She cried a bit when the characters had to say goodbye. From what she told me, she really liked Arrietty due to her personality and flowery bedroom along with the cat whose appearance reminded her of the cat bus in My Neighbor Totoro. Bun Bun did say that she would like to watch it again someday which tells me she did enjoy it as not many movies get on her “let’s rewatch” list.

As for me, I enjoyed the movie and hope to eventually find time to read the book soon (Bun is not huge on bedtime stories. Or else, I would read to her and use it as an opportunity to discuss the difference between movie and book). It was interesting for me to finally notice a pattern on how some male characters and female villains are portrayed in movies from Ghibli Studio.

I liked the dynamic between Arrietty and Shawn (Sho in Japanese), the male character, especially how they cared for one another. The graphics and music are great by Ghibli standards too!

This is it for Bun Bun and my movie review! We hope you enjoyed it!

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A huge thanks to Phoebe for dropping by with a review of The Secret World of Arrietty!

Head over to Drew’s Movie Reviews for the last guest entry for the blogathon!

See the full list of the blogathon updated daily HERE.

Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022 Kick-Off: Porco Rosso (1992)

Welcome to the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022! This year’s theme (in case you missed the announcement post) are featuring films released in a year ending with -2. The choices coming up from ourselves and our guests span more than a century much to surprise and there are lots of fantastic posts to come up.

With that said, today is the first of two kick-off posts for the blogathon as I start off with my first choice and my awesome co-host Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews will share his first pick for part 2 of the kick-off over on his blog.

To start things off this year, I decided to check out a fan favorite from Studio Ghibli which really doesn’t get talked about enough but my friends over at Asian Cinema Film Club did rank it as their Top 150 Best Asian Films of All Time. The film is 1992’s Porco Rosso, a film about a bounty hunter pig, seaplanes, and some romance and pirates.

Porco Rosso (1992)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

English Voice Cast: Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Kimberley Williams-Paisley, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Tom Kenny

In 1930s Italy, a veteran World War I pilot is cursed to look like an anthropomorphic pig. – IMDB

Based on a 1989 three-part watercolor manga by Miyazaki called The Age of the Flying Boat, Porco Rosso is a colorful adventure where a war veteran turned freelance bounty hunter uses his one of a kind seaplane to hunt down airborne pirates. Living on a deserted island alone, stopping to visit his friend Madame Gina, the owner and beautiful singer of her club, and waiting for his next bounty call, Porco Rosso lives away from humans because he has lost hope in them under the curse of being turned into a pig. When his seaplane is shot down by the American ace Donald Curtis following his engine failure and claiming that he has killed him, Porco goes to get his seaplane fixed in Milan, where he has an arrest warrant on his head, where his old engineer send his young niece Fio to redesign the whole plane and ends up embarking on the journey afterwards as Porco heads off to face up against Curtis.

While Porco Rosso might not have quite the nostalgia for myself as other Miyazaki films like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso is a fun adventure. It doesn’t only focus on pirates and seaplanes but also tells a story about Porco Rosso finding a bit of his humanity back by finding back a bit of the lost hope he had for it which turned him into a pig. The film itself remains mostly light-hearted as the characters all have mostly comedic interactions, mostly from the silliness of the whole situation whether its between the pirates and Porco or Porco and Fio and the whole Milan crew. It brings in some elements of those times when women weren’t regarded to be much more than being at home but in this one, his whole crew ends up being female relatives of the repair shop owner. The bickering between Porco and Fio also ends up being rather funny as Fio’s naivety also makes her someone not afraid to stand up for herself and Porco in the face of equality and such. It all dials down to a final fight between Porco Rosso and Curtis which ends up taking a hilarious turn when the two both encounter issues in terms of weaponry.

There are some familiarities in this Miyazaki films whether inspiring some of his later works or from prior to that. Perhaps this is a project that shared the love of Miyazaki for planes which eventually leads to his last film, The Wind Rises before announcing his retirement (which obviously now is not happening since he has a new film in the works) or the concept of the cursed character much like Howl’s Moving Castle’s main character who also has a moment of reversing back to her original form for a second in the middle of the night. However, this is one of the few films that Miyazaki does leave a fairly open sort of ending. While there are little hints as to what does happen to the people whether its Porco Rosso and Gina’s relationship or whether Fio’s hopeful personality does transform Porco Rosso back to a man when he was known as Marco, the ending does leave those bits hidden from the camera, which is a fun little bit for the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Overall, Porco Rosso is a pretty fun film. It isn’t as dramatic as some of the other Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki films but switches over to a fairly unique setting post-war and with seaplanes and pirates with some happy and colorful characters. The film sets its tone fairly early in the film and keeps up with it building from that point on. Its pretty impressive for a film that was once supposed to be a short film funded by Japan Airlines which eventually got a full length theatrical release. After Disney’s distribution, Porco Rosso also got a rather impressive English voice cast including Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Kimberley Williams-Paisley and Susan Egan in the main roles. While not wildly discussed like some of Miyazaki’s other works, Porco Rosso is one that is a light and fun adventure well worth a visit.

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Remember to head over to check out Drew’s kick-off review for the blogathon tomorrow!

All films will be updated daily on the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022 page HERE. Be sure to check it out to not miss out any of the awesome guests posts coming up!

TV Binge: Girls Und Panzer (Season 1, 2012)

Girls Und Panzer (Season 1, 2012)

Miho Nishizumi comes from a family famous for their skills in Senshado, the art of tank warfare. However, she dishonored her family name, so she attends the no-name high school called Oorai, which doesn’t have a Senshado club, wanting to stay away from it. But, the student council president has other plans, wanting to save their school from termination by winning the Senshado tournament. – IMDB

Its been a while since we’ve talked about any anime here. Its fine time to talk about the the latest one that I watched although it has already left Netflix. Girls Und Panzer is a interesting premise with schools on freighter ships away from the main land and the focus on tankery as an extracurricular activity. There’s so much to love about it mostly because war-like commands seem like its very focused on men and war but this one is an amicable strategy competition between different schools and bases around these girls at this school as they work together to make it happen with the main girl Miho being a girl that wanted to run away from her family and tankery but ending up with a school who rebuilt tankery in hopes of saving their school. I’m going to say right away that this is the rare occasion that I watched the English dub version, which was very adequate and entertaining. Minor things didn’t match up to the subtitles in comparison but it all translated to pretty much the same thing.

Girls Und Panzer is a little odd at times and a little quirky but overall, it has a really positive and fun vibe. Using the whole tank warfare as their focus is a unique angle for the story especially when it captures a girl who has refound her passion for something her family is renowned for but she has been shamed upon her ways as she isn’t doing it the conventional way but in a more caring way. It reflects in the team that she eventually is asked to direct as the commander for all the other tanks. Miho’s character eventually is crafted into a much stronger one by the end of season one. Much her team, especially the her core team which she runs the tank with as the flagship. They end up truly bonding as each of the characters also have their little background and something that they are fighting for as well or a certain value they find from joining into this.

While the characters themselves are pretty fun, the key element and the most fun of the series is the tank warfare sequences which they do spend a lot of time doing as the Oorai school pretty much has one friendly match as practice and then gets pushed into the competition against some of the top schools which also brings in some colorful opponents from different parts of the world and their own set of strategy versus theirs. All that stuff is pretty fun as the crew learns more about how to strategize and it smoothly flows from one thing to the next as they learn from their previous matches each time around. Not to mention, they actually bring up different actual tanks that did exist (a mega thanks to my husband who knows a lot about history who shared this knowledge with me while we were watching it) even if some of them (according to my husband again) was a little out of reality but it is an anime so a lot of these things can be ignored in my opinion.

Overall, Girls Und Panzer is a really fun series. Its a unique angle and the characters are all pretty good plus there’s a decent bit of comedy that lands pretty well even if some of it is a tad bizarre and quirky. Its a little sad to see that they didn’t get past the first season but there are a few films released after the TV series which is something that I am trying to hunt down.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist (2021)

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist (2021)

Director: Pascal-Alex Vincent

A look at the life and work of Japanese animator Satoshi Kon. – IMDB

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a documentary that takes a look back at Satoshi Kon’s film and TV work one by one and the influence and collaborators along the way and their impression of both his person, career and imagination. Telling the story of his beginnings and inspirations from Akira that lead him to creating manga in the start that were greatly influenced his art style to this later projects that charted a new direction for adult animation as he both directed and wrote stories that blended reality and imagination.

Made as a tenth year anniversary remembrance of Satoshi Kon’s passing in 2010, Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a great overview of his work and a fantastic homage to an animator that brought a different angle to Japanese animation with the stories that he told. Having only seen one film of Satoshi Kon, Paprika was my starting point which happened to be his last feature film released. However, the documentary does a great job at making sure that even those who aren’t thoroughly familiar with the filmography can still be able to be engaged as it talks about each project’s meaning to Kon and where his inspirations came but also how these films marked its place in Japanese animation, adding the intrigue to check out any missed filmography.

The documentary focuses on his career which starts off from his beginnings as a manga artist and gradually the opportunities that lead him to his first notable project, Perfect Blue which was anything from perfect when looking at the box office which incurred a loss and how the company wanted to prove others wrong and took another chance with him. Satoshi Kon’s films in discussion are rather multifaceted which on one hand discusses a societal issue, usually relevant to the Japanese population whether its idol group formations to films and actress to the underbelly population of Japan. At the same time, the main characters always held a part of himself as well while also revealing that Kon’s current projects sometimes even reflected ideas of his next project.

The execution of the documentary is pretty good. The layout of going from one project to the next and having different people involved being part of the interviews and sharing their experiences to tell their analysis or the actual progression of the projects shed a lot of light from behind the scenes. At the same time, the influence of Satoshi Kon was better emphasized as the interviewees expanded to people from the film industry outside of Japan including Darren Aronofsky who talks about how he asked Kon for permission to use one of his scenes in Requiem For A Dream and how director Rodney Rothman aspired to make Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse comparable to the experience of Kon’s films as two examples, moving to interviews from animators, voice actresses, producers, and others from USA, UK , Japan and France that crafts a good picture of Kon.

As the film ends with a quick look at what’s known about his unfinished final project, Dreaming Machine that didn’t end up being released, it further emphasizes the loss of a talent who was about to move away from his normal themes in his previous films and chart another path with his limitless imagination in family animation films. Plus, it has a final note from praise that other people in the industry interviewed throughout who either drew influence from his work or was able to work with or be acquainted with him during his career. Well-rounded, respectful and thorough: Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a great journey through this acclaimed Japanese animator’s career.

*Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is available on demand on Fantasia’s virtual platform throughout the festival running from August 5th to 25th, 2021. Check out more info here.*

TV Binge: Resident Evil : Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Hiroyuki Kobayashi

Voice cast: Nick Apostolides, Ray Chase, Stephanie Panisello, Jona Xiao, Billy Kametz, Doug Stone, Joe Thomas, Brad Venable

Federal agent Leon S. Kennedy teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak. Based on the popular video game series of the same name by Capcom. – IMDB

Running at a swift 4 episodes of approximately 26 minutes each, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is probably the quickest and shortest TV binge that I’ve done as its about the length of an average movie so pretty much a one sitting sort of series. The premise of the story pulls away from being heavy on zombies but rather takes a turn for a more political conspiracy and investigative nature following two storylines. The first following Leon who is called in to be a part of a team that will investigate the recent hacking of internal systems and zombie outbreak in the White House and the second follows Claire Redfield who looks further into Penamstan’s civil war six years ago that might be a government cover-up for a zombie outbreak.

Most people come into a Resident Evil entry to see zombies and its not wrong but taking the side of padding out a bit more of the bioweapon backstory is pretty nice and moving away from Umbrella and focusing more on a political angle. Sure, there’s still zombies and action but this animated series proves that there is more stories to tell and so much more of this world that can be expanded on that can give it more depth. Not to mention, the animation is done so well, comparable to that of the recent game remakes, that it almost feels like a live action series. Not only the setting and locations but even the characters all look realistic. With that said, Leon has always been a good-looking guy but somehow this one, he seems even better (but then, I haven’t played Resident Evil 2 remake yet so it might be a similar model just a little aged as this is set between the Resident Evil 4 and 5 games).

Talking about the story and characters, the execution is well-structured. As the story progresses in the present story line, it almost going back to tell the story of the past for each of their new characters specifically Leon’s new teammates, Jason and Shen May as their story helps contribute to the current story but also helps their character development also. Each having their own motives as to why they are on the team and on this specific mission. Of course, Leon and Claire’s story is already fairly familiar to fans so its only touched upon quickly and not lingered on for a long time. Perhaps for new viewers to the franchise, it might leave them feeling less structured. However, the story itself is set years after their first appearance so doesn’t need too much backstory to support them although knowing about it will help connect with their characters better, considering new viewers won’t have the knowledge that these two are key and beloved characters in the games.

This is an animated series so voice cast is a big part of the immersion. Both Claire and Leon are voiced by the Resident Evil 2 Remake’s game voice cast, Stephanie Panisello and Nick Apostolides respectively. They both capture the two characters incredibly well. Voicing Jason is Ray Chase, a voice actor who has a lot of experience when looking at his extensive voice cast roles in many video games perhaps the biggest and recognizable as Noctis in Final Fantasy XV along with known roles other popular games like NieR: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, etc. Jason is a key character here and probably one that incurs the most change throughout especially as his back story is pretty intriguing. However, that’s not saying that the voice actress Jona Xiao voicing Shen May, who has less experience looking at her filmography doesn’t do a pretty solid job as well. There are some little moments that the characters, especially the political discussions where it feels a little over done but overall, the English voice casting is done really well.

Whether its character designs or the zombies and the atmosphere and setting for the overall show, its done incredibly well and keeps it paced quickly so it stays both entertaining and immersive to want to find out who is behind this and what is actually going on. In a franchise that feels like there’s been a lot of different directions that’s been taken both in the movies and the games itself, the series is refreshing because it reminds its viewers what the actual story is about. Sure, there’s zombies and there’s mutated big monsters and Umbrella but in the depth of all of this, its about the creation of bioweapons and the consequences that its brought to the world. This is a viral outbreak and how the world is handling it so it makes sense that this one strays further from being heavy on big zombie action scenes but goes back to focusing on the political side of the whole ordeal and the conflicts between countries so on and so forth.

Overall, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an awesome series. Its short and sweet and a fantastic little binge. I’m a big fan of Resident Evil so I might be a little biased but looking at this new direction with some new characters, it shouldn’t be too hard for new viewers to the franchise to get into it the story either.

Ultimate Decades Blogathon Kick-off: Spirited Away (2001)

Welcome to the sixth annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon..well, the part 2 of it. Yesterday, my fantastic co-host Drew kicked off the Ultimate Decades Blogathon with his kick-off review of Bridesmaids. Today, its my turn to share my first pick as we kick off this blogathon with a slightly new format working with the decades ending in a different digit than an entire decade. As the first one, it suitably starts with years ending in 1. There’s a lot to look forward to for the upcoming entries.

First, let’s get this part 2 released as I share my review of Studio Ghibli’s 2001 Academy Award winning animated film, Spirited Away.

Spirited Away (2001)

Director (and writer): Hayao Miyazaki

Voice Cast (English Dub): Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, Susan Egan, Paul Eiding, John Ratzenberger, Bob Bergen, Tara Strong, Rodger Bumpass

During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts. – IMDB

After much consideration, Spirited Away is an animated movie well worth a mention as it is the movie held onto the highest grossing film in Japan until 2020. It also won the Academy Awards as the only non-English and first handdrawn animation to win the Best Animated Feature award. For someone like myself that grew up with Hayo Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, it almost feels like the movie that acted as the perfect stepping stone for the world, especially those unfamiliar with anime, to finally get to know Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki.

There’s a lot to love about Spirited Away. It really does embody a lot of the trademarks and drawing style of Hayao Miyazaki as all the characters are drawn in a familiar way especially when it comes to the old lady roles, they always feel fairly similar to each other. Spirited Away is about a little girl who wanders into a world of spirits and basically goes on an adventure to rescue her parents and escape this world. This world can be mistakenly wandered in during the day but at night, the river floods the path and what they thought was an amusement park turned out to be something completely different. With a huge bathhouse as the main building and streets with stall after stall of food that spirits busily chomp away along with the colorful and odd world of the interior of the bathhouse from its boiler room to the bathhouse rooms and the big boss’s headquarters plus so much more, Spirited Away is a beautifully constructed world with so much to explore that offers a glimpse at the fantasy imagination and creativity that Hayao Miyazaki has to offer. As we follow Chihiro (or later known as Sen) go through the building looking for the job, there’s a sense of how big this world is which makes it rather impressive plus the clientele of the bathhouse are unique types of spirits.

There is an array of interesting little creatures and spirits to meet and a story that actually surfaces later on as a little twist. There’s no doubt that other than the story itself, the characters are a real star here whether its Chihiro who has to remember her name after she turns into Sen in this world or the witch Yubaba that runs this bathhouse right down to Kamaji in the boiler room and Sen’s friend Lin who works with her and especially Haku, a dragon that is Yubaba’s henchman. No Miyazaki film’s fantasy world is without its fair share of odd creatures whether its a giant baby or heads hopping around right down to another form of soot monsters (we saw them first in 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro) and so much more. Plus, the spirits themselves also have some interesting encounters that design especially for the two big parts with the Stink Spirit and another spirit No-Face who grows to have a liking for Sen.

Paired up with Joe Hisaishi’s music, Spirited Away is definitely a fun little adventure. Fantasy, magic, spirits all wrapped up into one. What makes it stand out is not only the colorful art and design and world building but the characters that they meet. While the bathhouse is a starting spot and has its own story as a foundation but the story that stems from there also adds a sense of mystery. Is it the best Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film out there? That’s definitely debatable however, it is the movie that takes the first step for the world to know this amazing film studio with an creative director Hayao Miyazaki.

For further reading, you can check out my list ranking of Hayao Miyazaki’s work HERE.


That’s it for the kick-off post! Tomorrow we start off over at Drew’s Movie Reviews with the first guest entry. For the full list of entries, updated daily during the blogathon, you can find it HERE.

Double Feature: Gwen (2018) & The Garden of Words (2013)

As we get back to more frequent double features, we head into the next letter in our alphabet run as we get to G. G selections on Shudder are rather slim pickings so I went ahead and started up 2018’s slow-burn film Gwen and then paired with also a shorter title with Japanese animated film by the same director as Your Name, The Garden of Words. Let’s check it out!

Gwen (2018)

Gwen

Director (and writer): William McGregor

Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Mark Lewis Jones, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Elfyn

A folk tale set in the hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. – IMDB

Gwen is a slow pace Welsh horror drama set during the Industrial Revolution, mostly set in the isolated hills where this family of a mother and two daughters live on their farm. Unfortunate situations keep happening as the older daughter Gwen holds up the family and strives to survive while dealing with the farm animals dying mysteriously and her mother being overcome with a mysterious illness. Its a dark story and well-portrayed in its landscape and setting under its dim lighting and gloomy shots.

If we look at the characters, Gwen is played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox who does a really great job in this character. Its a quiet movie so dialogue is much less and there’s more of an observation of the situation and she does that very well. At the same time, her mother is played by Maxine Peake who also captures her role fairly well. There’s some rather “creepy” moments for lack of a better word. The movie itself isn’t exactly scary per se but it is a little unsettling at parts.

Gwen is for the patient audience that doesn’t mind a slow paced horror drama. Its not scary in the jump scare sense but more of a slow unwinding unsettling feeling that goes with where its set and the gloomy darker environment that surrounds this tale.

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Takeshi Maeda,

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. – IMDB

The Garden of Words is a 45 minute Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the person behind Your Name. Its interesting to see that this story also features two strangers Takao and Yukari who the latter is the mysterious woman who we actually don’t know the name until much later when her identity is revealed. The Garden of Words is something of a coming of age as the two characters have their own personal struggles of being a bit of a loner or misunderstood and finding it hard to know how to move forward. It uses the 15 year old boy, Takao’s passion for being a shoemaker and shoes in general as a metaphor for life.

Because of that focus, there’s a lot of scenes that capture the feet with how they sit and position their feet or walking through the streets, etc. Makoto Shinkai is a nice storyteller. His stories, at least the two to date that I’ve watched, has been rather meaningful. Its always about some element of life and adds a hint of romance in it that helps the characters grow. While this story isn’t quite as complex, it does take a level of careful execution to allow the story to work in the realm of keeping one of the character’s a mystery until giving her identity reveal. At the same time, Shinkai always gives these rich in color and beautiful animated scenery. In this case, its capturing the realistic rain fall set in the beautiful garden and capturing the light beams  and such.

The Garden of Words is a mere 45 minutes and because it doesn’t have a overly complex story but still with a little mystery, it adds enough to move the story in a quick paced. Its well-animated and has a rather careful metaphor. The story focuses on two characters with an age gap and while there are some elements of it that feels a little odd at first, its a rather interesting friendship that happens between them. Its a bit unlikely but then its not the friendship itself but rather how it develops emotionally perhaps. The Garden of Words is a quick viewing that’s definitely worth your time if you liked Your Name. Its not the same sort of story but its still a pretty good watch.

That’s it for this G double feature!
Have you seen these two movies? Thoughts?

Fantasia 2019: The Wonderland (2019)

The Wonderland (Birthday Wonderland, 2019)

Birthday Wonderland

Director: Keiichi Hara

Voice Cast: Mayu Matsuoka, Anne Watanabe, Kumiko Aso, Masachika Ichimura, Nao Toyama, Keiji Fujiwara, Akiko Yajima

The Wonderland, originally titled Birthday Wonderland, is a 2019 Japanese animated film about a girl who goes to pick up her birthday gift at her aunt’s store and ends up unlocking the portal to the world beyond and is tasked with being the savior of this mirror world.

Right from its beginning, The Wonderful is all about its vibrant and colorful background and its relaxing everyday. Akane’s biggest problem was being accepted at school by her classmates doing the most mundane things like wearing a hairpin. For her, this made her life difficult and everyone else’s hard. Its a good way to start the movie especially as this foundation takes us into the mirror world called World Beyond and she has now been adorned with a Momentum Anchor that makes her move forward even when she doesn’t want to and seen as the Goddess of the Green Wind, the person rumored decades ago that will save them from a major crisis by curing the Prince.

Japanese animation has always seem to flourish when it takes the environmental elements into their stories. For a film that focuses on the world beyond losing color as their main danger due to the lack of water, it still manages to keep it colorful and cute. To emphasize it, there are contrasts of dangerous enemies with dull metallic armor and black clothing with the bright colors used for everything surrounding the group heading towards the castle. While others have buffalo stampedes, The Wonderland has stampedes of huge fluffy sheep and then a scene of Akane and her aunt Chii, who joins into the journey, lying on them (a parallel of My Neighbor Totoro perhaps), and the journey continues into different environments that they go through filled with shades of red, pink, orange and many other colorful elements. There are so many details here and the little magical elements also add into the charm of the visuals especially in the landscape.

The characters also are quite charming, if not still pretty familiar in design. Akane and her aunt Chii create a contrast as well. While Akane needs the Momentum Anchor to move her forward to be more courageous facing different situations, Chii is more about embracing the adventure and being prepared and taking chances. Its this contrast that makes it funny and rather inspiring to watch as over the almost 2 hour film, Akane finds her strength and also embraces her ability to try and save the world because of seeing the beauty between this mirror world that had kept a more old-fashioned way of living in comparison to her reality of modern advanced technology. These two may bring a lot of joy to the film. In fact, the movie definitely falls into the cute elements more especially as the sidekicks are little humans who are a little silly but also very adorable.

Filled with talking cats, underwater aquariums and colorful environments all around, The Wonderland is exactly as its title implies. Even with the crisis that the world faces, it still manages to keep it light-hearted. The visuals and a sweeping soundtrack that sometimes matches to the sounds in the scene and other times, creating the environment for the scene adds a lot to a fairly generic story. Running at 115 minutes, it does feel like it drags a little in the middle part despite all the charming locations giving it a boost. The story could have been better executed as a whole but its cute and colorful and its hard to be a little enamored by it.

Double Feature: The Cave (2005) & Death Note (2017)

And we’re moving right along to the next double feature in the random Netflix alphabet. I’m starting to see a pattern already of movies that I feel didn’t really get great reviews but I’m willing to take a chance on regardless. I didn’t actually research how well they did but still, its how randomness works, right? 😉 The next two films is 2005 creature feature The Cave which I never heard of before but I was craving something of that subgenre so here we are and followed with the 2017 Netflix Original American adaptation of Death Note.

Let’s check it out!

The Cave (2005)

the cave

Director: Bruce Hunt

Cast: Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith

Bloodthirsty creatures await a pack of divers who become trapped in an underwater cave network. – IMDB

The Cave passed right under the radar as it probably got overshadowed by the success of The Descent (Review) which was always cave exploration, creature feature and had garnered quite a good bit of positive reviews, myself included. With that said, The Cave does have quite a few good elements. While it merges together spelunking and creature features, it also adds in the not really completely confirmed idea of going to hell (much like As Above So Below (review)). It had a short mention with the religious background in the beginning and then as we dive deeper into the cave as the group heads towards the exit and fights for their survival, the cave takes on various transformations which can only feel like the different levels of hell (at least to me, maybe I’m overthinking it as I always do).

The Cave isn’t executed too well. It has some issues of pacing and some of the acting bits aren’t exactly great. It also had an issue of being quite predictable as to when would happen what which cuts out some of the tension it could have had. However, The Cave is quite unique because it adds in the water and diving exploration element. A new layer of adventure adds in its own set of challenges. Plus, the creature design here has a nice slow burn reveal throughout the film and its pretty bad-ass and impressive.

One of the final points to mention here is how Lena Headey always ends up in these movies and in this one, she pops up as a scientist. She delivers a great performance and one of the best throughout this film, not only because her character carried quite a bit of depth but also the changes for this character and her interpretation of it.

Death Note (2017)

death note

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Nat Wolff, LaKeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe (voice), Jason Liles, Paul Nakauchi

A high school student named Light Turner discovers a mysterious notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written within its pages, and launches a secret crusade to rid the world of criminals. – IMDB

Having never seen the original TV anime series (not even one episode) and only saw the Japanese adapted film back in 2000s, Death Note is one of those animes that is rather unfamiliar to myself however, I remained skeptical but interested in watching how it would be interpreted especially in the hands of Adam Wingard. A good and bad thing here because for one, it had the same feeling in this one as in the Japanese one years ago that a series with the depth of Death Note in its content shouldn’t and can’t be made into a film. There are plot holes and unknown parts and a lot of it is expected to be brushed away and accepted as correct because the movie constantly reminds us that Death Note has a lot of rules, so if it didn’t make sense that you can say that its just a rule that we didn’t know about. That is just lazy but then adapting Death Note into a film is a mammoth task. Second though, the good thing is that Adam Wingard took helm of it because he gives it atmosphere and style and even implements a great soundtrack to make it stand out.

Death Note had its issues, no doubt. In fact, it had more issues than its massive style could help mend. It still had some thrills and it still had some events that does work in the movies favor in terms of the sequences. However, as I sit here, I’m still thinking about the cast itself. The best part of the casting was having Willem Dafoe voice Ryuk because he does such a stand-out bad guy. To be fair, I think its more a script problem than anything when talking about Nat Wolff as Light or LaKeith Stanfield as L because they had some wonky dialogue bits but their characters still were portrayed well enough in the context of this story. While I think that finding Asian-Americans in this day and age to do this adaptation would have been easily accomplished, I’m choosing to not discuss that and evaluate this in the context of being an American film as it is set in the US to make these characters relevant to the story.

Is Death Note good or bad? Its kind of half and half. On one hand, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t quite accept because of the execution and the fact that its not the fault of the movie but the fact that Death Note is more complex than a movie can embody. However, Wingard does the best he can and delivers a decent film with a great soundtrack and a load of style.

That’s it for this double feature!
A bit of a meh pairing… some pros but some cons

Have you seen The Cave and/or Death Note?

Sunday Lists: Hayao Miyazaki, Directed Films Ranked

Hayao Miyazaki List

January 5th marked the 78th birthday of one of the best Japanese animator and filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. I don’t watch a lot of Japanese stuff in general but I grew up with Studio Ghibli films so some of these hold very close to my heart. There is this fantastic magical and fantasy world that he manages to create.

With that said, there is no better way than to kick off this year’s first Sunday Lists with a list of Hayao Miyazaki’s Directed Films ranked from what I think is the best to the the not so great ones, because lets be honest, there is no worst. Even the last choice here wasn’t a bad film just didn’t execute as well as the others or connect as well with me.

There are a few films not seen yet. The list will be updated over time.

*Only full feature animated films DIRECTED by Hayao Miyazaki has been included here*

1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

my neighbor totoro

My first Miyazaki film in my memory is My Neighbor Totoro and it has never stopped being my favorite. I know the movie almost by heart, the Cantonese dubbed version dialogue almost all memorized. Its about family and its charming. The little girls are adorable and the Totoro super cute. There are some heartwarming moments and some hilarious ones as well. It balances light-hearted and heartbreaking moments. Its cute and serious in equal measures. Plus, how do you beat a CatBus? You just can’t!

2. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

kiki's delivery service

I love cats and witches. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a well-rounded film as well. I remember there was a phase in the early stages when I had some crappy blogging server somewhere that I had used Kiki has my name. Watching this one when I was a kid was a ride for sure. Witches weren’t evil, they were nice and helpful. This one is  fun little trip full of charm whether its the people that Kiki meets on her deliveries or her learning how to be independent.

3. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

howl's moving castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a children’s novel which actually diverts quite far from its source material a fair bit especially when interpreting Howl’s character. However, maybe it has to do with this being the first Miyazaki film that I saw in theatres and the enchantment that comes from the big screen but this is one film that I love watching over and over again. Because of that, this film is filled with charm. It does get a tad dark and scary here and there but its so magical as well.

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

nausicaa

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind that makes me think about how Miyazaki is quite before his time in story telling as you can see how this film set the bar for his career, whether its the female characters he uses or the world that he creates. At the heart of it all, Nausicaa is about a world that has fallen apart environmentally and Nausicaa is trying to find a way to revive it while at the same time, nature has revolted in an unexpected way and she needs to find a way to solve the mystery of what happened. Its such a beautiful film. The only reason its placed lower is because its one that took me a second or third viewing when I was older to fully appreciate its message and its story.

5. Spirited Away (2001)

spirited away

Spirited Away is what put Miyazaki on the map along with Studio Ghibli. Its quite a feat when we think about it. In fact, there is so much to love here. I like this one a lot also. It has dragons and fantastical creatures and some pretty hilarious moments intertwined with a story about reuniting family, gluttony and life in general. Its colorful and beautiful and there are such charming array of characters wrapped up in this one story.

6. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

laputa castle in the sky

I know a lot of people who would put Laputa really high up or even consider this one their favorite Miyazaki film. I don’t disagree with that at all. Laputa: Castle in the Sky is beautiful, especially once we arrive at the castle in the sky and all the events that happen from there on out.  It has a cast of silly bandits and a gentle robot and the castle design itself is so detailed and intricate. The only deal is that I’ve never been prone to watch this one a lot but I always enjoyed it whenever someone puts it on.

7. The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

castle of cagliostro

I saw The Castle of Cagliostro because of a blogathon a few years back when it was looking at a debut of a director. I always thought Miyazaki started out his career with Nausicaa but before the existence of Studio Ghibli, he had created The Castle of Cagliostro adapted/based on the Japanese manga Lupin III. Its crime and comedy mixed together for this film and boy is it an adventure. The debut of Miyazaki is a fine start. There are its flaws with this one in terms of storytelling and pacing but there is still a ton of heart and charm.

8. Porco Rosso (1992) Review

porco-rosso2

Porco Rosso is a film that never quite caught my attention despite some of my friends enjoying it immensely. Having used it for the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022, it definitely has the charm and shares the love of planes that Miyazaki has. At the same time, it takes it in a different side of pirates involving seaplanes which adds some uniqueness to the whole story. It does have a decent balance of humor and remains mostly entertaining and there are some little elements that are used later in Miyazaki’s career and discusses a more profound topic of hope in humanity.

9. Ponyo (2008)

ponyo

Ponyo is something like Miyazaki’s version of The Little Mermaid fairy tale story which takes a little fish girl who becomes human and meets a little boy. Its so adorable and imaginative. It takes this angle of making the creative angle of the tsunami and then links the whole story together. It is actually quite clever.

10. The Wind Rises (2013)

the wind rises

I saw the premiere of The Wind Rises at TIFF a few years back, the same year that Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013 (of course, now we know that he has decided to not retire and is working on his next film). Putting aside the ridiculous couple next to me who sobbed the entire movie from start to finish who was incredibly annoying, The Wind Rises is a passion project of  Miyazaki’s and you can see it by the subject he chooses to take as he tells the story of World War II engineer who designs the fighter aircraft. His love for aircrafts and his country and his admiration for Jiro Horikoshi is all highly visible in his work. My issue here is that I don’t share the same admiration and for that, the story falls a little short of what I liked. Its not a bad film in any means because the animation, the visuals, the character designs and the music all work well. I just failed to connect with it but that is the risk of making a passion project film.

Not Seen or Can’t Remember

Conan The Future Boy: The Big Giant Robot’s Ressurrection (1984)
Princess Mononoke (1997)

How would you rank Hayao Miyazaki’s film?
Which one of his directed feature films is your fave?