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Posts Tagged ‘five stars’


Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Starring Sumi Shimamoto, Mahito Tsujimura, Hisako Kyôda, Gorô Naya, Ichirô Nagai and Kôhei Miyauchi.

Most of the geeky kids of my generation were introduced to feature-length Japanese animation with Katsuhiro Otomo’s apocalyptic Akira, a stunning apocalyptic masterpiece. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my own introduction to it was when I was in the sixth grade or thereabouts. Lazing about the house one afternoon, I noticed that an animated feature called Warriors of the Wind was playing on HBO in a few minutes, so — budding animation buff that I was — I decided to give it a try. To put it mildly, it blew my little brain out the back of my skull.

I had never before seen anything even remotely like it. I couldn’t have. American cartoons were nothing like this. There were Disney cartoons, amusing fluff like Smurfs and embarrassing garbage like The Last Unicorn. Even action cartoons like Transformers (which I didn’t realize was also Japanese until many years later), G.I. Joe and the sadly short-lived Dungeons & Dragons were so kiddie-fied that even as I watched them, I knew they weren’t even remotely on the same level as Star Wars or other live-action films. Warriors of the Wind was on an entirely different level: it was an animated film for people with brains.


Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part One (Tokyo Story and Good Morning)

Twenty-five of the 33 surviving features by Yasujiro Ozu comprise the current retrospective of the brilliant Japanese filmmaker’s career at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

So far, I’ve only seen the five available in four Criterion Collection DVD sets (Tokyo Story, Good Morning, Early Summerand Stories of Floating Weeds, containing The Story of Floating Weeds and its remake, Floating Weeds). Although, if I ever get over this wretched cold, I hope to see a few more at the Siskel Film Center in the coming weeks. Each film I’ve seen has been a touching portrait of a Japanese family (or families), beautifully told.

I encourage you to see any of them that you can, particularly those that are not available on DVD, since it may be the only chance you get for some time. But since I can only properly discuss those films I’ve seen, I’ll be touching on Tokyo Story and Good Morning in this column, to coincide with their upcoming screenings at the Siskel Film Center. Next month, I’ll talk about The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, to more closely coincide with those films’ screenings.

Review: The Incredibles & The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

Directed by Brad Bird.
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney and Eli Marienthal.

The Incredibles

Directed by Brad Bird.
Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Peña and Brad Bird.

Brad Bird’s first feature film, The Iron Giant, was a tiny masterpiece that, despite almost universal critical acclaim, slipped in and out of theaters with almost no audience whatsoever. (The film made back only half of its $50 million budget.) Loosely based on Ted Hughes’ 1968 children’s book, The Iron Man, the less-suable-by-Marvel-Comics Iron Giant is the story of Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) and his giant, monosyllabic robot (a perfectly typecast Vin Diesel) from outer space, set during the Russophobic 1950s. Sent to investigate what is initially believed to be a meteorite landing, Kent Mansley (Happy Gilmore‘s Christopher McDonald) quickly learns that something else is wandering out in the woods near the Hughes’ home. Once Mansley finds his proof, General Rogard (Frasier‘s John Mahoney) comes in to destroy the giant at all costs. At turns hilarious, poignant and thrilling, The Iron Giant gets a bit heavy-handed with its anti-gun message, but not so much so that those of us without racks on our pick-ups would be turned off.

Review: Four films by Seijun Suzuki

Underworld Beauty

Starring Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Yusuke Ashida, Toru Abe and Hideaki Nitani.

Tokyo Drifter

Starring Tetsuya Watari, Tamio Kawaji, Ryuji Kita, Chieko Matsubara and Hideaki Nitani.

Branded to Kill

Starring Koji Nanbara, Joe Shishido, Mariko Ogawa and Annu Mari.

Kanto Wanderer

Starring Chieko Matsubara, Hiroko Ito and Akira Kobayashi.

Seijun Suzuki worked as a director in the Japanese studio system from 1956 to 1967, until, after filming Branded to Kill, he was fired for making an “incomprehensible” film, and, after having seen four of his films, it’s pretty hard to argue that claim. Taking the unprecedented act of suing his former production company, Nikkatsu, he won, but soon found himself blacklisted and didn’t make another movie for 10 years. Seijun Suzuki’s films are shockingly innovative on a visual level, and his characteristic narrative tangles have been a huge influence on modern-day filmmakers from Wong Kar Wai to Quentin Tarantino.