Summer of Anime

Chapter 6: The Place Promised in Our Early Days

Director: Makoto Shinkai and Yoshio Suzuki
Year: 2004
Synopsis: Set over several years in an alternate history where the Soviet Union occupies half of Japan, the film follows two childhood friends who grow apart after one of their friends disappears; as international tension rises and a mysterious tower built by the Union starts replacing matter around it with matter from other universes, they cross paths once again and realize their missing friend might be the key to save the world.

One Word Takeaway: Multiple

If there’s a movie that inspired the Summer of Anime for me, it’s the 2016 feature YOUR NAME directed by Makoto Shinkai. As we may have alluded to on our episode here at Feelin’ Film, Shinkai feels like the Christopher Nolan of the world of anime, mixing emotional depth inside sci-fi driven narratives.

In his feature film debut, co-directed by Yoshio Suzuki, Shinkai seems to be finding his footing in what we come to experience with YOUR NAME. There are a lot of similarities between YOUR NAME and EARLY DAYS, but what stands out the most is the need, for better or for worse, to revisit them a second time before finalizing my opinion. I did this for EARLY DAYS, and at the end of my second viewing, I was honestly no closer to forming a definitive reaction to how I felt.

What’s comfortable about EARLY DAYS is the familiarity of things echoed in YOUR NAME. No one can deny how stunning the visual storytelling is from the beautiful and vibrant animation. Each scene just looks amazing, worthy of a framed picture on a wall.  Shinkai also embeds themes of intimate connectivity between his characters and the struggle of finding that connectivity again after it has been severed, all within the confines of an intriguing sci-fi premise.

What I found uncomfortable about EARLY DAYS was the heaviness of the sci-fi, getting beyond my understanding of what was going on. It bordered on the sci-fi world of Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR in terms of its complexity (another film worthy of multiple viewings). There were times when the sci-fi felt too complex, almost to a point of being distracting. At the same time, I want to see it again, if for no other reason, than to enjoy what I did the first two times, as well as understand more of what I missed.

This will be a movie I’ll need to go to the interwebs for after my next viewing, but it will get watched again. In Shinkai I trust (even if it takes three watches to get it).


Chapter 5: Tokyo Godfathers

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 2003
Synopsis: On Christmas Eve, three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo find a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents.

One Word Takeaway: Unconventional

Honestly, I’m not intending this to become a Summer of Satoshi Kon. That’s just how the chronology and film picks are shaping up. By my numbers, I think I have one more to go but that’s not for a couple of movies down the line.

This is probably the most straight forward of Kon’s narratives, but it isn’t without its uniqueness. As an aspiring storyteller, I was reminded of how stories don’t have to be complicated to be good. They just have to be told in a refreshing way. It’s a simple story, following three homeless people, an alcoholic, a runaway teenager, and a homosexual, all living together on the streets. One Christmas Eve, they discover an abandoned baby and through this discovery, we as an audience find out more about their individual past lives and how they are connected. While the main plot centers around an abandoned child who is initially adopted and loved on by these individuals, it becomes a story that amplifies those themes within each of our protagonists. We find out more about all three of these characters, why they are where they are, and how abandonment, adoption, and ultimately an unconventional love plays it’s part to connect them together.

Though I liked the story, I found the animation to be along the lines of typical anime, with wide open mouths and over-expressions. I’m realizing that’s not a character trait I dig in this genre, but it didn’t deter my enjoyment of this movie.


Chapter 4: Millennium Actress

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 2001
Synopsis: The story of two documentary filmmakers investigating the life of a retired acting legend. As she tells them the story of her life, the difference between reality and cinema becomes blurred.

One Word Takeaway: Motivation

If there is one thing I can say after two installments of Satoshi Kon’s work, it’s that he had one of the most creative ways of crafting his narrative. In some ways this was a serious departure from his previous film PERFECT BLUE, but in others it feels completely consistent in MILLENIUM ACTRESS. It is  incredibly purposeful, in that he doesn’t want to just tell you a story. He wants you to feel like you are part of the story. And in this film, he takes that to a literal level. What starts out as TV interviewer Genya Tachibana and his camera man Kyoji Ida talking to seasoned actress Chiyoko Fujiwara about her career, soon becomes an emotional and imaginative participation in that career.

We start with a simple camera and light pointed at her on a couch as she begins her story, then we move into flashbacks with Tachibana and Kyoji watching and filming documentary style, and soon after we see Tachibana fully participating in these memories as a character in these films she is recounting. It’s a wonderful way to show us the history of Chiyoko’s career, but also how much it meant to Tachibana, as we find out later why that is.

But the most interesting thing about this movie for me is the answer to a question it asks early on through Tachibana. How did Fujiwara begin such a long and successful career? It is through a chance encounter with a mysterious man, seemingly on the run from authorities, whom she befriends and hides. After his escape, she finds out that he is heading to Manchuria, and she uses an acting opportunity (discouraged earlier in the film by her mother) to find him. This moment begins what I believe is the overall motivation for her successful career, that pursuit of love over the course of 30 plus years. It is such a beautiful way to capture. The whole movie wraps up in a way that feels incredibly complete, and in some ways brutally satisfying (if that’s even possible).

After watching this film, I’m excited to see if the Satoshi Kon narrative creativity continues.


Chapter 3: Perfect Blue

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 1997
Synopsis: A retired pop singer turned actress’ sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past.

One Word Takeaway: Blur

I wrestled with my one-word takeaway for this film, because it was difficult to sum up exactly how I felt after watching it. There are a handful of movies that get the “watch this once and move on” stamp from me, not because they are bad, but because the subject matter is so intense and moving that if watched multiple times, could lessen the impact it has. It is also incredibly hard to watch. PERFECT BLUE will live in the same category of other films such as AMERICAN HISTORY X, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and CRASH. It’s a solid  film because of its depiction of what happens when a person, so bent on changing her image, will do whatever it takes to do so, and the gritty animation with it’s muted color palette helps accent the tone of the overall story. At the same time, there are moments in the movie that are hard to stomach. Rape is depicted and there are two to three lingering moments of violent murders, all of which contribute to the intentional discomfort the movie is trying to articulate.

What I think the movie does really well is use the storytelling device of the unreliable narrator. The lines of reality and fantasy are blurred through the eyes of the main character, and it’s difficult (sometimes to a fault) to know what’s real and what isn’t. As an audience I need to have some kind of assurance by the end of the story that I know what’s real and what isn’t. While I feel like there is some closure here, I’m mostly left wondering.

Overall, it’s hard to say if I would recommend this movie. On one hand, it’s a solid piece of storytelling, and one that uses the style of anime in a way that rivals cerebral procedural crime dramas. At the same time, the elements of rape and violence that are depicted aren’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not one that will be on my radar in the near future.


Chapter 2: Whisper of the Heart

Director: Yoshifumi Kondō
Year: 1995
Synopsis: Based on the manga with the same title, this animated film follows Shizuku, an inquisitive young girl and a voracious reader, who longs to be a writer when she grows up. One day she notices that all of her library books have previously been taken out by one Seiji Amasawa. Amid chasing after a large cat, befriending an eccentric antiques dealer and writing her first novel, Shizuku aims to find this mysterious boy who may well be her soul mate.

One Word Takeaway: Risk

WHISPER OF THE HEART feels like a story in two parts. In one way, it’s a story of a young girl growing up, like many kids, trying to figure out who she wants to be and what she wants to do with her life. At the same time, it also has an almost forced romantic feel to it, in her unintentional pursuit of finding this mystery person whose name has been in all of the library books she checks out. What I connected with the most was the seeing how Shizuku, through a variety of experiences, learns that she has two choices when it comes to her writing. She can continue to dream and be a lover of this “idea” that one day she will be a great writer, but never actually realize that out of fear or discomfort. Or she can take a risk, knowing she will probably fail, only to continue to get better.

Actively making a choice, and risking failure, exists in anyone who has a big idea. This film is a good reminder that we should take risks, and have permission to fail. It’s because of this resonating theme that I feel like the other half of the film, her relationship with Seiji, feels forced, at least in parts. There are some wonderful moments between them and in different instances he acts as a sort of inspiration for her to think about what could be. The romantic slant that exists feels out of place and doesn’t really serve what I consider the more important aspects of the story.

Overall though, it’s a really enjoyable film.


Chapter 1: Grave of the Fireflies

Director: Isao Takahata
Year: 1988
Synopsis:The story of Seita and Satsuko, two young Japanese siblings, living in the declining days of World War II. When an American firebombing separates the two children from their parents, the two siblings must rely completely on one another while they struggle to fight for their survival.

One Word Takeaway: Abrupt

The story of Seita and Satsuko is one that needs to be heard. So often I find myself exposed to stories of war and all I hear are numbers and statistics. It’s difficult to think about mass casualties because there aren’t faces with those numbers. This film gives me context into the lives of people who are affected by war while not being directly connected to it. It challenges me to connect emotionally to these two characters who, while not real, represent a group of people that were exposed to the harshness of World War II on the other side of the world. It disrupts my life for an hour or two, making me uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing.

It’s a tragic story for sure, but that’s one of the things that separates it from most other anime. As Roger Ebert said, “Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation…..[it] is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated.”


Prologue: What’s This All About

Anime has always been one of those genres that I usually avoid. Until a couple of years ago, it was seen as this obscure foreign animation where the characters had exaggerated facial expressions and actions, and the stories were generally seen as bordering on the quirky and fantastical. To get me acclimated, I was introduced to Hayao Miyazaki, as he is typically seen as the standard for what really great Anime is. Since then, I’ve not stepped out of that comfort zone, with the exception of specific recommendations by friends or the occasional subject of an episode of Feelin’ Film. Which brings me here.

This summer I’ve decided to take a look at about a dozen highly regarded anime films from a breadth of directors and time periods. My goal, less about seeing as many as I can, is more about finding out what appeals to me, what surprises me, and what kind of connection I can have to each film.

Be sure to check back for the latest review. Enjoy!


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and two pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

MOVIE REVIEW: Lu Over the Wall

LU OVER THE WALL (2018)

1 Hour and 52 Minutes (PG)

Lu Over the Wall is the newest animated feature from visionary anime director Masaaki Yuasa, and tells the story of a small fishing village that is impacted by the appearance of a mermaid who comes ashore to join a middle-school band. It’s a twist on the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid and features elements that will remind viewers of other films, too – specifically Miyazaki’s Ponyo, Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, and the under-seen musical hit Sing Street. Yes, it’s a little bit insane. But while these references seem similar on the surface, Yuasa’s film forges its own path and becomes some entirely unique.

The biggest thing that sets Yuasa apart from other anime giants like Miyazaki, Shinkai, and Takahata is the animation style. Visually striking and lavishly colorful in the present, it melts into an older style of animation when characters recall the past. The animation is also very busy and moves fast. At times it can be so frantic that it’s hard to follow and feels like you’re staring into a rapidly spinning kaleidoscope. Always, though, it provokes a sense of joy and wonder. Full of character designs like you’ve never seen before (mer-dogs!), if it doesn’t give you a headache the art style will most certainly captivate you and hold your attention.

As for the story, Lu’s friendship with Kai and his middle-school rock band Siren is at the center of the narrative. In this world, mermaids are attracted to music. Naturally, not everyone in the village likes mermaids. While some want to use their existence for profit in the tourist industry, others want to kill them all, and a select religious few wish to live in harmony alongside them. The conflict arises out of these differing opinions, but relational issues exists between Lu and her bandmates as well. This is where the heart of the film lies and the way it tackles feelings of depression, friendship, love, and chasing dreams is beautifully woven into this fantastical tale. That being said, for the most part it keeps things light, but there are elements of the plot that deal with some tougher emotions. In trying to juggle quite a few sideplots the film does seem to get away from Yuasa and perhaps go on a bit long.

VERDICT

Lu Over the Wall is a great reminder of why we watch movies. Yuasa is a director willing to take chances and it is exciting to participate in a cinematic experience like that. This is a beautiful film, overflowing with cuteness, and filled with solid positive messages. It is also a musical that will have you humming along and tapping your feet whether you fully follow the plot or not. Unforgettable animation is rare, but Lu Over the Wall is just that and therefore is a must-see experience.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 041: Grave of the Fireflies/Mary and the Witch’s Flower

In this special minisode, we kick-off Patrick’s “Summer of Anime” movie challenge by confronting the late Isao Takahata’s masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies. But to lighten things up, we also have a short and entirely spoiler-free review of the first feature film from Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. 

Mary and the Witch’s Flower Spoiler-Free Review – 0:03:53

Grave of the Fireflies Review – 0:15:27


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Minisode 033: Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)

For this special minisode we are covering a film that blew us away on our first viewings, but we’ve patiently waited for it to be released on Blu-ray so that more would have the chance to see it before we had this discussion. Your Name, directed by Makoto Shinkai, is the story of a star-crossed boy and girl, perhaps destined to forever yearn for a meeting that will never come, connected across space and time by an unexplainable magic and framed against the backdrop of an but is also technically marvelous in both visuals and sound. We hope you enjoy this conversation on one of our anime favorites.

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Intro/Outro Music – “School Road” and “Date” by RADWIMPS

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BONUS: Tokyo Ghoul S1

This is a re-release of an episode that was recorded for the now defunct podcast Feelin’ Film Plus. We had a conversation about the first season of the anime Tokyo Ghoul and wanted it to be available for you. The show presents a world in which humans must co-exist with a race of human-like creatures who require flesh for sustenance. As you can imagine there are plenty of ethical questions to discuss and we do our best to consider them justly.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Episode 1: Tokyo Ghoul S1

We kick-off Feelin’ Film Plus with a conversation about the first season of anime Tokyo Ghoul. The show presents a world in which humans must co-exist with a race of human-like creatures who require flesh for sustenance. As you can imagine there are plenty of ethical questions to discuss.

Emmanuel Noisette

Twitter – @EmansReviews
Website: http://www.emansmoviereviews.com

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Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

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or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Episode 053: Frailty

This week we give Bill Paxton one more tribute by talking about his incredible directorial debut and performance in Frailty. This thriller/horror film has deep religious themes and a story that is difficult to watch, but is brilliant in its execution. We dissect the choices made, and how we ultimately view its ambiguous ending, among many other aspects of this truly special movie.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:15

(Patrick – Chalet Girl)

(Aaron – Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan, Your Name, Persona 5)

Frailty Review – 0:19:16

The Connecting Point – 1:12:59

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!