Howl’s Moving Castle has been a nasty speed bump in my attempt to finish my Miyazaki-a-thon-. Howl is by no means bad but has never resonated with me. The characters are okay, the concept clever, and the animation has its moments. I think it has something to do with the plot. Normally, I wouldn’t critique a Miyazaki plot too heavily. If anyone has been able to spit in the face of the conventional story structure and show there are other ways to tell stories, it’s Miyazaki. Though in Howl, I can’t help but feel the movie loses momentum far too early. The suspense and action feel too spaced out. In all honesty, I’ve never watched more than an hour of How before becoming bored, confused, and hungry for bacon.
Sad bastard music is usually a pretty hard sell, even for an admittedly sad bastard like myself. I’d venture to guess that this is because most people find solace in music as a joyful escape from the mundane realities of everyday life. Benji, the latest record from Sun Kil Moon, however embraces these mundane realities, while also exploring the inevitable stench of death that comes with getting older. But more than anything, it’s an album that sees singer Mark Kozelek taking every little ponderous thought in his head and putting them into these songs with an earnestness and a poignancy that’s hard to deny.
First off, I’ll admit that I had no previous knowledge of Kozelek’s former group Red House Painters, or his current solo project Sun Kil Moon. And yet after listening to Benji, I feel like I know Kozelek about as well as you could possibly know someone that you’ve never met. And it’s the specificity of his lyrical approach here that makes this possible. Benji is filled with countless memories of Kozelek’s childhood in Ohio, his ruminations on middle-age, and his reflections on his parents and how thankful he is for their presence in his life. They’re the type of things I couldn’t possibly imagine a younger songwriter singing about, and I think it’s Kozelek’s embrace of the wisdom that comes with age — rather than running from it like so many other aging musicians — that makes this album remarkable.
I guess my only complaint with Benji is that the album starts off so decidedly dark, with lead-off track “Carissa” reflecting on the death of a family member, while things get even more death-obsessed with “Pray For Newtown”. But at the same time, it’s cool to see that the album follows a kind of tonal arc, with the songs slowly getting more light-hearted as the album progresses. These cracks of light in the face of darkness then culminates in the album’s final track — the bordline-jazzy “Ben’s My Friend”, which sees Kozelek reflecting on what’s gotten him to where he’s at, while still just trying to take things one day at a time.
Favorite Tracks: “Jim Wise”, “Micheline”, “Ben’s My Friend”
Most of if not all of Miyazaki’s films have received universal acclaim but only one has received the film industry’s top honor. At the 75th Academy Awards, Spirited Away took home the Best Animated Feature award, beating out DreamWorks and Walt Disney Feature Animation. Does this make Spirited Away Miyazaki’s best movie? I’m not sure that’s a question that can be answered but I do know one thing, Spirited Away is my favorite Miyazaki movie.
Nausicaa of the the Valley of the Wind, or should I say “Warriors of the Wind” may have been the first Miyazaki film I ever saw, but Princess Mononoke was the first where I became aware of Miyazaki as a director and artist. Since no Americans I knew saw it in theaters, I clearly remember people like my older sister’s friends or my dad’s friends saying, “You got to go rent Princess Mononoke.” Kind of unusual to think of a time where you had to rent something from Blockbuster or else you just couldn’t see it. I heard this film’s praise for years until I finally gave it a shot a couple years back. Did it live up to the hype? Definitely.
Before my Miyazaki exodus, I did some reading on some message boards. Sifting through all the disturbing Miyazaki fan art, I’d often encounter posts regarding, “Miyazaki’s Best and Worst Movie”. On numerous occasions I discovered that many Miyazaki fans rate Porco Rosso as Miyazaki’s weakest. Well surprise, surprise, I loved this movie. Porco Rosso is a vastly underrated film about rediscovering humanity and doing what you’re most passionate about (in this case aviation). I love that Porco Rosso uses real historical events as jumping off points to tell an original story with just a hint of fantasy. In my opinion, Porco Rosso is one of Miyazaki’s best written films.
Now that America has caught up to – and maybe even surpassed – us on anti-Shia LaBeouf sentiment, we return to the well of unfair criticism with a list of directors who just aren’t doing it for us. Maybe they’re just hacks, maybe they’ve been screwed over by the studios, maybe they were once great and lost the touch – this week we don’t care. All we do is ask that they stop. Please. For America. Although, last time we were pretty wrong about Matthew McConaughey… I wonder if someone one this list is similarly charmed.
I’d be lying if I said I was excited to watch Kiki’s Delivery Service. A film about a teen-girl who delivers packages on a flying broom? It sounds like a bad episode of Sabrina, or an assembly line made novel for pre-teen girls. The latter is closer in that Kiki’s Delivery Service was a 1985 children’s fantasy novel by Eiko Kadono. Though I apologize for assuming something with that title would be bad. Both the novel and the film have many fans, and I’m glad to say I’m now one of them.