Spirited Away: In A Land Of Ghosts

Spirited Away is a Japanese animated fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film revolves around a young girl called Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), who becomes separated from her parents after they get turned into pigs and she gets trapped in the spirit world. The film details the friendship she forms with Haku Spirit of the Kohaku River as well as her effort to escape to the mortal world again and restore her normal life.

So, my Studio Ghibli odyssey has finally brought me to the big one, the one everyone talks about, one of if not the most important piece of Japanese animated cinema, well ever: I am of course referring to Spirited away.

I loved the world this film created, other Ghibli films have referred to and referenced the spirit world, but with this film we finally get to see it. What a sight it is, it is just so brimming with vibrancy and life, much like I have said about other Ghibli films, this film is a work of art each scene could easily be a painting if paused.

Chihiro or Sen as she is called in the spirit world is such a likeable protagonist, she is an easy character to root for and admire as she manages to hold her own when she goes to the spirt world, even though she is just a little girl.

Yubaba (Mari Natsuki), is the film’s villain an evil old witch/bird like creature that rules over the spirt world. She is responsible for turning Chihiro’s parents into pigs as well as for trapping Haku and pressing him to servitude. Much, like other Ghibli designs her character is haunting and the image of her turning into a bird chilled me and stayed with me long after the film ended.

Overall, this is a magnificent film, that is both beautiful to look at and beautiful to watch, the characters are done well, and villain is menacing. In every respect this film is a triumph.

Pros.

Beautiful animation.

Rich dense world.

Great characters.

A good menacing villain.

Cons.

It is far too long and could easily have been an hour and a half.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

The Cat Returns: Studio Ghibli Gone Bad?

The Cat Returns is a Japanese animated film directed by Hiroyuki Morita. The plot revolves around Haru (Chizuru Ikewaki), who ends up saving the life of the Cat Kingdoms Prince Lune (Takayuki Yamada), without knowing who he is. After this she is perused by the King of the Cat Kingdom, who is intent on her marrying his son. She then has to venture to the Cat Kingdom, to try and escape the whole situation.

This is the third film in my Studio Ghibli odyssey, and I have to say it is the worst thus far. Of the three films I have seen so far, this is the shortest, which you would think is a mercy, but it is not. There is nothing wrong with the start of the film or with Haru herself, she is fine, it is everything that happens from the Bureau onwards that is the problem. I understand that the Japanese culture might be slightly different from what I am used to, but all the elusions to bestiality made me feel uncomfortable. There is no other way to say it than Haru is attracted to her Cat protector and despite the film turning her into a cat midway through, don’t ask me why, it still feels wrong.

Narratively, the film is a mess, when compared to something like Princess Monokoe or My Neighbour Totoro,       is a complete dumpster fire story wise. Things just happen with no rhyme or reason and the plot is so thin that when these things happen you are left saying wait what. I genuinely believe if this film did not have the Studio Ghibli name attached to it, then it wouldn’t even be considered watchable let alone good.

None of the film feels satisfying either, you don’t care about any of the characters, as they aren’t developed, they are just kind of there, the ending as well adds very little to call it an anti-climax would be an understatement.

Overall, this film just wasn’t for me, I am a cat person, but even still I found precious few things to like about it. I was left feeling uncomfortable and vaguely confused by it and one thing is for sure, that is an hour and 15 minutes of my time I am never going to get back.

Pros.

It’s only on for 75 minutes.

Haru is okay.

Cons.

It makes no sense.

The bestiality undertones.

It was a slog to get through.

1.5/5

My Neighbor Totoro: The Spirit Next Door

My Neighbour Totoro is a Japanese animated fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The plot focuses on a family that moves to a new house, which is also home to a number of spirits. The two young girls of the family Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka), and Mei (Chika Sakamoto), make friends with the spirits and their colourful leader Totoro. The film deals with the interactions between the family and the spirits.

This film is childhood innocence incarnate, the girls and their relationship with Totoro is so wholesome and pure it reminds me of all the fun I had with my imaginary friends when I was child. Totoro himself is both huge and terrifying, but also cute and cuddly. He is one of the most interesting animated characters I have seen in a long time and that is mainly because we don’t know a lot about him.

Despite all this sweetness and light, there is a hidden darkness behind it all. The mother of the girls is in hospital for unspecified reason and there is a constant threat that she is going to die; which is heart-breaking for the girl’s sake. There is also a scene in the film where it looks like the little girl might be lost or hurt and it genuinely puts you on edge. I think this added aspect gives older people something to enjoy, which makes it a good film for parents and kids to watch together.

There is one scene in the film that bothered me, I don’t know why it was there and it made me uncomfortable. This is of course the bathroom scene, where the dad and two girls are naked in a draw out scene, you don’t see anything, but it is incredibly unnecessary. The scene adds nothing to the film as a whole and it makes you question why it was left in the final cut.

Finally, I loved the colour and animation style of this film and I thought that much like the other Studio Ghibli film I have seen recently Princess Mononoke, every scene could be a painting. The art style is different enough to give to a distinct personality, but there is also a familiarity to it.

Overall, I liked this film it reminded me of my childhood, my only issue with it was that one-bathroom scene that I thought was totally unnecessary. Totoro is incredibly cute.

Pros.

The art style.

The child-like wonder, but also the more adult moments.

Totoro himself.

Cons.

That scene.

The cat bus thing was scary and haunting.

3/5

Reviewed by Luke

Princess Mononoke: The War For The Forest

Princess Mononoke is an animated fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The plot follows Prince Ashitaka (Yoji Matsuda), a young man who becomes cursed after a demon touches him while he is protecting his village: this curse will corrupt and eventually kill Ashitaka if it is not lifted. As such he ventures out into the wilds to find a cure. Along the way he ends up caught in the middle of a battle between the forces of the forest lead by a giant wolf called Moro (Akihiro Miwa), and a giant boar called Okkoto-nushi (Hisaya Morishige) and the humans of Iron Town lead by Lady Eboshi (Yuko Tanaka) who are backed by the might of the Emperor.

This was my first time watching a Studio Ghibli film, shocking I know right, and I just have to say it was fantastic, it was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Each frame of the hand drawn animation looked like a beautiful painting, there were many scenes where I was amazed by the level of detail that had gone in to creating this world. The world itself felt so real, it felt like the kind of thing that could have existed one day years ago.

The relationship between Ashitaka and San (Yuriko Ishida), is beautiful and very wholesome. We see each learn to trust each other more over time and eventually realise the feelings they have for one another. Also, their union represents the coming together of humans and nature, which I think is an interesting contrast, especially in these current times, however sadly it shows that ultimately humans will destroy nature for their own ends, the film suggests an inevitability to it.

The final thing I want to talk about is the Forest Spirit. It is the head of this spirit and its believed mythical abilities that caused the war in the first place, it is the life of the Forest Spirit that the forces of the forest are fighting for. However, the creature itself is the stuff of nightmares, it is deer like in a lot of ways, but it has a human face and the first time I saw it, I’m not going to lie, it scared me a bit; I thought it was going to turn out to be a demon, but no. The spirits haunting eyes will say with you long after you turn the film off; just staring contently into your soul.

Overall, a wonderful experience rich with culture and meaning, I will definitely be checking out more Studio Ghibli films in the future as I thought this was superb.

Pros.

The balance between nature and industrialisation.

The believable world.

The fantasy elements.

San and Ashitaka.

Cons.

The Spirit of the Forest will haunt my dreams for years to come.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

A Beginners Guide to Anime

Anime typically describes Japanese Cartoons; these can come in all different varieties and genres, some appealing to kids, some to teenagers and some to adults. In many ways, this carries on from my previous post about the animation stigma over here in the west; said stigma being that cartoons and animation can only be enjoyed by kids; an untrue statement and one that is proven wrong by the existence of anime. A lot of anime, or at least the ones I’ve seen, deal with quite heavy, mature themes the sort only an adult audience would understand; that is because in Japan cartoons are seen as something everyone can enjoy.
Anyway, rant over, the subject of today’s post is how to get into anime, now I know for a lot of you who want to start watching anime it can be quite daunting, there are thousands of different ones to choose from and some of them have been going on for longer than you have been alive.
Worry not because it’s never too late to start, all you need to do is find one that sounds interesting and start watching it; you can even put dubs, (A different language voice-over), on if you don’t want to read the subtitles, but I don’t want to have that debate here.
Don’t be perturbed if it is a long-running series that just gives you more of the show you like; I like to watch shorter animes, but that’s just me.
I think everyone should at least try and get into anime because it is so superb, there are worlds and character that you have to see and meet and ones that could only exist in anime. Everything from a dystopia where giant humans called ‘Titans’ are attacking the last bastions of humanity and its down to a brave group of teenagers to fight back, to a magical academy where exorcists are trained to fight back against demons, with the lead character being a demon, and son of the devil himself. It’s not all fantasy though, and there are plenty of other genres of anime for you to enjoy as well, these include science fiction, comedy and so much more.
I think not to give anime a chance is reductive, as you are shutting yourself out of this whole other culture, with stories and characters that can really affect you; and that is incredibly stupid.
One final point I would like to address is that I believe anime is sometimes unfairly painted as this pervy thing, but this idea comes from a lack of understanding and, just straight ignorance. Some animes might be a bit on the spicy side, but so are some films and comics it doesn’t mean that they are all like that, as such it shouldn’t be a stereotype that is applicable to all; for again that is just incredibly reductive.
So I challenge you all who read this, to go online, or to Netflix and find an anime you’re interested in and give it a go, I bet you won’t regret it. As for me, I’m going to start season 2 of Blue Exorcist on Netflix now.