Movie Review: Side by Side (2012) - A Film vs. Digital Documentary

Review: Side by Side

Currently playing on Netflix is this excellent 2012 documentary on the history of film, and our crossroads between photo-chemical film and digital technology.  It is produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves and features discussions and insights by scores of filmmakers, including Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, James Cameron, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and many more.

I'm watching the movie and am entranced.  On the analog vs digital debate, I tend to side with analog, at least when it comes to music.  I do appreciate the many conveniences of modern digital technology, but analog has a special way of capturing reality, either images or music, that is warmer, more romantic.  There's a ritual to the mechanics of placing a record on a platter, and moving a tonearm into position.  Pressing the Play button isn't quite the same experience.

This is an exciting time for music, photography and the movies.  Digital technology and the internet open doors of opportunity that we could barely imaging.  I only hope we don't discard that analog magic in the process.  I'd like to find a way for both mediums to exist peacefully.

Anyway, find the time to see this movie.  It will certainly spark discussions and debates among your movie-loving friends.

Feeling Conflicted About Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

Animator and writer Michael Sporn is feeling slightly conflicted about his critical review of From Up on Poppy Hill.

I think of Ponyo riding those waves of the Tsunami. My heart – my entire body lifted in exuberance with that scene. No matter how many times I’ve seen the film it always does it.  I think of Spirited Away (so many moments) where Chihiro rides on that ghost train with “No Name” to the dark foreign and silent land of Yubaba, Zeniba’s twin sister. I think of Princess Mononoke when the god of the forest, dressed like a deer stands watching him from across the lake. It’s so glorious a moment. Or one of my all time favorite moments in the movies – standing at the bus stop with Totoro in the rain waiting for the bus to arrive. It doesn’t get better than that in film.

There are so many other Ghibli moments for me, I could keep going. Yet not even a hint of any of these in Poppy Hill. Maybe that’s why I felt I was so negative. I wanted something I shouldn’t have expected from a sophomore director without the proper experience to play out that very complex relationship between him and the girl. It becomes cliché when it should have torn at our hearts.

I completely understand and agree with your sentiments. My first viewing at the Uptown Theater was a frustrating disappointment. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the best mood, and like you, I feel a great desire to WANT to like this movie. Goro Miyazaki, after all, is the presumptive heir apparent to the studio. He’s being groomed to inherit the family business from his father, and despite his lack of experience, they’re working their hardest to help him grow into the director’s role.

But it always comes back to that simple fact – Goro Miyazaki has no experience as a filmmaker, a storyteller, or an animator. I will gladly agree that Poppy Hill is much better than Earthsea (a very low standard indeed), but the movie was still lacking passion, lacking vision. It was a dutiful son punching in his time card and doing a very respectable, if uninspiring, job.

I have a "copy" of the Japanese Blu-Ray (ahem), but I still haven’t summoned the energy to watch again. I feel as though I’m making excuses, trying to find a reason to like this movie and give it a favorable review. Sigh, it’s like I’m writing for GamePro Magazine all over again.  When you're telling yourself that you must "like something," it becomes dishonest, to myself and to others.  I want to see a good movie, despite all evidence, therefore a "good" movie appears before my eyes.  Believing is Seeing.

It’s interesting to note that Ghibli’s best animators (including the great director Yoshiyuki Momose, the true heir apparent) were working on the animated “film” for Ni no Kuni, the Playstation 3 video game. I’d like to see those animated scenes compiled and shared online, if only to compare to Poppy Hill’s presentation. I also think this movie is very Japanese, and much of the nostalgia and reflections on their post-war generation won’t speak to us. This setting, in the looming shadow of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was Hayao Miyazaki’s key change from the original source material (a 1980 girls’ romance comic); the role of Japan's post-war generation, caught between tradition and the modern world, is arguably the great theme of his directorial career. Younger Goro doesn’t have that life experience, and so we don’t get those key insights, those little details, that we cherish so much in Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s films. Compare Poppy Hill to Mimi/Whisper and Omohide Poro Poro, and you’ll see that difference all too clearly.

I have no idea if Goro has greatness within him; I’m not even sure he wants the job. He’s fulfilling the role of the dutiful son, hoping this will bring him closer to his estranged father, or at least understand the man. But he doesn’t have any of his father’s passions or obsessions. Father Miyazaki was traumatized by war, raised among the ruins of a destroyed nation, and dreamed of drawing comic books and flying.

What makes Goro-san tick? He appears to be highly intelligent, very thoughtful, a peaceful man who would rather cultivate gardens or design architecture. I don’t know how he turns those passions into storytelling. And I don’t think he knows, either.  His voice has yet to emerge, and he must also emerge from the shadow of his famous father.  And the clock is ticking.  A daunting challenge, indeed.

Anyway, I’m sorry for rambling and taking up so much space. But I’m still shook up over Roger Ebert’s passing, and it’s good to talk about the movies with folks who understand.

From Up on Poppy Hill - Where is it Playing?

From Up on Poppy Hill

Where can you see Goro Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill?  GKids, the American distributor of the Studio Ghibli film, has updated their list of cities and theaters where it is playing.  More venues may be added if popular demand is there.

In related news, Poppy Hill has grossed $341,793 as of April 4, according to Box Office Mojo.  More theaters will open the film throughout the month of April, slowing down in the following months.

Here is the list of cities and theaters playing From Up on Poppy Hill:

New York - IFC Center
New York - Film Society of Lincoln Center
New York - Kew Gardens
New York - Beekman Theater
New York - Williamsburg Cinemas
Malverne, NY - Malverne Cinema 4
Huntington, NY - Cinema Arts Centre
Los Angeles - The Landmark
Los Angeles - Regal Edwards University Town Center 6
Los Angeles - Laemmle Playhouse
Toronto - TIFF Bell Lightbox
San Francisco - Landmark Embarcadero Center
San Francisco - Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
San Rafael - Regency San Rafael
Berkeley - Landmark California Theater
Pleasant Hill - Cinemark Century 5
Palo Alto - Cinemark Palo Alto Square
San Jose - Cinemark Santana Row
San Jose - Camera 7 Cinemas
Chicago - Landmark Century 7
Evanston, IL - CinéArts at Evanston
Minneapolis - Landmark Uptown Cinema
Seattle - Egyptian Theater
San Diego - Landmark Hillcrest
Waterloo, Canada - Princess Cinemas

Sacramento, CA - Tower Theatre
Boston, MA - Landmark Kendall Square Cinema
Claremont, CA - Laemmle Claremont
Santa Cruz, CA - Nickelodeon Del Mar Theatre
Redwood City, CA - Cinemark Century 20 Downtown
Long Beach, CA - Art Long Beach
Lancaster, CA - BLVD Cinemas
Los Angeles, CA - Laemmle Monica 4
Los Angeles, CA - Laemmle Noho 7
Seattle, WA - Sundance Cinemas Seattle
Seattle, WA - Majestic Bay Theater
Denver, CO - Landmark Esquire
Boulder, CO - Cinemark 16
Portland, OR - Regal Fox Tower
Honolulu, HI - Kahala 8
Washington, DC - Regal Gallery Place
Fairfax, VA - Angelika Mosaic
Danvers, MA - Hollywood Hits Danvers
Amherst, MA - Amherst Cinema
Minneapolis, MN - Landmark Edina
Omaha, NE - Film Streams

Cleveland, OH - Capitol Theatre
Cincinatti, OH - Mariemont Theater
Roseville, CA - Cinemark Century 14
Point Arena, CA - Arena Point Theater
Tempe, AZ - Harkins Valley Art
Philadelphia, PA - Landmark Ritz at the Bourse
Gaithesburg, MD - AMC Rio Gaithesburg
Arlington, VA - AMC Shirlington
Silver Springs, MD - Regal Majestic Silver Springs
Houston, TX - Sundance Cinemas
Tucson, AZ - Loft Cinema

Austin, TX - Regal Arbor
Dallas, TX - Landmark Magnolia
Plano, TX - Cinemark West Plano
Atlanta, GA - Landmark Midtown Art
St. Louis, MO - Landmark Plaza Frontenac
Boca Raton, FL - Living Room Boca Raton
Gainesville, FL - Hippodrome Theater
Madison, WI - Sundance Cinemas
Mobile, AL - The Crescent Theater
Millerton, NY - The Moviehouse
Bar Harbor, ME - Reel Pizza & Cinerama
San Luis Obispo, CA - The Palm Theatre
Sebastopol, CA - Rialto Cinemas
Santa Rosa, CA - Summerfield Cinemas

Charlottesville, VA - Regal Downtown West
Charlotte, NC - Regal Manor
Salt Lake City, UT - Broadway
Ithaca, NY - Cinemapolis
Las Vegas, NV - Regal Village Square
Bellingham, WA - Pickford Film Center
Marthas Vineyard, MA - MV Film Center

MAY 3:
Knoxville, TN - Regal Downtown West
Waterville, ME - Railroad Square Cinema

MAY 10:
Nashville, TN - The Belcourt
Milwaukee, WI - Landmark Oriental

JULY 10:
Nyack, NY - Palisades Center / Rivertown Film


Roger Ebert on Grave of the Fireflies

In 2002, Roger Ebert gave an interview for Central Park Media's two-disc DVD of Grave of the Fireflies.  It remains one of the most elegant and thoughtful discussions of Japanese animation.

Ten years ago, in the early weeks of 2003, I was assembling my own artist's website,, putting the finishing touches to the layout and design, and writing a number of essays and reviews.  Grave of the Fireflies was my first movie review, written after weeks of blood, sweat and tears.  I struggled over every line and every paragraph, trying to share the experience of this unique, revolutionary movie, trying to understand a work of art I never before imagined.  I continue that struggle to this day.

I couldn't do any of this without Roger Ebert.  Without his reviews and insights to guide and inspire me, none of this would be possible.  Cliche or not, my essay writings and Ghibli Blog simply would not exist if not for this man.  His Greatest Movies series was required reading (and memorization), my informal education in the movies, and continues so today, so many years later.  Everything I write is judged, in my mind, against the writings of my greatest teacher.

Roger Ebert was the first major American movie critic to champion Japanese animation, and he was the first to champion the works of Studio Ghibli.  At a time when "Japanimation" spawned confusion, disdain and fear, Ebert treated these movies with respect.  He accepted the art form on its own terms, understood that it evolved differently from Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.  He hailed anime movies like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Metropolis, Tokyo Godfathers.  And Grave of the Fireflies was held in special esteem, above all.


Studio Ghibli "Fighting Game" and T-Shirt

Now this is a pretty cool discovery.  These are a pair of artist renderings of an imagined "Studio Ghibli fighting game.  The first one is the newer design, reminiscent of SNK's King of Fighters series, and looks pretty stylish.  The second one is older, and more classically 8-bit (one could easily imagine such a game on Commodore 64).

This does raise an interesting question: which of the Miyazaki characters would win in a fair fight?  Personally, I'd go with Nausicaa and Mononoke San, if only because they have a genuine psycho-killer streak.  But a Totoro vs. No Face vs. Ohmu battle would be pretty impressive. that I think about it, a Ghibli fighting game could work.  Maybe we should hire an indie video game studio to design it, snark.

Now here's the really cool part of this story: the 8-bit graphic is available as a $25 t-shirt, any size, front or back.  Nice!  The artist, Drewwise, has created a series of video game-related shirt designs.  My favorite one, aside from this one, would have to be the Apollo shirt, obviously inspired by Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, The Shining.  I may have to order one myself.  Who wants one of these?


(April Fools 2013) BREAKING: Disney to Acquire Studio Ghibli in 2014, Takahata and Miyazaki to Retire

The Walt Disney Company is in preliminary talks with Studio Ghibli to buy the Japanese animation studio, acquiring the rights to the studio's movie catalog and its wealth of characters.  This comes on the heels of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise.

Furthermore, this transition is set to begin after completion of Ghibli's two major productions, Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu and Isao Takahata's Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, in 2014.  As is widely expected, both films are intended to be the final farewell by the famed directors, who wanted to pass the torch to the next generation.

Finally, both Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki will retire once the transition into Disney's hands is complete.  This should occur through the end of 2014.  Goro Miyazaki will succeed his father as head of Studio Ghibli in Japan, and no major personnel changes are yet expected.

Details of the merger are not yet fully revealed, but it is expected that Studio Ghibli will retain its autonomy in Japan, and continue to produce their own films with Disney's help.  In the United States, Disney will proceed with an aggressive, new push to bring Ghibli to mainstream audiences.  This includes quick rollout of DVD and Blu-Ray, merchandising items (yes, kids, we're getting stuffed Totoros!), and, most of all, new direct-to-video spinoff movies featuring your favorite Ghibli characters.

Honestly, I'm stunned.  I'll have more to say about this later tonight, once I can pull my jaw off the floor.  Still, we probably should have seen this coming, right?  Disney bought The Muppets, then Marvel, then Lucasfilm.  Miyazaki and Takahata are nearing the end of their long and storied careers, and Ghibli has struggled to find suitable successors for the Ghibli studio.

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