Ghiblisgiving: Porco Rosso

Up to this point all the films covered were movies I had never seen before, but as we enter the 90s phase of the studio we also enter the movies I’ve seen. None moreso than another fun adventure, Porco Rosso!

Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig, was a man turned pig-man and the fiercest bounty hunter in the Adriatic. When a group of his foes, a collective of seaplane pirates, hire an American hotshot named Donald Curtis to hunt Porco down, Porco must come to terms with getting help from unlikely places and deal with his past as an Italian fighter pilot in the Great War.

The film is a freaking blast of a good time. It really leverages and builds on the adventure feel of Castle in the Sky. Building on some of the tropes in that film, the gang of misfit criminals, much more cartoony aesthetic contrasted with well lived in world, and message. From frame one it is just so clear how much fun and energy was put into every frame of animation. The dogfights, in particular, are real standouts. With complicated and overlapping animation along with a strong sense of weight and dimension. It’s clear so much time went into that one aspect while not leaving even the smallest detail outside that to go unnoticed. It’s just a party on display the whole time and that is deeply appreciated.

Of course what makes it special is how it seems like just a fun adventure flick on the surface, but does have a message underneath. This message being unique to Ghibli films, a look at what it means to be a pig. Neither choice, making the main character a pig-man, or the fact it is set between World War I and World War II, was purely for aesthetics. Though let it not go unsaid that the team certainly takes advantage of both. Instead both are used as an examination on what it means to be piggish, boarish, and selfish. Porco, real name Marco, often lifts his nose to the rest of society. He sees so little of it to be of any importance and looks out for himself. This puts him in opposition to the pirates, a group of individuals looking out for themselves, and Curtis, a man obsessed with his own status and building up fame. They’re all taken to task in some regard but does come back to Porco as he grows to care about people, or care about them again if he lost that part of himself. It is why the owner of the Not-Casablanca hotel cares so much for him. Porco can be a good guy, and ends up being one once he sees past the front he puts up. He just has to realize he doesn’t have to be as much of a pig. Which, it’s also fun that he says he’s a pig and not a fascist. A line that strikes just as hard as Nausicaa’s “If I take my mask off for five minutes I would die.”

The American dub for this film is more hit or miss, but overall great. The biggest weakens is Michael Keaton. He is by no means bad. He gives Porco a lot of weight and regret behind his words, but doesn’t get the fun most everyone else does. Cary Elwes in particular gets to have a great time as Curtis, and Susan Egan is able to thread that needle of being weighty while also giving the character a sense of having a good time.

Porco Rosso feels like an easy film to overlook. Because, again, on the surface it seems like just a good time with some mild misogyny and focusing too much on how attractive this 17 year old girl is (which Castle in the Sky kind of did too know that I think back on it), but it’s more than that. Even the weird stuff it does with said 17 year old mechanic builds on Porco and his fight to remain a pig inside or not. The film is almost ahead of its time in the way it seeks to criticize middle-aged men like that. But even as it does that it is still a gorgeous film that is just an amazing time to watch. Also Porco shoots at actual fascists and we need more of that.

Film Ranking:

Porco Rosso 

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind 

Castle in the Sky 

Kiki’s Delivery Service 

Only Yesterday 

My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Only Yesterday

It’s hard to remind ones self, but Stuido Ghibli is more than just Hayao Miyazaki and his fantastical stories. There is a whole studio full of talented directors, writers, and animators. Famous of all is Isao Takahata. We should have covered his downer Grave of the Fireflies had it been available for streaming, but his next film, a grounded drama based on a novel, is available for streaming and is unlike any of the other movies thus far.

Only Yesterday follows Taeko, a businesswoman in the city as she take a summer vacation trip out to the countryside and work the fields. Only she isn’t going alone as memories of her fifth grade life flood back into her and color her week long trip living with the farmers and their son, another former businessman turned farmer.

The film feels incredibly ahead of its time. The mid-life crisis film is an incredibly common genre of fictional film, but the quarter-life crisis less so. Those films, ones like this one, featuring people who are just starting careers and yet already feel unsatisfied and wanting more from life have been gaining in popularity more recently. That makes this one about a girl being restricted as a child due to how she was brought up and following that path into adulthood feeling unsatisfied in what that life brings at such a young age so refreshing. Even the fixation on decades old foibles and flops feels like something a more modern film would focus on as a thing millennials talk about now, but making a film in the 90s about it is so shocking.

It is unfortunate then that the film isn’t more watchable. That’s in no way saying it is a bad film. Ill-paced for sure. Some of the flashback to childhood segments go on too long or don’t feel connected enough with the springboard. Similary, continuing to introduce new elements of her past even near the end feels off when a setup earlier wouldn’t have made it feel so forced. Also the constant hyping up of farm life does get tedious from time to time. Regardless, it’s a contemplative movie. Fun only in the academic sense, but oddly enough the best written movie yet. Written meaning the dialogue and exchanges. The previous films were all mostly transactional. They were used to get across a direct point without any flowery language or doublespeak. Only Yesterday goes the extra mile of having words say less or more than they imply. The use of silence is also awe inspiring.

Similarly awe inspiring is the use of animation in a film that could easily have been live action. Most of the Ghbili movies could have been, but used the fantastical as the excuse. This film, instead, uses changes in art style to get the changing emotions across. The use of a more cartoony art style that grows from sparse watercolors to more solid backgrounds as the memories get more concrete in the flashback segments is great and contrasts with the realistic present scenes so much more. The scenes in the present have their own grounded feel that’s carried more by the soundscape and ambiance than flashy cuts. That’s to say the animation is consistently smooth without going that cartoonish extra mile the previous films did.

This is also one of the more recent dubbing attempts. It makes sense to an extent. Ghbili was under Disney and this is a hard film to market to that demographic, so waiting till now makes sense. Getting talent like Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel to give really weighty and serious performances while also fighting their English accents back at every corner is great. They also contrast well with the more seasoned voice actors in the cast to feel distinct but not bad.

See what I mean. All of this is good stuff. Fun to talk about and analyze in this hypothetical space. Looking at how the last scene on the train plays with everything that came before is neat, but that doesn’t make this a joyful experience to watch. That makes it doubly hard to judge because it wasn’t fun. Kiki, for all its poorly mixed flaws and odd pacing, was still fun. This has a place and a strong message to send but isn’t a constantly rewatchable film. It’s a quintessential Oscar drama. A film to watch once and get its meaning (maybe twice or three times to really absorb it), but not to put on when you’re having a bad day or just need something on in the background. It’s a great film. The one I was most looking forward to in fact because of its more mature nature, and I guess I got what I wanted out of it. Heck, even this malaise feels almost intentional, but it doesn’t make it more fun or one I would rewatch.

Film Ranking:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. Kiki’s Delivery Service

4. Only Yesterday

5. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Despite the classical nature of Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films it is odd how the only adaptation up to this point was of Miyazaki’s own work. However that changes after this point and lends more credence to the Ghibli as Disney comparison (I bet they feel bad letting that license slip now that Disney+ is around. That would have been a killing for them). Disney usually stays to well worn fairy tales while Ghibli likes to branch out into newer tales.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, follows burgeoning witch Kiki as she goes out on the rite of passage for every witch at her age. She must leave home and make a place for herself among a new town and find out who she is. Kiki finds herself in a port city where she uses her singular talent of flying to make a name for herself as a delivery girl. She is a teenager, so of course the winds of passion can change and she must find a way to make those passions her own with her powers and friends she makes along the way.

The movie has a problem. Not the base film but movie posted to HBO Max. I am unsure of this problem persisted in the original 90s Disney release or there was a change made in the transition to streaming, but the vocal mixing on Kiki in particular, but everyone at certain points, is terrible. Her voice is often incredibly tinny or like her voice is coming from a blown out speaker (having since watched the next set of movies on the same system with the same settings and this problem never repeating it is definitely something wrong with this movie). What’s worse is how it happens to everyone at certain moments, and it only seems to affect the voices and no other sound effects. This made it a harder film to watch than intended because literally hearing the characters speak was testing. It’s an unfair thing to criticize a movie on, but it was still part of the experience and must be taken into consideration.

Outside of that (far, far outside) the film is incredibly cozy. Watching Kiki make her deliveries and deal with the residents of the town is just nice. It has the feel of a kids TV show that could go on forever. It means the pacing on the whole is not as good. It takes too long for Kiki to really make her way and for the movie to really show what it is about. However just seeing Kiki being nice to people as she works and watching that kindness come back to her (hypothetically. Her voice is grating to listen to because of the aforementioned mixing problems, but I get the intent)

The animation even reflects that TV feel. It feels even more restrained this time around with more focus spent on the mechanics of her flying and what that would realistically look like. That’s not to say there aren’t little touches thrown in. It’s a Miyazaki movie so of course there are. But on the whole it feels more like it wants to be a long running series over a splashy movie.

The advantage to it being a movie is it’s more individual focus on the idea of growing up. This is a consummate coming of age story, but what sets it apart is what it’s all about. At first glance it seems to be about trying to maintain old traditions in an evolving world. It is about that to a certain extent. The struggle Kiki finds when she first arrives seems to be in contrast to what her mom went through. Meanwhile scenes like using the old school oven in place of an electric one to bake a pie shows how not all old things need to be discarded. However it comes into focus that it’s about Kiki finding her passion and what she wants to do in life, and be accepted for it. Having to deal with burnout as well is an interesting choice, and provides a neat way to rethink it. But I don’t think it’s handled nearly as well as it thinks it is. That comes mostly from the lack of conveying why she doesn’t feel accepted. I mean I understand it being a completely internal struggle for her, but that struggle is not given an external example (some would argue her losing her powers is that example, but that’s the consequence not the inciting reason). Everyone she meets likes her and thanks her and even still she feels exiled from everyone. That’s a fine feeling but never shown in a way to understand it from her perspective. But her inherent drive to help and friendly nature does come through in why she is accepted and finds her place. It just could be conveyed better.

This is a film I want to watch again. Not just so I can see if that vocal issue persists in other copies of the movie but because it’s just kind of a nice world to live in. If it were a series I could see it still going to this day, and totally see why it was one of the highest grossing movies in Japan. It’s charming, cozy, sweet, and has a good character guiding us along the way. Her arc could have just been conveyed better.

Movie Rank:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. Kiki’s Delivery Serivce

4. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Laputa – Castle in the Sky

Nausicaa was a major passion project for Miyazaki and his team. It was also based on his own manga series of the same name so of course he would want to do it justice. Of course he can’t rest on his laurels forever and had to come back with a new hit, Castle in the Sky.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is far more of a classic family adventure film than Nauscaa was. In that this film follows Pazu, an assistant to the coal miners in a small town. His life changes when Sheeta, a mysterious girl floats down from the sky with a Crystal both pirates and the military are after. The two then must band together in order to find the secret behind the crystal and how it connects to the floating city of Laputa all while dodging the military colonel Muska and female pirate Dola and her family of misfits.

The film is less story or idea driven than Nauscaa was, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less energetic or has worse pacing. It’s even arguable that the pacing in this film is better. There is far more connective tissue between scenes and events. The structure is tighter, and there is more setup and pay off. The fact that we are given time to sit in Laputa before the plot shows up gets us more invested in the location and it’s meaning than the quick bursts of location in Nauscaa.

Even with the better pacing the characters are weaker than in Nauscaa. Well, the main duo of Pazu and Sheeta do not hold a candle individually to Nauscaa. They are much younger and more generic. Both hardworking, adventurous, and forced to grow up early, they work great as a pair and seeing their bond grow is legitimately sweet. It is kind of easy that Pazu just so happens to want to find Laputa just as the person to help him shows up, but the initial jumpstarts for these far more family affairs are like that. Once it gets going it works. Mostly. Their voice actors, James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, do their best to match the characters but just don’t fit the more throwback look of the character designs.

This vocal problems seems to only affect them as they try to give much more grounded performances. The rest of the cast seems to get it let loose like the film wants. The standouts in that regard is the pirate captain Dola played by Cloris Leachman, and her family. They get to be totally wacky but earnest. They fit perfect in a far more cartoonishly evil world. Same can be said for Mark Hamill’s Muska. Muska, the secret king of Laputa, gets to go all out and hit every vocal range he can. From the more subdued Skips like performance to the menacing Ozai, and off the wall anger of the Joker. He gets to have a ball and it shows in his voice.

It also shows in the movies animation, which was clearly where most of the focus went. That is not a bad thing. A simple story told well, but with some of the most expressive, colorful, heightened-realistic animation you can see it is worth it. So much thought and time clearly went into how everything would move. From the fantastical airships, to the machinery, to the people who live in the world. The little touches Nauscaa had are taken to the next level. The characters scramble, I mean like a dog on hardwood, scramble. It’s more impressive, though with the crowd shots of individual people moving and doing their own thing, and the drifting of the giant planes. It was all taken to the next level and just looks amazing.

That doesn’t mean there is no story. It’s just a lite version of Nauscaa’s appeal and purpose of nature along with how humans need to act in order to get along with it. Muska’s hatred and annoyance at Laputa getting overrun with nature contrasted to Sheeta’s awe being the best example. That’s as far as it goes though. It is not nearly as deep as Nauscaa but is a better time.

Both this and Nauscaa felt like passion projects to an extent. This just felt like more of an animation showcase than a serious story. It is far more commercial and has kid appeal. That’s not a problem. It is one of the better child focused adventure films. It is incredibly inventive and thrilling but doesn’t feel nearly as personal. Not every movie has to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a movie to just be fun and show really cool imagery and it succeeds at that.

Film Rankings:

1. Nauscaa

2. Castle in the Sky

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box: TowerCityMedia@gmail.com!