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Studio Ghibli Reviews (Mark 2)
This is the second incarnation of my review of Studio Ghibli (and Ghibli-related) films (the original thread was lost with the overhaul/update). Here's a list of films below:

- The Little Norse Prince (Hols, Prince of the Sun)
- Panda, Go Panda!/Panda, Go Panda: The Rainy-Day Circus
- Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro *
- Chie the Brat
- Gauche the Cellist
- Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind *
- Laputa: The Castle in the Sky *
- Grave of the Fireflies/My Neighbour Totoro
- Kiki's Delivery Service *
- Only Yesterday
- Porco Rosso *
- Ocean Waves (I Can Hear the Sea)
- Pom Poko
- Whisper of the Heart *
- Princess Mononoke *
- My Neighbours the Yamadas
- Spirited Away
- The Cat Returns
- Howl's Moving Castle (based on the Diana Wynne Jones novel)
- Tales from Earthsea
- Iblard Time
- Ponyo
- Arrietty *
- From Up on Poppy Hill *
- The Wind Rises
- The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
- When Marnie Was There
Titles in Bold have already been reviewed.
Edited by sweevo on 05 October 2015 23:50:21
I'll start this new version with a review of Iblard Time.

1. Iblard Time (2007) (Video)

A half-hour direct-to-video animated short film reminiscent of Disney's Fantasia. It has no plot or dialogue, instead it is a series of "moving" paintings by Naohisa Inoue (who also directed this short film) set in an imaginary world called "Iblard", accompanied by music composed and performed by Kiyonori Matsuo.

A therapeutic addition to Studio Ghibli's catalogue, this title is only available (officially) in Japan, so to get a copy, you'll have to purchase and import a DVD/Blu-ray Disc or peer-to-peer it. I give it 5 out of 5 stars because of its brevity and tranquillity. I can watch/listen to it over and over again. Smile

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars
Edited by sweevo on 14 January 2014 01:49:52
2. Only Yesterday (1991)

The story focuses on an office worker named Taeko Okajima who goes on holiday to the countryside to take some time off from city life. During her temporary exodus, she reflects on her life as a child, growing up in Tokyo under the rule of her belligerent older sister, iron-willed mother and calm and almost frighteningly logical (and possibly autocratic) father. Taeko eventually reaches a crossroads in her life where she must choose what's best for her.

This is one of Ghibli's more controversial efforts in the sense that it's a realistic drama set in the real world, and it is targeted at a niche audience - in this case, an adult female audience - it is directed by Isao Takahata, who showcases his talent for realism and authenticity here. The film in itself is one of his better efforts (even if it risks alienating all but the most die-hard of Ghibli and anime fans), but the ending sequence will leave you with a sense of peace and tranquillity if you can make it to the final credits.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for some superfluous content which makes the film slightly longer than necessary.
Edited by sweevo on 19 May 2014 18:38:19
3. Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Based on the eponymous manga by Monkey Punch, this film chronicles the efforts of gentleman thief Arséne Lupin III as he tries to rescue a damsel in distress from an overbearing regent who intends to marry her to inherit a hidden treasure. Aided by his longtime friends - gunman Daisuke Jigen and Samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII - Lupin discovers the source of the World's counterfeit money and must rescue the girl while evading his longtime adversary - Police Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol - and resisting the charms of his on/off friend/rival/lover - femme fatale Fujiko Mine.

This is the first feature film to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who also worked on the Lupin III TV series from the 1970s with Isao Takahata. One can clearly see the genesis of Miyazaki's story and direction style, not to mention his visual trademarks (lovely landscaping, a strong female protagonist and an aviation-based event/vehicle). Criticised upon its original release, it has now become a cult classic and has earned its place among the best of anime. Storyline is not-so-unique but handled very well, characters are true to form despite a change in Lupin's personality (in the manga and TV series, he is more of a chivalrous pervert while in this film he is portrayed as a noble gentleman), and it's a great film for all ages. Smile

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars
4. The Ocean Waves (I Can Hear the Sea) (1993) (TV Movie)

Based on the romantic novel "Umi Ga Kikoeru" (I Can Hear the Sea), the story follows college student Taku Morisaki as he reflects on his final year of high school, when a rich and seemingly spoiled girl named Rikako Muto transfers to his school, turning his life upside down and affecting his relationship with his best friend Yutaka Matsuno in the process.

An interesting slice-of-life drama made by the younger generation of Ghibli staff, this will certainly evoke a few memories of nostalgia and reminiscence of the last days of school, transitioning from youth to adulthood - directed by Tomomi Mochizuki.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile

5. Tales from Earthsea (2006)

Based on the original Earthsea Trilogy of novels by Ursula K Le Guin, this film is primarily an adaptation of the third and final chapter, "The Farthest Shore". A young man named Arren befriends a wizard named Sparrowhawk as the two of them try to restore the Balance of the World for the sake of all men... and dragons, who once coexisted with men in peace and harmony. With the help of a mysterious young girl named Therru and her carer Tenar, Sparrowhawk must face his old enemy, Lord Cob, and help Arren overcome his greatest fear and worst enemy - himself.

This is the first film directed by Goro Miyazaki, eldest son of Hayao Miyazaki. This film had such a troubled production that neither father nor son were on friendly terms during development, although they eventually reconciled at the film's ill-fated Japanese prémiere (Japanese society considers honesty and sincerity more important than success). Despite its lackluster reception, it is a decent (but not perfect) adaptation of the Earthsea fantasy series.

Final Score: 3 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for inconsistent plot development and another star off for biting off more than it could chew.
Edited by sweevo on 15 January 2014 00:26:37
6. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Set during the end of World War 2, the story focuses on two orphans - Seita, the son of an Imperial Navy officer, and his much younger sister Setsuko. After they lose their mother in an air raid, Seita and Setsuko go to live with a distant aunt of theirs - from there on in, things quickly turn sour as the aunt becomes increasingly hostile towards the orphans, prompting Seita to leave with Setsuko and take up residence in a nearby shelter. However, Setsuko's health begins to deteriorate quickly, making it harder for Seita to keep himself and his sister alive, not knowing if his father is dead or alive.

This film is based on a short-story sharing the same title, written by Akiyuki Nosaka, who, along with his younger sister, lived through World War 2, where she ultimately met the same fate as Setsuko. Nosaka (the real-life equivalent to Seita), wrote the story as a means to apologise to his late sister for failing her and to help him overcome the tragedy. The film is written and directed by Isao Takahata and is done in his signature style - realism in lieu of fantastical elements. Originally paired with My Neighbour Totoro on its original 1988 release, it was often overlooked as a film due to its grim subject matter. A work of art and a guaranteed tearjerker, this is a film you must see at least once.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars.

7. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Set in the 1950s in rural post-war Japan, two girls - Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe - relocate to a country house with their father, a university professor, to be nearer to their ill mother. The girls encounter Totoro, a forest spirit who helps them cope with the difficult time they are going through and also to help them enjoy the life they have as children, since adults apparently cannot interact with Totoro in the same capacity as children can, making friends on the way in the form of a "Catbus", an elderly woman known as Granny, who helps tend the house, and an eccentric boy named Kanta.

This is the film that made its writer and director Hayao Miyazaki a household name overseas, having established his talent in Japan. He takes all the basic elements of being a child and puts them together into a blender - it is a wonderful, magical, captivating story that anybody regardless of age, gender or philosophy on life can enjoy. Not entirely successful on its initial release (in large part due to its pairing with the polar opposite Grave of the Fireflies), it has since become a success with its related merchandise, making Totoro bigger in Japan than even the most famous of Walt Disney characters - Mickey Mouse. If you have children and want to have a film that everybody can enjoy, then this is the one.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 16 January 2014 00:58:00
8. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

A young witch named Kiki leaves home on what is presumed to be the night of her 13th birthday, along with her pet cat Jiji. According to witch tradition, witches must leave home at 13 for a mandatory year of independent life similar to an apprenticeship. Kiki reaches a town named Koriko, which she is all too eager to name her home away from home. With the help of a friendly baker named Osono and her husband Fuoko, Kiki learns what it means to be an independent adult while coping with the loss of her magic and gaining a new friend or two in the forms of a painter named Ursula and an eccentric aviation hobbyist named Tombo.

Based on the 1985 children's story by Eiko Kadono, it is a genuinely sweet, charming and touching story and a heartwarming film for all ages - children, adults and even the elderly will find something to like from this film - it's as if Hayao Miyazaki took all the best elements from My Neighbour Totoro (not that there were any worst elements to begin with) and turned them up to 11. I'd say that this is probably his best film of the 1980s, too. I love it.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile

9. Porco Rosso (1992)

This is the story of a former World War 1 hero who now bears the face of a pig, working as a bounty hunter under the pseudonym of "Porco Rosso" (Crimson Pig). Constantly at odds with the Mamma Aiuto gang, he is challenged by an American pilot named Donald Curtis. Determined to regain his lost pride and humanity, Porco joins forces with Fio Piccolo, a young engineer, in order to overcome his inner demons and regain the love of his childhood friend Gina.

This is probably the most realistic and accurate of Hayao Miyazaki's films, as the time period (circa 1930s pre-World War 2 Italy) is depicted in a VERY precise and meticulous fashion. It's a very unique film and it has a genuinely touching story as well, with themes of friendship and personal dignity. Unlike the 1980s, the 1990s would be dominated by other directors at Studio Ghibli. Another classic. Smile

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 17 January 2014 01:47:20
10. Pom Poko (1994)

A community of shape-shifting tanuki attempt to preserve their natural habitat by learning the art of shape-shifting, the end goal being to prevent urbanisation of their home environment. Among the tanuki are wise-woman Oroku, elder Abbot Tsurugame, group leaders Gonta and Seizaemon and recruits Shokichi, Bunta and Tamasaburo. Eventually resorting to help from the masters of shape-shifting - elders Yashimano Hage, Inugami Gyobu and Kincho Daimyojin VI, the tanuki face a difficult choice: Accept defeat and join the human world or continue fighting uphill and pray for a miracle.

This film draws VERY heavily on Japanese folklore, so it can be a bit "lost" on Western audiences. Story-wise, it is one of Ghibli's weaker efforts and it is also a little bit too long, relying more heavily on an unseen narrator (voice of Shincho Kokontei III) and feeling more like an extended episode of Animal Planet than a motion picture. Directed by Isao Takahata, this is probably his weakest film to date, and I only recommend it for purists and those seeking a complete collection.

Final Score: 3 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for lack of characterisation and story development and another star off for superfluous content, making it a little bit longer than necessary.

11. My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)

The Yamada family - father Takashi, mother Matsuko, grandmother Shige and two children - son Noboru and daughter Nonoko - go through various phases of life, dealing with minor and major problems one step at a time, from losing Nonoko in a department store to Noboru's first girlfriend, and Shige becoming aware of her own mortality. Nothing much else to say, just a series of loosely themed vignettes bookended by haikus from some popular Japanese poets, including Basho and a few others.

This was the last film Isao Takahata directed until 2013 with The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (it is also his last film before he retires). This film is based on the eponymous funny-paper strips found in Japanese newspapers, drawn and animated by Hisaichi Ishii. Amusing slice-of-life film which feels like an extended TV special rather than a motion picture and it suffers from the same fate as a lot of Isao Takahata's films - a little too long for their own good. All in all, good to watch sporadically, but hard to take in in a single sitting.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for too much filler/padding, contributing to its slightly long runtime.
Edited by sweevo on 18 January 2014 13:16:34
12. The Little Norse Prince (Hols, Prince of the Sun) (1968)

A young boy named Hols learns from his dying father that he must go forth and return to his people after Hols recovers an unusual sword from a stone giant named Mogue. Settling in a village, he rescues a lonely girl called Hilda, who seems to be under the influence of a strange demon named Grunwald, who is terrorising the village. It will take all of Hols's strength and willpower and the help of the villagers to free Hilda from her curse and defeat Grunwald.

This is the first film directed by Isao Takahata and scripted/animated mainly by Hayao Miyazaki, when they were working for Toei Animation. The film had a troubled production - 8 months eventually became 3 years, and upon its theatrical release, it was played for only 10 days before Toei Animation withdrew it for unknown reasons. A critical success but commercial failure, Takahata and Miyazaki were let go from Toei. While not necessarily their finest hour, one can see the genesis of what would become both men's key trademarks and signature styles in the later years of their careers.

Final Score: 3 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for nothing happening during the best part of the film, and another star off for the abrupt and rushed climax.

13. Ponyo (2008)

A fish named Brunhilde escapes from the ocean residence of her father, a wizard named Fujimoto (with the help of her sisters). Arriving on the surface, Brunhilde is rescued by a boy named Sosuke, who renames her Ponyo. When the balance of nature is thrown out of control, a catastrophe arises and Fujimoto is forced to take action, calling upon a Goddess of the Sea, who is also Ponyo's mother. Fujimoto the wizard must find Sosuke and Ponyo before all Hell breaks loose on the Earth.

VERY loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's classic story "The Little Mermaid", this was the last film directed by Hayao Miyazaki until "The Wind Rises" in 2013. The story is not as engaging as many of his efforts (in terms of story, it is probably on par with "My Neighbour Totoro" and, to a lesser extent, "Kiki's Delivery Service"Wink, but the animation is fluid and the characters are all unique and fun to watch.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 19 January 2014 02:00:31
14. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Middle school student and avid bookworm Shizuku Tsukushima is studying for her high school entrance examinations when she discovers a boy named Seiji Amasawa has been borrowing the same library books as her. With the help of a kindly shop owner named Mr Nishi, who is also Seiji's grandfather, and with the support of her best friend Yuko Harada, Shizuku decides to write a story in an effort to learn and discover who she really is and what she is capable of, even if it means compromising her grades.

Based on the 1989 manga of the same name, this film is the first theatrical Studio Ghibli film to be directed by somebody other than Hayao Miyazaki (who wrote the screenplay) or Isao Takahata - in the director's chair is Yoshifumi Kondo (1950-1998) in his only directorial effort. The story is true to life and anybody who has either been in love or struggling to balance fun with responsibility as a youth can relate to Shizuki and Seiji. Kondo passed away in 1998 of a brain aneurysm from working himself to death. This film is a testament to his talent and what could have happened had he taken over from Miyazaki and Takahata.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile

15. The Cat Returns (2002)

Haru, a high school girl, is unknowingly sucked into a situation where she is betrothed to a feline Prince after she saves a cat's life. Desperate for help, she turns to Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (a feline statuette and the protagonist to Shizuku's story in "Whisper of the Heart", implying this is Shizuku's story, making this a sort-of sequel) and his friends - a raven named Toto and a large cat named Muta, they must work together to help save Haru from a fate worse than death... a lifetime as Felis Sapiens.

Directed by Hiroyuki Morita and based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi, this is the second theatrical Studio Ghibli film not directed by Miyazaki or Takahata. It's a very unique story in the Ghibli catalogue - fun for children, amusing for adults. This is one of the shortest films in the studio's repertoire (1 hour and 15 minutes - "Ocean Waves" being the shortest by only 5 minutes) and is worth at least one watch.

Final Score - 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 20 January 2014 02:01:44
16. Spirited Away (2001)

Preteen girl Chihiro Ogino, on her way to a new house and new life, ventures into what appears to be a theme park of sorts with her curious parents. Upon seeing that the theme park is a gateway to a parallel universe - a spirit world - Chihiro is trapped and must find her way home, seeking employment from a witch named Yubaba, who renames her "Sen". With the help of a kindly wizard named Haku and the ambiguous personality of a spirit known as No-Face, Chihiro must grow up and summon all her courage and confidence if she is to find her parents and escape alive.

This is the film that made Hayao Miyazaki super-famous Worldwide. It is considered to be his magnum opus and can appeal to a wide range of audiences and age groups - a cross between "Pan's Labyrinth" with some elements of "Hellraiser" and parts of Japanese folklore, it is not necessarily scary, but there are some moments which will seem disquieting, especially to younger viewers.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for some over-the-top bizarreness and difficulty translating the Japanese folklore to a Western audience.

17. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

A young girl named Sophie is cursed into a state of senescence by the Witch of the Waste. Seeking out a solution for her condition, she stumbles upon the bipedal castle of an eccentric wizard named Howl, where Calcifer, the resident demon who powers the castle, will help her break free of her curse on the condition that Sophie figures out the genesis of the demon's relationship with Howl.

Based on the 1986 novel by Diana Wynne Jones, it is not necessarily a strict adaptation. While the first half follows the story of the book fairly closely, the second half is where it deviates into its own original story - this may be an issue for some purists, but one has to understand that in a film by Hayao Miyazaki, there are no true antagonists... almost all of his films, anyway. As a fan of the book, I like the new turn the anime adaptation took, and as a fan of Miyazaki's work, it's a fun and entertaining ride. I like it.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 23 January 2014 08:54:52
18. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Set in a post-apocalyptic future 1000 years after an event known as the Seven Days of Fire, a princess named Nausicaa tries to understand the Sea of Decay (or "Toxic Jungle" in some releases) which envelops her kingdom, the Valley of the Wind. Aided by Mito, her guardian, Asbel, the prince of the neighbouring kingdom of Pejite and Master Yupa, a swordsman and wise man revered for his combat skills and intelligence, Nausicaa must save her kingdom from the opposing forces of Tolmekia, who wish to use a Giant Warrior to save the forest by destroying the source of the Sea of Decay, despite opposition from a legion of giant caterpillar-like creatures known as "Ohmu".

This is the film that marked the genesis of Studio Ghibli. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and based on his eponymous manga which ran from 1982 to 1994 and produced by Isao Takahata, this film spent 3 months on its original 1984 release in Japanese cinemas and was a critical AND commercial success. It was released in the US and Canada in 1985 in a truncated version known as "Warriors of the Wind", which cut out approximately a third of the film and dubbed it poorly - the complete version was finally released in 2005 on DVD. It is an environmentalist's wet dream with an almost nauseatingly perfect protagonist, but without it, there would be no Ghibli.

Final Score: 3 out of 5 stars - 1 star off for a predictable plot and perfect protagonist and another star off for underdeveloped secondary characters.

19. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Set in the Muromachi era of Feudal Japan, a prince named Ashitaka becomes infected with a fatal curse after defeating a wild boar-god named Nago. With only his elk Yakkul for company, Ashitaka ventures into the open world, where he encounters a wolf-princess (human, raised by wolves) named San, and Lady Eboshi, the leader of a town with an industrial foundry run primarily by women. Ashitaka finds himself locked in a deadly conflict between humans and animals, with the Deer God (or "Spirit of the Forest" in some releases) as judge, jury and executioner.

A spiritual sequel and thematic successor to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, this film takes the elements that made the earlier film a success and takes them up to 11 while expanding the overall scope and themes. This time, all the major characters get a fair share of screen time, and its protagonist - Ashitaka - is far less perfect and more fallible, and more human than Nausicaa. It is the film that made Hayao Miyazaki famous in the US (he was already fairly successful in Europe at this point), and explores the theme of the relationship between Man and Nature more effectively than its thematic predecessor. I dare say that this is his best film of the 1990s.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 22 January 2014 01:32:53
20. Arrietty (2010)

Arrietty, a micro-dwarf of a human being about the height of a Smurf, lives with her parents - calm and rational father Pod and anxious and hysterical mother Homily - underneath a house in a suburban Japanese city. One day, a boy named Sho takes up temporary residence in the house with his cat Niya, aided by his grandmother Sadako and the housekeeper Haru. Arrietty unknowingly reveals her species' existence to Sho, prompting the family to move house with the aid of a micro-dwarf of a hunter-gatherer named Spiller. However, as the moment draws near, Arrietty and Sho gradually form a close friendship which will change their lives forever.

Based on Mary Norton's novel "The Borrowers", this is a genuinely touching and entertaining story written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who, with Hayao's son, Goro, is slated to succeed the elder Miyazaki and Isao Takahata upon their retirements. It is much closer and faithful to the original story than the American live-action adaptation and it has themes of friendship, xenophobia and survival at heart. What is interesting about this film is that TWO English-language audio tracks were made, one for the US and Canada filled to the brim with A-list celebrities, and another for the UK, Europe and Oceania with some VERY recognisable British performers. This was originally going to be the final Studio Ghibli film due to the studio's financial issues at the time, but its success guaranteed a bright future.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile

21. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

It is the 1960s and Tokyo is preparing to host the Olympic Games. High school girl Umi Matsuzaki lives in and operates a boarding house in Yokohama, raising flags every morning to help the incoming and outgoing ships out of the harbour. Upon learning that the boys' clubhouse at her academy - the Latin Quarter - is to be demolished to make way for a venue for the Olympics, she meets with the clubhouse's most prominent member, a boy named Shun Kazama. A mass restoration is organised in an attempt to save the clubhouse from demolition takes place, with the help of the entire student body. At the same time, Umi receives news that Shun is actually adopted - news which may or may not make them siblings.

Based on the 1980 graphic novel of the same name and written by Hayao Miyazaki, this is the second film directed by Goro Miyazaki and is a huge, HUGE improvement over the lacklustre and lackadaisical "Tales from Earthsea". It is a down-to-earth drama depicting post-WW2 Japan in a real and genuine way. It has a touching story and two main characters who can easily represent almost any of us as adolescents. This film takes all the strongest points of "Only Yesterday", "Ocean Waves" and "Whisper of the Heart" and fuses them together into a single perfect narrative, proof that Studio Ghibli can do realism as well as fantasy, and evidence that the younger Miyazaki is more than capable of succeeding his famous father.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Edited by sweevo on 04 June 2016 23:22:23
22. Laputa: The Castle in the Sky (1986)

A young boy named Pazu inadvertently gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse when he rescues a girl named Sheeta, who possesses a magic crystal sought after by a group of pirates led by the matriarchal Captain Dola and a mysterious government official named Colonel Muska. With the government AND military on their heels, Pazu and Sheeta decide to work with the pirates in order to find Laputa, a floating island which is believed to have technology so advanced it could determine the ultimate fate of the world. It's a race against time - who will get there first; Pazu and Sheeta with the pirates to plunder the treasure, or will Colonel Muska arrive first and bring about Hell on Earth?

This is the first film to be officially released under the Studio Ghibli title and is considered to be THE definitive Hayao Miyazaki film of the 1980s, and is often the first one a lot of people usually see. There have been rumours of an extended cut running at 3 hours, but so far, no evidence has surfaced. The story is unique, the characters are fun to watch and intriguing, and the musical score just accentuates the atmosphere. This film was also shown on the British TV channel ITV in the late 1980s/early 1990s in an edited form under the title "Laputa: The Flying Island". If you don't know where to begin with Studio Ghibli or anime in general... then this one's a good place to start.

Final Score: ... 6 out of 5 stars - that's right!! Smile Smile
23. Chie the Brat (1981)

A preteen girl named Chie Takemoto residing in Osaka spends her time alternating between going to school and managing a restaurant of sorts on behalf of her less-than-perfect father Tetsu, who spends half his time gambling and the other half making up lies to get money so he can gamble. One day, Chie takes in and befriends a cat named Kotetsu, who turns out to be her best friend in the story as she tries to reunite her mother Yoshie with Tetsu, who ends up working for a now-reformed ex-casino boss, the death of whose cat Antonio prompted a change of life. With the help of her teacher, Mr Wataru Hanai and his father Kenkotsu - who remembers Tetsu from his own past - Chie's life unravels for better and for worse.

Based on a manga and funny paper, this film is directed by Isao Takahata, and this is one of his better efforts. The original choice of director was Hayao Miyazaki, having proven his worth with Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro 2 years earlier. Miyazaki, however, declined, stating that he would have made the cats the protagonists as opposed to the human characters. This film was quite well-received and even spawned a television series running at 64 episodes featuring the original voice actors - the TV series, however, was not as well received as this theatrical feature film. Fun story, fun characters, just general all-around fun film.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
24. Gauche the Cellist (1982)

Set in early 20th Century Europe, a cellist named Gauche struggles to keep in time with his orchestra, earning him a series of reprimands from his conductor, who announces they are due to play a concert in the coming days, featuring a performance of Beethoven's 6th Symphony in F Major (The Pastoral Symphony). Over the next few nights, Gauche is unknowingly aided by various animals - a cat, a mouse, an owl and even a raccoon - as they help him understand what it really means to play music, resulting in the cellist going so far as to perform a solo act as an encore on the day of the concert in the form of "Tiger Hunt in India".

Based on the 1934 short story by Kenji Miyazawa, this film is written and directed by Isao Takahata, with music by Michio Mamiya (who would later work with Takahata 6 years later on Grave of the Fireflies) and produced by Koichi Murata, this is the third adaptation of the short story and by far the most well-known (albeit difficult to acquire on VHS or DVD). Running at 1 hour and 3 minutes, it is also the longest adaptation, and allows Takahata to showcase his talent for the realistic and humane characters portrayed within the story. This is probably one of his stronger efforts from the pre-Studio Ghibli era, and is often considered to be one of his best dramatic works next to Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
25. Panda! Go, Panda! (1972)

A film consisting of two short films loosely connected together. A 7-year-old girl named Mimiko is left home alone by her grandmother. Mimiko finds a baby panda named Panny in her home along with his father PapaPanda. The three of them become a family with Mimiko filling the dual role of daughter to PapaPanda and mother to Panny and they embark on fun adventures (and misadventures) together.

This film is a prototype to My Neighbour Totoro, evident from the design of the main characters - Mimiko is a fusion of Mei the younger sibling (with her braided hair) and Satsuki the elder sibling (with her protective attitude towards Panny), while PapaPanda himself is the primary model for Totoro. The first episode gives the film its title, while the second is known as "Panda! Go, Panda!: The Rainy-Day Circus" and was released in 1973 with the original crew on board once more - both films were directed by Isao Takahata and animated/scripted by Hayao Miyazaki. Fun for all ages.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Smile
Just watched Grave of the Fireflies with the family. Bit of a mistake really. There's no doubt it's a good film, but there is little to enjoy about it, because of the subject matter. The fortunes of the two main characters go from bad to worse and I found it very depressing and weepy. I don't think watching with the children was a good idea either. My own fault really, I should have read the review more thoroughly before watching.
GARETH THOMAS: Paul is a very generous man, as a human being and as an actor. The programme couldn’t have been made if we hadn’t got on. Our working relationship was magic.
Perhaps it is one of those films you want to see at least once, but no more than twice (I've sat through it three times and wept each time). Perhaps its polar opposite My Neighbour Totoro may help alleviate the dark atmosphere?
sweevo wrote:

Perhaps it is one of those films you want to see at least once, but no more than twice (I've sat through it three times and wept each time). Perhaps its polar opposite My Neighbour Totoro may help alleviate the dark atmosphere?

Yes I think you're right!
GARETH THOMAS: Paul is a very generous man, as a human being and as an actor. The programme couldn’t have been made if we hadn’t got on. Our working relationship was magic.
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