Ghiblisgiving: My Neighbor Totoro

I am aware there is a moving missing. Grave of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata came out before this film. But, due to what I must assume are licensing and rights issues it’s not streaming anywhere (thanks why I use Surfshark… no NordVPN… no, I’m not cool enough to get sponsored). Doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to watch it, but for now I’ll power through and circle back if I find the time.

In the meanwhile I always wondered what the Studio Ghibli logo looked like before Totoro came out. I mean they needed to have something, but it seems odd that I can’t imagine the study without it. Odder still that I never saw the film.

The film, by the way, follows sisters Satsuki and Mei as they move to the countryside with their father. While moving in and exploring their new home the girls find that they have some unexpected but not unwanted spirits in the troll (interesting translation) Totoro and his mythical friends. Of course their life is not perfect. With a sick mother in the hospital, and a busy father they must find ways to live and fill their days with life, and their neighbor can help.

Ghibli and Miyazaki are often compared to Disney and their stable of animated films. Interestingly the previous films don’t really feel like Disney films. Totoro on the other hand totally feels like one.

Totoro feels like a storybook. It’s mundane world made fun by a trickster character and his minions and friends are the plot to many an actual children’s book. Classics like Cat in the Hat and Puff the Magic Dragon and the like all come to mind and all feel true to the spirit of this film.

A film, by the way, which should be incredibly boring yet is not. Most of the film is just hanging out with Satsuki and Mei. Watching them go on adventures or spend time with their dad or Totoro and his forest spirits. Not much honestly happens but the characters are honestly so fun loving and hyper-energetic that you fall into their rhythm. Seeing the world both normal and magical from the perspective of the little girls makes even the boring act of laundry or growing seeds into something fun.

It’s helped immensely that the sisters, played by real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, having an amazing chemistry (for obvious reasons) and totally fit the roles of the girls. Satsuki has to act more mature than she lets on while Mei is far more emotional but open to new things. Their interplay, especially early on, sells the film the most. Well that and the father.

It would be easy to overlook their father played by Tim Daly (the voice of the best Superman). He’s kind of nothing. Just a generally nice guy who works hard and cares for his family. Of course it’s in the details that he shines. His ability to turn any event into a supernatural game or fun adventure builds the themes of the movie without even thinking of it. He just so easily and naturally turns the mundane into the games the girls play with simple framing. He is the backbone of the story more than a giant cat guy.

Not to say the giant cat guy isn’t important. But Totoro, the movie, is about facing life with the imagination and heart of a child. When seeing the world through their inventive eyes everything becomes fun. It’s not just dust but soot spirits. Acorns don’t grow because of rain and sun but from a cats magic. The wind blows because it’s a cat bus carrying its passengers across the fields. These are great visuals that help both us and the sisters keep their mind off the hardship in their life. Only the secret is that anyone can do this. They face hardships in the film, but they are often worse because they don’t try and find whimsy in it. Not to say you always need to. It’s okay to be sad, but being only sad doesn’t help you grow.

The animation this rime around is still smooth but far subtler than Castle in the Sky. That movie focused more on the grand adventure. This decides to keep it tight like the story. The character movement is far more detailed. The scene of the girls running around the house is great for all the little touches. Same can go for even simple interactions or Totoro moving. A lumbering furball like that needs to really feel furry and he does. Of course the standout is interior of the cat bus and how it moves and breathes with the ease of a real cat. It’s not as visually stunning as a train chase, but just as impressive.

It’s hard to place this film. On one hand this type of slice of life family film is not my thing. It’s valid and a really good story, but not for me. On the other it is just so incredibly charming that having to rank it as 3rd only because it’s not nearly as fun as Castle in the Sky is sad. It’s a movie that kind of deserves its spot. It’s simple, but so is the life and eyes of a child, and that’s okay sometimes.

Movie Rankings

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. 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!

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Ghiblisgiving: Nausicaa Valley of the Wind

This might come as a surprise to hear, but writing and maintaining a blog (functionally solo – no shade. We’re all busy people) by writing for five days a week is tiring. It makes the process of enjoyment a task and I needed a break but instead crafted a months long project, Ghiblisgiving: a look at all the Stuido Ghibli movies since they’re available to stream on HBO Max. So it’s best to start at the beginning!

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind is an incredible first showing for a new studio. It certainly helps that Miyazaki was a veteran director before this point, but even with that experience it is impressive what he and his team could accomplish in one film.

Set 1000 years after the end of modern society the film finds the world plagued by toxic jungles filled with unnatural and mysterious insects while humans have been cordoned off into seperate kingdoms. The film follows Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. When a bug and spore infested airship from a neighboring kingdom crashes into their village, followed quickly by that kingdom invading and killer her father, Nausicaa must set out and explore more of the world to find the truth behind the spores and forest while the other kingdoms seek to use old world technology to burn it all and reclaim their place in the world.

Despite being incredibly dense the film has great pacing. It does throw a few too many concepts and has a couple pieces of throwaway dialogue explanations for some events, but outside of that it manages to pack tons into its two hour run time without it feeling too rushed. The balance of exhilarating action paired with incredibly calm and quite moments, and daring adventure all make it feel totally complete.

It helps that most of the film is from Nausicaa’s perceptive because she is an absolute joy of a main character. She is incredibly reminiscent of what JJ Abrams and the team would do with Rey decades later. A high spirted, resourceful teen with incredible compassion and intuition. She brims with personality from the first scene and just keeps building. It’s even more impressive that her arc is kind of completed in the first act so she spends the rest of the film trying to convince others of her new mindset. Of course it helps that her actress, Alison Lohman, gives her such a range of emotions.

The whole American voice cast is strong. Patrick Stewart makes an appearance as Lord Yupa, a world traveler and skilled fighter with a strong edge, and Uma Thurman gives a good snark to the invading ruler, Kushana. They help bring what could be and kind of are unmemorable characters to life. The biggest surprises are a young Shia LeBeouf and Mark Hamill making an appearance as citizens of another land. They don’t get enough screen time to really shine, but their presence gives them a weight unknown actors couldn’t give.

This is a Ghibli movie so it of course looks amazing. The art direction is incredibly solid, and the small details are nice to see. It is, however, primative compared to what they will be able to do in later films. This can be seen most of all in how simple some of the bigger elements like the airships and giant bugs move. What would be done with more detail later now moves in bigger chunks. It makes them see slower, but doesn’t take away from the heft and feel. This is not to say it’s bad. It’s not at all. But they are shooting to do a lot and have to make some compromises.

A Ghibli film is also not without its messaging, and from the plot description it seems pretty obvious what that message is. Humans need to live in harmony not just with the world around us but with each other. It is more complicated than that and for what American animated features were doing at the time. The idea that there could be multiple factions that are wrong, and that nature reacts to humans and looks out for us more than we think is novel and true without being nearly as heavy handed as things like Ferngully.

This film was clearly a passion project and a jumping off point for many peoples careers. It is a film brimming with life, personality, and a unique visual style. Hard to believe that it can get both up and down from here.

Film Rankings:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

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!