I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime biopic, probably partially because I don’t usually care for the genre. But if anyone is going to convince me of the merits of such a film, Hayao Miyazaki is the man to do it. His favorite subjects, complicated machinery (especially trains), innocent love, and dreamlike vistas (this time literal dreams), shined beautifully in the first and final acts. But at times during the middle there was a bit too much “history lesson” and less “story arc.” But the most intriguing aspect wasn’t the gorgeous animation or the classic story. It was the sound effects, which used human-noises for everything from airplanes to earthquakes. Perhaps jarring and somewhat distracting, but I enjoyed them thoroughly.
Goro Miyazaki needed this. Tales from Earthsea was such an amazing disappointment, but From Up On Poppy Hill is decent enough to qualify as redemption. The story was a fairly simple melodrama, told in a simple fashion, and simply enjoyed. And, of course, Studio Ghibli’s backgrounds are so gorgeous they belong in art museums. The deluge of characters threatened to drown me, but the main few kept my head above water.
Why you would combine a quirky relationship drama with a half-hearted attempt at a military actioner is beyond me. It’s Japan, that’s why, I suppose. The premise doesn’t even almost make sense, especially in this digital age. Yet instead of simply using that premise for a reason to move a story along, it’s thrown in your face over and over as if repetition will somehow make it not stupid. And, of course, it uses cliches in lieu of characters, all of whom alternate between stoic flatness and comical over-acting.
Animation has such amazing potential for visuals, and Summer Wars looked to find as many as it could. The action inside Oz, its virtual world, is bright and stunning, which is expected from the premise. But the scenes with the huge, crazy family were equally visually-crafted. The story was fairly standard for anime, full of coincidence and melodramatic monologues. But it’s also so full of fun I found myself grinning gleefully.
The acting is so bad it’s like a high school stage play. The actors flail around the sets even when they aren’t being riddled with machine-gun fire. The characters are only distinguishable by their relationships with each other, which is immediately tedious. Any promise from the concept is wasted completely on a baffling ebb and flow between campiness and awkward attempts at artistry.
Studio Ghibli needed some redemption after Tales from Earthsea and Ponyo, and Arrietty was certainly a step in the right direction. The story was somewhat bland, and the characters fairly standard, but the artwork and the animation were beyond compare. The sheer detail of the backgrounds was staggering. You can tell that much thought was given to getting the physics and composition of the tiny world, without overly explaining it. Especially liquids. Ghibli and Pixar are running similar paths. And each of their newest films, though not great, renewed my faith that they still got it.