Millennium Actress (2001)
“All the world’s a stage, [and] all the men and women [are] merely players”, famously stated William Shakespeare. It appears that this quote is given life in the animation “Millennium Actress”. This anime comes from no other than Satoshi Kon, a director known for such great films as “Perfect Blue” (1998), “Tokyo Godfathers” (2003) and “Paprika” (2006). In this story, a team of documentary-makers interview a once top-star Chiyoko Fujiwara as she tells them about her story, her rise to fame and the personal motivations behind her role-taking. Together with the duo of documentary-makers, we explore Chiyoko’s life through a series of events that hint at both make-believe film scenarios and real stories, but which had a very meaningful impact on Chiyoko and her worldview. The historical settings are either Kyoto in the Edo period, Japan in the World War II, or the country in the 1950s, etc. As in other Kon’s films, reality and fantasy fuse deliciously in “Millennium Actress”. The result is that this beautiful animation becomes an engrossing celebrity story, a touching romantic ballad, a historical account of a country through the ages, and a thought-provoking philosophical study all in one.
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Big Fish & Begonia (2016)
This fantastical tale is about Chun, a girl who is a member of a tribe of mythical beings (“neither humans nor gods, but others”) living underwater, capable of controlling tides and knowing the secrets of nature. As part of her rite of passage, Chun turns into a dolphin to visit the human world. There, Chun makes a contact with a boy who loses his life “because of her”, and Chun vows to sacrifice a part of her life for him, seeking help to turn the boy into a fish which must grow big enough for his later transformation. The story sounds a bit complex; it requires certain open-mindedness; and the layering is quite deep. However, with the stunning visuals (better seen on the widest possible screen), the simplicity of the main theme is quite evident and heart-warming. The meticulously-constructed scenery, and the relatable themes of the cycle of life, and the importance of friendship and of not losing hope, all make this animation more than worth your time. Moreover, “Big Fish & Begonia” has already done extremely well at the Chinese box office, and, being a huge leap forward for the Chinese animation industry, it may be a contender in the next Oscar season.
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Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
The co-director and scriptwriter of this little gem of an animation is no other than Satoshi Kon, the man who brought to the masses such great animated films as “Perfect Blue” (1997) and “Paprika” (2006), and the story is about three homeless people who discover an abandoned baby-girl amidst the piles of garbage, and decide to embark on an adventure to deliver her back to her parents. The animation may portray harsh realities of living on the streets too realistically for anyone’s taste and may camouflage some other hardships, but the animation is also so fun, well-structured and beautifully-presented, with a touching finale. Moreover, it is so heart-warming, with memorable characters who learn their lessons, it is truly the New Year movie to watch to lift everyone’s spirits.
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Miss Hokusai (2015)
Based on a manga series by Hinako Sugiura, “Miss Hokusai” is a Japanese animation about the daughter of the famous Japanese painter Hokusai, Katsushika Ōi. A great artist herself, Ōi helped her father in painting, while leading a peculiar lifestyle of her own due to her work demands and her father’s eccentricities. The beautifully-drawn animation highlights some of the most memorable instances from Katsushika Ōi’s life. It becomes impressive in a way it manages to show both Ōi’s life in Edo (now Tokyo) in the 1810s, including her hopes and traumas (as told through a manga series), as well as inspiration behind Hokusai’s major artistic accomplishments, all the while remaining strangely poetic and touching.
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“…What drives animation is the will of the characters” (Hayao Miyazaki).
“Only Yesterday” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” are two completely different in plot animations, but both were produced about the same time by famous Japanese Studio Ghibli, an animation film studio known worldwide for the quality of their animations. While “Only Yesterday” focuses on grown-up concerns and largely targets teenager/adult audience, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a completely child-friendly movie, which also has important messages to deliver.
Only Yesterday (1991)
“Only Yesterday” has a plot filled with highly emotional undercurrents and intelligence: a 27 years old unmarried woman, Taeko, from Tokyo, visits countryside while reminiscing over her childhood of when she was a shy and creative fifth grader at school. Through her nostalgia, we get to learn about many situations which have had the biggest impact on her up until her present life, and get to understand her past choices, hopes and regrets. Directed by Isao Takahata (“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (2013) and “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)), “Only Yesterday” is a beautiful animation which touches upon such often overlooked in films/animations topics as the “grip” of persistent childhood memories and their traumatic or positive impact on one’s later life and development, the benefit of re-discovering oneself in a different setting, the importance of staying true to oneself no matter the circumstances, and the imperative of letting go and forgiving “one’s former self”, as well as people from one’s past, to be able to carry on and lead a happy, fulfilled life. Continue reading “Studio Ghibli: “Only Yesterday” (1991) and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)”
Your Name. (2016)
Makoto Shinkai’s latest animation feature “Your Name” is rapidly gaining international recognition, and has already grossed over 10 billion yen ($98 million), becoming the first ever anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki to gross this sum at the Japanese box office. This critical acclaim is unsurprising. “Your Name” is as close to perfection as any anime can get. Showcasing Shinkai’s talent for presenting emotional connections, fully-fledged characters and breathtakingly beautiful, detailed animation, “Your Name” is a romantic story of an accidental body-swap between a country girl Mitsuha and a city boy Taki, who, in reality, have never met. Both are high-school students who experience the usual teenagers’ problems and daily ups and downs. However, one day they start to switch bodies back and forth between each other through dreams. Through this experience, Mitsuha and Taki learn many interesting things about themselves, the opposite sex and human, emotional connections.
Continue reading “Makoto Shinkai: “Your Name.” (2016) and “5 Centimetres per Second” (2007)”