Tag Archive: Hayao Miyazaki

Remembering Roger Ebert

Family Movie Night


by Karyn Bowman


What is a sure sign of spring at my house?


When the weather is warm enough that I feel okay removing last year’s perennial stems. Usually I leave the stalks from the peonies and mums up over the winter. It gives the snow someplace to land that is not flat – and therefore – a little interesting.


Image of Roger Ebert  from IMDb.com

Image of Roger Ebert from IMDb.com

This year as I cut away last year’s peonies stems, I thought about Roger Ebert who passed away last week. I grew up on Ebert’s and Siskel’s review show. I read his columns to find out how to write a proper review and to learn how to be better. But I also read his work because I enjoyed his writing style.


I had the pleasure of meeting Ebert and he was always gracious to me, especially when I was hugely pregnant with our last child and wanted an easy exit to the bathroom – just in case.  That spot was right in front of him which most people never do.


More than that, Roger was always interested in what other people thought and asked questions to the room at large in between screenings.  He believed everyone read as much as he did and was interested in what the rest of the room was thinking. For a man at his level of brilliance, it was humbling to know he wanted our thoughts.


If there was one thing that Ebert hope to inspire in people, it was to try a movie that may not have seemed like your cup of tea. He encouraged his readers to get out of their comfort zone, not only with his columns but with his Overlooked Film Festival, now known as Ebertfest,  in Champaign, Illinois every April. While the festival started as one thing, it became a chance to Ebert and friends to pick out movies that were not seen for a variety of reasons.


My Neighbor Totoro IMDb com 4 2013

Poster Image from IMDb.com

One movie that was out of my comfort zone was the family friendly My Neighbor Totoro. This Japanese Anime movie tells the story of a family who moves out to a house in the Japanese countryside. It is filled with soot sprites that need to be scared away.


But more than that, it is near the home of a giant Totoro – king of the forest. However, the young girls are also dealing with an ill mother who cannot leave the hospital no matter how much they miss her. Hayao Miyazaki directs what I  call a near perfect movie that explores Japanese folk tales and the emotions of two girls dealing with fear and grief.


I was blown away by the detail of the hand-drawn animation and the joyousness of the story despite the heavy shadow of the sick mother.  It sent our family on a journey to find more anime movies by this director and we have never been disappointed.


While I may not have Ebert to thank for discovering this movie, I do thank him for the wonderful writing he produced that was always, always, thought-provoking and moving.


Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.


Family Movie Night


By Karyn Bowman


How many people can say they love Japanese Anime?


How many people know it when they see it?


If you have kids like my kids, the Uh-Gi-Oh or Pokemon or some other cartoons might be the extent of what you know.


"My Neighbor Totoro" Image from IMDB.com

I discovered Anime one day when I was looking for a video for my son who was feeling sick that day and needed to be entertained. In the store I stumbled upon My Neighbor Totoro by Studio Ghibli’s director Hayao Miyazaki. The cover looked worn and tired at that time, so much so I almost skipped over it.


I took it home anyway. We watched it and were entranced. The story is about two young girls who move to the country with their father and meet Totoro, the king of the forest.


We watch it on a regular basis and I still have that feeling of amazement every time I watch it.


Image from IMDb.com

Last week, our 4H group did our semi-annual dinner and a movie night. After supper at Panera Bread, we went over to Movies 10 to watch The Secret World of Arrietty a movie from Studio Ghibli although not directed by Miyazaki.


We had kids ranging in age from 8 to 17 and there was not one single unhappy kid in the crowd.


The story is based on The Borrowers, tiny people who live in our homes and borrow only what they need. So food items and earrings might disappear as well as tissues. The trick is to stay hidden from the ‘beans, cats and rats. Birds like to eat borrowers as well.


In this case, Shaun comes to live at his aunt’s house to rest before a serious operation. He sees a borrower by accident and at first he thinks he imagined it. That is until his aunt tells him about the special doll house that was built for a tiny family.


Meanwhile, Arrietty is the only child of borrowers who live in this house. She accompanies her father on her first borrow in the house and he teaches her not only how to be a borrower but how to be a good person.


As far as they know they are the last of their kind in the area. Other families have disappeared and where more might be is hard to tell.


What is different about this movie is the way the story slowly unfolds. There are few big action scenes and every moment is not filled with music. The sounds of nature suffice and fit better. At first I had trouble slowing down and simply enjoying it. I had to remind myself it was OK to let things play out and not know what would happen next.



While Disney Channel viewers will recognize Bridget Mendler as Arrietty and David Henrie as Shaun, soon you forget about their real ‘faces’ and believe them as their characters. Amy Poehler does a wonderful job as the mother while Carol Burnett is a hoot as the housekeeper determined to rid the house of the ‘little people.”


This movie plays well for children in early grade school through middle school. The animation is beautiful and can be appreciated by all ages. 


Other Miyazaki anime movies you might enjoy are Ponyo and Kiki’s Delivery Service for younger viewers while Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away are more appropriate for pre-teens and teens.


Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The Red Sun Empire

Family Movie Night

I have been watching the tragedy taking place in Japan since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant disasters.

I am horrified at the destruction, saddened by the loss of life, encouraged by the rare rescue stories. But I am also aware of the reality that only fifty years ago, this nation was considered suspicious by our own.

Times have changed. Their nation was rebuilt but their economy has gone through rough times lately. Japan is a country of incredible spectacle in its big cities and incredible grace in the countryside. There is a mix of the modern and traditional like none other I have seen.

And they have some great movie makers.

Poster for Ran, Image from IMDb.com

One of the best known Japanese movies in our country might be Ran by Akira Kurosawa. The story is based on the Shakespearian play King Lear, telling the tale of a warrior king who wishes to divide his kingdom between his three sons. He wishes to retain a title and stay with each son for a part of the year as an honored guest.

The youngest son, of course, warns him of the treachery of the other two. But the old man refuses to listen, refuses to hear. He makes sad discoveries too late and finds he must do other than what he had planned. This movie graced the screen in 1985. It won an Oscar for Best Costume design but was also nominated for Best Director. For those who love movies, love foreign movies and may not object to a sub-titled version, this movie is for you.

Hayao Miyazaki, Picture from IMDb.com

 I have long talked about Hayao Miyazaki, the chief animator and director at Studio Ghibli. His movies capture something we do not really have in America – folktales. Tales of incredible creatures that live in the forest or in sooty basements. His movies explore the feelings of children with sensitivity and humor while creating animation that is still hand-drawn. 

If you have not seen any Miyazaki movie, I would suggest

Scene from Ponyo, Picture from IMDb.com

starting with Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro. Both movies are firmly in the land of folktales and the absence of a parent. Next I would look for Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. The storylines are for tween or pre-teen and are fascinating. Move on to Spirited Away which I think is his most beautifully drawn and most emotionally complex movie. This last one is a masterpiece.

These are movies from Japanese makers. Letters From takes the famous battle scene from the point of view of the Japanese but the director is Clint Eastwood. I suggest it because this is a fantastic movie coming from the point of view of the ‘enemy.’ I felt sorry for the Japanese after seeing this movie. Heartsick for what they had to endure.

Ken Wanatabe in "Letters From Iwo Jima," Picture from IMDb.com

Iwo Jima

Another American made movie that shows the WWII Japanese with less prejudice than usual is Empire of the Sun by Steven Speilberg and starring a young Christian Bale.

Poster, Image from IMDb.com

It is the story of this boy who is separated from his parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai in 1941. This is hes story of physical survival as well as spiritual survival.

While times have changed and we are no longer enemies with the nation, disaster never changes. People are struck, many die but then others will re-build. It is what we humans do.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

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