Author Topic: The "Spirited Away" Memorial Kimes Family Thanksgiving Week Miyazaki Marathon  (Read 15624 times)

oldkid

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Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro



This film is fun.  Just fun.  There’s nothing deep.  It doesn’t have a moral construct or message.  It IS, however, a great comedy action film that has a lot of laughs.

First the drawbacks.  This is the first film that Miyazaki directed and it is based on a television show.  There are a lot of characters who do silly actions and the bad guys are two dimensional in a way Miyazaki doesn’t do again (except perhaps in Castle in the Sky).  The animation is weak at best, truly deserving to be on television in the 80s.  (I just watched a couple episodes recently of Thundarr the Barbarian which I loved in high school, and the animation was really disturbing.  My nine year old was distinctly unimpressed.)  There is quite a bit of low humor and not an ounce of subtlety.



However, the humor is wry and often unexpected, even on a second watching, which makes the laughs deeper.  And the character of Lupin, the world-class thief with a heart of gold, is well- realized.  He doesn’t tell everything he’s thinking, nor is he the strong, silent type.  He fully recognizes his weakness with the confidence of a man who knows he can depend on what he’s good at. 

Also, the action sequences, especially those on the castle roofs, are occasionally breathtaking.  And fun.



This film will never be eternally classic like some other Miyazaki will.  But it is still among my overall favorites because I really enjoyed my time with it.  And sometimes, that’s more than enough.  4/5
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

oldkid

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My Neighbor Totoro



First of all, let’s make this completely clear.  Clovis should hate this movie.  It is clearly about kids and for kids.  Little kids.  Kids who understand that they have little experience of the world and are looking to adults to help explain the strangeness that they see.  But instead of giving Western or “rational” explanations, the adults go the mystical direction and give religious non-rational explanations to the reality around them.  They do so happily and sincerely, without any deceit.  And these explanations work because it matches what the children see in reality.



There is nothing about this movie that isn’t centered on the children’s experience.  The dangers and excitement are seen from the child’s perspective, and we, as adults, would experience these events differently.  For instance, when initially face-to-face with Totoro, we wouldn’t be joyfully trying to give him a name, but we would probably pee our pants.  And then apologize because we just got this thirty-foot teddy bear soaked with our pee.  That’s a bad day. 

But those watching it don’t see the situation—any of the situations—from the adults perspective.  Miyazaki completely translates the perspectives of Mei and Satsuki to whoever is watching the movie (except you, Clovis.  Sorry.).  The lack of fear in the building curiosity and joy in discovering spirits is completely realized.  And it captivates even the most hard-hearted.  My 14 year old daughter, who should be past this kind of childish movie, is enthralled by it.  Even my 17 year old son, who claims that it is “dull, second-tier Miyazaki” can’t help but sneak a peak or two when we are watching it in the dining room. 



It is an amazing film.  And it shouldn’t be.  It is clearly focused on an elementary school age audience, the story is simple—even simplistic—and nothing really dramatic happens.  My son is right.  It *should* be dull.  But it isn’t.  Not only that, it is enthralling.  Why?



First of all, it has the best of all the Miyazaki movies.  It is visually stunning, emotionally deep, in turns funny and dramatic in all the right places.  It leads one along in the most beautiful way.



Secondly, it is one of the best examples of drawing one into a child-like—but not childish—perspective ever.  Like I said above, the small female protagonists are our guides and we see everything through their eyes.



Also, like many other Miyazaki movies, almost every scene exudes emotion.  And if there was one emotion that could represent this entire film, it would be joy.  I believe that Ponyo, as filled with joy as it was, only had a fraction of the emotion this film did.  There is a tragic side to Totoro.  The girl’s mother has a debilitating illness, which occasionally collapses them with fear over her state.  But joy wins out in almost every scene.  If there was any movie that could help Corndog gather the fragments of his exploded brain and leave it quivering in ceaseless happiness, this is it.



There is no dark side to this film.  Even in the midst of the darkest, scariest night, full of large, strange creatures, there is no true fear.  Just a slight nervousness that quickly melts into laughter and smiles.



But it isn’t all emotion.  There is a very real point to this movie.  It relates to the nature theme Miyazaki has in almost all of his films—how there needs to be a balance between nature and human community.  That same theme is expressed here, but it is done in a completely religious way.  Not a spiritual way, please do not mistake my meaning.  Religious.  He is explaining the reasons for Shinto religious ceremony.  There is no lecture or conversation about religion here.  There is no glorification of church or endless ritual.  Simply a context in which religion is a normal, natural part of life.



Religious ceremony is demonstrated as a part of relationship.  The world is filled with spirits, we are told—tree spirits, river spirits, even soot sprites  (yea for the appearance of soot creatures!  Melvil must love this!).  And they key to living in any particular community is to live at peace with the spirits that surround one.  Perhaps when the Kusakabe family lived in Tokyo they didn’t have as much experience of spirits, but they move into a house that is literally filled with them.  The English dub says the house is “haunted”, but I wonder if the idea isn’t filled with spirits of nature, not ghosts in our Western tradition.  So the Kusakabe family quickly learns that to live in a house full of spirits, one must relate to them politely, as one would a neighbor.

When you move into a neighborhood, it is to the benefit of everyone to be polite and to greet neighbors with friendliness and generosity.  Even so, when you move into a neighborhood full of spirits.  There is no problem being curious about the spirits as long as you are neighborly, polite, helpful and grateful.  In this way, Miyazaki shows—rather than tells—how religious ceremony is simply being polite and grateful to one’s neighbors.



To participate with one’s neighbors in a community garden, to help each other out with a ride to the hospital when one’s family member is sick, to ease one’s fears with humor, to offer an umbrella when the rain pours down and you have an extra—these are all neighborly activities.  And if your neighbors are spirits, shouldn’t you do the same?  And if you work together, shouldn’t you be grateful?  If they do a favor for you, shouldn’t you thank them?  And if they offer you a ride, it would only be polite—as well as delightful—to accept?



Religious life, shows Miyazaki, is simply relationship, not belief.  Sure, it begins with the belief that the spirits are truly there, but religion goes the next step and says that you need to treat spirits politely, just as you would anyone else.

Recently, I had an argument with someone who took the common evangelical stance that religion and relationship with God are opposite poles.  I argued, rather, that religion in the context of relationship is wonderful.  Religion as only ritual is weak and pathetic, even harmful.  But to use the form of religion to express thanks, hope, request, joy and peace with a spirit is a wonderful thing.  A powerful thing.  Perhaps it doesn’t change the world, as a community garden might not change the world.  But it is one of the little things that makes the world go ‘round.

Umm, yeah.  I liked My Neighbor Totoro, in case you haven’t guessed.  If you didn't like it, or have a prejudice that leans you against it automatically, then you get this:



4.5/5.  I bet with another watch I will bump that up to 5. And clearly a top-tier Miyazaki.
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

oldkid

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Well, that's the end of my reviews.  I feel that I've done what I should.  Yes, I know that in all fairness, and at Bill's request, I should give Whisper of the Heart again, and I will, someday.  But that film is so different from these others that I'll post my review of that in a more conventional place.  I feel really good about this marathon, and though it's taken way longer than I thought it would, it was my pleasure not only to watch all these films again, but to force myself to write about them and so understand them better.

However, the next time I watch them all, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy.  Maybe next week.

My list of top Miyazaki films:
1.   Spirited Away
2.   Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
3.   Princess Mononoke/Howl's Moving Castle

5.   My Neighbor Totoro
6.   Castle In The Sky
7.   Ponyo
-----------------------------------------
8.   Castle of Cagalatoga
9.   Porco Rosso
10.  Kiki’s Delivery Service
11.  Whisper of the Heart
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

Corndog

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Dude! I got mentioned in that review!
"Time is the speed at which the past decays."

Bondo

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Pretty much my ordering exactly...only I'd bump Ponyo to the bottom. Can't wait to revisit his whole set again though.

ferris

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Another great review Steve!  I liked the brief nod to religion in Porco Rosso too - which also added a nice comedic element.

So did you make that little dust sprite?
"And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs" - Exodus 8:2 KJV
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oldkid

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Another great review Steve!  I liked the brief nod to religion in Porco Rosso too - which also added a nice comedic element.

So did you make that little dust sprite?

Nope, just found the pic on the net.  Thought he was cute.
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

Melvil

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Hooray, steve! I'm happy to finally hear your thoughts on the last of the Miyazaki. Great Totoro review, and yes, the soot spirits please me greatly. ;D

I still haven't seen Castle of Cagalatoga or Whisper of the Heart, but otherwise the only difference in my ranking would be to swap the last two, Kiki and Porco Rosso. It's cool to see such agreement!

oldkid

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Which would YOU put first-- Howl's or Princess?
"It's not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster." Bansky

Melvil

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Probably whichever one I watched last. ;) Right now I'm leaning Mononoke.