Roger Ebert & Miyazaki At the Movies

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

Here is a trio of video clips from Siskel & Ebert, and then later, Ebert & Roeper, featuring reviews of Hayao Miyazaki's movies.  I think this is a great opportunity to witness how these films were first received when they were new, and the director's name was largely unknown.

The first is a classic Siskel & Ebert showdown over My Neighbor Totoro (famously mispronounced as "to-TO-ro" the first couple of times).  I'm sure fans will feel somewhat critical of Gene Siskel's opinion on the movie (he was bored), but that was the majority opinion at the time.  Totoro was a puzzle to Americans and especially most movie critics.  Animated movies were expected to be full of action and adventure and simple melodrama and fast movements.  My Neighbor Totoro has none of the qualities, and stubbornly moves in an opposite direction.  Roger Ebert, a lover of animation as well as the films of Yasujiro Ozu, was an early convert, and he became Hayao Miyazaki's first champion among US film critics.  This show was most likely from 1993 or 1994.

The second clip shows Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles with Ebert discussing Princess Mononoke.  Two strong thumbs up at this point, and the name Miyazaki is now commonly spoken.  Harry Knowles also name-drops Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso, which would be major cool points for 1998.

The third clip, now on Ebert & Roeper, gives enthusiastic praise for Spirited Away in 2002.  Now the word "masterpiece" is easily banded about, and there's no need to persuade anyone that this is a great movie.

Finally, we have Howl's Moving Castle, earning a surprising split decision between Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert.  Ebert is dramatically thinner by this point in 2005, thanks to some serious weight loss.  We can also notice the effects of surgery on his jaw, which was never fully successful; his scratchy voice was also a harbinger of the cancer that took his voice, much of his jaw, and almost his life.

I feel a sense of sadness watching this final clip.  Ebert, thankfully, is alive and well, and his writing has never been better.  But just knowing that the voice is silenced forever, to know that Siskel & Ebert is truly gone, that's what saddens me.

I was very surprised, and I think Ebert was, too, that he didn't enjoy Howl's Moving Castle.  He had been Miyazaki's strongest supporter for many years and carried the torch, but the film's many complexities left him lost.  But that's fine by me; I freely admit that Howl is dependent on a lot of "inside pool."  You have to be familiar with Miyazaki's career, and, more importantly, his storytelling style, which is decidedly non-linear and non-Western.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know Roger Ebert lost his jaw and voice. I looked it up and found an interview with him using his computer voice on youtube, and now I'm sad too...

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

He's still very active, as you can see from his website and his blog. I'm just glad that he's still alive, and his writing has achieved a new dimension, a stronger focus.

But I am sad that I don't have Siskel & Ebert to watch on tv anymore. Half the fun of that show was watching the two rivals clash.

Which reminds me: it's absolutely criminal that there are no anthologies of Gene Siskel's writings.

Doug said...

I like the one comment that Roeper made at the end of the Spirited Away review, "Its the world's good fortune that Miyazaki made this film" or something like that. I think that everytime I watch one of his films ... how very fortunate we are. I might not get it all, it might not be directed at me, but man am I ever glad I get to see his films!

Chris Sobieniak said...

Daniel said...
But I am sad that I don't have Siskel & Ebert to watch on tv anymore. Half the fun of that show was watching the two rivals clash.

Which reminds me: it's absolutely criminal that there are no anthologies of Gene Siskel's writings.

I feel the same way too. That dynamic was what kept me interested in watching their show back in the 80's! It was just perfect.

Chris said...

Check out this excerpt from Roget Ebert's review of the new (and very intriguing looking) animated movie, 9. He is describing the villian of the movie:

"One of the benefits of the pre-CGI era was that although action scenes might be manifestly artificial, they had to be composed of details that were visually intelligible. Modern CGI artists, intoxicated by their godlike command of imagery, get carried away and add confusing complexity. If I were pressed to provide the cops with a detailed description of the Beast, the best I could do would be: "You'll know it when you see it. Also, it has a big glowing red eye."

Contrast that to the enormous construction in Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle." It is awesomely complex, but I have a large print of one of Miyazaki's still drawings from the film, and you can clearly see that it's all there."

Anonymous said...

Ebert's only disliked film is Howl. I am in agreement with him.

FWIW, he loved Ponyo to death and gave it 4 stars. I believe he has pretty much given every Miyazaki film 4 stars.

I'm pretty sure he reviewed Kiki on Siskel & Ebert as well, but I guess no one uploaded it. They both loved it.

Sean L. said...

Thanks for posting these videos! Very interesting stuff.

I never watched Ebert's show--it was before I really started delving into film and anime, so I really like seeing these clips. I really love the fact that Ebert is an admirer of Miyazaki and it's nice to know that there are some critics out there who know more than just his name. I was excited to see his enthusiastic review for Ponyo. As for these vids, I'm not in accordance with his perspective on Howl's, which I think is one of Miyzaki's greatest achievements, but it certainly was interesting to hear Ebert break from his usual praise he pours on Miyazaki's other work. Ah well, you don't have to like 'em all.

Cory Gross said...

I pretty much agree with Ebert clear through, though I might not have quite as high an opinion of Spirited Away. It is a technical masterpiece, but I just enjoy Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa more.

But Siskel... man, did he have no heart or what?!? ^_^

Anonymous said...

I have question for the owner of this site.

Why would someone who obviously loves the art of animation and admires the hard work that goes into making it, as well as promoting the DVDs itself...

Why would you link a torrent site such as that; who gives away their works; which are available for
procurement for free?

This isn't a personal attack on anyone. However, the animation community is small compared to that of mainstream and piracy has had a devastating impact on both sides of the ocean.

By promoting torrent sites only takes away from your site and steals from the artist.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Anon: That's a fair question, and you're perfectly right to address it.

There's a long essay I could write about the pros and cons of internet downloading, and specifically these animation films we all love. The short-short version may sound like a copout, but it's an honest one - these downloadable movies are not available here.

I want nothing more than to see films such as Omohide Poro Poro, Gauche the Cellist, Heidi, Marco, Anne, etc. released on DVD and Blu-Ray in North America. I would be the first in line to purchase any said releases, and I would everything I can to encourage the same from the readers. My occasional posts on Animal Treasure Island are testament to this.

But the fact is that many of these important works are not available commercially here, and they won't be. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.

Importing is an option, and this is why I have a specific section of the Ghibli Blog - Buy These DVDs - devoted to them. These are direct links, so you won't have to worry about anything but buying your movies as easily as possible.

Unfortunately, DVD region lockout codes make importing difficult if not impossible for the average consumer. You and I may be aware of region lockout codes, but how many others know such codes can be disabled? Very, very few.

Trading and copying is a long tradition of the anime community in America. This is how were were able to see anime in the first place, long before it ever became viable. But there are certain ethics in place - only focus on unlicensed titles from overseas, for instance.

I don't know if anybody has any moral issues with downloading digital media in 2009. It was a major debate a decade agao. Today, it is commonplace, a given. We must remember that the very idea of "copyright" is a new concept, and a rather alien one for the artist.

This is not an easy issue, but I remain committed to the dignity and rights of the artists. It is their work that must be preserved, especially if they don't fit within the current "blockbuster" celebrity paradigm.

Anyway, that's my short speech on the subject. Thanks for writing.

prasa said...

I think it is supremely insulting to say that Ebert, who has been one of the greatest supporters of Miyazaki, disliked Howl's Moving Castle because he is a dumb old man on whom the complexities are lost.

Many Ghibli fans consider Howl to be one of Miyazaki's weakest films. And they are not all ignorant morons, contrary to your belief.

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