My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

My Neighbour Totoro
Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki
(number 282)

In 2005 Disney translated and dubbed this movie and the Western world was introduced to something amazing. Some of my friends had seen Nausicaa before this, and I know I’d seen Princess Mononoke but I also knew that this was a very different sort of movie so I had no idea what to expect. Suffice to say I was delighted.

To me the most amazing thing about this film is that it’s a story with no villain, which is very unusual when it comes to children’s animated moves. When I was a kid my favourite movies were the Care Bear movies and the Henson films, Labyrinth and Dark Crystal which are full of villains. The whole plot is about good guys overcoming bad, but Totoro is just a magic tale about family conflict and confused and sad children.

I have to say, Mei’s personality and emotions pull on all my youngest child, younger sister feels. Hayao does a good job of showing her trying so hard to keep up with Satsuke, being scared but refusing to be anything but brave. It’s so familiar and so very real. It’s beautiful.

Then of course, Mei finds Totoro and if there was every a friendlier, softer looking gigantic mystical troll thing then I don’t think I’ve seen it. And the little rabbit like baby Totoro minor spirits are so cute! It’s just so appealing in so many ways.

The neko basu (cat bus) is both disturbing and appealing and I love that about it. The multiple legs are creepy like a centipede and the noise is makes is unsettling, but it’s so friendly that you just like it anyway. The inside looks so plush and soft too.

Does it make me love the people? It makes me love all the characters and the world too. It’s a gorgeous film for capturing the magic in the world around us, the pure wonder that children hold for the world. The joy of discovery and taking delight in what we see.

Bechdel test: Yes, Mei and Satsuke talk about all sorts of things and almost never boys! Also Satsuke talks to Nanny, which.. may or may not be a real name actually. But she is a very important character to the story so I’d count her, especially since the movie passes anyway.

Best line:
Tatsuo Kusakabe: Trees and people used to be good friends. I saw that tree and decided to buy the house. Hope Mom likes it too. Okay, let’s pay our respects then get home for lunch.

State of Mind: The gentle environmental message is wonderful because unlike so many other movies where it hits you over the head, this movie just makes you love the forest, growing plants and living in peace with nature. I adore this film, I don’t ever seem to get sick of it. So beautiful and so peaceful.

Plus I’m clearly a fan, I have a soot ball, a little snoring Totoro and a Totoro onesie so … I do love this film.

This is my 100th posted blog review of a 500 list movie! I wanted it to be a movie I knew I loved 🙂
Watched movie count

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away
Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki
(number 346)

The first movie to be released in New Zealand from Studio Ghibli after Princess Mononoke, and I remember it being very exciting because it got a proper cinema release and advertising and a bunch of my friends went to see it too. I remember seeing it in the newly opened Reading cinemas on Courtenay Central, and being blown away by how beautiful this film was on their giant screens.

I’ve seen it a number of times since then, and I still am enchanted by how beautiful it is.

The story is so very freaking Japanese, a through the looking glass adventure story about a girl whose parents are transformed into pigs in the spirit world and she has to work at a bath house while trying to figure out how to save them. The Japanese culture saturates this movie but it’s still accessible to those of us who have grown up outside of Japan. The fairy tale format helps with that I think, because we sort of know what to expect from the characters (bad witch, mysterious stranger, plucky heroine) and means we can kind of try to understand the more obscure bits on rewatches.

It helps that the script for the English translation is very good as well, and the voice acting is fantastic.

The things I like about this movie are numerous, but I like the way it shows Sen/Chihiro moping around, failing to cope and complaining. She isn’t a fearless character by any stretch of the imagination, but when it comes to people she cares about then she will do what has to be done without hesitating.

I think my favourite shots are the ones over the new sea after the rain storm. The rich blue colours and the way the fish move over the drowned railway tracks. The calmness of the water as she looks out from the deck at it. Beautiful. An then the images of Sen walking over the swamped tracks, and the train ride through the water. It’s all so calm and peaceful.

Unlike the other Miyazaki movies there isn’t such a strong save the planet theme but there is a wonderfully strong theme of remembering who you are and trusting in the good in others.

Does it make me love the people? I love Lin, who in the English version is voiced by Susan Egan who did Megara in Hercules. I love Chihiro, Haku and the baby (once it’s a little rat). Haku is wonderful, I wish I could change into a dragon.

Sootballs forever. Sootballs are the best. Sootballllsssssss

Bechdel test: Lots of times! Chihiro talks to her mother about the strange place they’re in and about the food, she talks to Yubaba and Zineba and Lin. It’s brilliant.

Best line:
Well my most quoted one is the way the rat baby says ‘chu!’ but I guess that doesn’t exactly count as a line.

Lin: What’s going on here?
Kamaji: Something you wouldn’t recognize. It’s called love.

State of Mind: Lovely, that was lovely.

Watched movie count

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl’s Moving Castle
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki based off the book by Diana Wynne Jones
(number 239)

I watched this with Anna although I have seen it many times before. I saw this first at the International Film Festival in the Embassy, although this time I watched it in English. It’s a lovely, atmospheric movie about accepting oneself, improving the lives of others and believing in love. The English version is very good, Christian Bale provides the voice of Howl and Lauren Bacall is the voice of the Witch of the Waste.

I dunno why but I find sequences of people cleaning up make me really happy. I love seeing all the stuff get cleaned up and organised and the room going from mucky to sparkling. It’s one of my favourite bits from Fruits Basket as well, anime seems to have it as a bit of a trope, giving time to showing a character cleaning house. Actually I’ve loved bits in books like this too, like that one Enid Blyton book where they find a run down house in the middle of a forest. What’s the appeal? Cleansing as a character restart maybe?

The movie is an adaptation of the book by the fantastic Diana Wynne Jones and when I first saw the movie I was quite sad that they had taken away some of Sophie’s power and given it to Howl instead. I don’t mind so much watching it now, perhaps because I haven’t read the book in so long. I like that they retained Sophie’s ageing/de-ageing as part of the story – a reflection of how she is feeling at the time. The more down on herself she is the more she reverts back to the cursed age the witch gave her.

Does it make me love the people? Always. I adore Calcifer from the first moment he speaks but I also love the wizard Howl, with all his emotional outbursts and charm, and of course Sophie with her temper, her way of taking other people in. There’s an incredible amount of forgiveness and acceptance that Sophie displays and the nice thing is that it’s not something that is made a fuss of in the story, it’s just a part of who she is as a character.

It’s, like pretty much all the other Ghibli movies, visually stunning. Lush landscapes and watercolour flowers. Lots of mountains and open blue sky. It made me miss the landscapes we saw zooming through Japan on the Shinkansen.

Bechdel test: Yes and very early on. Sophie talks to her sister Lettie about the weird way she got home, and about being safe, and she talks to the Witch of the Waste about lots of things over the course of the movie. Anna pointed out that when talking to her sister Sophie also expresses the opinion that she doesn’t need any man (their absent father in this case) worrying about her, because she can take care of herself.

Best line:
Howl: I feel terrible, like there’s a weight on my chest.
Sophie: A heart’s a heavy burden

State of Mind: Dreamy. Although possibly because I started to nap a little during the movie, but it is a very dreamlike film visually. The music is soothing and generally pastoral which probably helped as well.

Film Festival first weekend


Richard Linklater’s newest film was filmed over 12 years, tracking mostly the boy from the title but also his older sister, mother and absentee father. It’s a movie about growing, about parents, about life in all it’s dreary normality. And it is so stunning. I don’t like raving about movies because I hate when people build films up for me and I’m disappointed, but I have to emphasise that if anything about the premise or the trailer intrigues you then you should go and see it.

Glenn and I went after a very satisfying dinner at Uncle Mikes. It was a long movie, but it didn’t once feel it. It was lovely and beautiful and it made me love humans so much.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

This documentary is part character examination of Hayao Miyazaki, part diary of his last film The Wind Rises being produced and part immersion into the world of the offices of Studio Ghibli. The pace of the movie was a bit on the slow side, lots of shots of the pretty scenery and loving sequences of the studio’s cat, but getting to see Hayao so up close and personal was a total joy. He’s a hilarious guy, and he was very open with his stories to the camera. I really enjoyed it.

I especially loved the bit where the radio calisthenics played over the office and Hayao got up to do them and then complained that it was version 2, which he doesn’t know so well. Trying to work out if I can get this happening in my office…

20,000 days on earth

I’ve heard that this movie doesn’t play well if you’re not a Nick Cave fan, and I’d believe that. You sort of have to be invested and thinking he’s cool to start with or he might come off as a self centered tool, but then… most rock stars would. I read somewhere that this was meant to be a doco but Nick Cave ended up helping write a script to show his typical day, the 20,000th day of his life.

I loved this film. It was beautifully shot, just stunning on the big Embassy screen and the conversations Nick had – with his Freudian psychologist, with archivists collecting up bits of Nick Cave memorabilia, with his band mates and with himself in voice over were all interesting to me.

My most treasured bits of the movie where when he spoke about his creative process. He talked about his song writing as being all stories which take place in another world, a dark violent and strange world where there’s a god like figure taking score of what people do, but he doesn’t actually believe in god in the real world. Those ideas are fascinating to me.

The movie also made me fall in love with his latest album Push the Sky Away, which I have since bought, so… there’s that. I’d definitely watch this again, in my head it files in very nicely with the Leonard Cohen doco ‘I’m your man’.

Ponyo (2008)

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
(Number 448)

A very Japanese retelling of the Little Mermaid, with environmental concerns and a gentle message to be kind to others rolled in. I watched the English version because I enjoy the translation (except for the bit where in the Japanese Risa messages ‘Baka baka baka’ to her husband, in English it’s ‘bug off’ which isn’t as funny to me.) Plus the English version has Tina Fey as the mother and I adore her.

Sosuke is a sailor’s son who rescues a magical goldfish whose mother is a goddess and father is a wizard. When he accidentally allows her to taste his blood he triggers something – possibly her access to her father’s magic? Unlike the Disney Little Mermaid, Ponyo seizes her own destiny and forces her body into the shape of a human’s, opening defying her father and pursuing what she wants instead. It’s hard to tell if this is truly empowering though, since she is purely doing it to be with Sosuke, but it’s also hard to care too much. The movie is pure delight.

Ponyo’s actions – again unlike Ariel in the Little Mermaid – her actions have massive repercussions. Her joyous rush towards the land with her sisters creates a tsunami that floods the island Sosuke lives on and upsets the balance of the universe bringing satellites and stars down from the sky.

The movie is beautiful, displaying Miyazaki’s love for the ocean, everything on it and everything underneath it. My favourite sequence is when she makes Sosuke’s boat bigger and they float over the flood waters which have been filled with prehistoric fish. It’s gorgeous, lovely colours and strange creatures. I love dinosaurs XD

Does it make me love the people? Oh yes, almost instantly with every character.

Bechdel test: Yes, the old ladies talk to each other about how great it is to be able to use their legs and run again. Ponyo talks to Lisa as well, and the goddess talks to various people including women.

Best line: Ponyo wants ham!
(I can relate to that sentiment, also this one:)

Lisa: I say we start with dessert and go backwards. It’s been a backwards kind of day!

State of Mind: Serene. It’s such a visually beautiful movie that it calms me.

Watched movie count