Thursday, October 26, 2006


Family Movie of the week.


The modern animated movie is a technological marvel. Computer generated characters can be so lifelike that you sometimes can't tell. Hair is realistic, fire, every little detail is just right. In fact, the whole image just sparkles. It should! Computers make it possible. As slick as they look, and as impressive as the final result is - I sometimes miss the artistry, and the innocence of "real" animation. Compare "old" Disney with "new" Disney.

So few animated films are actually drawn by hand these days. It's a lot of work and labor intensive = expensive. Fortunately, Studio Ghibli, in Japan, is still doing just that. Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps the greatest animator/storyteller in movie history, has often been compared to Walt Disney. Walt was certainly a visionary, but he would mostly oversee the movie projects, he rarely drew them himself. Miyazaki does. The master draws thousands of individual cels (24 per second of film - it adds up).

For years MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (released in 1988) was one of the most beloved family films of all time. Why haven't you heard about it? Don't get me started on that. But that may be starting to change. I'll explain why. This is a "family" film - not necessarily a children's film. This concept is familiar to those who’ve enjoyed recent animated movies from Disney and Pixar and others. They want to entertain children, but adults who watch with their children can often enjoy the movie on another level. Animation is HUGE in Japan. Approximately one quarter of the box office take is from animated films. Not just for kids – many adult movies are also animated (art is art, right?).

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is unlike most animated movies you’ve seen. It is confident enough in the story that it doesn’t need contrivances and formula plot gimmicks to hold your interest. It doesn’t have a villain. It doesn’t have conflict. It doesn’t have a hit song. It doesn’t have the double layer jokes ubiquitous in most animation. In fact, no clever dialogue at all. Sounds dull? I watched it in a room full of adults, a 6 year old, and a 3 year old. Nobody, not even the 3 year old stirred for the entire 90 minutes. You just honestly don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is definitely not - not - NOT - a Disney movie! Far from it ……………

………. er……… well ........ actually ……..

……. Since Disney bought the video distribution rights to the catalog of Studio Ghibli films, I guess it technically “is” a Disney movie. That’s why you may be hearing more about films like Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away. At least you’ll hear about them here.

Do yourself and your family a favor and rent MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (or just you if you don’t have a family). Here’s why you will want to.

  1. The dialog has been translated to English and French on the DVD. The original Japanese soundtrack is also available on the disc. This is so the adults don’t have to read subtitles. Kids usually don’t need the dialog to know what’s happening.
  2. For an hour and a half, you can escape the real world. It’ll still be there when you get back.
  3. So you can say, “Well, now I’ve seen everything!”
  4. Rated 94% on the tomatometer.
  5. Loved the catbus. ????
  6. Reveals an imagination that transcends the everyday. If you want to expand your (or your child’s) imagination, you need to be shown that there are no limits.
  7. How many family movies have you forgotten? How many would you like to forget? This one sticks with you.
  8. There is no “why”. The Totoro just “is”.
  9. It’s more Zen than most Zen movies. It’s Zenner than “Now and Zen”, and it’s also Zenner than "Zen Came Bronson".
  10. I don’t know if it’s Zenner than Winnie the Pooh. You must decide this for yourself, grasshopper.



At 12:29 PM, Blogger Jan Andrea said...

Heh. This adult didn't stir for 90 minutes because she was busy looking perplexed and thinking, "WTF?!" But once you surrender to the weirdness, it's an excellent film.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

"... and now I've seen everything."

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all well and good to break away from formulatic hollywood dreck, but this film was only one step away from random images. You could have added to the list of things this film didn't have. It had no plot, no likeable characters, no development. We learn nothing about why anything is happening.
This film is groundbreaking in the same way 12 tone or atonal music is groundbreaking. Just as the past masters never though to write music with no enjoyable qualities whatsoever, most modern filmmakers are aware that the audience likes some basic considerations like a story, and a reasonable conclusion.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

I wouldn't say "one step away". It's certainly not as random as art films like "Un Chien Andalou" or "Cowards Bend the Knee".

As for plot, well, many terrific movies don't have any plot at all. Examples are: "The Station Agent", "Mr. Hulot's Holiday", "Last Life in the Universe", "Nine Lives", and many more. Movies don't have to have a plot. Real life usually can't be wrapped up in 90 min.

Likable characters: whether you like the characters in this film or not, is totally subjective. The only really likable character in this week's other movie, "The Minus Man" is a serial killer.

No development: I would argue with you there.

Reasonable conclusion? The youngest sister is found safe, it looks like the mother will recover, and everyone is at peace with the forest spirits. Sounds reasonable to me. You were really hoping for a bad guy to defeat, weren't you? Try "Princess Mononoke" from the same filmmaker. You may like that better.

I really do believe that this film has all the necessary quailities to stimulate one's imagination in an enjoyable way. However, not everyone's experience will be the same.


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