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May 10, 2019
HORUS, PRINCE OF THE SUN was the first and only film Isao Takahata directed for what was Japan's top animation studio in the 1960's, Toei, with a little bit of contribution from Hayao Miyazaki, of course. At the time most Japanese animated features were made cheaply and quickly. But Takahata wanted to go one step further and create something elaborate and beautiful. It drove up the budget, to the point where it annoyed the Toei executives. At one point during production, the budget froze and so the animators were reduced to using still shots for certain scenes, such as a wolves attacking on a village read more
Apr 23, 2019
OKKO'S INN, a disarmingly charming, instantly likable Japanese animated feature, is the sort of family-friendly movie rarely seen from a lot of western productions of this type nowadays. While most kiddie flicks I've seen these days tend to go for loud, noisy, in-your-face schtick and disgusting scatalogical humor for the heck of it, this one instead aims to be a more gentle, down-to-earth sort of tale. Whatever humor we get is thankfully brief and of the clean and clever kind. More importantly, it's a film with a lot of heart. It's only weakness may be that it may fall somewhat short of the standards often read more
Feb 2, 2019
Mamoru Hosoda's fifth animated feature, MIRAI, may seem a bit more small scale compared to his earlier movies such as THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME, SUMMER WARS, and WOLF CHILDREN, but it's no less mesmerizing. To anyone unfamiliar with these aforementioned films, I do recommend them highly -- they're all magnificent movies, almost the equivalent of Hayao Miyazaki's work. MIRAI isn't quite that, but it's the next best thing.

The film tells the story of a pampered little boy named Kun, used to his parents catering to him all the time. So much so that when he gets a new sister, Mirai (which means "future"), read more
Feb 2, 2019
MODEST HEROES, a 53-minute (yes, that's how long it is) animated feature which is actually three fifteen-minute featurettes in one program, is the second animated release from Studio Ponoc. Founded in 2015, the fledging studio found success nationwide with their first feature, the charming if derivative MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER. That film, handled by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and many other former animators at Studio Ghibli (who temporarily closed in 2014 but thankfully reopened recently), was more of a crowd-pleaser and technically more of a "Best of Ghibli" kind of showcase. MODEST HEROES, on the other hand, is something quite different, and may actually be all read more
Feb 2, 2019
Makoto Shinkai's YOUR NAME achieved what would arguably be a most improbable feat: it dethroned Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY to become Japan’s most successful film. And what a movie it is! Heartfelt, hilarious, moving, thrilling, and enthralling, this movie cleverly mixes together the central idea from Disney's FREAKY FRIDAY with a bit of BACK TO THE FUTURE for good measure.

It's about two teens -- Taki and Mitsuha -- who somehow find themselves switching places in their bodies periodically. (A running gag involves Taki waking up in Mitsuha's place noticing "his" breasts.) Stakes get higher in the latter half when the two star-crossed strangers use that read more
Feb 2, 2019
The first thing I should mention about BIG FISH AND BEGONIA is that it is visually stunning. I do not recall seeing many Chinese animated productions (although I wouldn't be surprised if I had inadvertently stumbled upon one without realizing it), but this is one of the most visually impressive I've seen from the country. Like a magnet, it seduces you from the first frame and keeps you entranced for all 100 minutes. In a way, this film reminded me a bit of Laika's recent KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. That film, while not a tightly plotted story, was nonetheless so visually stimulating that one read more
Feb 2, 2019
Studio Ghibli had long established itself as the pinnacle of Japanese animation starting in the 1980's, but recently the studio went into hiatus, leaving most of its younger employees at a dead-end. Not to be discouraged, some of these employees decided to start a new facility of their own. Now christened as "Studio Ponoc", this team of former Ghibli animators, led by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY and WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE) begin their career with MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER, based on a children's book by the late Mary Stewart. The end result could very well be described as basically a "Greatest read more
Feb 2, 2019
Everyone has stories about bullies and victims, but there have been very few features, namely animated ones, which actually dare to show the raw emotional honesty of such situations, particularly from the West. Luckily fans of traditional animation have a great contender for this subject: A SILENT VOICE, directed by Naoko Yamada. Based on a similarly titled Japanese graphic novel series, this movie doesn't hold back on showing the true tragedies of the story it tells, making its uplifting resolution all the more meaningful.

A SILENT VOICE tells the tale of both the growth and redemption of a former bully, Shoya Ishida. We first meet him read more
Sep 7, 2015
Based on a horror book by Japanese author Hideyuki Kikuchi and with character designs by FINAL FANTASY's Yoshitaka Amano, 1985's VAMPIRE HUNTER D was a low-budget, B-grade direct-to-video release was criticized by many for its cheap production values and simplistic story. Even so, it still managed to find an audience that was gradually garnering interest in Anime thanks to being exposed to edgier, more violent works than one would expect from the West, such as AKIRA, WICKED CITY, etc. Sixteen years later, a second film was made, helmed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the man behind the aforementioned WICKED CITY as well as the similarly popular NINJA read more
Jul 31, 2015
Yoshiaki Kawajiri's WICKED CITY, based on a similarly titled book by Hideyuki Kikuchi (who also wrote VAMPIRE HUNTER D) has its share of devoted fans who consider this a classic in the halls of Anime, but I stand firmly behind this review.

This is a disgustingly vulgar, reprehensibly distasteful, and needlessly gory animated mess with little in the way of genuine appeal. Despite a promising start and a potentially interesting plot, WICKED CITY goes all out on shock value at its most repulsive level -- to the point that whatever virtues it may have are all but forgotten. It's misogynistic as well, with extensive scenes involving read more