Studio Ghibli

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

There are movies that I am just aching to review. Where I have jokes and observations and asides all ready and planned literally years in advance. Where I am just absolutely raring to go.

And then there’s movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, a movie that almost feels engineered by some nefarious super villain to be absolutely impossible for me to review. Every tool in my critical toolbox is rendered useless by this thing. Can I rave about it? Honestly, no. It’s one of the slightest of the Studio Ghibli films, I didn’t grow up with it and I don’t have any particular affection for it.  Can I slam it? Hell no, it’s still Studio Ghibli after all and an absolute technical triumph. I can’t really do story analysis, because there’s not really much story. Is it even interestingly weird? It is quite possibly the most grounded and least weird piece of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen (low bar, I know, but still). Interesting or troubled production? Nope. Apparently it was just…like…a movie…that…got…made. No one went crazy during production. None of the animators were involved in a murder suicide pact. Nothing. Damn selfish, I call it.


Tales from Earthsea (2006)

This review was requested by patron Purr Elise. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Goro Miyazaki breaks my goddamned heart, you know that?

I feel for the guy, I really do. When faced with having to live up to the legacy of his father, a man who will be remembered as the Michaelangelo of the 21st century, Goro wisely tried to forge his own path in a different field and be his own man. He studies landscaping, becomes a construction consultant and even helped to design the Ghibli museum which he then became the director of. At 34. I mean, this guy has done some amazing things, right? That is a damn impressive resume. More than I’ll ever accomplish, that’s for sure.

And then, he gets called in by his father’s studio to contribute some landscapes for a movie. They take a look at them and say “Hey, these are really good and also your father is basically the God of Animation who walks among us in the form of a man, you should totally direct this movie.”

And suddenly, he’s exactly where he never wanted to be, directing an animated movie where he has to be compared to his father and there is just no way he can win. And, despite bringing the movie in on time and on budget, he will forever be known as the guy who directed Tales From Earthsea, the “bad” studio Ghibli film.

And now, this incredibly accomplished young man is viewed as a failure. A fuckup. Someone defined by not being as good as someone else.

And that is just so unfair to the guy. I mean, I know I dunked pretty hard on From Up On Poppy Hill  but it wasn’t bad. Okay, it was boring and uninteresting and unengaging and I guess that does kinda mean it was bad but, shit, like I could do better?

“No” is the answer to that.

This was the question that was dogging me all through watching Tales From Earthsea. How do I justify giving this movie a bad review when it has better animation and more striking visuals that probably a good 90% of the movies I’ve reviewed on this blog. I wanted to like this one. I really did. I committed a cardinal sin of reviewing in wanting to give this one a pass because of the person who made it and not on a fair assessment of the work. Taken on its own merits, without comparison to the rest of Studio Ghibli’s output, Tales From Earthsea is a beautifully animated work  and a veritable feast for the eyes.

It is also, unfortunately, a pretty terrible movie.

Dude, I’m sorry.


Spirited Away (2001)

Great art isn’t east. The great artists simply make it look easy.

Princess Mononoke is many things. A work of art. A masterpiece.  One of the biggest box-office successes of Japanese cinema.

But for Hayao Miyazaki it was an absolute nightmare, a gruelling, punishing slog of back-breaking labour which may have had something to do with his insistence on practically drawing the entire damn thing himself but what do I know?


And everyone said “Uh huh. Suuuuure you are.”

Because Hayao Miyazaki has been talking about retiring since digital watches were still nifty and he can’t stay away. Five years after The Wind Rises, his really-no-fooling-this-is-it-I’m-really-doing-it-you-won’t-have-Hayao-to-kick-around-any-more final film, he’s got another one due for release in 2019. The dude can’t quit.

Thank Christ.

Because every day I wake up, behold the beauty and majesty of God’s creation and say: “Needs more Miyazaki.”

Long may he continue working.

“But you’re killing me…”

“Yeah. Well. Eggs and Omelettes.”

Today’s movie came after Miyakzaki had retired for like the seventh time or something, when he decided to make a new film after meeting the young daughter of one of his friends. Which shows just how committed he was to his retirement. I mean, what else could convince him to come out of retirement than an encounter with that rarest of creatures, a human child? I mean, you could go your whole life without seeing one! So Miyazaki came back and was all “Okay, okay, one more movie” and everyone was all “Whatever helps ya sleep at night, man” and he went and made Spirited Away, a nice, safe, uncontroversial pick for GREATEST ANIMATED MOVIE OF ALL TIME.

Does it live up to its reputation?

“Yeah, s’aight.”


The Last Unicorn (1982)

Animation history is full of odd twists and turns and weird connections but one of the weirdest is that you can trace a direct line between this:

And this:

Rankin Bass is most famous for its stop motion Christmas specials but from the late sixties onwards they dabbled in feature length traditional animation. The Rankin Bass filmography is like an unfinished rollercoaster, a madcap frenzy of highs and lows before it all ends in the bloody, limb mangling, fiery catastrophe of 1999’s The King and I.

Ugh. Yeah. Probably. Some day.

But they did produce what is, by fairly solid consensus, a true classic with 1982’s The Last Unicorn, based on Peter S. Beagle’s book of the same name. While Rankin/Bass produced the film, the grunt work was actually farmed out to a Japanese company called Topcraft who’d later be hired by Hayao Miyazaki to animate Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the rest is history.

I get the feeling this movie was a much bigger deal in the States than it was in Ireland. I never saw it growing up, and I don’t remember anyone talking about it. But that pedigree alone was enough to make me curious.

Let’s take a look.


From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

Remember how, ages ago, I did that list of my favourite non-Disney animated movies? Yeah, that list is probably due an update. There are so many fantastic films that I’ve discovered or re-discovered since then: Coraline, Prince of Egypt and of course Princess Mononoke. Still the highest scoring animated movie I’ve ever reviewed on this blog (or tied for first place if you count Who Framed Roger Rabbit). So when I was asked to review From Up On Poppy Hill, another Studio Ghibli film by Miyazaki that I’d never even heard of I was pumped. 











More please.

More please.

So this is the 17th Studio Ghibli film, released in 2011 after Arrietty and before Miyazaki’s final film as director, The Wind Rises. Aaaand that’s about as much as I know about it. I’m going into this one completely cold.
I mean, c’mon. What else do I need to know? It’s a Studio Ghibli film directed by Miyazaki. The only question is; Great Movie or the Greatest Movie? Let’s take a look.


Princess Mononoke (1997)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
Alright, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, shall we?
I watched the dubbed version.
マウスの死亡! (Death to Mouse!)

(Death to Mouse!)

Yes. Yes. Yes. Illiterate. Ignoramus. Buffoon. Yada yada yada. Look, to a certain degree I sympathise. When it comes to live action movies, I cannot STAND dubbing. Der Untergang is one of my favourite films and if you ever suggested watching it in anything other than the original German, I’d accuse you of being the first person to ever talk about Der Untergang who was actually worse than the main character. But that’s for live action. Animation is slightly different. One of my big problems with dubbing over live action is that even when the characters are outside in a forest or whatever the voices coming out of their mouths always sound like they’re in a recording booth. Which of course, they are. Also, you just can’t make the lip movements synch up, it’s just not possible. With an animated film, however, everyone, original voice actors and unwashed gaijin alike are in a recording booth anyway so it doesn’t matter. It’s also easier to make the lip movements more closely approximate the new language in animation. So basically, when it comes to animé, subbed or dubbed, I’m easy. For Princess Mononoke I’m reviewing the dubbed version for the following reasons:
  • It is a phenomenal dub. Great cast, fantastic performances, wonderful adapted script by Neil Gaiman, just amazingly well done.
  • Miyazaki himself prefers his movies to be watched rather than read and supports his films being dubbed into foreign languages.
  • I don’t want subtitles clogging up my screencaps when I’m makin’ mah dick jokes.
  • It’s easier for me to come up with jokes for the American voice actors. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear, I’m Hisaya mother fucking Morishige” doesn’t quite have the same ring.
  • Watching the subbed version means I don’t get to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. I want to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. Why don’t you want me to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice? Try and take it away from me and see what happens. Just. Try.
I’m not arguing for the superiority of the dubbed version over the original Japanese, or vice versa. What I’m saying is; it doesn’t matter. Watch either. Watch both. This movie is so damn good it will not make a lick of difference.
Monoke-Hime “The Spirit Princess” was released in Japan in 1997 and almost immediately became the most successful Japanese film of all time against a budget of 2 billion yen (aka around $20 million dollars or a third of what it cost to make Foodfight!). Following that, Miramax, a tentacle of the vast Disney octopus, purchased the rights for distribution in the West. Now, it’s a tired old truism that the big difference between animation in Japan and in the West is that here, animation is seen as being “just for kids” and I really hope we can put that one to rest finally. No, animation in the West is no longer seen as being children’s entertainment. The most successful television show in American history is The Simpsons. The airwaves are full of animated series specifically marketed towards adults. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncutwas one of the biggest grossing movie musicals of all time. It’s done. Grown ups watch cartoons now. War is over.  If you want it. Having said that, it’s certainly true that animé can be…well, pretty shocking to Western audiences used to animation being almost totally comedic. Animé is into some messed up shit quite frankly, and I’m not even talking about their lax stance on schoolgirl/tentacle relationships. There is an intensity to the violence and body horror in animé that’s like nothing you’d see in Western entertainment. Which, of course, is why it’s so popular here. Even Miyazaki, who is about as far as you can get from Fist of the Northstar, can serve you up some pretty disturbing imagery and Mononoke is probably the darkest movie in his filmography (I’ve heard Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is even darker but I haven’t seen it yet). We got decapitations, monstrous transformations, severed limbs, giant bleeding boars turning into worm monsters of pure hatred and all kinds of dark horror that Disney just doesn’t do.
Ahem. Anymore.


So legendary Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein wanted to make heavy cuts to the movie to have it more in keeping with American expectations for a full length animated film. Studio Ghibli’s response was simple and eloquent, sending Weinstein a katana sword with a note saying “NO CUTS!”. It’s my blog, so I will add to the story that it was delivered to Weinstein’s room in the dead of night by a ninja weeping a single tear as he crouched silhouetted in a window while behind him, cherry blossoms fell in the moonlight. But of course, the sword was probably just delivered by some FedEx guy (ah, the days before 9/11). Weinsten got the message and the film was released without cuts, thereby ensuring that Studio Ghibli did not have to take things to the next stage.
Miyazaki may well be the greatest animation director who has ever lived. Princess Mononoke is widely considered his greatest work. Just how good is that? And can I actually make any jokes about a movie this excellent? And will you actually laugh at them?
"Why start now?"

“Why start now?”

Let’s take a look.