The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises Movie Review

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The Wind Rises Movie Review

The Wind Rises is a 2013 historical romance anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s worst films.

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Airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams,

waiting for the sky to swallow them up

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The Wind Rises Movie Review

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Yes, this one is pretty weak for the studio’s standards. When I first watched it, I thought it was solid, but now upon second viewing, I find it only okay and nothing more than that. The film is about a plane designer during the thirties and WWII and the fact that this movie is a failure overall is honestly pretty baffling to me on two fronts.

Firstly, you would think that for a director who is literally obsessed with aircraft and flight that he would at least make one great movie during his career in regard to that subject matter. But as evidenced by this film and also ‘Porco Rosso’, he never managed to make use of his greatest hobby and turn it into an all-time classic which is a shame and a puzzle to me. But maybe that is exactly why this film failed because it has too many of those airplane details that are nowhere near as interesting to us than they are to Miyazaki himself. The mechanics of flight bored me here.

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The Wind Rises Movie Review

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And secondly and more importantly, I cannot understand how he did not utilize on this particularly effective premise. You’ve got a guy whose dream is to make aircraft and he ends up making them for war purposes and the movie could have given us his personal dilemma and the struggle between art and profit/bad usage and the question of whether or not he did the right thing. But the film never gave us any of that and what we got are instead are endless boring conversations, overly detailed plane descriptions and too many dream sequences.

The character development is pretty weak. Jiro is pretty bland for a protagonist and not particularly interesting or likable. But Nahoko I definitely liked quite a bit. She is charming and very likable. The relationship between the two is actually the strongest point of this film and whenever it centered on romance, the movie was charming and pretty good. But as a historical or war drama, it failed on multiple levels. The other characters are all forgettable, but the voice acting is certainly very good.

The Wind Rises is gorgeously animated, there is absolutely no denying that fact. This is actually one of the best animated Ghibli films in quite a while as its animation is frequently breathtaking, very detailed, consistently polished and beautiful to watch plus above all else it is colorful and very pleasing to the eye. The clothes, the sky, the planes, the flights and especially the various imagery on that hill and some interiors are all lovely to behold.

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The Wind Rises Movie Review

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This film is extremely boring. I have to be honest and say that. Not only does it last for two hours, but it is also extremely slow paced and uneventful with not too interesting conversations and a very standard historical storyline that doesn’t delve deeply enough into its themes. That is why the film bored me tremendously and it is actually one of the dullest animated films that I have ever watched.

The Wind Rises has simply breathtaking animation with frequently gorgeous imagery and the romance is quite appealing. However, everything else is either standard or mediocre historical period piece. The film features a very intriguing premise, but it never delves deeper into its themes as the characters are bland and the conversations are mostly uninteresting. It is one of the worst Studio Ghibli films and frankly one of the most overrated and dullest animated films that I have ever seen.

My Rating – 3

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From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

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From Up on Poppy Hill Movie Review

From Up on Poppy Hill is a 2011 anime drama film which is Studio Ghibli’s 17th film. It is directed by Goro Miyazaki and it’s definitely one of their weakest outings.

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There’s no future for people who worship the future,

and forget the past

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From Up on Poppy Hill Movie Review

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Now we have the flaw and the boarding house storyline here. That is one story. The other one is familial drama about rediscovery and ancestry. To me both did not work honestly. So let’s first talk about the former. It is overly Japanese and by that I mean that it is a historical drama which does not give you enough context and I myself am not acquainted with the boarding houses and that part of Japanese history and I was thus lost in this story and plus not all too interested too.

As for the familial drama, it is moving and sweet for sure. However, there is no denying that From Up on Poppy Hill is basically one giant Japanese soap opera. Certainly a Ghibli soap opera is better and smarter than other soap operas, but at its core it remains a soap opera and those I dislike tremendously which is why I had a huge problem with this story.

The first twist was typical and the second twist was more interesting, but it brought us back to where we started off. And the whole intertwined family history and discoveries of their ancestry were just way too soapy for my personal taste.

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From Up on Poppy Hill Movie Review

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I also did not care all too much for these characters. I have to be honest – none of them were interesting to me. The adults are all basically just plot devices and rarely anything more than that. As for Umi and Shun, they are endearing and certainly a lovely couple, but that “will they, won’t they” as well as “are they related or not” drama ruined their otherwise sweet relationship. The voice acting is admittedly terrific and pretty resonant, but the characters themselves leave a lot to be desired.

If there is one thing From Up on Poppy Hill does so right is its animation which is to be expected from the caliber of the studio. I loved it. The attention to detail is overwhelming and does it recreates its 60s period so well, I really liked how polished it looked and the highlights include the sea scenes, the houses and mostly the boarding house which looked splendid and filled with a lot of detail.

Another aspect which resonates strongly here is of course the score. It is absolutely lovely and actually quite different than most other Ghibli scores as it feels tonally and stylistically different and unique and thus I appreciated it even more. The theme that repeats throughout the entire runtime is gorgeous and so charming.

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From Up on Poppy Hill Movie Review

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The film is sweet at times and emotionally resonant, but not fulfilling owing to its soapy drama. The dialogue is as good as it can be, but the script is just very weak and troublesome and I cannot imagine how anyone could have this movie in their favorites when it comes to Studio Ghibli. It is in my opinion their worst film of all time which is not to say it is bad as they have never made a bad film, but it is just only okay and nothing more than that which is super disappointing.

From Up on Poppy Hill is beautifully scored and gorgeously animated, but every Studio Ghibli film has amazing animation and score and that is to be expected from their caliber. But other than those great aspects and a couple of moving scenes, this film is easily their worst with uninteresting characters and a story which is simply a giant, implausible soap opera and unfortunately never anything more than that.

My Rating – 3

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The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

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The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

The Secret World of Arrietty is a 2010 fantasy anime film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and produced by Studio Ghibli. It is a pretty good film in its own right.

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Arrietty, you’re a part of me now.

I’ll never forget you, ever

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The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

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Just as was the case with ‘Ponyo’, at first I thought it was just solid, but now I found this film to be pretty good and actually kind of underrated. It really is such a pleasant tale filled with wonder and a lot of heart. It is about Little People or Borrowers who reside in one family’s house but when one sick boy discovers them, the family has to move and the relationship between the human boy and Borrower girl develops.

I liked the story here. It is somewhat simplistic and lacks thematically speaking, but it serves its purpose and it is very well crafted and actually quite impactful both emotionally and in terms of the coziness factor. It is a very slow paced film but its leisurely pace really worked as it put me in the mood and world of the film so well.

The character development is not particularly strong here. It is good, but not great. Arrietty herself is overly good in my opinion, but still likable and her relationship with Sho is so good. I loved their romance and how well it developed. Sho is also quite sweet and I liked how the film ended on a positive note that maybe he will recover from his heart condition in the future.

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The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

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Spiller is solid but underdeveloped and her parents are quite sweet and likable. I liked Sadako Maki quite a bit and I loved Niya so much. She actually helped Sho get to Arrietty to say goodbye and that was a wonderful moment. It is rare for cats to be portrayed as heroes in an animated film and thus I really enjoyed her character here.

Haru is the film’s weakest link. She really weighs this whole affair significantly in my opinion. So she is basically the villain of the movie but the kind of overly goofy and cartoony villain who felt overly traditional and childish. There is nothing wrong with that type of villain, but in this story she did not have a place as the film is otherwise more mature and serious. I just never bought her obsession with Borrowers and why she wanted to get rid of them.

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The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

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The Secret World of Arrietty is expectedly gorgeously animated. I adored the film’s polished and computerized, but still traditional 2D animation. The film has rich details and it explores the house (both large and miniature) and the yard stupendously. It transports you to the same world but gives you a different, miniature perspective with confident cinematography and attention to realistic detail. I loved how the house looked, but the highlights were the yard and especially those gorgeous flowers and leaves.

Every Haru scene is weak, but the highlights include the elevator scene, the conversation in the field between the two and of course the ending. The ending is so wonderful and emotionally resonant as I’d come to care for these characters and it is perfect as it left us on an ambiguous, but still hopeful note.

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The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

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The voice acting is definitely stellar with everyone doing a great job. The direction from Hiromasa Yonebayashi is pretty great and he is an underrated Ghibli director who also directed amazing ‘When Marnie Was There’. This film flows well and it has that elegant, slower and serious approach that I only wish that in the dialogue and story it was more mature and sophisticated.

The Secret World of Arrietty is a somewhat too simplistic tale and Haru definitely weighed this film down quite a lot as she is such a goofy, cartoony villain who is a contrast to the film’s more mature style and approach. However, this is still a very good Studio Ghibli offering with such a charming story, likable characters and a couple of emotionally resonant scenes with a great finale. Its fittingly leisurely pace brings you fully into this world along with its simply gorgeous, highly detailed animation and excellent direction from Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

My Rating – 4

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Ponyo (2008)

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Ponyo Movie Review

Ponyo is a 2008 fantasy family film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s most childlike films and one of their sweetest.

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Ponyo loves Sosuke!

I will be a human, too!

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Ponyo Movie Review

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Confession time – I did not care all too much about this film when I first saw it about five years ago. I thought it was a rip-off of a much better film ‘The Little Mermaid’. However, even though it is similar to that tale, it does have enough crucial differences that it can be said that it is inspired by it and certainly not a copy of it. Upon my second viewing, I find the film much better and it endeared me so much.

I liked that it’s a confined drama as much as it is a fantasy flick. I loved the beginning and the ending, but to me the highlights are the interactions between the two kids in the middle parts which could prove to be boring to some, but to me they stopped the story and they did it beautifully and I loved being in the moment with these kids and on this lovely small island. Some of the later scenes are actually more tedious to me than those in the house.

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Ponyo Movie Review

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Ponyo is just such a wonderful character – she is innocent, sweet, caring and always interested about the world and people around her. Sosuke is a good-natured, sweet boy who is actually the protagonist here and I found him incredibly endearing. As I said, their relationship is phenomenal and so well realized. I cared for both of them so much and just watching them together made my heart melt.

Lisa is just such a wonderful mother and a great role model for all mothers out there. She is a single parent in a way and she manages to do an amazing job with Sosuke. I loved how the two were friends as much as they were mother and son. Koichi as their father is also quite memorable if used sparingly and I adored the signaling scene which is so heartwarming.

Granmamare as this mythical creature-woman is the most fantastical and intriguing part of the film. Fujimoto as the villain of the story is not all that great. He has his moments and I absolutely loved his lair, but he was too weak a villain which is typical for children’s films. And I wouldn’t even call him a villain personally. As for the three grannies, I found their characters somewhat unnecessary, but they still brought quite a lot of charm and humor to the film.

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Ponyo Movie Review

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Ponyo is simply stunning in terms of animation. It is a modernized animation, but still a classic hand-drawn animation in style and approach and I loved that. It is a proof that underwater animation can be just as strong and just as beautiful as CGI. It is a very pleasing to look at, extremely colorful film with a great use of the color blue and especially red.

I loved the various memorable imagery here such as the underwater scenes, the overall island which is unforgettable and the house which is cozy and sweet. My only gripe is the character design. It is mostly excellent, but Ponyo looked weird as a fish and particularly odd as half-fish, half-human with those very unappealing chicken legs. I am definitely not a fan of that design.

So Ponyo is unoriginal in its story, but it does have its authentic quirks and turns. I thought that some of the scenes in the second half were not as interesting as the ones in the first half and the ending was kind of abrupt. The film is slow paced which I definitely enjoyed, but sometimes that approach came at the expense of the story.

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Ponyo Movie Review

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But even though it isn’t one of the studio’s strongest films, it also isn’t one of the weakest. It is so sweet and emotionally resonant that I think not a lot of people could possibly resist it. The voice acting is absolutely terrific on all fronts and the direction from Miyazaki is excellent, though his themes here are his typical themes. I found the pacing great and the dialogue quite good. The score is also very good as is the sound design.

Ponyo is such a charming, cozy and wonderfully endearing family film. It has its problems such as some of the character designs and the unoriginality of the plot, but still Miyazaki added enough quirks and interesting ideas to make it his own story. Ponyo and Sosuke are lovely  characters and their wonderful interactions are the highlights here. I also really enjoyed the slower pace as well as its simply gorgeous, detailed and colorful hand-drawn animation with a lot of memorable, beautiful imagery at display.

My Rating – 4

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Tales from Earthsea (2006)

Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

Tales from Earthsea is a 2006 fantasy anime film directed by Goro Miyazaki. It is not one of Studio Ghibli’s strongest films, but still a solid fantasy.

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But only to men is it given to know that we must die,

and that is a precious gift

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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It is based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin and that is evident, especially near the end. The film suffers from being too short. Yes, it is a two-hour long film, but I had the impression that it was ridiculously rushed at times and obviously trimmed for movie treatment. It is an overly epic and detailed story that needed more time to develop properly.

But thankfully the first half is slower in pace and particularly engaging. To me that is the highlight of the film as it flowed really well, it was very involving to watch and quite mystical and magical. But the film definitely stumbles near the end with a somewhat abrupt conclusion and rushed approach at concluding this story. The plot holes are sometimes evident too.

I loved that Tales from Earthsea is a period piece but with magic, wizards and dragons. It is an epic fantasy work which is surprisingly mature and brutal for a Studio Ghibli film which usually does not go into such dark territories. The film is at its core about death and it is has a pro-life message which was great. It also has some inevitable environmental themes. But it also includes drugs, attempted rape and violence which was unexpected, but well done for the most part. The ripping of the arm was unnecessary and too brutal though…

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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Let’s talk about the characters. The character development here is surprisingly solid for such a maligned Ghibli film which is not great, but certainly not bad as the studio never made a bad film and this one is perfectly solid and quite underrated. I found Prince Arren to be a very strong and not too heroic protagonist which I always appreciate.

I wanted more from Sparrowhawk. He was so cool, but he never got enough action sequences unfortunately. The henchmen were goofy but memorable and those two gossipy women were hilarious. I liked Tenar and I loved that Therry was the savior in the end. She really got a moment to shine in the end which was great.

As for Lord Cob, he is your typical gender-bending anime villain, but those always work and he truly is one of the standouts here. He was so well animated and designed and with such a creepy voice. His quest for immortality is typical but still well realized. And he is just a very menacing presence felt throughout the entire film.

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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Tales from Earthsea is gorgeously animated. Not as artistic as some earlier Ghibli efforts, but still beautiful to watch and absolutely magnificent at times. The attention to detail is expectedly spectacular, I loved the English look of the towns and villages and both the imagery and action sequences were terrifically animated.

The action is very good here and not at all excessive. The end battle was very memorable, but rushed. The pacing is off as at first the film is slow but later on it becomes somewhat abrupt. The direction from Goro Miyazaki is obviously problematic as this is his first effort, but still he showed promise here. The voice acting is terrific, the dialogue is solid but somewhat standard. The standout remains the villain, that beautiful song that stops the film at the middle and of course the entire interesting first half.

Tales from Earthsea is definitely problematic in direction and pacing. It has familiar themes and it is obviously overly rushed in its second half which is much weaker than the first one. But still for a much proclaimed “worst Studio Ghibli film”, it is actually pretty solid and not bad at all. The animation is frequently gorgeous, the first half is very interesting, the action sequences are excellent, the film is admirably dark in tone and the characterization is quite good with the villain being very memorable and menacing.

My Rating – 3.5

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Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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Howl’s Moving Castle Movie Review

Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is far from the best that Studio Ghibli has to offer, but still a solid film in its own right.

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I don’t cook!

I’m a scary and powerful fire demon!

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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I actually liked this one much more upon second viewing as I really did not care for it the first time around. But watching it now, I could certainly appreciate it more. The storyline is admittedly quite good and I particularly loved that it is an alternative historical film. This is early 20th century for sure, but with magic added as a bonus.

The story is fascinating, magical, endearing and as imaginative as you would come to expect from the studio. I loved the magical elements and I really liked some of its themes with aging being particularly well explored.

However, the major problem I’ve had with it is that it is undercooked. The narrative is very problematic as it doesn’t give us too many answers to some really crucial questions such as whether or not Sophie is a witch, Howl’s origin story is left unexplored as is his entire relationship with Suliman.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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To me the film just happened and it gave us way too many characters and way too many plot points that some were seriously shortchanged. That is the problem of the script but also of the action as the runtime is more than long enough for it to develop properly. But the action is frequently quite overwhelming that we do not get to spend enough time with some characters and story points.

I liked Sophie quite a bit. She has excellent development and growth in this film and is a likable protagonist for whom you root for. Howl is also very good and interesting as this man obsessed with looks and young age. The relationship between the two is moving and one of the film’s highlights.

The Witch of the Waste is excellent and I ended up liking her quite a bit. Underutilized for sure, but she is at first excellent and memorable as a villain and then quite sweet as their companion. Calcifer is a cartoon character in his appeal and design, but a good one nevertheless and having fire literally be a character was interesting and he was so well animated and very endearing.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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Markl is sweet, but entirely underutilized unfortunately. But his relationship with Sophie is heartwarming. Madame Suliman is memorable as the film’s greatest villain, but once again entirely underdeveloped. The voice acting is superb and everyone did a great job across the board.

Howl’s Moving Castle features brilliant animation. Yes, that is certainly one of the standout aspects here. I loved seeing for once the early 20th century in a fantasy flick and the attention to detail is so meticulous that I was transported to that era from the first moment. The costumes look great, the hairstyles, the various imagery is highly interesting and in particular the interiors looked awesome with the castle itself being so well imagined. This anime surely is beautiful to look at.

To me the highlight in terms of the scenes was the beginning and especially the transformation scene which was very intriguing and wonderfully reminded me of fairy tales. The film is very much a Japanese fairy tale which I loved of course. The ending with the imposed end credits was not my cup of tea, but each scene in the house was wonderful and Howl and Sophie’s scenes were all heartwarming.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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The action is very well executed even though it is overwhelming. The pacing is frenetic for sure and the film should have been much calmer as its runtime demanded it. Miyazaki’s direction and vision are reliably strong, but he was influenced by ‘Spirited Away’ a bit too much and the film never is comparable to it. The score is also not as memorable as some other scores from the studio. In the end, I liked the film, but it is way too flawed to be considered in the top half with Ghibli’s biggest classics.

Howl’s Moving Castle is admittedly much better upon second viewing and it features excellent world building and attention to detail. I really liked its historical period and the magical elements. The two main characters and their relationship are strong and the animation is magnificent and beautiful to look at. But this is still one of the more flawed Ghibli films with overwhelming action and a problematic narrative that leaves too many things unanswered and too many characters underutilized. Miyazaki was influenced by his ‘Spirited Away’ a bit too much and this is obviously a pale imitation of that classic film.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Cat Returns (2002)

The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

The Cat Returns is a 2002 anime fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. It is one of their most pleasant, most underrated works.

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I respect a woman who stands up for herself.

Even if she does like sticking her nose in other people’s business!

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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This film is about a directionless teenage girl Haru who, after saving a young cat prince from certain death, is brought to the cat kingdom where she is supposed to marry a prince. I adore this film. It is actually one of my childhood favorites and I still love it now as an adult. The story reminds of Disney Princess movies as here we basically get a Ghibli princess which was awesome to witness.

The plot is similar to ‘Spirited Away’ in a sense that the protagonist is changed after going on a fantastical journey and is now a more responsible, more adult person. I loved that they repeated that journey and message and they did it wonderfully once again. But it is different than the aforementioned film because it is much more fun, childlike and jokey in its approach.

Let’s talk about the characters. Haru is an excellent protagonist. I really liked her and she is such a likable, sweet person. Her mother and her friend are solid for the little screen time that they received, but this is the movie about cats and they are the strongest characters here.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Baron is absolutely fantastic. This movie is literally a spin-off of ‘Whisper of the Heart’ as in that movie this character was just a figurine, but now we get him in full flesh. I loved that connection between the two movies even if they are the complete opposite of each other. He is badass, cool and like a dashing hero of yesteryear. The relationship between him and Haru is sweet, if a bit creepy when you think about it.

I really liked Toto as he is a wonderful bird. Prince Lune and Yuki are a great couple and I loved her backstory. The Cat King is such a great throwback to classic cartoon villains from decades ago – he is villainous, but very funny and over-the-top which I loved.

And of course Muta is the very best character in this film and the highlight for me. His constant obsession with food brought us many funny moments, his bickering with everyone else was great, I liked his very amusing backstory and the highlight was seeing him get angry mostly for being called fat. He is a phenomenal sidekick for sure.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Cat Returns is very well animated, but it is just not up to par with Ghibli’s previous classics in my opinion as it is never as moving or as memorable or as artistic. Still, the imagery is frequently beautiful, the action is so well executed, I loved the sky scenes and of course the highlight was the cat kingdom with the castle and especially the labyrinth and the tower. I also really liked the character design of the cats and the cats themselves were fairly realistically portrayed here in both their animal design and their moody, selfish behavior.

The Cat Returns has a bunch of memorable sequences so let me say which ones are my favorites. I loved the beginning and the scene where she rescued the cat prince was so well done. Baron’s little house was so cute and the attention to detail was so overwhelming in there. Overall, the architecture in this film is beautiful to witness.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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That scene where the king threw some cats from the window because they did not provide proper entertainment was hilarious as it was basically murder but portrayed amusingly. It was both dark and funny. The labyrinth was of course absolutely fantastic. I loved the king’s cheating and how The Baron realized that. This film is such a wonderful, enchanting adventure and those labyrinth and tower scenes are the best examples of that. And of course the descend through the sky is gorgeous to watch and the ending itself is poignant and emotionally satisfying.

The Cat Returns has absolutely brilliant voice acting. Yes, this is one of Ghibli’s strongest works when it comes to acting as each performance is phenomenal and everybody did a great job with the highlights being Tetsu Watanabe and Tetsuro Tanba as Muta and The Cat King, both very funny characters.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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Yes, the humor in this film is absolutely terrific and it probably is Ghibli’s funniest film as I laughed out loud many times while watching it. The film is so poignant, sweet and emotionally resonant while also being very funny and wonderfully childlike in its approach. The only problem is the pacing which is rushed as the film is just way too short in its runtime which was unfortunate. But the dialogue is strong and the score is particularly great with a wonderful closing number. It is one of Ghibli’s best and most underrated films.

The Cat Returns is overly rushed in pacing owing to ridiculously short runtime, but it remains one of Ghibli’s better and definitely most underrated works thanks to brilliant voice acting, excellent characterization (Muta, Haru, The Cat King and The Baron are all great characters), a wonderful story and terrific humor as it made me laugh so many times definitely being the funniest film from the studio. It is wonderfully childlike in its quality, very adventurous and enchanting in its journey and highly resonant emotionally. It is such a wonderful follow-up to ‘Spirited Away’ thematically and such a successful spin-off to ‘Whisper of the Heart’.

My Rating – 4.5

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Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away Movie Review

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Spirited Away Movie Review

Spirited Away is a 2001 anime fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is the best Studio Ghibli film and one of the best films ever made.

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Once you do something, you never forget.

Even if you can’t remember

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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I have seen Spirited Away at least three times by now and upon this fourth viewing I again confirmed its greatness. Rare are films that get better and better upon each subsequent viewing and this is one of those films. It has an amazing replay factor. I have always watched it in a dubbed version as that is how I first saw it so I cannot comment upon the Japanese sub acting, but the dub is actually one of the better anime dubs.

Let’s first talk about the story and the highlight scenes. This film is obviously influenced by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and it is a much darker, much better crafted version of it. It managed to eclipse that story due to a sheer epicness of it. It feature an amazing use of Japanese mythology and spirits and every creature here looks great and is highly memorable.

The beginning is excellent and very eerie in its atmosphere. Highly mysterious and otherworldly. All of Chihiro’s first sequences in this world are great and a wonderful build-up for the rest of the story. As for the stink spirit scenes, they are slightly extended, but still very memorable and the character is fascinating. So the film sometimes feels like a series of vignettes, but those vignettes are all fascinating and the editing is great so it still ended up being tight and well structured.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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Then the story gets much more intriguing with the introduction of Yubaba’s sister. The second act and mostly the latter half of it features a terrific use of build-up to the action and it rises the tension and stakes superbly.

Of course my favorite act is the third one as it is the culmination of everything we had learned previously about this world. That train is just breathtaking, those travelling scenes are transcendent in quality and the imagery is unforgettable.

Then we have the greatest scene from this film which is of course the goodbye scene between Zeniba and Chihiro and then the marvelous dragon flight which includes a great realization and an excellent, fascinating answer to the mystery of how she and Haku met. The final test was great and of course everything about that ending rings awesome. Beautifully filmed and immensely resonant in terms of emotion. The film reward you for taking this long trip with such a moving, deep final scene.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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Let’s talk about the film’s characters. Chihiro is a one of a kind protagonist and quite possibly the studio’s best creation. She is spoiled, clumsy and childish at first, but upon taking this amazing, fantastical journey, she becomes much more independent, stronger and more responsible and brave. It is an archetypal hero’s journey, but the one done infinitely better than most as it takes its necessary time to develop and thus feels all the more special.

Haku is also excellent despite appearing in not so many scenes. His mystery backstory is intriguing and very well resolved and his dragon form is striking and his job is very well utilized. The relationship between him and Chihiro is never overly emotional and just right.

Yubaba is such a hilarious character. At first menacing and all-powerful, but later deconstructed to a mean old lady. I loved her interactions with each of the characters. Her giant baby is so funny and her story with Zeniba is realistic and a lot of fun. Her sister is the polar opposite of her and a good witch. Loved her and her heartwarming relationship with Chihiro.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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No-Face is fascinating. He is a famous Japanese spirit, but he can be interpreted as being the metaphor for loneliness which many of us deal with and people are struggling much more these days and thus he is very relatable and endearing. I loved his many forms and how his backstory remained a mystery. I also loved that he stayed with Zeniba in the end as both need some company. Certainly the film resolved each of the characters’ stories successfully.

Boiler Man is very sweet and caring and I just loved everything about his working steampunk environment and those employees of his are so incredibly cute and feisty. Chihiro’s parents serve their purpose and to me Lin is wonderful as this on surface calculated, yet ultimately very caring and good friend to Chihiro. Every character here is great and every spirit and creature is memorable even if they are not too present.

Spirited Away features absolutely breathtaking animation. What is there yet to say that hasn’t already been said? This film utilizes on the power and pure imagination and art of hand-drawn animation superbly and rare are animated films with better animation than this one. Only Walt Disney’s earliest films can compare honestly.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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The film is colorful in just the right amount, it is both dark and light in equal amount both in terms of animation and atmosphere and it has absolutely terrific character designs with each spirit being fascinating, different and unique. The humans also look great. The various sets are amazing, each one of its locations is beautifully explored and mesmerizing and the action is so well executed.

It has some of the best world building that I have ever witnessed. I felt as if I really went into this spirit world and I felt as if I also learned something and became more adult just like Chihiro. The movie gives the child in all of us the opportunity to dream again and because it is so dark and serious at times while being funny and lightweight at other times, it manages to be perfect for both children and adults. A perfect mix of everything that the best of animation can offer.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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In terms of the humor, it succeeds. It is rarely used, but quite enjoyable and endearing when it happens. I loved the cutesy factor here, but I also admired the inherent darkness of this world as well as it reach themes which span from growing up to greed (best exhibited in those bathhouses) to environmentalism (refreshingly subdued here for Ghibli) to Japanese folklore. The film truly is very smart and consistently deep and transcendent.

The action is never overwhelming and is excellent and sparingly used. The runtime of two hours is perfect for this film and it never feels long despite for animation long runtime. That is because this world and this story are so rich that they needed more time. And the pacing is excellent.

The tone is diverse and the score is phenomenal! I loved this score and in my opinion the dragon flight scene is the best scene in the movie not in small amount thank to that gorgeous, moving and highly transcendent score which is honestly magical in its quality.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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The attention to detail is magnificent, the dialogue is terrific and the film is unforgettable in its every aspect. Hayao Miyazaki directed Spirited Away marvelously and it clearly is a work of art and magnum opus from this famous director who was clearly making a masterpiece here. It thankfully got its Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and it is critically acclaimed for all the obvious reasons I stated above. It is the best that both Studio Ghibli and anime have to offer and one of the best overall film of all time.

With breathtaking, absolutely wondrous animation, stellar direction, meticulous world-building with an overwhelming attention to detail, terrific character development and extremely powerful score which is honestly one of the best in film history, Spirited Away is an undisputed masterpiece and one of the rare films that can easily be called art. The story is well crafted with great influences, a diverse tone which ranges from cute and endearing to dark and atmospheric, high emotional resonance and a great character journey for the protagonist. The film manages to be magical, sometimes serious, at times funny, but always engaging and simply fascinating. The entire, wonderful new world is created here with an impeccable attention to detail which is a reason why it has such a lasting appeal and endless replay factor. Consequently, it is a pure masterpiece and undoubtedly one of the best films ever produced.

My Rating – 5

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Dersu Uzala (1975)

Dersu Uzala Movie Review

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Dersu Uzala Movie Review

Dersu Uzala is a 1975 Soviet-Japanese adventure biopic directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is a long, but pretty good film.

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How can man live in a box?

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Dersu Uzala Movie Review

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This is a co-production between Russia and Japan and I liked seeing these two great countries join forces and create this epic. Akira Kurosawa is a great director and he directed this film so well. His direction and the titular Asian character bring the Asian flavor to the film which revolves in Russian Far East with Russian actors. I really liked that mix.

The friendship that develops between a Russian man and this native is heartwarming and very strong. Their explorations of the harsh region are so great and it was very interesting seeing the various different conditions from fog to snow. This is very much a film about nature and the power of it and of course I admire movies that promote that.

The two main characters are very good and I really loved their friendship. The actors also gave such strong performances. But other characters are quite forgettable. The film deals with Dersu’s aging very well and in terms of the themes, it is a familiar, but well realized film.

Dersu Uzala looks absolutely magnificent. It sounds great thanks to excellent score and superb sound design, but the various natural landscapes are beautiful to witness and the film relies heavily on its very harsh and alienated atmosphere and setting to great effect. It is an old tale of man versus nature but well crafted nonetheless.

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Dersu Uzala Movie Review

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The problem with Dersu Uzala is naturally its running time which is just way too long. Two hours would have been enough and I would cut those thirty minutes from it. Sometimes the film was slow and uninvolving and although it is a slow-burn, it still would have hugely benefited from stronger pacing and a shorter runtime. It got the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and I don’t mind its win as it is actually one of the better winners from the seventies.

Dersu Uzala is certainly overlong and it is quite a familiar tale, but well told with a strong friendship between its main characters, excellent direction and great atmosphere thanks to superb sound and wonderful cinematography. It is slow, but moving and it utilizes its interesting setting so well.

My Rating – 4

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My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

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My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

My Neighbors the Yamadas is a 1999 anime comedy film directed by Isao Takahata. It is Studio Ghibli’s most underappreciated film.

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My father and mother and grandma and brother all got lost

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My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

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This film is for better and for worse a series of vignettes. That means that it has no story, but just various unconnected segments that tell the tales of the Yamada family through hardships and foolishness. It may seem at first that it is too disconnected, but I honestly found it thematically connected as the film shows the power of family and that the family union can help you stay afloat in this dark and cold world.

Let’s first talk about the characters and then I will touch upon its segments. There are basically only five characters in this movie and those are all the Yamada family members. I love movies with less characters so naturally I really enjoyed this one as well.

Nonoko is their five-year old daughter and although she was less prominent in the second half of the movie, she was wonderful in the first half and so incredibly funny at times. I really liked her and she is such a wonderful kid. Noboru isn’t as likable and is more typical, but still really well developed and his romantic as well as school problems were really well portrayed.

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My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

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Takashi works too much to support his family whereas Matsuko is very much just a housewife so in that regard the film is overly archaic in gender roles and family structure. However, they are still both amazing characters. He is relatable for all great workers whereas she is pretty funny as this clumsy and forgetful housewife. The relationship between the two is great as it is such a realistic marriage filled with love and respect but also childish arguing and bickering.

Of course Shige is the highlight. She is the grandmother in the family and, ironically for the oldest member of the family, she is the most energetic and the most lively of the bunch. And needless to say, the funniest. She made me laugh the most with her many funny lines and actions. And the fact that she is the most adult and responsible and that she basically brings the whole family together was a strong statement on how important the elderly can be. Loved it.

As for its segments, the beginning was too silly and not my favorite. The family losing Nonoko in the shopping mall is easily one of the strongest segments here as it shows how irresponsible parents can be but in a very lightweight manner. Their scenes in the car are great, but Nonoko’s scene with that little, also lost, boy takes the cake as the funniest and most wonderful for sure. She thinks the family is lost and not her and thus they so amusingly and realistically show us the childlike innocence and cluelessness.

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My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

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The next scene shows how the entire family is unorganized and how everybody wants to do their own thing and nobody wants to do the cleaning. Again another truthful segment. The next segment is all about the Yamada marriage and how chaotic it is. The standout scene is the remote sequence as it was hilarious seeing the two fight over TV. A typically silly anime humor is used here to elevate the material superbly.

The male bonding is also pretty solid as a story about the age gap and the distant relationship between fathers and sons. The next two segments focus on Takashi being a great father model but nobody notices that. The next two segments (umbrella and sushi) aren’t as essential but the breakfast scene is hilarious as always having the same meal is unfortunately very relatable to me personally.

Ginger Morning is so funny! It basically showcases the forgetful nature of all five of the Yamadas to a hilarious effect. A great use of situational comedy. The next two segments are about Noboru (school and romance) and although quite well executed, they are not my favorites as he is my least favorite character in the film.

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My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

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The next couple of vignettes center around wonderful Shige and the highlight is the scene in which she takes back the ball that went over the fence to some kids and rewards them with another ball but the two boys eventually come asking for that ball. I laughed out loud here. Such a funny scene. And of course the grandma taking the action against bikers into her own hand was a great subversive scene where the woman takes action instead of the father figure.

The business speech of Takashi’s was very good and of course the ending is so great as it utilizes the power of Que Sera, Sera. I love how Ghibli once again used one of my favorite songs in their movie after Take Me Home, Country Roads in ‘Whisper of the Heart’.

My Neighbors the Yamadas features a very different animation from the regular highly stylized anime style of their other efforts and thus this makes it unique and singular. It employs computer animation in the creation of watercolor, comic-strip style in its animation and the results are wonderful despite the excessive use of the color white. I loved its fluid and simplistic look and the character design is excellent.

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My Neighbors the Yamadas Movie Review

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So My Neighbors the Yamadas is a very uneven film with uneven pacing and quality of the segments which is to be expected from its vignette format. But it is still such a good film that is probably the studio’s most underrated and it was much better to me upon second viewing. It employs a very good score and superb dialogue with many memorable lines. It has no story, but it is observational in message and themes and everyday life thanks to its wonderful slice-of-life storytelling. And the humor is just magnificent and I laughed more than a couple of times. It is another strong work from great Isao Takahata.

My Neighbors the Yamadas is probably the most underappreciated of all Studio Ghibli’s films. Its approach as a series of vignettes instead of a full story definitely led to its uneven quality and pacing, but the film features such a unique watercolor, comic-strip style to it and a superb dialogue and excellent humor with many hilarious lines and situations. The Yamadas are such a wonderful, relatable and endearing family and I’ve spent such a wonderful 100 minutes with them.

My Rating – 4

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