It seems now that Japan’s Studio Ghibli is awaiting auteurs to step up on native soil, they have turned to some international co-productions to keep the lights on. If Dutch director Michaël Dudok de Wit is any indication of this new collaboration arrangement, I am happy to see the direction things go. The Red Turtle looks gorgeous, has a hand animated aesthetic, with a flair for visual and emotional storytelling. The film premiers at Cannes this week. The trailer is below.
We do not often post music videos around these parts, but when they are as good as Radiohead’s latest, for their single, “Burn The Witch,” well, we can make an exception. The shadow of Robin Hardy’s 1973 film is a long one, turning up in things as far apart as Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and Roger Avery’s The Rules of Attraction and Julian Gilbey’s A Lonely Place To Die.
And now here.
As much as Inside Out was a full blown masterpiece for Pixar (and it was), it is clear to me that Laika is the animation house to pay attention to. Their latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings easily made my ‘most anticipated’ list for 2016 on the Cinecast, and this trailer does nothing but confirm my enthusiasm.
Set to a subtle, staying very much in the background, version of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and featuring an Interstellar sized tidal wave, E.T. frame-filling full-moons, animated origami bluebirds, warrior witches, and a host of 3D-printed stop-motion wonders, along with voice work from Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and Art Parkinson. So this is what Rickon Stark has been doing for the past couple seasons of Game of Thrones…
Who wants to bother with Pixar’s underwater sequel, Finding Dory, when this is on offer. Kubo and the Two Strings is getting a wide release from Universal Studios on August 19th.
Kubo ekes out a humble living, telling fantastical stories to the people of his seaside town. His relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a mythical spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey and Beetle and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen – a magical musical instrument – Kubo must battle gods and monsters.
With Japanese auteur, manga artist, animator, and former Studio Ghibli co-chief Hayao Miyazaki celebrating his 75th birthday today, it is worth giving consideration to his influence over the past 50 years. While Ghibli is not the quite the world-wide corporate juggernaut that is Disney, nor is it the household name among children and families, the influence of Miyazaki (and Isao Takahata) on the art and creativity of the animated world is deeply entrenched. Pixar head John Lasseter (who is also the chief of all Disney animated projects) never misses an opportunity to praise Miyazakai-san as one of the key mentors and aspirations in the early days of storytelling at Pixar.
From his early work as an animator at Toei Studios where he worked on projects such as Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Future Boy Conan, Gulliver’s Travels, and significantly, the feature film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, which almost much as Tin Tin, was a key pre-cursor/analogue to Indiana Jones. From there, he worked with his friend co-worker, Takahata-san, to form Studio Ghibli and translate his sprawling manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds into an epic sized feature. Note at the bottom of this post, that several people have noted the similarities between scavenger-warrior-leader Nausicaa and The Force Awakens scavenger-soon-to-be-Jedi, Rey.
After the success of their first feature, Miyazaki and Takahata would go on to make parallel features in their new studio. Miyazaki the all time classic My Neighbor Totoro, perhaps the most universal movie about discovery and play ever made, while Takahata would make one of the greatest (and saddest) anti-war movies in the history of cinema, The Grave of the Fireflies. Miyazaki, for his entire career, ending with the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer Japanese planes the second World War, would come back again and again to themes of environmentalism, aviation, and the balance between self-reliance and social responsibility. These themes are often tacked in a fantasy setting, but their adult complexities made his animated features rather unique. He almost always had a girl as the protagonist which as exceptionally forwarding thinking in 1984, and was still unusual by the time he won the Animated Feature Oscar with his Alice In Wonderland / Wizard of Oz inspired masterpiece, Spirited Away. The epic adventure Princess Mononoke was the highest grossing movie in Japan until James Cameron’s Titanic.
Although the director only directed 8 animated features over the course of his time running Studio Ghibli, all of them are bonafide classics of animation. And while the future of Ghibli is uncertain after his retirement a few years ago (along with the retirement of Takahata-san a year later), he has left an impressive legacy, including the final Ghibli feature, 2014’s When Marnie Was There which often plays like a ‘grown-up’, melancholic version of My Neighbor Totoro.
Also worth checking out is the 2013 documentary on Miyazaki’s life and his working process, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.
What is likely going to be the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature for 2015, barring the usual Pixar factor with Inside Out, Charlie Kaufmann & Duke Johnson’s ‘male ennui’ drama, Anomalisa set in a hotel room in Cincinnati, gets this handsome poster that works technically and thematically. One, it it showcases the challenge met to work with stop motion and steam. Two, it shows a middle aged man trying to wipe away the fog of depressed inaction that his life has become. The hand-written title at the top and odd title block just sweeten the look of this one, which handily avoids all the usual poster cliches. Like everything else about the film (our Review is here), it is deeply considered and expertly pulled off.
Easily one of the cinematic highlights of the year, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson’s animated drama Anomalisa was one of the big sales at this years Toronto International Film Festival, and for good reason. The first trailer for the film arrives, and the focus is on ‘big question’ profundity, with a hint of intimacy. The humour of the film is not showcased here, but this is likely due to how little nuance and context you can pack into a short trailer. If you, like me, are deeply affected by the dulcet vocal tones of David Thewlis, then this is a small slice of heaven, as is the film.
Suffice it to say, when this starts to platform release on December 30th (if you live in the US or Canada), you might want to clear some space in your calendar.
I just sent my children on a plane to their grandparents across the continent for the remainder of the summer. But just because they are not here with me to take in another dose of Aardman Studios’ delightful Shaun The Sheep feature film – and you should, it is the best modern-silent movie since The Artist – allow them three minutes to convince you from their take on the film a few months ago at the TIFF KIDS Film Festival.
Video is embedded below.
How do you measure happiness?
The latest Pixar movie makes a convincing argument, pitched at wavelengths that should be easily received to both to children and adults, that periods of sadness, be it mundane or profound, are crucial to living a full, exuberant existence on this remote little ball of mud spinning through the void of space. Inside Out offers a specific, universal, and staggeringly emotional journey that is the rares of birds, a bonafide family movie. There is no light without shadow, and all that philosophical, spiritual paraphernalia is packaged into the easy to digest tale of moving to a new place and struggling to acclimatize to new surroundings.
Riley is on the verge of turning 12, a single child with affluent, doting parents (at this moment I am certain there is a queue online to chew on white privilege, but I will not be one of them). Her inner-self, represented by anthropomorphic emotional avatars of Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy dwell in the construct of her developing brain. The latter rules the roost in a chirpy, but passive-aggressive, dominant manner, wanting everything to be happy all the time for Riley. There is even a way for these emotion characters to quantify their success: Every memory Riley makes is represented as a coloured crystal ball, a single-shot 360 degree video unit shaded in the hue of the emotion attached to it. Her memories are almost entirely hued yellow. Presumably Riley’s parents want also this perpetual happiness for their daughter as well. It’s a fools errand and we all race on this treadmill!
The bulk of the memories, at the end of each day, are pneumatically delivered to her brain’s storage archives and compartmentalized via a Brazil-like bureaucracy. A detail that I love about this representation are the various departments working at odds each other, be it clock-watching transport engineers, an over enthusiastic disposal crew (“She won’t need these phone numbers anymore, they’re stored in her phone.”) or the fact that there are simply memory spheres lying between shelves and in the nooks and crannies all willy-nilly. In this bright Pixar world, a way was found to make biology look messy and kudos for that.
I was cynical when I first heard about the development of a modern animated incarnation of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Who can blame me? Other classic cartoon characters revisioned for modern audiences have turned out mostly abysmal.
Needless to say, it looks like I was wrong. If the trailer is any indicator, The Peanuts Movie is not going to be Alvin & the Chipmunks or Smurfs.
It’s been 35 years since we’ve seen the Peanuts gang in a feature length film and, while the earlier films do hold up, perhaps it was time to revisit the characters for a new generation of kids. Charles Schulz’s very own sons helped write and produce the film and they even used archival recordings of Bill Melendez (who died in 2008) for the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock.
Yep–I’m sold. The Peanuts Movie hits theaters on November 6, 2015.