Category Archives: Animation

Castle in the Sky (1986) Review

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Castle in the Sky

Time: 124 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Mayumi Tanaka as Pazu
Keiko Yokozawa as Sheeta
Kotoe Hatsui as Captain Dola
Minori Terada as Colonel Muska
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Young orphan Sheeta and her kidnapper, Col. Muska, are flying to a military prison when their plane is attacked by a gang of air pirates led by the matronly Dola. Escaping from a mid-air collision via a magic crystal around her neck, Sheeta meets fellow orphan Pazu and the pair join forces to discover the mystical floating city of Laputa while pursued by both Muska and the pirates, who lust for the city’s myriad treasures.

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I wanted to watch more films from Studio Ghibli after loving the four I had already seen from them. The next one of their movies I decided to check out was Castle in the Sky, which seemed to be one of their earlier movies, and as it turns out it was the first film they produced. This probably isn’t one of Ghibli’s best, but it was quite entertaining and I enjoyed watching it.

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The plot of Castle in the Sky is a rather straightforward good vs evil adventure tale, but that doesn’t take away from how exciting and fun it is from beginning to end. The story is entertaining, fast paced, and filled with many different types of adventures and obstacles for the main characters to overcome. It has quite a bit humour, action, warmth, drama and imagination on display, and the story itself holds up to modern animation standards. The worldbuilding is also masterful and well done. Helping that is the fact that a lot of this world is left unexplained and leaves viewers to engage their imagination with it. There are also a number of memorable, likable and nuanced characters that are given quite a bit of depth, with the story essentially being held together by the bond and strong chemistry between its lead characters Paku and Sheeta. As with other Miyazaki/Ghibli movies there are some themes on display. The movie makes some strong statements against war and weaponry, and there’s a lot of environmentalist subtext too. Now in contrast with the previous Miyazaki/Ghibli movies I had seen, I didn’t find myself emotionally connecting with the story of Castle in the Sky, despite it being quite heartfelt and the characters being likable. My Neighbor Totoro, which didn’t connect with me as it did with other people, even seemed to resonate a lot more with me. It’s also not particularly complex or thought provoking. With that being said, as a thrilling adventure movie it delivers, and that’s really what I was expecting from it going into it, so I wasn’t let down or anything.

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Hayao Miyazaki directs this movie (this is actually his third film), and so I expected it to be wonderfully animated and well made, and I certainly got that from Castle in the Sky. The animation is pretty remarkable from beginning to end. The environments are fantastical and gorgeous, the colour scheme is stunning, the designs especially for the robots and transportations are fantastic, and there are some thrilling action scenes throughout. Now it’s not quite as fluid with the animation compared with some of the later Ghibli movies but that’s to be expected, and it’s already really good here (especially for a movie from the late 80s). The musical score from Joe Hiaishi is great too and really fits the movie really well.

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Castle in the Sky is a fun and fantastical adventure that I enjoyed from beginning to end, with memorable characters, a solid plot, and some thrilling sequences. I can already tell that it isn’t among Ghibli’s best work but it’s nonetheless a pretty good adventure. At the very least it hints towards the bright future of the studio, as well as Miyazaki’s later work as a filmmaker.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988) Review

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My Neighbor Totoro

Time: 86 Minutes
Age Rating:
Cast:
Chika Sakamoto as Mei Kusakabe
Noriko Hidaka as Satsuki Kusakabe
Hitoshi Takagi as Totoro
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Mei and Satsuki shift to a new house to be closer to their mother who is in the hospital. They soon become friends with Totoro, a giant rabbit-like creature who is a spirit.

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Having watched and loved Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, I had been having great times with the Studio Ghibli movies. Another one of the Ghibli movies that were highlighted was My Neighbor Totoro, naturally I checked it out next. While I don’t quite love it as much as those past movies, it’s still really good.

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The premise of My Neighbor Totoro is nice and simple; two little girls move into an old house in the countryside with their father while their mother is recovering at the hospital. Much like Kiki’s Delivery Service, it is rather light on plot as a whole. It was a nice, charming adventure that while being simple, allowed for an otherworldly tale of childhood and imagination to take place. Despite some of the fantastical things that happen in this movie, the human story is really the backbone to all of this. The film shows you the vibrant life of two siblings getting comfortably settled to their brand-new surroundings during this difficult time for them, and them discovering extraordinary things along the way. It does have beautiful animations and creatures that are loveable, but it’s also a serious tale about real children. This is really helped by the fact that the children actually act like real children. It’s a coming of age tale, as well as a statement on the longevity of innocence. You could call it a ‘vibe movie’ in that its just following the main characters and is fairly plotless. As that, it doesn’t work as well for me as say Kiki’s Delivery Service, but still delightful to watch. Miyazaki creates a universe where childhood perspective of the world take over, and it’s not bound by any rules of traditional storytelling. It’s very much pure, peaceful and family friendly, with endearing characters and wholesome moments. The adventures the lead characters are on aren’t quite the same level adventures as say Spirited Away, and there is no massive obstacle to overcome. It’s not a conflicting or tragic story, but is an honest reflection and heartfelt celebration of life and its little adventures. It changes in terms of the plot in the third act, turning from a plot-free movie to a movie that has a real plot and a serious problem for the main characters. I found it alright, though I get if some people found this a bit jarring and out of place. It’s a very short runtime at 90 minutes but never feels rushed, it does have a slow pace that suits the story.

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This is the fourth movie I’ve seen from Hayao Miyazaki, and once again his work is spectacular. The animation is breath-taking, with some spectacular and beautiful visuals. The locations in this film are terrific, from the vast and mountainous clouds, the grand and detailed fields, and the small and “haunted” houses. The landscape of rural Japan is a character in and of itself. The animation is also very creative, particularly with the creatures that the lead characters encounter. The fanciful creatures including Totoro are freshly imagined, with the 2D animation truly vivid and striking. The composed score from Joe Hisaishi is marvellous and heartwarming as it is soothing.

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My Neighbor Totoro is another solid movie from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, with a heartfelt story, endearing characters, and stunning animation. I don’t quite like it as much as the other Ghibli movies I have seen thus far, but I still think that it is quite good. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Princess Mononoke (1997) Review

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Princess Mononoke

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Contains violence
Cast:
Yōji Matsuda as Ashitaka
Yuriko Ishida as San
Yūko Tanaka as Lady Eboshi
Kaoru Kobayashi as Jiko-bō
Masahiko Nishimura as Kohroku
Tsunehiko Kamijō as Gonza
Akihiro Miwa as Moro
Mitsuko Mori as Hii-sama
Hisaya Morishige as Okkoto-nushi
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

In the 14th century, the harmony that humans, animals and gods have enjoyed begins to crumble. The protagonist, young Ashitaka – infected by an animal attack, seeks a cure from the deer-like god Shishigami. In his travels, he sees humans ravaging the earth, bringing down the wrath of wolf god Moro and his human companion Princess Mononoke. His attempts to broker peace between her and the humans brings only conflict.

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Right after watching and loving Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, I was interested in checking out more anime films from Studio Ghibli. I’ve heard from many that Princess Mononoke was among their best, so that was the next movie I chose. I ended up loving it a lot, a large scale and engaging experience, it’s one of my favourite anime movies at the moment.

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Princess Mononoke really is an epic, it’s a beautiful film with an absolutely stunning story. As great as the visuals are, it was the story where the film wins me over completely. It may be a story set during what appears to be a specific period in Japan, but it also feels representative of today’s modern world. It finds a way to use its world and mythology to parallel environmental issues in the real world today, but it still manages to feel other-worldly like Ghibli movies do. There is a lot to take from Princess Mononoke, especially with its poignant and mature themes. One of the most prominent topics that the film deals with is the effects of industrialization and deforestation on nature. The dynamic of human nature (and technology) against nature itself isn’t entirely original really (especially in film), but Princess Mononoke actually provides a surprising amount of nuance, portraying both sides as having positive and negative attributes, and it’s not a simplistic good vs evil thing. Even the ‘villains’ are shown to be more than just evil people. You can easily say that the characters are all archetypes, but they are archetypes with depth nonetheless. It’s got all the wonder an adventure of previous Ghibli movies, but it’s not a movie for kids. There’s no simple innocence to this wonder, or adventurous consequence-free discovery like in Kiki’s Delivery Service. From the opening scene it become very clear that this is not an animated film for small children, it’s very much a darker animated movie, and that’s even before it gets to the striking violence. It was actually quite bold and ambitious to make a film this long, grim and nihilistic but it pays off. Despite the long runtime at around 2 hours and 15 minutes, the pacing is immaculate, neatly switching between intimate moments and grand epic battles, and never stumbling once.

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It is incredibly directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the story itself already is an epic but the direction makes it feel that way even more so. Besides the beautiful drawings from the character designs to the landscapes and everything else in between, it feels like it could possibly be Miyazaki’s grandest in terms of scale. The hand-drawn animation is absolutely dazzling, the supernatural creatures as well as forest are vividly imagined. It’s also a surprisingly violent movie, with a lot more severed heads and arms than I was expecting. Speaking of which, the action in this movie is great, and there are many thrilling sequences watch. The powerful score from Joe Hisaishi also adds a lot to the movie.

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Beautifully animated, dark and engaging, Princess Mononoke is a fantastic and thematic epic of an anime film. While there’s plenty of other Studio Ghibli movies I need to watch, this is currently my favourite film from them so far.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Review

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Kiki's Delivery Service

Time: 103 Minutes
Age Rating:  
Cast:
Minami Takayama as Kiki
Rei Sakuma as Jiji
Kappei Yamaguchi as Tombo
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

In this anime feature, 13-year-old Kiki moves to a seaside town with her talking cat, Jiji, to spend a year alone, in accordance with her village’s tradition for witches in training. After learning to control her broomstick, Kiki sets up a flying courier service and soon becomes a fixture in the community. But when the insecure young witch begins questioning herself and loses her magic abilities, she must overcome her self-doubt to get her powers back.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service was the second movie from Studio Ghibli that I watched, this was after watching Spirited Away, which I loved. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie, I just knew that it was about a young witch on her own and she has a black cat, I had also heard that’s recommended as one of the first movies to check out from Ghibli. I unexpectedly ended up loving it quite a lot, more than I thought I would.

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Something to note early is that everything about Kiki’s Delivery Service is just incredibly nice all around. Almost all of its characters are nice people, the narrative is comprised almost entirely of those nice people doing nice things, and the overall tone of the film is incredibly friendly and nice in the best way possible. This film is extremely relaxing to watch, it’s charming throughout and I loved every minute of it. It’s fairly plotless, and while I’m not always on board with plotless movies, I got invested in this one. It definitely concentrates more on characters over plot, and the characters are incredibly easy to like and are entertaining. It’s such a good natured and wholesome film as we just follow Kiki and Jiji the cat on a series of adventures. The stakes are incredibly low in this movie, there’s little to no conflict, yet somehow keeps your attention the entire runtime. There is no contrived villain or antagonist, or some forced plot-driven third act, it’s all just small-scale and intimate. When an external conflict does arrive later in the film (with actual life or death stakes), it doesn’t feel contrived and doesn’t overshadow the main internal conflict, instead working naturally with the rest of the story. Another strength of the movie is that Kiki is a fully rounded and believable character. The mixture of enthusiasm, boredom, excitement, and self-pity makes her unapologetically human. Additionally, it’s easy to relate to her. Many of us transitioning into adulthood and all the fears that come with it, handling independence, finding a job, trying to make friends, etc. Kiki has with similar experiences as other people growing up as she’s discovering her place in the world, it just so happens that she’s a witch as well. It’s a perfect coming of age story that everyone can relate to. It should be noted that most coming of age stories just don’t work that well for me, but this has to be one of my favourite coming of age movies. As a story about how hard it is to make your own way in the world, this movie is truthful and sincere. It manages to do all this while remaining consistently funny, optimistic and exciting.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service is excellently directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It wasn’t quite as creative as say Spirited Away, but is still visually and narratively beautiful, with a stunning colour palette. The environments are fairly familiar and not fantastical, but the movie really captures every location wonderfully.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service was such a wholesome experience, a delightful and optimistic yet sincere coming of age tale that I was invested in from beginning to end. I love this movie, and I can see this upon rewatches becoming firmly one of my favourite movies. Definitely watch it if you haven’t already, if you haven’t watched an anime film before, this is a great place to start.

Luca (2021) Review

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Luca

Time: 95 Minutes
Voice Cast:
Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro
Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano
Emma Berman as Giulia Marcovaldo
Saverio Raimondo as Ercole Visconti
Maya Rudolph as Daniela Paguro
Marco Barricelli as Massimo Marcovaldo
Jim Gaffigan as Lorenzo Paguro
Peter Sohn and Lorenzo Crisci as Ciccio and Guido
Marina Massironi as Mrs. Marsigliese
Sandy Martin as Grandma Paguro
Sacha Baron Cohen as Uncle Ugo
Director: Enrico Casarosa

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, the original animated feature is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.

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I only knew a little bit about Luca going into it, I just knew it was a Pixar Animated movie set in Italy. I only found out that it involved sea people when I watched the trailer like a day before watching the movie. So I really had no prior expectations going in and I’m glad I checked it out, I enjoyed it a lot.

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To get this out of the way, Luca is not very ambitious by Pixar standards or animated movies standards, and is very much formulaic. It was light and fun with a lot of humour, but I was still invested in how the story played out. Essentially it’s an easy coming of age summer hangout movie, and the lower stakes story was honestly rather refreshing. It is a conventional story on the surface but it works well because of the execution. I’ve seen some reviews comparing Luca to a Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki movie and its pretty apt comparison. Luca is a coming of age with a high concept premise with sea monster people while still being anchored to a simple human scale. It’s a simplistic plot but has a lot of character work and has a big heart at its centre. It is a tale of acceptance, individuality and friendship, as well as a story about self discovery and hiding one’s identity to fit in. It definitely excels in its quieter moments too. I am fine with it not being particularly original or ambitious, but I do think it did feel a little too content with its tropes. The fish out of water story has been done plenty of times and it doesn’t really do anything different here (outside of being a literal fish out of water story this time). There were some plot and character aspects that could’ve been expanded on and developed to give some context, and some cliches that make it into the film could’ve been avoided. Some of the conflicts particularly could’ve been handled better. Luca’s parents are scared of him leaving the ocean and it just felt very familiar and by the numbers and could’ve been fleshed out. Even the eventual conflict between the two main characters comes out of nowhere and feels rather forced. The finale from a story standpoint is good, the action in the climax does feel very familiar to other animated films, but is still fun. It also still packs an emotional punch near the end because of the characters, particularly with the strong friendship established between the lead characters. Luca is 100 minutes long and that was the right length for it, which is helped with the good pacing which never gets too slow.

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The characters were quite memorable and were good all round. The young lead characters with Luca, Alberto and Giulia, and the voice acting from Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer and Emma Berman respectively were great. The strong lead friendship between Luca and Alberto in the forefront was fantastic particularly, and drives much of the movie. The rest of the characters were pretty good too, there were only two that stood out as being out of place. The first was the villain, who is basically just a bully and it feels like the movie didn’t really need him and worked fine without him. With that said it’s something you can look past, and if you’ve been a little annoyed at twist villains and tragic villains in animated movies nowadays, then you’ll probably like his addition here. The other is the uncle of Luca, if only because he was voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen but ended up being a cameo since he only had one scene.

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The direction from Enrico Casarosa is great. The animation style is a bit different from most Pixar movies but is still absolutely gorgeous, definitely one of their best-looking movies. It seems to capture this town in Italy perfectly, with its depiction being whimsical and vibrant in contrast to the dark and deep ocean that the film starts off in. The character design is great especially with the sea monsters. The score from Dan Romer was warm and fitting for the film.

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Luca is not one of Pixar’s best but it’s a really good and enjoyable animated movie, it is gorgeous to look at, and has endearing characters and a formulaic but still heartfelt story. It might not be anything new or special, but it’s a refreshingly simple and fun summer hangout flick and definitely worth checking out.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Review

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Raya and The Last Dragon

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Voice Cast:
Kelly Marie Tran as Raya
Awkwafina as Sisu
Izaac Wang as Boun
Gemma Chan as Namaari
Daniel Dae Kim as Chief Benja
Benedict Wong as Tong
Sandra Oh as Virana
Thalia Tran as Little Noi
Lucille Soong as Dang Hu
Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada

Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.

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I had heard about Raya and the Last Dragon for the past months, it’s the latest Disney animated movie and it looked pretty good from the trailers. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but the movie actually turned out better than I expected it to be.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is an exhilarating and beautifully told fantasy adventure. The storylines and characters that inhabit this world were unique and interesting to watch (although I could’ve done without the baby and monkeys). The movie does move very fast, and I was quite invested in the story. There were some moments where the film could have slowed down a little, but on the whole the fast pace works to the film’s benefit. I liked the movie from the very start, but it really finds its footing when the main group of characters begin to get assembled. As Raya meets these new characters, she has to learn to trust them and pretty quickly, you can pick up that trust is the main moral and message of this story. With the addition of each new character, Raya learns a lot from her new friends and takes the first step in putting her trust in someone else. So thematically, the movie has plenty to offer. It does quite well in terms of world-building, and by the end I actually wanted a bit more from this world. One thing to note is that the movie doesn’t have musical numbers where characters suddenly burst into song, and while it’s to be expected from Disney animated movies, I actually like that they don’t have them here. It is a risk for them when they have such a wide target audience, but I’d say it pays off. Something that has been said about this movie which I will repeat myself as well is that the plot is very predictable and derivative, and structurally it may appear to be similar to other Disney animated movies like Moana or Tangled. The fetch quest, band-forming and lesson-learning genre has been done to death by now, but that didn’t make it any less investing for me. Despite its familiarity, it manages to keep it at least a little interesting throughout. Its humour doesn’t always land as well as it potentially could’ve, especially with how they implemented it in the movie and overall story. It’s not necessarily bad and it isn’t a dealbreaker, but truth be told, only some of the jokes really hit. There are some essential exposition dumps that could’ve been done slightly better, but it’s at the level of most modern day animated movies and again aren’t a dealbreaker.

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There’s a solid lineup of characters in this movie, and the voice cast are great playing them. Kelly Marie Tran is perfect as protagonist Raya, Awkwafina is a scene stealer as Sisu (the last dragon), and Gemma Chan is also a standout as the character of Namaar.

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Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada directs Raya and the Last Dragon greatly. First of all, the animation is stunning, this is probably some of Disney’s best animation, absolutely stellar and gorgeous. There are a number of settings and places here that are immaculately presented here. Each location, character, object, or detail feels so profoundly gorgeous. What particularly stood out was the action, which was insanely good. The swordplay and hand to hand combat is sleek, and the combination of martial arts techniques were used so effectively. With this and the film’s incredible lighting, Raya and the Last Dragon makes for an awesome visual experience, and honestly it is worth watching the movie for that alone. Additionally, James Newton Howard’s score is powerful and enthralling, especially during the action sequences.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is a solid and very well-made animated movie. It has a familiar and somewhat predictable story but it’s entertaining and works for what it is, with some enjoyable characters. Additionally, the voice cast are great and it’s beautifully animated. Definitely worth watching.

Perfect Blue (1997) Review

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Perfect Blue

Time: 81 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Contains violence.
Voice Cast:
Junko Iwao as Mima Kirigoe
Rica Matsumoto as Rumi 
Shiho Niiyama as Rei
Masaaki Okura as Mamoru Uchida
Shinpachi Tsuji as Tadokoro
Emiko Furukawa as Yukiko
Director: Satoshi Kon

A pop singer gives up her career to become an actress, but she slowly goes insane when she starts being stalked by an obsessed fan and what seems to be a ghost of her past.

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I had heard about Perfect Blue for a while. I knew of it as an anime psychological horror, and I had also heard that Black Swan seemed to have taken a lot of influence from it. It ended up being one of the first animes I had saw, and it was pretty great. I went in with high expectations, but Perfect Blue managed to exceed them and then some. It’s a stunning film across the board, so incredibly well made.

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I won’t go into too much detail about the plot as its better to go into it blind. Perfect Blue is pretty short as a movie, at around an hour and 20 minutes long. There’s a lot going on in this story despite its simplistic plot and length, while not feeling rushed at all. It felt like 2 hours for all the tension it managed to build in such a quick time, and there is hardly any filler in the plot, always making the right twists and turns at the exact right time. Perfect Blue has a highly engaging and gripping story, and it’s difficult to guess where it will go next. It’s paced incredibly well, and there’s tension throughout, which only grows as the movie progresses. As time goes, on the story becomes more fascinating, and even scary at times. I have to say that this is probably one of the most terrifying and haunting films I’ve seen. There are disturbing scenes for sure, and some scenes are graphic and hard to watch. But it’s especially the psychological narrative and how it messes with the viewer’s perception that really got to me. It really is a multi-layered descent into madness, and the POV leaves the audience just as lost as the main character as she tries to get a grasp of reality. Delusions and reality become one and the same, and so many scenes felt like it’s they’re a dream with a dream. There are plenty of times where you aren’t certain that what you’re watching is actually reality or not. It completely messes with your mind and it’s not what you expect. With that, Perfect Blue no doubt probably benefits from further viewings when you actually know what’s happening, but the first viewing is one unforgettable experience. It’s not only just a movie aiming to mess with the audience and be disturbing however, it’s layered and complex and really packs a lot into it (again surprising considering the runtime). It’s an unsettling, horrific and thought provoking story about stardom and fame, and the prices that come with that. There’s plenty of social commentary on the media, celebrity obsession, and even the internet. Yes, it was made in the late 90s but much of it is still relevant to this day. It’s also a look at the sacrifice one has to make for a performance, which leads the protagonist into a psychological downward spiral.

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I really liked the direction from Satoshi Kon, his work here is fantastic. The animation is flawless and I can’t imagine this film working nearly as well as a live action movie, which really does speak to how well made it is. All the details within the drawings are as beautiful as ever. Usually, anime is used to exaggerate detail and actions, but the world of Perfect Blue is seemingly mundane and realistic, with some anime style aspects appearing in subtle ways. Additionally, it does such a flawless job at blurring the lines between delusion and reality without ever becoming incohesive or messy or breaking you out of your engagement.

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Perfect Blue is a really great, complex and disturbing psychological thriller, incredibly made on all fronts. I do want to revisit it sometime, because I think I can probably get more out of it from repeat viewings. Honestly even if you don’t think you like anime, I still highly recommend watching it as soon as you can, it really is an example of an anime that transcends its medium.

Spirited Away (2001) Review

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Spirited Away

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Rumi Hiiragi as Chihiro Ogino/Sen
Miyu Irino as Haku/Spirit of the Kohaku River
Mari Natsuki as Yubaba/Zeniba
Takeshi Naito as Akio Ogino
Yasuko Sawaguchi as Yūko Ogino
Tsunehiko Kamijō as Chichiyaku
Takehiko Ono as Aniyaku 
Bunta Sugawara as Kamaji
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

10-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) and her parents (Takashi Naitô, Yasuko Sawaguchi) stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets the mysterious Haku (Miyu Irino), who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, and that she must work there to free herself and her parents.

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Spirited Away was the first film from Studio Ghibli that I watched, and also among the first anime movies I’ve seen. It had been on many ‘best films of all time’ list, so I had been meaning to get around to it for a while. I went in knowing nothing, and it turned out to be really great and somehow lived up to all the hype and more.

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I didn’t know much about the movie going in and it turned out to be quite a surprise. So if you haven’t seen it before, I think it’s worth not knowing too much before watching. I can say that it’s very creative and endearing, and while it’s a cliché to say it, it’s quite magical. There’s a lot of imagination on display, it’s really like nothing I’ve seen before. It is a coming of age story about childhood innocence, that combines drama, adventure, comedy, and fantasy all into one film. There’s also so much in this movie to unpack it’s actually astounding.  It’s whimsical but is also surprisingly dark and frightening when telling it’s very mature story about greed and identity, in fact the whole movie is more mature than I thought it would be. There are plenty of themes of environmental pollution, labour relations greed and the passage to adulthood. It’s also a movie full of hope throughout. The plot itself is nicely structured and finely paced while the memorable and well thoughts out characters make the drama more compelling and are cleverly fleshed out in the script. The film does slow down to allow time for main character Chihiro and the audience to the see the beauty of the world. The movie does take time in its roughly 2 hour long runtime for her to take part in seemingly mundane things which does add a lot to the movie, I was invested throughout. One of the ways that the film handles worldbuilding well with a level of richness is the lack of exposition, showing the world, story and characters with the visuals and character actions instead of telling it to us straight up. It’s just all well crafted and put together overall.

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Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is animated and made absolutely beautifully. It was made in the early 2000s, and it still really holds up well today. It’s not just the movements but also the designs and imagination, as well as the environments. It really lets the visuals speak a whole other language to you as the viewer, the visual storytelling does a lot of the work for the movie without needing characters to speak it. It’s absolutely creative especially on a visual level. I can only imagine how kids felt watching this for the first time, mainly the designs of some of the creatures and people as they were far scarier than most animated movies. The score from Joe Hisaishi also adds a lot to the movie.

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Spirited Away is a much watch for sure. It’s a beautiful and endearing come of age film, that’s animated excellently. If you wanted a place to start watching anime, Spirited Away would be a great place to begin. It’s an extraordinary film that was a complete pleasure to watch, and a movie that I do want to come back to someday.

Weathering with You (2020) Review

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Weathering With You

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence & coarse language
Cast:
Kotaro Daigo as Hodaka Morishima
Nana Mori as Hina Amano
Director: Makoto Shinkai

Set during a period of exceptionally rainy weather, high-school boy Hodaka Morishima runs away from his troubled rural home to Tokyo and befriends an orphan girl who can manipulate the weather.

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When it came to catching up on 2020 movies, I heard of Weathering With You being particularly good, which is an anime film. What immediately got my attention and interest however was the fact that it was made by Makoto Shinkai, the director of Your Name. That was one of my all time favourite anime films, with its story, characters and visuals, it was spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out (and it works as an entry into anime if you haven’t watched any of it yet). So I went into this movie only knowing that, I hadn’t looked at the images or the plot beforehand, and Weathering With You didn’t disappoint.

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A lot of people are going into Weathering With You with the mindset of people who previously watched Your Name. To get it out of the way, there are some similarities between the two. It’s another highly ambitious and original film combining multiple elements including coming of age drama, romance, and fantasy. Both of them also has similar plot elements and the over-arching theme of love, with it being a personal story focusing on two youths, while feeling quite large in scope. There are also some differences. However, I do judge them as their own things, and I don’t take issues with how they are similar or different. They did a good job at setting you in this location, and the characters are well established. You are along for the ride with the main characters from beginning to end. Much of the plot and writing on paper looks like it should be melodramatic, cheesy and cliché, but these characters are actually developed, and these emotional stakes and conflicts are established so well and contains a lot of empathy that it works. Like with Your Name it has some emotional moments especially towards the second half, and while it’s not quite as strong as that movie, it was effective enough here that you actually cared about what happens by the end. This film is also a metaphor for climate change underneath the fantastical myths in the plot. In terms of flaws, I guess there are small sections where I wasn’t quite invested compared to some other parts, but those are minor and don’t border on being boring.

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Makoto Shinkai directs this, and you can immediately tell that this was directed by the person who made Your Name, with the visual style, the way the camera pans around, the hyper realistic approach to the worlds that makes you feel like you could live among the characters. etc. If you haven’t seen Your Name or any of his other movies, it’s pretty hard to put into words to explain how extraordinary they look. The visuals are in a league of their own, and the animation is breathtaking. The overall look of this movie overall isn’t as fantastical as Your Name, focusing on being more realistic, especially with all the locations and settings. At the same time, the fantastical elements in this movie looks great. I do think the music for the most part is great, however I do think that there’s a bit of an overuse of pop songs. Some of it was fine (indeed a lot of that was in Your Name) but by the last third of the movie it became a bit much. That’s really my only criticism with the movie on a technical level at least.

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Weathering With You is a fantastic film. The story is empathetic and emotional, the characters are great and well established, and its directed beautifully, with enthralling and spectacular animation. Treating them as their own separate movies, I do like Your Name more than Weathering With You, though the latter of them is still great. I definitely recommend checking it out as soon as you can, especially if you like anime.

Soul (2020) Review

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Soul

Time: 100 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner
Tina Fey as 22
Graham Norton as Moonwind
Rachel House as Terry
Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade as Jerry
Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner
Donnell Rawlings as Dez
Questlove as Lamont “Curley” Baker
Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams
Director: Pete Docter

Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz — and he’s good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.

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I knew of Soul as an upcoming animated movie from the same people who made Inside Out, that was put on Disney+. At first I wasn’t really sure about it, beyond that the fact is a Pixar movie. I saw the first trailer however, it got me very interested with the premise. It turned out to be quite great and I was impressed by it.

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I do think that it’s worth going into the movie without knowing much about it beyond the initial premise and setup. I went in having only seen one of the trailers and I enjoyed the movie quite a lot for that. There are some story aspects that are quite typical of that of other animated movies, especially with the general structure. On the whole however, the story is captivating, and it hooks you straight into it. It really takes you on a journey that make you think about life along with Jamie Foxx’s character Joe Gardener and Tiny Fey’s character 22. It’s a beautifully told story, that’s full of sincerity, honesty and heart. It is a very human story about what it means to be alive and the purpose of life. It brings so much life to its very existence in its messages of purpose and the real intent behind our purpose in this life, what sparks us, what we live for and what we do that really matters. There’s some good humour in there, which surprising considering the premise, and there are even several lough out loud moments. The characters are great, even the brief characters who only have a few minutes of screentime have fully defined personalities and you feel like you know them. It is Pixar’s most mature movie by far. In fact, I do wonder how younger people would react to this movie honestly, as I definitely see older audiences getting much more out of the movie. I’m not sure if anyone has complained about the ending but it’s a bit abrupt, however I really like the point it ends on.

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The voice cast from everyone was great. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey play their lead roles very well. There is also a very good supporting voice cast that works well, including Daveed Diggs, Richard Ayoade, and others. The highlights among them for me were Graham Norton and Rachel House, House particularly channels her character from Hunt of the Wilderpeople to great effect here.

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Pete Doctor directed this very well, as to be expected from the director of Up and Inside Out. The movie is beautifully and stylishly animated. Many of the locations are quite good. From The Great Beyond, the You-Seminar, to New York City, all of them look so beautiful and gorgeous. One of the surprising aspects was how much it was actually largely based in New York City, as many Pixar movies go for more fantasy/adventure settings. The stylised photo-realism approach in those scenes are great to watch, from the way they use light, to the way they use the camera. The score is from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and is nothing short of transcendent, and really was a huge presence in the movie.

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Soul is greatly animated and directed, very well voiced, and has a lot of things to say in it. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite Pixar movie and I probably wouldn’t rewatch it a whole lot, but I think it’s one of Pixar’s best, as well as one of their most clever, poignant and honest films. It’s among the best movies of the year and is worth checking out for sure.