||Studio Ghibli Retrospective Film Festivals||
Fan Reviews & Impressions
The following are fan impressions and reviews of Studio Ghibli Retrospectives held in cities throughout the world. These impressions originally were submitted either to the Miyazaki Mailing List, or directly to Team Ghiblink, by fans who attended one of the retrospectives. The fan comments are reproduced here with minimal editing.
With no further ado, here is my review of Yamada-kun
My Neighbors the Yamadas
Company: Shochiku Films/Studio Ghibli
Length: 104 Min.
Version reviewed: Theatrical subtitle
Not available... yet!
All Ages (Nothing objectionable)
While the rest of New York City was singing Konya wa Hurricane a few days ago, the faithful of us got in line at Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street between 5th and 6th avenues to see the collective work of our God-figures, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, better known as Studio Ghibli. I had my ticket, and was all set to get in on Thursday when the crew announced that due to the weather, they, along with the rest of Manhattan, would be shutting down at 2 PM. While paper-pushers all over the city grinned as they got a half-day off, those of us that had come for the North American premiere of My Neighbor the Yamadas grimaced, lugging our dead bodies plus eight pounds of water that had blown past our umbrellas back to wherever we came from.
Today was a different matter entirely. After being treated to theatrical subtitled presentations of Porco Rosso (which went over very well), Grave of the Fireflies (not a dry eye in the house, despite a subtitling job that was so bad, they mixed up dialogue between Setsuko and the aunt), and a rare presentation of On Your Mark, we finally got to see the newest Ghibli film, seen for the first time outside of Japan. My Neighbors the Yamadas stuck out like a sore thumb in the company of past Ghibli works, but standing on its own, it works quite well.
The Yamadas are a fairly normal Japanese family... There's husband and wife Takashi and Matsuko, kids Noboru and Nonoko, and grandma Shige, as well as Pochi the Dog. In the style of the newspaper comic by Hisaichi Ishi, the film is presented as a series of ongoing vignettes, some of which continue for a while, while others are short and self-contained. Most of them are quite charming, and all offer the same insight into the characters as the best comic strips do.
A typical scenario involved the family coming back from a trip to the mall, only to discover that they've left daughter, doe-eyed Nonoko, behind! Nonoko comes to the conclusion that every single member of her family has gone astray. While she's keeping her cool and helping out a smaller child that lost his mother, the rest of the family is going insane trying to figure out where she could be. Another incident involves Grandma Shige trying to stare down a motorcycle gang. There's also Mr. Yamada's flight of fancy as the Masked Rider, and the day Mrs. Yamada put too much ginger in the miso soup, throwing the whole family into a total short-term memory breakdown.
Yamadas is the first Ghibli feature to make liberal use of computers for the animation process, and in this one, new techniques were invented to make each piece of art water-color drawn, something that would have been impossible with traditional animation techniques. Several items are obviously rendered and rotoscoped (although never losing that ink-sketched look), and while the final product probably wasn't worth the insane production costs and delays, it is visually striking and quite unique, especially when matched with the wit of a newspaper comic strip and the optimistic Takahata sense of humor that was saw glimpses of in Pom-Poko. The result is somewhere between My Neighbor Totoro and the collective works of animator Bill Plympton.
While the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) commentary about family life in Japan is a real breath of fresh air in terms of humor and satire in anime, the entire look and concept of Yamadas makes it sadly unmarketable to the mainstream media market of any country. Yamadas disappointed in the Japanese box office (they're hoping to make back some amount of money from video sales), and many Ghibli fans came away disappointed with the minimalist art style and lack of a contiguous story. While most of the complainers are obviously missing the forest for the trees, it's easy to see their point. And while Takahata may have drawn out his fantasy a bit longer than was necessary (like in Pom-Poko), the real rewards are the same deep characters that we get from only the best comic strips in America. The wacky sense of nostalgia with which the film approaches childhood and family bickering brought back memories of Bill Watterson's timeless "Calvin & Hobbes" strip... In my mind, there are certainly worse things to dredge up.
The typically senior citizen audience approached these typically open-mindedly, and as I egged them on and told them of just how widely acclaimed the films were, and at some point a few of them started to lionize me! Bizarre... just for knowing about Ghibli!! I got the typical questions for those new to anime ("Why are their eyes so big? / Why do they look Caucasian?"), which I answered to the best of my ability.
I already posted the incident where Miyazaki-sama himself came in, nearly causing me to mess my pants. ^_^ I'll not embarrass myself further.
About the prints... Most of them were pristine and obviously new. Yamada-kun was subtitled oddly, in the black portion below the frame, causing it to not fit properly on screen. The poor projectionist was going nuts trying to figure out how to frame it properly. I *THINK* he ended cutting off the top of the screen, but I'm not sure. Still looked great, and I loved the translation. Parts of Kiki (mostly the beginning) were a bit beat-up looking, but Omoide Poro Poro was a MESS. It looked to be spliced together from different prints (each reel had different tinting & projection depth, causing poor focus), looked like it was shown after being drug through a sandbox filled with messy kids and juice boxes, and had subtitles that were horribly translated by someone who obviously didn't know Japanese very well and didn't seem to have too firm a grasp of English either.
As I've already mentioned, the sub of Grave of the Fireflies was NOT the Central Park Media translation, and was rather weak as well. (Lots of spelling and grammar errors, as well as mixing up some lines of dialogue.) However, most of the translations were wonderful, with Porco Rosso being one of the best I've ever seen. They actually managed to faithfully translate all of the pig jokes! Totoro was also very good, although I was disappointed that they didn't translate the fun opening theme.
By the end of the festival, everyone had fallen in love with Ghibli, and Porco Rosso went over especially well. Parents could be heard ranting and raving after Totoro just how wonderful it was. It was quite special.
*JUST YOU WAIT A MoMA!*
From September 16 through September 27 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York was home to a retrospective of Ghibli movies, and fans of the great Japanese animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata flocked -- among them *Pamela D. Scoville* of the Animation Art Guild, yearning publicly to learn more about anime and not so publicly for ... but read on and find out for yourself. -- Andrew Osmond
It wasn't MoMA's fault that Hurricane Floyd washed out (almost literally!) the first evening of the Ghibli retrospective, but there were other problems in trying to catch every movie -- as husband Paul and I did -- that could have been avoided. The timings of the screenings seemed fairly haphazard, so that in order to catch them all one had to watch one's diary with a ruthless military precision: was today's evening performance going to be at 5pm, 6pm, 8pm or ...? We got only one of them wrong, accordingly missing the first half-hour of Miyazaki's Porco Rosso. Another evening we arrived in good time for a 5pm screening of Takahata's Whisper of the Heart only to be told that, at the last minute, the start had been put back until 6pm; the cinema was only half-full that evening, and we suspect the empty seats represented the people who hadn't been able to change their plans for the latter part of the evening. Publicity was virtually nonexistent: we first heard about the festival from a UK friend rather than from anything we came across in New York -- indeed, the only publicity we ever saw was in MoMA's members-only releases.
And more important than all of this was that there was a food ban in the theatre ... which meant: NO POPCORN.
The plan had been to start the retrospective off with a bang on the evening of the 16th with the US premiere of Takahata's new movie, My Neighbors the Yamadas. Thanks to Hurricane Floyd, this was shifted to the 17th, replacing Only Yesterday (screened again later). The result was that, grimly popcornless, we saw it directly after Takahata's classic about devastated wartime and postwar Japan, Grave of the Fireflies, which made the two movies either a grotesque mismatch or a perfect pairing, depending on your attitude -- one dour, depressing, very moving and (with reservations about the animation; as with so much anime cartooned rather than acted facial expressions) brilliant, the other in a completely different, caricaturist style I've never seen in anime before, and also brilliant in its own hilariously funny mode. Actually, I liked having the relief of Yamadas after the austerity of Fireflies as otherwise we'd have gone home gloomy.
Sunday 19th, and it was My Neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki's charming fable of a magical rural creature. This was probably my own favorite movie of the festival, popcorn or no popcorn, although Paul was distressed by the way it suddenly ended, seemingly leaving much of the story still to be told. That evening we missed the first half-hour of Miyazaki's Porco Rosso, as noted, but what we saw was enough to make us decide to pick up the video if ever we saw it.
The following day was another with two movies. In the afternoon there was Yoshifumi Kondo's Whisper of the Heart (with screenplay, storyboard and production by Miyazaki), a long (2hr) story of youthful love and awakening potential in Tokyo. Sounds grim, but in fact it was utterly entrancing; we were both surprised when it came to an end, because it certainly didn't feel as if two hours had passed. Once more I was distracted by some of the animation, in particular the rudimentary way in which walking was animated. Paul just loved the movie without qualification. In the evening we saw Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a post-environmental-apocalypse movie which Paul liked (although, he confessed, not as much as the first time he'd seen it) and I didn't. It had some lovely bits, but not enough of them. By the time it was halfway done I was sorely needing popcorn.
We had a day off, then on Thursday watched Takahata's PomPoko. The first half-hour was tremendous, but Paul was not alone in catnapping during the remainder; if I'd wanted to start a riot over the ban on popcorn this would have been the time to do it, because most of the people in the cinema seemed just to be hanging in there stoically, no one wanting to be the first to sneak out. This was the only screening we saw in which the audience didn't applaud at the end.
Another day off. Saturday saw us at a midday screening of Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky (aka Laputa, etc.). This was pretty good, and Paul thought it was better than that. He'd liked it a fair amount on video, but was startled by how much more he enjoyed it on the big screen, theorizing that perhaps the video version he'd seen had been unwisely edited. He added that he was disappointed that The Castle of Cagliostro wasn't showing in the festival; although it's not a Ghibli movie it's a Miyazaki one, and he felt it would have nicely rounded things out.
By a coincidence-that-was-presumably-no-coincidence, on Sunday there was, not as part of MoMA's retrospective but as one of the movies on show at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, the US premiere of the English-language version of the Miyazaki/Ghibli hit Princess Mononoke, in its original Japanese version one of the biggest box-office successes of all time. Presumably the MoMA organizers had been brought in to help out the folk at the Lincoln Center: not only was there still no popcorn, but the performance started 25 minutes late, by which time the audience -- who felt they deserved at least some kind of public apology for the delay, having paid $14+ per seat -- were slow-handclapping. Finally a panjandrum appeared with the sorry explanation: "These things take time." This was so patronizing -- he might have done us the courtesy of lying -- that it made the audience angrier. This was a pity, because unbeknownst to us Miyazaki himself was waiting in the wings ready to say a few introductory words. Before his appearance various other people involved in the production were introduced, notably Neil Gaiman, responsible for the English-language adaptation and for some reason obviously regarded by the panjandrum as less important in the scheme of things than, say, the duo responsible for casting the voices. Which they had done very badly: all through the movie we were conscious that we were watching a near-masterpiece but that somehow it wasn't stirring us the way it should, and this was attributable to the voice-track -- not the adaptation, which was perfectly serviceable, but the voicing itself, which was poorly cast and flatly directed. We both decided that we'd like to see the Japanese-with-subtitles version; contrary to the usual case, this may well be the version of choice.
After Mononoke we ate with a couple of anime experts. The excellent Ryoko Toyama, in California for a few months from Japan to research at Berkeley, was in New York for only a couple of days to catch the screening; she's been a friend of a friend for a while, so it was great to meet her in person. Also with us was Tom Wilkes, who'd bravely come to New York on a day trip from Boston for the premiere, and was catching a 1.00am train home that night; we thoroughly enjoyed meeting him as well, and hope to see more of both in future. The fact that this was so emphasized something else we'd been saying about the MoMA festival: this dinner was precisely the sort of outing you expect at a festival, where part of the whole event is that you meet people of like mind and make new friends. Because of the very scattered nature of the MoMA screenings, there was none of this. Why couldn't they have concentrated everything into a couple of weekends, so that between the movies something of this festival/convention spirit would have been spontaneously generated?
It was back to MoMA the following day for the final item of the retrospective, Takahata's Only Yesterday. This didn't start well, and not just because I was grumpy about the great popcorn dearth. We were stuck in front of a Pompous Anime Bore who was pontificating to some Adoring Acolyte about his wondrous knowledge of the field, which knowledge seemed to consist of reeling off long lists of movie titles each punctuated by "And I've got a copy of that". Paul made a weak joke about hoping the MoMA organizers hadn't without notice replaced the movie with a documentary on Japanese agriculture, which proved unfortunate because, midway through, this overlong film, what should turn up but a tedious polemic on the virtues of organic farming? The subtitling was also unfortunate, being in parts incomprehensible. One line had the female narrator, slowly falling in love with handsome Toshio, apparently say: "That summer Toshio showed me many pleasurable things on the farm." This made Paul snort. Matters got worse when we heard squeaks from the Adoring Acolyte behind us as he tried desperately not to giggle in the presence of the Pompous Anime Bore. Not the way to treat Great Art, but it passed five minutes of what was, as noted, an overlong movie -- although I enjoyed it more than Paul did.
All in all, we were glad to have undergone our ten anime-packed days, but equally glad to get life back onto a more sensible schedule again. Most of the movies were interesting and deserving of a second view; some were excellent, or at least thoroughly enjoyable (which is, come to think of it, much the same thing). Neither of us had known much about anime beforehand, and had seen far less of it than our professional interests would recommend; of course, that still pertains, but at least we feel better equipped to explore the rest of the world of anime. So in that respect we owe a hearty thanks to MoMA for staging this retrospective.
On Sunday, 3 October, I attended screenings of Castle in the Sky (Laputa) and Porco Rosso at the Brattle Theater, located near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I had already seen both films, as well as six other Ghibli movies, at the Museum of Modern Art's Ghibli retrospective in New York City a couple of weeks before. However…I wanted to see how the reactions of the Brattle audiences compared to those at MoMA.
The Brattle is a funky theater -- imagine an auditorium like that at a very small high school built in the 1930s (and perhaps painted once or twice since then). The seats have little elevation, but there is a balcony. Oddly, the screen is set back towards the rear of the shallow stage, probably since otherwise it would be right in the faces of those seated in the front row. From my seat, the screen was of reasonable size for that auditorium. The less said about the sound system, however, the better. ^_^
The theater used at MoMA for the Ghibli retrospective (the larger of two theaters there) is about twice the size of the Brattle, is much more modern, and has a better sound system, although the screen is about the same size as the Brattle's. However, as noted several times in Pamela Scoville's report on the MoMA screenings (posted to the Nausicaä ML by Andrew Osmond), the MoMA theater does not sell popcorn. The Brattle has a definite advantage over MoMA in the popcorn department. ^_^
I believe the prints for the two films (both of which were shown in Japanese with English subtitles) may have been the identical prints used at MoMA. I should examine the schedules to see if all of the festivals can share the same set of prints.
The theater was packed for the 4:00 PM showing of Laputa. Since the Brattle's lobby is tiny, people must wait in line outside the theater for seats. The line was long, and so attracted the attention of passers-by in Harvard Square, several of whom asked what was showing. The audience for Laputa was mostly adult, but several kids were also in evidence; I noticed two pre-teen girls sitting in the front row, who also stayed for Porco. The film aroused as much enthusiasm from the Brattle audience as it had at MoMA, despite a couple of problems with the Brattle's film projector (both of which fortunately were fixed quickly). Someone behind me hummed along with Hisaishi's music at a couple of points, although not distractingly. ^_^ There was a good bit of laughter during the funny bits, and much applause at the end.
The audience for the 7:00 PM showing of Porco Rosso was not as large as that for Laputa, perhaps because of the Sunday dinnertime hour. The floor seating was perhaps two-thirds full; the balcony was also occupied, although I couldn't see how full it was. However, the Porco audience was if anything even more vocal of its approval than the Laputa audience. There was uproarious laughter during the many comedic parts of the film, and enthusiastic applause at the end. Unfortunately, many people left during the final credits scroll, and thus missed the ending animation.
The Brattle's printed program contains a description of the Ghibli retrospective almost identical to that on MoMA's Web site, so this text probably originates with the organizers of the retrospective tour, which appear to include MoMA itself.
-- Tom Wilkes
Disney's dub of Kiki's Delivery Service was shown at the Canberra International Film Festival on October 17th. It was shown to a fairly large audience, and was well received. Apparently it's going to be released soon by Buena Vista (about time too).