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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Last year, in August, I posted a similar post – Unpopular Opinion Tag (Films), where I talked about three movies that people generally love, but I hated. Now, it is time to do a “reversal” post. Here, I will be talking about three movies that people or critics do not like much, but I actually thought there was merit in them or things to love. I am choosing to write about Premonition (2007), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and Joseph: King of Dreams (2000). Be warned, there may be some spoilers ahead.
I. Premonition (2007)
IMDb score: 5.9; Rotten Tomatoes score: 8%.
In 2007, Mennan Yapo shot this film starring Sandra Bullock, and, in my opinion, it does not deserve to be so unknown or all the negative reviews. The film is actually fascinating. It relies on a twisted Groundhog Day/”Deja Vu” (2006) concept to tell the story of Linda (Bullock), a wife and a mother, who finds her world turned upside down when she wakes up one day to learn that her husband is dead and another day – to find out that he is still alive. The truth is that her week days do not follow the natural timeline, but are randomly emerging, and Linda has to find out how her new reality works exactly to possibly save her husband from a deadly car collision. The film is clever (in a way it is a brain-teaser), and it is very interesting to follow Linda on her journey. The film makes you want to pay attention to small details to find out how they may change the next day. The film may lack some fundamental logic and, definitely, plausibility, especially towards the end, but it is so atmospheric, many of its other faults could also be forgiven. It is atmospheric in a way every scene is filled with the feeling that something macabre or threatening is lurking in the background (some unseen force), meddling with the natural clock, and music and the involvement of children make the picture even eerier and more effective. Couple this with the exploration of the issues of sanity and grief, and a few nice jumps, and the result is strangely compelling. It may not be this great thriller, but it is good enough for repeated viewings and Bullock does a good enough job.
Continue reading “Unpopular Opinion Tag (Films) II”
“Coco” is a simply delightful Pixar-produced Academy Awards nominee of 2018. Taking the Mexican folklore and tradition on board, it tells the story of Miguel, a boy living with his family of zapateros or shoemakers in Santa Cecilia, Mexico. Years before, the family imposed an absolute ban on music, because a father of some previous generation left his family to pursue a music career. However, in this present time, Miguel, unbeknown to his family, dreams of becoming a musician, practices music secretly and worships his music idol Ernesto de la Cruz. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel desires to enter a local music completion to fulfil his dream of becoming a musician, but, trying to do so finds him in the secret Land of the Dead, where his adventures only begin.
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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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I will first introduce the two animations, then detail the similarities, and, finally, will argue that the French short animation “Above Then Beyond” (2006) and Pixar/Disney produced-animation “Up” (2009) share so many similarities, including shots which are almost identical, that one must have influenced greatly the other, and this is not a question of pure coincidence. Even given the timelines in which the two animations were produced, there is strong case to be made for the French short influencing Disney/Pixar’s final product. Going further, it also seems that, rather than being a mere inspiration, all evidence point to Pixar/Disney covertly using the main idea present in “Above Then Beyond” to fledge out the very essence of their Academy Award-winning film.
“The Breadwinner” promises to be a great, inspirational animated film. In my opinion, it looks like an interesting cross between “Mulan” (1998) and “Persepolis” (2007). It will be screened at the forthcoming BFI London Film Festival, taking place between 4 and 15 October 2017.
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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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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“…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)”