Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Anime Wednesday: April!

You may have noticed two things about this post already.

1. This is the latest edition of Anime Wednesday, but you see it is an April edition.

2. There was no Anime Wednesday for March.

This is because of a few things. I’ve been so immersed in ONE PIECE that I’ve not been able to watch much other anime since beginning what one could only deem an epic-quest to catch up with all 541 episodes that currently exist (update: I am at episode 90). Secondly, I’ve been editing the latest edition of the Giggle Loop Podcast and it’s much longer and more chaotic than it normally is so it’s been devouring my time getting it right. Lastly, I knew I was going to be seeing a couple of Miyazaki / Studio Ghibli films at the retrospective in Toronto and that they would make a good column subject, but they weren’t screening until April.

Please excuse the lack of a March Edition.

So, this post is going to take you all back a bit, into anime history. I got a chance to see both KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO at the Film Fest theatre this past weekend. Both were the dubbed versions, since the subtitled screenings sold out in minutes and I missed out on those.


This film came out in 1989 in Japan (subsequently dubbed into English in 1997, done by Disney) to rave reviews and further solidified Miyazaki as a national treasure.

Basically the story of a 13-year old witch who must go out for a year on her own, hone her powers and learn to live her life. She travels to a nearby port city called Koriko, and through a random series of events ends up living in a bakery, helping the baker family to mind the store and creates a flying/broomstick delivery service which touts that she can get packages there faster.

Immediately jumping out at me within minutes of the film starting, as a big Miyazaki fan, is that this is probably his most Western-influenced film. One thing about his films is that no matter how far out there, or fantastical the storyline, you can always expect it to be very Japanese in tone and visuals. Names, signs, homes ect., basically all the cultural Japanese stuff is always present. KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE is a different beast as the port town looks like it could be a combo of turn-of-the-century Vienna and Monte Carlo. Even the signage on the storefronts or transit appear to be German-ish. The characters across the board look very western, by which I mean hair colour being bright blondes and browns (aside from Kiki herself), and clothing choices. This all doesn’t detract from the film mind you, just very noticeable if you are at all a fan of his work, this will aesthetically LOOK like the odd man out.

The film itself and the story therein, though simple, is wonderful and entertaining. It works both as a kid’s film, and one for adults. Kiki’s trials as a delivery service and her subsequent relationships with the various characters are what sing about the film. The most entertaining being her relationship with an idealistic young inventor boy named Tombo, as it is the one that truly grows over the course of the film. The voice actors in this one are virtually a who’s who of Hollywood Circa the late 1990’s, with Kirsten Dunst in the lead, Matthew Lawrence as Tombo and VERY strangely the late Phil Hartman as Jiji (Kiki’s black cat). That last casting I found VERY odd not just because Hartman doesn’t fit the character, but I know that in the original Japanese and the FIRST (read: Non-Disney) English translation the cat was female and voiced as such. They do an admirable job, though I’d truly like to watch the subbed version at some point to see the difference. That said, it’s a lovely little film that is sure to entertain if you are nostalgic about the roots of anime and just what went into the films back in the day.


This one will be a bit of a gush. It’s no secret that this is one of my all-time favourite Miyazaki films and was one of, if not the, best of his work. It was released in 1988 in Japan and subsequently dubbed into English, though Western audiences didn’t truly get to see it wide released until 2006 when Disney did a fresh English dub with a cast including Tim Daly, Frank Welker and both Dakota and Elle Fanning as the main character sisters Satsuki and Mei. Funnily enough, where I was a little off-kilter by the Disney dub voice actors in KIKI’S, the one they assembled here for TOTORO is absolutely stellar and not only captures the spirit of the film, but the voice actors weren’t just going through the paces for a paycheck, they (especially Daly and the Fanning sisters) thoroughly immerse themselves in their respective roles.

Again, the story begins simply enough. In 1958, Tatsuo Kusakabe (a university professor), his 10-year old daughter Satsuki and her little 4 year old sister Mei move to rural Japan to be closer to the hospital where their mother is suffering from an illness which keeps her hospital bound. The girls find that life in the countryside is idyllic, but that there appears to be some quite fantastical things in the forest beside their home, the least of which is a huge old camphor tree. Slowly sprites begin to appear, first in the form of dust sprites hiding in their old house, and then small to medium to eventual large Totoro’s (essentially trolls, but later termed “keepers of the forest”. The largest of which is a gigantic grey and white, rabbit eared Totoro who really only communicates in loud shouts and seemingly happy yells. After Satsuki discovers the creatures (who can only be seen if they wish to be seen, and can’t be seen by adults at all) the two girls begin to see how these docile creatures are not only helpful, but nearly detrimental to the way of life in the forest. This then begins to intermingle with the plotline of their ailing mother and how that illness affects both Satsuki (who tries her best to hold it together and not let Mei see her cry or be scared), and fearless Mei (who doesn’t understand really what’s happening and only wishes to see her mother well again). At that point you really begin to realize that you are watching something special, and that the charm just oozes off the screen in bundles. This is a wonderful kid’s movie, but it is also an incredible love letter for adults who want to remember what it was like to be young and dream of magic and adventure. Lastly, it’s a significantly brilliant piece on the environment (a feature of the majority of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s films) and how important our natural surroundings are to us as individual people and as a society.

By the time the credits roll on this film, you will have been completely entertained, and may have even gotten a bit emotional at certain moments. It’s hard to watch the film and not smile, or cry, or laugh. As a 35 year old, I can honestly say I did all three.

There is a reason that the image of Totoro is the logo for Studio Ghibli as a company. This film is very close to his masterpiece and the best bit about that is that it’s not say as epic as PRINCESS MONONOKE, or as altogether whimsical and award winning as SPIRITED AWAY, or even as quirky as PONYO, but it is the one everyone remembers best. There must be a reason for that. To me it’s because MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is perfect in every single way.

Funny sidenote: Hellboy I & II, BLADE II, PAN'S LABYRINTH director Guillermo Del Toro was at my screening of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. He quietly came in and sat near the front with (I think) his daughter. He's in Toronto shooting his giant monster movie PACIFIC RIM and has turned parts of downtown Toronto into Tokyo. 


  1. Glad to hear love for Totoro's newer Disney dub; look up reviews for it and you'll see like 80% of the comments crying that Disney ruined it and the old dub was so much better blah blah blah. The new dub is the only one I've seen, and it's perfect.

    About the only thing about Totoro that bugs me is the ear of corn at the end; if it wasn't for that one item, the entire movie could be about two girls coping with their mother's illness by imaging all these forest spirits. I like to think so anyway, but it would be much more ambiguous (and therefore better) without that corn.

  2. My daughter used to love Kiki's Delivery Service, so I have seen it many, many times. I know I've seen My Neighbor Totoro, but I can't remember it. Maybe the kids and I will have to have a movie night soon.



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