Tag Archives: Hayao Miyazaki

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.

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.