The Wind Rises Review: An Inspirational Dream.

5 stars
Hayao Miyazaki intended to finish his directing career with his 2013 animated film The Wind Rises.
Now, while Miyazaki is actually returning to direct another film soon, this would have been a great way for him to finish because The Wind Rises is easily one of my favourite of his movies, alongside Princess Mononoke.
The film tells a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno), a plane designer during the second world war.
However, despite Jiro being a wartime plane designer, the film does not focus on this.
Instead, Miyazaki chooses to focus on Jiro’s life, his passions, his dreams, and his relationship with the love of his life Naoko (Miori Takimoto).

jiro and naoko
The way the film focuses on Jiro’s life, especially his relationship with Naoko is really well done.

This could have easily ended badly, with the film sweeping what Jiro’s planes were used for during the war under the rug.
Thankfully, this is not the route Miyazaki took as the planes’ use in war is fully acknowledged, yet Jiro’s success in making his “beautiful dream” into a reality is also portrayed as a departure from this.
It is also in these dreams that we see Jiro interacting with his hero and inspiration, Giovanni Battista Caproni (Nomura Mansai).
The bond Jiro has with his mentor, even if this bond is only his head, is very touching, with Caproni delivering many inspirational lines.

The Wind Rises
Jiro’s bond with his dream version of Caproni leads to many touching and meaningful quotes.

Just as touching is Jiro’s relationship with Naoko and the struggles they experience with her illness.
This creates a moving ending that is tear inducing and leaves you sad yet satisfied.
Other great aspects about The Wind Rises include its animation, sound design, and score.
Being a Studio Ghibli film, the animation is once again stellar but it is the sound design and score that really drew my attention upon watching it.
A lot of the sound effects are actually created vocally, with people making the sound for planes and other features.
This could have easily come off as silly but it somehow works completely.

The decision to have people make the sounds of the planes was a stroke of genius on Miyazaki’s part.

And then there is the score by Joe Hisashi which, along with his score from Princess Mononoke, may be my favourite score in any Studio Ghibli film.
The Wind Rises is a fantastic film and one of Hayaok Miyazaki’s best.
I am truly glad he is returning to direct his new film How Do You Live?
The Wind Rises is an emotionally compelling film with a great story, animation, soun design score, and some inspirational quotes like, “The wind is rising. We must try to live.”

Ponyo Review: Miyazaki’s The Little Mermaid.

3 and a half stars
Have you ever wondered how Disney films would be if they were turned into anime?
Well, wonder no longer because Hayao Miyazaki’s 2008 film, Ponyo, is basically an anime version of The Little Mermaid.
Okay, in all honesty that’s probably simplifying things a little to much because, despite reminding me of The Little Mermaid, with its similar plot, the two films are very different.
Miyazaki’s film follows the titular Ponyo (Yuria Nara), a goldfish that is the daughter of a sea wizard (George Tokoro) and a sea goddess (Yūki Amami), who runs away from her overbearing father, only to be rescued by a five-year-old boy, Sōsuke (Hiroki Doi).
Upon being taken away by her father, Ponyo decides she wants to stay with Sōsuke so uses magic to transform herself into a human and goes to live with him.
And this is where The Little Mermaid similarities end, as Ponyo then follows the effect her decision has on Sōsuke’s seaside town, although not enough in my opinion.
This is one of my problems with Ponyo as it makes a point to depict what happens because of her going to live with Sōsuke but kind of ignores the consequences.
If this had happened in real life it would have been disastrous but the characters all act like it is just an everyday occurrence.

pony becomes human real
How nobody ended up dying in a tsunami Ponyo causes is a mystery to me.

It was also not made very clear why some of the apparently world ending stuff was about to happen because of Ponyo’s decision.
Also, everyone in the film seems oddly accepting of her once being a fish.
I know this film is primarily directed towards children but these plot holes and inconsistencies really bothered me while watching it.
Still, these issues did not ruin the film because Ponyo is still a lot of fun.
The animation and music are great, as with all of Myazaki’s films and the characters are all likeable.

grouchy toki
There are a lot of fun side characters in Ponyo like the elderly Toki (Kazuko Yoshiyuki).

Ponyo is also really funny as well, with a few of the jokes that came towards the end leaving me in stitches.
I also liked the bond between Ponyo and Sōsuke, which was really sweet.
Overall, I would say Ponyo is the weakest Miyazaki film that I have seen so far.
However, this says a lot about the quality of his films, considering I still consider his weakest to be a good film.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Review: Pants or no Pants?

4 stars
Made before the creation of Studio Ghibli, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s first films, and foreshadows many of the themes that would appear in his future ones.
The story takes place on a post-apocalyptic earth where humanity is in a state of constant war, either with the giant bug-like Ohm from the Sea of Decay, or with each other.
Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto) is a princess living in the Valley of the Wind who hopes for peace, communicating with the Sea of Decay and the Ohm in search of a solution.
However, her attempts for peace are quickly shattered by an invading army that gets her peaceful valley embroiled in the wars that plague the landscape.
From here, the story kicks off with Nausicaä trying to put an end to the fighting, interacting with numerous characters on all sides of the conflict, revealing the films themes about the horrors of war and environmentalism.
These would later become staple themes for Miyazaki.
Nausicaä herself is a pretty great protagonist with some especially enjoyable moments towards the end of the film.
My favourite character though would have to be Lord Yupa (Goro Naya), a wise and respected warrior and adventurer who, although serving a minor role, steals every scene he is in.

Lord Yupa is a cool character and I wish he had got more screen time. 

As for the animation of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, it is great for 1984, laying a template for what Studio Ghibli would go to create.
The film does have a couple of issues though, mainly with the Giant Warrior and the Tolmeikan.
The Giant Warrior is hyped up for quite a bit of the film and, while it does serve a role thematically, its presence at the end is incredibly minor, despite all of its buildup.
As for the Tolmeikan, their actions during the credits scene left me pretty confused, especially in how some of the crimes they commit in the film is never really addressed again.
Also, the film makes a point of introducing an animal companion for Nausicaä but it has no point other than being cute.
And then there is Nausicaä’s character design, oh boy.
I remember my jaw dropping in the first twenty minutes of the film when the wind blew her skirt up to reveal her bare bottom for all the world to see!
Thankfully, after doing some research, it does appear that Nausicaä is actually wearing pants.
They are just the exact same color as her skin and have a butt impression, so, whenever we get a low angle shot of her, it appears she is wearing nothing under her skirt when she actually is.
However, I had no idea about this when watching the film so there were numerous times when her skirt flew up that left me feeling pretty uncomfortable.

butt pants
See? Her pants look exactly like her skin!

Why they didn’t change the coloring of her pants is baffling to me because, even knowing this, it ruins some scenes because of what it looks like.
Despite these issues though, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is still a very well done anime film that laid the groundwork for the fantastic films Miyazaki would make in the future.


Howl’s Moving Castle Review: Strong Beginning, Confusing Ending.

4 stars
Hayao Miyazaki obviously has a strong liking for steampunk films, as shown by Castle in The Sky, and fantasy stories, as can be seen with his films My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.
Well, with his 2004 anime Howl’s Moving Castle, he merges these two genres to create an interesting tale about a young woman named Sophie (Chieko Baisho) who, while living in a steampunk world, is cursed to look like an old woman by the Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa) after encountering the mysterious wizard, Howl (Takuya Kimura).
Searching for a cure, she is reunited with Howl, his apprentice Markl (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a demon named Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashuin), and a living scarecrow, and goes on numerous adventures with them in Howl’s titular moving castle.

sophie and howl
On her journey, Sophie encounters many weird and magical things, with Howl at the center.

The beginning of Howl’s Moving Castle is strong, with the characters and world being introduced well, and the inciting incident of Sophie being turned into an old woman set up as being essential to the plot.
Not only this but the combination of fantasy and steampunk in this world is fascinating because of how it shows the magical and the technological interacting.
The animation that shows off these various technologies and magic spells is incredibly well done, as I was in awe at the first shot of Howl’s Castle.
Along with this, the characters are also likeable, although I will say that the romance between Sophie and Howl does not exactly feel right.
The setup for it is there with their first meeting but their following interactions never really gave me the feeling that they were falling in love.
Despite not really getting a romantic vibe though, I still did like Sophie and Howl’s interactions, along with a lot of the other character interactions, especially Sophie’s conversations with the silent, living scarecrow.

The friendship between Sophie and the scarecrow was something I enjoyed, which was surprising because the scarecrow doesn’t talk.

However, I will say that the way the scarecrows story ended felt extremely abrupt.
And this is really my big problem with Howl’s Moving Castle, the third act.
Many of the plot points in this act left me thoroughly confused.
For example, as I said, the inciting incident of the film is Sophie being turned into an old woman.
But, she seems to change between old and young across the film and this is strangely never addressed by the other characters or the plot.
By the end, I assumed it had something to do with love, or night, or a combination of the two but I don’t really know.
Not only this but the direction the story goes gets really confusing as well with, of all things, time travel being introduced and it is never explained how that happens.

time travel
I don’t know how time travel became a plot point in this story but it was very abrupt.

Howl’s Moving Castle also has a villain problem, what with the main threat being setup as the Witch of the Waste, before this is undermined and a seemingly new villain takes the stage, only for this new villain to be absent for the rest of the film.
From the midpoint to the end, the film slowly devolves to the point that I was dissatisfied with the ending.
This is not to say I disliked Howl’s Moving Castle, on the contrary I still think it is a very well done film what with the way it begins, the brilliant way it mixes steampunk with fantasy, and the animation.
But, the plot slowly begins to unravel as the film goes on, until it gets genuinely confusing to the point that I thought the story could have been handled better.
I would still recommend Howl’s Moving Castle though because of its numerous good qualities.

Kiki’s Delivery Service Review: How to Make a Delivery Service Interesting.

4 stars
Hayao Miyazaki keeps delivering gem after gem with each of his films that I watch.
I have watched Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and the masterpiece Princess Mononoke, since these films were released on Netflix.
Each of these films provide an epic fantasy or steampunk world for the viewer to get interested in.
The exception to this is Kiki’s Delivery Service, where the focus, as the title suggests, is on a delivery service.
That is not to say there is no fantasy in the film because there most certainly is, as the star of the film is Kiki (Minami Takayama), a witch who, as the coming of age tradition of witches dictates, travels to a new area to help the inhabitants.

kiki chaos
Kiki’s journey may be a traditional for witches but the situations she gets into are anything but.

Settling in the seaside city of Koriko, Kiki discovers the citizens are not quite used to witches so decides to start a delivery service to help the people and support herself.
Accompanied by her cat Jiji (Rei Sakuma), Kiki meets a wide assortment of interesting characters and goes on quite a few adventures in her new environment, taking the seemingly mundane job of a delivery service woman and transforming it into something magical.
Along with Kiki, the film has more interesting characters like the pregnant baker who takes her in (Keiko Toda), a kind grandmother whose grandchild simply does not deserve her (Haruko Kato), and a young boy who Kiki is in equal parts annoyed and intrigued by (Kappei Yamaguchi).

ursula's art
My favourite character that Kiki interacts with though, is definitely the eccentric, woodland artist Ursula (also voice by Takayama) who helps Kiki in her development as a witch. 

But it is Kiki who truly shines, as her relationships with these characters culminate in an entertaining finale, where her character development truly shines.
A slice of life anime film that delivers plenty of heart warming and funny moments, Kiki’s Delivery Service is another good film by Hayao Miyazaki.

Princess Mononoke Review: My Favorite Studio Ghibli Film.

5 stars
Have you ever watched an anime, no, a film that grips you right from the beginning and has you entranced all the way to the end?
Well, this was my experience watching Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 anime film Princess Mononoke, two days ago.
I knew right after watching it that it was my favourite Studio Ghibli film so far, and I have been constantly thinking about it since then.
Set in the Muromachi era of Japan, the film centers around Ashitaka (Yoji Matsuda), a young prince who is cursed by a demon that attacks his village.
Instructed by the wise woman of his people, Ashitaka sets out on a journey with his faithful red elk, Yakul, to potentially find a cure for his deadly affliction.

ashitaka and yakul
I liked the bond that was displayed between Ashitaka between Yakul on their adventure.

From here, Ashitaka is pulled into a conflict between the spirits, who watch over the forest, and the humans of Iron Town, lead by Lady Eboshi (Yuko Tanaka).
Among the spirits is a girl named San (Yuriko Ishida), the titular Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf spirit, and has vowed to kill Eboshi.
What I love about this story is how there really is no bad guy.
Both sides of the conflict, that Ashitaka gets caught up in, view the other as evil but both sides also have their own flaws and virtues.
This is a film about perspectives, with Ashitaka stuck in the middle, trying to mediate between the two groups.

San vs Eboshi
Both sides of the battle, whether it be human or spirit, have reasons for what they are doing and it makes their conflict incredibly compelling.

With its focus on nature, Princess Mononoke could have very easily gone the typical environmentalist message route which, while there is nothing wrong with that, has been done quite a lot.
Instead, Princess Mononoke takes a stance on environmentalism I cannot remember seeing before, about hatred and the need for mutual dialogue.
The consequences of not attempting dialogue is apparent through the violence of the movie, which is uncharacteristic for a Studio Ghibli film.
This violence is enhanced by the glorious animation, which had me riveted from the very beginning.
Everything from the action, with its flawless editing, to the slower moments, where we look on in awe, is so well animated.
I was also amazed at how much of it is hand drawn.
It must have taken a lot of effort to get done and the animators deserve so all of the praise for their hard work.

The animation never failed to take my breath away in Princess Mononoke.

Then there is the music, which is fantastic, serving to enhance the brilliant animation and, in turn, the story and the characters.
Princess Mononoke is a masterpiece.
It is now, not only my favourite Studio Ghibli film so far, but one of my favourite anime films as well.

Spirited Away Review: Masterful But Not Quite a Masterpiece.

4 and a half stars
When you think of Studio Ghibli, what immediately comes to mind?
I am pretty sure that at least 90% of you instantly thought of Spirited Away, the 2001 Hayao Miyazaki film that is hailed as being one of the greatest anime of all time.
I remember watching Spirited Away once when I was very little, but I had not watched it since then so the film was definitely a new experience for me, going in.
And what did I think?
Well, Spirited Away is certainly a masterful film but I would not call it a masterpiece.
The hero of this story is the young Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), who is thrust into a magical world full of Yokai, when her parents are transformed into pigs.
She must then find a way to save her parents and get back to the real world, all while working at a Yokai bathhouse; a strange combination, I know.

no face
Chihiro meets a lot of strange and interesting spirits on her journey.

What’s striking about Spirited Away is its amount of creativity, with multiple interesting Yokai that lead to entertaining interactions between them and Chihiro.
This includes the Yokai No Face (Akio Nakamura) and, in particular, a foul smelling river spirit, in a scene that provided some big laughs through Chihiro and the witch Yubaba’s (Mari Natsuki) facial expressions.

Chihiro and Yubaba
The river spirit scene is definitely my favourite of the film because of how funny it is.

Speaking of Yubaba, I thought that the witch would be the villain of the film, however, much like Dola from Castle in The Sky, she turned out to be a far more complex and interesting individual than I first thought.
Another surprise for me is the connection to another Miyazaki filmwith the soot Yokai from My Neighbor Totoro making an appearance.
What was not a surprise though, because of how much praise the film has had, is how emotional the story gets at times.
This is mostly achieved through the great voice acting of Rumi Hiiragi as Chihiro.
Along with this, the animation is also solid as it contributes greatly to the emotion of the film.

The animation of Spirited Away is well done, with a lot of striking visuals.

But, like I said, I do not think Spirited Away is perfect.
In my opinion, a certain storyline about the character of Haku (Miyu Irino) felt rushed and some characters befriend Chirhiro way too quickly, since they were antagonizing her a few minutes before.
It these kinds of things that keep Spirited Away from being a masterpiece, in my mind.
It is still an excellent film though, and I would probably rank it as on par with Castle in The Sky as the best Studio Ghibli film I have seen so far.

My Neighbor Totoro Review: Fun Slice of Life for the Family.

4 stars
One of Studio Ghibli’s most well known films, My Neighbor Totoro has become so iconic that the titular giant, cuddly spirit, Totoro, has become synonymous with the studio.
So, with its fame, it was naturally the next Ghibli film I had to watch after the fantastic Castle in the Sky.
And, while I liked Castle in the Sky more, My Neighbor Totoro is still a good film for very different reasons.
Once again directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the film follows two of the probably most energetic kids ever animated, sisters Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto), who move with their father (Tatsuo Kusakabe) to the countryside to be near their sick mother, who is in a hospital.
There, they come across many friendly spirits, most notable of which is, of course, Totoro (Hitoshi Takagi).

kids and totoro
Upon meeting Totoro, Satsuki and Mei get involved in a lot of hijinks.

What follows is a slice of life film that is full of plenty of laughs and feel good moments.
This is much more tame and kid oriented compared to Castle in the Sky, not that there’s anything wrong with it because a lot of the child friendly humor had me chuckling.
Honestly, I found the kids reactions to the spirits to be the best part of the film.
The scene where Satsuki first meets Totoro at a bus stop in the rain is quite humorous in how she reacts to seeing the big guy.

Probably the most famous scene of the film, the bus stop scene, is also the best part of the film.

The animation is also solid, although I did feel the story took a while to actually get going, even if I was entertained by the character interaction.
But, once Totoro is finally introduced, the film picks up with plenty of heart warming moments.
I have to ask though, did anyone else get a little creeped out by the giant cat bus, or was it just me?
Jokes aside, My Neighbor Totoro is another solid Studio Ghibli film, with the iconic character of Totoro bringing a lot of highlights.

Castle in the Sky Review: The First Indicator of Studio Ghibli’s Greatness.

4 and a half stars
With many of Studio Ghibli’s films having come to Netflix, I figured that now was the perfect time to watch them for the first time.
And what better film to start with than the studio’s first film, Castle in the Sky?
Directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki, the 1986 film follows two children, Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka) and Sheeta (Keiko Yokozawa) on their journey to find Laputa, the legendary floating island.
With Sheeta being pursued by both the military and a family of pirates, Pazu vows to protect her, and thus begins an adventure that is a magical experience.
Despite being decades old, the animation of Castle in the Sky is still great, with the OP using an art style that is unique compared to the rest of the film and really stands out.

Op castle in the sky
Castle in the Sky has a lot of excellent animation moments, especially in the OP.

Other outstanding animation moments include the reveal of Laputa itself and a particular shootout during the film’s midpoint.
Along with the animation, the characters are also especially endearing.
Pazu and Sheeta are both relatable and you root for them the whole way through.
But my favourite character is definitely Dola (Kotoe Hatsui), the leader of the pirates pursuing Sheeta.
Originally, I thought she would turn out to be a one dimensional antagonist but this perception was quickly proven wrong when she took on an unexpected role in the story that made her all the more likeable.

Dola appeared to be a one note villain upon her introduction but quickly became the film’s most likeable character, for me.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the main villain, Muska (Minori Terada), who is as one dimensional as they come.
Thankfully, the other characters are nowhere near as bad, with even some of the side characters having stand out moments, like Pazu’s boss.
Overall, Castle in the Sky is a very enjoyable film with great animation for the time, an interesting plot and memorable characters.

Pazu and Sheeta
All in all, Castle in the Sky was a great film for Studio Ghibli to start off with, as it serves as an indication of the quality films to come.

I cannot wait to watch the rest of the Studio Ghibli films on Netflix, which you can expect to see my reviews of after I watch them.