Studio Ghibli: Only Yesterday (1991)

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After Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguyathis is the third Isao Takahata  film I’ve seen. I’ve got the feeling that the two movies of his I haven’t seen yet (Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas), have a more broadly comedic tone that will be notably different. Nevertheless, Only Yesterday, which he released in 1991 and was his second feature at Ghibli, when looked at within the context of the two Takahata movies I have seen, gives me a very good idea of where the director’s personal interests and auteurist tendencies lie.

Takahata was at Ghibli from the start (producing Hayao Miyazaki’s first two features), but at least in the west, he isn’t nearly as popular and highly regarded as Miyazaki. I wouldn’t say he is a “better” director, but he is undoubtedly more unapologetically idiosyncratic than his more famous colleague. What I mean by that is that, while Miyazaki creates wildly original worlds, his movies more easily fit the mold of what an animated movie looks like. They might be very violent (Princess Mononoke), or they might be morally complex (The Wind Rises), but they could mostly be described as adventures.

Takahata, on the other hand, is more interested in drama of a more social-realist bend.Grave of the Fireflies is a tragic story of two kids trying to survive a war, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a poignant tale of futile feminism. I guess you could describe them as “message movies”, but they are far more microscopic than the usual examples of that genre. The most powerful moments in both movies don’t involve plot-shaking action, or important speeches, Takahata’s power is usually in showing mundane situations and shining a new light on them. We see the characters engage (or attempting to engage) in things we do in our everyday life, and it’s the content of who they are, and why they’re doing this that breaks our hearts.

Only Yesterday fits pretty comfortably into this social-realist mold. It is based on the manga of the same name by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, which is essentially a memoir consisting of small episodes in the life of Taeko, a ten-year-old girl growing up in 1960s Japan. The original Japanese title Omoide Poro Poro translates literally to “Memories come crumbling down”, which fits very nicely with the way Takahata altered the material when adapting it to the screen. He added a second story-line to the movie, which features a grown-up Taeko traveling to the country, and serves as a framing device for the childhood memories.

At this point, I’ve grown sick and tired of framing devices. It’s a technique that is  unnecessary in about 90% percent of the movies in which it is used. But there are, of course, exceptions to the rule. I’m talking about the rare movie in which the “main” plot and the flashbacks are of equal importance. The movie where the framing device is not a way for the audience to enter the story, but a story of its own. A story where framing device and flashback are in conversation, and reveal each other’s emotional complexity. Only Yesterday is that kind of movie.

In the framing device, Taeko the young woman rides a train to spend her vacation working on a farm in the country. This is a big deal because, as a young child, Taeko wanted nothing more than to spend her summer vacation in the country. In flashback, we see Taeko asking her mom “Why can’t we go to grandma’s house in the country?” “Because grandma lives with us in Tokyo” is the answer; and so, we’re already been familiarized with the movie’s clever and tender tone.

Like I said, all of Taeko’s scenes as an adult were invented by Takahata. Taeko’s time in the country, during which she makes a connection with a young man and finds nature’s pleasures in the form of agricultural labor, turn Only Yesterday into a movie about a thirty-year-old woman on an emotional quest to find herself. It’s essentially an animated version of Eat, Pray, Love; the only difference being that it is, you know, good.

Now you see what I mean when I call Takahata “unapologetically idiosyncratic”. Could you picture an American animated studio making such a movie today, let alone the early nineties? As a matter of fact, Only Yesterday is the only Studio Ghibli movie to have never been released on the U.S. (either theatrically or in home video). The reason for this is, presumably, that there are people that object to the movie’s extended sequence in which Taeko learns what a “period” is, and not necessarily to the fact that the movie’s concept is far away from that of any movie that has been successfully released in America.

This wasn’t a problem for Japanese audiences, who, yes, are more accustomed to more mature themes in animated movies, but whose response to the movie was still surprisingly enthusiastic, making an animated character study into the highest grossing movie of 1991 in their country. Something undoubtedly struck a chord with audiences, and I would presume it might have been how lovely, energetic, and authentic the childhood scenes are. We spend a lot of time with Taeko’s classmates, and Takahata rightfully captures the nuances (or lack thereof) in the interactions of children of that age.

Still, the question remains, did Only Yesterday have to be an animated movie? And the answer is a resounding… maybe. Only Yesterday might have been as effective had it been a live action film, but the truth is that we will never know about that. What we do know, is that, in its current form, Only Yesterday is fantastic, and that Takahata does use the medium of animation to inform the the telling of his story, by establishing a visual contrast in the way the framing device and the flashback story-line are presented.

The framing device, with grown-up Taeko, like most Ghibli movies, looks fantastic. It is full of richly colored backdrops, precisely drawn animation, and strong visuals all around. What the director was trying to achieve here, is a sense of ultra-realism. This was before the heyday of CG animation, so this must have been the most realistic-looking animated movie at the time. A hint of how far Takahata was willing to go to achieve the realism he required can be seen in the character design, which is as intricately animated as to feature muscle lines, a detail that is absent from virtually all animated work, and that could have been absent here, but shows that the people involved with this movie wanted to go that extra mile. Screen shot 2014-11-26 at 3.52.09 p.m.

Meanwhile, the flashback sequences are set against a soft watercolor backdrop. A lot of them have soft edges around the frame, with the lines disappearing as if they were an impressionistic painting instead of a photograph. The character design is less realistic, embracing a certain cartoonish quality to the facial expressions instead. When characters feel shame, their cheeks turn a stark red (as pictured below), and Taeko’s face moves in more flexible ways, being able to turn her mouth from a little black dot into a huge smile, like most Japanese animated characters do.Screen shot 2014-11-25 at 11.44.58 p.m.

The flashbacks are also less realistic from a plot stand-point. They are supposed to be Taeko’s memories, but they do include a few fantasy sequences meant to evoke her feelings more than her thoughts at the time. There is a moment in which Taeko watches television and turns into an extremely cartoonish, wide-eyed cartoon, and another, in which she starts a lovely musical sequence on the street. I don’t want to go into too many spoilers, but the two narratives come together beautifully in the end, in a sequence that will get you teary-eyed, and that has a softness of movement that, I believe, would have never worked in a live action movie.

Only Yesterday is incredibly hard to find in the U.S., but you shouldn’t waste the opportunity to see this movie if you ever have the chance to.

Next Time: Hayao Miyazaki finally makes a movie explicitly about air-travel in Porco Rosso. 

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List of the Week: Happy Thanksgiving!

Gugu Mbata-Raw Beyond the Lights

It’s been a breakthrough year for Gugu Mbatha-Raw, star of ‘Beyond the Lights’.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! If you are a cultured human being, then you must know that there is no celebrating Thanksgiving without Linda Belcher’s holiday classic, but after you’ve heard that magnificent tune, well, I’ve decided to use this moment to talk about some of the pop-culture things I’m thankful for right now.

The Top Ten Pop-Culture Things I’m Thankful For Right Now
(In No Particular Order)

1. Movie Podcasts.
I just started this new feature in which I recommend podcasts that I found particularly fun or interesting each week, and that has a lot to do with the fact that there is an abundance of amazing podcasts dedicated to having deep talks about movies, movie starts, and filmmakers. Battleship Pretension, Fighting in the War Room, The Film Experience Podcast… I don’t know what my life would be without them.

2. You Must Remember This
Talking about Podcasts, my current obsession is this fantastic show about, in the words of its creator and host, “the secret and/or forgotten stories of Hollywood’s first century”. Karina Longworth is the woman responsible for this jewel of a podcast. There’s only been 23 episodes so far, so you can easily catch up. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend episode 20, about the heartbreaking relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.

3. The Holiday Movie Season
…which is upon us! I haven’t loved everything I’ve seen so far, but part of the appeal is that we finally get to see idiosyncratic movies, with interesting and unique points of view. What I am looking for this year? Well, this week sees the release of Australian horror movie The Babadookand December will bring such promising movies as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent ViceMike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, and Ava DuVernay’s Selma

4. The Songs from ‘Over the Garden Wall’
I wrote about how much I love this show, and boy do I love the soundtrack. I’ve been listening to it constantly. I just wish they would release an official version of the soundtrack (perhaps with extended versions of some of the songs?). Cartoon Network, if you’re reading this, why don’t you make my Christmas dream come true?

5. Elijah Wood
I’m a little surprised, but he has had a great year. He, of course, lend his voice to the aforementioned Over the Garden Wall, but he’s also the star of one of the most entertaining movies of the year in Grand Pianoand he executive-produced A Girl Walks Home Alone at Nightthe feature debut of Iranian filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour, a Persian vampire-western filmed in the California desert. It’s not a flawless movie, but it promises an interesting career for Amirpour, and a good eye for talent on Wood’s part.

6. Studio Ghibli Movies
…and the fact that I get to rewatch so many of them and write about them for the Studio Ghibli series!

7. Laika Studios Movies
…and since we’re on the topic of animation, I would like to throw a bone to Laika. I might not have loved their latest movie, but there is no doubt they are the most original and exciting American animation studio working today. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

8. Beyond the Lights
I didn’t write about this movie by Gine Prince-Bythewood (director of Love & Basketball), but I’m SO happy it exists. It’s fantastic popular filmmaking, a well-crafted romantic melodrama that puts such nonsense as The Fault in Our Stars and Begin Again to shame, and with a complex black female protagonist to boost!

9. Rising Stars
I’m also delighted by the talent and seeming rising career of so many talented black women. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who stars in Beyond the Lights, and Tessa Thompson, from Dear White Peopleboth gave amazing performances that will hopefully kick-start an amazing career, while director Ava DuVernay seems to be poised for a huge career-boost when Selma opens later this year. Here’s for more diversity in our stars and our directors!

10. You!
Yes, that’s right! I’m extremely grateful to everyone who reads this blog. I hope you enjoy it!

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part One: The Girl That Stares at Rubble

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“Teenagers fall in love in a dystopian future” is the second most profitable trend in Hollywood right now after “anything with the word Marvel associated to it”. The biggest success story of this YA (young adult) boom is The Hunger Games saga, adapted from the very successful (in book terms) novels by Suzanne Collins. But because, in contemporary capitalist fashion, the third of these novels, Mockingjay, has been split into two different movies, I’ve now seen three two-hour-plus movies about the Hunger Games, and still feel like nothing has happened.

One thing’s for sure: things have gotten super dour. A lot of Mockingjay‘s running time is spent watching our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), feeling sad while she looks at ruins. She looks at what is left of her home district, she looks at the ruins of a bombarded hospital, and she looks at the rubble that is left after an attack by the oppressive government that seems to have been a way for evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to weaken the rebels as much as a twisted practical joke on Katniss’s expense.

So, yeah, if you need me to set this movie up for you, then you’re probably not a person who was actually planning on watching it, but I guess I’ll do it anyway. The gist of it is that Katniss was saved by a group of rebels that live in the underground District 13. These rebels have elected Julianne Moore as their president, so you know they’re smart. They also want to use Katniss newly iconic status as a symbol of defiance against the evil Capitol to unite the other districts in an armed revolution.

Mild spoilers, I guess, but by the end of Mockingjay, this revolution has not started. This is something that slightly infuriates me. I knew there was going to be a revolution against the Capitol five minutes into the first Hunger Games, and yet, here I am, seven hours later, and still nothing. I can only be jerked around so much, you know? The plot of these movies relies too heavily in inaction and ambivalence. The whole thing hinges on the protagonist refusing to take action, and instead worrying about the boy she kinda has fallen in love with but not really. Jennifer Lawrence may be a great actress, but I’ve seen way more of her being sad about Josh Hutcherson than I needed in my life.

The truth is that Mockingjay is by no means a terrible movie, just a very unsatisfying one. More so than either of the previous installments, the movie’s emotional center relies on Katniss’s love for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson’s character), and the tension resulting from the fact that he has been kidnapped by the government that the rebels are trying to take down. Because this is based on YA novels, there is also Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a hunky guy who also really likes Katniss, and is apparently very devoted to the revolutionary cause.

The problem here is that neither Peeta nor Gale are very interesting. Actually, they’re not interesting at all. My girlfriend has accurately described Peeta as a “basic bitch”, while Gale is your cookie-cutter handsome YA dude with no personality whatsoever. Why Katniss would fall for any of these boring dudes is beyond me. Although I understand that she is a ver vulnerable person, I will go to my grave insisting that the character she should have fallen for is Johanna Mason, who is barely in this movie, but had a bigger role in Catching Fire, and as played by Jena Malone, is by far the best character in the series.

On that note, what this movie needed was more Jena Malone, which is to say it needed a little bit more life. The whole enterprise is unnecessarily depressing. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Elizabeth Banks try to lighten the mood, but there’s only so much they can do. I get that the situation these characters are in is supposed to be pretty miserable, but I would have liked a little more human spark to the movie. The one exception I can think of, and my favorite moment in the movie, is a little scene of Katniss having fun by making a cat chase a spotlight.

It’s a side of the character that I had never seen. One that showed me that there was more to Katniss Everdeen than her complain-filled schtick. I wish there was more of that in this movie, and a reason for this awesome archer not wanting to lead the revolution other than the safety of this one boy. At least I got that cute cat.

Grade: 5 out of 10.

This Week in Movie Podcasts: November 5-21

Another week, another podcast. Here’s the rundown.

Podcast of the Week:

Battleship PretensionThis is a big week for the guys over at Battleship Pretension. Not only do they celebrate their 400th episode by indulging in a really fun conversation with comedian Matt Champagne, and not only do they continue with their “Film Journal” supplement, in which they talk about the movies they’ve seen recently, including thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Paul Thomas Anderson’s  Inherent Vice, but they also recorded a live commentary of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which you can buy for $10 on their website.

So, yeah, the commentary is the primary reason why I singled them out as “Podcasts of the Week”, and I understand that you might not be ready to spend ten dollars on a commentary by people you might not be familiar with, so I’ll tell you what are the reasons to buy it, and if you find yourself agreeing with me, well, it’s your money. If you are already a fan of Battleship Pretension, and especially if you enjoy their guest episodes, in which the guys go on some pretty hilarious tangents, then you’ll enjoy the commentary. Also, if you, like me, love the Lord of the Rings movies, but are not a huge nerd that thinks they are the pinnacle of filmmaking, you will really enjoy the commentary.

To be honest, I had kind of forgotten how much I loved these movies, and what a huge part of my childhood they were. Hearing these guys talk about them made me feel nostalgic and all, but it also made me think, now that I’m engaging with these movies as an adult, about what makes them such a powerful story, and why they were no fluke. We weren’t enchanted by the novelty of these movies, Peter Jackson was truly onto something when he was making them, even if his latter career makes it seem like he’s not the talent that we once thought he was.

Other Highlights:

NOTE: I spent most of this week listening to BP commentary, so I didn’t get to listen to that many podcasts, hence only two further recommendations. 

The CanonDevin Faraci and Amy Nicholson talk about Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and they agree that it is a pretty great movie. I can’t disagree with that, but I can’t support Amy’s opinion that it is superior to Moulin Rouge!, which is not only Luhrmann’s masterpiece, but one of the best and most original movies of the new millennium.

NPR: Pop Culture Happy HourThey talk about Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher, which they liked way more than I did, but the meat of the pie is their very funny conversation about movie trailers.

The Loveliest Lies of All: In Praise of ‘Over the Garden Wall’

Over the Garden Wall
What is a good animated series? The history of television animation is plagued with stigma and critical dismissiveness. From the “limited animation” of the cheaper than cheap Hanna Barbera productions of the fifties and sixties, to the eighties boom of series designed explicitly to sell toys (think of He-Man, or Transformers), the genre has been traditionally cheap, and creatively uninspired. That was until the rise of cable and the early nineties boom of television. Not only were we spending more money on these series, but we were starting to see what could be described as “auteur cartoons”.

I mean, if you think about it, there are fewer clearer authorial visions than the manic nastiness of Ren and Stimpy, or the noir aesthetic of Batman: The Animated SeriesThis nourishment of television authors interested in animation has continued ever since. The best example of the richness of our current cartoon landscape is the hugely popular Adventure Time, which is as funny and entertaining as it is a hugely detailed and inventive exercise in world-building. Even more excitingly, though, is the recent premiere of Over the Garden Wall, an animated miniseries that might (and I hope it does) start a new era of animated storytelling on television.

“A miniseries?” You might ask, and I wouldn’t blame you, I think there is very little precedent for such a thing as an animated miniseries in television history. Part of the reason for this is the fact that much of the financial value of cartoons for a network lies in the possibility -assuming that children are more open to repetition than adult viewers- of re-airing episodes over and over again. The closest thing to the Over the Garden Wall model that I can think of is the Star Wars: Clone Wars shorts produced by Genndy Tartakovsky and Cartoon Network as a way to bridge the gap between the theatrical releases of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but even then, the “miniseries” was based on an enormously popular (and commercially bankable) property.

Over the Garden Wall, on the other hand, is as unique and personal a vision as I have seen on any medium this year. The creator is Patrick McHale, who actually worked as creative director on the first two seasons of Adventure Time, and he tells us the story of two young brothers -anxious thirteen-year-old Wirt (Elijah Wood) and oblivious Greg (Collin Dean)- as they travel through the woods (a.k.a. “The Unknown”) trying to find their way back home. There are many influences to the show: folk tales, harvest festivals, New England ghost stories, 19th Century music, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, old cartoons, and silent film; and somehow, it all comes together to form a beautiful tapestry of spooky Americana.

As the two boys travel, they get into small adventures, which are usually either scary, bizarre, or both. Weird is a word that is used a lot to describe something that is creative, or just different, but in the case of Over the Garden Wall, weirdness is the right word. The show’s old-timey aesthetic lends it an aura of creepiness, like an old run-down carnival from back in the day when kids where exposed to terrifying things on a daily basis. There is an edge to it, and there are certainly some legitimately scary moments, but the show is also really, really funny (although I will admit that you must be into its particular sense of humor).

The show features the voice talent of Melanie Lynskey, John Cleese, Tim Curry, and Christopher Lloyd in supporting roles, and composed by Josh Kaufman and Justin Rubenstein from The Petrojvic Blasting Company. While we are on the subject, the music on the show is amazing, the songs especially. An original song is featured in almost every episode. They are all lovely, and they all serve the show completely. That is ultimately the thing about Over the Garden Wall. It isn’t just a good show, it is the vision of an auteur. Pat McHale had something to tell. Something personal, that came from the deepest corners of his imagination. That is the only way we could have gotten something as unique as this miniseries.

Back when we only had three networks, television tried to appeal to the broadest possible demographic. It was all about producing something that everybody would like. The least risky, the better. I think there’s been somewhat of a shift in mainstream culture where this is concerned. Movies, have become the huge four-quadrants events, with giant tent-poles designed to attract all kinds of people, while cable has turned television into a landscape of niche auteurs. In a year of such flavorless disappointments as How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 in the world of theatrical animation, it’s not only refreshing, but invigorating to find such a personal and exciting product as Over the Garden Wall being broadcast right into our living rooms. Here’s hoping this is just the beginning of a beautiful era of amazing programming.

You can watch Over the Garden Wall on Cartoon Network.com (depending on your cable provider). It is also available On Demand, or you can buy it on iTunes. 

Studio Ghibli: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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The story of Kiki’s Delivery Service starts way back in 1987, when Studio Ghibli obtained the rights to Eiko Kadono’s novel Witch’s Delivery Service. At the time, both of the Studio’s main creative forces, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, were occupied working on My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies respectively, but it didn’t really matter, as originally conceived, it was supposed to be a shorter (probably not even feature-length) movie that would showcase the talent of the younger animators working for Ghibli at the time.

That, however, didn’t turn out to be the best idea. At least not in Miyazaki’s eyes. The director, who was serving as the project’s producer, simply wasn’t satisfied with the work that was being done with the material. He wasn’t taken with any of the potential directors, and he was particularly appalled by the screenplay, which he found to be rather atrocious. He decided to right the ship by taking the animators on a European tour that was supposed to inspire the look in the design of the film. By the time they came back, he had pretty much become the film’s director.

it’s hard to say things didn’t work out for the best. After the Grave of the FIreflies/Totoro  double-feature failed to turn a profit on its theatrical release, the studio more than welcomed the unprecedented success it experienced when Kiki’s Delivery Service was released. Not only did it become the biggest financial success in the studio’s (admittedly young) history, but it ended the year as the highest grossing movie of 1989 in Japan.

So, what is the film about? Well, not unlike My Neighbor Totoro, there isn’t really all that much to Kiki’s Delivery Service as far as plot is concerned.It’s the story of Kiki, a 13-year-old witch, who leaves home in order to finish her training. She moves into the seaside city of Korko, where she starts working as a delivery girl for a local bakery. It’s a nice, humanistic, warm movie. There is no villain, and no violence. It’s basically a movie about a young girl coming into her own in a very important transitional period, and for that, it should be praised.

It’s also a beautiful looking movie, although at this point, saying that about a Miyazaki movie should be redundant. There is flawless movement in the character animation, and the design of the piece is something to take note of. The purpose of the aforementioned trip Miyazaki took to Europe was to inspire the design of “Koriko”. Wikipedia tells me that the main inspiration for the fictional city was the Swedish town of Visby, which is probably much smaller than what we see of “Koriko” in the film.

In any case, “Koriko” looks beautiful. I have a deep affinity for the way Miyazaki portrays Europe. It’s not something he has done too often, but whenever he does, he shows a deeply romantic view of the continent that I find absolutely refreshing. As someone who has lived his whole life in the Americas, I’m accustomed to exotic representation of Africa and Asia, so it’s nice to see how people from those continents visualize Europe. You can find the zenith of this Romance in Miyazaki’s next film, Porco Rosso, but there are enough of these charms in the art direction and music score of Kiki’s Delivery Service.  

Another of the movie’s strengths, as usual, is the characterization of its lead characters. Kiki is beautifully animated, and satisfyingly complex in her personality and desires for a female character. It’s nice to see a girl who is inherently good, but also very active. The image we’re used to is that of the traditional Disney Princess, who is very kind to animals, but also incredibly passive, and in wait of a Prince to come and save her. Kiki is the agent of her story. She is energetic and restless. She wants to turn her talents (in this case flying her broom) into a way of finding her path in this world.

The other winning character in the film is Kiki’s pet cat Jiji, who is just the best. He is not necessarily the cutest, nor the funniest character in Miyazaki’s filmography, but he finds a flawless balance in being the perfect animal sidekick. Like I just said, the design doesn’t make him cute, but he is definitely slick, with his pitch-black skin, and his gigantic green eyes. He also talks, which tends to be a warning sign in animated sidekicks, but his interventions are focused and always welcome. He is not there to steal the show, just to put some very fine color in the movie. There is a recurring joke about him pointing out when a something looks like him that I just adore. Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 1.12.05 a.m.

Now that I’ve talked about the movie’s strengths, it’s sadly time to talk about its limitations. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a lovely movie, but not one without flaws. It’s fairly similar to Totoro in tone: a low-stakes story, for children, without much violence, and rooted in very human and approachable feelings. For that, I applaud it tremendously. The only thing is that this approach can result in unexciting storytelling. It’s a tough balancing act, that Miyazaki perfectly handles in Totoro, but doesn’t quite reach in Kiki. It’s still a good movie, that deserves to be watched and enjoyed by kids for years to come, but the truth is that when you’re talking about a master of Miyazaki’s caliber, even a really good movie that is not a masterpiece is somehow a disappointment.

Still, there is a lot to recommend in Kiki’s Delivery Service. If you’re a kid, then you’ll surely enjoy it. I would put it under the essential viewing pile, especially for young girls. If you are an adult, and you still feel like you need an excuse to watch the movie, then I will point you out to the flying sequences.

Miyazaki is known for his love of flight, and this movie, about a young witch that spends a lot of time flying on her broom has some of the most beautiful flying sequences in the director’s filmography. People tend to describe flying sequences in movies, especially animated movies, as “magical”, but it’s not as easy a thing to achieve as you’d expect. I just have to look at Disney’s recently released Big Hero 6 for an absolutely underwhelming flying sequence, which feels derivative and phony. What’s so cool about Kiki’s flight, is that she is used to it. It’s just another part of her day, and somehow, it is still riveting and exciting.Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 1.13.12 a.m.

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Next Up: Isao Takahata tries his hand on a “delicate” subject in Only Yesterday, the only Ghibli film yet to be released on home video in the United States and Canada.