Savouring the Animations of Shinkai

10/09/2017 at 11:33 AM (animation, Movies, Romance, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

It has been a while since I’ve written about Japanese animations. They came to my attention again when I was searching for a gift for my now ex-boyfriend. I know I’ve praised Miyazaki before but this time my words of adulation will be for the storytelling skills of Makoto Shinkai. His body of work has received comparison to works by the illustrious Studio Ghibli animator but the creator of 5 Centimers Per Second and Children Who Chase Lost Voices is rather self-effacing about his talents.

5 Centimers Per Second

The film consists of a triptych of acts: Cherry BlossomCosmonaut and 5 Centimeters per Second.

In the first act, Takaki Tōno, the main character, becomes friends with Akari Shinohara when she transfers to his elementary school. The classmates foster a deep friendship because they have lots of mutual interests and end up spending recesses together often; even when they talk to each other, they don’t use honorifics, a sign of closeness in Japan. When Akari moves to Tochigi after completing elementary school because of her parents’ jobs, the two friends keep in contact through post but this communication slowly fades as time passes. This part of the story is set sometime before the arrival of cellphones and email. When Takaki hears that his family will be moving to Kagoshima, he decides to visit Akari in person first because they will be living too far apart to regularly see each other. Before he visits, Takaki also composes a letter that expresses his feelings about her. On the way to see her, Takaki loses the letter and a severe snowstorm pushes the train schedule behind several hours. When the two finally meet each other again, it is a temporary, touching and bittersweet reunion during which they talk for hours. They make sentimental promises to each other and after the events of the night spent amongst the snow, Takaki decides the loss of his letter was not important. He never realises there was a letter he never got as his train leaves, because the audience see a letter from Akari addressed to Takaki that never changed hands to the addressee.

In the second act, we see Takaki attending senior high in Tanegashima and he is blind to the love shown by Kanae Sumida, who is not brave enough to admit her feelings. Despite all her efforts at winning him over, Kanae remains in the friend zone. She sees that Takaki always appears to be writing emails or looking off into the beyond. We learn these emails are sent to nobody and he often has recurring dreams that feature Akari. After an attempt to confess her love fails, Kanae decides what she could offer to Takaki will not be enough to satiate what he desires and keeps the truth of her love locked within her heart.

In the third act, Takaki has become a computer programmer in Tokyo while Akari is preparing to get married to another man. His feelings for Akari that he has been unable to shake impact negatively on his life. Eventually a depressed Takaki leaves his job, unable to cope with his unresolved feelings for Akari. Meanwhile Akari goes through her old belongings and discovers the letter addressed to Takaki. The two characters narrate in tandem, both recalling a dream depicting the events of their last meeting in the snow and hoping to watch the cherry blossoms together again.

One day walking down a road, Takaki and Akari appear to recognise each other as they walk past at a train crossing, where they had watched cherry blossoms together thirteen years ago, before Akari’s moving to Tochigi. At the opposite sides of the tracks, they begin to look back but the passing trains cut their view. Takaki waits for the trains to pass and sees Akari is gone. After a moment, he smiles to himself and continues walking.

Makoto’s film gives a realistic view of the struggles many face against: time, space, people, and love. The title 5 Centimeters Per Second comes from the speed at which cherry blossoms petals fall, the petals being a allegorical representation of humans, evoking the slowness of life and how people often start together but drift into separate ways.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Asuna is a young girl who has been forced to grow up quickly due to the death of her father, while her mother, a nurse, works long shifts at a hospital. Asuna spends her solitary days listening to the mysterious music emanating from the cat’s-whisker receiver her father gave to her as a memento.

One day, while walking to her clubhouse across a bridge, she is attacked by a fearsome creature and saved by a mysterious boy who calls himself Shun. Asuna treats Shun’s wound from fighting the creature and later they both listen to Asuna’s radio. Shun tells Asuna he is from another country called Agartha and that he came to this place to find something. He then gives Asuna a blessing in the form of a kiss to the forehead. Asuna leaves hurriedly and tells Shun she’ll be back tomorrow. Shun, now alone, looks up at the stars and falls from the ledge to his death.

The next morning, Asuna hears from her mother that a boy was found dead in the river, but refuses to believe it’s Shun. In school, Mr. Morisaki, a substitute teacher, is giving a lecture on a book which grabs Asuna’s attention when he mentions Agartha, the land of the dead. After school, she visits Morisaki and asks him about Agartha. Morisaki explains that long ago when humankind was young, it needed the guidance of Quetzalcoatls (keepers of the dead) until humans matured and no longer needed them, so they went underground along with a few humans who joined them.

Afterwards, Asuna goes to her hideout to find another mysterious boy who looks like Shun standing on the ledge. Just then, a group of armed men who the boy calls the Arch Angels, appear and attack the both of them. The Arch Angels’ commander captures Asuna and uses a crystal called the clavis to open a gateway to Agartha. The commander and Asuna enter the gateway followed by the boy. Once inside the commander reveals himself to be Morisaki and the boy also reveals himself to be Shin, Shun’s younger brother. Morisaki tells him that all he wants is to bring back his late wife from the dead. Shin leaves Asuna and Morisaki.

Morisaki tells Asuna that she can go back but she decides to accompany him. They both go into the realm via an underwater entrance. Once inside they go on a journey to the Gate of Life and Death which can bring the souls of people back from the dead.

Upon arriving in his village, Shin is told that he has failed in his mission to retrieve that clavis, because Asuna has unknowingly returned with a fragment of one. Shin re-embarks to stop Asuna and Morisaki from wreaking havoc in Agartha.

Along the way Asuna is kidnapped by a race of monsters called the Izoku. In their hideout she meets a young girl named Manna and they both try to escape. In their escape attempt, they encounter Shin who helps them but is wounded by an Izoku. Morisaki finds Asuna and Manna down the river as well as Shin. Shin tries to retrieve the clavis crystal that belongs to Asuna. However, he is too weak to put up a fight and Morisaki easily defeats him. Asuna convinces Morisaki to take him with them while Manna leads them to her village.

Once there, the villagers are, at first reluctant to help the “top-dwellers” but the village elder convinces them to let them in. The elder allows them to stay one night at the village. Meanwhile Asuna checks up on Shin but Shin yells at her telling her to leave him alone.

The next morning Asuna and Morisaki depart from Amaurot. Shin wakes up later and after hearing the villagers riding away to kill them, decides to follow in order to protect Asuna. Morisaki and Asuna are walking towards a steep cliff when they are attacked by the villagers but they are saved by Shin. Asuna, being too scared to climb down, stays while Morisaki continues, leaving her.

Meanwhile Shin is fighting the villagers and is about to be killed when the villagers sense that the clavis crystal has reached the Gate of Life and Death and leave Shin to wander aimlessly, having betrayed his country.

Asuna is walking aimlessly and asking herself why she came to Agartha and finally accepts that she came to Agartha because she was feeling lonely. She is then attacked by the Izoku but saved by Shin. Asuna and Shin return to the cliff after seeing the Ark of Life descending. They encounter a Quetzalcoatl who is about to die. Before he dies, Quetzalcoatl offers to take them to the bottom of the cliff.

At the bottom of the cliff, they both find the Gate of Life and Death and enter it. Inside they find Morisaki who tells Asuna she shouldn’t have come and she is soon possessed by Lisa, Morisaki’s late wife. However Shin is able to destroy the crystal Morisaki has used to make his wish. Before she leaves Asuna’s body, Lisa tells Morisaki to find happiness without her. Asuna is now back to her normal self but Morisaki is devastated and asks Shin to kill him but Shin tells him that he must live. Asuna heads back to the surface and saying farewell to Shin and Morisaki, who stay behind. The film ends with Asuna, looking out her window at the cliff side where she had met Shun and Shin. She then says her goodbyes to her mother as she hurries to her graduation ceremony as an older teen.

This film is his longest animation film to date and is described as a “lively” animated film with adventure, action, and romance centered on a cheerful and spirited girl on a journey to say “farewell”.

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Marvellous Miyazaki: Part II

08/09/2011 at 11:55 AM (Movies) (, , , , , , , )

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's delivery service

In the opening scene, we meet Kiki who is taking off for the big city with her talking companion, a black cat called Jiji. Kiki is a 13-year-old witch in training. She lives in a village where her mother is the herbalist. When witches reach the age of 13, it is traditional for them to live on their own for a year. She decides to live in Koriko, a city near the seaside.  Her insecurity poses problems for her in finding good friends and a decent place to stay. This difficulty is compounded by the fact she’s not quite adept at the art of flying her broom. To support herself, she establishes a delivery service.

Kiki experiences some complications – both in her job and  her emotional state. Tombo, a boy crazy about aviation, pursues her as he likes her and respects the fact she can fly.  But due to an unfortunate meeting with his friends who had created an unfavourable impression on her previously leads to loss of her flying power and her ability to talk with Jiji. She is devastated but her friend Ursula, an artist living in a forest cottage, identifies her inability as akin to “artist’s block.” It’s a reflection of Kiki’s increasing lack of confidence in herself, as things don’t keep going to plan. When she finds a suitable purpose, she will get herself out of this quandary. Feeling a bit happier, Kiki returns to the city and finds an opportunity to rescue Tombo. Her desire to save him reactivates her powers.

This story is actually based on a book by author Eiko Kadono but the screenplay credits goes to Miyazaki. The episodic novel is more about the people who meet Kiki during her delivery service and her interactions with them. Dramatic and climatic moments in the film are due to Miyazaki’s input. This was actually an enjoyable movie but without a lot of subtext.

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro is a film that can capture young and old alike with its innocence. Satusuke and Mei move to a house in the country with their father in order to be closer to their mother who is recovering from a long illness in hospital. They discover the house is populated by house spirits and the garden by forest spirits. These magical creatures are called Totoros (pronounced toe-toe-ro). They befriend these Totoros, and have lovely adventures including on the Catbus, a character reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat. For me, this film was like an animated Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland. To tell the truth, Hayao Miyazaki originally conceived the characters Satsuki and Mei as a single girl. The original girl had features of both Satsuki and Mei, and was 7: halfway between the ages of Satsuki (10) and Mei (4). Given Miyazaki is a big fan of Lewis Caroll, perhaps he drew inspiration from the book. But this is no adaptation as a substantial amount of Japanese folklore is inserted into the film. Totoro is so well recognised that Toy Story 3 paid it homage by including it among Molly’s toys. When Satsuke scolds her little sister Mei, the youngster decides to journey to the hospital by herself to make her mother better and Totoro accompanies her to keep her safe from harm.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind


Nausicaa, the princess of a small pocket of humanity on Earth in the distant future, lives in a world that was subject to the “Seven Days of Fire”. The place where she lives is called Valley of the Wind. Instead of trying to destroy the Toxic Jungle, she tries to understand it by making her best effort to stop warring nations from destroying themselves. She realises they keep contributing to the spread of polluted wastelands and is keeping the world from the only means by which it can be saved.

The US released an entirely different film in video under the title Warriors of the Wind borrowing heavily from this plot in the mid 1980s. The heavy editing was done unbeknownst to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. He was unhappy with the changes to the story which was based on his graphic novel and counselled those who have seen it “to dismiss it from [their] minds.”

For me, this was an OK film – there are Studio Ghibli produced, Miyazaki directed ones far more preferable. The plot didn’t engage me as much but then I enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro which uses different settings. Most of the time, I dislike the futuristic flying object based ones even if those are trademarks for Miyazaki. I think what this shows is my preference for fantasy over science-fiction.



Ponyo (or rather, Brunhilde) is a goldfish princess who decides to see more of the world by riding away on the back of a jellyfish. She is discovered and rescued by a human boy called Sosuke. While he is helping her, he cuts his hand. Ponyo licks his wound which heals instantly. The boy promises to protect her forever. Meanwhile Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, is looking for her and believing she has been kidnapped by humans, he sends wave spirits in search of her. The wave spirits take Ponyo away, leaving Sosuke heartbroken and unable to be cheered up by his mother, Lisa. Meanwhile Fujimoto and Ponyo fight when she declares she wants to be human because she’s in love with Sosuke.(Little Mermaid reference?) Suddenly she gets her wish, a consequence of swallowing Sosuke’s human blood. Fujimoto summons her mother, Granmamare. After becoming human, Ponyo releases a lot of magic into the ocean creating a huge natural imbalance that precipitates a tsunami. She visits Sosuke, riding the waves of the resulting storm. Ponyo, Sosuke and Lisa wait out the storm and on the next morning, Lisa visits the nursing home where she works to check the residents are okay.

Sosuke’s father sees Grandmamare on her way to visit Fujimoto and recognises her as the Goddess of Mercy. Ponyo’s father notes the moon has been displaced and satellites are falling like shooting stars creating chaos. Granmamare declares that if Sōsuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored to its former state. If he fails, Ponyo will turn into sea-foam. On waking, Sōsuke and Ponyo find the land around the house is submerged. As Lisa has not returned, using Ponyo’s  magic, they make Sōsuke’s toy boat life-sized and set out to find her.

After finding Lisa’s empty car, Ponyo and Sōsuke go through a tunnel. There Ponyo loses her human form and turns back into a fish. They are taken by Fujimoto into the ocean and down to the protected nursing home where they are reunited with Lisa and meet Granmamare, both of whom have just had a private conversation. Granmamare asks Sōsuke if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sōsuke answers that he “loves all the Ponyos.” Granmamare then allows Ponyo to become human again once he kisses her on the surface. This was a cute movie but is geared toward the young ones.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky


This is about a floating city by the name of Laputa (yes, it is a reference to Jonathan Swift’s city in Gulliver’s Travels) which is obscured by a violent thunderstorm. It is said such flying cities existed in large numbers but after a huge disaster, survivors were forced to live on the ground again except for those on Laputa. We meet Sheeta, a girl who is being escorted by agents under the command of Colonel Muska.  The airship they are on are attacked by a group of sky pirates – Dola and her three sons. In the commotion, Sheeta takes a pendant from Muska and escapes. She is seen by an apprentice miner called Pazu and he takes her to his home.

At Pazu’s home, she sees a photo of Laputa. Pazu’s father, an airship pilot, had taken it before he had passed on but his story was never believed by those who heard it. Pazu believes the city exists and wants to find it. Here they are interrupted again by the sky pirates but they find refuge in an abandoned mine shaft thanks to Sheet’s pendant. In the mines, they meet Uncle Pom. He tells them about “volucite” – the crystal that keeps Laputa floating in the sky. This is where we realise the significance of that pendant. Pazu and Sheeta are split up by army soldiers who imprison them in a fortress once they reach the surface after she reveals a secret to him about inheriting a secret name.

It turns out the government is also searching for Laputa. They decide Sheeta and her crystal is the key to discover the floating city. Muska reveals he knows Sheeta’s secret name and shows her a huge robot belived to have been created in Laputa and tells her unless she cooperates, Pazu will be harmed. She tells Pazu of her intentions to aid Muska and he is upset by her betrayal. On returning home, he finds Dola there and tells her about the Laputa mission and asks for help. Strangely, they accede to his request. Meanwhile Sheeta chants a spell that points to the floating city and reactivates the robot that ends up setting fire to the fortress. The robot rescues Sheeta before being destroyed by the airship commanded by Muska. Dola and Pazu arrive to free Sheeta from the burning fortress but her crystal is found by Muska who uses it to find the city. Dola and the other sky pirates pursue the airship intent on finding Laputa beforehand. During an intense discussion, Sheeta mentions a spell she has never used: the Spell of Destruction. Dola overhears the conversation through the intercom. After a battle with the airship, Dola and the pirates are separated from Pazu and Sheeta but they enter Laputa, which is devoid of any life except for a robot responsible for its flora and fauna and a giant tree.

It turns out Muska is the villain of the piece as he betrays everyone in the end but receives his just deserts. Pazu comes through for Sheeta in her moment of desperate need. Dola and her pirate band survive and are rewarded for their efforts. The remains of Laputa, despite being subject to the Spell of Destruction, survives and floats into orbit above the Earth. This animation had an interesting plot with the perceived bad guys being good and the perceived good guys being bad but I feel Miyazaki’s other works have more mass appeal.

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Marvellous Miyazaki : Part I

08/03/2011 at 3:37 PM (Art, Fairy Tales, Inspired, Movies) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been meaning to this for a while now but it was delayed because I was working on the Burwood Bulletin since it’s due to be published in September with three of my six writers off duty. In addition, I got some extra work shifts from my second job. So I actually had to undertake the job duties of a journalist in addition to editing. When I return home, nothing seems better than a good sleep.

It was tough to hit the ground running with this one but I really wanted to share so I’ve got my butt into gear. These films meant so much to me even if they were animated and either dubbed in English or subtitled. What I am talking about are cinematic creations by Hayao Miyazaki.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Image

The first Miyazaki film I watched was Howl’s Moving Castle. Based very loosely on a book by Dianna Wynne Jones, the story is about the adventure of a young girl, Sophie Hatter, who is cursed with an old woman’s body. To break the spell cast on her by the nasty Witch of Waste, she seeks the help of a handsome but terrifying wizard by the name of Howl. His residence is a home that moves. A fire demon in the home, Calcifer, makes a deal with her that he will release her from the spell if Sophie releases him from the contract he has with Howl. The catch is he is not allowed to tell her how she can bring this about. When the disreputable wizard starts to fall for Sophie’s genuine charms, the fun begins. The characters and creatures are crafted excellently although Miyazaki has shown more strength in his character development in other productions. The animation is stunning and we are treated to a moral tale by changes of physical appearance and of character, reducing its preachiness while managing to work well as a lesson. It’s not as bad as Roger Ebert imagines.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away Movie Image

The Oscar-winning Spirited Away is another mind-blowing movie by the “Japanese Disney”. Ten-year-old Chihiro, who is moving away with her parents to a new neighborhood, is upset about leaving her old friends and school behind. Her father’s attempt to take a shortcut to their new town leads the family to an abandoned theme park where they find an unattended food stall fully laid out. Her parents dig in but Chihiro is uneasy and frightened. She encounters a spirit called Haku who warns her that she and her family have to leave before nightfall. But when she runs back to alert her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. It turns out she is stuck in a spirit world. So with the assistance of Haku, she gains a job at the bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. She’s renamed by the witch as Sen and learns if she does not hide her true identity, she’ll lose her sense of self forever.  While she is whiny at the start of the movie, the responsibility she is saddled with develops her as a character. She begins learning how to deal with difficulties and becomes a stronger person because of her trials. After her parents turn into pigs, she’s scared and lost, but by the end of her journey in this fantasy spirit world, she is confident and strong. The film is rich in cultural symbolism and was vastly popular with the Japanese audience. It didn’t do too badly in the western world either as Disney took it on board but it did lose some significance in the transition…unfortunately.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke poster

I’ve also watched Princess Mononoke, which could be considered an animated fantasy Japanese period drama. A young warrior by the name of Ashitaka is stricken by a deadly curse when he’s protecting his village from a rampaging boar-demon. To seek a cure, he goes to the forests in the west where he finds himself mixed up in a war humans are waging against the forest. The Lady Eboshi and her clan who live in a sacred area use their guns against the forests gods and a young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god.  The young warrior sees both sides are good people and the war is unnecessary and does his best to intervene. The groups each begin to think he is working for the enemy while he tries to convince them there are no sides. While this maybe an animated film, it is the adults who will gain more to learn from it. Besides the fact this is mostly hand-drawn makes it a major achievement.

The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns

A young girl called Haru saves a cat from traffic. She starts receiving gifts and favours from the King of Cats that she does not want for saving him. He wants her to marry his son, the Cat Prince Lune. Her rescue of the cat forces her to involuntarily become engaged to the cat prince in a magical kingdom.  She finds the assistance of a real but grouchy cat and an elegant cat statuette that has come to life. These two cats also made a cameo in Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart. They help her to find the way to escape from the cat kingdom. This is a more relaxing and fantasy oriented film with that can be enjoyed in its own right as a splendid example of animation.

Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart Image

Whisper of the Heart is an animation so sweet that it tugs at the heartstrings. The plot is about a budding teenage romance but this constantly explored theme is given a new veneer as it avoids typical stereotyping. This screenplay was written by Miyazaki but it’s direction was undertaken by another talented man, Yoshifumi Kondo, who died of an aneurysm in the following year. We meet the girl, Shizuku, who regularly checks out books from the library. To her annoyance, someone else is checking out the same books. Later she coincidentally meets the culprit to blame, a boy. He finds a song she’s writing for graduation and tell her the lyrics are corny. Pissed off, she leaves to bump into him again after following a curious cat. Seiji turns out to be the grandson of a violin maker and he himself wants to develop his skill in that art in Italy. When she hears him play, she is entranced and inspired to pursue big dreams of her own by writing a book in the midst of their budding affection for each other. She feels as she is uncertain of the future she wants and he has big plans, they might not suit each other. You’ll see a different ending if you watch the American version but I watched a fan dub and was not displeased with the future marriage possibility discussion by the two adolescents. There is a manga that uses this title but it is not possible to say the print and film versions are the same story.

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