9.0 / 10
In what has to be one of the most antichronistic analogies ever to grace the film reviews page or a back-of-DVD blurb, Princess Mononoke is touted as "the Star Wars of animé". What I think the author of this synopsis meant is that this is a film that makes you "root for the rebels". Behind Hayao Miyazaki's brilliant rendering is a classic Campbellian fool's journey, with a globalist, earth-based twist. You can't fault Shintō for being what it is, anyway, without glamor or pretense. The story itself is engrossing and heavy, instilling hope and dread even though the audience "knows the ending". I think this is what gives this film the same dreamlike timelessness that Excalibur has.
What struck me most about this film was its cadence, and Miyazaki's perfect control of timing. There are quite a few moments when I found myself not breathing as time seemed to dilate or contract. As Neil Gaiman, who translated the film for the English version, noted in the featurette interviews: the original Japanese version is highly packed with dialogue. It was surely difficult to produce as a faithful rendition as he did, and the poetry of some of the scenes attests to his superior work. My only cavil is the use of the terms "god" and "demon" rather than "deer god" (forest spirit) and "cursing god", which would have elucidated the roles of the nature spirits and underscored the absence of absolute evil and good in this story. As Treebeard, the same archetype in The Lord of The Rings, put it: "I am not entirely on anyone's side, because no one is entirely on my side."
All in all, the film is more than visually stunning: it is a fluid, vibrant masterwork, significant in nearly every aspect that makes us watch animated films. The musical score, the voice acting (by the American actors in the English-dubbed version), the stylized combat, even the ethereal look that has been borrowed from Miyazaki by everyone from the makers of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to animé parodists, all combine to make this a very memorable film. I can honestly say that this movie - its message and its medium - turned me on to animé... again. It is atypical in many ways, and perhaps this uniqueness is what lends it credibility and importance. It is too early to tell for sure, but I sincerely think it will stand the test of time.
Ghost in The Shell
6.4 / 10
Cliché, cliché, cliché! Everything that Cowboy Bebop is, Ghost in The Shell seems to be - the operative word being seems. Before you fans of this film lambaste me for getting my chronology off and mistaking derivative work for the original, let me start by saying that the thing that always engrosses me about animé is original content and an original message. The visual beauty is icing on the cake, or I would be happy to watch brain candy such as The Matrix and The Animatrix all day long and go no further.
Princess Mononoke had a message. However repetitive a variant of The Hidden Fortress or the Campbellian monomyth it is, it was meaningful and thought-provoking. Ghost in The Shell? It oozes cliché. Every melodramatic and overstated visual effect that is impressive in Bebop is grating in this film. From the jarring and anachronistic late-20th century American slang of the official dubbing (something that really will not age well, which I suppose is why last year was time for a sequel) to its technological short-sightedness, from the incessant droning of Project 2501 to the sheer opacity of the story and its pseudo-AI technobabble, I found myself at times more interested in writing my thoughts about Princess Mononoke, a film I had seen earlier in the evening, than watching the whole 88-minute film. The kind of stylized violence that Bebop popularized for the American audience seemed irritating to me in this film, and I couldn't wait for it to be over. And listen, when I accuse a "classic" film about hybrid cybernetic intelligence of being obscure and filled with pointless, self-referential, metaphysical navel-gazing... trust me!
The soundtrack certainly held promise, but a repeat of the opening credits where the ghost-hacked assassin woman emerges from the lavage tank wore it just a tad thin. I sure got tired of that melodramatic ululation. And what was with the photographic backgrounds? As O. Sharp wrote of the character rotoscoping in Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, it is like watching Tony the Tiger at a pedigreed cat exhibit.
The only good thing I have to say about Ghost in The Shell is that the play of light, shadow and color are very attractive. So is the sound mixing. Those who tout this film for its beautiful stylized feel are not exaggerating: look for the scenes where the groundcar is going through the city and tunnels, or when Project 2501 is being interviewed for the first time. The cityscapes are breathtaking - both the ending, which evokes a scene Disney had done for the ending of Tron (I am not sure whether the Japanese animation team was involved in that), and the ones in the skyscrapers, which several episodes of Cowboy Bebop later imitated.
Speaking of which, I was going to add Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku No Tobira (English Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door), but I think it'd be a bit much at one sitting. ;-)
Edit, 23:30: I watched it. Review tomorrow.
The melodramatic calls of animé, indeed!
Hymns for 2004 Christmas Season
1. 25 Dec 2004 - 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
2. 26 Dec 2004 - The Old Rugged Cross
3. 27 Dec 2004 - Near The Cross
4. 28 Dec 2004 - Silver Bells
5. 29 Dec 2004 - All I Want for Christmas Is You
6. 30 Dec 2004 - Sleigh Ride Boogie
7. 31 Dec 2004 - Deck the Halls
8. 01 Jan 2005 - O Little Town of Bethlehem
9. 02 Jan 2005 - Joy to the World
10. 03 Jan 2005 - Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer
11. 04 Jan 2005 - God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
12. 05 Jan 2005 - The Holly And The Ivy