When I first heard that Seattle’s Cinerama would be holding an Anime Movie Festival, I knew immediately that I wanted to go. Not only were there films included in the line-up that I had never seen, but I had also never visited the acclaimed theater. Cinerama is a single-screen venue boasting the “most epic movie experience.” Having first opened in 1963 after the World’s Fair’s appearance in the city it was one of the hottest locations until its decline in popularity in the mid 80s and 90s. Thanks to the purchase and renovation of philanthropist Paul Allen, the theater was reborn in 1999 with advanced screen and sound technology. The theater was again upgraded more recently in 2014.
Cinerama hosts many types of events, including 70mm festivals, Science Fiction, and more. This year’s Anime Film Festival is the first of its kind, and I hope to see more of it in the coming years. Perhaps they may even expand to include multi-episode original video animation series. The movies I viewed were:
While the last is actually my favorite Ghibli film and one I’ve seen countless times, I still could not resist the chance to see it on the big screen for the first time. Below are my brief thoughts on the movies and my viewing experience at Seattle Cinerama.
The Wind Rises
The first movie I attended was Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. I chose this film, along with a friend, because I had not yet seen it and was curious about the controversial issues surrounding the film. I’ve seen many of Miyazaki’s other movies, which generally take a more fantastical setting and seem aimed at a younger audience. The Wind Rises, in contrast, describes the aspirations of aeronautical engineer Horikoshi Jiro and his creation of the Zero Fighter that played such a key role in World War II. The implications are as heavy as they sound. Yes, much of the natural humor that populates Miyazaki films is present, but so is an inescapable sense of doom. We, the audience, know the outcome of the war. It’s difficult to rejoice in Jiro’s successes and excitement knowing full well how the planes he loves will be used for destruction. There were times where I found myself getting swept up into Jiro’s optimistic view and forgetting the eventuality, only to get slapped back down by a foreboding comment.
It’s important to keep in mind while watching the movie that it is largely fictional. While the story is based on true events, many of the personal details surrounding Jiro are either twisted or completely fabricated. These changes did well to soften the protagonist’s character as well as propel the emotions of the audience through the course of the film. At the beginning, his view of flight dazzles us, and the dream sequences he experiences with Italian designer “Count Caproni” give off comical airs that shrug off any potential violent uses for aircraft. As fun as these moments are, we are accompanying a fairly serious character.
Jiro’s devotion is apparent from the start, and he acts like the type of model child stern grandparents would approve of; he throws himself into his studies in an unnatural way and exudes the type of self-confidence others gain after puberty, not at the start of it. And while he does portray a sense of humor, it’s the dry, intelligent type of wit you wouldn’t typically hear from a child. Hideako Anno voices Jiro in as natural of a style as you’ll ever find in anime. Part of me appreciates the pairing of the mature voice with the equally mature character, while the rest of me pulls back from the oddity. Hideako’s voice does not sound like it should be coming from such a young man.
If you are hesitant on watching The Wind Rises, I encourage you to experience it. The movie is unique among Miyazaki’s works, though there are touches present of the director’s magical and idealistic inclinations. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel as haunted as I do by Jiro’s dreams–beautiful, fleeting, and ultimately fatal.
Rating: 2 dango
I had seen Porco Rosso once before during my college days, but could not remember the details of the movie well. I remembered a pig, a plane, and a race, but that was about it. When a couple of friends suggested including this in my line-up, I was hesitant since I didn’t recall anything particularly memorable about the film other than the soundtrack. I’m glad I accepted their suggestion because my second watch proved worthwhile. I would go so far as to even say that the movie seems truer to Miyazaki’s whims than some of his more popular works (but don’t go quoting me on that).
The premise for the movie is fairly simple and matches my memory from the first viewing. “Porco Rosso” is the protagonist, an anthropomorphic pig. He is a renown World War I pilot who now makes a living as a bounty hunter in Italy. The reasons for his transformation are unclear; what we do know is that the change took place after his part in the war, particularly after an incident that killed his squadron and best friend. This all sounds serious, but that is not the main attitude in the film at all. Porco Rosso is a free-spirited romp through the sky, a love letter to flight and those who live by it. Anyone who watches Hayao Miyazaki films can attest to his obsession with aircraft and flight, as they are present in almost every one of his films. Having watched The Wind Rises shortly before Porco Rosso made the director’s emotions even more apparent. This is a man who loves the dream and humankind’s pursuit of it.
“Better a pig than a fascist!”
-Porco Rosso, Porco Rosso
In addition to the planes that populate the film, there is a palpable joy in the Italian common life, as well as its women. The music, food, and pacing emit a distinctly Italian identity, if such a thing can be said from someone who has only visited the country once. I’m not an expert on their history, or even remotely well read on it, but the film’s setting felt authentic to my expectations of a people who enjoy life and taking their sweet time going about it. When Gina sings, the crowd quiets. Even the rowdy air pirates calm to hear her low intonations. Red wine stands at every table, as if identifying as the people’s water. Everyone goes about their business as they please, even within the confines of a fascist government. As Porco Rosso espouses, “Better a pig than a fascist!” That mentality seems true across most of the characters in the film, and best exemplified by our pig pilot.
Miyazaki has always written strong female characters into his works, and it is noticeable in Porco Rosso with the character of Fio and her family. Fio has both her young age and female sex to combat in gaining the respect and trust of others in her capabilities. She is a talented and dedicated designer of aircraft. Watching her work over Porco Rosso’s plane reminded me of The Wind Rises’ Jiro and his obsession with mackerel bones. Fio has the fortune of a supportive grandfather in the position to give her the work she craves, as well as a large family of women willing to do much of the heavy lifting. Our protagonist is at first resistant to Fio for both her inexperience and sex, but is rapidly convinced into respect and even affection. The entire family’s interactions with one another and our main character overflow with warmth and humor. One of my favorite scenes during the building segment is when Porco Rosso sits to the side rocking a baby as the women bustle about repairing his plane. Their roles have reversed, and there’s a satisfying sense of comeuppance in his mixed expression of disbelief and admiration.
Gina, too, should not be overlooked as a woman who decries being “…treated like furniture.” One of my friends interpreted this to mean that she resented passing messages between pilots, while I instead felt it described her role as the waiting wife. Perhaps both ideas are true. Thrice married and widowed, she has repeatedly watched the men, all pilots, in her life fly away and die. Despite this, Gina continues to dazzle all who see and hear her sing. For much of the film, she stands as a placeholder at Hotel Adriano, her business and home. The restaurant and singer draw customers despite the isolated location–the hotel stands on a man-made island accessible only by boat or seaplane. Pilots come and ago, while Gina remains rooted in place. She makes an interesting comparison to flight; both are held in an almost unattainable regard as ideals. Gina is the ultimate reason to come home, while the sky eternally beckons them to leave.
You can certainly watch Porco Rosso without considering any of the above and still thoroughly enjoy it. Perhaps it’s my age and increased interest in politics that has me noticing the short conversations that Porco Rosso shares with others on the state of the Italian government and his place in it. Most of the film focuses on his rambunctious run ins with others: seaplane pirates, a famous American ace, and fascist forces. He always survives in a spectacular manner and carries on his free spirit. The film does close open ended, but I choose to believe that he escaped once more with Gina at his side. With how much my opinion of the movie improved in this second watch, I look forward to how my thoughts will change in subsequent viewings in the years to come.
Rating: 2 dango
I knew without a doubt that I would include Akira in my line-up for the movie festival, though if you were to look at my original rating on it you probably would be surprised at its inclusion. I first watched Akira back in college around the same time I saw Porco Rosso; I rated the film a “6” for “fair.” I can’t recall the exact thoughts I had back then, but I can guess that I was probably bored at all the seemingly meaningless politics and science. I now kick myself for waiting this long to re-watch and evaluate the film. Akira is, without a doubt, a masterpiece every anime, animation, and music lover should experience.
The 1988 film defies time with its still exemplary color palette, animation quality, and soundtrack. A screenshot of the characters looks much like you’d expect from an 80s-era work: the hair, faces, clothes, all of it. Frankly, it’s not to my taste. It’s ugly, but perfectly suits the tone of the story. Now to the background art. Everything from the zoomed out cityscapes to closeups of streets and corners are wonderfully detailed in their colorful grime and sharp neons. I read somewhere that hundreds of shots of Neo Tokyo were made from every angle possible. That time and attention are clear throughout the entirety of the film, where Neo Tokyo stars as a mute character; the city comes alive and has innumerable faces. Characters Kaneda, Tetsuo, and the rest of the Capsules storm through the streets on their motorcycles full of youthful anger and excitement. The opening ride with their rivals, the Clowns, bursts through the screen as surely as they destroy everything in their path. The wastefulness of broken glass and motorcycle pieces is balanced by their beautiful fearlessness towards death or any other consequence. They live in the joy of the now, and the animation serves to magnify the accompanying emotions.
In addition to visual delights, you will also be treated to an auditory experience unlike any other. For the past two days after watching the movie, I have been listening to the music of Akira on repeat. It’s best to listen with quality surround sound or headphones, as much of the percussive intonations are otherwise lost. The music particularly stands out to me due to my own musical background; I once majored in percussion performance as a college student, and still participate in local groups. It’s not often that I hear a movie soundtrack that makes use of rhythm like Akira’s. The sound is a mix of Steve Reich and vocals, percussive and tribal. I can hear and feel my heart pounding in my chest, building in intensity and almost being stifled by it. The multiple layers of rhythm with restricted harmonies hypnotize in a way a standard melodic soundtrack does not. Even if you can not or will not watch the film, I highly encourage you to try the music. While I treasure each piece, some favorite of mine include “Requiem,” “Mutation,” “Battle Against Clown,” and “Dolls’ Polyphony.”
If there’s one major complaint I have about the movie is its actual storytelling. So much attention is paid to the visuals and their impact on the viewer that the plot suffers. I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around events and trying to make sense of them. Why did Nezu assist with the resistance? How did the colonel hold so much power that Parliament felt the need to strip it away? What did the Numbers mean that things are just beginning–does this refer to a growing existence of espers, starting with Kei? While I would have appreciated explanation on the above, I don’t feel the lack of it negates from the importance of this film. If anything, I now feel the need to read the source material which I hear significantly expands on areas that were skimmed over in the movie.
Rating: 3 dango
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Miyazaki’s film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, has long been a favorite of mine. It stands the tests of time and new inclusions to the anime film roster, persisting with its strong main character and environmental message. The music, too, is a benchmark for now renown Joe Hisaishi. There was no question that I would include it in my watch list. After seeing it on the big screen for the first time, I’m happy to say that I still hold the film close to my heart and have a new goal of reading the original manga series.
While Nausicaa does show its age–the film released in 1984–through stationary crowds and faded colors, the visuals still impress, particularly those of the Toxic Jungle and the airships. We open straight into a scene of a civilization lost to decay; while normally I would be saddened, I instead find myself in awe of the jungle. As Nausicaa aptly puts it, “It’s so beautiful. It’s hard to believe these spores could kill me.” The released spores look like flakes of snow, the type you want to feel like cool kisses on your face. The jungle’s insect population exhibits its own type of beauty with armor-like shells and glossy eyes. The airships, too, are incredibly detailed as they are wont to be in Miyazaki’s works. The ships represent their nations’ identities: Tolmekian and Pejite ships are large, focusing on strength and intimidation; the Valley of the Wind prizes durability and aerodynamics by building their vessels with insect shell and modeling them after natural wings. There are a number of documentaries on this film and how it came to be that I highly recommend.
Joe Hisaishi has made a name for himself as the composer of many Studio Ghibli films. Some of my favorite soundtracks of his include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was his first time working with Hayao Miyazaki, and you can hear much of his orchestral mastery; however, there are also distinct electronic sections unique to this film that scream electronic pop, rock, and Indian influences. I can’t think of any other Miyazaki film that includes the keyboard in a similar way as in Nausicaa. Ed Chang of the blog Cue by Cue breaks down each track of the soundtrack, explaining their places or disuse in the movie and themes. If this is something you find interesting, I highly recommend you reference Chang’s notes as you listen to the soundtrack or watch the movie.
As I mentioned before, I would love to get my hands on the manga so I can read in more detail about this world and its characters. Nausicaa is my favorite protagonist of all of Miyazaki’s works; she is unequivocally firm in her stance on the environment and humankind’s place in it. Nausicaa stands in stark contrast to the royals of two other nations: Kushana of Tolmekia, and Asbel and Lastelle of Pejite. Our protagonist places equal importance on all aspects of natural life, from the children and elderly of her home to the flora and fauna of the Toxic Jungle. She prizes the time and dedication that goes into bringing forth new life and maintaining it, and condemns hasty moves that eventually bring about more harm than good. Nausicaa is strong in spirit and body, but the film does not make her out to be perfect. She struggles to control her own emotions in the face of unreasonable and violent actions. I would like to know more about her people and how they came to reside in the Valley of the Wind. I would also like to hear about other nations, in addition to Pejite and Tolmekia. I can’t help but see a bit of own world in that of Nausicaa’s, with our warring approaches to nature and human involvement in its changes.
Rating: 2 dango
Having experienced four of the twenty-three anime films, I look forward to hopefully seeing this festival become a regular event at Cinerama. I never thought I would have the opportunity to view my old favorites in a theater setting, particularly with the original voice actors instead of English dubs. While Hayao Miyazaki staked a larger claim at this year’s festival, other directors included Gorou Miyazaki, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Mamoru Hosoda, Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Isao Takahata, Michaël Dudok de Wit, Shinichirou Watanabe, Hideaki Anno, and Katsuhiro Otomo. If Cinerama does this again, I would love to see Makoto Shinkai included in the list of directors.
Thank you, Cinerama, for this wonderful journey!
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.