When today’s youth approaches the world of Japanese filmmaking, the most ubiquitous name is not Kurosawa, nor Ozu, nor Mizoguchi, but Miyazaki, the marvelous maestro guiding his Stuido Ghibli toward the clouds lifting up human imagination, and particularly childhood emotion, rendered sublime. It’s perhaps fitting that Miyazaki has taken up the mantel, for he combines the best of the past into a whole equal parts grandiose and sweeping (Kurosawa), spiritually elegiac (Ozu), and mournfully mythic (Mizoguchi). It seems inappropriate to discuss Japanese cinema without him, and it seemed inappropriate to not take the opportunity to review his two most achingly personal, most emotionally pure movies. That the two were released simultaneously in a theatrical double-bill, and that they are linked by so many diegetic features only to be as tonally opposite as any two films ever were, is an all the more fascinating testament to Miyazaki’s exploration of humanity at its most unrestrained and least affected.
My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is at its best when it is at its simplest, which thankfully is every single frame of every single scene in the whole film. It is a deeply streamlined work, lacking superfluous event to the point where it is almost non-narrative in its impression of childhood amazement. The narrative mostly boils down to eight year old Satsuki (Hidaka Noriko) and her, for lack of a better term, adventures in the forest next to her new rural home. Continue reading →
(as another quintessentially modern, 21st century technology)
Original (Edited) Review:
The Wind Rises carries a lot of baggage. It is director Hayao Myazaki’s retirement film, if he is to be trusted, and thus will inevitably be compared to every film he’s ever made and hampered with the impression of future films left unmade. My usual rule of thumb would indicate to divorce the film from Miyazaki’s history and view it on its own terms. While there’s ample reason to take this path, such a take would also do this film a disservice. Not only is this a strong film in its own right, but it’s a telling and touching commentary on Miyazaki’s career as a whole, and thus it invites the comparison.
Although a biography of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese inventor famed for his prototype Mitsubishi A5M, it’s easy to see the film as a confessional of sorts for Miyazaki as he comes to terms with his own career in filmmaking and the dangers of the medium for the world. While the director’s films usually approximate dreams and desire, this is a surprisingly straight-forward piece, and the surprising pre-release comparisons to the classic epics of David Lean reveal themselves not only worthy but perfectly fit to this grand but personal film about art and consequences that uses the director’s flair for visual storytelling as much as conventional dialogue to tell its story. It isn’t perfect, and it is difficult not to wish for something a touch more ebullient and deconstructive for his final film. But conventional quality is quality nonetheless, especially in a film which so quietly, so sedately, and so rigorously meditates on and appreciates the necessity of sturdy, incremental improvement and diligence within a chosen field, all while eyeing – in its periphery, admittedly – the tragedy such a (potentially) blinkered focus may emit into the world. Continue reading →