When Inside Out Was There: Thoughts on When Marnie Was There and Inside Out

The last two films that I have seen in the theater have a lot of similarities.  But they also have some distinctive qualities that make them unique as well.  Those films?  They are When Marnie Was There and Inside Out

MarnieInside Out

Both are animated features.  Both feature young females in prominent roles.  Both have great voice casts.  And both are done by the best in animation (Studio Ghibli and Pixar).  They both tell compelling stories and are both worth the price of admission.

The differences speak to the art of animation, it’s past as well as it’s future.  When Marnie Was There, being a Studio Ghibli film, is more in the traditional ink and paint animation style.  Studio Ghibli has done some computer animation, they are most known for their traditional animation style (as well as telling great stories).  Pixar, on the other hand, has been known for it’s cutting edge CGI animation and Inside Out shows that off.

The stories the two films tell are also different in the sense of source material.  Inside Out is an original IP (intellectual property), which was a staple of Pixar films in the beginning (though you can’t fault them for sequels like Toy Story 2 & Toy Story 3).  When Marnie Was There is based on a book written by Joan G. Robinson.

Probably the one thing that stood out to me, now having watched both films was this.  When Marnie Was There is the end of an era.  It has the distinction of being (as of right now) the last feature film released by Studio Ghibli.  With the retirement of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, news was released that the studio was taking a “hiatus” from feature films.  If this does end up being the last Studio Ghibli film, then they went out on a high note.  Inside Out, on the other hand, is the first Pixar feature film to be released in theaters in two years.  Anticipation was high prior to it’s release, and it has met (and some cases exceeded expectations).  Depending on how good The Good Dinosaur does come Thanksgiving, Pixar could have another resurgence.

Having seen both films, I can say two things.  1) I enjoyed both of them and the stories that they told.  2) If I had to choose which one I enjoyed more, I would have to say When Marnie Was There.  Granted I saw When Marnie Was There at the historic Belcourt Theater in Nashville and I am a huge Studio Ghibli fan, but for me that story resonated more with me.  I’ll say it was a very bittersweet feeling I had watching that film know that it could be the last Studio Ghibli film I see in a theater.  Those films never got the wide release in the States that other animated films get (though there were a few exceptions).

Given the box office that Inside Out had its opening weekend, I’m sure you have seen it (or are planning on seeing it).  But I would hope that if there is a theater in your area that’s showing When Marnie Was There that you check it out as well.  Both are great films (animated or not).

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: 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:

Miyazaki Mondays: Princess Mononoke

This week’s Miyazaki Monday’s featured film is from 1997 and is called Princess Mononoke.

Princess Mononoke is a mix of history and fantasy.  The film is set during what was know as the Muromachi period in Japan (which is roughly 1337 to 1573).  A young warrior prince named Ashitaka is cursed by a demon while fighting to protect the village.  The curse gives him superhuman fighting abilities but has doomed him to death.  The village’s wise woman tells him that there may be a cure but he must make a long journey to the west to find it.

Along his journey, Ashitaka runs into Jiro, a monk who tells Ashitaka that he may find what he is looking for from the Great Forest Spirit.  The two then travel together to Irontown, which is run by Lady Eboshi.  Before they get there, they run into a clan of wolves led by the wolf goddess Moro.  A part of the wolf clan is also a human female named San.

Ashitaka learns that Lady Eboshi and the people of Irontown are clear cutting the forests to procure material to make iron.  Because of this, there is growing emnity between the people of Irontown and those who live in the forest.  He also learns about San and her background.  San was raised by the wolves and mistrusts humans but grows to develop feelings for Ashitaka.  A battle is brewing and in order to bring everything back into harmony, Ashitaka must fight for San as well as the forest while trying to bring the humans of Irontown to understand their place.

Princess Mononoke was initially going to be Miyazaki’s last directorial film.  Miyazkai had a protégé lined up to take over (that being Yoshifumi Kondo, who had directed Whisper of the Heart).  However, Kondo passed away suddenly in 1998.  That news made Miyazaki consider retirement and that Princess Mononoke would be his last film.  However, we know later that he had a few more films left to direct.

The film has a lot of ties to the environment and powerful female characters, two recurring themes in Miyazaki films.  There was also an interesting mix of history and fantasy, which had been seen in some ways before in the film My Neighbor Totoro.

It was released in Japan on July 12, 1997.  It would go on to be the highest grossing Japanese film that year and was the highest grossing film in the country (both foreign films and domestic) until Titanic came out.  An English dub of the film came from Disney (under the Miramax production company) in the fall of 2000.  The English dub translation was headed by fantasy writer Neil Gaiman (best known for his work on the graphic novel series The Sandman).  The voice actors for the English dub featured Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Claire Daines, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton and Keith David.

Princess Mononoke was actually the first Miyazaki film I ever saw.  I was in college when a roommate of mine recommended it to me.  We ended up renting it at Blockbuster and watched it.  To this day, it is still one of my top 3 favorite Miyazaki films.  To close, here is another clip from John Lasseter from Pixar talking about the film during the monthlong celebration of Miyazaki films on TCM back in 2006.

Miyazaki Mondays: Whisper of the Heart

For this week’s Miyazaki Monday, the film featured is from1995 called Whisper of the Heart.

The film centers around Shizuku Tsukishima, a 14 year old girl living in present day Tokyo.  She is like any normal teenage girl, goes to school, hangs out with her best friend and comes home to her family.  She is also a huge fan of books and loves to write as well.

Over the course of the movie, she meets a boy named Seiji Amasawa.  Initially, she finds him annoying but later her feelings change.  This is due in large part to finding out that he is the boy who had previously checked out a lot of the books she would find at the library.  He loves violins and leaves for two months for Italy to study how to make them.  He encourages her to pursue writing during that time he is away.

Shizuku finds inspiration in a cat statue that she found in an antique shop (ironicially she was led to the antique shop by a real cat she saw on the train).  She called the cat in the story “The Baron” and in the story he was looking for his lost love Louise.  She poured her life into wanting to finish the story.  When she completed it, she was encouraged by the antique shop owner Shiro Nishi to learn more in school so that her skills as a writer will develop and grow.

The film released in Japan on July 15, 1995.  It was the highest grossing film in Japan that year.  Miyazaki was the producer and writer of the film.  The director was Yoshifumi Kondo.  It was the first Studio Ghibli film to not be directed by one of the co-founders of the studio.  Kondo was looked at to be the successor but tragically he died in 1998 and this would be the only film he directed.

There is some English spoken in the original Japanese version.  The song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was featured prominently in the story line of the film and a version done by Olivia Newton-John plays during the opening credits of the film.  An English dubbing done by Disney was released in the U.S. in 2006.  The voice actors featured in that dubbing include Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jean Smart, Cary Elwes, and Ashley Tisdale.

To close out, here’s another intro from 2006 done by John Lasseter as a part of TCM’s month long celebration of Miyazaki films:

Miyazaki Mondays: Porco Rosso

For this week’s “Miyazaki Monday”, the film to focus on will be 1992’s Porco Rosso.

Porco Rosso is based on a manga (Japanese graphic novel) written by Miyazaki himself.  It is the story of Porco Rosso, an ex-fighter pilot from Italy.  The time period is between World War I and World War II and set near the Adriatic Sea.  He makes his living as a freelance bounty hunter.  Oh, and he’s been cursed too.  He looks like an anthropomorphic pig, hence the name Porco Rosso or “Red Pig”.

Porco has to deal with pirates (air pirates) as well as the government because he deserted the army.  He also has to deal with his rival in the skies, Curtis, an arrogant fighter pilot from America who sides with the pirates.  Curtis is also vying for the attention of Gina, who runs the Hotel Adriano.  She however is in love with Porco.

Porco also has a friend in Flo, who is the granddaughter of his former mechanic Piccolo.  She becomes his mechanic and helps  to keep his plane in the skies.  Porco in the end must meet Curtis in a duel in the skies for the heart of Gina.

The film released in Japan in theaters on July 18, 1992.  It initially was to be a short film to be shown on Japan Airlines flights but grew into a theatrical length film.  The airlines ended up being a major investor in the film and would show it on flights even before it’s theatrical release.  The film went on to be the number one film in Japan in 1992.  Disney would have a English dubbing that would be released in the States in 2003 that featured such voices as Michael Keeton, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Cary Elwes, Brad Garrett, Susan Egan and David Ogden Stiers.

To close out, here’s another clip featuring John Lasseter from 2006 when he co-hosted the celebration of Miyazaki films up to that point.  Here he is talking about Porco Rosso.

Miyazaki Mondays: My Neighbor Totoro

This week’s “Miyazaki Monday”focuses on one of the most memorable films by Miyazaki because it features one of the most memorable characters in all of animation.  That character is Totoro and the film is My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro is set in 1958 Japan.  It features the Kusakabe family.  Tatsuo Kusakabe is a university professor.  His wife Yasuko is in the hospital receiving long term care.  So Tatsuo takes his two daughters Satsuki and Mei and move into an old house closer to the hospital.  Satsuki and Mei encounter dust creatures that turn out to be house spirits called susuwatari that inhabit abandoned houses.  Once the creatures realize that the family is living in the house, they move on to another abandoned house.

This turns out to only be the beginning for the magical creatures that Satsuki and Mei encounter.  One day, Mei finds two small rabbit looking creatures coming out from under the house.  She follows them through a briar patch into a large hollow tree.  There Mei meets a larger version of the smaller creatures.  Mei calls the creature Totoro because that’s the sound he makes when she asks who he is.  Later, Satsuki meets Totoro when she and Mei are waiting in the rain at a bus stop.

It’s a fun magical adventure these two sisters take as well as dealing with the reality of a mother who is sick.  Miyazaki does a great job of balancing the fantastical with the reality.  Many of his films balance this well and My Neighbor Totoro.  This was the first of his films to be set in Japan, so there is more roots in reality than Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky but there are definite elements of fantasy.

When this film was released in Japan in April 16, 1988, it was released on the same day as another Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies that was directed by the other co-founder of Studio Ghibli Isao Takahata.  These two films in and of themselves are some of the most influential films but to be on the same bill is extraordinary.  My Neighbor Totoro first got an English dubbing in 1993 under the title My Friend Totoro.  Once Disney got the rights to distribute the film in 2005, it released its own English dubbing.  The voice actors for that dubbing include Dakota and Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Frank Welker and Pat Carroll.

The character of Totoro has become synonymous with Studio Ghibli.  It is featured in every intro to a Studio Ghibli film and has even crossed over into another beloved film series here in the United State.  Totoro made a cameo in Toy Story 3 as a plush doll who lives in Bonnie’s room.

To close out, here a clip featuring Pixar honcho John Lasseter introducing the film during the month long celebration of Miyazaki films on Turner Classic Movies back in 2006.  When it aired on TV during this celebration, it was the television premiere of the Disney English dubbing.  They aired both this version and the original Japanese version with English subtitles.  My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most memorable Miyazaki films and has left an indelible mark in cinema.