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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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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The Red Turtle (2016)
“The Red Turtle” is this year’s best animation Oscar nominee that surprised people in a way it masterfully combined visual simplicity and metaphoric depth. The film borrows the theme of Robinson Crusoe to tell the story of a shipwrecked man who experiences both desperation, sorrow and then happiness on an isolated island. The director of this gem is Dutch Michaël Dudok de Wit who partnered with the Japanese Studio Ghibli to produce a wordless, but very meaningful animation which explores the theme of a man’s survival on an island, but also the bigger topics of a man’s place in the universe and his relationship with nature. Given the film’s visual simplicity, it is astounding how much there is to experience here for the viewer. Even if the content of this animation may be described as “thin”, the underling symbolism of the movie guarantees that the audience engages in emotive reflection.
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Wolf Children (2012)
“Wolf Children” is a 2012 animation directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the man behind the very creative “The Girl Who Leapt through Time” (2006) and the equally inventive “The Boy and the Beast” (2015). The film is about a young girl Hana who meets a wolf-man and has two adorable wolf-children. After the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Hana has to confront the challenging reality of bringing up two very unconventional children. Although “Wolf Children” may put off those who are after a conventional story with villains, its meticulously-crafted looks, and the innocence and charm of its plot, with important life lessons, still mean that this is the animation to watch.
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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)”
Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 feature “Black Swan” is an Academy Award-nominated film, telling the story of a young ballerina Nina Sayers, whose transformation from a shy ballet dancer to a leading heroine ballerina of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” production causes a psycho-sexual breakdown. “Perfect Blue” is a 1997 Japanese animated movie based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, telling the story of Mima Kirigoe, whose rapid descent from an admired pop-idol into a “tarnished” rookie actress has disastrous consequences.
In this piece, I will compare the two films closely, arguing that the two films share substantial similarities in terms of the plot, character, style, design, execution and the little details, pointing to the conclusion that “Perfect Blue” was – at the very least – the direct and main inspiration for “Black Swan” (and even something much more than that), though Aronofsky himself denied the claim. Going further, the similarities are so striking that it could even be said that Aronofsky essentially re-made “Perfect Blue”, but changed the setting to a ballet, and re-modelled some characters, disguising them as others.
Continue reading ““Perfect Blue” (1997) vs. “Black Swan” (2010): Is Aronofsky’s Black Swan Perfectly Blue?”