Archive for March, 2012

Anime Review: Grave of the Fireflies

Genre: Historical/Drama

Studio/Creator: Ghibli/Isao Takahata & Hayao Miyazaki

Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Distributor: Sentai Filmworks

Suggested Age: 13+

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: This is the story of Seita and his sister Setsuna, who are orphaned as a result of the air raids during World War II.  The movie tells of the failure of their struggle for survival.

Review: I really love this movie in spite of its sadness.  The story is beautifully told, with some very nice detail on the humans.  I like that the story presents war in all its ugliness, without sugar-coating anything.  Although I feel children should watch this movie, as it will present a good opportunity for discussion of the horrors of war, I feel discretion should be practiced.  This is actually a beautiful story, and if you can stomach the graphic, but necessary, depiction of starvation and suffering, you might be able to appreciate this movie.

Sub/Dub: Skip the dub. The sub is much better, especially since the VA’s portraying Seita and Setsuna are exactly the same age as the characters.  To me, this adds authenticity to the performance.

Music/Score: Very good and sets the tone well.

Violence: (7/10)–Near the beginning, we see the children’s mother’s corpse. There are also some intense bombings.

Language: (0/10)

Sexuality: (0/10)

Nudity: (1/10)–There is a scene where Seita is bathing Setsuna.

Related Media: This is based on the book by Akujuki Nosaka and is actually inspired by his own experiences.



Anime Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Genre: Fantasy/Romance

Studio/Creator: Hayao Miyazaki (based on the book Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones)

Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Suggested Age: 10+ (MPAA Rating: PG)

My Rating: 9/10

Summary: Sophie is a quiet girl working in a hat shop with her mother when she discovers that a wizard named Howl is infatuated with her.  One day, the Witch of the Waste comes to her shop and disrespects her.  When Sophie relents, the Witch places a spell on her, rapidly advancing her age.  Sophie realizes Howl is the only one who can break the spell. But will he even help her?

Review: This is, in my opinion, one of Ghibli’s most underrated pictures.  The movie has rich animation and detail, particularly on the titular castle and on Calcifer, the fire demon who slavishly controls Howl’s castle.

Sophie is one of my favorite Miyazaki heroines. I admired her spunk from the very start of the movie, when she dares to stand up to the Witch of the Waste. Even after she succumbs to the spell, she retains her courage.

Howl is a great character too. He’s very mischievous and childish, but in an enjoyable way.  Sophie doesn’t stand for his actions either, creating an amusing relationship.

The ending, which I won’t spoil, feels quite rushed.  This is really the only flaw in the movie.

Sub/Dub: I strongly suggest the dub. It has great performances by Lauren Bacall and Christian Bale. Billy Crystal steals the show as Calcifer.

Music/Score: Pretty good. Joe Hisaishi composed another good score here.

Violence: (4/10) Very mild at best.

Language: (0/10)

Sexuality: (0/10)

Nudity: (1/10) It’s barely worth mentioning, but there’s a scene where Howl is in a towel because he’s taking a bath.

Religion: (4/10) Howl and the Witch of the Waste both use magic, but it’s not done through rituals, it’s more fairy-tale like.

Related Media:  This is based on the book Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones.



Anime Review: Spirited Away

Genre: Fantasy

Studio/Creator: Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki

Distributor: Buena Vista/Disney

Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

Suggested Age: 7+ (MPAA: PG)

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: When Chihiro’s family moves away, they decide to take a shortcut, not knowing it’s actually a gateway to the spirit world.  Chihiro must find a way to get home.

Review: I’ve heard that there’s debate whether this movie or Princess Mononoke as Miyazaki’s magnum opus.  I’ll admit I have a hard time deciding myself.  The animation is truly breathtaking in its detail (take that scene in the covered bridge for instance). Oh and fans of My Neighbor Totoro will recognize the soot gremlins! I have watched this movie several times and at times, I’ll just stare at it because I’m that awestruck. I should also point out that John Lassiter, CEO of Pixar, has said this is his favorite Miyazaki movie.

Chihiro is an excellent heroine.  I could totally identify with her because my family moved around quite a bit when I was a kid too.  I also liked how much she grew from a bratty kid to a truly heroic, loving girl.

I also liked Haku, the mysterious boy who is both her protector and guide.  He’s like a guardian spirit and I like how warm he is toward Chihiro.

This is truly a great movie for all ages. The children will appreciate the beauty and the story, and so will the adults.

Sub/Dub: While I think the original cast is good, I like the dub better.  Daveigh Chase, who plays Chihiro, is excellent and conveys her emotions well (you may recognize her as Lilo from Lilo and Stitch.

Music/Score: Joe Hisashi does an excellent score. In fact, this is my favorite music he did.

Violence (1/10) Just some fantasy-based violence.

Language: (0/10)

Sexuality: (0/10)

Nudity: (0/10)

Religion (3/10) I guess I have to bring this up.  The story is rooted in Shintoism.  Not only that, but magic is largely part of the environment. I feel that the story is really like a fairy tale.  In fact, it’s Chihiro’s own goodness that saves her family.  The who story is a test of her character.

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Anime Review: Princess Mononoke

Genre: Historical/Fantasy

Studio/Creator: Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki

Distributor: Miramax

Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes

Suggested Age: 13+ (MPAA: PG-13)

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: Set in feudal Japan, this is the story of a young warrior named Ashitaka who becomes cursed when he fights a boar that has attacked his village.  He exiles himself and that’s when he meets San, a girl raised by wolves, and Lady Eboshi, a woman who wants to oppose the forest gods. Which side will Ashitaka choose?

Review: This is my number two favorite Ghibli movie, right behind Spirited Away. What’s really interesting about it is how different it is from the rest of Ghibli’s filmography. Firstly, it has a male lead rather than a female lead. Second, it’s the only Ghibli movie without a flying sequence.

Lady Eboshi seems like the villain of the story, but you can actually sympathize with her. You can see that her village benefits from her. All the women are from brothels and owe her their freedom. She’s also taken in lepers and treats them like people.

The animation is vivid. I love the lush greens of the forest. Even though there is an environmental subtext, it’s clear that both sides of the issue are presented fairly.

Sub/Dub: The dub is really hit-or-miss. Some of the actors clearly haven’t had enough experience in voice acting to do it right.  The ones who do have experience come off very well, like Keith David, who plays the boar demon. I’d urge you to stick to the sub.

Music/Score: Joe Hisaishi once again composed a great score. It accents the story well.

Violence:  (7/10) Ashitake’s curse gives him superhuman strength.  In some battles, he is capable of beheading enemies or removing their limbs.

Language: (2/10) Just a few curses.

Nudity: (0/10)

Sexuality: (0/10)

Religion: The forest is the home to several spirits. There is also a huge deer-like spirit who serves as the protector (a genus loci actually), and kodamas, who are like the dryads in Greek myths. If their trees die, so do they.

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Anime Review: Castle of Cagliostro

Genre: Action/Comedy

Studio/Creator: TMS/Maurice Leblanc

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Age Rating: 10+

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: Master thief Lupin III and his pal Jigen are on the trail of a counterfeiter who swindled them.  They soon find out the counterfeiter has actually kidnapped the lovely Lady Clarisse in order to marry her.  Can Lupin save the day?

Review: This is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s earliest movies, made before he founded Studio Ghibli, which is why I was interested. You can certainly see his trademark style–the backdrops are pretty, even for back then.  The castle was well-detailed and although the style was dated, I thought it looked very good.

As for the story, it was good too.  Lupin was a charming “hero” and I laughed at how easily he foiled everyone’s plans.  The story had a great James Bond-feel to it. I should probably point out this is one of Steven Spielburg’s favorite movies.

Sub/Dub: I only saw the Manga Entertainment dub.  I liked it, but I wish they had Wendee Lee voicing Fujiko, like she does in the Lupin III TV series.

Music: It was nice, but not memorable.

Violence: (4/10) Some gunshots and such, but nothing over the top.

Language: (2/10) Heard a couple curse words at the beginning, but that was it.

Sexuality: (0/10)

Nudity: (0/10)

Religion: (0/10)

Related Media: There’s out-of-print movies from Manga Entertainment, and FUNimation also has more recently made movies.  Geneon carried the TV series, but I am unaware if the license has been picked up.  There’s also an out-of-print manga from Tokyopop.