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Millennium Actress is a recounting of the life of the actress Chiyoko, whose acting years spanned from pre-World War II Japan to the late 1970’s, and whose films established the Ginei movie studio. It is a tragic and heartbreaking story, that takes a while to get started before it becomes great, and then it becomes transcendent.


Chiyoko

It begins with wistful blending of the past and the present, and is told largely as an interview with the actress, as she recounts her movies, and her life; the two blur into this semi-real, semi-fantasy state. At times it’s confusing due to the way that the interviewer (a director) and his cameraman sidekick are interacting with her past self, the interviewer’s past self, and whether they are reciting lines from a movie or speaking as themselves. This does capture Chiyoko’s mental state, though, and keeps the movie interesting, so my hat is off to the director and the writer for this ingenious device.

The language is largely clean and only a handful of profanities crop up; no gore; no sexual trash. Chiyoko is a wholly sympathetic character, and the director is as well. The score is supportive and doesn’t suck. In fact the main theme is memorable and fits the movie perfectly. The ending song is also good. The animation style is detailed enough without needing to be photorealistic, and you can tell that it was done with care. It’s not everywhere detailed, but detailed where it counts. It’s comparable to a mid-period Ghibli release, I’d say. The animation house is Madhouse. Kudos!

The story becomes quicker paced in the last fourth as various threads are sewn together; if you can make it this far, it is worth the wait. This brings the emotions home and you are struck by the sorrowful weight of it all. Subsequent viewings allow you to appreciate its depth more than a single viewing does.

The conclusion I’m not sure I agree with, and I’m not sure that even Chiyoko herself really believes it — how could you chase a guy for over half a century and then state what she does? But the ending otherwise is beautiful, and comes close to brushing the face of God without saying as much.

I don’t know if this movie parallels Japanese history, if it is loosely based on it, or if it is completely fictitious. In any case, it’s definitely worth watching if you have an hour and half to spare. I guess this has been licensed because a few days after I downloaded it from Tokyo Toshokan, it completely disappeared. If you can find it, it’s worth watching. It’s probably even worth buying.

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The Borrower Arrietty is a poignant, bittersweet tale from Studio Ghibli. Released in 2010, and apparently not available in North America (why?), REVO subs has picked up the slack by making it available to us with a 1.4 Gb download. Is it worth it? I’d say yes, but the film is not perfect.

To be sure, the animation is flawless. Studio Ghibli has only improved on their already excellent credentials, and if you’re someone who watches films only for the animation quality, this is your dream come true. There are moments where I’m holding my breath because the visuals are that good. Quality and dedication to detail simply burst from the screen; care of craft is evident in spades. However, there is more to any film than how it looks.


Arrietty

The Borrower Arrietty improves upon SG’s inattention to music. The songs here are memorable, evocative, timeless, and replete with wistful innocence. The audio quality is not compromised, and the songs fit into the film’s action, supporting it and uplifting it. SG has finally learned from their previous outings.

The characterization is probably the weakest part of the film. While our hearts sing and soar with Arrietty, the spunky, flame-haired teenage Borrower, and while we sympathize and root for Sho, the rest of the characters are portrayed realistically or fairly unflatteringly.


Sho

Among the humans, Sho’s mom is a selfish career woman, his dad is a divorcing deadbeat, his grandmother is kindly but overly trusting and a bit naive; Haraku, the housekeeper, is an ugly, troll-like, calculating and deceptive person. Among the Borrowers, Arrietty’s mom is a hysterical, anxious, high-strung, worrying mess. Her dad is a silent, but strong type, who is probably a little too distant.


Haraku

I suppose this stems from themes which carry the film: 1) adults have screwed up the world (true enough), and 2) the people who don’t respect / can’t bother to observe the Borrowers operate out of selfish, cruel, vanity. It just feels a bit too heavy-handed and stereotypical to me.

I’ve struggled with why it has this effect when I enjoy the film overall and some parts of it, quite a bit. The problem is that the film is too short. If it were longer, then we could see more the characters and they would be rounded out a bit. As it stands, we don’t see much of say, Sho’s grandmother or Arrietty’s mom, and so their unflattering aspects seize the day. This is a typical Ghibli flaw, of making movies that feel rushed or shallow because they exclude too much of the source material.

Plotwise, Sho is heading to his grandmother’s house in the country to rest for his upcoming operation. He has a weak heart and he doesn’t have much hope that it will actually help. He’s never been able to run or play with the other children, so he operates with a quiet sense of hopelessness. His eyes are opened to a whole new world when he catches a glimpse of Arrietty in the garden, making off with bay and shisto leaves.


Earrings as climbing hooks — kawaii!

The film touches on the joy and the pain of growing up, as their two worlds collide. Each of them has a duty to social stability that brings the Japanese concept of rigid social classes into high relief. She is a Borrower, 1/100th his size. He is a human, who barely understands her, though he is stricken by her beauty. They can never love, and the ending is perhaps the most Japanese of all: they both declare that their experiences have changed them for the better, giving them hope for the future.

Honestly, I felt the ending to be hopeless and heart-wrenching. Whether this is true to the original story, I do not know, but now I am quite curious. It definitely fits a Japanese view of life — Sho and Arrietty uphold the social strata, even though it costs them much pain and tears. The Borrower Arrietty illustrates that there are some things love cannot overcome; whether that is mature or crushingly sad depends on your own perspective.

A gem scintillates no matter which direction you view from (assuming it is cut well, of course); this film is almost gemlike. Some angles reveal its shortcomings. Still, I have seen worse films, and it is an improvement upon previous Ghibli outings. There is a whole lot of wonder, innocence, purity, and beauty here. Again, it’s just too short.

Available from your favorite torrent hole or from REVO subs.

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In three words: cheezy beyond belief. This is a movie where the cuteness goes to sickening extremes and it doesn’t let up even with the final song! Why did I keep watching it then? Out of a misguided, longsuffering desire to see the movie finally turn the corner. Unfortunately, it never does.

Ponyo On the Cliff By the Sea is a 2008 movie which the FSG Thora has made available for us; it’s been dubbed, so you probably won’t be able to find this on teh interwebz for very long. Check the torrent hole of your choice and you might just find it. At 1 GB in size, be prepared for a wait, especially if your ISP likes to throttle torrents.

Anyhow, the story mixes Greco-Roman paganism, Japanese culture and myth, at a slice-of-life pace. It’s always light-hearted, never scary, and becomes vomit bucket cute as it goes on and on. The animation is top-notch; the music is forgettable; the voice acting is ok, but not heartfelt, and frankly, I found it artificial.

Plot? Boy meets fish; fish becomes girl (despite her father’s wishes); fish stays girl because boy proves his love for her. Now the boy is Sastske, who is all of five years old. Yes, there’s a bit of early maturation going on here. Anyhow, there’s no trash, but there may be some crypto-sexual stuff if you really think about some of the symbolism.

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