In 1988, we were treated to a great tale by Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki. This man’s work is always brilliant, and never ceases to amaze us, and this movie is no different. As usual, the story tends to revolve around a girl of age ten to thirteen, and this time it is Satsuki Kusakabe’s (Dakota Fanning, 2005 Disney version) turn along with her little sister, Mei (Elle Fanning). The Kusakabe family has moved out to the country to be closer to the hospital where Mrs. Kusakabe (Lea Solonga) is recuperating from her illness. Professor Kusakabe (Tim Daly) has his hands full taking care of two little balls of energy like Mei and Satsuki on his own, but in this rice-farming community has move to, he has plenty of friendly neighbors to help out, including some that only the children can see. Their first friend is an old woman that is loved by everyone, and simply is known as Nanny (Pat Carroll), but she is also the grandmother of the boy next door, Kanta (Paul Butcher), that becomes a thorn in Satsuki’s side, or so she thinks, because at that age, to girls, boys are just a nuisance they have to tolerate.
This film is the prequel to the film The Cat Returns. Even though The Cat Returns was a fantasy film and this was more of a drama the two are directly related. The Cat Returns is the screenplay that could have been written from the polished version of the story “Whisper of the Heart” that Shizuku Tsukishima writes in this film. This film is also an adaptation of the manga of the same name in English or in in Japan as Mimi o Sumaseba, “If You Listen Closely”. Any person that has seen either film should see both of them as you can see where the inspiration and the feeling came from.
One of the classic animated films by the renowned director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli where we are taken to a world that has been ravaged and is now poisoned. It is far into the future and not many people are left after the great war and burning of the planet. All the places where the giant warriors have fallen there have grown poisonous jungles of fantastical trees and fungus. Living in these jungles are insects and bugs, the largest called ohmu, who protect the plants that are there. No one knows how or why they are there but everyone knows that to go into one of them without a protective mask is certain death. The people also know not to make the giant insects angry for if they do the bugs will fallow them till they are or the bugs are dead. This is particular dangerous in the fact that where ever an ohmu dies another poisonous jungle will sprout up where they have fallen. Such is the toxin that they carry within them.
A bit of break from Hiyazaki’s usual fantastical fare of fun family movies is Princess Mononoke. This movie is set in a time of mystery and feudal states, when gunpowder is becoming more common of a weapon in Nippon, and the Emperor is looking to find immortality in all the wrong places. Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) is a prince of a tribe that was thought to be wiped out. When a possessed boar attacks his homeland, he takes up defenses, and the hateful demon infects his arm. He is banished to prevent any more damage from coming to his people. In his travels, he runs into Jigo (Billy Bob Thornton), a monk on a mission for the Emperor. Jigo is to bring back the head of the Great Forest Spirit, a creature that looks like an elk with a human face during the day, but at night become a celestial being that protects the forests.
As Ashitaka goes along on his travels, he helps out a group of villager being attacks by some samurai, and he finds that his shooting arm, the part of him that is infected with demon energy, has taken on a whole new kind of strength as his arrows brutally slash threw the warriors in rather graphic ways. No, this is not a conventional animated movie, nor is it a conventional Hiyazaki movie, thus the PG-13 rating.
Since The Cat Returns is one of our most popular posts, we thought you might like a little insight into the one movie that every cat love must own. Much of this documentary is in Japanese, but don’t worry, there are no subtitles, as translators do the voice overs for us. We meet with the master movie maker, Hayao Miyazaki, who has at least 10 movies on the IMDB top 250, and what prompted this story. In actuality, The Cat Returns is a spin-off from an earlier Studio Ghibli movie, “Whisper of the Heart“. In that story, a teen girl finds inspiration to follow her heart from Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, a dapper cat with a diplomatic manner and clever wit. We go in all kinds of directions while seeing how this movie was made, from interviews with the director, producer, and Japanese voice actors. We even meet the big stray cat that is the body model for Muta. This cat is a stray that lives at the studio, and she struts around the area like she owns the place. Everyone there likes her, so maybe she does. One endearing an funny clip features just about everyone on the staff at Ghibli, from the actors to the editors to the cleaning crew, coming into to make “cat calls” for the scene where the cats have their procession to Haru’s house. We even get to watch as they produce the music, and enjoy as we hear and watch the cute Ayano Tsuji sing the opening theme song “Kaze Ni Naru” with only her ukelele as an accompaniment.