“Ponyo” off a cliff

ponyo_posterWith Studio Ghibli’s latest film to be released in America, The Secret World of Arrietty, breaking box-office records for Ghibli films, I’m reminded of director Hayao Miyazaki’s 2009 film, Ponyo, Ghibli’s former top-grossing champion.

Being that Miyazaki is a perennial favorite of mine and my fiance, we had eagerly attended the early preview screening of Ponyo in Ward Theaters with high hopes. Afterward, however, we came out feeling, “…Huh?”

Admittedly, we went in with absolutely no knowledge of anything about the movie aside from the fact that it was done by Miyazaki and that its original English name when advertised in Japan was “Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea.” The house lights went black, the familiar Totoro logo of Studio Ghibli came up, and then … we seemed to stray into some other world — a fantasy world, granted, but it was something that decidedly was not Miyazaki.

For those who don’t know the storyline, Ponyo is about a boy named Sosuke who discovers a strange ocean creature whom he names Ponyo, who has the body of a fish but the head of girl. Ponyo in her ocean homeland was always a curious girl, which is how she ended up stranded ashore to be found by Sosuke. After coming into contact with humans, Ponyo longs to be one of them, but her wizard father, Fujimoto, refuses to let her go. The clash between father and daughter eventually causes the oceans to swallow the land and threatens to destroy Sosuke’s world, and Fujimoto is forced to give in — and risk having his daughter learn of the pain of rejection, unless Sosuke can pass a test that Ponyo’s mother, the goddess of mercy, crafts for him.

Sosuke and Ponyo. (Photo courtesy Nibariki-GNDHDDT)
Sosuke and Ponyo prepare for their magical boat ride. (Photo courtesy Nibariki-GNDHDDT)

The opening scenes used a simplistic animation that I would expect of a PBS toddler’s cartoon. The bright multitude of colors used to illustrate the fanciful undersea creatures gave even more credence to this impression.

Once we hit land, it seemed the old Miyazaki was back, with carefully detailed homes and cliffs and landscapes similar to another of his films, Kiki’s Delivery Service — but for only a moment. Then again we reverted back, and again the animation was very different from his previous films, with many of the backgrounds seemingly done with colored pencils, creating a soft, ethereal atmosphere that nevertheless seemed far less magical than the more solid scenery that normally dominates his films.

The one thing that did remain throughout was Miyazaki’s penchant for realistic movements and his attention to the small things that people do. The way Sosuke carefully crawled under the gate, making sure not to drop the bucket holding Ponyo; the way Sosuke’s mom Lisa unlocked the house door and hauled in the groceries after her; the way Fujimoto carefully protected and poured the life-giving elixirs — they weren’t the movements of everyday cartoon characters given motion by an animator bent merely on making them do one thing as fast as possible as smoothly as possible, but rather by a master artist skilled at depicting the many actions that one simple maneuver by a human often requires.

Sosuke's dad, Koichi, is often busy at sea and can't visit his wife and son as much as he'd like. (Courtesy Nibariki-GNDHDDT)
Sosuke's dad, Koichi, is often busy at sea and can't visit his wife and son as much as he'd like. (Courtesy Nibariki-GNDHDDT)

Still, in many ways, “simple” was the theme of the movie. Unlike the numerous trials that Miyazaki’s past heroes and heroines had to endure, all Sosuke had to do was proclaim his love for Ponyo and his willingness to accept her for who she was — an extremely easy thing for a 5-year-old to promise without understanding the full import of his words. And then came the goddess’ simple declaration that “The balance of nature is restored!” and now we’ll all go live happily ever after — never mind the floodwaters that are still covering the town and that don’t seem to have any inclination to go away any time soon.

All of this combined to create such an anticlimactic ending that both I and my movie-going companion were struck dumb.

This may be a kids’ movie, but even children enjoy experiencing the awe of something as impressive as a water goddess’ magic restoring the land to what it was — an oft-used ending that may be cheesy and cliched to us adults but is usually pretty awesome-looking on the big screen, especially in the hands of an animator such as Miyazaki. And unfortunately, such a climactic scene didn’t happen in this movie.

Gran Mamare, the goddess of mercy, visits with Fujimoto to talk about Ponyo. (Courtesy Nibariki-GNDHDDT)
Gran Mamare, the goddess of mercy, visits with Fujimoto to talk about Ponyo. (Courtesy Nibariki-GNDHDDT)

But I came into Ponyo having certain expectations. And contrary to those expectations, there was no epic struggle, there was no character-building transformation. The usual moral message was there — sort of — but then was never followed up on and then fizzled out. In the end, there was just a selfish fish-girl whose longing to stay with the first human she came in contact with was such that she didn’t care whom she hurt in the process, leading to the destruction of an entire town. She’s the bratty child who ended up getting her way through manipulation and tantrums. After all is said and done, does Ponyo realize what her actions caused? Does she care?

For that matter, does ANYONE care? Lisa’s nonchalant acceptance of: 1. a girl who appears out of nowhere; 2. her son’s crazy-sounding explanation of how this girl came to be; and 3. the aforementioned girl’s equally crazy-sounding description of her parents and home is so unbelievable that one can’t help but think that Lisa’s missing a few screws. Face it, no one is THAT magnanimous. How can you not be at the least annoyed at this girl whose single-minded desire endangered not only, oh, your entire town, friends, and all you hold dear, not to mention your sailor husband whose fate out on the stormy high seas is unknown? “Annoyed” would probably be the BEST of my reactions.

Maybe I’m just being too much of an adult. Too much of a Western adult, who craves some kind of logic and resolution and closure. But even that aside, even after suspending disbelief, Ponyo just wasn’t up to Miyazaki’s par.

As a children’s fairytale, Ponyo did deliver. Perhaps that’s what it was meant to be all along. But as a Miyazaki film…somehow, it was missing his usual magic.

355 days later, a festival renewed

IMG_4492The Honolulu Festival, a celebration of all things Asian-and-Pacific-Rim culture, is this weekend. Having attended it for the past three years, I consider it one of those Really Big Deals on the local otaku community schedule, an event where you feel like you’re missing something if you skip it. I take a bunch of pictures and post them here, just to emphasize that fact. Yet while I went last year, all I’ve managed to post since then are a handful of pictures, the promise of more dangled like a fresh, crisp carrot in front of your eyes, just out of reach.

Let’s correct that. Just in time for the 2012 Honolulu Festival, here are highlights from those pictures I shot from the 2011 Honolulu Festival. Better late than not at all, right? Continue reading “355 days later, a festival renewed”

The Cel Shaded Report, 3/2: ‘Arrietty’ encore, the encore

Well, Ghibli fans, you did it. Thanks to your getting the word out — or perhaps because of the buzz that this animated adaptation of The Borrowers is really good — The Secret World of Arrietty made another $4.35 million, 10th place on last week’s U.S. box office weekend top 10 list. I can vouch for that quality — I saw it for myself last week. It’s quite a calm film, filled with subtle moments — ants crawling, grasshoppers hopping, ladybugs flitting about — that look great on the big screen. So calm, in fact, that a person in the front row of the theater curled up and fell asleep. Yeah, don’t think I didn’t notice you, person at the 12:30 p.m. showing at the Mililani theaters Feb. 23. At least your snoring wasn’t TOO loud.

Anyway, there’s a fresh round of showtimes to report, at the same theaters as last week. As well as another Cel Shaded Report Obligatory Pretty Arrietty Promotional Film Still of the Week:

Strong-willed Arrietty (left, voice of Bridgit Mendler) shows her mother, Homily (voice of Amy Poehler), an amazing object that she has "borrowed" while on her first covert mission with her father in "The Secret World of Arrietty." (Courtesy Disney & GNDHDDTW)
Strong-willed Arrietty (left, voice of Bridgit Mendler) shows her mother, Homily (voice of Amy Poehler), an amazing object that she has "borrowed" while on her first covert mission with her father in "The Secret World of Arrietty." (Courtesy Disney & GNDHDDTW)

Roll ’em! (Standard disclaimer: Times, as reported by Fandango, are subject to change.)

Dole Cannery: 10:45 a.m. and 1:15, 3:45, 6:45 and 9:20 p.m.

Kaahumanu (Maui): 10:25 a.m. and 12:40, 2:50, 5 and 7:10 p.m.; 9:25 p.m. (Friday-Saturday, Thursday)

Kahala: 11 a.m. (Friday-Saturday); 1:10, 3:25, 5:40 and 7:50 p.m. (Friday-Sunday); 10:10 p.m. (Friday-Saturday); 11:30 a.m. and 1:40, 3:50, 6 and 8:10 p.m. (Monday-Thursday); 10:20 p.m. (Thursday)

Kapolei: 10:40 a.m. (Friday-Saturday); 12:50, 3, 5:10, 7:20 and 9:30 p.m.

Makalapua (Hawaii): Noon (Friday-Sunday); 2:30 and 5 p.m.

Mililani: 11:45 a.m. and 2:55, 5:10 and 7:35 p.m. (Friday-Sunday); 12:15, 2:25, 4:40 and 7:20 p.m. (Monday-Thursday)

Pearlridge: 10:55 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. (Friday-Sunday); 12:05 p.m. (Monday-Thursday); 3:20, 5:35 and 7:50 p.m.; 10:15 p.m. (Friday-Sunday); 10 p.m. (Monday-Thursday)

Ward: 11 a.m. (Friday-Sunday); 1:20, 3:40, 5:55, 8:10 and 10:25 p.m.

Windward Mall: 12:30, 2:50, 5:20, 7:40 and 10:05 p.m.

Anime around town

Honolulu Festival: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Hawai’i Convention Center, Waikiki Beach Walk and Ala Moana Center. You may have noticed that this week’s Cel Shaded Report is a bit shorter as compared to previous weeks; that’s because I’m working on a dedicated festival post. I hope to have that up in a few hours, so stay tuned.

A somewhat expected turnabout

Sorry, we haven't been given any promotional still for this movie yet, so you'll just have to settle for this box art from the original game.As some of you may know, I am a big fan of the “Ace Attorney” video game series, called “Gyakuten Saiban” in the original Japanese. So when news of a live-action “Gyakuten Saiban” movie came out, I jumped on it. Thanks to tag-team partner in fandom Jason Y., I found and watched a subtitled trailer several times (not several dozen, I admit — there’s only so much drool that my keyboard can tolerate), feeling the chicken skin rising with every second. I tweeted like a madwoman every time fresh bits of news about the movie would come to light. Various conversations Jason and I later had led me to hope beyond hope that the esteemed Hawaii International Film Festival would be bringing in the movie.

Turns out HIFF did one better: Not only are they indeed screening the movie, but according to their latest eNews newsletter, it’s going to be shown at their Spring Showcase! A previous brief Twitter exchange between me and whoever runs the HIFF feed (Christopher Hall, I believe?) had already escalated my anticipation of such, so you can perhaps imagine the intense squeeing that this confirmation elicited from me (though silently and only in chat with Jason, due to me being in a place at the time that would not exactly be thrilled with loud whoops of ecstasy). The exact date and time has yet to be announced, but because the Showcase takes place April 13-19, that means “Gyakuten Saiban” will be playing almost TWO MONTHS BEFORE the other major event that’s also sewn up the movie, AMC2 in California! (And you would not believe how much I cursed at the thought of being so close yet so far to what was then the first and only announced U.S. showing!) I could barely contain the glee as I immediately tweeted the news out.

So, assuming that no other convention or festival snags screenings rights before April, this would make the HIFF Spring Showcase the U.S. premiere of “Gyakuten Saiban”! How’s that for a feather in HIFF’s cap? (Maybe I’m just being biased.)

I’ve already blocked out all possible days available to see this movie, I’ve warned my quite understanding fiance, and my HIFF membership’s been locked down, so I’m armed and ready for when HIFF announces that rare date. I WILL be there, oh yes, I WILL BE THERE.

Introducing Otaku Ohana, version 2.0!

Ever since tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I were handed the keys to our own little corner of the Star-Bulletin blogging kingdom in June 2009, we’ve had one mission in mind: to provide as much exposure as we could to anime, manga, and the local and national fan communities that power those industries. Otaku Ohana, as I explained back then, was meant to be an extension of my print column, Cel Shaded:

What I’ve discovered over the years, though, is that one column a week is hardly enough to contain all the anime and manga news that comes down the pipeline. For every one topic that I’ve covered in print, there have been at least two or three others I’ve passed up. And then there’s the poor, often neglected “Random Plugging” section. In theory, it was supposed to ease the backlog of anime and manga that we have yet to review. In practice, columns kept filling up without the help of “Random Plugging,” and now we have a backlog of several hundred series, partial and complete, that we have yet to comment on in any form. (I wish I was exaggerating with that number.) So it’s time for the next evolution.

Fast forward several years to the present. Some things have changed: Cel Shaded now exists only as an online extension to Otaku Ohana; the Star-Bulletin merged with the Honolulu Advertiser and became the Star-Advertiser; and it seems like our coverage is leaning more toward coverage of the local fan community. Other things haven’t: That review backlog still remains at several hundred series, mostly as the free time that Wilma and I have has evaporated before our very eyes. (We’re really trying to do more reviews this year, though! Really!) And, of course, Otaku Ohana’s been housed on the last regularly updated outpost of the starbulletin.com domain, blogs.starbulletin.com.

Until today.

Following the lead of fellow starbulletin.com blogger Nadine Kam and her Fashion Tribe — and after kicking the tires and making sure everything is in working order — I’m pleased to announce that all updates for Otaku Ohana going forward will be made on our shiny new site (which actually looks exactly like our old site, but ehh, details, details), http://otakuohana.staradvertiserblogs.com. All our old content won’t be going anywhere; it’ll still be archived at http://blogs.starbulletin.com/otakuohana for the foreseeable future.

I wanted to write a post about all the possible name changes we could’ve given the blog in its new phase, including:

  • Otaku Ohana 2: Electric Boogaloo
  • Otaku Ohana: Now With Bears (a nod to the Xbox 360 sequel to Kinectimals)
  • Super Otaku Ohana Turbo Hyper Championship Edition

Wilma groaned and put the kibosh on the idea immediately.

So I’ll just say this: Don’t forget to point your browsers and update your bookmarks and RSS feeds to reflect our new home on the web. Regular programming will begin shortly. We thank you for your continued patronage. And since the first-ever post in Otaku Ohana ended, for some weird reason that rests with 2009-era me, with a random link to a music video about some plants and some zombies, I’ll end this post with an equally random link to a journalist interviewing a wrestler in the Nintendo Wii game Rhythm Heaven Fever.

Yes, that new tune’s firmly wedged itself in my brain, too.