Category: Movie Reviews

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind may be the quintessential Hayao Miyazaki film—not necessarily his best, but the most comprehensive assortment of his characteristic themes and motifs.

The setting is a staggering feat of creative world-building and visual opulence. Characters include a strong young female protagonist, children, and old people; and while the villains may be more clearly evil than most Miyazaki antagonists, they don’t ultimately evoke hatred or vindictiveness.

There are flight sequences and stunning uses of water. Themes include pacifism and environmentalism. The story frankly acknowledges the sadness of loss and fears for possible future losses, but is subtly shot through with hope and grace.

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Tales of the Night

Sorry, I can’t pretend to be objective here. Michel Ocelot’s Tales of the Night is simply a joy—not a perfect film, but a lyrical celebration of art and imagination, its assortment of stories sparkling like a jeweled mosaic.

Of course, it comes to us from abroad (specifically, from France, in a combined effort of NordQuest Films, Studio O, and Studio Canal). No American studio would produce such a film. The animation is simple, low-budget work, relying on lavish artistry rather than cutting-edge technology, much like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea (both of which, like Tales of the Night, were brought to the United States by GKIDS). Characters are black silhouettes with eyes, but the backgrounds are a riot of color and detail: flowers and branches, castle walls, a Gothic-style rose window, skies sprinkled with stars or streaked with pink and gold. Almost every frame is shot from the side, giving the images the feel of elaborate dioramas. The six eponymous tales, though none lack some form of excitement, are presented with fairy-tale simplicity and matter-of-factness, without attempts to sensationalize. Why can’t we get more movies like this?

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Whisper of the Heart

A review of Whisper of the Heart (1995), written in 2012

The animated films of Studio Ghibli have long been admired for their wild imagination, for the fantastic worlds and images they present. Examples include the exotic, staggering jungles and isolated cultures of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the elaborate da Vinci-esque technology of Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and the surreal, haunting spirit world of Spirited Away, along with others that are less than masterpieces (the whimsical loopiness of Ponyo, the beautiful ruins of Tales from Earthsea).

Yet even at their most stunningly far-fetched, Ghibli films also have a history of celebrating the details of everyday life: cooking, cleaning, planting, studying, mending, become important and precious functions, worthy of devoted attention. Most recently, The Secret World of Arrietty infused the commonplace with probably unprecedented magic and wonder.

Director Yoshifumi Kondo’s Whisper of the Heart may represent the studio’s simplest gesture of this honoring of everyday life. It moves and delights, not in another world or even a hidden magical corner, but amid the streets of Tokyo. Its heroine, a junior high school student named Shizuku (voiced in the Disney dub by Brittany Snow), never actually stumbles into a fantastic adventure, but often feels as if she has. Perhaps a film like this, amid Hollywood’s current drive for blockbusters and spectacular epics, offers American viewers something they’ve been missing.

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