The BFI Southbank is no stranger to anime; despite having run Japanese animation films for several years now, it’s always a delight to view them on the big screen, especially titles that have yet to grace DVDs or Blu-rays in the UK. This year’s biennial weekend is tagged as “Anime is for Everyone” with three days dedicated to showing an eclectic mix of old and new films from the classic ‘Akira’ to Studio Ghibli’s latest offering ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’. Their aim was to break away from the mold that anime is just for adults with blood and gore; although some of their offerings for the weekend play to such expectations, the BFI also screened several family friendly films for the whole nation to enjoy. Reevothemusefan and I attended several of the screenings out of the 7 movies on offer (sadly the 8th film ‘Gintama – The Movie’ was cancelled at the last minute due to technical difficulties) and here are some of our thoughts.
From Up on Poppy Hill
Set in 1960s Japan just before the Olympics, Umi is a hard working young girl looking after her family whilst her mother is in America when she suddenly comes across a poem in the school newspaper, apparently directed at her. Not long after she meets Shun, a daring young lad part of a school movement to help save the local clubhouse from demolition. The movement is mostly led by lively boys of the school but when Umi becomes part of the faction and agrees to help, she and Shun grow closer together but are suddenly torn apart by a shocking secret.
Darkstorm says: The film has been compared to Whisper of the Heart – a film undeniably Ghibli but lacking the fantasy world that Hayao Miyazaki is famous for – and for the first half of the movie it’s very true. Despite Umi’s and Shun’s relatively simple life, the characters are so passionate and energetic in what they want to accomplish it’s easy to get swept up in their lives, laugh at their jokes and grow to like these characters. Plus with the small details such as the old-fashion newspaper printing to the off-the-hook phone, 1960s Japan is brought to life beautifully, complimented by a delightful jazz inspired score. However by the half way point, when Shun looks a familiar photo of Umi’s and the pianist hits a minor key, you know something has changed. The film suddenly goes a very risqué route by bringing in a very delicate subject matter that you might have seen in other anime but not in a Ghibli film, and although you may be caught in the Ghibli magic you will most likely feel quite uncomfortable with the direction taken with such a subject matter. The movie does backpedal on itself towards the end, making the heightened drama deflate rather suddenly, but it still makes this film one of the more bold films in Ghibli’s library so far.
Reevo says: It’s been a while since I watched a Studio Ghibli film, last year I watched a fair few including Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle but recent ones such as Ponyo and The Secret World of Arrietty I have currently overlooked; however, I got the chance to watch Studio Ghibli’s latest offering in the form of Up On Poppy Hill. I had to recollect my thoughts when I got back to my room because at the start, Poppy Hill was a tad boring, most of the characters were forgettable, the plot moved slowly at times and I just sat there uninterested, only to be fascinated by the beautiful animation of 60s Japan. However as the movie continued, the more interested I got; the clubhouse renovation scenes held some of my favourite parts in Poppy Hill, the clubhouse at the start is both damaged and in a huge mess, so much that the school is considering to tear it down, so seeing all of these students working hard to try and save it from demolition by redecorating the place was a joy to watch, there were some genuine funny and great animation techniques that I really enjoyed in this part of the story. The main part of Poppy Hill is the relationship between Shun and Umi, they become close fast in the early stages of the movie and develop feelings for each other. There is one part in this that I didn’t agree with, even finding it a bit cliché with some of the romance drama anime I’ve watch through the years. Considering I haven’t watched most of the Ghibli movies, I can’t really judge where Up On Poppy Hill ranks in terms of the best or worst the studio has done but in the end, I did like watching the movie and I’m glad I went to see it.
Like all Studio Ghibli films, From Up on Poppy Hill will mostly likely be available from Optimum Home Entertainment sometime next year; a US release is currently scheduled for March.
Ever since she was a child, Haruka has heard of a story about mysterious masked creatures that come into the human world and take ‘abandoned items’ into their own, but if you pray to the shrine your lost item will return to you once more. When her mother dies, Haruka prayed for her return and to have back a hand mirror her mother once gave her. One day after school Haruka goes to the shrine to discover one of the mysterious creatures stealing her house keys. As she follows him she ends up in Oblivion Island; a land made up of entirely abandoned human items from manga pages to mobile phones. Enlisting the help of Tao, she goes on a quest to find her mother’s hand mirror but it’s not long until someone notices a human has infiltrated the island…
Darkstorm says: Oblivion Island is an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ journey; instead of following a white rabbit down a hole, Haruka follows a masked creature and warps into one of the most colourful and creative worlds in cinema. It’s a delight with every scene change to see something new used as wallpaper, from coke cans to rubber ducks. It’s even more breathtaking in the stunning 3D animation, with the occasional 2D painted scenery to create a very unique and stunning visual experience. The plot brings no surprises; anyone who’s watched a fantasy film will undoubtedly know what’s going to happen but that doesn’t take away the enjoyment of the journey. You’ll dive underground, fly high in the air, race across unique scenery and smile all the way through it with a few sweet sentimental scenes towards the climax handled very well too. The characters are also fun: Haruka is well animated and relatable, Tao is very sweet considering all he has to go through, and Cotton serves as the cutest and most kickass stuffed toy you’ll ever meet. It’s a delightful nostalgic journey for the old whilst being a thrilling ride for the young.
Oblivion Island is due for release in the US on DVD and Blu-ray on 14th August by Funimation, no UK license or release date has been confirmed at the time of writing.
Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below
One day after school whilst making her way up to the cliff she normally hangs out on, Asuna stumbles across a very large bear-like creature that seems not of this world. Right after this, a mysterious boy with supernatural powers by the name of Shun slays the monster, but not without getting hurt himself. Upon his death a few days later she learns that he’s from Agartha, a.k.a. the Underworld where apparently humans can go to and revive those they’ve lost to death. It’s not long after that Asuna finds herself in this new world, caught between her teacher’s mission to revive his deceased wife and Agartha’s internal struggle with their decline into ruin.
Darkstorm says: Studio Ghibli fans will undeniably see many references to their films here; from Spirited Away to Princess Mononoke, the world of Agartha is filled with wonderful fantasy spectacles from giant God-like entities to wide stretches of greenery and village ruins. Even the character designs ring of Ghibli’s work and the excellent animation quality doesn’t falter for a minute. The movie’s weak spot however is the plot; it doesn’t take long for Asuna to be dragged into a world of gigantic proportions, and even though the mythology of Agartha is fascinating it nevertheless got lost in the journey that twists and turns many times leaving its central characters behind. The story tries to cram too much into its two hour running time, from Agartha’s history, the human race’s conflicts with it, the teacher’s struggle to let his wife go, Shun’s younger brother’s own issues and Asuna’s reasons for travelling that seem to get pushed aside for more wonderful visuals. There are also minor scenes of blood and unnecessary gore thrown in at random intervals. The movie does have several plot holes but it’s still a journey worth investing in if you’re a fantasy fan, even if you’ll most likely be feeling a little bewildered at the end of it.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below has been licensed by Kaze UK, to be distributed by Manga Entertainment for DVD and Blu-ray under the title ‘Journey to Agartha’. It’s due for release in Winter 2012.
Full Metal Alchemist 2 – The Sacred Star of Milos
A fugitive alchemist with mysterious abilities leads the Elric brothers to a distant valley of slums inhabited by the Milos, a proud people struggling against bureaucratic exploitation. Ed and Al quickly find themselves in the middle of a rising rebellion, as the exiled Milos lash out against their oppressors. At the heart of the conflict is Julia, a young alchemist befriended by Alphonse. She’ll stop at nothing to restore the Milos to their former glory – even if that means harnessing the awful power of the mythical Philosopher’s Stone.
Reevo says: If you saw most of my Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood reviews on this site, I absolutely loved this series and boxset releases from start till finish and so did the majority of Full Metal Alchemist fans. So The Sacred Star Of Milos was highly anticipated for me. What I got was a movie that really didn’t match up to the TV series’ strengths but provided a very fluid and great action film. Since this is a movie that tries to move away from the main plot of the TV anime, the movie never really has the well-paced plot that made the TV series great; there was also a lack of the humour that Full Metal Alchemist does so well even in these parts. It just feels so serious for most of the film and that was one thing I found disappointing. Even though I felt like the plot was lacking, it was at least decent and left me interested until the end. I did find the plot twists coming but that didn’t really affect my enjoyment, and I also liked the main characters that are only in this film. If there was one thing that I loved about this movie, it is that the animation is incredible: Studio BONES really bring their A-game when creating these action scenes; even if the action was a bit too much at times, it all looked absolutely gorgeous. With the MangaUK release coming soon, if you’re a massive Full Metal Alchemist fan then I guess you have your preorder ready. While I found the movie to be a slight disappointment, I really liked The Sacred Star Of Milos and it’s worth watching at least once.
Full Metal Alchemist 2: The Sacred Star Of Milos has been licensed by MangaUK and will be released on 3rd September 2012 on both DVD and Blu-ray.