My first impression of Japanese animation was of futuristic robots, monsters and dragons. I can’t recollect how I adopted this point of view (Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon perhaps?). I had some glimpses in the anime world through Animatrix and Kill Bill and was very impressed by the animation there but somehow I did not dig any further into the world of Japanese animation. I am ever so grateful to TCM (Turner classic movies) for taking off my blindfold and introducing me to the world of anime. I feel like an explorer who has embarked on a new and exciting journey to a distant world.
Jaded by the land of Disney where I get an assurance of happy endings, anime came as a breath of fresh air. There was no commitment made to happy endings (Grave of fireflies, Princess Mononoke) and sometimes a villain was absent altogether (My neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the heart and Only yesterday). To me this was a much-needed jolt of reality in the world of animation plagued with sickly sweet fairy tales. Moreover anime had dark characters that were not just crazed deviants or purely evil (Princess Mononoke). They had their own aspirations and motivations that drove them to act the way they did.
Miyazaki: "The concept of portraying evil and then destroying it - I know this is considered mainstream, but I think it is rotten. This idea that whenever something evil happens someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics is hopeless."
I have to say that there were a number of things that I did not expect from anime.
1) The diversity in target audience. There was anime that appealed to every age group and demographic. Castles and magical creatures for the little ones, romance for teenagers, science fiction for the nerds and even erotica (hentai) for the pervy ones.
2) I did not expect animation to delve into intense topics as in ‘The grave of the fireflies’, which is a harrowing story of two kids, who are orphaned and victims of war.
3) I never ever expected to get so emotionally tangled with animated characters. I thought that with animation, the disconnect with reality (as in void of real actors) would always keep me aware of the fictitious nature of the medium and that would keep me from having any sort of emotional attachment. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
4) I loved the hand painted animation that these movies stuck with instead of the computer generated sleek images.
5) I was very pleasantly surprised to see such headstrong female protagonists in Miyazaki’s movies since the movies were made in the 80s.
When asked about women in lead role Miyazaki said: “That would be far too complicated and lengthy an answer to state here, so I'll just suffice by saying that it's because I love women very much (laughs).”
6) I also did not expect that I would prefer the subtitled version to the dubbed version of anime. The dubbing by Disney seems to take away the Japanese appeal from the movie. It was surprising how Disney-like Princess Mononoke felt in the dubbed version. I have decided to stick with the subtitled versions if I have the option.
So far I have watched five anime movies. Yes I know I have a lot of catching up to do.
Loved the character detailing and the rich landscapes in the movie. There is a scene in this movie where this little girl is throwing a tantrum, as her family is ready to leave to go to a restaurant. Unintentionally the girl steps out of the house without wearing shoes (but she is wearing socks and is fully clothed). Her father gets very upset about her stepping out of the house and slaps the little girl!
I didn’t know what to make of it. I started wondering what the cultural implications of revealing ones feet were in Japan (especially if you were a woman). I realise that the Japanese have a fetish for small feet but the extreme outburst of the father in this movie makes me wonder why is it considered inappropriate to reveal your (mind you not legs) feet?
Whisper of the heart:
I felt like I was experiencing the city life in Tokyo in person while I watched this movie. The work ethic that comes across in this movie was also very striking and that’s something I have associated with the Japanese culture through whatever little I have seen or read about Japan. This movie has a very romantic premise. With Japanese romantic movies I also noticed that you could cut the sexual tension with a knife (just like in X-files with Mulder and Scully). The movies then typically end with the couple bowing to each other acknowledging their relationship. All I have to say is ... just make out already! But seriously, why the extreme censorship in the physical intimacy when the graphic violence is so over the top?
My neighbor Totoro:
Again the character detailing of the two sisters is simply brilliant. It’s a happy fun movie appealing to all ages and I loved that. The movie does not reveal certain aspects of the story. For instance, throughout the movie the kids are told that their mom is in the hospital because she has a cold. The audience does not find out what disease the mother is suffering from. To me that was very profound. In life, all your questions about the world may not be answered.
I have to say this movie did not grab my attention as all the other movies did. This movie is probably more appealing to the younger audience (not to say that I am old :p) But then again the violence was so graphic, how could it be a movie for kids? If it is targeted towards kids, I wonder whether the Japanese history has something to do with it. Has their past prompted them to accept violence as a part of life?
Grave of fireflies:
This movie grabbed my heart and wrenched it till I cried. I read somewhere that this movie was played in Japanese theaters back to back with ‘My neighbor Totoro’. I wish I could’ve done that. Without Totoro to cheer me up I was engulfed in a depressive cloud last night. (Note to self: will not subject self to harrowing movies without a neutralizing dose of Totoro like movies at disposal).
I could not resist digging around for more gems of anime. So I did some research and came up with a list of movies that I want to watch:
Kiki’s delivery service
Chie the brat
Cowboy Bebop The movie
The dimension traveler
Like the clouds, like the wind
Ghost in the shell
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Gauche the cellist
The cat returns
Howl’s moving castle
My neighbors the Yamadas
If you are an anime virgin, I hope that I have made enough ruckus to make you check out some anime. On the other hand if you have been there done that got the t-shirt then do recommend other must watch anime movies and/or I would love to hear your take on any of the movies that I have listed on my ‘to watch’ list.