Went out at 8, 3 and a half hours later and I’m home, barely even drunk and 40 quid out of pocket. Went out to meet some old peeps from college, half the fuckers didn’t even turn up, most left early, the latest any of them stayed out was half 10, so I rescheduled my 2am fucking taxi for fucking 11 and sat around for half an hour looking at the pictures hung up at Weatherspoons and finishing my last drink, most of them are of famous scientists and scholars. WHAT THE FUCK IS A PICTURE OF MARIE CUFKING CURIE DOING IN A BAR WHERE THEY PLAY FUCKING TAO CRUZ. EVERYTHING IS WRONG.
In compliance with a previous post, here’s a review of the last film I saw, Arrietty. My knowledge of The Borrowers prior to seeing this was an awareness of the novel and having seen the 1997 film, which I didn’t like even as a child, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to get going into this. What I was sure of is that it was going to be an enjoyable film, Studio Ghibli (and Hayou Miyazaki in particular) have a phenomenal track record that’s comparable to Pixar in the US (better, in my opinion). I’ve never come across a Ghibli film I haven’t liked or even been particularly unsure about, but more than that, several of them captivated so much that I instantly regarded them among my favourite films of all time, these examples being Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbour Totoro. No other substrata of film has so many entries in the rather exclusive list that is my favourite films, I can now delightedly report that Arrietty is now also among them.
For those unfamiliar, Arrietty is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s 1952 novel The Borrowers, which tells the story of a family of the titular creatures, tiny little versions of us, no bigger than a AAA battery. I haven’t read the book so I have no idea how faithful Arrietty is to the story, but I presume they’re pretty close. The title character is the teenage daughter of this particular borrower family, she’s growing up and is eager to go out ‘borrowing’ with her father (scavenging human houses for odds and ends that they can put to better use). During her trip she’s discovered by Sho, the ailing boy who’s just come to stay at the house, he meets this discovery with friendly and harmless curiosity (or so he thinks) but they are cautious, being discovered is too heavy a price. Eventually knowledge of their existence begins to put them in danger, particularly from the house’s paranoid maid (who still manages the be likeable, like many Ghibli films there’s no real antagonist) and they begin to face the idea that they might have to move somewhere new, which leads to a beautifully bitter sweet, mooted ending. The story is genuienly wonderful, Miyazaki has always exhibited a flair for writing strong female protagonists and Arrietty herself is no exception, she’s bold, determined and kind, but also reckless and something of a thrill seeker, jaded with her homespun life. The really great thing about the world Arrietty spins is that everyone and everything is bursting at the seams with character, something you just don’t see enough of elsewhere, the borrowers, the people, the bird, the cat, the crickets, everything has an exuberance of personality that just enthralls you beginning to end, nobody does this stuff better than Studio Ghibli. I was delighted to see so many children around me in the cinema, at first some of the parents went on something of a ‘grumble grumble subtitles’ whispery rant but by the time the film was 10 minutes in everyone was loving it. Like many other Ghibli films Arrietty knows it isn’t just a movie for children, it’s a movie for everyone, it has depth to it that is not often found in films of this kind, there’s a pitch perfect moment towards the final act in which Sho bickers with Arrietty about her species being doomed and displays a deeply pessimistic attitude that gives way to a heart rending confession about his illness, this is the kind of depth and emotional weight a lot of American animators seem to think is too much for a child audience, Miyazaki clearly disagrees, as do I.
The animation, as to be expected, is stellar. The first ‘borrowing’ sequence early on is flawless and impossibly tense for what it is, the animators playfully and inventively utilize the premise of life on a bug’s scale, filling the film with gorgeous minutiae that really sells the world you’re watching, examples including the water becoming all gloppy and more viscous at the borrowers’ level and double sided tape re-purposed as climbing apparatus. The character design is fantastic as ever, one thing I noticed in particular was Arrietty’s hair, which has that peculiar and distinctly Ghibli habit of increasing in volume during moments of shock or tension. The sound design too is just fantastic, it shares Princess Mononoke’s ingenious use of quiet moments that magnify one particular sound, such as Arrietty and her father walking across a bridge of exposed nails, I’ve never seen onomatopoeia so brilliantly translated to an on screen device as it is by those two films. The score is good, the vocals can become a little overbearing at times, it doesn’t have the same quiet beauty as some of Joe Hisiashi’s scores but it’s still excellent, I’m just glad I didn’t have to endure another Noah Cyrus song.
Arrietty is a gorgeous, amazing film that’s absolutely full of life and vibrancy, possibly the best ever Ghibli film for anyone who hasn’t sampled that world yet and easily one of their best in general, that’s not an accolade that should be awarded lightly. I urge everyone in the UK, Europe or even Japan to see it as soon as they are able, yanks, I advise you to wait until it gets to the big screen, I know it’s a long time off but it’s worth the wait, if you pirate this you officially have no soul. Also, watch it in Japanese if you can, the way it was intended to be seen.
Yes, I’m reviewing another Satoshi Kon movie, sue me, I’ve fallen in love with the guy, shame he’s not around anymore. Anyhoo, Paprika has possibly the most notoriety/biggest following of any of Kon’s films and it’s easy to see why. Three or so years before Inception came along the idea of dreams, melding minds and a collective subconscious had already been put on the screen, and with startling artistic vision. Paprika centers around a device called a DC Mini that allows the user to enter the dream of another person, it’s purpose being medical, but when an unknown outsider gets hold of one, it becomes clear that the gadget has other applications. Then things get weird.
This is a film where there’s absolutely no shame in looking up the Wikipedia plot outline after watching it for the first time, even if like me you find out that there’s nothing you were missing amidst the abstract, it’s nice and grounding to assure yourself that this is so. It’s often unclear whether you’re watching reality or a dream, whose dream it is and most definitely what’s going to happen next. In the long run though it doesn’t really matter, so long as the fundamentals are clear and Paprika does a wonderful job making sure the viewer understands all the key plot points without the need for the constant dialogue exposition that holds so many of these hard sci-fi films back from being truly brilliant. And Paprika is, truly brilliant. A wonderful abstract tapestry of the mind’s eye that erupts into one of the most chaotic final acts I’ve seen in any film, your sense of disbelief remaining well and truly suspended throughout. It takes a very special film to be able to show you unarguably confusing and bizarre imagery almost constantly and never force you to you pull back and question the nature of what you see and thus lose sight of the plot.
It does have its gripes, though. The decision to use what would appear to be google maps screenshots for some of the cityscape, whether out of budgetary necessity or otherwise, grates terribly and is an ugly wart on the facade of an otherwise gorgeous film. Deliberate ambiguity is a little overused as well, sometimes the motives of certain characters seems muddled and you wonder if the veritable Pandora’s Box of madness that’s opened by the film’s climax was really a length the antagonist would be willing to go to. These however are minor complaints, the animation is beautiful, the characters are diverse and intriguing and the plot blends the bizarre and the earthbound so well that you yourself feel like you’re in a dream. If I’m brutally honest I think I prefer Perfect Blue, largely because I found the story stronger and more affecting, but then Perfect Blue is a psychological film noir to Paprika’s high concept sci-fi blockbuster, I’m more of a noir man, so it’s really down to personal preference. In any case they’re both easily among my favourite films and Kon has earnt his place in my heart reserved for the truly wonderful anime directors of this world next to Miyazaki, Oshii, Otomo, Anno and Rintaro.
I’ll keep this relatively short. Perfect Blue was the first anime helmed by Satoshi Kon, who later went on to make the seminal ‘Paprika’ which supposedly inspired Inception. What’s interesting about Kon’s films is that, for the most part they don’t suit the anime medium. What I mean by that is that there seems to be little reason for them to be animated at all. We’ve all grown up with the pre-conception that all animated film has to be fantastical and out of this world, using animation to show us things wondrous, futuristic or mystical. Perfect Blue doesn’t go this route, much like, but far more than his later films Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers it’s entirely grounded in the real world, nothing fantastical ever happens. At its core Perfect Blue is a critique of the cruelty of show business, the obsessive, intrusive nature of fandom and what these things can do to a fragile psyche.
It follows a young, nervous pop idol named Mima who decides to quit her group ‘Cham’ and become an actress, against the best wishes of some of her peers. This prerogative very quickly becomes forestalled by obsessive fans who send hate mail and worse, sleazy producers who seek to exploit her, a stalker and a website which catalogs Mima’s life in disturbing detail. Mima is a brilliantly tragic character, she’s idealistic and cautiously willing to do what it takes to get to the top, even at one stage sheepishly allowing herself to participate in a rape scene, the filming of which is one of the most disheartening moments in the film. Gradually Mima’s mind begins to unwravel as nasty things start to happen around her and she loses sight of who she is, she even starts to see an alter ego, the pop idol version of herself, who tells her repeatedly how ‘disgusting’ she has become.
If the film has any flaws, it’s that none of the characters really have the same depth as Mima does, apart from one, but that would be spoiling it. Some of the dialogue is a little drab as well but I didn’t even notice that until I went through it a second time. It’s one of those films that knows how to tell a story with real visual flair, the animation, while rough around the edges, expertly conveys the rift between the dark, dirty reality of the lifestyle Mima has chosen and the glitzy, glamorous mirage that they would have her believe it to be. Towards the end the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur and Mima begins to believe herself to actually be in the show she’s watching, leading to one huge dramatic revelation that leaves you reeling, then immediately throws you back into a tense uncertainty. One thing you’re sure of by the final act is that you’re really hoping Mima makes it out of this intact, she’s just an innocent girl caught up in a hell that nobody deserves and it’s destroying her.
Perfect Blue is a dark, sad tale of the evils that young women have to endure to try and make ‘the big time’. It’s about the harsh changing face of show business and the lengths fans will go to in order to get their way. It seamlessly blends fantasy and reality and leaves you breathless by the end, I was thrown for a loop by nearly every twist this film had to offer. It’s a pitch perfect drama worthy of Hitchcock via David Lynch. Watch it.
My goodness, what an astonishing film that was. Still breathing it all in but, having just watched it, I can say without fear of retraction that it was beautifully animated, the story had me on the edge of my seat all the way though, hell it was just plain brilliant, a more eloquent review will follow when I’ve had some time to think about it more.