I hit the wrong channel button on my remote last night and tumbled onto the most haunting, emotionally wrenching film I have ever seen in my life.
Grave of the Fireflies is from Studio Ghibli, the same studio that made Spirited Away (another amazing film). It’s directed by Isao Takahata who I just realized was the director on Only Yesterday, which I also loved.
Grave of the Fireflies is set in Japan during World War II. It’s about the increasingly doomed attempts of 14-year-old Seita and his little 4-year-old sister Setsuko to survive. It’s also about how a surfeit of pride and what the horrors of war can do to civilians.
It is undoubtedly one of the best if not the best animated film I’ve ever seen and I don’t know that I have ever been so moved by a movie–live action or animated–in my entire life…
Insomnia struck again. So there I was, wide awake at 2AM, too late to take any kind of over-the-counter sleep aid, too early to call it a jump on the morning. Every channel in my extensive cable line up for which I pay a fortune was either showing infomercials or really bad sitcom reruns. All except for TCM which was in the middle of their last day of the Robert Montgomery showcase. Now I like Robert Montgomery; he’s a fine actor. One of my favorite films is Night Must Fall, where he plays against type with Rosalind Russell at her best. But the man could make mediocre films with the best of them. Of course, it being me and my insomnia, the movie in question was Live, Love and Learn. This is one of those films where although I’ve seen the middle and the end too many times to count, I’ve never seen the beginning. Not that I think it would make much of a difference.
Rosalind Russell is a bored debutante who takes up with starving artist Robert Montgomery. They are supposedly penniless but very happy. All is well except for the poverty thing until he becomes a sensation in the art world. Along comes nasty Helen Vinson who takes him up and trouble ensues.
It sounds better than it is. MGM was never a studio that wanted to embrace realism so its ideas of poverty and the romance of poverty are cringeworthy. Very uneven movie and so not what I needed last night.
Also seen: Only Yesterday, last in the Miyazaki festival on TCM. I loved this film, which was produced rather than directed by him. Beautifully animated, light touch all around, and poignant. It’s not on DVD either which is a terrible shame.
Also read: Jane Austen Bookclub which was readable, somewhat interesting, but ultimately harmless.
My bookclub picked My Antonia for its next read. I first read this back in college when it was one of the books we tackled for a 19th Century American Novels class. I’d forgotten just how much I love Willa Cather’s writing. It’s funny but after months of standing firm against books involving young people growing up in America’s heartland, I find myself falling in love with just such a story. That said, there’s a lyricism in Cather’s writing that not one of the other choices in this genre have had. She’s not in love with depression and darkness either in the same way that several other authors have seemed to be. It’s not that bad things don’t happen to the characters of My Antonia, but they’re part of the canvas just as the good things are without being overly dominant or Oprahesque.
Movie-wise, I’ve seen a couple of things. Saved! was funny and touching. The story seemed to get a bit confused at the end–the writer/director and producer’s remarks on the commentary seem to suggest that it was a tough film to get made and that there was a lot of anticipated fallout from the fundamentalist community–so I have to wonder if they compromised too much.
Continuing on my Hayao Miyazaki kick, I also have seen Castle in the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro. I love this man’s movies. The former is an adventure story and does indeed have–as the commentator on TCM noted–a really terrific opening sequence. I realize that Mark Hamill never exactly set the world on fire, but he does first class voice work. Beautiful visuals and great atmosphere.
My Neighbor Totoro is a much simpler story. Two young girls and their father move to a house in rural Japan. The mother is in the hospital with some undisclosed illness. The younger child (3 1/2) encounters a forest spirit named Totoro and adventures ensue. I was worried that the children would be too unrealistic and too cutesy, but they weren’t. They seemed quite natural actually. Charming in a completely different way from the other Miyazaki movie.
Turner Classic Movies is running two Hayao Miyazaki films every Thursday this month. Now I’ve come to really like Miyazaki’s movies. Spirited Away is a great film and so far I’ve loved everything else I’ve seen, but we’re talking flicks that have been made in the last ten years (well, mostly).
I should state that I’d much rather they air Miyazaki movies than start showing something inane like The Breakfast Club seven times a week, but I’m reminded of this AM radio station that I’m addicted to. They claim to only play “old time rock and roll,” by which they mean things like early Eddie Cochran and early Bill Haley. And sometimes they do. They also occasionally play the odd ELO number and things like Gloria. On Sunday mornings they do Polka music and there’s a hefty portion of the day devoted toward Spanish language (including Gloria in Spanish). As entertaining as all of this may be, I have to say that’s a really expansive version of “old time rock and roll.”
Okay getting back to TCM. After watching the downfall of AMC, I am constantly worried that it’s going to follow suit. Already they’ve been replaying a lot of the same movies on a weekly or monthly basis. Can commercials be far behind? I will say that I’ve been relieved to see them returning to showing some of the more obscure flicks. This morning they had an early talkie with Conrad Nagel. Okay, Loretta Young was in it and was really the reason they were airing it at all, but still, it’s not like they aired The Bishop’s Wife ten times in a row. Conrad Nagel would never, but never, make it onto AMC–not unless they brought him back from the dead or did CGI to add him to Some Kind of Wonderful.
A friend and I got to talking about Howl’s Moving Castle. Turns out the same amazing animator Hayao Miyazaki who did Howl’s Moving Castle, did Spirited Away. I got to see the latter and I loved it. Enchanting and moving and quite creepy really. The animation is vibrant and wonderful. A young girl has to move to a new city. She’s apprehensive about it. On the way, the family gets lost and ends up in a distinctly eerie setting, which of course the parents feel obliged to investigate. Highly recommended.