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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri May 13, 2016 6:54 pm Reply with quote
Only Yesterday

Reason for watching: The ever anime friendly Cinema Nova is currently screening both the Japanese language version and the recent English language dub. Surprisingly, they're doing two screenings in Japanese for every one in English. I suppose that means Melburnians prefer subs to dubs. I've had the Madman Entertainment subtitled DVD for years so I figured I might as well check out the new dub.

Synopsis: 27 year old city office worker Taeko Okajima looks forward to her summer vacation when she will work on her relatives' labour intensive organic farm. As the holiday approaches she is beset by unbidden recollections of her travails as a ten year old. These memories along with the attractions of the simple rural lifestyle and the young farmer she meets cause Taeko to doubt her life choices. Her younger self will help her change direction.


The sun adds a golden lustre to the farmers' toils.

Comments: Whenever I watch Only Yesterday I recall these lines:

The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
- William Wordsworth, My Heart Leaps Up

With a change of gender Only Yesterday becomes a neat illustration of Wordsworth's argument: that we inherit, in our later lives, the attitudes and beliefs we form as a child. Taeko still harbours the disappointments, resentments and regrets from her childhood. In flashbacks we see her father's distant and arbitrary behaviour, her mother's frustration at Taeko's mild non-conformism, her sisters' dismissive treatment, and the awkwardness and insensitivity of her peers at school. That all said, she is an appealing, if unusual, anime character, combining intelligence, a degree of self-awareness and a, mostly, idealistic worldview. In Wordsworth's poem he treasures how he can still be thrilled by a rainbow in old age, just as he had been as a boy. In Only Yesteday, Taeko displays her childlike wonder when the sun rises over a hill as she harvests Safflower petals to be made into rouge. Unusual? How many 27 year old female protagonists are there in anime? How many female protagonists are plain but likeable? Whose core competencies don't include being eye candy?


The intimacy of a small car. The dialogue, the expressions and the backgrounds are all a treat in this sequence.

Upon arrival in Yamagata she is collected from the station by a distant in-law, Toshio. The cramped confines of his Honda is the setting for a marvellous dialogue exchange between two people who, though tentative, are well-matched in their ideals and attitudes. The unexpected intimacy of the car's cabin, with the rain-drenched streets outside in the early morning, encourages eye contact. Smile meets smile. Come to think of it, the other two car trips in the film - their trip to Mount Zao together and when he gives her lift after she storms out her hosts' house when they broach marriage to her - are also highlights. The interior of the car is the place where they can be close, literally and figuratively. Toshio, for his part, is cheerful, self-deprecating, forbearing and, most importantly, instinctively understands Taeko and the crisis she's facing.

The Japanese title of the film is Omohide Poro Poro, which could be translated as "Memories Boo-hoo". The sarcasm is filtered in the English title, and is apparent only then if you interpret "only" in a dismissive sense. Director Isao Takahata is basically saying, "Get over it." While Taeko's childhood had its disappointments there was nothing particularly awful about it. The truth is, her resentments are baggage holding her back. Her journey in the film is to understand what she must jettison and what she must keep. In a beautiful illustration of Wordsworth's lines her childhood self meets her on her trip back to Tokyo and, "bound each to each", accompanies her as she reconsiders and returns to Toshio. Not just 10 ten-year-old Taeko, but a trainload of her former classmates capers rowdily along, providing an unexpected impetus to the tale's denouement. I think the sequence is one of the most satisfying, most enchanting endings in anime, exquisitely resolving the central tensions of the story.


Child Taeko's family. What have the Japanese got against pineapple?
Here it symbolises disillusion. In Hyouge Mono it almost starts a clan war.


This is, though, a Takahata film, so it also expresses his typical social conservatism and idealised nostalgia. "Natural Piety", you might say. The simple life of the toiling farmers - their parallels with eastern and southern European peasant life is made over and over through images and folk music - is romanticised (Hungarian and Bulgarian folk music are the best in the world, and that's coming from someone whose ancestors were Irish); hard work is lionised; traditional values are exalted. The countryside is the remaining refuge from the idolatry of city life. Taeko will be happy if she strides forward, works hard and marries. In one sense, Takahata's yearning for the past contradicts the theme that Taeko must let go of elements of her own past. Perhaps he is arguing that we must choose to keep those elements of the past that he believes to be worthwhile. For a city-dwelling person like myself, who appreciates diversity, difference, and his constantly changing environment, Takahata's simple, narrow view doesn't always wash, but I'm happy to admit he argues his case in a highly engaging manner. Takahata gets away with the proselytising thanks to the charm of his storytelling and by having enough irony to make it palatable. When Taeko observes, while gazing at a river valley surrounded by forest, how "natural" the countryside is, Toshio points out everything they see has been changed by humans: the forest had been planted and the river course moved. (Jared Diamond explains in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive that most of Japan's accessible original forests had been cut by 300 years ago and been re-planted in subsequent years.) The irony is clever at times. The audience laughed frequently, despite Only Yesterday being a mostly serious film.

As with my experience watching its Studio Ghibli stablemate Princess Mononoke, Only Yesterday was a revelation on the big screen. I always thought it was a handsome film but its beauty comes to the fore in a cinema. The luscious, sodden, misty, post-rain backgrounds stand out, while the animation is superb, despite not drawing attention to itself. On a technical level, Takahata is one of my favourite animators. The imagery appears simple despite the complexity of his execution. Unlike the recent 35mm screening of Princess Mononoke at ACMI, though, Only Yesterday was digital. In my second row seat I could see the pixals. Graininess or pixals? You choose.


Not often does wet weather seem so appealing.

Both the leads in the dub are English. Daisy Ridley as Taeko speaks with a more-or-less trans-Atlantic accent, whereas Dev Patel as Toshio gives us a through and through Pommy accent. At times it seemed peculiar but I liked his voice so, on the whole, it works. I get how the accent has been done deliberately to contrast Taeko's city sophistication with Toshio's provincial simplicity, but do Americans really see the British as rustic? Be that as it may, I've no reason to shell out for another copy of the film just to get the dub. I'm more than happy to stick with what I have.

Rating: At the upper end of very good, Only Yesterday was my favourite Isao Takahata film until his swansong The Tale of the Princess Kaguya came along. Takahata skilfully and sympathetically shows us how the child's disappointments have influenced the woman. All is resolved in one of the most satisfying and joyful finales in an anime as her childhood self and friends encourage and help her to make the right decision. The watercolour artwork is breathtaking at times and the numerous gentle and subtle observations make this film a pleasure.


Child Taeko leads woman Taeko into a rosy future of hard work and marriage.

Further Reading:


Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Oct 13, 2019 12:48 am; edited 1 time in total
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Zin5ki



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PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2016 1:10 pm Reply with quote
Thank you again for your insights, Errinundra.

I saw this film recently, mainly to see how my reactions would differ from those that Justin described in his adulatory review. Only Yesterday is the first Ghibli title I wholeheartedly appreciated, as it happens. Doubtlessly it is as beautiful as its acclaim has purported. It has the sort of undercutting finesse that all but passes one by during an initial viewing, only to reveal itself and linger thereafter in the days that follow; an enchantment aided by Takahata’s masterful use of folk music. Its historical sections, I must admit, are as observant of their subject matter as anything that has been animated. Yet in the wider context of Taeko’s beckoning to a life in the country, part of me holds that such lengthy flashbacks could be seen as deviations.

You see, Taeko’s past frustrations and present yearnings suffer somewhat of a disharmony, creating a lacuna to the film that she herself wonders about during her outbound train journey. What is it about her memories as a ten year-old that her family’s farm both evokes and resolves? At the surface there is no similarity between her youthful trials and her cleansing country graft. Unlike the rainbow Wordsworth writes about, we struggle to search for a constant that draws these two parts of Taeko’s life into a shared context.

My initial candidate for a supposed thematic connection between these environments, through which we may better understand Taeko’s ultimate decision and thereby the film itself, is her unsatisfied wish for independence. In most of her childhood exploits, Taeko has decisions made for her, she sees her family take efforts to see that she conforms, and that her whims are kept under control. Occasions upon which a point of difference arises between her and her peers only distance her from them. It is as if these moments are selected to illustrate a suppressed freedom that, in the film’s internal logic, the countryside somehow offers. Under this interpretation, there is an irony that hides behind the brilliance of the film’s ending. In taking a impassioned act of independence and returning to Toshio, Taeko embraces the very arrangement that her family had thrust at her in the previous day. The difference between Taeko the free spirit and Taeko the victim of external pressure thus shrinks down, not to any difference in action, but instead to mere a matter of will.

Your proposal is somewhat different. Rather than being demonstrations of what Taeko desires, the relevance you grant to her depicted childhood is that her memories thereof are some form of psychological baggage, and that it is Toshio’s gentle acknowledgement of this that draws her to him. I would like to know more about your views here. What is it of Taeko’s past that Takahata is instructing his character to jettison, and what are the important things that she must keep? My own views on this are still quite nebulous.

As for the environmentalist and conservative tone in the film, as a fellow city-dweller I echo your forgiveness towards Takahata. His precise preference for Taeko’s destiny, in a way, is an accessory to the more resonant statement being made—whatsoever it is—about the relevance of our own pasts upon our present beings. (Contrast this with Pom Poko, whose blunt message about the relationship between man and nature I considered most inexcusable, and an act of hypocrisy from a filmmaker belonging to an orthodox studio.)

Your report that the principle leads for the English dub are actually English is most surprising. This is a stark difference from standard anime dubbing protocol, in which the use of non-American voice actors is very much an exception. Ghibli titles enjoy a heightened popularity over here due to their universal availability and their occasional cinema and television screenings, but I cannot imagine that GKids had the British market in mind when they chose to voice Japanese characters in this fashion. Maybe your suspicions about rusticity are correct.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2016 6:29 pm Reply with quote
Your post, Zin5ki, is, as they so often do, challenges me to think closely about what both you and I have written. In this instance I think our theses are not only compatible but one flows from the other. Taeko's resentments arise from the lack of agency she had as a child. It is implied in the early scenes that she is still single at 27 because she wants that agency, if only for its own sake.

Toshio presents himself but, crucially, is happy to give her space to decide for herself what she wants to do. The flashbacks show that she never had that freedom at home. Child Taeko, in that last scene, reveals to Taeko what she truly wants. Adult Taeko then freely chooses a life that will involve hard work and a commitment to another person, with all the boundaries they imply. That happens in life. There are times when we must abandon certain possibilities in favour of others. The film convinces us that she is making the right choice. To do so she must let go of the resentments she harbours. The child in her leads her to understand that.

Perhaps the term "resentments" is too strong a word. I could happily concede that Taeko must understand that her desire of agency might be a barrier keeping her from a happy life. But why the the determination to be free, if not resentment of her treatment as a child?
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2016 9:57 pm Reply with quote
Only Yesterday is the first film I watched as an adult that made me cry. I don't know why the experience was so powerful but it's a very special film: there are so few animated films like it it's truly a miracle in the anime medium.
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NearEasternerJ1





PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2016 8:04 am Reply with quote
I have attacked you for your biased views towards dubs, but I agree for once. Ghibli dubs are the worst dubs. Even Blue Water dubs are better.
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Zin5ki



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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2016 8:29 am Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
Adult Taeko then freely chooses a life that will involve hard work and a commitment to another person, with all the boundaries they imply. That happens in life. There are times when we must abandon certain possibilities in favour of others. The film convinces us that she is making the right choice. To do so she must let go of the resentments she harbours.

That makes a good deal of sense, thank you. By exercising her agency and freely choosing certain confinements, Taeko accepts that her earlier yearning for the very same agency has itself been of harm. If this is some sort of ode to our capacity as independent agents, then I cannot be the only one who has objections to its didactic point. Still, Takahata's expression of it was not without its beauty.

---

On a separate note, I notice that you reviewed Robot Carnival last month. I must have been distracted, as I only discovered this now. I wrote a mini-review of Yasuomi Umetsu’s Presence back in March, and it seems that the work captivated us to an equal degree. Even with the anthology's baggage surrounding it, it is great that such a piece is finally available on disc.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2016 10:59 am Reply with quote
I haven’t seen this film yet, but I feel I need to insert a note of reality. I did grow up in the country. We were not farmers but all our neighbors were as were most of the kids I went to school with through high school. Farm labor is hard work, no question about it.

Essentially no different from the “hard labor” that used to be part of prison sentences. It is not ennobling or enlightening, it is simply hard grinding work. Yes there can be a sense of accomplishment to it, but that is no different than the same feeling after completing a significant office project. Mostly it is simply destructive. All the local farmers my family knew had bad backs.

Farming is a poster child for lack of agency. Most first world farmers are in it because they grew up as farmers and don’t know any different. On the farm you have no choices. The cows have to be milked on schedule, the crops cultivated etc. The work never ends. Also a simple trick of the weather can render months of work pointless (see the anime No Rin, it illustrates this well). Prisoners at hard labor can slack off when the guard is not looking. Farmers are self-employed. You are your own guard. Hours are dawn to dusk and sometimes even later. I wouldn’t be a farmer under any circumstances.

As a side note, when I lived in New Jersey in the early 1950s many of the farmers raised a mix of horseradish and soybeans. No one could explain what the soybeans were for, I think even the farmers only knew they could sell the crop.

On the subject of accents, if you asked without a specific reference, many in the US would probably think of an English accent as “upper class”, “snobbish” and “put on”, most definitely not rural. Most in the US do not hear an English accent in real life from one year to the next. A lot of our exposure to such an accent comes from TV by way of British movies and TV series. Those give a context to the specific accent provided. These tend to be crime dramas and period pieces (and recently Dr. Who). Many in the US might be surprised to find that the English exited the 19th century the same time we did.

My sister-in-law refused to watch British shows because she couldn’t understand them. My wife does watch a lot of British TV shows but requires quiet and uses a DVR so she can back up and listen again to make out the difficult parts.

By the way, I can’t tell an Australian accent from an English accent. I know they are different but I can’t tell which is which. What does "Pommy" mean??
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2016 6:01 pm Reply with quote
^

I had some misgivings about using the word "Pommy" (=English) as it sometimes used and interpreted in a derogatory sense, although these days it's usually meant playfully. I left it in because I amuse myself from time to time by throwing in some Australian vernacular.

Dev Patel's London accent, while hardly rural British, isn't snobby but, given what you say about US reaction, then that makes the choice to use him even more bewildering. When I was in England a few years back people there couldn't tell if I was Australian or New Zealander (something that is obvious to us). But then, I struggle to distinguish Canadian accents from other North American ones, even if I can pick some regional US ones.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2016 7:47 pm Reply with quote
From context, I rather thought that was what Pommy meant, with possible undertones of an unwarranted superiority.

I don't think most in the US who haven't been there associate England with rural anything. The basic idea of England is stately homes, cathedrals, the Royal Family and London. (and of course Liverpool for those of a certain age) No room for any rural areas. Much like the tendency to forget that there are parts of Japan that are not Tokyo or Osaka

On further thought, I'm not sure snobbish is the right word. Perhaps excessively precise and a bit superior. I suspect you can blame the BBC, which has its own cable channel in the US.

I think the image of Australia is mostly of a large desert, much like the US southwest but with beaches and kangaroos instead of jack rabbits.

The few Canadians I've met in real life have assured me that there is no such thing as a Canadian accent. This is possibly because 70% of the country spends the winter in Florida.
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TurnerJ



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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2016 9:16 pm Reply with quote
NearEasternerJ1 wrote:
I have attacked you for your biased views towards dubs, but I agree for once. Ghibli dubs are the worst dubs. Even Blue Water dubs are better.


Ghibli dubs are the worst dubs?! Seriously?! No way.

I can think of dubs that are a thousand times worse.

- Akira by Electric Media
- Wicked City by Manga UK
- Cyber City Oedo 008 by Manga UK
- Swan Lake by Media
- Shadowstar Narutaru by CPM
- Sonic The Hedeghog: The Movie by Monster Island
- Roujin Z by Manga UK
- Demon City Shinjuku by Manga UK
- Love Hina by Bang Zoom
- Grezey's Wing
- Bubblegum Crisis OVA
- Warriors of the Wind

All of which are far, far worse than any of the Disney-Ghibli dubs. I'd rather watch those over the above mentioned stinkers any day.
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Zin5ki



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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2016 2:33 am Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
By the way, I can’t tell an Australian accent from an English accent. I know they are different but I can’t tell which is which.

Worry not my friend, there are over twenty of the latter! We ourselves have difficulty keeping up with such an excess of tongues.

Quote:
The basic idea of England is stately homes, cathedrals, the Royal Family and London. (and of course Liverpool for those of a certain age)

As imposed stereotypes go, we have certainly been treated lightly. The arrangement could have been far worse.

Errinundra wrote:
Dev Patel's London accent, while hardly rural British, isn't snobby but, given what you say about US reaction, then that makes the choice to use him even more bewildering.

The choice might make a modicum of sense. A Cockney accent is one of the two English accents that are easily identifiable to an international audience. Since the other choice of Received Pronunciation does not befit the character of Toshio, only one option remained.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2016 7:49 am Reply with quote
@Zin5ki

Regional accents are also alive and well here in the states. This in spite of a couple generations of nation wide radio and TV. Back when I was in the Navy, I had a blind date with the sister of a fellow officer. She was from Georgia and we practically needed an interpreter to converse.

"Received Pronunciation", is that the snooty look down your nose upper class version or is it the equivalent to what we call "broadcast English" here. Most people I know would think of what they hear on BBC America when you refer to an "English" accent.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Tue May 17, 2016 5:04 am Reply with quote
Over the next week I'll be adding housekeeping reviews from the 2012 Madman Reel Anime Festival. The intention is to give myself some time to finish the Spice and Wolf novels. Reel Anime is an intermittent series that I suppose Madman runs when it has acquired films that are too risky for a regular cinema run. Over the years there have been some gems. The first review was originally posted on 17 September 2012. I've done the usual format upgrades.

From Up On Poppy Hill

Reason for watching: I had the opportunity to see it at Cinema Nova in Carlton as part of Madman's Reelanime Festival this evening.

Synopsis: Set in 1963 as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympic Games, Umi is a high school student helping out in her grandmother's boarding house while her mother is studying in the US. Her father died when the supply ship he was captaining struck a mine during the Korean War. Each day, in his memory, Umi raises a naval flag message in their garden overlooking Yokohama Harbour. At school, she befriends Shun, a feisty boy who runs the student newspaper. When she joins him in a campaign to save the school's clubhouse from demolition the two find themselves falling in love. Problems arise, however, when they learn spoiler[they are half brother and sister].

Comments: From Up On Poppy Hill is Goro Miyazaki's second feature film. If Hayao Miyazaki had expressed his disapproval of Goro's directorial debut then this effort clearly has is imprimatur - Miyazaki senior co-wrote the screenplay. Although a distinct advance over Tales from Earthsea, it shares some qualities with the older film, for good and bad.

Goro Miyazaki has a great eye for scenery, particularly landscapes, gardens and buildings - the interior of the clubhouse is sheer magic, both before and after its restoration. Perhaps this isn't surprising given that prior to being an animator he worked as a landscape gardener. His best scenes are either impressionistic or have a strong sense of grandeur that, I think, even exceeds his father's. Some of the industrial scenes are highly reminiscent of Mamoru Oshii's Patlabor 2, although where Oshii's overall mood is regret visualised through decay, Goro's is a wistful observation on the costs of modernisation. This is enhanced by the nostalgic rendition of 1960s Japan, which is even more successful than Kids on the Slope in creating a sense of time and place. Nullifying this, though, are character designs that are prosaic even by Ghibli's conservative standards combined with facial expressions that, too often, come across as wooden.


Shun and Umi

The film can also be hit and miss in its dramatic flow. The extended opening of Umi preparing breakfast for her grandmother, her brother and sister and the boarders is pure delight in its detail, its activity, and how it establishes Umi's character. The crowd scenes at Umi's school, especially Shun's daredevil stunt from the school roof and the mass meetings in the clubhouse, are written crisply and humorously. The downside is that, like their unexpressive faces, the scenes between Umi and Shun come across as perfunctory. This isn't helped by the way the story moves along in fits and starts, interspersed with some attractive, extended visual tableaux. The developments of the couple becoming acquainted, falling in love, discovering their familial relationship, then learning the truth are never explored or explicated in sufficient detail to make them seem important. As a result the resolution comes across as way too pat. The parallel story of the campaign to save the clubhouse is also hit and miss. The student politicking is marvellously entertaining while the visit to the school chairman's business premises creates some tension missing elsewhere in the film. It's undermined, however, by an outcome that, like the romance thread, resolves the conflict way, way too easily.

As I suggested with Umi and Shun, Goro Miyasaki doesn't do character interactions in any sort of convincing way. He imparts information necessary to the plot but there is never a sense of two real people with real thoughts, real agendas or real reactions negotiating their way through the complications of trying to understand each other. The film entirely lacks the richness of the Jinnouchi family in Summer Wars or the subtleties of the near contemporary A Letter to Momo, with which it shares similarities in its premise.

From Up On Poppy Hill does some things wonderfully well and others poorly. The scenery, whether interior or exterior, is exceptional, as are some of the set piece major scenes, particularly those involving large ensembles of people. Against this, the film lacks tension thanks to its uneven dramatic pacing and the flat rendering of the various relationships.

Rating: good.

Curious observation. Umi and Shun declare their love for each other at the door of a tram in spite of the incestuous implications of their confessions. For several minutes up to that moment, Umi had been drawn in poses and with expressions reminiscent of Nanoka from Koi Kaze. Given the context, I think the allusions were deliberate.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Oct 13, 2019 12:54 am; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 5:22 pm Reply with quote
I've just finished volume 15 of Spice and Wolf. Yoitz is just up the road. At last.

Anyway, the next Reel Anime review was originally viewed and posted three days after the last. I repeat it herewith, but for the usual changes. The images are now from the Madman dvd I subsequently purchased.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Reason for watching: Saw this tonight as the second instalment in Madman's 2012 Reel Anime Film Festival at Cinema Nova in Carlton. And I've long wanted to see a Makoto Shinkai film on a big screen.

Synopsis: Asuna is a solitary girl who loves nothing more than to listen to her crystal radio set from her secret hideout high on a hill overlooking her town. One day on the radio - a memento from her dead father - she hears a strange melody, both sad and wonderful, that imprints itself onto her memory. After a terrifying encounter with a monster on a railway bridge she is taken to a mystical underworld by a strange boy, Shin, and a sinister school teacher, Morisaki, where she discovers the source of the music along with an altenative human history. There she must face up to the realities of death, grief and loneliness.

Comments: What is it with anime films' current penchant for girls grieving over their dead fathers? Last month I saw A Letter to Momo at the Melbourne International Film Festival, last weekend it was From Up On Poppy Hill at Reel Anime, this evening it has been Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and next Sunday it will be Wolf Children. Maybe the Moe era is finally coming to an end? Perhaps we are entering the Decade of the Deceased Dad? Clearly anime dads have a short life expectancy. Perhaps, after all, it's just a metaphor for the missing Japanese company man who neglects his family by spending long hours at work, never taking holidays and spending much of his free time drinking with his work colleagues?

That outburst may suggest to you that Children Who Chase Lost Voices is yet another Makoto Shinkai emotive film about separation and loss. For sure the film is awash with those elements but it breaks new ground for Shinkai in being an adventure story with a heroine who travels to a strange new world - an odd blending of Hindu and Aztec mythologies - full of wonders and threats. The disappointment is that, beyond his signature scenery porn, little else in the film is particularly distinctive.

The central theme is that death, decay and change are a natural part of life. It is right and proper to grieve but the living must move on with their lives. This could be the basis of a moving and profound story but it doesn't manage it because the only half-decent character - the lead, Asuna - is a victim, not an agent, in the film's crisis point while the other characters don't manage to engender much in the way of sympathy.


Asuna and Mimi

Asuna is an appealing character. She is the class dux and representative, active and curious. With her mother working long shifts as a nurse she spends much of her free time alone, either doing all the household chores or playing at her hideout, which appears to be an abandoned World War 2 anti-aircraft post. She misses her father and wishes her mother were home more often. Nevertheless she is self-possessed and self-motivated. I have to say it is remarkable how similar she and her circumstances are to Umi in From Up on Poppy Hill, released only two months after Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Her design is also a marked improvement over earlier Shinkai females. The problem is, however, a typical Shinkai failing with his female characters: in the unfolding plot she lacks agency. She enters the underworld of Agartha with Morisaki and Shin because she doesn't want to be left behind. From there on she mostly just follows the two males. Admittedly, she saves Shin and a young girl - Manna - from the terrifying shadow creatures called Izoki, so she is capable of some agency. The big downer for Asuna and this viewer is in the film's climax. Morisaki has travelled to Agartha to spoiler[resurrect his dead wife, Lisa. His wish is granted but his wife's spirit requires a new human host. Yes, Asuna is to become that host and instantly loses any agency she may have had up until that point. She becomes yet another Shinkai female victim. Thereafter the question is not whether Asuna can overcome her limitations but, instead, whether Shin or Morisaki will prevail in obtaining either her or Lisa.] Yes, it all comes down to the old bull and the young buck fighting over the doe. It really is a teeth-grinding development in the film.

If Asuna's character (until the climax) and her design break new ground then the other characters are both retro in design and limited in character depth. Shin is the archetypal heroic young man out to prove himself, Morisaki is an unsettling mix of father figure and villain, and Manna a cutesy giggling child. Both Shin and Morisaki are cut from 1980s Ghibli character cloth. In fact, there are numerous elements in Children Who Chase Lost Voices that owe a large debt to Ghibli. At one point Shin is ordered by his village wise woman to leave the village: he cuts his hair, mounts his steed, farewells his sister at the town gate and rides off into the wilderness. Princess Mononoke, anyone? Asuna has an orange cat thingy - Mima - that travels upon her shoulder. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, anyone? Agartha itself is an underground analogue of Laputa, complete with a Quetzalcoatl (a supernatural guardian) that brings to mind the guardian robots on the floating castle.


Very pretty; very Shinkai.

If the plot, characters and themes are a mixed bag then the images on screen are real treat, as to be expected from Makoto Shinkai. This is the first time I've had the pleasure of seeing one of his films in its proper environment - on the big screen. His gorgeous backgrounds alone are worth the price of admission. Oddly enough he was sparing with his characteristic sunset or storm cloud vistas, although he gives us some sensational starry skies. His best efforts in the film are domestic scenes - inside houses, or daily life in Asuna's town - and topography, whether local Japanese hillsides or alien Agartha plains (though I preferred the Japanese vistas). The opening credits are backgrounded by a rural scene with a large cherry blossom tree. It's as if the tree is filmed in fast-motion: a year goes by during the course of the credits and we see the tree lose its blossoms, become covered in leaves, bear fruit and then lose its leaves; all as the seasons pass by and clouds whiz by overhead. It's Shinkai; it's very pretty. There's a catch, though. The film's prettiness sometimes undermines other things Shinkai is trying to do. For example, the Agartha world is in irreversible decline. Most everywhere that Asuna travels there is evidence of deserted cities and villages. The few people she meets blame the presence of "topsiders" for the destruction of their once great civilisation. But it's all way too pretty to provide any sense of fate or decay. I would also point out that good as the backgrounds are, From Up On Poppy Hill is just as good. (It's interesting that Makoto Shinkai and Goro Miyazaki have similar strengths and weaknesses, although their styles are somewhat different.)

An area where Shinkai has definitely improved is in his animation. He even has some notable action scenes - some even have quite rapid movements. I couldn't always follow what was happening in the fight scenes, which might be my eyesight combined with my proximity to the screen, or it could be due to the choreography. Whatever the cause it couldn't be blamed on the animation. One area where the film fails is the dreadful and distracting soundtrack. It's like the worst film muzak - all loud, lush, tuneless string orchestras. It didn't enhance the film in any way.


Watching a Makoto Shinkai movie? Expect skyscapes like this, though normally without the flying boat.

On a technical level and in terms of creative ambition, Children Who Chase Lost Voices shows Makoto Shinkai continuing to develop his craft. The results, however, aren't always positive. He remains a master of the landscape or the domestic view, has created probably his best female character yet (though not without shortcomings), and given us his first adventure story, rather than a romance. Yet, beyond the beautiful backgrounds the film seemed mundane and, worse, lacked the emotional impact of his three previous films.

Rating: decent.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:07 am; edited 1 time in total
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Zin5ki



Joined: 06 Jan 2008
Posts: 6680
Location: London, UK
PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2016 9:42 am Reply with quote
Thank you for giving Children Who Chase Lost Voices a respectful review. That is far more than I am capable of writing. To put it politely, I cannot quite say it is film for which I have much praise.

From the moment the helpless Asuna is conveniently rescued from the beast on the bridge it becomes clear that the film’s lukewarm pacing hinders any sense of immersion, though sadly this is only the start of its problems. You have identified many of its terminal failings: Asuna’s lack of agency, the tepid Miyazaki pastiches, the forgettable score and the frustrating climax. With no thematic or narrational achievements to its buoy it along, the picture amounted to little more than two hours of visual nicety.

I adored Shinkai’s first three films. With this one I did expect something different, but not the novelty of a sense of tedium so forceful that it began to manifest as anger. I twiddled my thumbs before my screen, my mind occupied not by the story but by a growing body of complaints. Why did Shinkai attempt a fantasy film? How could a director with such a talent for illuminating his characters’ private passions opt for something so emotionally bland and stunted? Did it not occur to him that with so small an emphasis on developing the interpersonal bonds on which it relies, the film would do no justice to what he wished to convey? I watched the film to the end; to the end of its running time and to that of my proverbial tether.

It is fair to say that you found something, however small it is, to appreciate in Children Who Chase Lost Voices. In likelihood we found the picture equally mundane, though it is perhaps by virtue of my love for Shinkai’s past works that an otherwise featureless experience became quite a corrosive one.
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