When Marnie Was There (DVD Review)

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U – 103mins – 2014


 

FINE ON THE OUTSIDE

Transposing the setting of Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 children’s book from North Norfolk to Sapporo, Japan, Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s second feature film is otherwise respectfully dutiful to its classic source material – a book which Studio Ghibli founder Hayau Miyazaki proclaimed one of his top fifty children’s stories of all time.

… Keep Scuttling!

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Whisper of the Heart (DVD Review)

U – 111mins – 1995


 

IF YOU LISTEN CLOSELY

“I finally thought I was going to get a little adventure around here…”

Juggling domestic duties and revision while consumed by her passion for classic fantasy literature and lyrical translation, restless high school junior and avid bookworm Shizuku Tsukishima’s (Brittany Snow) grades are slipping as her entrance exams are nearing.

… Keep Scuttling!

Porco Rosso (DVD Review)

PG – 94mins – 1992


 

THE CRIMSON PIG

“I don’t fight for honour – I fight for a pay check!”

Italian WWI ex-fighter pilot Marco Rossolini (Michael Keaton) is an anti-fascist now living as a hostage-rescuing freelance bounty hunter, spending his days chasing “air pirates” in his Savoia S.21 above the Adriatic Sea. Written and directed by Studio Ghibli head Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso is based on his own 3-part Manga, Hikōtei Jidai, and could easily pass as an ode to history and aviation, were it not for the fact that the lead character is cursed by “divine punishment” into the form of an anthropomorphised pig!

“God was telling you it wasn’t your time yet…”

Despite this single concession to fantasy, Porco Rosso is otherwise fairly geographically and historically accurate, with a surplus of politically-charged dialogue giving it the air of a satire. It’s a pity that a succession of “outsider” quips and tiresome “pig-headed” wordplay diminishes any deeper and more complex subtext by overstating the ‘pigs might fly’ comedy. In my opinion, that’s a single joke stretched waaaay too far.

Elsewhere there are flashes of sensitivity and sympathy (“Maybe I’ve just run out of tears,”), even if Keaton dubs Rocco with suave indifference. Irritatingly, there are also further glimpses of some outmoded sexism (“Don’t you have any males relatives?”; “We’re not baking a cake here,”) – but at least, unlike Ocean Waves, this was set in a less open-minded time period.

As is to be expected from the Japanese anime giants, the film is animated gorgeously, however some overly cartoonified injury detail does diminish the honour of Porco’s climatic dual-cum-bareknuckle-fistfight with love rival Curtis (Cary Saw Elwes). Nevertheless, Porco Rosso’s charm carries it through; this is still more swell than swill – and I’m not bacon that up! Ahem.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

Ocean Waves (DVD Review)

PG – 72mins – 1993


 

LESSONS IN LOVE

One of the more obscure and less renowned films in the peerless Studio Ghibli collection, up-and-coming director Tomomi Mochizuki’s anime adap. of a popular Japanese novel is also known as I Can Hear the Sea (or Umi Ga Kikoeru, if you’re feeling brave with your pronunciation), but was released as Ocean Waves on its belated region 2 DVD debut release in 2009. Originally made for television by a young crew, it ended up going over budget and schedule.

This extras-lite disc (a trailer is the sole bonus content) is also lacking an English dub, so Japanese with subtitles is the sole audio option. Some may argue that this is how it should always be, but I welcome the option. News that the studio giants are sadly winding down production on new films post-When Marnie was There (released this week on these shores) means revisiting and re-releasing these unsung rarities is surely inevitable going forward.

Despite retaining Ghibli’s distinctive calm and graceful tonal atmosphere, Ocean Waves is unfortunately a slave to its age, with a number of cringingly outmoded sexist comments lending an awkward and naïve air to this story of blossoming young love. Pretty transfer student Rikako (Yoko Sakamoto) moves from Tokyo to the sleepy coastal town of Shikoku and makes waves between competitive best friends Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) and Taku (Nobuo Tobita) in their last year of high school.

“You’re only acting up because your teacher’s a woman!”

With these two “innocent country lads” lost in wide-eyed, gaping admiration over Rikako’s beauty, they are seemingly blind to her deceptive ways, which often verges on flat-out manipulation and makes “a girl like that” hard to endear to. Nevertheless, this doesn’t excuse the hefty slap an exasperated Taku (the relatable lead character, I should clarify) executes to knock Rikako to the floor. It’s hard to watch and makes Ocean Waves uneasy viewing.

With nearly an hour of the film consumed by Taku’s memories of this fawning and formative time, Mochizuki executes a technique of opening each new reverie with thick white borders of varying sizes accompanied by scene-setting illustrations which are instantly repeated when the story begins. It’s an interesting visual choice (perhaps enforced by budget?), but certainly makes the film stand out – and leaves a better taste in the mouth than the archaic gender politics which are more narrow-minded than charmingly innocent.

With the stunted 72 minute feature fading on the promise of a happy ending, I can’t help thinking Taku and Rikako’s blossoming relationship is in for a rude awakening. After all, “women are only into how guys look, anyway” (!!). For a young director (Mochizuki was just 34 at the time) stretching his creative wings, Ocean Waves is not without promise or value, but its darker, pubescent attitude jars and mars any of the timeless adolescent splendour we usually associate with the Asian anime giants.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

My Neighbour Totoro (DVD Review)

TotoroU – 86mins – 1988

I first watched My Neighbour Totoro during a Studio Ghibli marathon a few years ago. The “Japanese Disney” was all very vogue at the time, in the period following the huge success of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle (both superb). My expectations sky-high, I will admit to being somewhat disappointed by Totoro ‘s twee and simplistic storyline, but I appreciated that it is a children’s fairytale, albeit rendered anime style.

Upon a recent repeat viewing, I was absolutely spellbound by the opening half an hour or so – the Kusakabe family moving into their “haunted” house in rural Japan, daughter’s Satsuki and Mei’s unrepentant delight at all of life’s little joys despite their mother’s illness, their discovering of the “soot sprites” and Mei’s curious wonderment upon seeing two magical creatures disappear down a rabbit hole into the woodland jungle at the bottom of their garden (a clear nod to Alice in Wonderland).

Simple though it is, iconic auteur Hayao Miyazaki’s fable is so quaint and lovely, and the attention to detail in the characterization is superb, particularly in Satsuki’s sense of responsibility in lieu of her mother’s presence (which often spills out into irritation at her sister’s childlike innocence) and Mei’s adorable penchant for excitedly repeating what her elders say.

Crazy though this may sound, I actually found that my attention wandered following this first thirty minutes (which coincides with the lovable bear-like Totoro’s introduction) as the magical aspects take precedence over the real world (Totoro flies to the tip of a camphor tree on a metal spinning disc, and the girl’s take a trip to the hospital in a living bus which is a giant hollow cat). Although I was aware that the phenomena were more than likely a product of the girl’s creative imaginations, I still found the film more beguiling when the magic was more whimsical and less palpable.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars