By Daniel Reif
March is near its end! America’s outdated tradition of “saving” the day light is our call to rise the blinders, crack open the windows, pour in the sun, and sing the bird-lead lullabies of springtime. Now, this imagery will never reflect the true dread of hyper-allergic environments and South Florida’s sandy dump-truck of obnoxious intoxicators… but it is a warm haven of self-glee. And this paradise is, as well, not simply an optimistic self-denial of spring calamity, but our optimistic denial of spring calamity. Our ability to spread cheer and union amongst continuous jeer and ruin. Our value in our environments. Our peace.
In Japan, the ethereal spirit has never been lost on Studio Ghibli. For over 30 years, master anime filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki- alongside partner and refined creative colleague, Isao Takahata- have captained an entire generation of resonant, magical humanism engrained in the swift beauty of country. The megastar anime production house has reached the entire world with their films’ highly-detailed and empathetic sense of home and community. The weather is fierce in classics like My Neighbor Totoro. Nature and architecture live vivid in classics like Spirited Away. The preservation of culture is evident in each creation. Their films belong to the where of us… not the what.
There is no surprise Studio Ghibli is one of the most critically and financially successful exporters in animation history. Nature and neighborhood are Ghibli’s thematic trademarks. Earth is all around us. Human advancement is all around us. Both feed and destroy each other. Both involve any viewer. Both are drawn, written, and performed to scintillating detail and depth. Miyazaki, Takahata, and company create productions for children, but no one can be removed.
You may find shock, or you may already love, that these poetic undertones fill receptacles for the surreal and unreal. Escapism is the studio’s third trademark. Totoro and Spirited Away are noted for their beautiful visions of the unnatural, and these “spirited” detours are testaments to the phenomenal house of hand-selected animators and production staff under visionary directors.
2016’s The Red Turtle (nominated for the 2017 Oscar for Best Animated Feature), produced by Ghibli, makes as the most recent must-see in a magnificent catalog spanning over 20 feature films. In a spirit of spring, here are three touching treks you should try or revisit.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
“All is fair in love and art.”
Believe it. Where ever you come from and whoever you are born from, love and art does not care. Where you want to go and who you want to be helps, but love and art is found in the present. And to complete her passage of magical maturation, thirteen year-old witch, “Kiki”, must meet the moral in Hayao Miyazaki’s third film under his company’s banner (fifth personally; fourth produced by Ghibli).
In Kiki’s Delivery Service, brooms and black-cat confidants kindle the viewer’s pop-mythology knowledge. A hilly port city provides endearing backdrops. A hard-working community paints respectable nurture, and their helping hand to a determined young sorceress, blooms affecting nature. The pronounced powers permeate a proud place with stirring love. In this sky-scraping, pro-immigration piece, the writer/director/animator presents fine art.
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki – 1hr 43m
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
Isao Takahata is no stranger to fantasy or adventure. After a 14-year break from creating work for the studio he cofounded, the anime filmmaker returned to form in 2013 with the critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. In the film, his unique, rough-sketch pencil aesthetic outlined a stunningly intimate tale of magic and family.
In the feature which long preceded, he departs from the traditional ambition of Ghibili and focuses his humble touch on family itself. My Neighbors the Yamadas may be the most contained drama from the studio. Takahata’s fourth for the company plays its title to the single drum of the everyday lives in a middle-class, well-meaning family. In vignettes separated by moral quotes from Japanese philosophers, we simply ride and dine through the reflective ups, downs, dinners and Saturdays of the Yamada bunch. The Mr. and Mrs., little Yamadas, and grumpy nana circus a roundtable of relatable stories ranging from encounters with neighborhood rough-housers to the troubles of nurturing serious studiousness in a son. The filmmaker brushes the animation to hinder wonder in a beautifully small, homegrown exercise.
Written and Directed by Isao Takahata – 1hr 44m
The Wind Rises (2013)
The Wind Rises wrangles astonishing worldwide landscapes from an innovative period full of worldwide vision. Gorgeous green miles, heavenly mountains, and luminous bodies of water make early 20th century Japan and Europe a blooming dream from the powerful gander of Miyazaki.
“Dream” is precise, because this romantic epic about a noble boy/teen/man’s captivating capture of a dream to create airplanes and explore all the world’s lands from up above clouds, is a gripping ode to that spirit.
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki – 2hr 6m
Film critic, James Beraldinelli, wrote The Wind Rises “finds Miyazaki at the apex of his abilities”. The note is pertinent to the artist, but bitter to us, because the film marked the final work before Miyazaki’s retirement. The man’s departure is an impressive goodbye to decades of imagination. The inability to find encore may down your spring spirit, but like many a Studio Ghibli film prior, the high of optimistic virtue will flourish.
Posted March 23, 2017
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