Studio Ghibli Mini-Reviews: My Neighbors The Yamadas, Tales From Earthsea, Pom Poko & Earwig And The Witch

It was all over Twitter that the Studio Ghibli movies were gonna disappear from Netflix U.K. at the end of May. Even though I knew I’d already seen all the best ones by far, I’ve still been desperate to watch all the rest for years now as I adore Studio Ghibli. So I watched these remaining four before the 1st of June. The only one I have left to watch, which I want to see the most but have to wait since my family want to see it too, is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (but luckily I have the DVD).

Well, the Ghibli movies are still on Netflix. Oh well – it got me closer to my goal! 🙂

These four confirm that I had indeed already seen the best. I’ve ranked the four at the bottom of my ranked Ghibli list here on Letterboxd (the only other one at the bottom being Ocean Waves). But one of these was still quite delightful, one was perfectly fine but very forgettable, one had way too many testicles, and one was sadly not worthy of the Ghibli name.

I just want to add that for some stupid reason I completely forgot to mention the coolest thing I’ve done in a very long time back in January. I can’t believe I didn’t mention this in my January roundup post! I’m just not used to doing interesting real-life things that relate to my stupid little movie blog. 🙂 I went to see the live production of My Neighbor Totoro at The Barbican in London. It was absolutely AMAZING. It did the film justice without harming its legacy in any way. The way they represented the soot sprites was so clever and the Totoros they created were perfect. And the Cat Bus! The acting was brilliant as well. They couldn’t have done a better job with such a beloved movie & score. Am happy to see they’ve added more shows now. I’d very highly recommend it to all Studio Ghibli fans. And you almost got a picture of me at it but other people are in all the photos too close to me to cut them out so here’s a photo of the lobby instead. 😉

Now let’s review these rather disappointing Studio Ghibli movies…

My Neighbors The Yamadas (1999) (ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん, Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun)

Directed by Isao Takahata

Based on Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii

Starring: Hayato Isobata, Masako Araki, Naomi Uno, Touru Masuoka

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
The life and misadventures of a family in contemporary Japan.

My Opinion:

A fun series of vignettes with a delightful & very relatable family. The format reminded me somewhat of the Peanuts skits, which I absolutely adore. It’s certainly not up there with the Hayao Miyazaki Ghiblis (of course) and I’d rank it below most of the non-Miyazaki Ghiblis as well but it’s still worthy of the Ghibli name. It‘s just so different from the style & wonderfully bizarre nature of the Ghibli films I love the most, which is why it won’t ever be a favorite for me personally. But it was a very sweet film & a pleasant watch. 

My Rating: 7/10

Tales From Earthsea (2006) (ゲド戦記)

Directed by Gorō Miyazaki

Based on Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin & Shuna’s Journey by Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Junichi Okada, Aoi Teshima, Yūko Tanaka

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
In a mythical land, a man and a young boy investigate a series of unusual occurrences.

My Opinion:

Not one of Studio Ghibli’s best (it’s hard to live up to those) but I can’t quite put my finger on why? It has Ghibli fantasy elements that I like & a Ghibli look. It’s a much more straightforward story & far less “strange” than my favorites, so maybe that’s why it’s less memorable? Seriously – I watched this a week ago & I barely remember it already. That’s not something you can say about their films like Spirited Away, etc. It’s a simple story with fairly unremarkable characters. That warlock was pretty cool, though. And quite terrifying, so this one wouldn’t be for really young kids. He was sort of a scary combination of Howl & of the wizard from Ponyo. Most memorable thing about this film. Oh, and the cool dragons too (which are barely in this).

I still enjoyed this & think it’s a good anime film, just not a great Ghibli film. I’d say it’s most similar to The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, which isn’t a Ghibli film but may as well be as it’s from Isao Takahata & was also worked on by Hayao Miyazaki. I liked that one a bit more. Both are worth watching if you’re a very big Ghibli fan like I am & want to watch them all.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Pom Poko (1994) (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ, Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko)

Directed & Written by Isao Takahata

Starring: Kokontei Shinchou, Makoto Nonomura, Yuriko Ishida

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
A community of magical shape-shifting raccoon dogs struggle to prevent their forest home from being destroyed by urban development.

My Opinion:

I expected to like this one the most of these four as it looked the most bizarre, which is something I love about Ghibli. But I think it featured just a few too many testicles for my liking.


*Balls*

I did appreciate the weirdness of Pom Poko, although it’s not the beautiful & magical sort of weirdness that I love in the very best Ghiblis. Some of the humor was fun but the story was far darker than I was expecting. Between all the death & all the testicles, it’s certainly not one for the youngest Ghibli fans. And while I normally prefer memorable films to boring ones (and I will certainly never forget Pom Poko), I just wasn’t feeling this one. I’m glad I’ve watched it as I’ve been wanting to see all the Ghibli films but this isn’t one I’ll have any desire to watch again, which is unlike most of the studio’s other films I’ve happily watched multiple times. So I’ve ranked this below the rather bland & forgettable Tales From Earthsea as I liked that story much more & that one felt more like a Ghibli film to me.

Pom Poko was disappointing but, as I said, at least it was memorable. Seriously, though. What was with the testicles?! Okay – those bits were kind of hilarious. I’m giving this an extra half a point just for the balls.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Earwig And The Witch (2020) (アーヤと魔女, Āya to Majo)

Directed by Gorō Miyazaki

Based on Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada, Kokoro Hirasawa

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
An orphan girl, Earwig, is adopted by a witch and comes home to a spooky house filled with mystery and magic.

My Opinion:

Oh dear. This is indeed the worst Studio Ghibli film. But if the Ghibli name wasn’t attached to it, would we all think it was so bad? It’s certainly not the worst animated film I’ve ever seen. I’d say it’s something along the lines of the weakest films from Illumination or DreamWorks such as Sing or Home. You know, the kind of stuff you’ll happily watch once with your young kids to keep them entertained and then hopefully not have to watch a hundred more times if they then decide that’s their favorite movie. But that’s not what we expect from Studio Ghibli, who have made so many gorgeous & brilliant films that I as well as my daughter adore and have watched many, many times. The animation in Earwig is so ugly by comparison. Unfortunately, the character is also quite unlikeable, which I wasn’t expecting. I think they were trying to make her seem “cheeky” and precocious but she crossed the line into slightly annoying too often. The story is okay, I guess. I like a story about witches but it was hard to be interested when I didn’t care about any of the underdeveloped characters. And I can see why people complain about the ending. It just stops so abruptly. Could we not get a little closure? At least a small explanation? I thought maybe we’d get a “here’s what happened next” as they had some images through the credits but they didn’t fill in enough of the blanks. 

I don’t know. It’s just a very frustrating film. It’s not absolutely terrible. But it’s not Ghibli. In all honesty, I liked it enough that I’d watch a sequel if it promised to continue the story properly. And I thought the band was actually pretty cool. A sequel could focus more on that and maybe include flashbacks with some cool songs? But I think it’s safe to say that a sequel to the most widely hated Ghibli film is extremely unlikely.

My Rating: 6/10
(My score is being very generous)

Spirited Away (2001) Review

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Spirited Away (2001)
Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
Japanese:
千と千尋の神隠し

IMDB Top 250 Rank: 43 as of 01/01/2013

Directed & Written by Hayao Miyazaki

Starring Voice Actors:
Rumi Hiiragi
Miyu Irino
Mari Natsuki
Takeshi Naito
Yasuko Sawaguchi
Tsunehiko Kamijō
Takehiko Ono
Bunta Sugawara

(English dub voice cast: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, Susan Egan, Paul Eiding, John Ratzenberger)

Running time: 124 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In the middle of her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and monsters; where humans are changed into beasts.

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My Opinion:

Version watched: Japanese with English subtitles

I know the people who’ve been with me a while will know that I’ve become a pretty big Studio Ghibli fan in the couple of years that I’ve run this blog. Back in January, I started reviewing as many of these films as I could (you can find the links to all the reviews HERE) but they didn’t get a lot of attention & I wondered if Studio Ghibli was as popular amongst movie bloggers as I’d thought. So when I asked in this poll HERE which movies I should review next of all the ones I watched but never got around to, I was surprised that Spirited Away & Grave Of The Fireflies were the two winners by quite a lot of votes. I know it’s weird that I’ve put off reviewing two of Ghibli’s biggest films but I wasn’t sure what to say about either of them. Fireflies because, well… what can be said about that? 😦 And Spirited Away because I KNOW it’s the favorite Ghibli for a lot of people (and the most highly regarded – it won an Oscar for best animated film & is the highest rated Ghibli in the IMDB Top 250 at number 34 currently) but it’s just never quite connected with me in the same way the other films have.

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Spirited Away was actually the very first Ghibli I saw back in 2001 (I think – whenever it was first shown in UK cinemas). I don’t recommend it as your introduction to Studio Ghibli as it’s far more “out there” than most the others. Unless you like “weird”… However, I do recommend it if you’re already a fan of the studio and I can see now why it’s so popular even if it’s not my very favorite. I finally re-watched this again in January to see if my opinion would be different all these years later & I can say that I definitely appreciated it a lot more now that I’ve seen so many other Ghibli films. It’s basically just a coming of age story (Ghibli style – with pigs, witches, Susuwatari soot sprites like in My Neighbor Totoro, dragons, and really large babies) & has a good, strong lead female as is often the case with these movies. I think it may be so popular as it’s from 2001 so a lot of you younger bloggers will have been just the right sort of age for it when it came out (I’m guessing it’s a popular one with those who were preteen girls at the time especially). You’ll either absolutely love this one for its weirdness or you’ll be turned off if that’s not your type of thing but it’s certainly another Miyazaki masterpiece and I want to love it as much as I do Totoro or Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind… I really did try to on the re-watch!

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Spirited Away is sort of a Japanese Alice In Wonderland. If you like that, you may also appreciate Spirited Away. It certainly has the magical quality & beauty that most the Ghibli films possess (more so, really – it may be the second biggest feast for your eyes after Howl’s Moving Castle). I do think I made a mistake putting it below Howl’s Moving Castle in my Top TenHowl’s is very pretty but the story is overcomplicated while Spirited Away has a much stronger and more straightforward story & themes.

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With most Ghibli films, there’s usually a small character that I really latch onto. With Princess Mononoke, it was the Kodama. With Castle In The Sky, it was the Laputan robots. With My Neighbor Totoro, it was of course Totoro. While Spirited Away has very rich characters, I didn’t end up loving any of the lesser characters. No-Face was pretty cool, I suppose, but oh so strange. The girl (Chihiro), as I said, is another great female Ghibli character which is a huge part of the reason why I’m such a big fan of the Ghibli films. This is another movie I want my kid to see someday BUT I myself wouldn’t recommend it to those under probably about 10 or 11. For the very young, the witch is too scary as is the entire, cruel spirit world that Chihiro finds herself trapped in plus it’s just far too odd & the themes would be lost on the young. More than anything, they just wouldn’t appreciate this one until they were a little older so I think it’s probably best to wait before introducing them to this one.

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Summary:

I’m really glad I re-watched this one again after watching more Studio Ghibli films. I wish I could love it in the same way others do and in the same way I love some of the other Ghibli films but I certainly appreciate Spirited Away and think it’s deserving of all the praise & recognition it has received. I’d certainly watch it once (or twice) again and know it’s one that would grow on me. Spirited Away should be seen by all film lovers but I’d recommend testing out a couple other Studio Ghibli films first before delving into this one if you’re new to them.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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