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.