I love to promote animation from anywhere and everywhere that’s not Disney. Audiences have grown lazy in supporting flicks that don’t descend from the House of Mousecapades. I for one will always look to view things that challenge me asides from hammering messages into me like “RACISM AND CLASSISM ARE BAD, Even With Animals”.
Luckily, the next two weekends hold promise to showcase wonderful Japanese treats that, while not implicitly for kids, look like exciting experiences for animation fans and non-followers alike to feel free to dive into.
Opening this Friday at Woodland Mall is the latest from Japanese artiste Mamoru Hosoda, The Boy and the Beast. The tale concerns a boy who falls into a strange apprenticeship to Kumatetsu the Beast Lord, who is currently involved in a competition for succession with another beast warrior who is more popular in standing than our Beast Lord.
The film was the second-highest grossing film in Japan last year and is from a creative talent who has been honing his skills over the last decade with visually pleasing and stimulating projects like Summer Wars and Wolf Children. As a fan of the whole of the directors work, going back to Digimon The Movie back in 2000, I look forward to exploring a whole different culture (of animal-warrior hierarchy) via the lens of another culture (Japan), and seeing how Hosoda seeks to delight audiences with a good story and unique character archetypes.
If you are in the mood for a less fantastic trip into Japanimation-Land, boy do I have good news for you. West Michigan is also receiving a dose of classic, classy Studio Ghibli within the week, in tandem with The Boy and the Beast.
Opening at the Kalamazoo Alamo Drafthouse this weekend and spreading to Celebration Cinemas and select AMC theaters on March 11th is a special revival of the previously unreleased-in-America Studio Ghibli work, Only Yesterday. Featuring the voice talents of Star Wars – The Force Awakens ingenue Daisy Ridley and helmed by Ghibli legend Isao Takahata (director of the Oscar-nominated Tale of Princess Kaguya as well as the tearjerker classic Grave of the Fireflies), the film promises to be a beautiful adult tale of nostalgia in youth and adapting to womanhood. Animation circles have whispered on the beauty and grace of Only Yesterday for years, due to it never acquiring proper release outside of Japan due to its non-fantastic story and setting, which is the image Ghibli has presented internationally for most of its filmography.
Best of all is the relic quality of Only Yesterday, being released in Japan in 1991, when cel animation and hand-drawn family flicks was still the prominent animation style before computer animation made a hostile takeover thanks to Disney and Friends deciding putting pen to paper was old-hat and wasn’t worth the effort of maintaining. I miss classically drawn epics like the original Sleeping Beauty and Princess Mononoke. I want to see actual effort onscreen rather than glorified computer coding. Yes, computer animation can be impressive, as Tangled and Frozen showed in slow spurts, but due to the shrinking successes of mid-2000s releases like Home on the Range and Princess and the Frog, the Disney studio gutted the hand-drawn department and decided to focus more on computer technologies. But the companies mistook the failure of their products to be good and memorable films as the failure of the medium rather than the product.
Hopefully the two flicks will live up to the unearthly expectations I have planted on them as an animation fan.