So, I saw that Film4 in the UK are showing all the movies from Studio Ghibli, they list that there are 24 movies in their schedule, which must add a few outside of the Studio Ghibli Feature list (of which there are 20). Seeing Studio Ghibli is one of my favourite movie studios I thought I’d write some little reviews so you know what’s coming up.
You can see the Film4 line up here. At the moment it lists Sunday 29th-Friday 3rd, and I’ll update this as they update the list (Second week listed at bottom of this post). Coming up we have:
Sunday 29th – 1pm, Spirited Away
Tuesday 31st – 2.35pm, Kiki’s Delivery Service
Wednesday 1st – 2.40pm, Arrietty
Thursday 2nd – 11am, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya; 2.20am, Little Norse Prince
Friday 3rd – 12.35pm, The Castle of Cagliostro; 1.15am, Grave of the Fireflies
So, we see from this initial list that The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) and The Little Norse Prince (1968) were made before Studio Ghibli was created in 1985.
Spirited Away – 29th July – 1pm – English Dubbed
So Film4 starts off with the highest grossing Japanese movie ever, and its most critically acclaimed release. At the 75th Academy Awards, it won the Oscar for Best animated feature, beating Ice Age and Lilo & Stitch among others.
This is the English version of Spirited Away, which was dubbed by Walt Disney Pictures under guidance from John Lasseter when he was the head of Pixar. The English script was specifically written to match the original Japanese language lip movements, which removes the usual problem of the audio looking ludicrous with unmatched animation.
With this movie Hayao Miyazaki, the Co-founder of Studio Ghibli and the master craftsman when it comes to Japanese Animation wanted to continue the experimentation with Computer Generated Animation that he had done with his previous movie Princess Mononoke. But he was still careful with its use, making sure that it enhanced the story, most cells for the movie still hand drawn and then scanned into a computer to make sure that everything was just right.
But what’s it about? Well, a young girl (Chihiro) moving away with her family to a new home take a shortcut and unknowingly enter a world that only belongs in the wildest of imaginations. Trying to describe the world that Chihiro finds herself trapped in after her parents are turned into ravenous pigs, is virtually impossible without sounding crazy. Chihiro ends up at a Bathhouse run by a Witch, meets a young boy called Haku that can shapeshift into a Dragon, brings a stink spirit that eats “people” in the bathhouse, and gets invloved with huge baby called Boh. There is so much happening in this movie, but at the same time, Miyazaki has an incredible touch with the simple things, the pauses in the action called “ma” in Japanese, (emptiness) bring you the sense that the action is unhurried, it has a perfect pacing, allowing you to fall in love with the world while marvelling at the craziness of it all.
Kiki’s Delivery Service – 31st July – 2.35pm – English Dubbed
A coming of age movie involving a 13-year-old witch who, as tradition dictates must strike out on her own and make her way in the world. Her introduction to her new town is a bit bumpy, much like her broom-riding, and her very sarcastic cat, voiced in the English version by the late, great Phil Hartman (Troy McClure of the Simpsons fame). Kiki, voiced by Kirsten Dunst, goes through the gamut of emotions of just about anyone entering a new chapter of their life in a new town, but also has to deal with something most of us don’t, being a witch. Well, as you might have guessed from the name of the movie, Kiki gets a suggestion with the great idea of starting a delivery service for the inhabitants of the town, this forces her out into the town and interact with the various town-goers. Among all the beautiful animation and the sweeping nature of Miyazaki’s storytelling is the focus on Kiki’s characterisation, her development into a young woman, her fears and feelings of being an outsider, and her eventually winning friends with the kindness and indeed bravery she shows. As is usual with Studio Ghibli, the animation in particular the backgrounds are full of character and detail, really bringing the town to life and pulling you into the movie.
Arrietty – 1st Aug – 2.40pm – English Dubbed
In the first movie here not to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki, instead, Hiromasa Yonebayashi in his first full Director role (he had been an Animator with Studio Ghibli since 1997) took the helm.
Based on Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, Arrietty is a young teenager who has been protected by her parents from the outside human world, her first real interaction with a human is Sho (Shawn in the dubbed version), the sickly son living in the same house as her. Both are drawn to each other and form a strong bond, but apart from friendship and love, the story touches on so many more aspects ranging from closeness to nature, extinction of species to what happens in many Ghibli movies, coming of age.
What the movie does so wonderfully is the small details of the world around Arrietty, the colours, so vivid and bright, the sounds, you could close your eyes and feel yourself in the movie. Another theme that is common in many Studio Ghibli movies is the lack of any real foe, no evil mastermind or villain to overcome unless you can call a crow truly evil!!
It’s a beautifully crafted movie, full of the touches that have become Ghibli and Miyazaki trademarks, even if Miyazaki didn’t direct this, he wrote the screenplay and undoubtedly oversaw a lot of the production of the movie. If you want to watch a movie that doesn’t follow the formula set down by Hollywood of baddies, explosions and violence, but instead want to indulge in beauty, friendship and nature, this is perfect.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – 2nd Aug – 11am – English Dubbed
Based on a 10th Century Japanese folk-tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Studio Ghibli left its usual bold colours and detailed vistas to create a more sketch-like feeling, very much a looking like a watercolour painting in action. This is the first movie we get to see from Isao Takahata, co-founder of the Studio, with this one we will also get to see two of his other movies, The Little Norse Prince and the wartime Graveyard of the Fireflies.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is about a bamboo cutter that discovers a tiny girl that looks like a princess, upon bringing her home she transforms into a baby, and at an astonishing rate starts to grow. As she grows up in the idyllic countryside, her “father” decides, with the discovery of gold and fabric that Takenoko (her nickname) deserves more and moves her to the city to find a suitable husband. This is where the now named Princess Kaguya is approached by a number of suitors wanting to win her hand, and she starts to feel trapped and yearns for her simple life in the countryside. It’s this yearning for her old life which draws the story on. The only issue you could have with this beautifully drawn movie is the length, with its slow pace of storytelling the 137mins can seem overly long, but to criticize the movie for a few more minutes of this superbly crafted masterpiece would be a travesty.
The Little Norse Prince – 2nd Aug – 2.20am – Japanese Audio
To give it its full translated original title The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, although it isn’t about the Egyptian version of Horus, which I guess is why there is a name change. The plot is loosely based on a Scandinavian setting, although not specified, and borrowing from various nationalities for influence so it can’t really be pinned down to a specific location, the original source being about the traditional Ainu people of Japan but changed to avoid any controversy.
Being from 1968, the movie does feel aged both from a technical aspect and in its delivery, especially when you compare it to the actual Studio Ghibli movies (remember this one was released way before Studio Ghibli was formed in 1985). The colours do feel muted, the story is very much more in the traditional premise but it is enjoyable, there are multiple story threads running through the movie, which though not in the least complicated does keep your interest.
To tie in with Studio Ghibli, this was Hayao Miyazaki’s first major movie as Chief Animator, this was also the directorial debut of Isao Takahata, who both went on to create Studio Ghibli, and so this provides a great insight into the start of these two influential movie makers.
The Castle of Cagliostro – 3rd Aug – 12.35pm English Dubbed
In 1979 Hayao Miyazaki released this movie, his directorial feature film debut also written by him with Haruya Yamazaki, it centres on Arsene Lupin III, the world’s number one thief created by Monkey Punch (pen name of the manga artist Kazuhiko Kato) and according to the him the grandson of Arsene Lupin created by French writer Maurice Leblanc in 1905.
A master of disguise, confident and remorseless, the ladies man Lupin III finds himself after stealing huge amounts of money from the casino in Monte Carlo with fake money. So, he tries to track down the source of the money which leads him to the aforementioned country of Cagliostro.
What happens from here is a fast-moving action-adventure movie with everything you could want, fight scenes, love interests, jokes and the most charismatic main character to appear in anime. Add in his two sidekicks, the samurai Goeman Ishikawa XIII and the exceptional marksman Daisuke Jigen and you have a mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones (the action apparently inspiring Steven Spielberg for his famous archaeologist).
With this first movie from Miyazaki, you can see the traits that would be recurring with Studio Ghibli films in the future, its also a nice introduction to the Lupin III character, and should encourage you to seek out more of the movies, although if you read the manga you’ll notice that the paper version of Lupin III is much harder in character, and more rough and not as likable as Miyazaki’s version. It was my first introduction to Miyazaki, but I didn’t know it at the time, but I know I loved the style of direction without knowing it led me to a lifelong fan of his.
Grave of the Fireflies – 3rd Aug – 1.15am – Japanese Audio
In the darkest and without a doubt hardest to watch movie of the first week, Isao Takahata’s gives us a movie about the human, innocent cost of war. Set in the background of the bombing of Japan in the second world war, two siblings are separated from their parents, and their struggle will give you a new way of thinking not just about animated movies, but about war and what it means to those caught in the centre of it, its a tale of the failure of heroism and the nobility in circumstances so desperate that nothing seems possible.
The late movie critic Roger Ebert said that this was “one of the greatest war films ever made.” and “Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.”
This movie centres on two children struggling to survive, but among all Studio Ghibli movies it is the least child friendly one, it is starkly powerful in its depiction of war and loss, but an important message that when you believe your child can understand the themes they should watch, it’s certainly an experience that will garner discussion and questions.
Week 2 has been announced and will be reviewed in an upcoming post, the second week films are:
Saturday 4th – 11am Arrietty; 12.55am Spirited Away
Sunday 5th – 2.35pm Kiki’s Delivery Service
Monday 6th – 11am Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; 1.25am My Neighbours the Yamadas
Wednesday 8th – 11am Ponyo
Thursday 9th – 11am Tales from Earthsea; 1.20am Grave of the Fireflies
Friday 10th – 1.10am Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind