Title: Tokyo Godfathers
Release Date: November 8, 2003
Director: Satoshi Kon
Production Company: Madhouse
It’s Christmas in Tokyo and the snow is falling. A trio of homeless people find an abandoned baby in the trash and their attempts to care for her lead them into a fantastical adventure. Each segment of the movie leads to a spectacular coincidence, which is usually an annoying element in filmmaking to me, but in this movie it works because of the time put into developing the characters. The leader of the trio is Gin (Tooru Emori), an aging alcoholic who left his wife and daughter decades earlier because he had run up too many debts. Hana (Yoshiaki Umegami) is the heart of the trio, a transgender woman who sees the baby as a miracle and names her Kiyoko. The youngest member is Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) a teenager who ran away from her controlling father.
The movie is very sweet with the three homeless people and the baby making a pseudo-family in a story that reflects the Christian story of the first Christmas. Subtly and effectively the movie deals with themes of poverty and inequality, crime, and mental illness. It also has great humor and scenes of adventure.
Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.
Today’s film is not on any of these lists, but it is highly regarded and in my opinion is an all-time classic film.
Title: Grave of the Fireflies
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Director: Isao Takahata
Production Company: Studio Ghibli
I have very limited experience watching anime and associate the genre with fantasy film so was surprised to learn that Grave of the Fireflies is an historical drama set in Kobe, Japan in the final months of World War II. It tells the story of two children struggling to survive on their own after their mother is killed in by American firebombing raid and their father is away serving in the Japanese Navy. Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) is a young teenager who takes on the responsibility of raising his four-year-old sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi). The film depicts him as hard-working and devoted but nevertheless still a child himself and limited in what he can do. Setsuko is the sweetest and an accurate depiction of a very young child.
The movie is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Heartwarming in that is a love story between the siblings who care for one another when there is no one else to do so. Heartbreaking in that it depicts the suffering and poverty of child refugees that is a constant outcome of war. This film could easily be updated today and be set in Syria, Yemen, or Myanmar, and that’s terrible. The movie is also beautiful with the bucolic setting of their pondside shelter and a trip to the beach contrasted with the devastation of war. It’s clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to draw the titular fireflies in the same style as the incendiary devices falling from American bombers.
Grave of the Fireflies is among the saddest films I’ve ever watched but it’s also one of the best.
Title: Princess Mononoke
Release Date: 26 November 1999
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Co: DENTSU Music And Entertainment
Language: Dubbed into English
Genre: Anime / Fantasy / Adventure
I don’t have much experience with anime so this was a wonderful introduction. Princess Mononoke is a gripping adventure, imaginative fantasy, and a feast for the eyes. There are many establishing shots that look like fine works of art. The story is centered around Ashitaka, a prince who slays a fearsome demon that attacks his village but is cursed in the process and thus has to go into exile. Seeking the source of the demon, Ashitaka finds himself between the spirits and gods of the forest and a town of ironworkers who threaten the forest’s existence. There’s a clear environmental message here but it’s not too heavy-handed, and I’m impressed that no side is ever seen as good or evil and the viewers sympathies keep shifting as the story goes along. A quite excellent film all around.