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 film 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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Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

Princess Mononoke is a 1997 historical fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s weakest offerings.

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You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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I never really cared for this movie and now upon second viewing, I can confirm that it truly is the most overrated Studio Ghibli film ever and also one of their weakest. That puts me in the vast minority, but I have to be honest and say that this is one of a handful of highly respected animated films which I deem very overrated.

That does not mean that Princess Mononoke is a bad movie. It is a solid film which has its strengths. Technically, the film is very strong and more on that later. In terms of story, it is ambitious and its attention to detail is remarkable. It has a strong environmental message and its characters are not painted black-and-white but are rather complex and realistic.

However, I still disliked those characters personally. That is because I could just never connect with any of them. Neither of them was remotely relatable or likable to me and that was a huge hurdle for the movie which never managed to overcome it. And it has too many characters and most are highly forgettable.

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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Ashitaka himself is very boring. I do not know why Miyazaki stated that he is an atypical protagonist when he couldn’t be more standard as heroes go. He’s bland and uninteresting. San is underdeveloped as is their relationship. Lady Eboshi is the only very good character in the movie as her motifs, her background and her goals are well realized and she is a complex person in the grey area of morality. But even she was not great.

As I said above, the only truly excellent thing in Princess Mononoke is its animation which is expected from such an art-driven studio. I really enjoyed the forests here and the animals are so realistically designed. The film features very polished, but still old-fashioned type of hand-drawn cell animation. The mix of traditional animation and the computer animation (present in demon flesh) is really well executed.

The film is very well animated, but even its animation is nowhere near the quality of Ghibli’s best films such as ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ for instance. The film succeeds as a historical piece as it has a great eye for detail and it recreated this period in Japan’s history so well.

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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But even though the dialogue is strong and the script is quite good, the execution is far from great. The film is just overlong, clocking in at over two hours. I was honestly bored. It is ambitious and epic for the sake of being ambitious and epic. I am not a fan of epic fantasy and thus this did not suit my tastes.

The film also features overwhelming action. Certainly some of it was great and so well executed with the fight between San and Lady Eboshi being the highlight, but still the film favored action and spectacle over substance. The gore is also overwhelming and not really needed so every bloody scene felt like a big distraction for me. All in all, even the environmental message is done better and more subtly in some of the studio’s previous classics so this surely is one of their weakest offerings.

Princess Mononoke is one of the most overrated animated films. Certainly the animation is excellent and frequently even stunning, the script is good and the characters are realistic and quite complex, but none of them was remotely likable or relatable to me and the film bored me with its prolonged runtime, excessive gore and overwhelming action and spectacle. And even its environmental message is done better in some of the studio’s previous classic films. It truly is Studio Ghibli’s most overrated film and one of their weakest offerings.

My Rating – 3

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Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

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Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 romantic drama anime film directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. It is one of the best films that Studio Ghibli has to offer and one of my personal favorites.

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It’s not easy to live your own way. You can’t blame anyone but yourself

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Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

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Let’s first talk about the story. The movie is interesting for being one of the rare Ghibli films with no fantasy elements whatsoever. The Baron fantasy sequences were actually figments of imagination of the main character. They are fantastical, but not real. Still, those were wonderful and they complimented the storyline really well. They are a textbook example of how animation can sometimes suit the genre of drama much better than its live-action counterpart.

This is a wonderful movie which is exceedingly romantic and sweet. I just adored it and watching it was such a beautiful experience for me. The romance between the two is exceptional and it develops at the perfect pace. The entire story with how they meet and how they were reading the same books was just so romantic and wonderful that I ate it up.

But whereas Whisper of the Heart succeeds incredibly as a teen romance, it succeeds even more as a pure drama. And what drama this is! Honestly, this was the deepest and most thought-provoking film I’ve seen in quite a while. I saw this movie around five years ago, but I am more mature now, so I respect it much more upon second viewing.

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Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

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I am currently at the most unpredictable and dangerous moment in my life. I am trying to find a job online, but it is moving at a slow progression and I am very anxious about finishing faculty so this movie was just perfect for me. I watched it at the most perfect time possible and thus I connected with its characters enormously.

It is a very smart, incredibly sophisticated story about two teenagers who chase their dreams but are yet not ready for a job. The line from Shizuko’s father about high school was pitch-perfect in its honesty and truthfulness – you can follow a different path than the default one given to you by your country and the entire world, but that path is going to be incredibly difficult and it is in the end not worth it. It is a sad, terrible truth that the movie made clear and with that I am struggling in my life right now.

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Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

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And another great line is how wanting to do something is not the same as preparing constantly and bettering yourself so that you can manage to get that job and secure your future. Life is difficult and getting a job and growing up is so hard and Whisper of the Heart gets that and is probably the most honest teen movie out of all of them as it teaches us those great messages in a very urgent manner.

Let’s finally talk about these characters, these great characters. Surely the parents are sweet and respectful and Yuko is a great friend to our main heroine, but honestly this movie is mostly just about Shizuko and Seiji and that was great. It’s a phenomenal chamber drama in a way. He is at first a bit too unlikable in a forced way, but he became much more likable and sweet later on and of course their relationship is very strong and heartwarming.

But Shizuko is amazing and I loved her. She is one of Ghibli’s finest heroines as she is so well developed and although a good girl, she isn’t overly kind and she seemed very realistic to me. Her troubles are so well established and her interactions with everyone were top-notch, but it is her love for books that was awesome to witness, her wild imagination was beautiful and her constant struggle with herself and her own dreams led to such a terrific character development and complex dilemmas.

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Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

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Whisper of the Heart is gorgeously animated! The character animation and designs are nothing spectacular, but the landscapes are excellent and for once we got a Ghibli movie set in a city. That was refreshing to see and Tokyo is perfectly animated. I loved that final scene which was gorgeous and of course the antique toy shop is the visual highlight as it is superbly detailed and immensely charming. The movie is not fantastical, but it compensates that with an astonishing attention to detail to everyday objects and the city itself.

The movie is superbly voice cast and the acting was excellent. Yoko Honna was just marvelous in a great role. As I said before, the dialogue is phenomenal and the script itself is absolutely spectacular. It favors drama and emotion over spectacle and fun and that was very refreshing. It is in line with ‘Only Yesterday’ as these two are two realistic, contemporary dramas rarely seen in animation and both are some of my favorites from the studio, both honestly quite underrated.

I do realize that the final scene was a bit too sentimental and it surely was overly emotional, but I still liked it, especially for its gorgeous setting and animation. The score is fantastic and Take Me Home, Country Roads is one my favorite songs of all time and seeing how it was a perfect theme for the movie only further strengthened my love for it.

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Whisper of the Heart Movie Review

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The fantastical sequences should have been shorter and sometimes the movie struggled with its pacing, but it was mostly top-notch in terms of both technical aspects and story/characters/emotion. I loved the shop and the cat, the grandpa was wonderful and my favorite scenes were the ones in the antique shop and the library. A very charming, atmospheric movie this is.

With superb character development and one of the studio’s finest heroines, wonderful animation fueled by a meticulous attention to detail, a perfect use of one of my favorite songs and a top-notch script, Whisper of the Heart truly is one of the best Ghibli movies and one of my personal favorites as I connected with it on so many levels. Thematically rich and incredibly smart and truthful in dialogue and its statements, the movie speaks to me on a personal level. Gorgeous in its romance and deep in its drama, you just can’t get a better animated teen drama than this one.

My Rating – 4.5

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Pom Poko (1994)

Pom Poko Movie Review

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Pom Poko Movie Review

Pom Poko is a 1994 fantasy drama anime film from Studio Ghibli and directed by Isao Takahata. It is one of the weaker, but still underrated Ghibli films.

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They used their balls as weapons in a brave kamikaze attack

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Pom Poko Movie Review

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So this is basically another nature tale where environmentalism is the prevailing message. This time around we follow raccoon dogs who have the power to transform into anything and are forced to transform into humans and live in their society as their forests are getting destroyed. So they do try to hammer this message a bit too much and for some that would be a deal-breaker, but I didn’t mind it too much as it is a very important message and people and children should be aware of this problem.

This is a very interesting film in that it very much seemed like a live-action film. Let me explain. Its running time is two hours and the film is sprawling, ambitious and rich in themes and characters which are all rarely seen in animation. That was a two-edged sword however. It was admirable in ambition, but it was also probably too long and some scenes in its middle section felt either repetitive or even unnecessary. There were too many details and plot points in my opinion.

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Pom Poko Movie Review

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But the story in Pom Poko still worked and these raccoon dogs were very interesting as they have the power to transform and all those transformations were beautiful and interesting to watch. I loved how the humans were realistically portrayed in all their actions and yes – the ending killed me. It  affected me emotionally as it truly is a beautiful, poignant scene. Watching them live as humans and miss their forest home was devastating, but still that final scene where Shoukichi gathers with his companions was so touching and the fourth wall breaking finale was also devastating.

So Shoukichi is a memorable, likable protagonist, Oroku is a lot of fun and old Seizaemon is great. Now most of these characters are underutilized as you got too many of them, but still they all felt like a big family thanks to a lot of emotional connection, excellent interactions between them and fun humor. I loved their relationship with humans too. The voice acting is also pretty good per usual.

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Pom Poko Movie Review

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So let’s talk about the animation. Firstly, the character design. Let’s first address the elephant in the room – those giant balls. Yes, these animals have giant balls that in the movie they use to fight the humans in the end even. So yes, it felt weird, but if you are used to anime, you would not mind it like I did not. In fact, it was quite funny to me and it is the most memorable thing about the movie for better and for worse. Love it or hate it, it is bold and the overall character design is actually excellent as they have three forms and they shift from realistic to anthropomorphic to transformed so smoothly and all the forms are beautiful.

The overall animation is very competent and actually great. I loved the natural landscapes, but the city imagery was also very memorable. That scene where you witness the destruction of the hill for the placement of the city was truly heartbreaking. The animation here is so polished and so beautiful as a whole that it honestly doesn’t stay too much behind their more well known, earlier efforts. The parade sequence is particularly dazzling to witness.

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Pom Poko Movie Review

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Pom Poko also has a very strong score which accompanies those emotional scenes so well and I really liked it personally. The pacing is problematic, but the direction from Isao Takahata is very strong per usual as he is one of my favorite anime directors for sure. But I have to say that I really did not like the narration here.

The dialogue overall is excellent here and the movie is smart, but that narration kidified the movie a bit too much and it was just so unnecessary and extremely overwhelming as it took up a lot of the movie. But the humor is honestly quite solid and the film is charming and poignant enough that it overcame those many flaws and it is in my opinion quite underrated and possibly better than overrated ‘Porco Rosso’.

Pom Poko is a flawed, but solid and ultimately even underrated Ghibli film. Its narration truly is overwhelming, the film may be too weird for some in regards to the character design and it was too long and the middle section dragged a bit, but still this is a very moving, rich tale with a strong environmental message, likable characters, accomplished animation and such a poignant, truly touching third act.

My Rating – 3.5

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Porco Rosso (1992)

Porco Rosso Movie Review

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Porco Rosso Movie Review

Porco Rosso is a 1992 animated adventure comedy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of the weaker Studio Ghibli offerings that still has a lot to offer.

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I’d rather be a big than a fascist

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Porco Rosso Movie Review

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The subject of aviation is naturally very dear to Miyazaki, but somehow he never really knew how to utilize all that strong love for it. ‘The Wind Rises’ was problematic and Porco Rosso is no exception. It is a film that is just solid and I’d come to expect much more than solid from this director.

So the film is about an Italian World War I ex-fighter ace who was transformed into an anthropomorphic pig. The film is interesting for being the only Miyazaki film that is very realistic and could have happened in real life, everything except the curse part of course. Its Italian location is interesting and unique for the studio and I love the 30s decade so this was pleasant for me naturally.

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Porco Rosso Movie Review

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But I have to agree with the director himself who stated that he made an adult movie for children. And that is exactly the major problem of Porco Rosso in a nutshell. It is realistic, it has politics and history in it and yet somehow the movie is not serious as it tries to be fun and funny. It is fun and funny at times, but this tonal inconsistency just felt off for me and ultimately the movie did not work as much as it could have had he decided on just one consistent tone.

I found its first act somewhat abrupt as it starts in a rushed way and it did not introduce me to its characters and its world properly. The third act of the film is where it is at its silliest and most childish and although amusing, it felt too silly in contrast to everything that came before it. The second act is easily the best one as it features some strong characterization, humor and wonderful drama.

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Porco Rosso Movie Review

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Porco himself is very memorable and I really liked his character as he is a departure from the usual heroes from the director, or should I say heroines. His story is excellent and I loved the hint at the end that his face may be restored to human. Fio is such a wonderful, subtly feminist character and she is a lot of fun and has some great energy. The relationship between these two is the heart and soul of the film.

Donald Curtis is somewhat typical as an antagonist and again that fight at the end was silly, but Madame Gina is memorable as a love interest and I really enjoyed the love story in this movie and I even found this triangle to be pretty solid.

Porco Rosso is so well animated. It isn’t quite on par with the previous Ghibli films as it isn’t as artistic and the backgrounds are sometimes lacking, but the designs of the characters are so good, especially that of the protagonist, and the film is pleasing in color and quite endearing. The flight scenes are so well executed and I loved the attention to detail that went into the animation of airplanes. It is evident from this movie how much Hayao loves aviation.

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Porco Rosso Movie Review

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The score is also stupendous. It isn’t as memorable as say the score from ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ or ‘My Neighbor Totoro’, but it is very fitting to the story and feel of the movie, not to mention the locations, and I loved how fun and retro it felt.

The movie is well paced and edited in spite of that somewhat rushed first act. It otherwise flows really well and the direction is as strong as usual. I also thought that the dialogue is quite solid and I loved the conversations between Fio and Porco and his origin story is so well told. So the movie is not one of Ghibli’s strongest and it is more in line with ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’. Still, it is endearing and charming enough that I can’t criticize it too much.

Porco Rosso is a problematic movie. The animation is as wonderful as usual for the studio, the characters are memorable, I loved the relationship between Fio and Porco, the locations of the film are different and interesting and the film is so well scored and charming and endearing for the most part. However, I have to agree with Miyazaki himself that this is an adult film for children and it thus felt odd both conceptually and tonally. It struggled with its tone too much, the first act is somewhat rushed and the third act is silly leading to one of Ghibli’s more humble offerings.

My Rating – 3.5

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Only Yesterday (1991)

Only Yesterday Movie Review

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Only Yesterday Movie Review

Only Yesterday is a 1991 anime drama film directed by Isao Takahata which is Studio Ghibli’s fifth movie. It is one of their most underrated and very best.

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There is always a tomorrow

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Only Yesterday Movie Review

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The story is so strong. I am not usually a fan of this framing device where we jump from present to past, but this use of flashbacks is so strong that it complements the movie instead of hurting it. Critics have pointed out the strong adult approach that is present in Only Yesterday and that is definitely the case here. It is intended for women, but could be enjoyed by men as well. But it is mostly for adults as its story is very mature and deep.

We follow a 27-year-old woman as she journeys to the countryside and meanwhile reminisces about her 10-year-old self. This is not just your regular reminiscing, but it is important as she thus grows more as an adult and realizes her past and present mistakes. She is somewhat lost as an adult and she wants to fix that.

What I loved about it the most is its portrayal of childhood. Now there are a lot of movies about this subject matter, but this is easily one of the best of its type because it shows so truthfully how everything seemed better and more magical during childhood, but it also shows us that some of the problems and traumas faced during childhood are never really forgotten and they shape you as a human being. Incredibly powerful stuff.

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Only Yesterday Movie Review

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And I loved her romance with Toshio, so well done. I rooted for them to end up together and it is implied that they did which was wonderful. Their conversations were just so wonderful and realistic that they were easily the highlights here in terms of the dialogue. Toshio is a great character and Taeka just might be my favorite Ghibli heroine or at least in the top two or three. She is beautifully developed and always grounded in reality as she is never portrayed as too good, especially as a child and I appreciated that.

Other characters aren’t as memorable but they definitely help shape her experiences as an adult and as a child. Toshio’s family does have some great moments with her as they pressure her into dating Toshio which was such a realistically depicted scene. Taeka’s mother is also superbly realized, caring, yet also careless at times towards her. The same goes for her sister. And of course I liked all of her classmates and especially her love interest.

The scene where the two share their first conversation is just beautiful to witness. It wonderfully showcases the power and innocence of childhood love. All of the scenes between Taeka and Toshio were of course the other highlights. I loved the scenes with hitting puberty and the period talk is something you rarely see in animation and is greatly portrayed here. And her math problem led to such a great and relatable scene to me personally.

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Only Yesterday Movie Review

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But there is no denying the power of the last sequence. I just adored that ending and it is in fact one of my favorite Studio Ghibli scenes ever. There you see the need for the animated medium as this is a drama and not a fantasy but there it employs its flashback approach by bringing the kids on the screen together with her and facing her with her former self. That moment was just poetic and deep that I felt it emotionally. The fact that probably my favorite song ever The Rose was playing during the scene only heightened the emotion for me. It is the truly touching pinnacle of this entire mature and relatable drama.

Only Yesterday is beautifully animated. Now it isn’t on the level of some previous Ghibli classics such as ‘My Neighbor Totoro’, but it is still incredibly strong. The film portrays its characters realistically as they are not overly pretty and perfect. The imagery is gorgeous and the attention to detail is once again overwhelming.

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Only Yesterday Movie Review

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The film showcases the importance of country life and especially farm producing and I just loved that. This studio has always been the proponent of living in the country, but this movie takes that to the next level as it also shows us the importance of working and how producing plants can be beneficial to not just your health but also emotionally as you help grow a living thing. The relationship between humans and nature is so well emphasized here and it shows us how the two can co-exist peacefully and productively.

The score is again terrific and not just in the ending, but also in its use of Hungarian and Romanian folk music as that somehow transcends and perfectly fits the country scenes. It is so well edited and directed and a further proof why I love Isao Takahata so much as he truly directs his movies stupendously and his Ghibli films are my favorites.

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Only Yesterday Movie Review

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Only Yesterday isn’t perfect as I thought that some scenes weren’t as compelling as the rest and the film needed more humor in my opinion as it was overly serious, but it truly is one of Studio Ghibli’s finest outings and definitely near the top of the list for me. It is an underrated film that should be appreciated by more people and now that it finally came out in the USA, I am glad to see that start to happen. Also, it is easily one of the best that the very weak year of 1991 has to offer.

Only Yesterday is one of the very best that Studio Ghibli has to offer thanks to again gorgeous animation, a truly phenomenal score, excellent character development and a rich story. Its framing device is put to some great use, the film flows so well, it is beautifully directed by always great Isao Takahata and it is so emotional, relatable and ultimately deep in its very mature story. The highlight is the ending which deeply touched me with its song choice, imagery and strong emotion.

My Rating – 4.5

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Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki's Delivery Service Movie Review

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Kiki’s Delivery Service Movie Review

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is Studio Ghibli’s forth film which is solid, but pretty overrated.

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Flying used to be fun

until I started doing it for a living

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Kiki's Delivery Service Movie Review

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It follows a young witch in training. She hits her teenage years and moves to a new town where she starts earning money by delivering packages with her broom. She meets a lot of different people and experiences adulthood. It is a coming-of-age flick which should prove awesome for children and most especially little girls, but it is in my opinion too childlike and girly and it doesn’t have the adult appeal that childlike movies such as ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ have.

That is mostly why I didn’t love it. I liked it more upon my second viewing, but I still think it isn’t better than solid. The plot is somewhat non-existent except that it is a coming-of-age story and although it is too slow at times, I mostly liked its casual approach which is the director’s signature direction. He directed the film really well, that’s for sure.

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Kiki's Delivery Service Movie Review

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Of course Kiki not being able to talk to her cat eventually and losing her flying ability was a metaphor for becoming an adult and losing your innocence and I loved that, a very elegant and heartwarming way to state that transition. The movie is slow, but certainly quite sophisticated and although seemingly too sweet, it does portray many different types of people and some not all that good so it does become more mature at some points, but too rarely.

I’ve had a big problem with its ending. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a film that is leisurely in style and pace and thus its climactic ending felt way out of place and honestly quite ridiculous. It is a typical action-oriented finale that should be reserved for all those stupid family flicks made in USA and seeing Miyazaki resort to that was unfortunate.

Kiki is a good character, though a bit too good natured and somewhat forgettable when put against other strong Ghibli heroines. Jiji’s sarcasm proved to be a lot of fun and again I really liked that only she could talk to him. Their relationship pleasantly reminded me of Lyra and Pan’s relationship in ‘Northern Lights’.

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Kiki's Delivery Service Movie Review

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Osono is charming and Ursula shared a really great scene with Kiki and I loved her artistic background. As for Tombo, he is your typical Ghibli male love interest, but their relationship was admittedly quite sweet and touching. The voice acting is expectedly very good here.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is as superbly animated as you would come to expect from the caliber of this studio and its famous director. The character designs themselves are good, but it is the backgrounds that prove to be a real treat here. I absolutely loved how gorgeous some of the imagery was here. I always loved seaside towns and this town being European in style was refreshing to see in an anime film. I loved how the town looked and it felt so cozy, but the house interiors, the food, of course the nature and every little detail was beautiful to witness and Ghibli’s early films from eighties and nineties really do give hand-drawn animation a great reputation.

The score is also very good and grandiose and different in its style which I loved. Its opening and closing number was also quite sweet. The film is definitely wonderfully made technically and both the script and the dialogue offer some gems in terms of the scenes. My favorite scenes are Kiki’s discussion about art and flying with Ursula, her first scenes in a new town were all phenomenal and her scenes with Tombo and Jiji were all big winners.

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Kiki's Delivery Service Movie Review

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So the film is pleasant and charming, but admittedly too slow at times and I honestly thought that the film was way too simplistic and it definitely ended in a very mediocre, frustratingly annoying manner. It is a movie that is perfect for kids and little girls, but it never has that universality to it that other Ghibli classics have. It is the weakest Ghibli outing from the eighties by far and definitely one of its most overrated films. It is solid, don’t get me wrong, but I’d come to expect much greater things from this magnificent studio and this one is certainly way too overrated for my taste.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is expectedly gorgeously and meticulously animated, very well scored, pleasantly leisurely in pace and style with a good metaphor and it is a charming coming-of-age film that is great for children and especially girls, but it isn’t all that appealing to adults, I found its ending annoyingly too climactic and out of place and although the film is definitely sweet and solid, it is far from great and is actually one of Studio Ghibli’s most overrated works.

My Rating – 3.5

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My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

My Neighbor Totoro is a 1988 family fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s loveliest offerings.

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Well, I’m not sure,

but I could’ve sworn that I saw

both of the girls up in the treetop, laughing

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

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This has to be Ghibli’s most childlike film and that is okay as it is wonderful and so pleasing and gentle that you gotta love it no matter the age. So basically we follow two sisters as they explore the country and the forest while interacting with friendly wood spirits. Yes, this film apparently doesn’t have a clear storyline, but I have to say that I liked it all the more for it.

In real life, rare are sudden conflicts and there are no villains so this film ended up being rather realistic and an original take on an animated film as I cannot think of any other animated flick that did this. It is a wonderful slice of life story for children and their parents and I myself sympathized with the characters and I loved the country setting. Despite not having a clear plot and goal, the film still explores some themes and the most emphasized are those of sibling love, benefits of living in the country and of course the film is as ecological as you’d come to expect from the director. It reminded me pleasantly of my childhood and seeing the two sisters explore the house and the forest is exactly what I did as a kid so it was relatable to me.

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

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Let’s talk about the characters. Satsuki and Mei are such wonderful child characters whom I really liked. As with ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, the film showcases realistically and nostalgically the powers of childhood and how children really interact. Everything is a wonder to them, their thirst for exploration is never-ending and they even portrayed realistically how boys and girls do not get along at an early age and how boys are much more shy. Very well done.

Satsuki having  to care for Mei also reminded me of the aforementioned film and it again shows us how responsible the role of an older child really is. Mei is cute and sometimes funny, but also at times annoying. A very grounded in reality four-year-old. I loved Kanta and his shy interactions with Satsuki were very amusing and of course the grandmother is lovable.

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

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My Neighbor Totoro is a family slice of life film but it is also very much a fantasy flick. Its creatures are so original in design and authentic that they deservedly stood the test of time and are iconic to this day. The dustbunnies are very interesting and the Catbus is such a fantastic creation that is zany in the best way possible. It obviously influenced J. K. Rowling for her Knight Bus. And of course Totoro is such a lovable creature and the mix of cute and large is memorable and he is cute while also being very funny at times.

Hayao Miyazaki directed this film really well and you cannot deny his strong sense of space and time as both the setting and the fifties are very well portrayed here. I just loved everything about this country. The house is quite memorable and of course the forest is beautiful to behold. I loved how we got to see the country jobs and the various amounts of vegetables and fruit shown here can definitely make you hungry.

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

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Yes, the animation is simply gorgeous as is expected from this magnificent studio. The character design of the humans is very good, but it is the creature design that really makes an impact as it is simple, yet unforgettable. The film is beautiful to look at and again highly advanced for its time as both the water and the light are so realistically portrayed.

As for some of the flaws, sometimes the kids yelled a bit too much for sure and the film can definitely be too simplistic and childish to some. I don’t see how a lot of people can like it. I myself did, but it isn’t for everyone. And even though I really liked the inclusion of their mother’s illness and the third act was more emotional and dark while still ending on a very positive note, I still wished that it was a bit darker and more emotional. I loved the film’s ending for sure, but maybe a more ambiguous ending would have been better.

And I loved the properties of the creatures such as the Catbus flying and Totoro making a tree grow to full size in a matter of minutes, but I still would have liked a bit more explanations and more concise rules for the powers as an adult. Again, that is where being a kid really matters as it leads to a better viewing experience of the film.

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Review

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My Neighbor Totoro is very well paced and although it may be too slow for some, I actually loved its languid pace and that meant that you can enjoy the power of the animation much more. The level of detail in this movie is truly staggering. The dialogue is also solid and some lines are quite memorable. And I have to mention its score as it is beautiful per usual but this time containing a song and its theme song is so endearing catchy and ultimately fantastic. The film has a big heart and very much a timeless appeal to it. It is one of the most wonderfully childlike films that I have ever seen and certainly one of Ghibli’s best works.

My Neighbor Totoro is a gentle, leisurely, simple slice of life film that offers you a heartwarming look into the eyes of a child without ever succumbing to clichéd conflicts and villains and thus it led to an original, more realistic take on an animated film. The characters are lovable, the creatures even more so and the animation is as brilliant as you would come to expect from the studio with a painstaking level of detail. It is a beautiful movie that is timeless in quality and it’s one of Studio Ghibli’s best.

My Rating – 4.5

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