A Taste for Animation

Being a student whose course requires me to spend the majority of my time at home, watching films can be a nice way to keep sane. My life of endless reading is nicely offset by a good movie, or a bad movie… any movie really, as long as I don’t have to read. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the Japanese animations of Studio Ghibli. The films have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I probably watched some of them too young. Nausicaa especially has a lot of dark undertones that can unsettle adults, let alone young children. But in my opinion that’s why they’re so brilliant. They offer levels of enjoyment that go beyond recent Disney projects, challenging and scaring as well as offering endless enjoyment. The depth of character and narrative power of the films is what makes them classics for all ages. And yet there are a couple of Ghibli films that I haven’t seen, and thinking of those, in turn, made me think of other animated movies that I know about but have yet to see. Watching animated movies is a different experience to watching live action. There is obviously an element of fantasy in animation, regardless of the subject matter. Even when the story is mundane, the fact that the images come to life through artificial line and hyper-real colour give the films a dream-like feel. Animation is escapism, and as the Winter months are drawing near, and work gets harder, escapism is exactly what I need.

When I get the opportunity, I will be watching and reviewing some animated movies that I have either not seen, or not seen in a while. I’m looking forward to a couple in particular, simply because I have known about them for so many years, and have just never got around to watching them. I thought I should also say before I start that there are a lot that will not be on the list, simply because I have seen them already quite a few times. These include: The Triplets of Belleville, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, some Disney classics such as The Lion King (1 & 2), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pixar classics Toy Story (1, 2 & 3), Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Up etc.

This list will not necessarily correspond to the order I watch the films in.

1. Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis (2001)

This is a film that I have constantly come across on my internet travels, but have never actually sat down to watch. It’s pretty much guaranteed that any list of top animated movies will have this on it somewhere, usually towards the top. I actually know very little about the plot of this film, other than that it was inspired by the 1927 silent film of the same name. I don’t really know what to expect, but my expectations in general are high, only because I read people singing its praises so often. This is definitely one of the ones that I’m excited about.

2. Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant (1999)

This is one of the many films on this list that I have actually seen before, but it was so long ago in my childhood, that I couldn’t possibly remember enough of it to write a review. My memory of it is fragmented to say the least, but I know that I enjoyed it, and it crops up a lot when people talk about classic animations.

3. Phil Lord’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

This is a more recent animation that, at the time of its release, I had very little interest in. Since then, I have heard it talked about positively by a few critics, who all express surprise at enjoying it, saying it “succeeded their expectations”… hm… maybe it will succeed mine?

4. Vincent Paronnaud’s film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2007)

I am hesitant to watch this film before reading the graphic novels. I am a massive nerd when it comes to comics and graphic novels, and so I feel like I would be doing the story a disservice by watching the adaptation before reading the original. But hey, I don’t have time to read any more than what my course gives me at the moment, and so I guess it’s gonna have to be movie before book (shock horror!)

5. Tomm Moore’s The Secret of Kells (2009)

I don’t really know what to expect from this film, whether it will bore me, or whether the animation will jar me. I have heard positive things about it, and have had chances to watch it, but there has always been something holding me back. Perhaps it is because it appears too childish to me, and I’m worried it won’t sit well with an older audience. But after someone recommended it to me the other day, I am suddenly a lot more intrigued…

6. Lots of Satoshi Kon…

I absolutely love Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers, two brilliant animations from Japanese director Satoshi Kon. Tokyo Godfathers I’ve seen a few times now, whereas Paprika I’ve only seen once. As for Millenium Actress and Perfect Blue, they are films that I know a lot about but have never had the guts to watch the whole way through. I would love to re-watch Paprika as well as watch the other two, but I’m not sure I’d have time. But here they are anyway, and we’ll see which ones I get round to seeing…

Paprika (2003)

An absolutely insane dream/nightmare narrative that will honestly blow your mind. I cannot wait to re-watch it.

Millenium Actress (2001)

I don’t know much about this film other than it follows the memories and characters of actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. Not sure about the tone either, whether it will be light or dark, although I am veering more towards dark, as I know that Kon’s films can be pretty disturbing.

Perfect Blue (1997)

I’ve seen clips of Perfect Blue, and I can definitely say that it is disturbing. Its based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and follows Mima Kirigoe, a member of a girl group who leaves to become an actress but acquires a nasty stalker. I am aware that this one is pretty dark…

7. Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

This is one of a couple of Studio Ghibli films that I’ve never seen. I have heard that it’s harrowing, and that’s maybe why I’ve stayed away from it. I’m drawn to the Ghibli films that offer me fantasy, and all I know about this one is that it’s about World War II Japan… I’m hoping I’ll find it beautiful nonetheless.

8. Rene Laloux’s Gandahar (1988)

I honestly do not know what this film is about or what the viewing experience is going to be like (except that its French and is Science Fiction), but I keep seeing it everywhere! It’s meant to be a classic, and interestingly was made in the same year as Grave of the Fireflies, making this and the Studio Ghibli film two of the oldest films on the list. It’ll be interesting to see how similar or different they are in tone and style.

9. Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist (2010)

I love Belleville Rendezvous (or The Triplets of Belleville – whichever title you prefer), and so I was incredibly excited when this film was announced. I never got round to seeing it in the cinema, but was definitely going to rent it out and watch it. A combination of never getting round to it, and also being told by people that it was slow and boring, made me hold back. I’m finally going to bite the bullet and decide for myself whether it’s a success or not.

10. Paul Fierlinger’s My Dog Tulip (2009)

All I know about My Dog Tulip is that is deals with the relationship between J. R. Ackerley and his German Shepherd Queenie. I’m looking forward to seeing how the film deals with the relationship, and whether it over-sentimentalises it, or keeps it real.

11. Tono Errando’s Chico and Rita (2010)

I’m excited about this one, simply because its story is pretty much a mystery to me. I know it engages with music a lot, and that’s about it really! The animation style is different to what I go for usually, and reminds me a lot of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, although it’s not rotoscoped like those films.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Can’t wait to sit down and watch a couple of these soon. Let’s hope I actually end up having enough time to… Might be a good while before all are reviewed!

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