Thursday, July 7, 2011

Top 5 treats from Studio Ghibli

List by Danielle

'Simply put, I think that a film which is made specifically for children and made with a lot of devotion, can also please adults. The opposite is not always true. The single difference between films for children and films for adults is that in films for children, there is always the option to start again, to create a new beginning.'
~ Hayao Miyazaki (interview at Midnight Eye)

Long, long ago, in a time far, far in the past where I had no children and could indulgently watch films at will and with tremendous frequency, I remember seeing Spirited Away for the first time, and being sooo excited by it that I ran home and made my nearest and dearest watch it, too. The colours of this animated feature were so vibrant, the mythology so different from anything I'd seen, the story such a surreal journey... it was a world away from any other animated movie I'd ever seen before. This was the start of my love affair with director Hayao Miyazaki, and the magical Studio Ghibli.

One of the neat things about now having kids, of course, is introducing them to movies like these. I was curious - would the imagery be too scary? Would the stories be too unusual for kids who normally scarfed down a diet of Barbie and Disney? Would a dubbed movie hit their ears weirdly? The answer is a walloping NO. They LOVED these movies, starting with Spirited Away and taking off from there. The visual humour and charm are universal, the characters' adventures as intriguing for them as they were for me.

Studio Ghibli have put out many excellent movies, and I haven't seen all of them yet; I can't quite bring myself to watch Grave of the fireflies yet, which is an anti-war movie set at the end of WWII and sounds like a pretty harrowing experience. It's exciting to see that there's a new Ghibli movie in this year's Film Festival, Arrietty, based on Mary Norton's The Borrowers. It's the directorial debut of new Ghibli director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. "Arrietty is a joyous depiction of an unlikely friendship," says one reviewer, Sarah Louise Dean, who praises the depth, humour and simple beauty that Ghibli brings to the classic story (read her review here).

Honourable mentions: Princess Mononoke; Pom Poko; The cat returns; Laputa, castle in the sky; Howl's moving castle; NausicaƤ of the valley of the wind; Whisper of the heart; Porco Rosso.

Kiki's delivery service (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.

A big favourite of my 4 year old daughter - a cute movie with Kiki's great sarcastic cat companion, drily voiced by Phil Hartman in the dubbed version.

Only yesterday (Director, Isao Takahata)
As 27-year old Taeko embarks on a holiday to the country she reminiscences about her childhood and journeys back to a time when she was only 15. Taeko recalls the major events that shaped her life into what it is now. In the present, Taoko longs for a change in her humdrum life as an office-worker in Tokyo. When she arrives at her relatives' farm she finds herself attracted to an earnest young farmer. As Taeko flips between the past and the present, she realises that she must make important decisions to ensure her future happiness.

Recommended more for adults than kids, purely because of its slow, leisurely pace and lack of any fantastical kind of drama. That said - it's beautiful, funny, moving, and a personal favourite.

Ponyo (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship before Ponyo's father forces her to return to the sea. Ponyo's desire to be human upsets the balance of nature and only Ponyo's mother, a beautiful sea goddess, can restore nature's balance and make Ponyo's dreams come true.

One of the better Ghibli movies for younger kids, with lots of visual humour that relies on body language. There's a heavy eco message, as with many Ghibli films, but Ponyo herself is a fantastic and funny character, and Tina Fey and Frankie Jonas do a great job with the dub.

My neighbor Totoro (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
Deep inside a tree trunk, two children discover a fascinating new world inhabited by Totoros, amazing, charming creatures who become their friends.

Again, another excellent dub, with Dakota and Elle Fanning as the two young sisters. This is one of the more surreal Ghibli movies, so just sit back enjoy the crazy spectacle. Our favourite: the huge furry 'cat bus' with mice headlamps. This is a weird and warm-hearted delight.

Spirited away (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
Spirited away is a wondrous fantasy about a young girl named Chihiro who discovers a secret world of strange spirits, creatures and sorcery. When her parents are mysteriously transformed, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

With its 2003 Academy Award, this is the film that really brought Ghibli great fame outside of Japan. And it totally deserves its place of honour - the colour and magic of this film is breathtaking, and it leaves you with some amazing imagery. The story is unpredictable and exciting, with the little dark notes that haunt the best of fairytales. (There are some scary bits for younger viewers, so I'd watch it through first if you're not sure.)


Teigan said...

And Howl's Moving castle make all my favourites ^_^

Danielle said...

Cheers Teigan!
Howl's Moving Castle was a bit odd for me... I'm a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones, and the movie version felt so different to the story. Not that I'm opposed to adaptations taking things in a different direction at all, I think in this case I was just such a big fan of the original, and the characters kinda didn't 'feel right' to me. That said, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, just beautiful.

Jon Turner said...

How pleasing it is to see that your kids liked the Ghibli dubs! I wish articles like this could be shown to those annoying purists who claim that ALL the Ghibli dubs are terrible and "butcher" the films, because to me that is absolutely not true.

Case in point: I've shown "Castle in the Sky", "Nausicaa", "Princess Mononoke", and "Ponyo" to some friends of mine, and did they hate the dubs on them? Nope. They liked them. It really does make me wonder if the Disney dubs truly are awful, because to me the opposite is true. These dubs are amazing.

Danielle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danielle said...

Hi Jon, appreciate you taking the time to comment! Even though I prefer subs for my own viewing, it was pretty cool to find the dubs so watchable when it came to sharing these gems with my kids. My memories of old-school dubbed anime from childhood were so awful - like watching some sort of out-of-sync aliens delivering dialogue, and everyone shouting ALL THE TIME - so what an eye-opener to find the relatively natural voice performances in these newer dubs! Frankly, I'd rather the kids got to see and enjoy these movies, regardless of how the purists feel. Maybe it'll build enough love of the movies that they'll be inspired to tackle the originals, ya know, when they can actually read :)

Jon Turner said...

Yeah, well, luckily when Disney dubs them, they always make an effort to do a great job with them. I like how they pay attention to the lipsync and flow of the dialogue. I have to admit that at first I wasn't so sure about some of the vocal choices, but after watching the dubs I have to admit that I haven't heard a single bad performance in any of them. Or maybe that's because I'm probably one of the few who doesn't mind some of the more eccentrically cast voices (Billy Bob Thornton, James van der Beek, etc.), because IMO, I didn't think they did such bad jobs. Especially when they were surrounded by awesome heavy hitters like Mark Hamill, Keith David, Phil Hartman, and lots of others that escape my mind at the moment.