Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dipping My Toes in Anime: Spirited Away and Akira


And here we are, closing out another month of dipping my toes in one of my cinematic grey areas: the beautifully magical world of anime. I'm ending things with Spirited Away, which I probably should have started with since it's one of those 'gateway' anime films, and Akira, which I deliberately left until last because it's one of those animes that need a little background. Did the month end on a high note, though?


I must admit, my watch of Spirited Away wasn't as good as it could have been. I sat down to watch it on Friday night, but then the news struck about the shootings in Aurora and I couldn't bring myself to keep watching the film. The next day, I sat down to watch it again, only just making it through. My mind was trying to process everything that had gone awry in the world, so I had the attention span of Dory from Finding Nemo. I know, it is a downright shame, and I'd love to see Spirited Away a little further into the future when I'm not so damn angry with the world. That said, it was a very good film.

In fact, Spirited Away is one of the reasons why I have taken to anime a lot more than I thought I would. I wouldn't say that this film is primarily made for kids, but I'm sure it was made with kids in mind. Instead of alienating kids with OTT characters obsessed with being simple, Spirited Away tells a rich, layered story of a young girl taken to a strange alternate world where humans are animals and gods, witches and monsters rule. It takes a fairytale and puts this strange spin on it. Strange being the operative word, because this film goes in several directions that you would never think it would. However, there's not much more I can say about this that hasn't already been said, apart from the fact that the visuals are so simply beautiful. And that I'd love to see it again in the future. It looks like it has that rewatch quality.


Now, I'd been warned about Akira, as it probably isn't the most accessible anime, but it was definitely a seminal one. Made back in 1988, the film brought a whole lot of new stuff to the anime table that hadn't been seen before. Most of all, it gave the animated genre the same footing as live action films: this is a film which could have easily been filmed just like a normal film, but the fact that they went down the animation route made it all the more special. Through the animation, they could fully realise the dystopian Tokyo that they wanted to show, and make a pretty kick-ass film along the way. Now, I do love these films which invent their own universes - and Akira is rich with imagination. However, it goes a little down the road of Paprika by letting it's imagination run a little too far ahead of itself sometimes, but I can be sure that a rewatch would completely iron that out (unlike Paprika - I'm a little too iffy about that one). What separates this and Paprika is that I could actually connect with the characters in some small way.

I didn't completely love Akira (sorry, Cherokee), but I can appreciate the influence it has had on anime films, or any film in general. The universe that it creates is a very interesting one, and the people that fill it are even more interesting. Could this possibly be made into a live-action film? Who knows. To me, Akira lived and breathed the gritty aesthetic of its universe, and I don't know how well that would translate into actual real-life stuff. Hopefully they shelf the idea of making this into an American film, because I'm sure we can all live with the influence it has had on other films, and its awesomeness, for the time being.

Anyway, what did I think about my experience with anime as a whole?
It was a definite eye-opener. I admit, I was one of those naive people who thought that animation was reserved for kids. Anime not only showed me that animation could cater to any audience, but it was also capable of achieving such great aesthetic appeal that live action films could never do. Also, I guess my experience is a little helpful, considering the fact that I'm going to Japan in January. Hopefully I'll be able to find Totoro there.

How would I rank the films I've seen, from least favourite to most favourite?
8. Paprika (2006) Dir. Satoshi Kon
7. Howl's Moving Castle (2004) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
6. Akira (1988) Dir. Katsuhiro Ohtomo
5. Spirited Away (2001) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
4. The Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006) Dir. Mamoru Hosoda
3. Millennium Actress (2001) Dir. Satoshi Kon
2. My Neighbour Totoro (1988) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) Dir. Isao Takahata

What will I be dipping my toes in next?
As you will know from last night's post, once this month is through I'm taking a wee break, so I don't see much point in doing any toe-dipping. September will be out, too, since I don't think I could guarantee being able to fulfil eight movies from a specific genre/write about them - that's when our production goes on stage. So we'll have to wait until October, and I'll announce then! For now, what do you think of Spirited Away or Akira, and anime films in general?

35 comments:

  1. These two particularly are anime films I would like to see. The genre's admittedly strange and foreign to me!

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    1. Aha, it is a little strange and foreign to me also - but that's not really the same thing!

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  2. Spirited Away is one of my favourite anime. But then again, I haven't really seen that much.

    You know the next step now don't you? Go watch an anime film in the cinema!!

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  3. I haven't seen much anime but I'd love to. It's interesting that you say you've learnt that anime isn't just for kids. Depending on the studio, anime can either be for all ages or strictly R-rated. For example, I'd recommend seeing Satoshi Kon's PERFECT BLUE. I saw it as part of my horror genre study at uni and I loved it.

    Oh, and I was recently listening to a podcast that mentioned Kon's TOKYO GODFATHERS. Apparently it'll emotionally destroy anyone.

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    1. Perfect Blue was the first anime I saw - I loved it!

      I might check out Tokyo Godfathers, too.

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  4. Anime's a long way from being an area of expertise for me, I've seen so little of it. Although I don't think I've ever believed animation was just for kids (I get far more out of Warner Bros cartoons these days because the Termite Terrace gang believed in targeting their products at adults too). There's an anime from 1987 called Wicked City which should thoroughly disabuse anyone of such a notion; indeed, any parent who let their child watch it on the grounds that "it's animation so it's only for kids anyway" should probably have their child taken away from them.

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    1. Okay - I'll definitely keep the kids away from that one.

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  5. You ended your anime month with my two favourites (oh how I love Miyazaki and Akira). The great thing about Miyazaki, is that he wants to fill his audience with a sense of hope and optimism. Takahata is more about the realism (Grave of the Fireflies), but Miyazaki is complete fantasy, and he creates films for everyone :)

    The whole 'animation is just for kids thing' was a given for a long time, especially in the west, but when Japanese animators came on the scenes, they were really the ones who knew it could be so much more.

    Akira took a while to sink in with me, and it definitely improves on a second watch! I'm with Cherokee, all the way! It was a mindblowing film for me! (I'm actually doing my research assignment on a comparison of the female characters in Miyazaki's NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND and Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID. Lot's of reading to do about anime this semester!)

    Glad you enjoyed your anime month Stevee! All I'm going to say is watch as many Ghibli films as you can!! :D

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    1. Yay at having my team Akira with me!

      I did smile when I read this: I didn't completely love Akira (sorry, Cherokee), but I can appreciate the influence it has had on anime films, or any film in general.

      As Ruth said, the thing about Akira is a film that takes on new levels on a second watch, that's how I fell in love with it, but either way, I am so glad you've seen it now!

      And have fun on your break, too. Also you're going to Japan? Argh jealous man, that's gonna be awesome!

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    2. I'm definitely going to check out more Ghibli, they're awesome!

      And yes, Japan is going to be awesome.

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  6. Anime is a thing of the past for me. I grew up watching a lot and Akira was a particular favourite of mine. I've fell away from the genre since but I always take time out for Miyazaki. I actually just posted a review myself on My Neighbour Totoro but I can't see past Spirited Away. I love it. Your number one, Grave of the Fireflies I've yet to see but I'll check that out as soon as I can. Nice post.

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    1. Miyazaki makes some great films. Definitely check out Grave of the Fireflies!

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  7. You definitely, definitely need to see Spirited Away again. On any other day, I think it would have come around the top of your list.

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    1. I will see it again. I was kinda upset with the way that one turned out.

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  8. Recently I found out that Spirited Away is actually a veiled story about prostitution, which was quite surprising, and Hayao Miyazaki confirmed it in an interview. I haven't thought of the film from this perspective. But it's indeed so multi-layered that you can probably discover new things every time you watch it.

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    1. Ha, that sounds about right. I will definitely check it out again and hopefully things will turn out better for me.

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    2. Miyazaki did not confirm that it was a veiled story about prostitution, Miyazaki confirmed that the bathhouse setting, which has sexual connotations, serveds to allegorically mirror the sex based economy of much contemporary culture.

      Miyazaki has stated, MUCH more directly and explicitly, that he made the film for a young girl (a niece, or a friend's daughter, I don't quite recall) that appeared quite spoiled to him. It's a coming of age story about a young girl who finds out that she can make her way in a foreign world and that there is no sense letting those capacities rot.

      It is in no way 'about' prostitution.

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    3. Whoever you are, that's what I meant. Might sound like an excuse, but I'm only trying to grast subtleties of the English language that's probably why I didn't render what I wanted to say more accurately :)

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    4. My apologies if I sounded severe then. There IS a theory making the rounds that Spirited Away is a thinly veiled story about child prostitution (which is what lead to Miyazaki being asked about it and his remarks) and I had assumed it was being spread further. My assumption was incorrect.

      I take a lot of umbrage with attempts to reinterpret films in specifically 'twisted' ways when they clearly aren't meant to be. If Spirit Away were the film these people suggest, then Miyazaki would be somehow implying that being forced into prostitution as a child can be a positive catalyst for growth. Not only is that deeply offensive, it's absurd.

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    5. No, you didn't sound harsh there. I just wanted to point out that I wasn't accurate in my comment indeed, so yours was very helpful. Besides, I didn't know the details that you shared. As for Miyazaki's statement that he allegedly confirmed the theory, you can never believe that it's complete truth unless you hear it with your own ears in a video interview, so I'm never sure that this or that person really said that exact thing when I simply read it (not hear it), that's why I hopefully wasn't claiming the theory as an absolute truth. Anyway, your input was very helpful for me.

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  9. Here are my personal top 5 anime films:

    1. Spirited Away
    2. Castle in the Sky
    3. Voices of a Distant Star
    4. The Girl who Leapt Though Time
    5. Paprika

    Honorable Mention: Summer Wars, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro

    I don't love Akira either, but I do enjoy it. I also know its blasphemy to say it isn't good so I'll say its amazing. I'm going to be swimming in anime this weekend while I go to Otakon.

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    1. That's an awesome list! I will check out Castle in the Sky some time soon, as my friend is lending it to me.

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  10. Great post Stevee. I showed my 9 year old niece Spirited Away and she loved it, but her parent's did not, and thought the movie was just a bunch of nonsense. I love Akira, but can understand why people would not. It for me was the first animated move that was for an adult audience that wasn't just focused on nudity and sex

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    1. Wow, that's an interesting reaction to it!

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  11. I need to see more anime films, but I do think that Spirited Away is a lot better than Akira. While both have great animation, Spirited Away is much more rewatchable, and the story is more touching to me.

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    1. I think Spirited Away will be a very rewatchable film. I'll definitely be checking it out again!

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  12. Lovely to hear you've been watching anime. I discovered it a while back and until recently titles weren't available easily so I always struggled. There are a whole bunch of must see talked about anime left so I'm sure you'll enjoy discovering them.

    The one thing about Akira is that for the time it came out, it was revolutionary... So that made it all the more an iconic cult film.

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    1. Anime is very hard to access over here, which is somewhat strange.

      I did hear that Akira was a revolutionary film. It is one of the better cult films I've seen.

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  13. I agree completely with you on Akira. Even though I think it is very different from any anime film done, it felt like they went a little too much into it. I was left cold by the end. As for Spirited Away, hopefully you will come back to it and maybe like it even more. Spirited and Mononoke are kinda most well-known animes of Ghibli and personally, I like Spirited Away more than Mononoke.

    Really Glad to see Grave of the Fireflies at the top of your list. One of my all time favorites. Enjoy Your Break !!

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    1. I really want to see Princess Mononoke - I'll check it out in the future.

      Grave of the Fireflies is one of my all-time favourites now, too.

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  14. I usually don't watch anime...actually animation in general, but I saw Spirited Away recently and I loved it! I definitely have a couple more on my To See list!

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  15. As a fan of Spirited Away,, I think you'd like Oblivion Island!

    http://www.shopmanga.co.uk/title.php?Ref=10467skus

    "An animated romp for the young and the young at heart! This internationally acclaimed feature film blends Japanese folklore and storybook charm reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland into an exhilarating tale sure to amaze animation fans of all ages. Sixteen-year-old Haruka is on a mission to find her mirror—a precious childhood gift from her late mother that has disappeared. On her search, she follows a strange fox-like creature to Oblivion Island, a mystical world overflowing with once-cherished items taken from their neglectful owners. Trouble follows Haruka and her new friend Teo at every turn as they contend with the island’s overbearing ruler, who will stop at nothing to use the mirror for his own sinister plan!"

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  16. Thanks for writing this, it's always good to let other people know about good stuff - I recently reminded my blog readers how kewl Donnie Darko was. I will now bookmark yours :)

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  17. No ifs ands or buts, mangas are well known all around the globe. They are TV arrangement, which have originated from prevalent Japanese funnies.http://9anime.to/

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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