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I just read CrackTheSky’s latest post about Studio Ghibli AMVs and it got me to thinking about these kind of videos, how I view them and emotionally respond to them and how that’s changed over time. “Miyazaki at Night” is one of my favorite Ghibli-themed AMVs and possibly the last one that left any kind of special impression on me. While there’s nothing flashy or especially surprising about how it’s edited, it establishes a unique tone and identity for itself through its unconventional choice of music and scene selection and refreshingly patient pacing, giving it an appeal that sets it far apart from other videos working with the same material. I love this video for what it is and find it interesting on its own terms, not necessarily just because of how it compares to other Ghibli videos. BUT comparing it to other such videos is an impulse I can never completely drop given how, consciously or not, so many of its predecessors tend to follow the same patterns or aim for the same emotional targets. The way these films subtly reference and recall one another, not to mention the special strain of sentimental nostalgia that Ghibli/Miyazaki films tend to invoke, practically invites this approach to editing. The first “Ghibli AMV” I ever saw, which both typifies and perfects this approach, was dwchang’s “Here Comes the Sun.”

I should probably note that I’m not claiming that this video was the first of its kind. “Memories Dance” — infuriatingly not on Youtube, as most Ghibli-content is automatically taken down from the site sooner or later, fair use or not — was released nearly three years before “Here Comes the Sun” and shares the same reverence for Studio Ghibli and many of the common themes and visual motifs that appear throughout many of its different titles. Others may have come even before that. But “Here Comes the Sun” was not only the first time I’d encountered such a concept, but also one of those formative viewing experiences that was so novel and pure and — have your favorite emesis receptacle ready for this one — real that I truly wish I could go back and re-watch it again for the first time. Mind you, this was at my first anime convention in 2004, in a packed contest screening that we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes to be allowed to enter (which is probably when Eva Bebop was shown) and where watching fan-edited videos in a dark room on a big screen implanted some nebulous sentiment in my head that I’m still trying to shape into something that’s productive and enlightening and not merely obsessive or fruitlessly nostalgic.

Countless editors have been bitten by the Ghibli bug since then. Even when they’re done very well, these kind of videos have a hard time really getting through to me anymore. I guess the concept simply doesn’t carry the same sentimental weight for me that it used to, not even as newer films (Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, The Wind Rises) continue to expand the universe of cross-referencing characters and scenes that make these videos so emotionally provocative. There’s still endless potential for editors to make tribute-style AMVs that break this mold, which I really want to see more of, not because there’s anything inherently wrong with the impulse to create a traditionally epic, sentimental and optimistic video that mashes together shots from Kiki and Porco and Totoro and Mononoke. Who wouldn’t want to do that? But anyone who does would be doing themselves a big favor by watching this first. Either they’ll discover that the great AMV they want to make already exists… or they’ll hopefully be inspired to put their own twist on it and come out with something completely unexpected.

Or just throw a bunch of clips together with a random song and text all over the screen. It literally doesn’t matter, people will watch it.

I hate to put every Studio Ghibli movie in a box, but it’s probably a tendency that I have given that the overwhelming majority of them that I’m familiar with were directed by Hayao Miyazaki. That’s not to say that there’s anything predictable about his films or that he’s guilty of repeating himself or anything. It’s just that there’s a certain group of recurring themes and a prevailing sense of unique optimism and goodwill that flows through his work, and it’s easy to project this onto every other film that Studio Ghibli releases. This probably has a way affecting viewer expectations for every other film that the studio releases. Just by proxy, it’s easy to assume that every Studio Ghibli film is going to be painted by the same worldview, so the viewer probably sets themselves up for such before seeing any non-Miyazaki Ghibli work. Or at least that’s what I think happened to me before seeing Only Yesterday last week. There might be a fantastical scene or two, but it’s not a fantasy film. There’s plenty of meditation on “city life” versus “country life,” but it’s not an eco-fable (far from it, actually). I’m not as familiar with the work of writer/director Isao Takahata as I should be, but it’s pretty clear from this film that he’s definitely not a Miyazaki protege or anything (uh, he’s actually six years older than HM), but a filmmaker who clearly channeling his own vision here.

From the get-go, the narrative structure of Only Yesterday was initially a little confusing until it quickly revealed itself to be a film of two different timelines, the story of 27 year-old Taeko (her surname I’m unsure of) recalling various childhood memories of her ten year-old self during a trip to the countryside to visit family. This would be the perfect opportunity to gloss over the magic of childhood and to cast those years in a golden light of innocence, purity and magic. Initially it seems like that’s the road this film is headed down. During a train trip to visit relatives, Taeko recalls her first childhood crush, and it’s really one of the sweetest and truest depictions of young romance (however naive or mixed up it might be) that I’ve ever seen. But as the film progresses, Taeko’s memories grow less and less fond. While her time visiting relatives and lending a hand on their safflower farm is a positive and rejuvenating experience that brings her much-needed new perspectives on her relatively dead end-life, her recalled memories grow less and less fond as the film progresses. In the screening I saw, the audience’s reaction to these painful and often all too familiar experiences — struggles in school, the onset of puberty, petty but painful family troubles — was ambiguous and often extremely awkward. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with such an attentive or involved audience, but you could tell that each flashback in the film was hitting close to home for the viewers in ways that I haven’t witnessed in a film before.

What emerges from this film was not the idealized portrayal of childhood that I was expecting, but something less glamorous, difficult to channel and not as pleasant as many viewers would probably prefer. The sense of subservience, confusion and helplessness that we experience in childhood is often forgotten as we age and begin to exclusively recall our primary school days as full of discovery and “magic.” Has the media sold us all false memories? There’s nothing wonderful, “pure” or even particularly fun about being a kid. It was a tough time! Don’t ever forget that. Especially if you’re going to have some of your own someday.

Oh, right. There’s a romantic plot to this film as well. I don’t know how well I buy it, considering how short Taeko’s trip actually was (what feels like a whole summer in the film is really just ten days), but the dialog that establishes said romantic interest was superb. I’m not sure if I’ve seen such a dialog-driven animated film as this was ever before (unless you count “episode 14” of Key the Metal Idol, but that’s another story). Visually, the film didn’t disappoint, either. The Japanese countryside isn’t depicted with the sort of exciting sights found in Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but it’s certainly lushly rendered and doesn’t look any worse for the wear of the past 21 years.

Only Yesterday has never been released in the US, despite its overwhelmingly positive reviews and Disney’s partnership with Studio Ghibli (although the theatrical rights are apparently shared with some company called GKids). Watch about fifteen or twenty minutes into the film and you’ll come across a scene that’s probably made selling the film in America an uphill battle, to say the least. We saw the film at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago as part of their Castles in the Sky retrospective. Only Yesterday‘s run is done, but there’s more Ghibli still to come this summer, so check it out if you’re in Chicago.

Does anyone else find themselves fighting back tears of anticipation in their theater seat whenever the sneak previews end and this fades onto the screen?

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw The Secret World of Arrietty at my favorite local multiplex, which was every bit the thoroughly enjoyable moviegoing experience I’d hoped it would be. I loved it so much that I honestly planned on seeing it again while on spring break this week but like I sort of expected, the week has come and gone, I barely got myself out of the house at all and the film has pretty much disappeared as of today (gotta make room for this, I guess).

I don’t want to try to review the film or rehash its plot. It came out in Japan almost two years ago and is based off of books that every kid has been reading since the 50s, so you probably know what it’s about, more or less. As expected, it was a beautiful movie filled with wonderful visuals and a very relaxing atmosphere. There’s plenty of drama and perilous situations but there’s never much doubt how it’s going to turn out, so it’s easy to relax and get lost in. (What I’m trying to say is that this definitely isn’t what you’d get from a Disney or Pixar movie. Those can get stressful!) I don’t even know if it’s the specific level of conflict that the characters face so much as their rather even-keeled response to it that makes Arrietty (and most Ghibli films) so consistently mellow (and in the increasingly loud world of film and television, so unique).

I wanted to write about this topic (the quiet tone of these films, particularly compared to other animated features in the preceding previews) right after seeing the film but waffled for a few days and then saw that Yumeka had pretty much covered the topic better than I could anyway. Go read her thoughts about it now, if you haven’t already. Why are our children’s films so insistent upon shouting at their audience? I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Fortunately, viewers seem finally to be “getting it,” as Arrietty now boasts the the widest release and biggest US gross for a Ghibli film to date. Er, at least a few more of us are, anyway. The audience in our weekday afternoon screening was comprised of us, another young couple, and a father with his two year-old daughter. She got pretty fussy down the stretch and he had to take her out once or twice, but I’ve seen much worse, and I’m sure I wasn’t much better behaved at that age. “This was her first movie,” he told us after the show. I wish I would have told him that he picked a good one to start her off with. Sticking her in front of a Dreamworks or Illumination film at that age would probably set a terrible precedent for what she’d be capable of enjoying in the future, IMHO.


Not really sure what this comment is referring to or if we actually saw the same movie. Anyone?

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