Miyazaki Mondays: The Wind Rises

For this week’s (final “for now) Miyazaki Monday is the 2013 film The Wind Rises:

The Wind Rises is based on a true story.  It centers around the life of Jiro Horikoshi.  Jiro lived in Japan in the early 20th century.  He loved flight and grew up during the early years of aviation.  He longed to be a pilot but unfortunately had bad eyesight.  Instead, this drove him to being a designer and became fascinated with making planes.  Growing up, he read aviation magazines.  Inspired by these magazines, Jiro would dream about meeting famed Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni.

Years later, Jiro traveled to Tokyo by train to study engineering in university.  It happened to be during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devistated the country.  He would help a young girl named Naoko and her maid get to safety and to Naoko’s family.  After studying at university, Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to help design fighter planes and is sent to Germany to study abroad.

While on a retreat trying to find inspiration for a new fighter plane design, Jiro runs into Naoko.  Naoko’s family help run the retreat.  The two fall in love.  However, Naoko has tuberculosis and makes it difficult for the two to be together for long periods of time but Jiro loves Naoko.  He also loves airplanes and continued to try and design the best plane.  That would eventually lead to the Mitsubishi A5M, the predecessor to the A6M.  That plane is better known as the Zero, which was the plane used by the Japanese during World War II.

This film was a swan song for Hayao Miyazaki.  He announced publicly in 2013 that this would be the last film that he would direct.  While he had “retired” in the past, most people believe that this is his last film.  The film is based off a manga written by Miyazaki which itself was loosely based on the short story The Wind Has Risen written in 1937.  This film is truly a mix of fact and fiction.  Jiro’s public life (his design of planes and such) is true, his private life (relationship with Naoko) was fictional.  This doesn’t detract from the story in the least.

It was released in Japan on July 20, 2013.  It went on to be the highest grossing film in Japan for 2013.  It also was featured at several film festivals including Toronto International Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival.  Walt Disney Pictures held the North American distribution rights and did it through its Touchstone Pictures label.  The English dub featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Grey, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog and William H. Macy.  It released in theaters in North America in select cities on February 21, 2014 before nationwide on February 28, 2014.  As of last count, the film as grossed over $132 million dollars.  It also received several awards and nominations including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This is a very bittersweet film in a lot of ways.  It is some of Miyazaki’s best work and it will be his last with his retirement.  The relationship in the film between Jiro and Naoko is bittersweet because they love one another but tuberculosis kept them apart.  Jiro want to design planes for beauty and they end up being used for war.  If Miyazaki wanted to fly off into the sunset, then this film is the right sendoff.  It is in my top 3 favorite Miyazaki films and should be one that any film fan should see.  I cannot wait until it comes out on Blu-Ray and watch it again and again.

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Miyazaki Mondays: From Up on Poppy Hill

For this Week’s Miyazaki Monday, the featured film is 2011’s From Up on Poppy Hill.

From Up on Poppy Hill is set in 1963 in the port city of Yokohama, Japan.  The story centers around a young high school girl named Umi Matsuzaki.  She lives in and helps run a boarding house on a hill overlooking the port of Yokohama with her younger siblings Sora and Riku (no relation to the Sora and Riku from the Kingdom Hearts series) and her grandmother Hana while her mother Ryoko is studying abroad in medical school in the United States.  Two other residents in the boarding house are Sachiko Hirokouji, a college student and Miki Hokuto, a doctor in training.

Each morning before school, Umi raises signal flags that can be seen out in the port.  The message the flags send is “I pray for safe voyages.”  The message was meant for her father, a sailor who piloted boats but had died during the Korean War.  It had become a ritual that she continued since she was little.  One day at school, Umi saw a poem in the school newspaper of about her flags.  She tracks down the author of the poem and turns out it was written by Shun Kazama, who was also a member of the journalism club.  When Umi tracks him down, she finds him doing a stunt for the school newspaper which ends up not leaving Umi with a good first impression.

Umi’s feelings do change for Shun once she gets to know him.  She ends up going to Quartier Latin, a old, rundown building that houses many of the school clubs including the school newspaper, to help Sora get Shun’s autograph for the poem.  Umi later volunteers to help with the newspaper and in the process develops feelings for Shun and vice versa.

Through the course of the film, the two work through their feelings while at the same time are a part of a group of students that want to make sure the Quartier Latin is not torn down.  This requires traveling to Tokyo, which is going through change as well dealing with tradition vs building taking place for the 1964 Summer Olympics, to meet with the school board chairman and businessman Tokumaru.  It is a story of change both in the lives of the people of Japan as well in the life of the school and in Umi and Shun.

From Up on Poppy Hill is based on the 1980 serialized comic written by Tetsuro Sayama and illustrated by Chizuru Takahashi.  The screenplay was written by Miyazaki and also produced the film.  The director was Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son.  This was Goro’s second film to direct.  The first was Tales from Earthsea, a Studio Ghibli film that was based on a concept by Hayao Miyazaki on the Earthsea series of books written by Ursula K. Le Guin, in 2006 (although Hayao ended up not working this film due to his work on Howl’s Moving Castle).  From Up on Poppy Hill was released in theaters in Japan on July16, 2011.  It was featured at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011.

The English dub for this film was not produced and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  This film was distributed in North America by GKIDS.  This was the first Studio Ghibli film to not be distributed by Disney since Princess Mononoke, which was distributed by Miramax (which ironically at the time was owned by Disney at the time).  The English dub cast includes Sarah Bolger, Alton Yelchin, Ron Howard, Jeff Dunham, Gillian Anderson, Chris Noth, Emily Osment, Beau Bridges, Christina Hendricks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern and Aubrey Plaza.  It received a limited theatrical release in North America starting in March 15, 2013.  Overall, the film grossed over $61 million dollars, not as much as some of Miyazaki films but still pretty good.

I went and saw this film in an art house movie theater in Charlotte, NC.  I loved this film.  It is in my top 3 of favorite Miyazaki films and arguably is my favorite (it kinda flip flops between it, Princess Mononoke, and next week’s featured film).  Last year in this blog, I featured the theme song to this film.  I’ll end this post with a link to that song again.

Miyazaki Mondays: The Secret World of Arrietty

For this week’s “Miyazaki Monday”, it is the 2010 film The Secret World of Arrietty:

The Secret World of Arrietty tells the story of a young man named Sho (named Shawn in the English dub) who spent a summer at his mother’s childhood home.  He stays there with his great aunt Sadako (named Jessica in the English dub) and the house maid Haru (named Hara in the English dub).  On his first day at the home, he discovers Arrietty coming out of a bush after Niya the cat chased after a crow.

Arrietty is a “Borrower”, a little person that lives in the house and ‘borrows’ small things to live on.  She lives in the house along with her father Poddo (named Pod in the English dub) and mother Homiri (named Homily in the English dub).  Poddo usually is the one in the family to go on missions to ‘borrow’ but Arrietty is finally at the age to be able to go as well.  Late one night, Poddo and Arrietty go and try to get a sugar cube but Arrietty is spotted by Sho.  Sho tries to get Arrietty to stay but she leaves with her father.  The next day, Sho leaves a sugar cube out for Arrietty.

The “Borrower” family realize they have been found out about and begin to plan to leave.  Sho learns from Sadako that there had been “Borrowers” seen in the past and that the dollhouse that was in Sho’s room was custom built for the “Borrowers” that lived in the house to have but they were never seen.

Sho tries give some of the contents of the dollhouse to the Borrower family but that frightens them more and they hurry to try and leave along with Supira (named Spiller in the English dub), a young Borrower who helped Poddo out when he was injured during a borrowing mission.  When Arrietty revealed to Sho that they were leaving, Sho revealed to Arrietty that he was to have surgery on a heart condition he’s had since birth.  In the end, they encourage each other to keep fighting to live.

While Sho is happy about seeing the Borrowers and wants to protect them, Haru on the other hand believes they are pests and tries to capture and get rid of them.  At one point, Haru is able to capture Homiri and it’s up to Sho and Arrietty to save Homiri and have Haru get her comeuppance.

The Secret World of Arrietty is based in part on the famous children’s book The Borrowers by Mary Norton.  Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for the film as well as produced it.  The director of the film was Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who had been an animator on Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and Ponyo.  It was released in theaters in Japan on July 17, 2010.  It ended up being the highest grossing Japanese film that year.  It was distributed in North America again by Disney.  The English dub cast included Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett.  It was released in North America in theaters on February 17, 2012 (it received a screening in New York city prior to this on January 21, 2012).  It opened in a record 1,522 theaters for Studio Ghibli.  It opened at $6.45 million that weekend (and $8.48 million for the 4 day President’s Day Weekend) which beat Ponyo for the highest grossing weekend for a Studio Ghibli film.  It would go onto gross worldwide over $145 million dollars.

I went and saw The Secret World of Arrietty on my birthday.  I enjoyed the film and while it is not in my top 5 Miyazaki films, it is another classic film in line with other Miyazaki greats.

Miyazaki Mondays: Ponyo

This week’s Miyazaki Monday film is 2008’s Ponyo

Ponyo is the story of a fish-girl who becomes friends with a human and wants to become a human herself.  Her name initially is Brunhilde.  She lives with her “sisters” and her father Fujimoto.  Fujimoto is a human wizard who lives underwater and who has sworn off humanity to live under the sea.  One day, Brunhilde gets separated from her family to see the world.  She ends up getting trapped in a bottle and washing ashore.  She is rescued by a young boy named Sosuke.  Sosuke then renamed her Ponyo.  Thinking that Ponyo was kidnapped, Fujimoto calls on the wave spirits to bring Ponyo back to him.  Sosuke is heartbroken and while his mother Lisa tries to console him, he misses Ponyo.

Ponyo has an argument with her father and due to some of Sosuke’s blood, she turns into a human.  Before Fujimoto can call on Ponyo’s mother Granmamare, Ponyo escapes with the help of her sisters.  Ponyo then returns to Sosuke and Lisa as a human girl and goes to live with them.  Meanwhile, the moon is falling out of orbit and disrupting the seas.  Fujimoto meets with Granmamare and it is revealed that nature is out of balance.  Granmamare tells Fujimoto that Ponyo can stay a human if she passes a test.  It would also mean that nature would then be put back in balance.  However, if Ponyo does not pass the test, she will turn into sea foam.

Ponyo’s mom Lisa leaves the children to check on the residents at the nursing home where she works.  The rising waters trap Lisa and the residents and it’s up to Ponyo and Sosuke to come to the rescue.  It becomes a race against time to save the people as well as for Ponyo to stay human.

This film is inspired by the classic Hans Christen Andersen story The Little Mermaid.  It was done completely in traditional hand drawn animation and there were 170,0o0 separate images drawn for the film.  That is a record for a Miyazaki film.  It was released in Japan on July 19, 2008 to a record amount of screens in the country (481).  It was distributed in North America again by Walt Disney Pictures.  The English dub was directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Peter Sohn.  The English dub voices included actors such as Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin and Betty White.

The film got several prescreenings in the U.S. before it’s theatrical release including at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con.  The North American theatrical release was on August 14, 2009.  It opened in 927 theaters, which had been the most to that point any Studio Ghibli film had such a wide release.  The film would go on to gross over $201 million worldwide.

Ponyo was the first Miyazaki film that I saw in the theaters.  It is another visual and storytelling masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki and added to the collection of films that are classics that he has helped bring to life.

Miyazaki Mondays: Howl’s Moving Castle

This week’s Miyazaki Monday film is the 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle:

Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, a young woman who helps run a hat store.  After unknowingly helping a powerful wizard named Howl, Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste.  The Witch of the Waste turns Sophie into a ninety year old woman.  Her quest to be freed from the curse lands her in the Wastes.  In the Wastes, she meets a cursed living scarecrow (which Sophie calls “Turnip Head”).  This scarecrow leads her to a moving castle that incidentally belongs to Howl (hence the title of the film).  Along with Howl, the castle also has other residents.  They include Markl, a young wizard apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire-demon who powers the moving castle.  Sophie joins the crew and becomes a cleaning lady.

In the midst of all this, a war is going on that encompasses both Sophie’s home country and a neighboring country.  The two sides have recruited magicians and Howl is one of those magicians that both sides are trying to have serve their cause.  Through the course of the movie, Howl occasionally turns into a bird like creature to interfere in the war but this takes a toll on him.  Meanwhile, Sophie learns more about Howl & the secrets of the moving castle.  She also grows to love Howl.  Sophie must protect Howl & find a way to break a curse all the while trying to survive the war raging around them.

This film is based on a novel by the same name that was written by Diana Wynne Jones.  Interesting enough, Miyazaki wasn’t initially going to direct the film.  However, when the initial person selected to direct the film was unable to direct, Miyazaki stepped into the director’s chair.  Miyazaki also wrote the screenplay for the film.  It premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2004.  It was released in Japan on November 20, 2004.  In the following year, it received a limited release in theaters in North America on June 10, 2005 through Walt Disney Pictures.  The English dubbed version featured voices by such actors as Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal and Josh Hutcherson.

Howl’s Moving Castle was another successful film for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.  It would go on to gross over $235 million dollars at the box office.  It received critical acclaim from numerous critics and received several nominations and awards.  It would receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (however it would lose to Wallace and Gromit:  The Curse of the Were-Rabbit that year).

In my top 5 favorite Miyazaki films, Howl’s Moving Castle is on that list.  It has a great story, the visuals are stunning as usual & the voice acting is top notch.  It continues the tradition of quality film making that is a staple of Miyazaki’s work.

Miyazaki Mondays: The Cat Returns

For this week’s Miyazaki Monday film, it’s the 2002 film The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns is a sequel of sorts.  It has ties to Miyazaki’s 1995 classic Whisper of the Heart.  The main connection is the character of the Baron.  In this film, the main character is a young girl named Haru.  She unknowingly has this ability to talk to cats.  She finds this out when she saves a cat named Lune which turns out to be the prince of the Cat Kingdom.

Trying to get out of a marriage with Lune (proposed after saving the cat prince’s life), she runs into the Baron along with Muta (also from Whisper of the Heart).  Haru and Muta are kidnapped and taken to the Cat Kingdom and it is up to the Baron along with Toto, a raven that is like the Baron in being a statue that can come to life, to rescue them.

While in the Cat Kingdom, Haru begins to take on more cat like features.  The Baron warns her that she has to find her true self or she will turn into a cat.  So the race is on to get back to home while also trying to find her true self and it’s up to the Baron and friends to help in that cause.

This is the first (and to date only) Miyazaki film that has had a sequel (of sorts).  This story started out as a project for a theme park that was to be a 20 minute short to air at the park.  The project fell through but the idea remained.  So Miyazaki decided to use the project as a vehicle to help develop new directors for Studio Ghibli.  He ended up using Hiroyuki Morita as the director and Miyazaki produced the film.  The Cat Returns was only the third film at Studio Ghibli that was not directed by either of the founders of the company.

The film was released in Japan on July 19, 2002.  Compared to previous Studio Ghibli films, it wasn’t as successful at the box office but still did pretty well by most standards.  It ended up grossing $53 million dollars.  The film was released in North America in 2003 through Walt Disney Pictures.  The English dubbed cast included Cary Elwes, Anne Hathaway, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, Judy Greer, Kristen Bell and Andy Richter.

The Cat Returns is another great film to come out of Studio Ghibli and tells a story that will draw you into it.  Miyazaki does a great job of bringing richness both in the visuals as well as the story and this is another in a long list of those films.

Miyazaki Mondays: Spirited Away

This week’s Miyazaki Monday’s featured film is 2001’s award winning Spirited Away

The film is centers around a young girl named Chihiro Ogino.  She and her parents are traveling to their new home when they take a wrong turn and end up in a magical world.  She gets separated from her parents and meets a young boy named Haku.  He warns Chihiro to leave before sunset.  However, she is unable to and is trapped in this spirit world while her parents have been turned into pigs.

Chihiro gets a job at a bathhouse working for Kamaji, a spider like spirit.  She meets a witch Yubaba who takes Chihiro’s name away and renames her Sen.  Haku tells Sen that Yubaba controls people by taking their memory of their real names away.  In order to leave, she has to remember her true name.  Meanwhile, Haku is more than just a regular boy.  He also can turn into a magical dragon.  The two take turns protecting each other while she tries to regain her memory of her name and get her parents back to their real selves.

Spirited Away was a project that meant a lot to Miyazaki.  He wanted to make a film for young girls so that they could have a peer role model to look up to.  Strong heroine characters are a staple of Miyazaki films and this one was no exception.  He was in a state of semi-retirement after making Princess Mononoke and was simply going to write the film.  However, he would end up coming out of retirement to direct the film as well.

The budget for the film was about $15 million dollars. It was released in Japan on July 20, 2001.  To say it was a success in Japan is an understatement.  It would go on to be the highest grossing film in Japanese history grossing nearly $230 million dollars.  It was also the first film to ever gross over $200 million dollars before a U.S. release.  Interesting enough, Disney invested 10% of the cost of the film to have right of first refusal for distribution in North America.  Both Disney and Dreamworks bid for the distribution rights to the film but Disney ended up winning the rights.

The English dub version was supervised by none other than John Lasseter.  His friendship with Miyazaki played a big role as well for Disney getting distribution rights for the dubbed version.  The English voice actors for the dub include Jason Marsden, Lauren Holly, Michael Chikis, Tara Strong, John Ratzenberger and Daveigh Chase.  The English dub debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2002 and released theatrically in North America on September 20, 2002.

Spirited Away is probably Miyazaki’s most well known & successful film.  Besides the money the film grossed, it received acclaim from film critics.  It also was recognized with an Academy Award.  it won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.

To close here’s John Lasseter talking about Spirited Away back in 2006 as a part of the month long celebration of Miyazaki films on Turner Classic Movies: