With 'From Up on Poppy Hill' on the way, counting down Studio Ghibli's 10 best movies
A collective sigh may have been heard at many a viewing party a couple of weekends ago, when the Academy handed the Best Animated Feature Oscar to the conventional comforts of Pixar's "Brave" over the zappy multimedia invention of "Wreck-It Ralph," or the scrappy postmodernism of Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie." But it was easy enough to see what voters were going for: in a field thick with bristly new textures, the gentle, old-fashioned storytelling and comparative visual serenity of the Highland fairytale was that much more reassuring an option.
Not among the nominees, though it was on the category's shortlist, was "From Up on Poppy Hill" -- the latest from animation stalwarts Studio Ghibli. Only twice in the 12-year history of the animated feature Oscar has one of their films made the cut, yet Ghibli occupies a comparably elevated position to Pixar in the imaginations of animation enthusiasts. In an age where crude computer-animated money-grabbers are a dime a dozen, they're a trusted brand that stands for wholesome, attentive storytelling, meticulous artistry and genuine wonder.
Ghibli is the handmade arthouse alternative where Pixar is the state-of-the-art multiplex titan, but both are seen as the standard bearers -- small wonder that both companies have strong ties to Disney. (And, indeed, to each other -- it was Pixar head John Lasseter, after all, who spearheaded the English-language version of Ghibli's Oscar-winning phenomenon "Spirited Away" back in 2001.)
"From Up on Poppy Hill" finally hits US screens this Friday, nearly two years after bowing in Japan -- given the vagaries of distribution and translation, Studio Ghibli's films have a history of protracted travel. A mellow period piece following two high school students as they defy the authorities to defend their clubhouse, it's a low-key work from a company best known for more extravagant, though equally pure-hearted, fantasies -- many of them stemming from the imagination of veteran animation master Hayao Miyazaki (who is, indeed, a screenwriter on "Poppy Hill").
The film's release seemed as good an occasion as any to celebrate the still-flourishing creativity of Studio Ghibli with a Top 10 list, taking into account their gentlest, most kid-friendly work ("My Neighbor Totoro"), the sophisticated cross-generational fantasy of, say, "Princess Mononoke," and their more recent melting-pot adaptations of Anglocentric fantasy ("Arrietty," "Howl's Moving Castle").
Side note: As I look down the 10 Studio Ghibli favorites that I've assembled in the gallery below, however, I realize how much home video and DVD have been responsible for planting the Studio Ghibli library in the popular imagination: everything here is pure cinema, yet I regret how few titles here I've had a chance to see on the format they deserve. Alternative animation house GKIDS took over from Disney as Studio Ghibli's US distribution ally in 2011, acquiring the theatrical rights to 14 of their titles -- "Grave of the Fireflies" is due for a 25th anniversary re-release later this year, but let's hope there's more of that to come.
Meanwhile, check out my top 10 Studio Ghibli films in the gallery below, and chime in with your own in the comments. What's missing? What are you most pleased to see? And which are you keen to catch up with?
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
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