Old Review: Arrietty

A young woman is hiding under a group of leaves with an image of a house behind her. Text below reveals the film's title and credits.Young Sho, a boy with a heart problem, is moving in with his Great-Aunt Sadako after his divorced mother had to go on a business trip. He knows that he would be kept after by Sadako and her maid Haru, but it doesn’t take long to notice they aren’t the only people living at the house. A small family of little people, Pod, Homily and Arrietty, live under the house referring to themselves as Borrowers, as they take stuff from the house that the humans won’t notice is gone in order to survive. However, during her first Borrowing, Arrietty discovers that Sho spotted her from her trip in the garden, causing their existence to be known to the humans. Even though Arrietty believes the humans won’t do any harm, past experiences has meant any human knowledge of the little people’s whereabouts causes danger, and it doesn’t help that Haru plans on catching them as soon as she finds their home. Now Arrietty needs to undo her mistakes, and despite his condition, Sho is willing to help Arrietty make sure none of her family goes into harm’s way.

While both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have considered creating an adaptation of the Borrowers for up to 40 years, Miyazaki began work on the film on July 2008 under the title “Little Arrietty”. Because Studio Ghibli has had a desperate struggle to find new directors to work on their films, Miyazaki decide to let the Studio’s long-time artist and animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi take on the role of directing, becoming the Studio’s youngest director at the age of 36. In 2009, Bretonne singer and performer Cecile Corbel sent a CD of her work to Studio Ghibli, as a fan of their work. Impressed with her music, she was hired to compose the music for the film, including the song “Arrietty’s Song” which was released as a sing less than a year prior to the film’s release. In June 2010, production was complete and the film was released on July 17th 2010. The film was premiered in France on November 30th 2010, and was released in the UK theatrically on July 29th 2011, with a US theatrical release planned in February 2012.

What’s difficult about reviewing Studio Ghibli films nowadays is that when you’ve seen one Studio Ghibli film, you’ve pretty much seen all of them, since the animation and character design has almost remained the same. However it’s difficult to treat it as a criticism since it’s still good animation, with characters moving detailed and smoothly, with even minor movements such as Sho pausing to take breaths and changes in expressions are done to a good detail so it’s clear what the actions are, but not overblown to the point of distraction, beautifully painted backgrounds and all that redundant opinionated views that are normally given to most of their films. However it is much interesting to talk about what’s new or changed in comparison to the Studio’s past titles. In some cases, the film has a great use of both background and foreground objects, particularly in the close up scenes of the garden, which really makes the environment really delightful to look at. One little detail I also like is that animals which are viewed by the Borrowers as dangerous have red eyes, which on one hand seems out of place and unrealistic but to me it a little touch that I think really adds to the creatures themselves. The only real issue I have which I vaguely remember being noticeable in Studio Ghibli’s previous film Ponyo is that the character designs appear to reduce in detail the further they appear to be, especially when they are quite far back to the point where their eyes become little dots. It’s a minor detail to get on the nerves of perfectionists so for the average viewer the animation is as good as every other Ghibli film.

The film soundtrack is mostly very calm and beautifully played. The use of mostly Celtic folk instruments is rarely seen in anime films and from someone who occasionally enjoys Celtic music it is really fun to listen to. The actual songs the play throughout the film also fit well with the scenes they play in and are worth listening to on their own, all of which were sung by Cecile Corbel and include the film’s main theme “Arrietty’s Song”, which is actually my favourite main theme in a Studio Ghibli film. Sadly there aren’t many songs which actually fit with the atmosphere and emotional impact of scenes, such as moments of suspense or signs of any tension, which means that most of those are done through the visual sense. This isn’t a really bad problem if the animation and design is good at doing that job, which it is for the most part, so if you like listening to original music for being music then you’ll love the soundtrack.

Since as of writing this, the film is currently on its UK theatrical run, so at the moment my opinion of the Japanese voice cast is based on the film trailers and clips I find. Most of the characters sound good, particularly Mirai Shida’s calm but curious personality for Arrietty and Ryunosuke Kamiki’s polite and mature young male tone for Sho, sadly I can’t find many clips of the other characters to give a good opinion but I assume that because the Japanese cast features actors which are suitable for their character’s age, appearance and attitude, along with the fact that Studio Ghibli has a good track record of a well-chosen and well rewarded voice casting that the Japanese voice cast will be really good and may be superior to any other dub by default.

What’s really unusual and intriguing about the English cast is that there is actually two, since from what I guess; Disney created both a US voice dub and a UK voice dub to gain recognisability in both countries. The US cast features Bridget Medler, David Henrie, Carol Burnett and Amy Poehler, mostly actors of US TV Dramas with the younger cast having a history with the Disney Channel, not a cast that would be known to the common UK audiences, and since the US version will not be released until February 2012 I won’t be reviewing it. The UK cast is a mixed bag, although it’s rather listenable. Arrietty, voiced by Saorise Ronan, is probably the most tolerable, since she has a nice, young and uplifting voice, and having a light British accent is effective, but while she tries to convey emotions, she doesn’t have a very noticeable range. Tom Holland and Phylida Law as Sho and his Great Aunt Sadako respectively are examples of the middle ground performances in this film, they sound like their characters but don’t really give much emotion or realism to make them memorable performances. One thing that bothered me about the voice of Sho, and I’ve noticed this in other Ghibli films is that he either sounds too old or in this case too young in comparison to the English dub. Pod and Spiller, voiced by Mark Strong and Luke Allen-Gale, on the other hand are actually quite interesting. Pod is normally sound calm and collected, but his tone stills conveys a form of authority over his wife Homily and Arrietty. Spiller, a native type of borrower, has a very minimal use of words for dialogue, but his hostile sounds and tone of voice really shows the native and wilderness personality. Either way, it’s tolerable and worth a listen.

To be honest, there isn’t much to talk about the story as a film, it’s simple and easy to follow, the amount of suspense and exploration is kept to a minimum, there is a small message about the human’s impact on the world that’s neither subtle nor forced and most of the actions and reactions of both the humans discovering the little people and the little people seeing the large world around them through their eyes is pretty much the same as other films and stories which uses that similar story element. There’s nothing terrible about it outside that it’s rather dull, but it still has a charm to it that makes it enjoyable. As an adaptation the story is viewed differently, but I don’t regard faithfulness to the original source material as form or praise or criticism because in my mind, a film is a film and a book is a book, and the word “adaptation” means the story that is written to be told through one medium is retooled so it can be told through a different medium. Anything that is lost or altered in the translation is through the choice of the writers, and they should be judged on whether it makes the telling of the story through that medium works, not whether the change makes the adaptation better or worse. So as a story for an anime film, it’s good to watch but nothing that would win the awards for storytelling because it doesn’t pull off any risks or contain any special moments. The films only problem, especially when I saw it, was Haru, Sadako’s maid and the film’s closest form of an antagonist and the problem mainly lies with the way she is portrayed. Throughout the film, she switches from quiet and shifty-eyed suspicious character to goofy and over the top villainous character constantly as she wants to catch the little people, just like Ms Driver from the novel, so most of the time I knew she was supposed to be the antagonist, but not really sure if she was meant to be the diabolically comedic or the cartoony villain, whether she is the same or different as Ms Driver in the books does not change my opinion in any way.

Overall, what we have as one of the latest from Studio Ghibli is a film to enjoy for its visual and musical appeal more than a story telling epic like Laputa or Only Yesterday. The film is worth a watch for its great design and music, although its story is nothing too special. What is special about this film is the amount of stuff done differently for a Ghibli film, and some for anime films in general, such as having a foreign musician brought on as the composer or the film internationally supported by two dubs for one language for recognisability. The film did amazingly well in Japan, especially for a debuting director, so let’s make sure this film does as well in the rest of the world.

Arrietty is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. The original novel series written by Mary Norton has been reprinted countless times and are currently available from Puffin Books. A film comic version is available from Viz Comics, but unless you haven’t read some of my past Studio Ghibli film reviews, Film comics are not worth your money unless you like seeing film screenshots pasted into pages with speech bubbles attached. Unrelated to the Ghibli film, the Borrowers has had quite a few other adaptations, some of which may be worth your time. These include a 1974 made-for-TV movie starring Eddie Albert from NBC, a 1992 miniseries and a 1993 follow up titled “Return of the Borrowers” from the BBC and Turner Home Entertainment, and a 1997 theatrical film starring John Goodman from PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.

Old Review: Arashi no Yoru Ni

Arashi no Yoru Ni.jpgIn nature, every creature knows their enemies and their means of survival. In the case of this tale, there are wolves, carnivores and predators that live on the Bakubaku Valley, and goats, herbivores and prey that live on the Sawasawa Mountains, both enemies of each other. However, when a goat named Mei and a wolf named Gabu both take shelter from a storm in an abandoned barn, they realise that the animals they are, and they share a lot in common and slowly build a good friendship. The only problem is that both sides strictly oppose each other for their own reasons, and once word goes around about this mutual friendship, neither side takes it well. Both Mei and Gabu are encouraged to act as spies, but the two decide to leave together and go to a place where they can remain friends without the confrontations. However, Gabu’s pack is on the hunt for them both. Can both a goat and a wolf live peacefully as friends, or will they have to accept their roles in nature as enemies?

Originally intended to be a single children’s book, the popularity of the children’s book Arashi No Yoru Ni in Japan encouraged author Yuichi Kimura to turn it into a whole series and wrote five more books. It ended up becoming popular enough to be published in Japanese textbooks. Japanese Television Broadcaster Tokyo Broadcasting Systems Network (TBS) obtained the film rights to the books and worked alongside animation studio Group TAC to create an anime film based on all six books, with Gisaburo Sugii as director. The film was released on December 10th 2005 to national acclaim, and later became one of the nominees of the Japanese Academy Award’s first Animation of the Year Award in 2007.

When I first saw this film I had a really hard time describing my views on the film’s looks and animation, because for an anime film it’s nothing I’ve really seen before. The animation itself has a broad range depending on the situation of the scene, going really cartoonish on comedic and goofy moments to a fast and edgy style in more action areas, and yet it quality remains consistent and controlled. There are some moments when the animation looks a little too cartoonish, which was probably due to the target audience being children, however they only really work in effect when the scenes are intended to make people laugh. What makes this film stands out is it’s amount of detail, and in a world of Japanese animation where most of the detail is in the painted backgrounds, with character designs typically being flat colours with small amounts of shading, this goes way beyond that detail as every single frame has evident use of brushes to show fur, grass, leaves, wood, rocks, to the point where the only signs of flat colours in the entire film is the sky. It’s actually really good to look at, and ignoring some of the weird animation, the detail as well as the use of lighting and CG backgrounds gives the film a balanced level of realism that’s rarely found in anime films.

The music soundtrack is a bit hit and miss, there is a good amount of effort in it, being well orchestrated and great to listen to on its own for the most part, including the ending theme Star by Aiko. The only point where the soundtrack doesn’t really work it atmosphere is when there are really action heavy moments. However in the scenes which are calm, light hearted in humour or dramatic the music really sets the emotional value of the scenes, even the music in the film’s dark opening builds up a tense atmosphere. The film’s more sombre moments don’t have music which is always good to allow the audience to take in the atmosphere.

The Japanese voice acting is really good, most of it due to the really good cast that was chosen. One notable role includes Gabu, who is voiced by Nakamura Shido, an actor most known for dark antagonising roles such as Ryuk from Death Note, but in this film his gives Gabu a friendly personality while giving him a rough and threatening tone, really conveying two sides to Gabu’s character. Other wolves are also given this rough tone of voice, including Pack-Leader Giro, voiced by Yakuza film regular Rika Takeuchi, and his right-hand man Barry, voiced by my favourite Japanese voice-actor Koichi Yamadera. The Goats and most other animals in the film have a more calm tone of voice, to reflect their peaceful nature in contrast with wolves, although if I have to give some criticism, it’s that most of the Goat roles don’t leave as much impact and aren’t as memorable, and it doesn’t help that every goat except Mei leave the story 2/3 into the film.

While there isn’t an official English dub, there is an unofficial dub that’s worth talking about. In 2008, a small group of voice actors lead by Tustin Gilmer Macafee were given permission by TBS to produce an English dub under the title “Stormy Night”, which was created and uploaded to Youtube between December 2008 and November 2009. For what essentially is a fan-dub put together by one guy with a voice cast of five people including himself, it is really impressive seeing how great the quality of the dub itself is, especially considering that the backing soundtrack and sound effects had to be edited by hand and matched up to the original film, with professional sounding vocal tracks matching up to the dialogue. However, the voice acting really inferior to the Japanese dub. On a positive side, it’s much better than other fan dubs and online based film dub projects I’ve seen, thanks to the professional quality of the audio itself and the range of distinct voices helps tell each character apart as well as portray who they are, such as the goat roles who sound much more like their animal counterparts than the Japanese version. I also have to give a huge credit to Tustin for voicing the majority of the roles including Gabu, Mei, every wolf and some of the goats, and yet give the different voices, showing a really good vocal range. However there are two sides to voice acting and it’s the acting part that falls over. Most of the time there isn’t any difference between emotions and most of the voices stay at one level of volume, and even if the range of voices is impressive, some of the voices don’t entirely match up to the character very well, such as Giro and Barry.

If there is one thing I like, it’s when someone takes a long existing storyline concept, and both change and add to it to the point that it becomes an entirely new story. This is the case with Arashi no Yoru Ni, which is practically a Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story style of a story, except instead of a romance between two people from opposing sides, it’s an unlikely friendship between two beings of opposing sides. What’s also different about it is that both groups views of each other isn’t the only conflict that tests both Mei and Gabu’s friendship, since Gabu is a carnivore whose only means of survival is eating other animals, which Mei naturally doesn’t approve of, and Gabu has trouble trying to stop his animal instincts to avoid any harm towards Mei. Its issues like this that creates both light hearted humour and really dramatic moments and while watching it I really found myself caring for the two and hoping that they would make it all the way to the end, and the film is written so that the ending could be more than one possibility.

Overall, Arashi is a very heart-warming film that definitely is worth watching for its main characters and it’s artistry as a whole. Yes it has some goofy moments which could make the little ones happy, but that doesn’t stop it from having serious and engaging moments as well. It’s a story about good friends against the odds, and it’s worth checking out.

Arashi no Yoru Ni is available from TBS. There isn’t an official English release, but the unofficial English dub is available from the Stormy Night Redub Team, where their concept dub is both available on Youtube and as a downloadable audio track for the official DVD. The original seven children’s book series (the seventh and final book in the series was released after the film) by Yuichi Kimura with illustrations by Hiroshi Abe don’t have any official English release. The books also spawned both an Audio Drama CD (which had a different cast including Akira Ishida from Gundam SEED fame as Mei) and three stage performances, including one by Aoni Productions in 2004, an annual one from Engekishūdan En and a musical in 2007 from Engekishūdan Studio Life.

Review: Welcome to the Space Show

Five ordinary middle school children are about to have the summer of their lives, when looking around the school grounds for their lost rabbit, they stumble upon an injured dog. After bringing it in and nursing it back to health, the dog reveals itself as an alien named Pochi. Pochi explains that he is researching the planet Earth, and looking for a substance that is believed to have been extinct for five billion years, and was injured after fighting off against poachers. In exchange for their help, Pochi agrees to take them to the moon, but after an accident, they end up being taken around the vast areas of space. For Natsuki, Amane, Kiyoshi, Koji and Noriko, this is the largest, weirdest and wildest summer trips of their lives. It’s time to enjoy the Space Show. Continue reading

Review: Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki

While in the middle of a class at University, a young student named Hana comes across a man who regularly sneaks into her classes. The man, named Ookami, is mysterious, but kind natured and so Hana starts falling in love with him. The two start dating for some time, but there is a secret Ookami reveals to Hana that is quite startling; he is a Wolf man, the last descendant of the Japanese wolf. Because of Hana’s love, this detail is no bother to her, and later on in life Hana and Ookami have two wolf children, Yuki and Ame. Unfortunately, one night Ookami goes out and hunts for food, and dies, leaving Hana with the two children, who, because of the lack of knowledge of caring for wolves, is constantly struggling to find out how to care for them. Because of crowded city and fears that her children would get taken away, Hana decides to move to a peaceful rural village, where Yuki and Ame can roam freely where no one would suspect them otherwise. However, even the rural lives, as well as having Yuki and Ame grow up lead to new problems that even Hana cannot avoid. Continue reading

Old Review: Summer Wars

Welcome to the World of OZ, OZ is the world’s largest and most secure digital network and virtual world, so powerful and expansive that businesses and services all across Japan and the world use OZ to manage and control their operations, and thanks to its fast chat translation program, people can easily chat with anyone of the 1 billion people that use it around the world. In order to maintain this network there are several adminds worldwide to monitor it, one of these is a Japanese high school student named Kenji, although in his honesty he didn’t plan to do this as his summer vacation job, having just lost out to representing Japan at the International Math Olympics.  Natsuki, Kenji’s classmate and crush, tries to ask both Kenji and his best friend/admin Takashi to take up a job, which involves travelling to Ueda with her to meet her very extended family to celebrate her great-grandmother’s birthday on the first day on August. Kenji volunteers, although he’s uncomfortable with the secret part of the job, he has to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancée. While getting along with the family, he gets a weird message containing a maths problem; however after solving it, things go wrong for the world. The world of OZ is taken over by an artificial intelligence program known as Love Machine, and using Kenji’s avatar, taking over millions of other accounts, taking over several services in the world and causing chaos. Now wanting to fix things write, Kenji along with the skilled members of a very large family, have to fight Love Machine to prevent this AI becoming an ultimate threat to the world.

This is the creation of Mamoru Hosada, the director of the first Digimon films and was the original director of Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle before leaving due to creative differences. After the latter incident, he made the film The Girl who Leapt Through Time along with writer Satoko Okudera and Evangelion’s character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto in 2006. The award winning animated film was so successful that in 2008, Madhouse announced Hosada’s new film at Tokyo’s International Anime Fair, which was later given the name Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ Samaa Wouzu). Due to the massive cast in the film, production took a total of three years, which lead to Studio Madhouse’s President Masao Maruyama insisting that Hosada’s next film should only have two main characters and have two years production time. Summer Wars was released appropriately on August 1st 2009, winning several Best Animated Feature awards and was a submission for the 83rd Academy Awards.

While the animation in the real world settings is smoothly animated, and remains consistent even when movements get really energetic, especially when large groups of people have to be animated at once, the best animation is clearly found inside the digital world of OZ. Not only is the animation, both CG and hand drawn, smooth and detailed, but the environment is, bright, colourful and beautifully designed. Some scenes are really striking and memorable, especially near the end with the battle with Love Machine. Sometimes the character expressions can get a little cartoonish or anime-ish, such as blushing characters going red, which feel out of place but the film is a visual spectacle nonetheless.

The music consists of both orchestral and digital pieces which work really well together, really suiting both the uplifting and sad moments. Some scenes have some really tense moments which work considerably well. Most of the film has its quiet moments and even the tense scenes are really effective when silent.

The voice acting in the Japanese is decent; the actors all do a good job, each of the many characters do a really effective job to put an impression out, such as the defiant yet polite great-grandma Sakae done by Sumiko Fuji and the serious toned 13 year old Kazuma Ikezawa portrayed by Mitsuki Tanimura. However this is probably one of the few cases where despite how good the Japanese dub is, the English one is better. Maybe it is because Funimation made this dub to be suitable for an American speaking audience, but I feel that especially for the main protagonists Kenji, Natsuki and some of the supporting cast emote and perform much better than in the original dub. It still isn’t a perfect dub, since the cast feel more like actors performing characters than real people, but at least no matter what your preference is you wouldn’t be at a loss either way.

While the whole digital world of OZ and the fight against the Love Machine is cool, and has the most engaging parts in the film, it’s practically half of the film. The other half focuses on family and relationships and in a way acts as a social commentary for Japan’s current views on that topic, since it expresses the views on what people in Japan are like, people’s reliance on technology and how families should spend time together. The interesting thing is how both really work together, since the digital world stuff is great to watch while the real world is one that people. I would say that the idea of technology isn’t entirely accurate, and a few characters like Natsuki’s second cousin Shota are annoying but for what it shows, it’s really good.

This film definitely deserves all the praise it’s been getting, along with being such a cool computer geek kind of film with its huge and vibrant digital world, it’s also down to earth with its exploration of the views of family. With its awesome visuals and a creative score to boot, it’s really fun and engaging and needs to be seen by many people.

Summer Wars is available from Funimation and Manga Entertainment. A Manga Adaptation, written by Iqura Sugimoto, was serialized by Young Ace and published by Kadokawa in Japan but hasn’t had a western release as of writing.

Old Review: Millennium Actress

Chiyoko Fujiwara was a famous actress that had been in many successful films for over twenty years. Currently in her 70s, an experienced director, and biggest fan, called Genya Tachibara wants to produce a documentary about her, but there is a problem, she hasn’t been living in the public eye for some time. Luckily, Genya and his cameraman are able to track her down, and she agrees to an interview of her documentary. She explains that during the 1930s she fell in love with an artist who was on the run from the Fascist Government, and after he left a key to a suitcase containing his art materials, she began an acting career in the hopes of going around the world so that she may one day see him again. As she explains her past, the environment changes as she and the crew appear to be inside her memories, from World War II, to Segoku Period Battles and even in Space, the crew witness the impressive life of this long living actress.

After working on Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon planned to do the adaptation of Yasukata Tsustui’s Paprika as his next film, but these plans didn’t get far after Rex Entertainment went bankrupt. He decided that he would use the idea of blurring the lines between reality and imagination for Millennium Actress, using a story originally idealised by Sadayuki Murai, which both wrote the screenplay. Deciding to give the film a historical feel to it, Kon did a lot of studying of Japanese cinema and clothing, and stated that he learned interesting things while working on the film. There has also been the suggestion that Chiyoko is based on real life Japanese actress Setsuko Hara, who had a large acting career between 1936 and 1961, and as of writing, still lives a near private life since her last film. While Satoshi Kon has said in interviews that Chiyoko wasn’t meant to be based on any real life person, he does recognise the similarity as an influence. The film premiered at the Fantasia Festival on July 28th 2001, where it tied with Spirited Away for the Grand Prize Award, and later was entered for consideration at the 2003 Academy Awards, but wasn’t nominated.

The animation is really creative and very interesting to watch. Satoshi Kon was able to use several different art styles and techniques that are reminiscent to styles of Japanese cinema, other scenes do really well in its cinematography, like Kon’s other classic Perfect Blue, and it feels like a live action film. Some scenes are impressively animated, such as the opening sequence with the space station and slightly later with the video recording; it’s amazing that this was all done hand drawn.

The music is surprisingly varied, the main theme is beautifully melodic, and the compositions vary from eerie sci-fi, imperial, melodramatic romance and Chiptune, yes I’m not kidding there are a few scenes which use Chiptune music for its backing track and somehow it works, all because this is the same composer who used Vocaloid for Paprika. Most of the film doesn’t have music, which for this film is quite effective since it focuses on the characters, but when it does it really adds some excitement to the scenes. I think if there was any problem with the soundtrack, it may have been more effective if the music actually suited the scenes the flashbacks take place in more often.

The voice acting in the Japanese version is good to a high standard of Satoshi Kon’s other works. What’s interesting to note is that Chiyoko actually has three actresses; one for each stage in the character’s life, what’s impressive is that there is barely a difference between voices. Yes, they are different as they sound women at different ages, but they actually sound like they came from one person. Genya’s character has two actors, although the second and younger one doesn’t have many lines, although it’s interesting seeing how the older one is more serious while the younger acts more accident prone. Other actors do a good job, and I especially like Masayana Onosaka, portraying Genya’s cameraman as someone who’s entirely confused at the whole scenario. The English Dub on the other hand has some minor issues. While John Vernon adds a near similar performance for Genya that Shôzô Îzuka, most of them under perform when compared to the Japanese dub, though it is very watchable. The only real problem with the dub is the choice for Chiyoko, Regina Reagan. She’s definitely not a bad actress, but her voice only works for the older character, because of this her voice for the younger versions of Chiyoko sound more mature than normal, and it can be off putting.

This is probably one of the most interesting and creative romance stories, at least the best one I’ve seen in a film. This woman goes through so much to see this one man it is really touching, and the idea of her life and struggle being portrayed by films is really unique, especially for its time. The characters around her each have their own story that in a way effect Chiyoko, whether it was jealousy for being younger and doing things that are later regretted. While some characters act worse than others, for people in Japan and in the times that the film is set in, they would be normal, such as Chiyoko’s mother. The only real thing that bothered me in the film was that while three characters who were living the flashbacks reacted the way that I would expect them to react, with Chiyoko acting like she’s re-enacting her life, Genya being engaged and involving since he adores her so much, and the near oblivious cameraman being confused and freaked out, but eventually feeling more comfortable as he stays in the experience, no one seems to point out why these flashbacks are appearing and how they are there, they simply act like it’s a normal occurrence.

If you have an interest for romances, there is absolutely no reason why you should not check this film out. This is a really engaging story and another great film by a legendary animator that is definitely for the film goer and the anime lover.

Millennium Actress is available from Dreamworks and Manga Entertainment. There aren’t any adaptations as far as I know, but it’s created by Satoshi Kon who has done other interesting and creative anime films such as Perfect Blue and Paprika, and unfortunately passed away in August 2010 after finishing the writing and storyboards for his last film called The Dream Machine, which is currently still in production under the direction of Yoshimi Itazu and it expected for a 2011 release.

Old Review: The Castle of Cagliostro

Legendary criminal mastermind Arsène Lupin III has succeeded at a robbery of a casino in Monaco, along with his good friend and excellent marksman, Daisuke Jigen. While celebrating in their getaway car, Lupin is disappointed to find that the bills from the loot are all fakes. He knows from a near death predicament in his past that the largest and most hidden source of fake bills come from a small Principality known as Cagliostro, so he decides that he should try and uncover the hidden mystery of the money by heading there again. Shortly after arrival, they meet a young girl named Clarisse after rescuing her from a group of thugs. She turns out to be the Princess of Cagliostro, and she is being chased by the country’s ruler, Count Cagliostro, who is forcing her to marry him so he can obtain a secret treasure hidden in the main castle. It’s up to this professional criminal to become the hero of this country, along with his friends including Jigen and samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, as well as his enemy Inspector Kenichi Zenigata, to solve the mystery of the fake bills and the rescue of one young princess.

In 1971, Tokyo Film Shinsha released Lupin III, an anime TV series based off the popular manga by Monkey Punch (real name Kazuhiko Katō). While most of the early episodes were directed by Masaaki Ōsumi, the series was mainly directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Although the show originally had poor ratings and after 23 episodes it was cancelled, series became so popular that a second season called “Lupin III Part 2” was made and a feature length animated film, known outside Japan as “The Secret of Mamo” was made. In 1978, after the success the second season and Mamo, Hayao Miyazaki was brought on to direct a second feature length film known as “The Castle of Cagliostro”. This was Hayao Miyazaki’s feature length directorial debut, as well as the project that began the friendship between Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, which later led to the creation of Studio Ghibli, so this film has significant importance to his career.

The animation is really fun to watch, it has the feel of a 1980s and 1990s anime series. It can get over the top and some of the movements are exaggerated, but not in a bad way as you can tell the animators were having fun turning a cheesy criminal TV series into a feature length ride. The animation can get quite good at times, and the action scenes do keep your attention throughout the experience.  The character design for the most part is faithful to the anime series, but for some reason like in Chie the Brat, two characters in particular, some of the characters look different from all of the other characters. They are well drawn and Count Castliogro’s design really suits his slimy personality, reminiscent of a James Bond villain.

The music is also fun to listen to, especially if are into cheesy secret agent, police squad and criminal heist TV shows and films. It’s very jazzy and 1970s, with the occasional orchestral pieces for the serious drama. It’s the kind of soundtrack that’s hard to critics, although the music can occasionally be repetitive and I personally don’t enjoy the vocal tracks. I think anyone can like this soundtrack, but if you are into the kind of TV shows I mentioned before, you’ll probably love the soundtrack more.

The Japanese cast consists of the main cast from the anime series such the late Yasuo Yamada as Lupin III and Goro Naya, a set of well-known Japanese voice actors who do an alright job and work well with the character traits, Lupin being crafty but fun loving criminal, Jigen being the gruff and sometimes comical side kick and Zenigata being the uptight police officer for example. As far as the other cast members, they are alright, nothing too special. The Count sounds like your average mysterious villain and his servant sounds as slimy as ever. There are two dubs that have been released, but sadly I only own the oldest and easily available version in the UK, which was done by Streamline in 1991. Despite this, I don’t believe the more recent dub that Manga did in 2000, is any better. Granted the Streamline version uses an altered script from the original Japanese version, but I think the voice acting and even the dialogue is better as an English dub of an anime compared to the later version. Some of the voices in the Manga version are a lot more gruff and raspy, which doesn’t sound right.

What I found really interesting about the story is that, when you think about it, a young and adventurous guy trying to protect a young and shy girl, who is actually a member of a Royal Family, from a slimy political man, who is also technically a member of the same Royal Family, who wants her for a piece of jewellery which holds a key to some source of great wealth and power. It makes me think that the plot here bears some striking resemblance to a later epic from Miyazaki, Laputa: Castle of the Sky. Even the princess Clarisse and the Count’s designs and characters also share similarities to later Miyazaki characters. Many fans of the franchise consider this the best Lupin film to date and it’s easy to see why. You don’t need to be a Lupin fan to enjoy this film, I only knew of Lupin when I first saw this. My only real problem is that the romance between Lupin III and Clarisse seems tact on and there are one or two plot holes, mainly involving Jigen and Goemon. Other than those problems, this is a really fun film, and it was a great debut of the great animator Hayao Miyazaki.

The Castle of Cagliostro is available from Manga Entertainment and Optimum Releasing. The previous anime film, “The Secret of Mamo”, directed by Sōji Yoshikawa, is also available from Manga Entertainment. A third film titled “Legend of the Gold Babylon”, directed by Seijun Suzuki and Shigetsugu Yoshida, was available from AnimEigo but apparently it is currently available from Walt Disney, a fourth film titled “Farewell to Nostradamus” directed by Shunya Itō, is available from FUNimation. The first and a later third season of Lupin III are apparently not available officially in western areas, but the second season was available from Geneon. The original and a later manga subtitled “World’s Most Wanted”, both by Monkey Punch, are available from Tokyopop.