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Entries in Asian cinema (61)

Saturday
Sep062014

TIFF: Hayao Miyazaki's Swan Song

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF. Day 1

Are documentaries about filmmakers that are at least in part documentaries about the making of particular films, just giant infomercials? Can they ever not be even when they're good? The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a documentary about Studio Ghibli in Japan made me desperate to see Miyazaki's final picture The Wind Rises. And I've already seen it

Kingdom purports to be about Studio Ghibli but is actually much closer to a profile of Hayao Miyazaki and his regimented and consistent working methods: he works from 11 AM to 9 PM exactly Mondays through Saturdayshe storyboards all of his movies in chronological order while they're in production (no actual screenplays) so no one, including him, knows how they'll develop and end; his daily routine includes a walk in which he waves to the children of the animators in the in-house nursery and a trip to the roof near sunset with his animators in tow; and so on. This routine has remained the same for decades as has, one could argue, the quality of his work.

Several darker implications or offhand remarks that Miyazaki is a pessimistic unhappy soul, that Studio Ghibli is on its last legs, or that Miyazaki is incredibly demanding and tough on his animators, particularly the best ones, are never fully explored by the smitten filmmakers but they do serve to contour the portrait a bit and prevent a hagiography. We don't hear much about other filmmakers and projects beyond two interesting business meetings about things like Spirited Away merchandise and what to do with Miyazaki's son who is also a filmmaker albeit a reluctant one. The most lively thread is arguably the ocassionally bitchy and exasperated references to Miyazaki's mentor, former partner, and creative rival Isao Takahata and his interminably slow production of The Tale of Princess Kaguya (which was meant to premiere alongside The Wind Rises but has only recently been completed and is also playing here at TIFF!).

Despite its limitations this documentary is never dull and is often extremely charming. Particularly wonderful are the many shots of a black and white short tailed cat that wanders freely around Studio Ghibli demanding doors be open for it. This cat, who almost seems like an animated character, strangely never ventures into Miyazaki's workspace as if blocked, staring, by some invisible wall. Still, Miya-san likes him. They share a brief funny moment at a picnic table outside late in the film, the cat sleeping, the filmmaker looking on with envy; Miyazaki has since retired. But this documentary practically insists (or pleads?) that the great filmmaker's new nap time can't possibly stick. B

Friday
Aug292014

Tim's Toons: In praise of the long-dead Osamu Tezuka

Tim here. Bear with me for a moment: we’re just about done with our month-long look at 1989 in cinema, about which I already had my say. But one of the other things that happened in animation that year was that the great Japanese animator and illustrator Osamu Tezuka passed away in February of that year, at age 60. Which is absolutely no legitimate pretext for anything, but Tezuka is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about in this space for ages, and there’s never been anything remotely resembling a good excuse to do so. So this shall have to do. It’s no fun having a bully pulpit if you can’t spread the Good News with it.

And oh, what very Good News the career of Tezuka is. You might not have ever heard his name, but you know his work: he’s largely regarded as the godfather of both manga and anime, two media with a shared stylistic backbone that’s still mostly intact a full 62 years after Tezuka began drawing the original comic book version of Astro Boy.

Which is all very important and impressive, of course – that one man’s innovations could trickle down in a readily-detected lineage to things as diverse as the nuanced fantasy epic/family drama Spirited Away to the internet’s favorite whipping post, tentacle porn...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Aug202014

Yes, No, Maybe So: Rudderless & Revenge of the Green Dragons

Deborah here, with a double-entry of Yes, No, Maybe So. First up, Rudderless from actor turned director William H Macy. (He's up for an Emmy Monday night for Shameless)

Yes

  • Directorial debut of William H. Macy. I'm a fan.
  • He's using his wife, the awesome Felicity Huffman. Also Billy Crudup.
  • There's a sweet naturalism to the trailer.
  • It looks like Begin Again, except with more death and less money. I loved Begin Again.

No

  • It looks like Begin Again, except with more death and less money. How about a new movie?

More after the jump including the trailers themselves...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Aug042014

Studio Ghibli is taking a break

Tim here. The story over the weekend as far as popcorn movies go might have been the monstrous over-performance of Guardians of the Galaxy, but for those of us who like a little more personal artistry and a little less big-budget sizzle out of our movies, Sunday's biggest news was the apparent revelation by Toshio Suzuki, general manager of Japan's Studio Ghibli, that the company is ceasing to produce animated films.

Or maybe not. The internet, in its glorious need for news, News, NEWS, has perhaps jumped the gun on some ambiguous words that have slightly different weight in Japanese than in English. They're merely talking about restructuring and re-evaluating their business and production strategies in the wake of Hayao Miyazaki's retirement. That certainly could mean that they're going to close; it doesn't mean they've closed yet (though that "yet" might well be nothing but diplomacy talking). What is certainly the case is that following the newly-released in Japan When Marnie Was There, Ghibli has no future plans involving animated features. So even if it's not The End, it's not a very good day for lovers of animation or just top-quality world cinema.

While we stew and wait for more news on the Ghibli front, I'd like to invite everyone to share their favorite movies from the studio. I'll start off: if I wanted to showcase to a newbie the breadth of Studio Ghibli's artistry (and today of all days, that's exactly what I want to do), these would be the five movies I'd pick:

  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988) - a generous children's fable filled with a love of nature
  • Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - a deadly serious examination of the human cost of war
  • Porco Rosso (1992) - a clever spin on an animal fable and loving tribute to the beauty of flight
  • Whisper of the Heart (1995) - a quiet, beautiful story of adolescent curiosity and self-knowledge
  • Spirited Away (2002) - the perfect gateway drug: bold visions, fearless storytelling, impeccably clear characters

What are your favorite Studio Ghibli films? And how sad are you going to be if this really is the end?

Monday
Jul282014

Podcast: Charming Musicians, Frosty Survivors, Talking Apes

It's one-on-one podcast time this week. Nathaniel and Nick discuss two movies they're sympatico on (Begin Again and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and one which halfway divides them (Snowpiercer). 

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

Index
00:01 Intro & Scene Stealing
01:30 Begin Again: rough starts, Mark Ruffalo's abrasiveness, Keira Knightley overall excellence, how it compares to Once.
14:00 Why we're not talking Boyhood. Plus the difficulty of grading ambitious movies.
20:00 Snowpiercer: allegory, structure, and the fight over the final cut, Tilda Swinton of course. Plus Bong Joon-ho and Korean cinema.
35:00 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: highlight scenes, amazing imagery, franchise politics, Jason Clarke, and Caesar vs. Koba.
45:00 "Lost Stars" 


What is this picture doing here?
You'll have to listen to find out.

 

Begin Again Snowpiercer Dawn of...