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All Creatures Great and Small (TV series) Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in TV & Movies.
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All Creatures Great and Small was a British television show based upon the books by James Herriot. It ran seven series from 1978-1990 with a break in 1980 when the characters were drawn into World War II so two specials were made in 1983 and 1985. In 1988 the series was revived and continued.

Unlike the two previous films, the TV series was able to have more character development as there was so much time available. James Herriot was played by then-unknown Welsh actor Christopher Timothy, well-known actor Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge in two of the Harry Potter movies) was Siegfriend Farnon, and his ne’er-do-well brother Tristan Farnon was played by Peter Davison. Helen Alderson, later James Herriot’s wife, was played by Carol Drinkwater (series 1-3 and specials) and Lynda Bellingham (series 4-7, as Carol Drinkwater became unavailable). Mary Hignett was Skeldale House’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hall, who is replaced by a new houskeeper Mrs. Greenlaw (Judy Wilson) in the revived series as Mary Hignett died shortly afterwards at the end of the first three series.

The series is very enjoyable to watch and it is quite easy to become glued to it, wondering what happens in the next episode, etc., etc. It’s available on VHS and DVD, some of the DVD special features include “Who’s Who”, a list of the actors and their filmography.

All of the episodes I have seen so far are immensely enjoyable and there are always the moments of wit and humour. The episodes are at least an hour in length.

The role of Tristan was increased during the first series as Christopher Timothy suffered a car accident and broke his leg (in one episode he is walking with difficulty, the made excuse is that he hurt his ankle) so the script and filming locations were redone (Christopher Timothy was subsequently restricted to studio shooting) for Peter Davison.

As far as I know, series 1-6 are available on region 1 DVD (plus the specials). See the article All Creatures Great and Small on Answers.com for more information and a list of the episodes according to the series.

Links

All Creatures Great and Small on Answers.com – the article mentioned above concerning the TV series and two films previous to the series.

My Neighbour Totoro Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli.
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Disney version; avail. on DVD My Neighbour Totoro is a 1988 film directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli and the title “Tototo” is the Studio Ghibli mascot, which features in the opening titles of all their anime films. This was one of my first Studio Ghibli films that I saw, the other being Kiki’s Delivery Service, and both are heartwarming and enjoyable children/family films. Saying that, it is important to note that unlike many Western children/family films, Studio Ghibli films are unique in that despite being animated, they are enjoyed by audiences of all ages and can be seen again and again without the usual feeling of resentment or that “not again!” feeling that can happen from a too-much-viewed film.

History of My Neighbour Totoro

Totoro was released in North America alongside Hayao Miyazaki’s mentor Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, a strategy that is believed that was done for two reasons: 1) Totoro, at the time, wasn’t believed to be successful, and 2) while I haven’t seen it, many who have seen Grave of the Fireflies say it is an extremely depressing and tearful film, and so Totoro would act as a lighter film that would balance out Fireflies.

On that second note, some reviews that I have read have made a distinctive parallel between Totoro and Fireflies, being that these two films star two young siblings who have a bond with each other, but at the same time their relationships are ironic in that one is a happy, bright relationship, while the other is miserable and tragic relationship.

Originally, Mr. Miyazaki had planned on the story centering on an only child and her childhood wonderland, but later this only child diverged into two sisters, being Satsuki and Mei, their names both translating as “May”, being the fifth month of the Gregorian calendar. Their names stem from the said fact of the original only child. This is the reason why there are promotional posters with a single girl and Totoro, having been released before the character change.

For more information about the film, I’d recommend reading The Art of My Neighbour Totoro, it contains tons of original art, character development and design, etc. It can be found at Amazon.com.

Summary

Set in the 1950’s, in the Japan countryside, the protagonists Satsuki and her sister Mei have moved into an old house with their father. They moved to the countryside so as to be nearer to the hospital their mother is recovering in from tuberculosis (confirmed by Mr. Miyazaki, whose mother suffered from this disease when he was a boy). Within the short opening of the story, they meet some of the locals, including an old lady known as Nanny and a young boy named Kanta, who develops an ambivalent relationship with Satsuki, and she with him. The sisters also discover mysterious black, puffball-shaped creatures variously translated into English as “dust bunnies”, “soot sprites”, etc.

Despite only being eleven, Satsuki is shown being quite able of making her family breakfast and bento lunches (obento). While she’s in school, their father studies (he’s a professor of archeology and anthropology), and Mei plays outside where she comes across a small white creature, and she follows it into a brier-like thicket – reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland – and falls through a hole onto a larger version of the strange creature, which Mei learns is a “totoro”, or a kind of troll. (See the Wikipedia link for more details.) Mei soundly falls asleep on top Totoro and is found by Satsuki and their father in the thicket when she wakes up. Mei tells them about Totoro and they go to the Camphor Tree, where Totoro lives, and they make a prayer, full of gratitude and thankfulness.

One day Satsuki, Mei, and their father travel by bicycle to the hospital. They arrive and the girls are naturally happy to see their mother, as their mother also is to see her daughters. They tell her excitedly about the dust bunnies and the big Totoro and the little totoros. On the way back home, they discuss the anticipated visit from their mother when she is able and well enough to go.

The rest of the movie follows the girls’ course of adventures with Totoro, including the bus stop episode where Totoro gladly takes their father’s umbrella, after Satsuki offered it to him, and in return he gave them a small leaf-wrapped package of magic nuts and seeds, which seem to grow into a huge forest overnight and the girls fly over the countryside holding onto the giant Totoro.

While their father is at the university, Satsuki and Mei are looked after by Nanny, and after harvesting some vegetables, Kanta comes running with a telegram from the doctor. Satsuki uses Kanta’s family’s telephone to contact her father and tell him. Later Satsuki and Mei find out that their mother can’t come yet as she caught a cold, and will come next week. Mei and Satsuki have a terrible argument, leaving Mei crying.

Satsuki and Mei are sensitive girls who care for their mother, and Satsuki also breaks down – both are scared and don’t want their mother to die. Mei overhears Satsuki and runs off. Later, it is apparent that Mei ran away and Satsuki is insightful enough to realize that Mei has gone to the hospital! A search begins for Mei and Satsuki runs all over the countryside to find her sister.

As a last resort, Satsuki calls for the help of Totoro and she takes a ride on the Catbus and they find Mei. Soon after the sisters’ happy reunion, they go to the hospital where their mother is, and while they don’t visit her, they see their father visiting their mother in the hospital and before they go back home, Mei leaves the ear of corn on the window sill, with the following inscribed: “For mother.” It is possible that their mother saw Satsuki and Mei in the trees.

As the credits roll, Satsuki and Mei are taken home, and the Catbus disappears into the night sky. Nanny and Kanta soon meet them and they walk home. Their mother comes home, has baths with them, and reads stories to them in bed while Totoro and the small totoros are in the background, until they aren’t even noticed by the girls. As indicated through the closing song, Totoro can only be seen in childhood.

My Neigbhour Totoro opening

I couldn’t find a Totoro trailer that satisfied me, so I chose the opening from the Fox Video version and the Japanese version with English subtitles. Both the opening and closing songs are sweet and they are very sing-along songs. The English and Japanese versions slightly differ from each other in translation.

English opening (Fox Video)

Japanese opening, with English subtitles

Recommended Editions of Totoro and Recommended Reading

The Art of My Neighbour Totoro (published by Studio Ghibli), available on Amazon.com and other stores, online and walk-in stores.

As with all foreign films, watching them in their original language is best and with subtitles. This goes for anime, too, and I wholeheartedly recommend watching Totoro in Japanese, with English subtitles, a thing made possible for viewing in North America thanks to Disney.

But of course, some may wish to view this film in English, so I would recommend watching the Fox Video version because in my opinion it’s a better dubbing than Disney – many people praise the Fanning sisters (Dakota and Ella) with their dubbing but personally I think that Disney overdoes dubbing of little kids in Studio Ghibli films – Satsuki and Mei sounded way too high-pitched and simplified for my liking. I know they’re just little girls (Mei and Satsuki) but in the Japanese version and even in the Fox Video version, they have more dimension in their characters than their Disney counterparts. Anyway, that’s enough from me, how about I just let people go watch this movie and see which version they like better? I’ll make one final note, however: the Fox Video and Disney versions are not the same – the opening and closing songs are the same but it was sung by someone else and the tune was not favourable for my liking (I prefer the Fox Video version) and the scripts are somewhat different.

Links

My Neighbour Totoro at Wikipedia, see note about the word “totoro”

The Camphor Tree – A fan’s website dedicated to My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro at IMDB

Laputa: Castle in the Sky Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli.
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Disney cover of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (or Castle in the Sky) is a 1986 anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli and it is loosely based on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. As with Mr. Miyazaki’s earlier Studio Ghibli films, several English translations were made, and sometimes there were characters’ name spellings and pronunciations changed, etc., and it wasn’t until Disney made a deal with Studio Ghibli that Castle in the Sky was officially released in North America.

†Title

The English translation of the Japanese title (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta, translated as The Sky’s Castle: Laputa) was changed to Castle in the Sky upon release in several countries with Spanish speakers, and even some countries that have little Spanish influence such as the U.K., as the word Laputa, though meaningless in Japanese, English, and French, it translates as “prostitute” ( la puta) in Spanish. This was perhaps Jonathan Swift’s intention when he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, as he claimed that Spanish was one of the many languages he was fluent in; however it should be noted that Mr. Miyazaki hadn’t been aware of the word’s meaning until after the film’s release and he said that had he known of the word’s meaning, he wouldn’t have used it, and he apologized. For Spanish speakers and readers, Laputa has been replaced by a euphemism such as Lapata.

History of Laputa

Within the storyline of Castle in the Sky, in the opening credits and throughout the story the history of the floating island is alluded to, connecting this story to our world, which is strengthened by the obvious European influences, such as mediaeval castles, miners, etc. According to legend, humans have always been fascinated with the sky and flight, and as they ventured further into making aerial exploration possible their flying machines became more sophisticated. The most famous of these legends was Laputa, a floating castle in the sky that was an entire city hidden within a violent storm and that within the storyline had been abandoned seven hundred years ago, and most people have ceased to believe in it. Only a few believe in it now and competition to find it is dangerous and tense. See Wikipedia for more information on the history of the setting.

Summary

The story opens in the sky, a young girl is being held by agents under the command of Colonel Muska on an airship, being taken to an unknown destination. The airship is attacked by sky pirates, who seem to be after the girl. In the resulting confusion, Muska tries to send a message using Morse code, while doing so, the girl suddenly hits him on the head with a wine bottle and knocks him out. She takes a crystal from him – at that moment, the pirates barge into the room and she and the crystal are almost seized, causing her to fall from the airship.

Meanwhile, a young boy named Pazu sees the girl, who is now no longer falling, but floating and a blue light is emitting from the crystal. He catches her and within a few seconds, the crystal’s light ebbs and disappears. He takes her to his home, where she wakes up next morning to the sound of his trumpet and he feeds his pigeons that he keeps in a coop. Pazu apparently lives alone.

While there, the girl whose name is Sheeta, sees a photograph of a floating castle in the sky. Pazu explains that his father took the photo and that he was an explorer, he tried to find a legendary city called Laputa, and he shows her a copy of Gulliver’s Travels. (In the Disney dubbed version, it is his father’s journal.) Hardly anyone believes Laputa exists but Pazu believes the city does exist and wants to find it.

Suddenly the pirates arrive that had tried to get Sheeta and she and Pazu quickly try to leave the town, with Sheeta being disguised as a boy, but when she stumbles when Pazu tries to go to his master for help, her braids give her away. A riot ensues in the small street while Pazu and Sheeta go through the back and go down the railroads and get a ride. It’s not long, though, that they are followed by the pirates and then they’re surrounded by the military – the agents that had held Sheeta hostage in the first place.

While running, Sheeta and Pazu fall, only being saved from death by the crystal, and they float down into an underground tunnel where they find an old miner called Uncle Pom, who reveals Sheeta’s crystal to be “volucite” (“aetherium” in the Disney adaptation) and that’s what keeps Laputa floating.

When the children emerge, Sheeta reveals her secret name to Pazu, which is Lucita Toel Ul Laputa, an ancient name she has inherited meaning “Lucita, True Ruler of Laputa” in Laputan. The agents appear and surround them and take them by force into custody. They are taken to a fortress, a mediæval-style castle, and are separated: Pazu into a prison cell and Sheeta is treated like a princess and is shown an old Laputan robot that fell from the sky.

Pazu is released, being given some gold, and he goes home only to find the pirates have taken over and he is tied up. He realizes his foolishness at going, being paid gold for Sheeta’s capture, but Dola, the pirate leader, comments on Sheeta’s courageous action for Pazu’s escape while she faces danger. She compares Sheeta to herself when she was a girl and advises her sons that when they marry, to marry a girl like Sheeta.

The pirates and Pazu go off to rescue Sheeta. Meanwhile, Sheeta remembers an ancient spell for help that she learnt from her grandmother when she was a little girl, and repeats it. Suddenly, the crystal glows blue light and the robot awakens. Chaos ensues in the fortress and the robot protects Sheeta from the guns and bombs that are directed at it. It manages to fend off the offensive forces until Pazu and the pirates arrive, who successfully rescue her. Unfortunately, when Sheeta fainted, the crystal bounced off down to the ground, and is found by Muska, who can now touch it without being harmed, and everyone sees the light is pointing in the direction of Laputa.

Meanwhile, Sheeta and Pazu are taken aboard the pirate ship where they lend a hand. Pazu helps Dola’s husband, a mechanic, while Sheeta is employed to work in the kitchen, which she has to clean up first before cooking anything. Soon, Dola’s sons are all helping her in the kitchen, who all seem charmed by her. In the Japanese version, she is seen as a potential motherly figure to the sons, while in the Disney English dub one of the pirate sons even makes a profession of love to her. (“I’m in love with you!”)

The pirates and Muska’s fleet compete in the discovery of Laptua – Sheeta and Pazu get to the island first on their own in some sort of aerial contraption that is separated from the pirate ship during an attack from the government agents when they enter the violent storm.

There Sheeta and Pazu find another Laputan robot, and many more like it, but they’re all asleep. The moving robot takes care of the flora and fauna and looks after it. They soon hear gunfire and see that Muska’s fleet has also arrived and the clouds have parted; the pirates have been captured and the children persevere to rescue them, in the process Sheeta is captured by Muska and disappears with him into the deep interiors of the city where Muska displays the terrible power the crystal can unleash. He kills all his fleet using the Laputan robots and the power of the crystal. It is revealed that Muska is also in line of inheritance.

Sheeta finally manages to get the crystal back and runs, with Muska in pursuit, and she finds Pazu again who’s been looking for her. She gives him the crystal and tells him to throw it away before being caught by Muska.

In the final showdown, Muska is defeated by the children when they both use the crystal, uttering a spell of destruction, and Laputa disintegrates. The pirates manage to push off just in time. Muska is blinded and supposedly killed. The children are saved by the roots of the giant forest and they find their flight contraption, still in good condition, and fly away from the island, that steadily floats up higher and higher until apparently being caught in Earth’s orbit while the pirates and the children depart, going their own ways.

Original Japanese Trailer

Trivia

  • During one of the Laputan sequences, two fox squirrels are seen, from another of Mr. Miyazaki’s films: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
  • A crystal similar to the one that Sheeta wore is one of Howl’s accessories in Howl’s Moving Castle.
  • At the Studio Ghibli Museum there is a life-size statue of a Laputan robot.

Images

I, Robot: A Critical Review Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Essays, Sci-fi.
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This following review is a discussion of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the 2004 movie of the same name, including history of robots.

Isaac Asimovs I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot"

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1950, and despite its title it is not related to Eando Binder’s short story of the same name. Originally, when Mr. Asimov had wished to call it Mind and Iron, and objected when the publisher renamed it.

The omnibus contains nine short stories, set within a quasi-narration (that is seen as memories) by the famous Dr. Susan Calvin, a reputed robopsychologist of U.S. Robots, who works with robots and helps them out with behavioural, psychological problems. Susan Calvin is one of the most well-grounded characters of Mr. Asimov’s robot stories.

Many times over screenplays were written for a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories for Warner Brothers but the company didn’t accept any of them. The most notable attempt was Harlan Ellison’s screenplay, which was viewed with very positive responses from Mr. Asimov himself and he said it would be the best science fiction film ever. Mr. Ellison’s screenplay can be found in the book I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. I have read it and it is definately appealing.

In 2004, a film titled I, Robot starring Will Smith was released in North America, and many fans had anticipated its release in full faith of it being a unique Asimovian film. However, many were disappointed as it had become a science fiction thriller with a deep leaning towards the “Frankenstein complex“, a colloquial term used by Mr. Asimov described as “a fear of robots and other artificial intelligence.”

Quite a few years before I had even read I, Robot I had seen many trailers for the movie, and even though at the time I wasn’t really aware of what it was about, I could definately tell it was some sort of anti-robot movie. When I actually saw the film about one and a half years ago, with references of Mr. Asimov’s stories in mind, I wasn’t impressed. Myself, I see the film as being rather lame and underdeveloped due to its high amount of action and violence, and totally lacking in character development and story structure – even during scenes of high-excitement, I was pretty aloof and there wasn’t a single moment of personal excitement for me. It was like, “Okay, what happens next?”

History of Robots in Literature

Robots have appeared throughout literature since ancient times. In Greek legend, was said to be a creature that patrolled the ancient island of Crete day and night, watching for intruders, and the animated skeletons in the legend of the Golden Fleece could be called robots.

But it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that many believe the first robot appeared in literature, despite Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to be organic. Many refer to the Creature as “Frankenstein,” but it is the creator’s name, not the creation. In the story, Victor Frankenstein creates the Creature with several recent dead remains of people, and one night it becomes alive, and it destroys everything Frankenstein loves; in the finalty the Creature kills its creator. Thus, the origin of Mr. Asimov’s “Frankenstein complex”.

Incidentally the same year Isaac Asimov was born, it was in 1923 that the word “robot” was introduced into the English language by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s (pronounced Chapek) Rossum’s Universal Robots or R.U.R. The word robot comes from the Czech word robota, meaning “slavery, forced labour”, etc., from the Czech word rab “slave.”

Despite the etymology of “robot”, slavery was not the case in R.U.R. In the play, the robots are indistinguishable from human beings – as they are organic – and they are employed by humans. Through the course of the story, the human population increasingly becomes lazy up to the point where the robots are doing all the work – until one day, the robots revolt and attack the helpless humans. The robots later develop human qualities, such as the ability to love and reproduce.

Isaac Asimov’s Robots

Mr. Asimov describes in his introduction to Robot Visions that as he was growing up, he read tons of science fiction, especially the kind that dealt with robots, but he did get tired of the ceaselessly mediocre plot of robots rebelling and wreaking havoc until they were stopped at the eleventh hour, almost a cliché.

Mr. Asimov’s robot stories really eased the fear of robots so many people had and even more so when he made the idea of a robot take-over impossible with the Three Laws of Robotics, which state as follows:

  1. A robot may not harm a human, or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.
  2. A robot must obey a human’s orders unless they conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect itself unless this conflicts with the First or Second Law.
I, Robot 2004 film (tagline)

Promotional poster for "I, Robot"

The I, Robot Movie

Rumours of a sci-fi film based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories spread quite quickly in the early stages of making I, Robot. For many years, fans had hoped a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories would be faithful to them and based on an earlier screenplay, particularly Harlan Ellison’s (see above). While his screenplay is, as mentioned, the most notable especially as he had personal support from Mr. Asimov, Warner Brothers shelved it due to the fact that at the time it would be very expensive due to the technology involved, but of course, as always, there could be other things in the shadows about the screenplay being shelved.

Anyways, the screenplay written for the film was never based on Mr. Asimov’s works, it was originally entitled as Hardwired. Sometime later 20th Century Fox acquired the copyright and around the same time, rights to Mr. Asimov’s works became available. The director was assigned, who is said to have begun referring to it as “I, Robot” almost immediately.

The film was released in 2004, having been filmed in Vancouver, B.C., but set in the U.S. around the year 2035. In the film, humanity has become accustomed to relying on their robots, and Detective Spooner (Will Smith) is constantly trying to condemn robots but with little success. He hates robots and sees no good in them at all and when the mysterious death of a prominent figure of U.S. Robotics (note the difference in the company’s name), a company that promotes the use of robots and manufactures robots. Spooner directly assumes the cause of death was by a robot, despite others insisting it was a case of suicide.

Spooner suspects one of the new line of robots,the NS-5s, nicknamed Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), yet the robot refuses he committed murder, and he even displays emotions such as anger.

To make a long story short, the high artificial intelligence V.I.K.I., which is what all the new robots are hooked up to (except Sonny), apparently corrupts the robots and the robots begin to revolt against the humans and initiate some kind of curfew. The previous robots, the NS-4s that had been replaced by the NS-5s, respond to the emergency and try to protect the humans only to be destroyed by the new robots.

Sonny, Spooner, and Dr. Susan Calvin defeat V.I.K.I and the other robots, which revert back to their normal state, and everything goes back to normal pretty much.

All that happens within the course of the film displays characteristics such as the Frankenstein complex, robot take-over, and saving humanity at the last moment. There are some references to Mr. Asimov’s works in the film, whether they’re obvious or alluded to, but they don’t really serve the same purpose as they do in the originals. These are some of the robot stories that are featured: “Little Lost Robot”, “The Bicentennial Man”, “The Evitable Conflict”, and “Robot Dreams”; a story that is prominent in the scene when Sonny is seen standing on a hill looking down at all the other robots.

I, Robot Trailer

Further Reading

I suggest reading Mr. Asimov’s I, Robot, and I would also suggest Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. Both are readily available; in late 2004 Warner Brothers packaged the screenplay in book form with I, Robot featuring the DVD cover of the movie.

Spirited Away Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by j128 in Anime, Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli.
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Spirited Away

"Spirited Away" DVD cover (Australian release)

Spirited Away is a 2001 film directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. This film marked the comeback of the much-acclaimed director after his assumed retirement after the release of Princess Mononoke. Mr. Miyazaki drew the inspiration for Spirited Away during a summer vacation when he met the daughter of a friend – the daughter very much resembled the film’s heroine Chihiro in character – it is said that anybody who sets within ten feet of Mr. Miyazaki is likely to become a character in one of his films. As an example Mr. Miyazaki’s other film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, the protagonist Kiki was based upon the thirteen-year-old daughter of producer Toshio Suzuki.

In Japan the original title is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi literally translated as The Spirited Away of Sen and Chihiro or Sen and the Spiriting Away of Chihiro. Spirited Away was the first anime film to win an Oscar as well as winning the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, being the first animated feature film of any kind to do so.

Summary

Excerpt from DVD insert: Hayao Miyazaki said, “I would say that this film is an adventure story even though there is no brandishing of weapons or battles involving supernatural powers. However, this story is not a showdown between right and wrong. It is a story in which the heroine will be thrown into a place where the good and the bad dwell together, and there she will experience the world. She will learn about friendship and devotion, and will survive by making full use of her brain. She sees herself through the crisis, avoids danger and gets herself back to the ordinary world somehow. She manages not because she has destroyed the ‘evil’, but because she has acquired the ability to survive.”

Chihiro is a ten-year-old girl (the same age as the inspiring girl) who is a sullen, bitter, and spoiled brat but by the end of the film she has undergone a metamorphosis into a confident and happier person. She and her parents are moving when her father gets themselves lost in which they find a seemingly abandoned theme park fashioned after a not-too-recent Japanese past.

Her parents find a stall with food and start eating despite Chihiro’s complaints. She wanders off and finds a bathhouse; as she begins to explore she encounters a young boy and he tells her to leave immediately and to get across the river before its too late. He creates an illusion to give Chihiro a chance to escape.

Chihiro finds her parents who have now tranformed into large pigs and understandably she freaks out and flees. However, she doesn’t go far, as the grassy field that her family had crossed is now covered with a large body of water. Adding more to her dilemma, she is slowly becoming transparent.

The boy finds her in her transparent state and convinces her to eat something that makes her solid again; he then helps her further by telling her she’ll need to get a job to survive in this spirit-inhabited world from the sorceress Yubaba.

Chihiro meets the boiler-man Kamajii, who directs a servant named Lin to take her to Yubaba. Chihiro reaches Yubaba’s lair after a degree of difficulty and assistance. In order for her to acquire a job at the bathhouse she has to surrender her name to the sorceress who renames Chihiro as Sen; this is how Yubaba retains control: she literally takes away a person’s name and renames them with only part of their name. While Yubaba is viewed as the antagonist, she is not exactly a villain, and is quite doting to her over-sized baby named Boh.

Chihiro (Sen) struggles at first but while forming strong relationships with Lin and “the mysterious and handsome” Haku (the young boy) she gains confidence and courage. Furthermore, she gains respect after helping a “Stink Spirit” but actually is a river god revealed after all of the pollution is cleansed of it. She also forms a relationship with Kaonashi a.k.a. “No Face” who helps her a lot several times in the film and she assists him as well in time.

No Face is a mysterious character as well. Though he assists Chihiro, he is also attracted to the staff’s greed, and thus offers them tons of gold while transforming into a grotesque monster and assumes the voices and characteristics of those he consumes.

Chihiro meets Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister who is exactly identical physically but their hearts are opposite. While Yubaba is nasty and who seems to hold no love for anyone but Boh (it seemed she had some heart for Haku until he is mortally wounded and orders him to be thrown down a hatch before he bleeds too much on the carpet) while Zeniba is a grandmotherly sort. Haku had stolen a golden seal on behalf of Yubaba and those who steal her golden seal are doomed to die. Chihiro takes it upon herself to return the golden seal to Zeniba and rescue Haku.

However, she cannot yet go to Swamp Bottom – where Zeniba resides – as she has another job to do: get Kaonashi out of the bathhouse. He is eating everything and Yubaba’s furious. Chihiro realizes that she must have let Kaonashi into the bathhouse by accident and it is up to her solely to him out.

Kaonashi tries to tempt Chihiro with gold as he did to the others but she firmly refuses; instead she gives the rest of the herbal cake that the river god had given her whom she had already given some to Haku. The herbal cake thus provokes Kaonashi to vomit everything he has consumed and he leads a rampage after Chihiro until he is his regular size.

Kaonashi accompanies Chihiro on the train to Swamp Bottom along with Boh and the hawk-like creature employed by Yubaba and both are transformed by Zeniba. The trio of heads are transformed into Boh to fool Yubaba.

Chihiro and company arrive at Swamp Bottom and are escorted to Zeniba’s cottage by an animate lamp post. Chihiro returns the golden seal even though she stepped on the slug in which she learns the slug was what Yubaba used to control Haku.

Meanwhile at the bathouse, Yubaba discovers the loss of her baby, and discusses what is necessary to release Chihiro and her parents back to the ordinary world with Haku, who is now healed and free of Yubaba’s internal control. Under Yubaba’s instruction, Haku goes off in search of Boh.

Haku finds Chihiro and the rest of the crew at Zeniba’s: Zeniba forgives Haku for the theft of the golden seal and Haku flies Chihiro and company back to the bathouse except for Kaonashi who stays with Zeniba as a helper. In the aftermath, Haku, with the assistance of Chihiro, remembers his true name, and Chihiro is given the final test – determining the fate of her family and their return to the ordinary world.

Excerpt from DVD insert: “Our story is one in which the natural strengths of the character are revealed,”Hayao Miyazaki concludes. “I wanted to show that people actually have these things in them that can be called on when they find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. That is how I wish my young friends to be and I think that this is also how they, themselves, hope to be.”

Cast and Points of Interest

Japanese Cast: (select – see first Answers.com article listed below for more detail)

  • Chihiro: Rumi Hiiragi
  • Chihiro’s dad: Takashi Naito
  • Chihiro’s mum: Yasuko Sawaguchi
  • Kamajii: Bunta Sugawara
  • Yubaba & Zeniba: Mari Natsuki

Points of Interests: Cast

  1. The signature on Chihiro’s farewell card is the first name of her voice actress.
  2. Takashi Naito, who preformed the voice of Chihiro’s dad, had been a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s film for many years before he was offered the opportunity to star in Spirited Away. During the recording, he was rather nervous as there was Mr. Miyazaki behind him.
  3. In the scene when Chihiro’s mum is trying to get Chihiro to join them at the food stall, the actress Yasuko Sawaguchi at first put her finger in her mouth to attempt the desired effect of someone talking with their mouth full. Eventually the recording crew bought KFC and the actress said her lines while eating the chicken.
  4. Yubaba’s voice actress Mari Natsuki was excellent in her roll. As she continued to become more and more involved with her character, Yubaba became more and more alive and the crew also had their share of amusement as Mari Natsuki illustrated her dialogue with gestures.
  5. Bunta Sugawara was at the time of Spirited Away in his forties and during dialogue scenes, he even began moving his arms around like Kamajii. Furthermore, in the golden seal scene when Kamajii made that gesture to Chihiro (a member of the Disney staff compared it to the Western “cootie catcher” gesture) Rumi Hiiragi did not know beforehand what the sign meant. Mr. Miyazaki had to explain it; in which one of the crew said that “the young don’t know it these days” despite it being “all over Japan.”

Characters

  1. Chihiro’s dad is based on a real-life person: like Chihiro’s dad, the real-life person loses his way in directions while driving and he gobbles up food. Even Chihiro’s mum is based on a real person: a staff member of Studio Ghibli. Chihiro’s mum greatly resembles the real-life person and she also displays the gesture of having her elbow pointing downward while eating.
  2. As mentioned earlier, Chihiro is based on the daughter of a friend of Mr. Miyazaki’s, which he met during summer vacation at his summer cottage. Mr. Miyazaki said that she inspired him to make Spirited Away, a movie for young girls, and for those who “were ten years old and for those who will be ten years old.” Despite the fact Mr. Miyazaki made it for young girls, the film is loved by audiences young and old of all ages and whether or not they are young girls or otherwise.

Locations

The theme park (it is also referred to as an amusement park in some translations) that Chihiro and her parents discover before the adventure begin is based upon a real location in Japan nearby Studio Ghibli and which Mr. Miyazaki would visit at dusk when the crowds were thin. It is, from what I have seen, pretty much the same layout as the theme park’s buildings are in Spirited Away, though they’re more modern. However, inside the modern buildings are models of the old buildings of the past. See the Nippon Television Special for more information regarding this location and the other points of interest, which can be found in the bonus features in the DVD version of Spirited Away.

Miscellaneous

The colourful, star-shaped objects that Lin feeds the soot sprites (reminiscent of another of Mr. Miyazaki’s film, My Neighbour Totoro) are a Portuguese candy called kompeito introduced to Japan in the fifteenth to sixteenth century. In the English dub, the kompeito is called confetti. See below in the external links for more information.

Always With Me

The theme song of Spirited Away, Always With Me, was preformed by Youmi Kimura, who was a virtually unknown musician, and the lyrics were written by a friend. Miss Kimura said that a melody kept playing in her head and by request, her friend wrote the lyrics to accompany it. The two women then thought of the idea to send it to Hayao Miyazaki, as both loved his films since Princess Mononoke.

Mr. Miyazaki received the tape and enjoyed it. At the time, he was working on Rin, the Chimney Cleaner, however this film was never to be as it was turned down. Because of this action, Always With Me, wasn’t heard publicly until some years later when Mr. Miyazaki listened to it again while working on Spirited Away. He then realized that it was exactly the theme of the film he was working on. When the film premiered, Always With Me was heard publicly for the first time ever.

Merchandise

Novelizations of Spirited Away are available in graphic novel form, usually consisting of one to five volumes, and contain most of the dialogue from the film, as are most of Hayao Miyazaki’s other films. See the Nausicaa.net link below for more details.

Besides books and graphic novels there are playing cards, figurines, keychains, etc., which can be found over the Internet and elsewhere.

Spirited Away 2

Spirited Away 2 is a fan-made movie based on the characters of Spirited Away, however, it does not relate very much to the original film and it also contains a resurrection of Godzilla.

Recommended Reading

The Art of Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki and Stuido Ghibli Editorial Desk. It features the concept art, cell art, etc. of Spirited Away.

Personal Thoughts

In my opinion, I think that the Spirited Away DVD is the best release of any Studio Ghibli film to date, by means of special features. All the other Studio Ghibli DVDs just have original storyboards and the original Japanese trailers usually, which can get kind of boring sometimes. I really like the Nippon Television Special.

Spirited Away Trailer

Links

Spirited Away – A detailed article of the movie, etc. at Answers.com.

Spirited Away – Australian website

Spirited Away – Nausicaa.net

Spirited Away Merchandise – GhilbiWorld.com

Image(s) [under construction]

https://i0.wp.com/thecia.com.au/reviews/s/images/spirited-away-8.jpg

One of my favourite scenes: at Zeniba's house

The Cat Returns Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by j128 in Studio Ghibli.
1 comment so far

The Cat Returns is a 2002 anime film directed by Hiroyuki Morita and produced by Studio Ghibli. It was spawned from an earlier Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart (1995), which depicted short scenes of fantasy elements from the story that the protagonist, a young girl, was writing about, and these scenes became so popular with fans that they demanded a movie be made of Shizuku’s novel.

At first Studio Ghibli was approached in 1999 by a Japanese theme park, who requested to have them write a 20-minute short starring cats. Hayao Miyazaki wanted this short to have three key elements: Baron, Muta, and a mysterious antique shop. Later, the short was scraped as the theme park canceled the project, but nonetheless Studio Ghibli continued with the project, making a new story drawing from the short and the manga that Aoi Hiiragi had been commissioned to write as an equivalent to the short, which was written from Shizuku’s perspective, roughly years in her future. This manga was translated into English and published by VIZ Media as Baron: The Cat Returns.

This is just a rough and somewhat brief summary of the history of The Cat Returns, and if you are interested to read any additional information, please read the Wikipedia page.

Aside from the characters of Baron and Muta and the antique shop, this story is entirely its own, and hardly relates to Whisper of the Heart or Shizuku’s story, but it is still a wonderful story.

Summary

Haru is a seventeen-year-old girl, a quiet and unassuming high school student who has a unique ability to talk to cats that has been long suppressed. She isn’t well-organized: sleeping in on a weekday and is usually late for class; she is also low in self-esteem and confidence. She is sometimes depressed that she doesn’t have a boyfriend like her friend.

After an ordinary day of school, on the way home with her friend discussing boys and suchlike, they observe a strange, odd-eyed cat waiting to cross the street holding a parcel in its mouth. As they watch, the traffic starts moving just as the cat accidentally drops the parce. In a desperate, heroic feat, Haru runs across the street and rescues the cat with her, and just narrowly avoid being hit by a truck. She then discovers that she rescued a very important cat: Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom. Her friend doesn’t believe the cat spoke to Haru and thinks that maybe Haru hit her head.

At home, Haru asks her mother if cats can talk, and a recalled memory of when Haru was a little girl. A dirty and malnourished kitten had been following Haru and in an act of kindness, Haru gave the rest of the package of fish-shaped biscuits (maybe taiyaki?) to it. Her mother also recalls that Haru had told her that she had spoken to the kitten.

Haru goes to sleep but wakes up in the middle of the night, and when she looks out her window she sees a procession of cats walking on their hind legs, and they stop at her house. Natori, the bespectacled advisor of the Cat King – a creepy, ill-groomed large cat with odd eyes – gives Haru a scroll and declares that tomorrow many gifts of gratitude will be showered upon her. Haru merely nods, not knowing what she’s gotten into.

Next morning, she wakes up late again for school, but this particular morning has already started off unusual: in their front yard catnip has grown and her mother has to lay down – she thinks she hasn’t had enough sleep. When Haru woke up, she got a phone call from her friend, and the reason for the call: hundreds of rackets are all over the place.

Haru hurriedly runs down the street to school and as she does so, many cats start following her – being attracted to the catnip on her clothes. They follow her to school and when she arrives and goes to her locker, small boxes fall out, and they start moving. A second later, the boxes open, and dozens of mice emerge. She freaks out and the cats appear, chasing the mice.

She finally arrives in class and she begins studying the scroll she got the previous night, and she now realizes that it wasn’t a dream. She stays after school, doing clean up, and while doing so Haru glimpses the pretty young girl that the boy that she likes. One of the cats, named Natoru, Haru sees, and angrily shakes her. (In the Japanese version, Natoru is female, yet in the English version for some reason she was voiced as a male.) Natoru happily tells her all that’s happened but soon discovers that Haru didn’t like the gifts. Suddenly, Haru is offered Prince Lune’s hand in marriage, and before she knows it, Natoru has ran off, telling her that they’ll pick her up tonight, as she took Haru’s mixed reply as being affirmative.

Haru panics and is in a desperate situation and is unhappy with the new developments. A female voice speaks to her, telling her to go to the Cat Bureau. Haru finds a large, fat cat named Muta, whose name is parodied throughout the film due to his excessive size. He leads her to the Cat Bureau and there she meets the owner, Baron, full name: Baron Humbert von Giggingen, and Toto, a statue raven that comes to life much like Baron.

Haru explains her predicament and they discuss it over tea. Baron decides its time to visit the Cat Kingdom and they prepare to go, but Haru is suddenly whisked away by cats. Baron, riding Toto, and Toto carrying Muta chase after them, and Muta is thrown in the direction of the cats, intended to be caught by them, but they avoid him. He angrily runs after them and just manages to jump on – almost exceeding the weight limit.

Baron and Toto are forced to follow them in the human world, as Haru and Muta travel to the Cat Kingdom through portals. They finally find the Cat Kingdom: five islands in the shape of a cat paw.

There, Haru slowly becomes catlike and she is treated to a feast and entertainment, but she is too miserable to even care or take notice. Earlier, prior to the feast and entertainment, Muta gorged himself on the food and apparently drowned in a large vessel of catnip jelly and he was wheeled to the banquet. Haru is suddenly asked to a dance by a mysterious persona, whom is soon revealed to be Baron.

They make a desperate escape from the banquet amidst the confusion that ensues and the vessel containing Muta smashes, thus freeing the large cat, who attacks the cat soldiers, giving the Baron and Haru a chance to escape, with help from a royal servant, a white, blue-eyed cat named Yuki.

After being reunited with Muta, they go off to the tower – the portal to the human world and the only way Haru can go home. They are almost defeated by the King but Prince Lune comes home all of a sudden after some campaign and tells his father that he doesn’t intend to marry Haru, but Yuki. It is explained that Yuki is in fact the little kitten that Haru had helped years earlier, and in return Yuki has helped Haru. Another thing revealed is that Muta is actually a cat that has visited, or rather terrorized, the Cat Kingdom before: Renaldo Moon! According to legend, he emptied an entire lake of fish, and took off afterwards.

After some difficulties, Haru finally makes it back to the human world with the help of Baron and Toto. She thanks them and he replies that if she should ever need help again, all she must simply do is call and reminds her that she can visit as often as she likes. Haru confesses that she might have developed a slight crush on Baron.

It’s the weekend and Haru’s mother wakes up. She comes down, a little groggy, and is surprised to see Haru already up and even made breakfast! Haru is very mature and she soon goes out to visit her friend, who tells her that the boy she was interested in dumped the girl, and that if Haru wants to go out with him she’s more than welcome. But Haru doesn’t mind anymore – it doesn’t matter. Her friend is surprised about this new development and doesn’t understand. As they walk by, they pass Muta who is snoozing on one of the chairs at an outside café table.

Hero’s Journey

As it has been noted in many Studio Ghibli films, the protagonist often goes through a journey of transformation and self-discovery. At the start of the film, Haru isn’t very confident and is often unsure of herself; but by the end of the film, she has matured considerably and cannot compare to her old self, as her journey and her relationship with Baron has had an obvious affect on her.

The Cat Returns (Original Japanese Trailer)

Images

Muta
Haru and the Baron The Baron