My Neighbour Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988) & Grave of Fireflies (Takahata, 1988)
Rio Cinema, 2.15pm
Chicago Reader review of My Neighbour Totoro:
Sheer enchantment, this 1989 animated feature is a key early work by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away).
A man and his two daughters move into an old house in the countryside
and encounter Totoro, a giant slothlike (and slothful) creature who
arranges for the girls to visit their ailing mother, riding in a phantom
Cheshire-cat bus. Like much of Miyazaki's work, the film has an
ecological bent that recalls the Shinto reverence for animal spirits and
reflects quintessential Asian values like respect for one's parents and
community in the face of crisis. It exemplifies Ghibli's style of
fanciful realism, paying close attention to minute details as well-drawn
figures move across a fluid backdrop. It also deals straightforwardly
with substantial emotions like fear of death, though at times it veers
toward the heart-tugging cuteness of the Pokemon series.
Here is the trailer.
Time Out review of Grave of the Fireflies:
Grave of the Fireflies’ is perhaps unique in that the medium of
animation in no way softens the events of story. In fact, the opposite
is true. Animation allows Takahata to draw performances from his
children that no human of equal age could or should be expected to give.
His treatment of little Setsuko results in arguably the most realistic
four-year-old in cinema, simultaneously curious and wary, playful and
serious, exploring her place in the world just as that world is
beginning to fall apart. The older Seita feels withdrawn by comparison,
though this decision feels wholly intentional and appropriate. This is a
boy torn between childhood selfishness and societally imposed feelings
of obligation, whose only point of focus becomes the sister he cannot
save. And the scenes of Setsuko’s gradual decline would be simply
impossible in a live-action context as it would be unwatchable, and with
good reason. Visually, the film hews close to the established Ghibli
palette, with motionless, often rather crude backgrounds and blurred
upfront action. Takahata makes the most of these limitations – often
focusing on characters faces in moments of grief or stillness, using the
stillness of his backdrops to suggest a blank, unknowable world beyond
their grasp – but they remain limitations.
‘Grave of the
Fireflies’ is not a film to be taken lightly. It is not even a film to
be enjoyed. It is a film which demands – and deserves – total
concentration and emotional surrender. The reward is an experience
unlike any other: exhausting, tragic and utterly bleak, but also somehow
Here is the trailer.