On…Whisper of the Heart

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This film has made a quiet impact on my life. It’s not as sweepingly epic as Princess Mononoke, nor even as cute and funny as something like Ponyo, but nevertheless, this modest coming-of-age story has really resonated with me. It tells the story of a young teenage girl called Shizuku, as she goes through school, indulges in her hobby of reading fantasy and fairytales, and meets a young boy who inspires her to pursue her dreams. It’s part romance, part self-discovery, but all portrayed in a very sensitive and moving way. It’s hardly the kind of plot that will inspire rowdy discussion, but more the kind that prompts a bit of introspection. For me, someone who is running out of time to figure out what to do after graduation, this film captured so much of the turbulence, the anxiousness and the journey to self-belief and confidence, that I have personally gone through and will continue to experience in the coming months.

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On…Spirited Away

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As the most famous Studio Ghibli film, I usually introduce all other Ghibli films to them as “Oh it’s by the same studio that made Spirited Away.” From the positive affirmations I get, I suppose most people have seen it (or are too polite to admit they haven’t). So I have been hesitant to review it, for what could I say that others couldn’t deduce for themselves? I’ll give it a try though, especially because if you are one of those people who haven’t seen it, then I would highly recommend it. I know I recommend all Studio Ghibli films, but this one in particular is a great place to start for those new to the genre and want to test the waters a little.

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On…Monsters University

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I have been waiting so long for this film. I remember hearing rumours of a sequel to Monsters, Inc. over 6 years ago. Then that initial project got scrapped. Suddenly, in 2010, they confirmed that a prequel was being made. Then its release date got delayed from 2012. Now, on July 12th 2013, I finally got to return to the world of Monsters, Inc., over 12 years after its initial debut in 2001. Of all the Pixar films of my young childhood, Monsters, Inc. certainly made a big impression on me. In fact, Mike Wazowski was voted in to be my school house’s mascot; the film clearly left a legacy on the legions of kids who grew up on Pixar. Being able to return to those characters that we loved, in a prequel nonetheless, is a rare treat from Pixar and one I was incredibly excited for.

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On…Princess Mononoke

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Continuing my reviews of Studio Ghibli films, I’m going to talk about Princess Mononoke today. I often can’t decide between this film and Grave of the Fireflies as my favourite films of all time, but Princess Mononoke is definitely up there in my top 3. To me, it embodies all the major themes present throughout Miyazaki’s works: strong female characters, struggles between industrialism and environmentalism, mysticism as well as touching on elements of how society treats women and disabled people. It’s for these themes and its fantastic presentation of them that Princess Mononoke is an absolutely epic tale with truly remarkable visuals, contains a lot of touching and inspiring moments, and is by all accounts, an extraordinary film.

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On…My Neighbor Totoro

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When Grave of the Fireflies was first released, it was actually paired with My Neighbor Totoro as a double-feature bill. Talk about your mood whiplash. My Neighbor Totoro is an entirely different kind of film to Grave of the Fireflies. Whereas Grave of the Fireflies deals with gritty, depressing reality, My Neighbor Totoro is about the story of two girls and their magical adventures with the strange mythical creatures that live in and around their new house. The film is light-hearted, though there are a few serious moments, and it’s just a lot of fun. Totoro is the face of Studio Ghibli and features heavily in their merchandise; to Japanese children, Totoro is the equivalent of Winnie the Pooh for British children. In many ways, Totoro has become symbolic of Japanese animation and his frequent cameos into other animated films (including Toy Story 3) are a testimony to how iconic this character has become. So whilst I wouldn’t say My Neighbor Totoro is the best Studio Ghibli film in their repertoire, it has certainly become a cultural mainstay and the character of Totoro is highly recognisable and celebrated for a reason.

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On…Grave of the Fireflies

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Grave of the Fireflies is an animated film from Studio Ghibli, the same studio that’s produced Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. The film is about WWII and focuses on the story of two siblings as their town and country of Japan is being bombed during the war. The older brother, Seita, becomes the sole guardian of his younger sister Setsuko after his mother dies from burns inflicted by a bombing raid whilst his father is off fighting in the Japanese Navy. We follow him and his sister as they try to survive a tyrannical aunt, and later, life on the streets during wartime.

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On…Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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I watched this documentary a little while ago after seeing it at the top of numerous critical review sites and just hearing a general good buzz around it. Whilst I’ve watched quite a few documentaries in my time, it’s not a genre I’m particularly familiar with. I suspect for a lot of people, including myself, documentaries bring to mind the kind of fuzzy VHS tapes that your teachers made you watch with their outdated information and interviews with people who had terrible haircuts. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, however, is light years away from those experiences, and it manages to be a delightful brief insight into the life of Jiro, a world-class sushi chef who hails from humble beginnings. Jiro himself is quietly passionate, incredibly dedicated to his work but remains steadfastly modest, and watching how his restaurant operates and his thought processes behind the sushi he creates was sublime. The documentary itself is incredibly high quality and extremely well done, hitting emotional high notes as well as providing a wonderful window into a kind of lifestyle that most people will never experience.

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