Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dipping My Toes in Anime: My Neighbour Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle


There's nothing like setting up little challenges like this in order to get the job done! After having a month filled with French New Wave films, I'm onto something that might be a little happier - Anime films. Now this is one giant gaping hole in my movie knowledge, because before I decided to take on this challenge, I had only seen one anime film. Which is a little sad. But there's no time like the present to change all of that, so here are my takes on My Neighbour Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle...


I really don't know how to start off my review of My Neighbour Totoro other than by saying this: I wish I had watched this movie when I was a kid. There's something about the sheer fantastical nature of it that got right into the little kiddie spot that's still reserved in my heart and tugged on it for the whole time. I mean, how could you not feel all mushy inside from it? There is so much mushy-ness! Like:
-Mei, the younger sister, who I seriously want as my kid. She's just the cutest little ball of innocent youth that I've ever seen.
-Totoro! I must admit, I used to have make-believe characters as my friends when I was a kid. Totoro was the figment of my imagination that I totally missed. I mean, how awesome is Totoro? He's this giant teddy bear that only has a leaf on his head for protection from the rain. Forget Forrest Gump, this is the kind of thing that warms my heart.
-THE CAT BUS! I admit to being a major cat lover but how awesome is that cat bus?! Like, I wanna drive it and I hate driving almost as much as I hate earthquakes (as last night's full blown panic attack where I nearly hyper-ventilated to death - and it didn't even do any damage - would show), so that's kind of a big deal. Whoever invented the cat bus deserves a Nobel Prize or something.
...and this is why you should never let me review kids films.
Especially great ones, like My Neighbour Totoro. The only disappointment that I felt about it was that I never got to see this when I was younger. When characters are that rich and detailed, and the problems they face are true (the poor girls having to deal with their mother being in hospital and all), I can't think of anything better to fit into a young person's film diet.


Howl's Moving Castle, the second of the anime film syllabus and also my second Hayao Miyazaki, didn't quite live up to the spell that My Neighbour Totoro enchanted me with, unfortunately. In all honesty, I thought it was a bit of a mess - but a fine mess, in saying that. The animation is beyond superb. That's one thing that I'm already liking about the anime month: the way they are animated doesn't look like the 3D computer-generated stuff that either looks frighteningly real or frighteningly tacky. It is simple animation, but the visuals that Miyazaki and his team at Studio Ghibli create are these spectacles of things that could never be possible in the real world. To put it straight: it is pure imagination stretching across the screen in moving drawings.
However, Howl's Moving Castle also stretches itself by delving into a two hour running time, which I thought was ridiculous. The storyline was a little too thinly written (which was a shame, because the story of how 18 year old Sophie tried to undo the spell that was making her look like an old woman could have been so much more interesting) to cover an admittedly long running time for a predominantly kids film. Nothing meant a heck of a lot to me in this film, sadly.
Mind you, I'd love a moving castle. To go with my cat-bus. I'll be a goddess of transportation.

What did you think of these films? Do you have any recommendations for the anime month?

65 comments:

  1. I'm not that familiar with anime, and I'm hopelessly unfamiliar with Miyazaki. Glad to see you're setting some challenges though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hopefully you'll pick up a few good ones on the way, then!

      Delete
  2. I haven't seen Totoro yet, but will see it this very month, so I am skipping that part of the post for now.
    Howl's Moving Castle was the very first anime I saw. I kind of really like it. I love the concept of the castle and the shadowy things and all that.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I hope you enjoy Totoro. It is seriously the cutest little thing!

      Delete
  3. I've only seen a few anime films myself and although what I've seen I've enjoyed, they have been labeled as 'the best of the best' if you know what I mean.

    From what I've read on the internet, there's a lot of crap anime out there. Having said that, most of the stuff from Studio Ghibli is great. I must see more myself.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yeah - 'the best of the best' is kinda what I'm going for on this short spurt.

      I've read the same. I'm mainly gonna stick with Studio Ghibli.

      Delete
  4. I'm so excited about the series! I loooove Miyazaki and overall Ghibli works. Totoro is such a charming movie, and I also regret that I wasn't familiar with it when I was a kid. And as a major cat lover, like you, I was fascinated by that bus. I noticed that somehow in animation cats are either absent or evil, so it's great to see a good-natured cat bus :) And Totoro himself is such a cute creature!

    Unlike you, I absolutely love Howl's Moving Castle. I wacthed it after Spirited Away but it absolutely blew me away! It's either my #1 or #2 Ghibli film. I agree it was a mess and reminded of Spirited away at some points but man I freaking love it!

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    1. It is great to see a good-natured cat bus! It is a lesson to all people who write movies with cats in them!

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  5. I think I preferred Howl to Totoro, which I think is aimed for a younger audience. But Totoro is indeed huggable. I wrote about it a few months ago and linked to a pattern if you want to try to crotchet your own. It doesn't look all that difficult!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do remember that post - hey, I might give the crocheting a go!

      Delete
  6. Totoro is so wonderful!

    Anyway, if you can get a hold of it, I absolutely love 5 Centimeters Per Second. Both Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away are essential Miyazaki films. Finally, I'd suggest Grave of the Fireflies, Millennium Actress and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I've heard that 5 Centimeters Per Second is pretty cool. I'm definitely checking out Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies and Millennium Actress!

      Delete
  7. Stick with Studio Ghibli for your first month of Anime I say. Their films have so much to offer from the fantastical minds and hands of their artists and storytellers. I suggest Ponyo, Arrietty, Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke. Here's the perfect guide for you:
    http://www.avclub.com/articles/a-guide-to-japans-studio-ghibli-home-of-totoro-and,75280/

    Once you're suitably impressed with Japanese animation, Manga style should come next. Akira, Ghoist in The Shell, Blood: the Last Vampire...the list is endless. Most of these titles are crazy, futuristic, violent, mind-benders. Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh, thanks for the guide! That'll be mighty helpful!

      I am checking out Akira on this syllabus, but I'm mostly going to stick to Studio Ghibli.

      Delete
  8. Don't fall into the trap of thinking all anime is happy! (Oh god...Akira...I love it, but wow).
    I'm sorry you didn't like Howl's as much, but I'm so glad that you loved Totoro!! Miyazaki is an amazing director to start with, and I loved both (but Totoro is far better, I agree :) )
    You've seen Perfect Blue already which is awesome - I'd say try and watch Akira, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Spirited Away!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Just adding to my comment here, don't mind me - maybe I liked Howl's a bit more because I'd seen about eight other Miyazaki films before then? .... Hmm....ah well.

      Delete
    2. I know that all anime isn't that happy - but I can see it being a shade brighter than French New Wave stuff.
      I'm definitely going to catch those three films.
      And yes, that's probably the case. I'm not sure why I didn't like it that much, though.

      Delete
  9. I absolutely love Miyazaki, and My Neighbor Totoro is the first one I saw and definitely one of my favorites. The cat bus is AWESOME! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Have you seen Spirited Away? It's another of my favorites. If you haven't seen it yet, I bet you'll love it.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I'm definitely going to check that one out!

      Delete
  11. Damn! I typed up a whole big thing and it didn't post. Blah. Anyway, let's try this again. I'm with you on Howl's Moving Castle. It's pretty messy, especially in the third act when they just dump all this info on you near the end.

    I definitely second Spirited Away, and if you're sticking with MIyazaki, check out Princess Mononoke after that. I freakin' hated Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and think it's vastly overrated. It has annoying characters, a style that's nothing but pure exposition/info dumping for chunks at a time, and a totally unsubtle "save the environment!" message that rubs itself in your face the whole time... but maybe that was just me. Who knows?

    If you leave the realm of Miyazaki, I suggest The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Grave of the Fireflies (warning: you WILL cry during Fireflies... but it's worth it).

    If you want more action/sci-fi... a lot of people like Ghost in the Shell (which partly inspired The Matrix, I believe), but I found it just 'eh'. And Akira is a seminal anime, but it's a tough one. It gets... weird. Still, if you're trying to gain knowledge/close gaps on anime, it's one you probably shouldn't skip.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I'm glad that someone else is with me on Howl's Moving Castle!

      I'm hopefully going to check out Princess Mononoke if I have enough time - eight films really isn't enough, but it is all the time I have at the moment, unfortunately. And I don't like messages that are done like that!

      It seems that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a popular choice, so I'll check out that one, too. Grave of the Fireflies was on my watchlist.

      I am going to check out Akira, since one of my readers has been recommending it like crazy for like, two years.

      Delete
  12. I'm so glad you are getting into Studio Ghibli! I, like you only discovered it's wonderfulness in my teenage years and I think it's a crying shame that it is not, like it is in Japan, a household name comparable to Disney. When I have kids, they will all be watching Studio Ghibli alongside The Lion King, Aladdin and the rest. Anime is just wonderful and I hate that Westerners for the most part, view animation as something that only kids can enjoy.

    I just got back from a long awaited trip to Japan and I had the good fortune to go to the Studio Ghibli museum while I was over there, which was amazing! It was a beautiful building with stain glass windows with pictures from all the movies. I now also consequently have a ridiculous amount of studio ghibli merchandise with no less than 6 totoros around my TV in all shapes and sizes. And they have a cat bus in the museum! Unfortunately I'm not under 10 so I wan't allowed in it :(. But I did get to see the 15 minute sequel to Totoro which you can only see in the museum and it was uber cute! Mei goes on an adventure with a mini cat bus and meets loads of other cat buses including a gargantuan ancient one that she shares a toffee with. But I digress... Japan is amazing.

    Anyway, in terms of anime you should watch; definitely stick with Studio Ghibli to begin with. I'm sorry you didn't like Howl's Moving Castle too much but I can understand why it's not your favourite. For me I can't decide who gets the top spot; Totoro or Spirited Away, then for second I would definitely go with Pom Poko, which seems to be far too underrated- watch it! Grave of the Fireflies is heartbreaking but amazing! Porco Rosso is also great; here's the premise a guy who got turned into a pig because he refused to become a fascist and he flies planes! Since you are a cat lover I'm sure you will love The Cat Returns. I wasn't mad on Princess Mononoke but everyone seems to love it, I can't deny that it is a beautiful film.

    Outside Studio Ghibli I would really recommend The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Akira, and do look into Makoto Shinkai's stuff. His most famous film is probably 5 Centimeters per Second which is beautiful and quite unusual. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Irish premiere of his latest film Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below which he was at! Got a signed poster and all. He has been hailed as the next Miyazaki and his stuff is definitely worth a look.

    I know this is really long but if you have any interest in trying an anime series, watch Death Note! It's so good and probably one of the most famous in the West after Naruto and Bleach. My favourite series has to be Clannad and Clannad After Story though. Wonderful, wonderful heartbreaking series that I wish I owned.

    Anyway, sorry for making this comment so long, I'm just always delighted when I hear someone is getting into anime and especially Studio Ghibli- it's just so under-appreciated outside Asia.

    I will be writing a review on Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below soon if you are interested.

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    1. I could also recommend Death Note... except stop at the 5-year jump or however long it was. The series just gets dumb at that point. OK, maybe not dumb... but it really falls in quality.

      Delete
    2. I so want to see 5 Centimetres per Second!

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    3. I've already decided that when I have kids they'll all be watching Studio Ghibli movies, too.

      Some great recommendations, there! If I don't get enough time during the month, I will definitely check them out outside of the syllabus.

      Delete
  13. I am one of those who liked Howl more than Totoro but as Jessica said it is more aimed for younger audience and I usually prefer more kind of Adult Animations. But you are certainly right that Totoro is very likable and Mei, well Boo in Monsters Inc. might be the only character I think is cuter than her. She is just adorable.

    Go for Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, pretty much universal choices. I will also stress for Akira and Grave of the Fireflies. Grave is personally top 10 movie for me. As Nick said, it will affect you quite a bit but is every bit worth of it. I wasn't fussed about Akira but it is very different from most animes I have seen. Girl who leapt through time is one that I need to see myself.

    Hopefully you will enjoy them as well !!

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    1. I'm not yet used to the idea of adult animations, but Perfect Blue was really good in that respect!

      I hope I will enjoy them - but I'm sure I will!

      Delete
  14. I've only seen Howl's Moving Castle as far as Miyazaki is concerned. He's one of the filmmakers whose work I'm eager to check out. Totoro I do know because he was a character in Toy Story 3 since the Pixar team are huge Miyazaki fans as John Lasseter is responsible for bringing Miyazaki's films to the U.S.

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    1. Yes, I did recognize Totoro in Toy Story 3 - it is so awesome that he got to be a part of it!

      Delete
  15. I enjoyed both these films. Ghibli is the way to go for starting with anime. I usually don't like dubbed films because it takes away the feel, and would much prefer subtitles. But somehow for animated features it doesn't matter and I can settle for either. How did you see these two?

    Now you've delve into anime, can wait for you to take that long awaited dip into Star Wars. Do not resist the power of The Force!

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    1. I saw the English dubbed versions - which may be the way I'll go for the rest of the series. I'm just seeing what ever is available, but the dubbing isn't so bad.

      And I watched my first Star Wars film today! I can't watch Empire Strikes Back for a little while, unfortunately, as someone took it out today for a week.

      Delete
  16. My Neighbor Totoro is one of my favorite animated films. Few films have come close to capturing the joy of childhood as well as this film. I also love that the film doesn't feel the need to force a big conflict or challenge on these children. It's just them living out their lives.

    Howl's Moving Castle is a bit of a mess. I do like it, in part because of the setup, but in execution, it doesn't quite come together. The last act, in particular, comes across as really weak.

    All I can recommend is more Ghibli films. Check out Spirited Away for sure. Also, please, please check out Whisper of the Heart. It's one of their most overlooked films.

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    1. Yeah, I liked that the kids were just living their lives. It felt so real - which is something that I don't often get from animated films.

      And I totally agree with you about Howl's Moving Castle.

      Whisper of the Heart? I'll add it to my list!

      Delete
  17. I've seen very few anime films, but I cannot recommend Grave of the Fireflies highly enough.

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    1. I'm definitely going to check that out!

      Delete
  18. I am afraid I cannot help you here Stevee, I haven't seen a single Ghibli film :-(

    ReplyDelete
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    1. You must! (says the person who just started watching them)

      Delete
  19. I still need to see both of these, and I've only seen three anime films (Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies, and Akira). Must watch more of them.

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    1. Grave of the Fireflies is really good, isn't it?

      Delete
  20. Surprised about your reaction to Howl's Moving Castle - without doubt, one of Ghibli's best films and also one of Miyazaki's best films, too. I think the thing about Howl's Moving Castle though is that it isn't typical Ghibli (neither is Grave of the Fireflies), and is rather terrifying - in a similar vein to Nausicca Valley of the Winds and Princess Mononoke, but a lot more intense.

    I think the thing about Ghibli is they don't really make films directed at children, they just happen to be films that children go and see. They have 'fluffy' films like Kiki's Delivery Service (great), The Cat Returns (also great, vastly underrated), and Porco Rosso (another winner), but most of their films have really adult themes, but with twists to them. I'd definitely watch Howl's Moving Castle again at some point though, as it does make a lot more sense the second time round and it is a quality film, just probably not the one you were expecting.

    Not sure if anyone mentioned Ghost in the Shell in this post, though, which is a stellar film.

    On the dubbing note, seriously dude - you need to watch them in their original Japanese versions, especially Spirited Away as Chihiro in the dubbed version is unbearable. (The point of her character is for her to start off like that, but not to go on throughout the whole film just being annoying - which the dubbed version does to the film.)

    SO happy for the Akira love coming out of these comments, but since a lot of people here seem to have seen it, not sure why it doesn't make top 100 film lists...*shall forever be the champion/number one fan of that film haha. (Also loving the Grave of the Fireflies shout-outs, too.)

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    1. Ha, I'd read in quite a few places that Howl's Moving Castle was one of Ghibli's/Miyazaki's weakest films. I guess it is where you read.

      I'm watching whatever is available to me. Beggars can't be choosers.

      Grave of the Fireflies was wonderful!

      Delete
  21. I think Anime in general was part of what brought about my love of movies. I'm with many of the commenters in that I enjoyed Howl the most of the Ghibli movies I've seen. I also generally watch the dubbed versions over the subbed versions.

    As far as suggestions, Akira is the seminal anime movie but it can be very hard to get into. Two that haven't been suggested yet are Vampire Hunter D and the sequel: Bloodlust. Armitage III and Metropolis are both great android-so-real-it's-almost-human movies. And I'll also mention one of my favorites that's very obscure and hard to find: Robot Carnival. It's a beautiful Fantasia-like compilation of robot-themed short films that are mostly non-speaking.

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    1. Those are some interesting recommendations - if I don't check em out this time around, I will later!

      Delete
  22. I don't really care much for Howl's Moving Castle. The story was adapted haphazardly and doesn't really make too much sense as a complete film. My Neighbour Totoro though is a legendary film and I challenge anyone to not feel completely happy after its conclusion.

    Looking forward to your other inclusions in this series.

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  23. you know "Spirited Away" is the first and probably the only foreign (and also non-english) film to ever win an academy award. if you liked "My Neighbour Tortoro" you will also like "Ponyo - on the cliff by the sea", the girl here too looks a lot like Mei from tortoro. There's this other movie, pretty recent called "you are umasou", umasou is the japanese word for delicious. you'll like this too, it's about a little herbivore dinosaur that is adopted by a t-rex. very cute film. enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  24. and don't watched the dubbed versions, all the emotion and subtleties and nuances are lost in the dubbed versions. i recommend watching with subtitles, don't worry you'll get used to it and slowly you'll start picking up rudimentary japanese too.

    ReplyDelete
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