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. 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.

9. 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)
Porco Rosso (1992)
Princess Mononoke (1997)

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

Fantasia Festival 2018: Bleach (2018)

Bleach (2018)

Bleach

Director: Shinsuke Sato

Cast: Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Erina Mano, Miyavi, Taichi Saotome, Ryo Yoshizawa, Yosuke Eguchi, Yu Koyanagi

For anime lovers, Bleach has been a long time in the making. It has an incredible amount of episodes in the original series itself and that isn’t counting the animated movies derived from it alone. However, even if you have no knowledge of Bleach from its source material, this live action adaptation starts at the beginning. It tells the story of a teenage boy called Ichigo (Sota Fukushi) who loses his mother at a young age and can see ghosts. Nearing the anniversary of his mother’s death, his sister is attacked by a being called a Hollow and a soul reaper girl Rukia (Hana Sugisaki) from the Soul Society comes to his rescue. In battle with the Hollow, she ends up being injured and out of desperation despite the strict rules, she notices his high spiritual powers and transfers her soul reaping skills to him. While he defeats the Hollow, she transfers more than she intends and turns into human form forcing her to become his classmate while she trains him to be strong enough to return those powers.

bleach

Starting from the beginning of its source material may be the saving grace for Bleach. In this way, they manage to pull of a film that introduces its audience to the world through the eyes of Ichigo as he first encounters it himself. Of course, there is still a lot to learn about Ichigo himself from how he lost his mother to how he can see ghosts, although the latter along with the high spiritual power elements are more of a between the lines connection. Even with 2 hours, Bleach merely skims the surface in demonstrating this world that has been built. Soul Society doesn’t get touched on a lot except for that one rule and the two men, Byakuya (Miyavi) and Renji (Taichi Saotome) who show up to track Rukia, on the other hand, a member of Quincy, Ishida (Ryo Yoshizawa) pops up which gets a brief backstory to his purpose with pursuing Ichigo. Lots of information to digest here and it is no surprise that the script chooses to bring in these characters to build up the main story. In some ways, it works out because the main story revolving Ichigo brings in family, ties into his history and ends up developing his character quite a bit. On that note, Fukushi takes the role and runs with it in a spectacular way. His portrayal gives Ichigo so much charisma that it’s hard to look away from what he goes through. Luckily, this approach keeps the story contained, and at the end of the day, the movie takes the step to wrap up the story as it ties up all the loose ends.

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Bleach has some charms and some minor issues. In terms of charms, it does feel like you are watching a live action manga. The characters have the goofy manga reactions and in the live action version, it creates a lot of comedic moments to cut through the tension of fighting the mystical unbeatable Hollow. It even throws in some explanation in manga drawing form to probably give it some link back. The Hollow itself is some good CGI work there. The action is done fairly well and the weaponry is replicated really nice albeit some obvious CGI work as well. The best part of Bleach is the score and soundtrack. It is energetic in the hard rock music way that blends so well with the tone of the film as a while. However, its minor issues lie in the pacing where the middle lags a bit in development and sits are a weird transition point that takes a while to get there. Because of some lack of depth, some characters here feel disposable as their purpose feels merely to achieve something or another. That is price of placing the focus on the main story but only skimming the surface of the other arcs. However, this is a movie and the effort to keep it contained is admirable especially with how much Bleach has grown since it was first created. It is still an entertaining fantasy action adaptation that does a lot more right than it does wrong.

This review was posted also on That Moment In.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Fireworks (2018)

Fireworks (2018)

Fireworks

Director: Akiyuki Shinbo & Nobuyuki Takeuchi

Voice Cast: Masaki Suda, Suzu Hirose, Mamoru Miyano, Shintaro Asanuma

Fireworks is based on the 1993 live action TV series with the same name and produced by the producer of 2017’s Your Name. The primary story is an adolescent romance which starts from two school buddies, Norimichi and Yusuke who both have a crush on a quiet girl in class, Nazuna. Little do they know that Nazuna’s mother is planning to be remarried and she will be moving, however she has her own scheme to run away. In the moment, she places her courage to run away with whoever wins the swimming challenge she suddenly suggests using the excuse of the traditional fireworks event to go on a date with her. While Norimichi and Yusuke’s group of friends debate and bet on whether fireworks are round or flat from the side and set up to go to the light tower to settle it, the boys are caught up in being struck by whether to go on a date except there is a twist when Norimichi learns about the true abilities to turn back time from a glass ball that Nazuna had found by the ocean that morning. Here lies the central theme of this story as we take a look at what-if things were different and you could have a do-over of your choices.

Fireworks

Right from the opening credits of Fireworks, the soundtrack and animations are absolutely spectacular. Its sets the mood and tone of what is to come. The colorful world and the different filters used especially paired up with a charming story about young love and what-ifs. The twist to the normal formula is the groundhog day elements adding a  bit of science fiction to it all. There are little details like the transition of the rewind of the magical glass ball that lights up these coils which looks like the word “if”. There area few rewinds in the story and little subtle changes in the environment. One of the examples is after a rewind, there was a sketch filter over the scene for a while and it added such a beautiful detail to it. It made each rewind feel like it was in a fictional world and breaking away from reality but somehow into a wonderful alternate reality. It extends to the small things like when we see the different ways the fireworks are shown in the different possibilities. Its all these little details that make the a animation even more gorgeous to look at.

Fireworks

The story also has a lot of its charms in sharing this genuine and believable story despite all the groundhog day elements. The reason why its feels so close is in these believable teenage characters. They act like teenagers. The boys debate about silly things like whether the fireworks are round or flat and place bets on who is right as each of them believe that it can’t be the other way. Teenage boys are scared to share their feelings and when given the opportunity, they let their fear take over and run away from it. At the same time, it’s about finding the courage to do the more daring things and breaking out of the comfort zone. It is a nice dose of also seeing the different paths that the different choices would result in. All these elements make it feel like a natural teenage story.

Fireworks is a charming story in its genuine characters and the beautiful detail in every scene of the animation. It packs in a lot of adventurous moments while still having those heartwarming young romance elements. It never hits those sappy moments because the storyline also involves some family conflict as well as navigating the teenage friendships and jealousy. Fireworks finds a balance in telling a charming story packed with colorful and gorgeous animation while adding in that sci-fi element to make the what-if element blend so well together.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Napping Princess (2017)

Going to Fantasia and not checking out at least one anime or other animated films would be a pity. While some great choices slipped through because of scheduling like Senior Class, I wasn’t going to let this one go.

Napping Princess (2017)

Napping Princess

Director and writer: Kenji Kamiyama

Cast: Mitsuki Takahata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Tomoya Maeno

In the car-clogged Eastopolis, capital of the kingdom of Heartland, Princess Ancien is confined to gilded cage of sorts. Gifted with remarkable powers, she can bring the inanimate to life using a magical digital device. But she also draws to the city the Terrible Colossus, placing her father’s realm at risk. Back in the real world, it’s three days before the Tokyo Olympics of 2020, and sleepyhead Kokone awakes again from her dreams of Heartland to the realities of life in small-town Okayama. All is not well, though, as her struggling widower father has become tangled up in some sort of corporate intrigue. Soon, the divide between her reveries and the real world will begin to crumble… – Fantasia Festival

Napping Princess, also called Ancien and the Magic Tablet, is a fun and magical adventure animated feature. Straddling between reality and the dream world, a different but linked story with all the same characters come to life in an endearing and a lot of times, humorous way. Cute characters and fantastic environments and the magical kingdom being so pretty, truly makes it something of an eye candy. Napping Princess however does seem to get lost in its length a little and the final act meshes together in a way that makes it hard to follow.

The concept of Napping Princess is outstanding and this anime takes its audience for a ride both literally and figuratively. Our main character is college bound Kokone who has an awkward but close relationship with his widower father who ends up being arrested by the police because he is accused of stealing something. This takes Kokone and her school friend, Morio on a journey as they tumble and roll through one scene after the next, funnily getting through it despite the danger. Napping Princess is definitely a family friendly feature and in many ways, remains innocent. Not only is Kokone and Morio colorful but even the more subtle characters also are. Between the reality and dream sequences, many characters are portrayed differently however also a joy to watch. Even the enemy may have a secret agenda that we soon learn about by the end, however he and his goons are comedic goofballs. What makes it funnier is the fact that the audience is the smarter person here and it becomes obvious that the scenes were written as in our seats we react accordingly with disbelief of the innocent acts of revealing where Kokone is for example in a situation where she may be too trusting.

Napping Princess is an anime that aims to keep its audience on its toes as Kokone escapes and learns about her parents. While the audience gets to see a bigger picture as we can see the villain’s schemes as well as the father’s interrogation, the journey is primarily with Kokone and her friends. While the kingdom of Heartland is a steampunk world filled with mesmerizing designs and a war that is incredible to watch. The real world is in a much more personal journey. Princess Ancien may know much more about her powers and her capabilities but on the contrary, Kokone is only learning about her background as she heads off on this escape and its an adventure that takes everyone quite the turn. Plus, everyone likes an adventure with a magical bear. In this case, he’s called Joy and an adorable little thing that is Princess Ancien’s companion in the kingdom of Heartland.

While Napping Princess is a rather long anime, it does create two fun worlds: the kingdom of Heartland and the future reality of Japan in 2020. In a world of corporate schemes and a dream world of impending war from giant creatures attracted by magic, both are in danger and its all on Kokone or Princess Ancien to hatch a plan that will fix it. Its fun, entertaining and filled with lots of laughter. Its never too serious or even too dangerous even if there is a little bit of violence. With cute and colorful characters, Napping Princess is a family friendly animated feature that is altogether a fun time.