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FEELING ANIMATED
StudioCanal has been putting out Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s output on DVD and Blu-ray over the last couple of years. The latest titles to be released are Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), which he wrote the screenplay for, and Grave of The Fireflies (1988), which is not a Miyazaki film but was made by his company Studio Ghibli. Let’s start with Kiki’s Delivery Service, a sweet film about a young witch, the Kiki of the title, who goes off to a big city to find herself and runs an air courier service to support herself financially. The film has all of the Miyazaki trademarks (a visual sense of wonder, a slightly unusual female protagonist) and is heartwarming and feels very Japanese. The choice of a white witch as its central character works well and this is a film that can’t help but make you smile when you watch it…
Grave of The Fireflies is a very different beast indeed. It deals with a young boy and his sister, Setsuko and Seita, and how they try to survive during the Second World War in Japan without parents and without anywhere proper to live. They are forced to live in a cave when their home is destroyed and they become itinerants when they have no-one to support them. It is a very sad and moving film with a very downbeat conclusion and it has a very serious message about the impact of war on ordinary people.
Both films are worthy additions to the StudioCanal Blu-ray and DVD library.

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MASTERING ANIMATION
StudioCanal has just released two more Hayao Miyazaki films onto Blu-ray, The Castle of Cagliostro and My Neighbour Totoro. I’ll start with the older of the two, The Castle of Cagliostro, which was originally released in 1979. This is subtitled rather than dubbed and deals with master thief Lupin and his team, who rips off a Monte Carlo casino only to discover that the money is all counterfeit. He traces the bills back to the European country of Cagliostro, ruled by an evil Count. Lupin was a very popular anime series and this is an instalment in that series. It is very spotty visually and a little bit primitive both in terms of animation and its script, which sometimes feels like a poor attempt to ape American cinema. But Miyazaki was still learning his craft so there are still a few of the visual flourishes that have become his trademark. It is nice to see that it’s on Blu-ray at last. The Castle of Cagliostro is only really for Miyazaki completists as it can be hard work in places…
My Neighbour Totoro was released in 1988 and it is far more accomplished than Cagliostro. It deals with a family who move to the country in Japan to be closer to their ailing mother. Their new house happens to be near the home of a group of friendly trolls and the two girls go on a series of adventures. It is a very sweet children’s film, displaying the depth of imagination and invention that Miyazaki has become renowned for and is able to shift tone effortlessly in its script. It’s dubbed rather than subtitled and this is less distracting for animation than subtitles and makes it a far more immersive experience than if it were subtitled. My Neighbour Totoro is unquestionably a classic and deserves a Blu-ray release. You can see why Miyazaki is called the Japanese Disney as this film matches the best of Disney. For aficionados of animation, My Neighbour Totoro is a must-buy…

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HEARTFELT

Whisper of The Heart, an animated film written by Hayao Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, was first released back in 1995. Thanks to Edith at StudioCanal, I got a screener of the film and she was also generous enough to give me three copies to give away. Find out how you can win a copy after my review of the film.
Miyazaki does have a very distinctive style so that even a film that’s not directed by him still has a very unique feel to it. Whisper of The Heart is a teen drama about Shizuku, a young girl living in Tokyo who falls for a boy in her school, Seiji. Their relationship, which begins when she sees his name on all of the library books she takes out, forces her to think about her own life, sending her on a different path. Whisper of The Heart is a sweet teen romance with some of Miyazaki’s classic idiosyncratic touches like cat figure The Baron in the antique shop owned by Seiji’s grandfather, which has a tragic story attached to it, and a dreamlike feel to parts of Tokyo. The animation is very sophisticated and the voice talent is well-chosen as you’d expect from a Studio Ghibli English dubbed film. Whisper of The Heart is perhaps a little less sophisticated than Miyazaki’s more recent efforts but if you’re a fan of him and Ghibli, then this is a Blu-ray that’s worth picking up…
To win a copy of Whisper of The Heart, then just email me at joelmeadows@btinternet.com with your answer to the following question:
Q: Which university did Hayao Miyazaki go to and which course did he complete there?
Closing date is February 28th 2012. I shall pick three random correct answers from three entrants. Good luck…