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Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date:  July 1, 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Porco Rosso © Studio Ghibli‘Porco Rosso’ is the strangest movie in Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography. The film eschews most laws of animated film story telling, seemingly just starting and ending in the middle of a bigger story.

Like ‘Laputa: island in the sky’ (1986) and the later ‘The Wind Rises’ (2013) the film is clearly born out of Miyazaki’s love for planes. Like ‘Laputa’ ‘Porco Rosso’ is set in an alternative history Europe (this time the Adriatic sea ca. 1930), and features flying pirates.

The title character is an ex-war pilot with the face of a pig (why this is so is never really revealed). Porco Rosso now is a bounty hunter, battling a federation of air pirates, and their leader, the American Curtis in particular, and secretly loving Gina, the owner of a hotel on an island.

Halfway the movie Porco has to take his injured plane to Milano to get it fixed. There he meets Fio, the young granddaughter of his old mecanic. There’s a vague sense of a Nazi threat, but this is hardly played out. The story evolves around Porco’s return to the Adriatic and final battle with Curtis.

The overal atmosphere is light and comical, but there are a few touching moments, especially between Porco and Fio. Typically for Miyazaki, the film features strong women, and women and children working (Porco’s plane is set together by a crew of women, only).

The animation is outstanding throughout, although it seems the animators didn’t do their best to lip-synch. Most interesting are the scenes of Porco’s take off and flight back to the Adriatic, which feature some spectacular animated backgrounds.

Watch the trailer for ‘Porco Rosso’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Porco Rosso’ is available on DVD

Director: Kunio Katō
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The House of Small Cubes © Robot CommunicationsIn ‘The House of Small Cubes’ (better known by its french title ‘La maison en petits cubes’) an old man lives in an almost abandoned town, flooded by an ever rising sea level.

Each time the level reaches his doorstep, he builds another level on top of the former one. One day his pipe falls down into a former home. The man dives to retrieve his pipe, but also into his own memories. By diving into ever deeper levels the old man remembers his deceased wife, his former family, and even the times before the flood began.

‘The House of Small Cubes’ is a gentle and sweet little movie on memory and loss. Despite being made in Japan, nothing in the film looks Japanese, and the short’s surreal but moving story is by all means universal. The film thus rightfully won the 2008 Academy Award for best animated short film.

Watch ‘The House of Small Cubes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The House of Small Cubes’ is available on the DVD Box ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 9’ and on the French DVD box set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e anniversaire’

 

 

Director: Makoto Shinkai
Release Date: March 3, 2007
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

5 Centimeters per Second © Co‘5 Centimeters per Second’ is a rather original love story in three parts. Central character is high school student Takaki, whose love interest Akari, moves from Tokyo to Iwafune, a distance three hours by train.

The first part consists of Akari’s voice over reading her letters to Takaki, accompanied by a lightning rapid montage of images of Takaki and his memories to his girl. When, after a year of exchanging letters, Takaki is about to move to the South himself, he decides to make a one time visit to Akari. This train journey through a snow storm, which delays him for no less than four hours forms the emotional highlight of the film. Nevertheless, Takaki and Akari are reunited in Iwafune, only to have to part again.

The second part is set in Tanegashima, a small island in the far South of Japan, and although set in October, its sunny images form a welcome contrast to the snowy images of the first part. This part is told by Kanae, who’s secretly in love with Takaki, but never able to tell him that. Like the first part, the second part ends with an opportunity lost.

The third part is set in Tokyo again. This part is the shortest, the most fragmentary, and the least satisfactory of the three. Sadly this episode shows that Takaki hasn’t really learned to love and to allow others near him, still longing for something else. Akari is seen, too, but her ‘story’ is touched on so little it could well be missed. Added to Takaki’s admirers is yet another girl, who is hardly seen, but as he declines her calls, her pain and loneliness are certainly felt. The episode ends with images set to the rock ballad ‘One More Time, One More Chance’ (1997) by Masayoshi Yamazaki, unknown to us Western viewers, but apparently instantly recognizable to the Japanese audience, and adding to the film’s nostalgic feel. The film ends undefined, and with its mere sixty minutes the feature feels a little incomplete.

Like many other Japanese anime, ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ needn’t necessarily be made with animation, as its characters and settings are highly realistic, and drawn from everyday life. But as it is animated, one can only marvel at Shinkai’s beautiful and engaging images. ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ is a story about distance and love, but despite being a story of emotions, the character designs and human animation, both by Takayo Nishimura, are not very impressive: the character designs are very generic, while the facial expressions never reach enough subtlety to draw one into the character.

No, the real emotional story is told almost exclusively by the background art. This film uses a multitude of shots, often lasting only a fraction of seconds, and in its in these extraordinarily beautiful images that Shankai tells his tale. Indeed, many of these images he drew himself. The images are highly realistic, but as Shankai tells in the interview included in the DVD, they’re drenched in emotional memory, and they’re never neutral. And neither is his staging or cutting, which are both highly original. All these background images, with their glorious colors and superb lighting (made in Photoshop) give the film its unique and poetic character.

With ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ Shankai proved to be a new important voice in the Japanese animation field, a reputation he steadied with his next films, ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices’ (2011) and most notably, ‘Your Name’ (2016), which also deals with distance and love.

Watch ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: UrumaDelvi
Release Date: 2005
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio © UrumaDelvi‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ does not have much of a story: Mr. Calpaccio goes to work, even flies to another place to work there, and returns home to do some shopping and outdoor eating with his family. That’s about it.

But boy, the looks of this cartoon! ‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ boasts a completely unique style, with circus-like designs with stark black and white contrasts, and no shading whatsoever. There’s a very strange mix of expressionism and genuine silliness. The cartoon simply bubbles with weird images and original animation cycles, to a psychedelic effect. The bubbly images are accompanied by a fitting circus-like musical score by Yoshiyuki Usui.

The world of Mr. Calpaccio, its dull subject notwithstanding, is a magical place, a place of wonder. And this little gem by UrumaDelvi (a rather mysterious Japanese couple) by all means deserves to be seen. It’s a pity the film cannot be found online.

‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Sanae Yamamoto
Release Date: 1942
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

The Animal Village in Trouble © Sanae Yamamoto‘The Animal Village in Trouble’ tells the tale of three families: the monkeys, the bears and the raccoon dogs.

The monkeys’ family is very large, and hard to feed. But when a storm breaks out, it’s the only family that manages to protect its home. Moreover, the monkeys save the other two families from drowning. Is this a message to the audience to produce more offspring in times of war?

This film is essentially silent, with a voice over. The designs are quite elegant, and more clearly Japanese than usual in pre-war/wartime anime. The animation is mostly fair, with the storm scene in particular being quite spectacular. Also interesting is the occurrence of metamorphosis, a rarity in prewar/wartime Japanese animation: one raccoon dog transforms itself into an alarm clock, while another changes into a bridge at one point.

Sanae Yamamoto (1898-1981) came into prominence as an animator in the 1920s. In the 1950s he would join the Tōei animation studio, where he became supervising animator until his retirement in 1967.

Watch ‘The Animal Village in Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://www.senscritique.com/film/Doubutsu_Mura_no_Daisodou/21070972

‘The Animal Village in Trouble’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Yoshitaro Kataoka
Release Date: 1942
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Sankichi the Monkey The Air Combat © Yoshitaro KataokaWith ‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ we’re clearly in propaganda area. The film’s motto says it all: “Protect our sky! The best defense is offense!”.

In the film the monkeys (Japan) are attacked by an air squadron of bears (Soviet Union). The monkeys shoot the bears out of the sky by the dozen, and win the day. But the film warns the audience: ‘There still are other enemies. We must protect our sky!”.

The film’s message, as if Japan were threatened by other nations and had to be aggressive out of defense, is sickening. When the film was released, in 1942, Japan was already the cruel occupier of most of South East Asia, an aggressor on a scale only matched by Nazi Germany.

‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ is a silent film, and the animation is poor and old-fashioned. In fact, the film looks like as if it had been made in 1929, not 1942. At least the short sheds a light on how the military government sold its actions to the Japanese public: with lies and seeds of fear. And while in 1945 the Soviet Union did declare war on Japan (on August 9, after the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Japan was on the brink of collapse), the Soviet air attack never materialized.

Watch ‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: unknown
Release Date: 1940
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Baby Kangaroo's Birthday Surprise‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ tells about the birthday of Kan-Chan, the youngest kangaroo in a family of five.

All goes well, until a hungry wolf arrives. The wolf eats all the food, and kidnaps Kan-Chan to eat him as well. The family comes to the rescue, aided by a troupe of moles, who dig a bunch of holes into the wolf’s hut. They taunt and finally bind him, so the family of kangaroos can reunite.

‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ is a silent film, but the animation is more advanced than in contemporary Japanese films, incorporating various lessons from Disney animation (squash and stretch, follow-through etc.). The wolf is clearly modeled on Disney’s wolf from ‘Three Little Pigs‘, and he’s animated best, probably because of the more sophisticated source material.

Watch ‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Ikuo Ōishi
Release Date: 1939
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Swim, Monkey, Swim © Ikuo Ōishi‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ tells about monkey, who learns to swim, and immediately joins a swimming contest.

The monkey wins by cheating, riding a ‘water imp’. In the end he succeeds in “cheating the others, but not his heart”.

‘Swim Monkey Swim’ is a primitive film, with the designs and animation looking like an Aesop Fable from the 1920s. Indeed, Ōishi was a Japanese animation pioneer, already making films in the 1910s. But if this film really was made 1939, it seems he had little learned since. The designs are nice and readable, but the film’s timing is too slow, rendering endless footage of the race. With its ten minutes the film is overlong and overstays its welcome.

Watch ‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Unknown
Release Date: 1938
Stars: Mabō
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita © Satō Film Production Works‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ is the sixth of twelve Mabō films, produced by Satō Film Production Works.

Mabō is a young boy, and in this film he plays Kinoshita Tōkichirō, the legendary pseudonym of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century Samurai warrior. The film reenacts some scenes from Hideyoshi’s life, most probably instantly recognizable for Japanese viewers, but, alas, not for us Westerners. Some of the reenactments involve modern warfare like machine guns and tanks, a clear sign of the ever growing militarization of Japanese society at the time, even invading children’s films like this.

The animation is a strange mix of 1920s animation and more modern techniques, and some of the battle scenes are most impressive. The designs even look forward to postwar anime. But none of the animation matches the dialogue, and lip synch is nowhere to be seen.

Watch ‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Yasuji Murata
Release Date: January 31, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Larks' Moving Day © Yokohama Cinema ShokaiIn ‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ we follow a family of anthropomorphized larks who live in a cornfield.

The owner of the cornfield plans to harvest, but first asks his neighbors, then his relatives to help him. Father lark isn’t impressed: as long as the farmer keeps asking others, he will not harvest, and thus their home will not be in peril. Only when the farmer exclaims ‘we’ll do it ourselves’, the lark family moves from the field to a safer area. Thus father lark’s moral to the audience is ‘You can’t do a job, until you stop relying on others and do it yourself’.

This silent film is one of Murata’s more enjoyable films, as his elegant drawing style is on full display. The animation, too, is superb, even if it’s limited. The short shows once again that Murata was the undisputed leader in the field.

Watch ‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Teizô Katô
Release Date: October 22, 1932
Rating:
Review:

The Plane Cabby's Lucky Day © Kyoryoku Eigasha-Marvel GraphSurprisingly, the story of ‘The Plane Cabby’s Lucky Day’ takes place in the far future of 1980. By then the animals have inherited the earth, as people have taken the skies. Thus the film first takes place in an urban landscape of endless skyscrapers.

Unfortunately, the aimless story of a young flying cab driver soon hits more traditional settings, when the cab driver crashes on an island with talking animals etc. Moreover, Cabby’s behavior is shown to be very traditional, as he takes good care of his mother and helps a wounded bird. The story’s moral is that charity is a good investment.

Director-animator Teizo Kato was a newcomer in Japanese animation and it shows. His animation is incredibly primitive, and akin to American studio films from the 1910s. His animation lacks all hints of weight or personality, and is tiresome to watch. The long and boring story doesn’t help either, resulting in one of the worst products of early Japanese animated cinema.

Watch ‘The Plane Cabby’s Lucky Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://cy.cyworld.com/home/22635133/post/4C403230C5957824B7388401

‘The Plane Cabby’s Lucky Day’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Directors: Yasuji Murata & Chuzo Aoji
Release Date: 1932
Rating:
★★
Review:

Sports Day at Animal Village © Yasuji Murata & Chuzo Aoji‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ is one of several sports cartoons Aoji and Murata made together (earlier examples are ‘Our Baseball Match’ and ‘Animal Sumo’ from 1931).

In this film we watch several sports events: monkeys turning, a judo match between a tiger and a lion, several polar bears and a hippo diving, a boxing match between a pig and a kangaroo, and finally, a tug-of-war between an elephant and numerous other animals.

There’s pretty little to enjoy in this lighthearted film, but it contains one nicely staged scene of a polar bear diving from a ridiculously high platform. However, the best animation is found in the tug-of-war scene, in which Murata manages to put a real sense of weight and muscle tension.

Watch ‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.

Directors: Yasuji Murata & Chuzo Aoji
Release Date:
 1932
Stars: Momotaro
Rating:
Review:

Momotaro's Underwater Adventure © Chuzo AojiAfter ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure‘ Aoji and Murata send Japan’s folk hero off in a military submarine to fight a large shark.

Like in his earlier film Momotaro is asked by others to do that, and the film vaguely seems to glorify the navy, even though it’s much less successful in doing so than Momotaro’s earlier nationalist film was for the air force: the film runs rather short, Murata’s 1920s style animation is not particularly exciting or convincing, and for today’s audiences it’s quite unsettling to watch the hero fighting a large fish with a surplus of warfare, including numerous torpedoes. The Japanese clearly had less difficulties with this slaughter. In any case, the hero, and his friends Monkey and Dog (Crane couldn’t join them as he can’t swim) are awarded as heroes at the end of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Momotaro’s Underwater Adventure’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Momotaro’s Underwater Adventure’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.

Director: Chuzo Aoji
Release Date:
 1931
Stars: Momotaro
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Momotaro's Sky Adventure © Chuzo AojiIn ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ (also known as ‘Aerial Momotaro’) Japanese animation pioneers Aoji and Yasuji Murata tell a tale about that great and friendly warrior from Japanese folklore, Momotaro, who had been brought to the animated screen by Takamasa Eigasha in ‘Momotaro the Undefeated’ (1928).

Surprisingly, Aoji and Murata move our hero into the present. Momotaro is visited by a couple of Antarctic island birds who call for help against an evil (American?) eagle. Together with his loyal friends, monkey, dog and pheasant, he flies to the remote island in a propeller plane, being fueled twice by birds on the way. When the quartet arrives, they battle the eagle in the air in an overlong fighting sequence, which at times is strangely reminiscent of a modern computer game. Momotaro finally decides to capture the fiend alive, and he’s celebrated as a hero by the grateful birds.

‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ is Japan’s very first propaganda cartoon. It shows an early form of nationalism and anti-Americanism. Momotaro would grow very popular during World War II, representing Japan in many wartime films, and starring Japan’s very first animated feature, ‘Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors’ (1945), commissioned by the Japanese navy. This transformation of the folk hero into a nationalistic figure begins with this cartoon from 1931. Indeed, ultra-nationalism and militarism overtook Japan in the early 1930s, which e.g. resulted in the annexation of Manchuria in the summer of 1931.

Importantly, ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ shows Japan’s national hero as the military strong friend of its weaker neighbors. This portrait of Japan as a benevolent big brother to all other Asian nations was played out throughout Japan’s militaristic period, and this propaganda story indeed managed to delude people like for example those Malay who, when Japan invaded their country in 1941, at first welcomed the Japanese as liberators from colonial Britain, only to find them far worse oppressors than the British had ever been…

‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.

Director: Osamu Tezuka
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Legend of the Forest © Osamu Tezuka‘Legend of the Forest’ is Tezuka’s longest and most ambitious short film.

Like many of his films it shows Tezuka’s concern with environmental issues. However, foremost, this film is Tezuka’s answer to Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940). Based on the first and last movement of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony it portraits the fight of forest creatures against the demolition of their forest.

The first movement tells about the struggle of a lone flying squirrel against one lumberjack and against the jealous fellow-forest animals. This part is the most extraordinary for its diversity in styles. It is as if Tezuka wanted to show the evolution of animation itself within his emotional story. At first, the story is told in manga-images only. There’s no movement, even though the realistic images are very lively. The next episode is in Émile Cohl’s style, followed by a very convincing homage to Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914). This is followed by a scene in which the little squirrel looks like Otto Messmer’s Felix the Cat or as an early Disney character. This episode is particularly beautifully animated. When a man comes into the forest with a chainsaw, Tezuka’s jumps to the style of Fleischer’s Popeye, including Fleischer’s tabletop-technique for 3d effects.

It’s followed by the first episode in color, in which the squirrel finds a female companion. This part starts as a clear tribute to the very first animation film in technicolor, Disney’s ‘Flowers and Trees‘ (1932), but is mostly drawn like a 1940s cartoon. The final episode of the first part, in which the man shoots his girl and the squirrel sacrifices himself, is quite Bambi-like. Interestingly, throughout the episode, the backgrounds and the staging retain a typical anime-like character.

The second part, using the symphony’s final movement, is less impressing than the first part. It starts with a very Fantasia-like fairy scene, but when we watch very anime-like breasted foxes, we know we’re in a different film. This part tells how magical forest characters (including a few dwarfs) win a war over a forest from a Hitler-like foreman. This part in particular resonates in several Ghibli-films with similar themes, like ‘Pom Poko’ (1994) or ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997).

The complete film is an original and unique statement, which deserves to be much more famous than it actually is. Tezuka’s animated output was of a high quality anyhow, but this film may stand as a particularly artistic highlight within his extraordinary career.

Watch ‘Legend of the Forest’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Osamu Tezuka
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Muramasa © Osamu TezukaThis film is named after a medieval sword smith who made swords that were supposedly cursed, creating blood lust in its wielder and finally making him commit suicide.

The film is an illustration of this curse and of its own motto: “A man with arms which can kill people like puppets is not aware that he himself has already become a puppet”. For this dark anti-violence film Tezuka uses realistic imagery and limited animation, which make the film look a little like an animated comic.

The film’s visual language is utterly Japanese, accompanied by equally Japanese music. But its message is universal, and another example of Tezuka’s strong dislike of war and violence. Even if it is not amongst his most impressive works, the film still manages to deliver its dark message.

Watch ‘Muramasa’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Osamu Tezuka
Release Date: 1984
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Jumping © Osamu TezukaOsamu Tezuka is known as the founder of commercial animation in Japan, but he never lost sight of the artistic possibilities of animation.

No film of his shows this more clearly than ‘Jumping’, arguably the best film he ever made. In ‘Jumping’ we watch the world from the eyes of rope jumping girl. As the short progresses she jumps higher and higher, and further and further, even jumping to Africa, to a war-ridden country and into a mushroom cloud, straight into hell.

‘Jumping’ is not only strikingly original, it is very well-made with its constantly moving backgrounds, and as funny as it is disturbing in its finale. The mushroom cloud, the nightmare of man, but especially of the Japanese, the only nation to have experienced it, is a frightful sight, even in this animated short. Together with the girl, we sigh with relief when in the end of the film we return to the familiar and peaceful territory of our home street.

‘Jumping’ maybe a clear product of the cold war era, its impact is still at work today, and its message still as significant.

Watch ‘Jumping’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: various
Release Date: June 3, 2003
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The enormous success of ‘The Matrix’ (1999) not only spawned two sequels, but also a direct-to-video release with several animation films, expanding the film’s theme and providing some background history.

‘The Animatrix’ is an American/Japanese/South Korean co-production and consists of nine parts, produced by four different animation film studios (Square, Studio 4°C, Madhouse Studios and DNA). The nine parts differ a lot in style, content and quality, and the end result is pretty uneven to say the least. However, for fans of ‘The Matrix’ it contains very welcome background material to The Matrix universe.

The Animatrix - The Final Flight of the Osiris1. Final Flight of the Osiris
Director: Andy Jones
Rating★★★½

The first of the nine segments of The Animatrix is the most straightforward. It’s a dark action episode that tells what happened to the Osiris, a human vessel that shortly appears in ‘The Matrix’. The Square Studio, then already famous for the groundbreaking animation in ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ (2001), tops itself with for 2003 ultra-realistic computer animation, with human characters of a then unsurpassed realism. Especially its opening sequence, an erotic martial arts fight, is impressive and made many viewers doubt whether it was real or not they were looking at.

The Animatrix - The Second Renaissance2. & 3. The second Renaissance
Director: Mahiro Maeda
★★★½

Made by Studio 4°C and brought in two episodes, The Second Renaissance tells us what happened before the Matrix in an American anime-style. It uses a robotic female voice-over to tell us about a robotic revolution and a human-robot-war which ends in defeat for the human population, which is then used as an energy source for the robots. These episodes are the most satisfying as an addition to The Matrix trilogy.

The Animatrix - Kid's Story4. Kid’s Story
Director: 
Shinichirô Watanabe
Rating

‘Kid’s Story’ is the first of four episodes dealing with people who discover the matrix. This episode is about a teenager who doubts reality and who wakes up in the real world. The episode uses a very realistic, yet graphic style that is very American and rather ugly. Especially the animation (by Studio 4°C) is slow, unsightly and unsteady, making it one of the most unappealing parts of ‘The Animatrix’ to watch.

The Animatrix - Program5. Program
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Rating: ★★

‘Program’ is another weak entry in ‘The Animatrix’. Animated by Madhouse Studios and drawn in a rather American comics/anime-style and using sharp shades, it tells about a treacherous character trying to persuade a girl to join him in a Japanese samurai setting (the program the two are in). The whole episode is rather melodramatic and forgettable.

The Animatrix - World Record6. World Record
Director: Takeshi Koike
Rating: ★

By far the most unappealing of all episodes of ‘The Animatrix’, ‘World Record’, by Madhouse studios, is drawn in a a gruesomely ugly comics design to tell the story of an athlete who discovers the matrix and who has to pay for it.

The Animatrix - Beyond7. Beyond
Director: Kôji Morimoto
Rating:★★★★

Studio 4°C’s ‘Beyond’ is the third of four Animatrix episodes about people who discover the matrix, and it is easily the best of the lot. Set in Japan, it tells about a young woman, who is looking for her cat Yuki, and who’s led by some kids to a house where the ‘program’ has gone haywire, resulting in some wonderful surreal effects (like objects defying gravity). Unlike the rest, the episode has a lighthearted feel to it, which is enhanced by its appealing graphic anime design and its excellent animation, which makes clever use of 3D-effects. More than in any other part of the Animatrix one has the feeling that this episode is about real people in a real environment. The short is another showcase for Morimoto’s great direction skills, which he had already shown with the ‘Magnetic Rose’ sequence in the compilation feature ‘Memories‘ (1995).

The Animatrix - A Detective Story8. A Detective Story
Director: Shinichirô Watanabe
Rating: ★

‘A Detective Story’ is the fourth and last episode about people who discover the matrix. This episode is about a private detective and it uses all film noir cliches, including a very trite voice over. The nice black and white backgrounds evoke a forties atmosphere, even though the story is about hackers and chat rooms. But they cannot hide Studio 4°C’s very limited animation or the corny story, making ‘A Detective Story’ one of the weakest episodes of this package film.

The Animatrix - Matriculated9. Matriculated
Director:
Peter Chung
Rating: ★★★★

Penned and directed by Æon Flux-director Peter Chung and produced by the Korean DNA studio, ‘Matriculated’ is the most philosophical of the nine episodes of ‘The animatrix’. The story is set in the ‘real’ world. It deals with humans who try to make robots defending them by making them dream. Although its angular human designs are once again quite unattractive, this episode’s clever story makes it one of the highlights of ‘The Animatrix’.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Animatrix’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Kôji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura & Katsuhiro Otomo
Release Date: December 23, 1995
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Seven years after ‘Akira‘,  Katsuhiro Otomo returned to the animated screen with ‘Memories’, a package film, which impresses, but fails to reach the heights of ‘Akira’.

Based on his own short stories, ‘Memories’ consists of three unrelated parts: Magnetic Rose, Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder, which are discussed separately below.

Memories - Magnetic Rose © Katsuhiro OtomoMagnetic Rose
Director:
Kôji Morimoto
Rating★★★★

‘Magnetic Rose’ starts the Memories trilogy, and it’s arguably the feature’s most satisfying episode. It is the only part that clearly deals with memories (screenplay writer Satoshi Kon’s favorite future subject). In this episode a rescuing squad of space garbage collectors is ensnared in the memories of a long deceased opera singer, who still seems alive in her remote satellite home in space, blurring the boundaries of reality.

Even though the science fiction setting with its touches of horror is typical anime, the underlying drama is very mature and quite unique. This episode’s screenplay was penned by future director Satoshi Kon. Kon certainly established himself with this screenplay, and he would further explore the theme of memory and loss in ‘Millennium Actress’ (2001), and the blurring of reality and fantasy in both that film and ‘Paprika’ (2006) with even more spectacular results. Director Kôji Morimoto, meanwhile, would prove his worth in ‘Beyond’, the best episode of ‘The Animatrix‘ (2003).

In ‘Magnetic Rose’ the characters are from all over the world, and this is one of the few anime, in which the Japanese character looks distinctively Asian compared to the European characters.

Memories - Stink Bomb © Katsuhiro OtomoStink Bomb
Director:
Tensai Okamura
Rating★★★

‘Stink Bomb’ feels like a comical interlude between the two more serious outer episodes. The story is set in present day Japan and features a very stupid, but surprisingly indestructible protagonist who turns into a nonsensical lethal weapon. The story is simple: our ‘hero’ accidently swallows the wrong pills, wich turn him into a lethal weapon, sweating poisonous gasses that kill everything in sight. Although he remains unaware of this, he becomes the cause of the destruction of Japan. This story is rather silly, and there’s a lot of broad comic acting, but the short also has some disturbing undertones, with the fear of mass destruction weapons and corrupt governments played out well.

Memories - Cannon Fodder © Katsuhiro OtomoCannon Fodder
Director:
Katsuhiro Otomo
Rating: ★★★★½

Otomo himself directed the last and most beautiful sequence of Memories. This episode has an original graphic style that doesn’t resemble any other anime. The film is ‘shot’ in one long camera take (with a little bit of smuggling, but very impressive nonetheless) and deals with an alternative, distinctively European, world where a totalitarian military regime enters every aspect of life.

In this sequence we’re following a single family. They live in a city were all work and school is directed to the war with a mysterious and unseen moving city. This war is fought entirely by using cannons. Despite the caricatured humans, the atmosphere is hardly comical, but dark and disturbing. However, the drama is less engaging than in ‘Magnetic Rose’. Nonetheless, because of its unique style, and strict control of cinematography, ‘Cannon Fodder’ is a small masterpiece.

Watch the trailer for ‘Memories’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: July 20, 2001
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Spirited Away © Studio GhibliAfter several very fine films, like ‘My Neighbor Totoro‘ (1988) and ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997), Miyazaki tops himself with his masterpiece ‘Spirited Away’. This film single-handedly places him among the greatest masters of animation of all time.

The film depicts a strange and inexplicable, yet surprisingly complete fantasy world, with a conviction and originality that has rarely been seen since Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. At the same time, unlike several of Miyazaki’s earlier films, one feels that ‘Spirited away’ could only have been made in Japan. Its setting of a public bath, with its numerous gods and demi-gods, is totally Japanese.

Yet, its story about coming of age is universal as is its appeal. The little girl Chihiro (or Sen, as she’s called during most of the film) is the greatest of Miyazaki’s heroines. Like Kiki in ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (1989), she matures during the film, but the fears and terrors she has to conquer are far more alarming than Kiki’s, and her growth is way more convincing. Not only has she to prove herself, she has to regain her name, and most importantly, she has to rescue her parents, who have been transformed into pigs in a particularly horrifying scene. At one scene we see her stricken with traumatic stress. In another we watch her breaking down. Despite some exaggerations (a flood of tears, for example), these scenes are so surprisingly real, they startle the viewer who’s used to the formalized emotions of many commercial animation films, whether Japanese or Western.

However, the character animation of Chihiro is outstanding throughout the film: she is a true girl and not an adult in disguise, and her emotions feel genuine and seem deeply rooted in observation of real human behavior. We identify immediately with her, and she’s strong enough a character to make her extraordinary journey in that strange, mysterious and dreamlike world believable.

Typical for Miyazaki, even in this hostile world our young heroine is not without friends, and even the most unpleasant characters (Yubaba and Without Face) are not without their weaknesses or positive character traits. On the other hand, even the good can look fearsome and unpleasant, as Yaku does in his dragon form. Also typical for Miyazaki is his depiction of children at work (see ‘Laputa – Castle in the Sky‘ (1986) and ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’). On the other hand, his recurring theme of man versus nature is less apparent in this film, although it does appear in the form of a polluted river god.

In all, ‘Spirited Away’ is a rich film of pure delight and will enchant everyone everywhere in the world.

Watch the trailer for ‘Spirited Away’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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