Friday, December 19, 2008

Foreign Film Festival

Sounds dreary, doesn't it? Movies long on deep, subtle meaning and short on entertainment. But it's nothin' but fun if you go with Hayao Miyazaki's work. He is the premiere artist of animated film today, in my opinion. You've got your brave and lively young heroines; interesting and often bizarre worlds; and familiar plots that seem fresh again. Here are 4 recommendations, and the order in which I think you should see them. From good to absolutely amazing.

Kiki's Delivery Service. Kiki delivers by way of broomstick. Just light fun and the inevitable storm. Too bad Kiki doesn't pack a so'wester when she's outside running deliveries on her dust bunny destroyer.

Howl's Moving Castle Sophie is bewitched and winds up a servant in a handsome wizard's castle. The castle looks like a Rube Goldberg creation and staggers around with a Goldbergian lack of grace. The movie is meatier than Kiki's Delivery Service, but stumbles when Miyazaki introduces elements not found in Diane Wynne Jones' book, on which the movie is based. But you'll love Sophie enough to forgive this.

Princess Mononoke In this gorgeous movie, the battle between industry and nature is played out between physical embodiments of both. The people of the mine destroy the earth not for personal fortune, but to give a better life to society's cast-offs. The gods of the forest, appearing in animal form, fight back. Prince Ashitaka tries to avert war. That gives you the plot basics, but there is more going on in this thoughtful (yet action packed!) movie.

Spirited Away. Chihiro and her parents enter a tunnel in a remote area and come out in a mysterious place with a row of restaurants, completely unattended. Her parents eat and eat and disappear! Chihiro finds employment in a bath house for spirits - the design work here will take your breath away. There are several plots, all related to over-consumption and pollution but they mesh beautifully with the main story line. Spirited Away was awarded the Oscar for best animated film in 2003, a recognition well-earned.

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