In Spirited Away, the most critically acclaimed film in Hiyao Miyazaki’s extensive and oft-praised career, the most powerful and memorable image isn’t of wonders like a multi-armed spiderman operating a bellows or a dragon fleeing from a swarm of paper birds. These, and many others, fill Spirited Away, but an early shot wins out. It’s simply a broad-shouldered man, shot from a low angle, walking confidently forward. Through the eyes of pre-teen protagonist Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragai), daughter to the man, the whole world is captured in her gaze as she watches her father lead her into an unknown future. Her parents can lead her to the enchanted spa she finds herself stuck in, but she has to be the one to get out of it. That shot is so self-evidently loving, that it is enough to want Chihiro to escape a truly incredible place, one of cinema’s great fantasy locations. It’s the fulcrum on which the film is balanced, and it powers Miyazaki’s masterpiece as surely as that aforementioned spiderman powers the spa.
Modern media coverage guarantees that atrocities like mass shooting will now be covered for weeks, filling the public with dread and fear and morbid curiosity. The most recent (ugh) instance in Las Vegas shows no signs of abating two weeks later at the time of this review. In Keith Maitland’s meticulous reconstructing of the 1966 University of Texas clock tower shooting, the opposite was true. Despite the deaths of 16 people and the wounding of three times that number, there isn’t much sense given to a national rending of garments. The Austin campus was open for class the following day. Any national examination is concentrated in the detailed memories and lasting trauma of the survivors, the heroes, and the bystanders. Maitland’s Tower uses rotoscoping animation to capture the deadly drama, allowing the viewer to relive an incident widely credited with being the fulcrum on which the depressingly routine cycle of US mass shootings rests.
Sean Riley provides his expectations and running commentary on the latest Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer:
For some background, let me tell you about my own Star Wars relationship and why I am the definitive voice for The Last Jedi Trailer 2 breakdown:
The textured moral world of Russian novels is alive and well in cinema, if Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan is any indication. Zvyagintsev adapts the biblical story of Job to a Russia dominated by the kleptocracy of Vladimir Putin, an able stand-in for a capricious Old Testament god if ever there was one. Evoking deeply-felt character dramas like Kramer vs Kramer at the same time it constructs a fetid swamp reminiscent of Chinatown, Leviathan is a step up from Zvyagintsev's previous film Elena and one that marks his work as a must-see, if a must-see that requires some mental bracing.
Genius animator Hayao Miyazaki stretches his pacifist muscles in Howl's Moving Castle, a film produced and released during the run-up to and execution of the Second Gulf War. Outspoken in his opposition to military adventurism, Miyazaki puts anti-war critique side by side with magical scarecrows and obese witches. His best films, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, get their considerable power from small-scale emotions and a healthy helping of awe. Howl's Moving Castle retains these attributes but slightly muddles them with allegory and some jumbled storytelling.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.