Princess Mononoke (1997, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 10

Voices of (English Dubbing) Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Keith David, Gillian Anderson

Princess Mononoke

(10-Masterpiece)

Epic. Spectacular. Awesome.

Hii-sama: You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose.

We fade in. Keith David’s voiceover sets up the world we’re entering. We’re all of ten seconds into the running time, but it’s clear: this is an awesome movie. The master, Hayao Miyazaki, brings his stunning animation to a unique story about gods and monsters and cursed warriors, with no black and white villains. Its hero, Ashitaka (Crudup), prince of a small village, travels far from home after being cursed from fighting a demon-possessed boar. He stumbles into a conflict between humans (of Irontown) and the forest (the gods and spirits that dwell there) and falls in love with San, a female warrior raised by wolves and taught to hate humans. Princess Mononoke feels like an anomaly in Miyazaki’s career in a few ways. His clear love of flight is nowhere to be found, an adult male protagonist rather than a young girl. There’s a level of violence not seen in any of his other work, as well, but as an anomaly, it only further proves his greatness. He has never stopped evolving though his themes may stay the same. His animation is awe-inspiring (there are a dozen incredible action sequences in this film) and his stories are always infinitely satisfying while never traveling the expected path.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(970)

Only Yesterday (1991, Directed by Isao Takahata) Japanese 7

Voices of (English Version) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Tara Strong, Grey Griffin

Only Yesterday (1991) - Little White Lies

(7-Very Good Film)

Evocative. Contemplative. Beautiful.

Hirota: Rainy days, cloudy days, sunny days… which do you like?

Taeko: …cloudy days.

Hirota: Oh, then we’re alike.

Taeko (Ridley), a young woman from Tokyo, was raised to feel like an anomaly. We see her childhood in beautifully animated flashbacks where her adventurousness was called selfishness by her family and her older sisters were constantly calling her a brat. Now an adult in her late twenties, Taeko, takes a working trip to the countryside where she meets Toshio and thinks back on some of the small but significant moments of her youth. There are a number of interesting aspects to Only Yesterday making it unique, the most conspicuous being its alternating between two distinct animation styles to portray the change in time periods. Less prominent but still uncommon is having such a seemingly passive protagonist. Taeko, mostly because she spends the majority of the film as a child, has her decisions made for her, but we get the sense watching her adult form that she still hasn’t made many choices for herself. The ending, so simple, is a perfectly satisfying turning point.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(964)

Shaolin Soccer (2001, Directed by Stephen Chow) Cantonese 6

Starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man-tat, Wong Yat-fei, Tin Kai-man, Zhao Wei, Lam Chi-chung, Patrick Tse

Shaolin Soccer - Wikipedia

(6-Good Film)

Goofy. Original. Absurd.

Sing: That’s a great idea – kung fu soccer! Why didn’t I think of that?

I wonder how the prolific Stephen Chow’s films are viewed over in mainland China or his native Hong Kong. He’s obviously insanely popular (The Mermaid, one of his more recent works, made over $500 million) and though the idea of a “spoof” isn’t a new concept, his movies tend to baffle me. In Shaolin Soccer, Chow spoofs sports films (the rival team is known as “Team Evil”) and probably more Kung Fu films than I even recognized (although I could at least appreciate the Bruce Lee reference). Chow plays Sing, a peon with extraordinary Kung Fu skills, discovered by Fung (Man-tat), a former soccer great looking to coach his way back to the big-time. The two assemble a team of Shaolin monks and find that the monks’ Kung Fu skills translate remarkably well on the soccer field. Like many Chinese or Hong Kong classics I’ve seen, Shaolin Soccer is a bizarre treat. I laughed often and was bemused often. Chow, for example, uses CGI frequently and crudely, but it seems to be integral to the humor. His humor in general is one of excess and absurdity. I simply wonder if his films are as bizarre to his native audience or if films like Shaolin Soccer qualify as a culture shock.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(958)

Whisper of the Heart (1995, Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō) Japanese 8

Voices of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Jean Smart, Cary Elwes, James Sikking, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Ashley Tisdale

Whisper of the Heart – IFC Center

(8-Exceptional Film)

Charming. Vibrant. Light.

Shizuku: Stupid jerk, stupid jerk, stupid jerk!

Who knew Studio Ghibli produced so many wonderful light romances? While I ask that rhetorical question jokingly, certain that millions of the studio’s large fanbase have known for ages, I’ve only recently discovered Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, and this film, Whisper of the Heart. Whisper of the Heart follows Shizuku, a young girl dealing with teenaged romance and all the drama that goes with it. She meets Seiji, a boy at school who is always rude to her, and she’s determined not to like him though the rest of the school believes that they’re a couple. I was most surprised to find that the great Hayao Miyazaki wrote this screenplay as it bears little resemblance, as far as I can tell, to any of his other work. Otherwise, Whisper of the Heart has all of the distinction, the artistry, and the confident storytelling of Ghibli’s work. I see now that they are equally skillful at these lovely small-scale dramas as they are at epic fantasy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(955)

Ocean Waves (1993, Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki) Japanese 8

Voices of Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Kae Araki, Yuri Amano, Takeshi Watabe, Hikaru Midorikawa

i can hear the sea | Tumblr

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wistful. Lovely. Skilled.

Taku: The whole thing was starting to feel like a bad soap opera.

Though produced by the famed Studio Ghibli, Ocean Waves doesn’t compare to most of the company’s typically grand, epic output such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies, or Castle in the Sky. Ocean Waves works on a much smaller scale so that I don’t believe it would be condescending to describe it as modest, or you might prefer “a gem.” Told in flashback, set in the small city of Kōchi, a high school boy, Taku, develops feelings for Rikako, the aloof new girl in school, which causes a rift between him and his best friend, Yutaka, who saw her first. Working with fewer resources (apparently, the film was originally meant for T.V), Studio Ghibli managed to fashion one of their best works. It’s an endearing story, beautifully animated, and told sweetly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(952)

My Sassy Girl (2001, Directed by Kwak Jae-yong) Korean 7

Starring Jun Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, Kim In-moon, Song Ok-sook, Han Jin-hee, Yang Geum-seok

My Sassy Girl' (2001): An Inexplicable Non-Romance | Express ...

(7-Very Good Film)

Quirky. Cute. Appealing.

The Girl: Wanna die?

It’s rare and largely unnecessary for a romantic comedy to feature any measure of originality. Most people look to the genre for easy laughs, cute faces, and a reassuring story. My Sassy Girl is now nearly twenty years old, but I’m struck by how fresh it feels. The setup is familiar enough. On the subway one evening, a young man, Gyeon-woo (Cha), meets a very drunk girl, simply referred to as The Girl in credits, played by Jun Ji-hyun. She throws up, he’s burdened with seeing her home, and later, through a serious misunderstanding, Gyeon-woo is tossed in prison. So begins their relationship and it’s a strange one, chiefly because she’s a bizarre girl; demanding, moody, reckless. Gyeon-woo can’t help himself from falling for her, and it’s a credit to the actress that we fully understand. Mean girlfriends aren’t anybody’s idea of a romantic lead but Jun and the quirky writing make The Girl a slow charmer. My Sassy Girl relies heavily on misunderstandings; for its humor and its story. That’s generally considered a weakness in movie storytelling but it works here and the final misunderstanding leads to a surprising and satisfying finale.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(949)

Dil Chahta Hai (2001, Directed by Farhan Akhtar) Hindi 8

Starring Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Dimple Kapadia, Preity Zinta, Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Kulkarni

Flashback Friday: Dil Chahta Hai

(8-Exceptional Film)

Compelling. Attractive. Intimate.

Akash Malhotra: Dad, there is more to life than just signing checks.

Akash’s father: Really… What is that?

I don’t know of many films (or novels, for that matter) that focus on typical males in their twenties. Dil Chahta Hai stars Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Akshaye Khanna as best friends Akash, Sameer, and Sid; three adult university students trying to find their direction in life as they fall into complicated relationships. Carefree Akash falls in love with a girl, Shalini (Zinta), engaged to a rich jerk, Sameer discovers he has feelings for the woman, Pooja (Kulkarni), his parents tried to set him up with, and Sid, worst of all, becomes infatuated with a troubled older woman, Tara (Kapadia). Great music, a fresh look at modern India (despite this being nearly 20 years old), and engaging romance make this a classic. I’d rank it with Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) as the best film about twenty-somethings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(947)

The Tai Chi Master (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu-ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung-yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai

Tai Chi Master 1993 – Enter the Dragon

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Uneven. Frenetic.

Junbao: The past is what makes up who we are. Don’t let it become your burden.

Junbao (Li) and Tienbo (Siu-ho) grow up together as brothers in a Shaolin Temple studying as monks in the ways of martial arts. After the generally misbehaving pair are expelled, they move out into the world and see first-hand their new town’s rampant corruption. Junbao joins a group of rebels in response, while Tienbo lusts for power and joins the soldiers. Shocked by Tienbo’s betrayal, Junbao loses his mind and it’s up to his new friends, Siu-lin (Yeoh), for one, to help him find himself in time to master Tai Chi and save the people. This is a fast, fun action flick with a heavy dose of legend and history mixed in. There’s always a bit of a bizarre acclimation process that goes on when I watch these Hong Kong action epics-the flying, the defying of physics, what-have-you. I know we, of course, have fantasy in western culture but I’m never quite prepared for it. I think maybe because films like this one look so grounded in history and reality. The action scenes are well-done, showing off the impossible speed of its performers, particularly its star Jet Li, naturally. The story, however, falls short of the epicness it strives for and underuses its supporting cast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(945)

Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000, Directed by Aziz Mirza) Hindi 5

Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Paresh Rawal, Johnny Lever, Atul Parchure, Sanjay Mishra, Sharat Saxena

Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani' failure made me stronger: SRK | Catch ...

(5-Okay Film)

Disappointing. Overwrought. Mediocre.

Tagline: Love, laughter, and freedom.

Reteaming him with director, Aziz Mirza, and costar, Juhi Chawla, Shah Rukh Khan claimed that this film was the biggest failure of their careers. I don’t know just what he meant or why he feels that way. The film was a modest commercial success and fared reasonably well critically, but there’s no question that it is disappointing. With its high pedigree and its strong premise, borrowed partially from classics like His Girl Friday, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani should be much better. Khan and Chawla star as rival t.v reporters competing for ratings as they slowly fall for one another. Meanwhile, a huge story develops involving corrupt politicians, revenge, and a local assassination. The film simply attempts too many tones to successfully deliver on any of them. Most Bollywood films alternate between tones frequently but it’s too jarring here. There’s a subplot wherein a father kills the man who raped his daughter and there are goofy scenes like the one in which Khan fends off past girlfriends who want to get back together. It just doesn’t work. By the end, all ideas of fun have completely left the picture and what’s left is overwrought. Too many tearful closeups.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(940)

Iron Monkey (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Donnie Yen, Ringo Yu, Jean Wang, Angie Tsang, James Wong, Yuen Shun-yi, Lee Hai

Iron Monkey

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Fun. Outlandish.

Wong Kei-Ying: A man should shed blood, not tears.

One of the dozen or so pictures I’ve seen depicting Wong Fei-Hong, this is the only one that shows the legendary Chinese hero as a young boy. It’s the 19th century and he wanders into some small town with his tough, widowed father, Wong Kei-Ying (Yen), to find that the local officials are corrupt and a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey is terrorizing them, doing his best impression of Robin Hood. Father and son get involved in the action once Kei-Ying agrees to catch the mysterious hero. Fast-paced and full of action, Iron Monkey is a lot of fun. It’s also a bit bizarre to me as a westerner, though I’ve seen a number of martial arts films. Iron Monkey feels particularly foreign in its style, sense of humor, and artistic flourishes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(939)