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Miyazaki Mania

By It's My Life on March 8, 2010 4:32 PM | No TrackBacks

Okay, we admit it. We here at IML are big, big fans of Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki. We know some of you talk about your love of manga and anime, and it doesn't get much more anime than this legendary filmmaker. What? You've never heard of him? Well, now's the perfect time to get to know his best work, courtesy of brand-spanking new Disney home entertainment releases of four of his greatest flicks:

castle.jpgCastle in the Sky (1986). A mysterious young girl named Sheeta and a brave boy named Pazu get caught up in an amazing adventure involving a magical stone pendant, gigantic robots, reckless flying sky-pirates, and a legendary lost city in the clouds called Laputa.

totoro.jpgMy Neighbor Totoro (1988). A ten-year-old girl and her four-year-old sister move to a strange old house in the country, and soon learn that the house and the nearby woods are home to magical spirit creatures, including Totoro, a huge monster that looks like a rabbit crossed with an owl, and a truly unique animal that's part-cat, part-bus (a catbus, naturally).

kiki.jpgKiki's Delivery Service (1989). A shy young witch-in-training arrives in a quaint seaside town and, with the help of her sarcastic black cat and a friendly local woman, sets up shop as a delivery girl. Zooming around on her broom, Kiki has many adventures, befriends a spirited artist, and attracts the attention of a boy who seems to be as crazy about this mysterious witch as he is about airplanes and flying machines. But when her powers unexpectedly vanish, Kiki feels lost and lonely, and must find a way through the crisis to become her true self again.

ponyo.jpgPonyo (2008). Inspired by the original Little Mermaid fairy tale, this story follows a magical little fish named Ponyo who falls in love with a human boy. She uses her magic to become a girl to be with him and learn more about the surface world. But the power she unleashes makes the moon come too close to earth, causing massive ocean waves to rise around the world and satellites to fall from the sky. Will nature be brought back into balance? Will Ponyo's powerful parents let her stay human? Watch and find out!

Okay, so why do we like these movies so much? Here are a few reasons:

The artistry. These movies are just amazing to look at. We love the lush, colorful hand-painted backgrounds, the great eye-popping designs of blimps, airships, floating castles, weird robots and machines, and the quirky cuteness of the human and animal characters. Any single frame from any of these four movies could be hanging on an art gallery wall -- the artistry is just that good. This isn't your run-of-the mill cartoon stuff. It's, well... dazzling.

The characters. In a lot of animated movies, character comes last. Not here. Kiki, Sheeta, Ponyo...they're all wonderful to get to know and root for. It's also great that these movies understand what it's like to be a kid: the ups and downs, the challenges and advantages of being young. There are plenty of grown-ups in these stories, but kids are always the real focus.

The magic. We mean this in two ways. Each of these movies has some sort of magic that's central to the story (floating castles, forest spirits, witches, enchanted fish-people), so that's one way. But the movies themselves are also kind of magical -- there's a spirit of happiness and adventure to them that a lot of other films just don't seem to capture. These movies make you dream and smile. They're odd and weird and strange...but in a good way. And we like that.

The voices. Some Japanese animated movies and shows don't get very good English-language dubs; they might be recorded quickly or be cast with actors who don't quite capture the original characters. Luckily, these releases have stellar voice dubs from some of America's best actors and actresses, and they really do justice to the original material.

The way they speak to everyone. We like that these movies appeal to lots of different ages, from kids and tweens to teens and adults. They really are great family movies. Little kids will like the silliness and the cute characters, while older kids and grown-ups will appreciate the incredibly detailed animation and emotional stories.

The extras. The Special Edition DVD's of Castle, Totoro and Kiki, and the Blu-ray and DVD of Ponyo, each come with some very nice bonus content. For instance, for anyone interested in art or animation, the "storyboard versions" of the films are really worth checking out. The moviemakers have taken all the original pencil drawings of each scene, and synched them up with the finished soundtracks. They're like completely new versions of the movies, and they really show the talent and creativity of the artists who worked on these beautiful films. There are also information-packed bonus documentaries for each film, including interviews with the director himself, Miyazaki, and a world of information about writing and producing the films, developing the characters,  imagining the locations, and painting and drawing the thousands of pieces of original artwork used in the finished movies. It's fascinating stuff. Also, IML'ers might especially enjoy a behind the scenes look at the voice talent for "Ponyo" and a music video for the theme song featuring Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus.

So if you're a fan of classic, hand-drawn animation, or just of wonderful storytelling, you might want to check out these four releases, new from Studio Ghibli and Disney. Totoro, Kiki and Ponyo are rated G. Castle in the Sky is PG.

We thought you might enjoy one of our favorite clips from "Ponyo." Watch her go!

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