Thursday, April 2, 2009

Film Space schedule

At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm

April is “The Month of Animation” at Film Space.

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Showings are in a classroom on the second floor or on the roof, weather permitting. For the roof, you might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance – you should leave 20 baht. Well worth supporting.

At Film Space Saturday, April 4: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea / Gake no ue no Ponyo / 崖の上のポニョ(2008) by Hayao Miyazaki – 100 mins – Japan, Animation/ Adventure/ Family.

An animated adventure centered on the 5-year-old boy Sōsuke and his relationship with Ponyo, a baby goldfish/ mermaid princess who longs to become human.

Japan Times, Mark Schilling: Hayao Miyazaki is the reigning giant of Japanese animation — and the Japanese box office. Since "Majo no Takkyubin (Kiki's Delivery Service)" in 1989, every Miyazaki film has been a smash hit, drawing the widest possible audience. In 2001, his coming-of-age fantasy "Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)" set an all-time Japanese box-office record.

But this, and other Miyazaki megahits, including "Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)" (1997) and "Howl no Ugoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle)" (2004) are anything but lowest-common-denominator entertainment. Even though his heroines (rarely heroes) are usually in their early teens or younger, their adventures unfold in rich visual and narrative matrices, with everything from personal memories and contemporary environmental concerns to ancient Japanese mythologies and fantastic European cityscapes tossed into the mix, in combinations that would only occur to Miyazaki's well-stocked, endlessly inventive mind. One reason his films keep the turnstiles spinning is that they repay — even require — repeated viewings.

But Miyazaki's most beloved film in Japan — "Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)" (1988) — is also among his easiest to understand. Even tots can thrill to the film's epic ride on the Cat Bus — one of the coolest forms of transportation ever invented, as long as you're not allergic to felines.

His latest feature animation, "Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)," exceeds even "Totoro" in simplicity, with a core target audience about as old as its hero — 5. This is not to say that those who have mastered hiragana (or the alphabet) will be bored, as long as they leave their expectations for the usual Miyazaki film at the door.

Miyazaki has made what is for any adult — but especially a 67-year-old anime veteran — an extraordinary leap: In "Ponyo" he is not just telling a story to tikes, but imaginatively becoming one himself. I was reminded of the famous opening of James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," with its recital of the hero's earliest memories in the language of infancy ("Once upon a time there was a moocow coming down along the road and . . ."), as if the author were re-inhabiting an earlier self.

At the same time, Miyazaki revisits themes from other, more adult-focused films, such as humanity's destruction of the natural world, and nature's revenge on its human tormentors. Also, the animation is Miyazaki's familiar mix of the realistic and fantastic, with extinct sea creatures swimming contentedly alongside their contemporary — and accurately rendered — descendants. In other words, there is still plenty to engage the mind and eye, as well as keep the small army of Miyazaki explicators busy.

The title character, Ponyo, is a girl fish with a human face who decides one day to leave her underwater home — and her school of smaller sisters — to see what lies on the surface. Riding on the back of a jellyfish, she is nearly trapped by a drift net, but escapes — with her head stuck in a glass jar. Sōsuke, a boy who lives on a house on a seaside cliff, spots Ponyo in the shallows and rescues her. He is delighted with his new pet — and Ponyo is delighted to be in the human world at last. She says her first words, to Sosuke's astonishment — and begins a transformation from half-fish to human.

Meanwhile, her human father, Fujimoto, who lives in an undersea manse with Ponyo's sea-queen mother, starts to search for her. With his long hair, beaky nose and tormented, bags-under-the-eyes expression, Fujimoto looks like a decayed aristocrat from a shojo manga (girls' comic), but he possesses magical powers over the waves, which become like living creatures under his command. What can a mere kid, if one with a feisty mom he calls Lisa and a good-natured, if mostly absent, ship-captain dad, do to stop him?

"Ponyo" is not about a simplistic struggle between good and evil, however. Fujimoto is more of a worried father than a scarily powerful villain. Also, with the aid of her sisters, Ponyo unleashes powers of her own, with awesome, if unintended, consequences.

The film meanders into various byways, such as the day-care center for the elderly that Lisa runs, with a female clientele that runs the gamut from the cute to the cranky — and serves as a Greek chorus to the action.

The focus, though, stays mostly on Sōsuke and Ponyo, whose relationship undergoes a change from master/pet to protective older brother/bubbly, if trouble-prone, younger sister. There is something dreamlike about their adventures in both the thrilling wish-fulfillment of them and their spooky shape-shifting. Small children, who naturally live on the borderline between reality and fantasy, will have no trouble following along.

As with most Miyazaki films, I walked out of "Ponyo" thinking less about the rambling story, based loosely on "The Little Mermaid," than certain strangely gripping scenes, such as a grimly determined Lisa zipping along a seaside road in her mini car, with Sōsuke at her side, as angry anthromorphic waves crash and lash around them, or Sōsuke and Ponyo puttering idyllically over a submerged town in a toy boat powered by a burning candle, which has magically grown big enough to hold them.

No one but Miyazaki could have created anything like these moments, with anything like his mastery. If "Ponyo" is the start of his artistic second childhood, I say welcome to the sandbox.

Twitch, Ard Vijn: Once again, Hayao Miyazaki shows his uncanny talent of realistically portraying the behavior and mannerisms of young children. Both Sōsuke and Ponyo (when in human form) are instantly recognizable to anyone who knows any children of that age. The leaps of faith, of logic, the innocence but also the ruthlessness… it’s all there on display, and it seems true. The children make this movie a delight to watch.

A Nutshell Review, Stefan S: Hayao Miyazaki's magic continues with this absolute crowd pleaser Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, his latest animated film, which turns on the usual sweetness to charm your socks off.

For fans of Studio Ghibli films, you'll probably know what you're in for, as Miyazaki has yet another winner in his filmography.

Ponyo is a magic goldfish that yearns to know what is life beyond the sea, with her constant forays in a bubble to the surface of the water to sneak a peek. Nonetheless these ambitions do not bode well with her humanoid dad Fujimoto who harbors some hatred toward the human race for pollution, and briefly touching a subplot on environmental protection / revenge by Mother Nature as well. An accident one day sees Ponyo being washed ashore, and picked up by five year old boy Sōsuke who lives on a house on the said cliff with his mother Lisa while dad Koichi is mostly out to sea since he's a sailor. And you can expect some moments of throwback to the likes of The Little Mermaid, or Splash made for kids. Saying anything more would be to spoil the fun.

The artwork here is still simply astounding even though it's in 2D glory, knowing that each cell is painstakingly worked on. There are so many things going on at the same time within the same frame, that you'll probably be game for repeated viewings just to spot them all. This definitely beats any 3D or CG animated production any day given its beauty coming from its simplicity, and not only from the artwork department, but on its story too, despite complaints coming in that it took a leaf from the Hans Christian Andersen classic. While there are avenues to make this film extremely dark, it only suggested certain dark themes, but opted instead for a film with more positive emotions, suitable for both kids and adults alike.

At its core, it’s about love, that between the family members of Koichi, Lisa and Sōsuke, and especially between mother and son. More so, it's about the love between the boy and his new pet fish which he christened Ponyo, and I tell you Ponyo herself has enough cuteness in her to beat the likes of Bolt, WallE and Eve all hands down. Characterization here is top notch, and it's hard not to fall in love with Ponyo, in whichever form adopted, especially when she's such a playful being who doesn't hide her emotions - if she's upset with you, either she turns away or you could expect a jet stream come spewing from her mouth into your face!

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is a definite shoo-in to my top films of this year without hesitation. And the next time I go to Tokyo, I'm sure as hell going to make my way to the Ghibli Museum to bask under the magical world brought to us by Hayao Miyazaki. Highly recommended film, so don't you go missing this on the big screen!

At Film Space Saturday, April 11: Cat Soup / Nekojiru-so / ねこぢる草 (2003) by Tatsuo Sato – 34 mins – Japan, Animation/ Short/ Comedy/ Fantasy.

When Death steals half of the soul of the little kitten Nyaako, leaving her brain-dead, her brother Nyatta takes her on a bizarre journey to get it back. In the surreal dreamscape of the Other Side, they encounter many fantastic characters and remarkable, often violent and disturbing, adventures. Chemically enhanced individuals should especially enjoy this.

Beyond A word of caution: Cat Soup is not for children. While the two main cat characters are cute and cuddly, there are some bloody and very mature moments. At one point, a woman gets cut into pieces by a giant spinning blade. In general, limbs are being lopped off on a daily basis throughout the short. The dismemberings are not too graphic as to be disgusting, but they can be a bit disturbing for younger viewers. The cats may look darn cute, but the short is not for minors.

Here is a sample of the plot:

They find a circus in the woods where God is the magician ringleader. God slices a woman into pieces which fly about then recombine, and God creates objects from his breath. The crowd applauds but Nyatta's sister doesn't react. A huge bird who has swallowed the sky is unveiled and tormented until it bursts into a storm flood which destroys the cats' town. Following a clockwork metal butterfly, Nyatta finds them a boat to survive, with a subservient pig that they carve alive for food.

At Film Space Saturday, April 18: Persepolis (2007) written and directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi – 96 mins – France/ US, Animation/ Biography/ Drama/ War. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 90/82 out of 100.

France's official submission for the Best Foreign-Language Film category at the 2008 Academy Awards.

Iran's government sent a letter to the French embassy in Tehran to protest against the movie and pressured the organizers of the 2007 Bangkok Film Festival to drop it from the lineup.

Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: Persepolis is an emotionally powerful, dramatically enthralling autobiographical gem, and the film's simple black-and-white images are effective and bold.

Variety: Any stragglers still unconvinced that animation can be an exciting medium for both adults and kids will run out of arguments in the face of "Persepolis." Like the four-volume series of graphic novels on which it's based, this autobiographical tour de force is completely accessible and art of a very high order. First-person tale of congenitally rebellious Marjane Satrapi, who was 8 years old when the Islamic Revolution transformed her native Teheran, boasts a bold lyricism spanning great joy and immense sorrow. In both concept and execution, hand-drawn toon is a winner.

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