lupin the third: the castle of cagliostro (hayao miyazaki, 1979)

This is the twelfth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 12 is called "Animated Auteurs Week":

When discussing auteurs, we usually stick to live-action filmmakers, which makes sense based on audiences' relationships with animation (outside of Japan, anyway). Here we take a moment to see creators who have made a name and signature style for themselves through an animated medium. Considered omitting Miyazaki since he is the exception to the rule, but it's for that same reason I had to keep him in.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by one of the following animated auterus: Ralph BakshiSylvain ChometDon HertzfeldtSatoshi KonHayao MiyazakiTomm MooreBill PlymptonIsao Takahata, or Masaaki Yuasa.

This was the first feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and it didn't do much for me, the first time I've thought that about one of his films (I've seen ten). I don't know much about the background of Arsène Lupin III, who starred in manga series going back to 1967. The Castle of Cagliostro presents Lupin in a more genial tone, apparently, which wasn't necessarily popular at the time but which has become more accepted as Miyazaki emerged as one of our greatest film makers. In this case, the characters didn't appeal to me, and I didn't really care about the plot. There is a good fight scene near the end that takes place within the works of a large clock tower, and the drawings of some of the secondary characters are intriguing. Ultimately, I just didn't care enough to get excited.

Popular choices for this challenge included Paprika and Millennium Actress, both by Satoshi Kon.

revisiting the 9s: spirited away (hayao miyazaki, 2001)

[This is the fourth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. By rough count, I have only given the top rating to 17 non-documentaries from the 21st century. (For some reason, I don't have a problem giving tens to new documentaries.) So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

Back in 2003, I wrote:

I'm forever searching for films that reflect what I think of as the world of Philip K. Dick novels. Movies based on Dick books rarely meet my approval, but once in awhile, some other picture will find the psychedelic spirit of Dick's best work. You don't expect to find it in a "children's movie," for sure, but I take what I can get. There are a bunch of astonishing creatures in Spirited Away, and most of them would make sense as intergalactic beings from a PKD novel. My favorites were the little soot thingies ... that's what they are, soot with arms and legs ... but there's plenty more where that came from.

Over the past month on holiday, I re-read five Philip K. Dick novels (he's my go-to writer on trips, because I have so many of his books on my Kindle). Re-watching Spirited Away in that context, locked in as I was to the Dick spirit, meant I easily understood my long-ago comparison of the movie to Dick. But I also appreciated the way Miyazaki explores his own kind of weirdness. Spirited Away strikes me as even more of a fantasy than is usual for the master. Certainly Miyazaki works within the fantasy genre. But where something like My Neighbor Totoro places its characters in a seemingly ordinary home, from which they venture out into a magical forest, in Spirited Away, the family is on their way to their new home, but they don't make it. The magic and fantasy begins right from the start, as the parents turn into pigs. There isn't a lot to hold onto in Spirited Away, if you want at least a grasp of the "real world".

I complained about Holy Motors being unapproachable ... you have to accept the vision of Leos Carax, because that's all there is. Spirited Away is equally demanding of the audience ... without Miyazaki's vision, all you have is pretty pictures (and Holy Motors has a lot of pretty pictures, too). But Miyazaki invites us into his vision. He welcomes an audience, where Carax gives the impression that he doesn't care about that audience. The result is that I resisted Holy Motors, but I embraced Spirited Away completely.

I should note that I watched the English dub this time, if that makes a difference. I didn't recognize any of the famous voices, which means they did a good job. As for the "revisiting the 9s" angle, I have no idea why I didn't give this movie my highest rating back in 2003. Perhaps I really do have some subconscious inability to fully appreciate movies that aren't 50 years old. Spirited Away gets a 10/10. It is my favorite Ghibli movie after Princess Mononoke. #6 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, and #159 on the all-time list. Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature.

[Letterboxd list of Studio Ghibli movies I have seen]

ocean waves (tomomi mochizuki, 1993)

This is the seventeenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 17 is called "GKIDS Week".

For over a decade, GKIDS has been a godsend for the distribution of foreign, independent, and adult animation. Through a large line of Blu-rays and theatrical re-releases, this company has opened the door to the world of animation for those looking to cross the threshold. Recently, they obtained the rights to distribute the films of Studio Ghibli, so those are definitely on the table here, but I would suggest maybe taking a look at the many other wonderful films GKIDS has made available. Unless you haven't seen Porco Rosso. Get on that shit, a pigman flies a plane. So dope.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film distributed by GKIDS.

It was suggested that we look beyond Studio Ghibli, but Ocean Waves is a Ghibli I'd missed, so I picked it. It is an anomaly in the Ghibli universe, the first one directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. It was meant to be an opportunity for some of Ghibli's younger members, but it went over budget and over schedule. The film ended up on Japanese television, and wasn't seen in the U.S. for more than 20 years. It's something of a neglected stepchild, which is unfair, but in truth, Ocean Waves is not a typical Studio Ghibli release. It tells the story of a love triangle among three high school teens, and is absent the element of fantasy we've come to expect from films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, which predate it by a few years.

The young woman isn't as interesting as the adventurous girls that feature in Miyazaki movies. In fact, none of the three main characters are particularly interesting, and the plot is rather mundane. Ocean Waves is never less than pleasant, but it rarely rises above that. The film becomes more affecting near the end, as the characters mature, and the theme of nostalgia is more effective once we've gotten a sense of what the lives of these young people were like in high school.

Ultimately, Ocean Waves might play better for an audience unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli. Fans of the studio bring expectations that aren't really served by the movie, and it's not a classic on the level of Princess Mononoke, but that's hardly a reason not to watch it.

revisiting ponyo (hayao miyazaki, 2008)

Back in 2009, I wrote about Ponyo:

The best part about watching this in the theater, even though it was the English-dubbed version, was listening to the kids in the audience. They were enjoying the movie very much, right from the beginning, when the Studio Ghibli logo came on and a kid sitting behind me said to his parent, “it’s Totoro!” You see, I had forgotten Miyazaki makes movies for kids. I assume they’re more like Fantasia, movies for acid heads to enjoy while tripping. Ponyo is neither the best nor the worst Miyazaki movie, which means you should see it.

Not a lot to add to that, except to comment on the viewing situation this time. We watched at home with our 8-year-old grandson. He hasn't seen many movies ... his parents are pretty strict about that. But he has seen Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, so he is familiar with Studio Ghibli, and he recently got an illustrated book version of Ponyo, so it was a good time for him to see the movie itself.

The weird thing was, he jabbered the entire movie about what was coming next. OK, that's an 8-year-old. But he had never seen the movie! The book he read, though, was quite accurate to the film, and he enjoyed seeing the animated version of what he'd seen on the page. (Once again, we watched the English dub. I wish they'd use voice actors rather than famous names. It's not that the famous ones are bad, but it's distracting to hear a character and recognize the voice of  Tina Fey or Liam Neeson or Betty White.)

by request: cloudy with a chance of meatballs (phil lord and christopher miller, 2009)

The request came from my grandson, who had already seen it a couple of times. His mom knows my feelings about kids and movies ... I don't believe in showing crappy movies to kids just because they are age-appropriate. She wondered if I'd be up for a movie that didn't quite meet my requirements. I told her it would be fun to watch with the squirt. Thus, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

First, I was glad to finally find out what the title meant. I assumed it was something suitably loony, and I guess it is, but it also makes sense in the context of the film, which is about a young inventor who creates the "Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator". You put water in one end, and food comes out the other. Eventually, disaster sets in, the machine ends up in the sky, and it starts raining food. Hence, cloudy with meatballs.

It may have been a good thing to watch on a regular TV, as the 3-D effects were a mixed bag if I'm reading contemporary reviews right (plus I'm not generally a fan of 3-D). The story and presentation was just intense enough to shake up the grandson once or twice, but he knew what was coming and was happy to watch again.

The voice cast was the usual bunch of big names ... am I the only one who misses when actual voice actors were used in cartoons? The standouts for me were Bruce Campbell, because Bruce Campbell, and Mr. T as a cop. Everyone else did a good job, I suppose ... I didn't recognize most of them, for what it's worth.

The grandson seemed to enjoy the fact that his grandparents could sing along to Lesley Gore, whose "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" makes an appearance.

geezer cinema: revisiting princess mononoke (hayao miyazaki, 1997)

It was my wife's turn to pick a Geezer movie, and she had never seen Princess Mononoke, so she chose it. It is the best of the 45 movies we've watched so far in Geezer Cinema. I wrote about it way back in 2005:

It's an oddball epic, weird and beautiful and brutal by turns, sometimes weird and beautiful and brutal at the same time.

I often get a bit lost in the plots of these Ghibli movies, and Princess Mononoke was no exception, but they are so loony in their pretty aesthetic that it hardly matters. Hollywood is capable of creating special effects that cause your jaw to drop, but Miyazaki creates special effects out of his brain ... he's always got some little character that's unlike anything you've ever seen before (this time it's the white thingies whose heads crack sideways), and there's wild boars that transform into squiggly monster things (Miyazaki always manages to include beings that would fit comfortably into a futuristic Philip K. Dick book ... Dick would give them names like greebs), and stunning landscapes, and heroic young women, and complex characters with complex motivations ... this isn't just a good cartoon, this is a great movie.

And the thing is, even the plot got to me this time, for as the film nears its end, I was caught up in the narrative, gasping and moaning and, of course, dropping my jaw in amazement.

I should add that the version I watched was in Japanese with subtitles ... there's an American Disney DVD with Claire Danes doing the voice-over for the title character, and I have no idea if it's any good ... in general, I don't mind dubbing when it comes to animation, I'm just saying, caveat emptor and all that if you watch the American version.

I agree with all of the above, although this time, we watched the English dub on Blu-ray. I'd bought that Blu-ray to watch with our grandson, but his mom did a little research and found that this movie is not suited for a sensitive 7-year-old. I have to say she's right ... there's a reason it's rated PG-13. The English dub was fine ... it's been a long time since I watched the original, so I can't make much of a comparison. None of the voices seemed awful. The Blu-ray picture was gorgeous, which matters a lot for this movie (my previous time I was watching a DVD from a quasi-legal box set). I also noticed the score by Joe Hisaishi, which was truly fitted to the epic nature of the movie. Fifteen years later, Princess Mononoke remains my favorite Ghibli movie.

Here is a Letterboxd list of the Studio Ghibli films I have seen:

a town called panic (stéphane aubier, vincent patar, 2009)

Another movie for "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 33 is called "Current Host Week".

Well, friends, we've reached the end of our journey, and what better way to end it off then with a little self indulgence. I was hesitant to do a list of this nature last year as I hadn't felt I'd earned it and I didn't even have a list like this made. But this year, I think I'm ready. So, take a look at the films that personally drive my love for the medium, and enjoy the final week of the challenge. To everyone who made it this far, thank you for participating, as I really couldn't do it without you all. Have a great summer, and I'll see you next Season!

This week's challenge is to watch a film from my I Like These Ones list.

A Town Called Panic is a fun and silly stop-motion animated film from Belgium. It's narrative defies logic, but in a good way ... you never know what will happen next, only that it will be absurd. It's not chaotic ... you could make a timeline of what you see ... but the connections are dreamlike. Once you quit worrying about it making sense, A Town Called Panic is a delight.

It helps if you don't mind a movie with characters named Horse, Cowboy, Indian, Policeman, Mailman, and the like. The characters are "played" by toy-like figurines, and everything is treated as if it were normal, which I suppose it is in their world. Aubier and Patar aren't looking for the emotional tug of the Toy Story franchise ... they're just having fun.

The movie lasts 75 minutes, and it actually seems a bit long. The looniness can be overwhelming. But, as Roger Ebert wrote, "Because the plot is just one doggoned thing after another without the slightest logic, there's no need to watch it all the way through at one sitting. If you watch it a chapter or two at a time, it should hold up nicely." It's the kind of movie an adult and a kid can watch and enjoy together. And there's even a character named Steven! #964 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

klaus (sergio pablos, carlos martínez lópez, 2019)

This will be quick. Klaus falls into two of my oft-mentioned categories, "It's Not for Me", and "Liked for What It Isn't".

I'm not much of a fan of animated features that don't come from Studio Ghibli. Granted, I liked Toy Story 4, which is one of the competitors with Klaus for this year's Best Animated Feature Oscar. Klaus isn't a musical, which pleased me, and it looked good, which was nice. But I was nonetheless mostly uninterested, and I found the main character (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) annoying in the extreme. I couldn't stand to watch him, and he was on screen most of the time.

Klaus is being praised for existing outside the usual Pixar style that is so prevalent today. Like I said, it looks good, a nice combination of current technology and old-school visuals.

So I didn't care for Klaus, but your mileage may vary.

what i watched last week

Holidays and paper grading kept the movie watching to a minimum.

Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen, 1941). Short animated feature from Disney that is one of the odder classic cartoons you’ll see. Most of the film is taken up with the emotionally-charged story of the little elephant with the big ears who is the butt of everyone’s jokes and is separated from his beloved mother. If you haven’t seen it for awhile, you might be surprised at how much you respond to this part of the movie. There’s a sequence where faceless men put up the circus tents while “Song of the Roustabouts” plays: “We work all day, we work all night, We never learned to read or write … When other folks have gone to bed, We slave until we're almost dead!” About 2/3 of the way through, Dumbo and his mouse friend accidentally get drunk, leading to “Pink Elephants on Parade”. For almost five minutes, Dumbo enters the realm of Fantasia, as psychedelia fills the screen. Finally, we get five crows who are stereotypical African-Americans (the leader is named “Jim Crow”). They act like cutups and sing a fun song. All in 64 minutes! #448 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the 1,000 best movies of all time.

what i watched last week

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand et al). So, is the world made up of two kinds of people, those who think Snow White is a great movie, and me? The evil queen is a frightening creation. But after her first scene, she disappears until the movie is more than half over. And is she ever missed. The character of Snow White is a boring drip, so much so that she needs seven dwarfs just to keep us from falling asleep. And a little of the dwarfs’ antics go a long way … it feels like it takes them an hour just to get up the stairs to wake up Snow White. Thank goodness that lively, spirited prince shows up … he’s the perfect match for Snow White. They live happily, and boringly, ever after. A technological landmark. #256 on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list of the 1000 greatest films of all time.