Kern: I know you’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films recently. Have you seen them all at this point?
Henry: Not all of them, no, but most. I’ve seen all of Miyazaki’s feature films, Ghibli or otherwise, but as for the rest, I got a collection with 17 of them so I watched all of those and I’ve seen a few others but it still leaves a couple that are kinda hard to find streaming without paying a lot for and I’m not shelling out for more DVD’s just yet and I think I need a bit of a break before continuing anyhow. That being said, what I did see was almost all wonderful and they’re very easy to watch in quick succession. They may often come from the same creative teams and have similar visual styles but there’s a huge diversity of content and storytelling that makes each one feel very unique. How’re you doing on watching them all?
Kern: Local theaters do mini Ghibli fests pretty much yearly (back when theaters were a thing) so I caught a lot of Miyazaki’s work I hadn’t seen yet over the past couple years, and just finished his filmography recently, but apart from him, I haven’t explored much else that they’ve put out. I loved Only Yesterday though. Which are your favorites?
Henry: Only Yesterday is one I’m still missing but definitely the one of those I haven’t seen that I’m most excited for. As for favorites, My Neighbor Totoro has been at the top of my list for years and that hasn’t changed but I’d put Porco Rosso not too far behind and Spirited Away is excellent too of course. One of my favorites that doesn’t seem to get as much recognition as many others is My Neighbors the Yamadas. It isn’t Miyazaki and it has an entirely different animation style and a story that’s more based in reality than the rest of what I’ve seen but it’s just as good as anything else Ghibli has done. Kiki’s Delivery Service is also one I like quite a lot that you introduced me to. Is that your favorite?
Kern: Yeah, Kiki’s Delivery Service is definitely my favorite. That was one of the ones I saw a couple years ago for the first time in a theater and I was just blown away by its simplicity and how thoroughly delightful it is. I’d put Spirited Away close behind, though. Both are in my top 20 of all time. My Neighbor Totoro is up there as well. None of the rest reach that kind of level for me (except Only Yesterday, which I think you’d really like since you mentioned liking the more grounded story in Yamadas, which I’ve yet to see). There are a few I don’t much care for, but they’re still so visually stunning, I’d happily seek out seeing them in a theater in the future.
There’s even a Totoro reference in this game I’m currently playing, Persona 5 Royal, where one of the characters, who is a cat, turns into a bus which the other characters travel in. And of course Totoro makes a cameo in Toy Story 3 which I adore. So it’s like all my favorite animated media feels distinctly influenced by Miyazaki.
Are there any you don’t care for at all?
Henry: There are certainly some I didn’t like nearly as much as others, like Tales from Earthsea and Nausicaa, but there weren’t any that I disliked. Even with the weak ones, the animation is so great it’s still rewarding to watch when the plots get too dense for their own good and the characters become hollow annoyances.
When we talk about anime in film, there’s a huge tendency to jump right into talking about Ghibli, and for good reason because their films have inspired so many and are consistently high quality films that have a cultural impact, but of course they’re hardly the only anime out there in the film world. There’s plenty out there, like Akira and Your Name for example, that have been similarly massive in their impacts and are just as good, if not better, than most Ghibli films but unfortunately they often fade into the background of current discussions on anime. Are there any non-Ghibli anime films that you’ve found yourself drawn to in the same way?
Kern: To be honest, my experience with non-Miyazaki anime is pretty thin. I watched Akira and Ghost in the Shell when I was really young and I’ve seen the more popular ones over the years, but beyond that, I haven’t explored the genre too deeply. There’s just so much there, it’s tough to know where to even start exploring. Ones I’ve seen more recently that I loved are Perfect Blue and Night is Short, Walk on Girl. I tried a couple others from those filmmakers (Satoshi Kon & Masaaki Yuasa) and was much less impressed, but I still plan to check out more from those directors. How about you? How familiar are you with anime more broadly and are there specific filmmakers or types of stories you like?
Henry: I generally try to keep up with current films so I’ve seen a few recent ones along with the aforementioned ones and some other well regarded anime like Millennium Actress and I’ve seen a few shows as well though that takes the conversation to a whole different place. But there’s still so much to see and the people that really know anime know so much more than I can ever hope to and conversations about it with them tend to get out of my level really fast so I never know what to watch to catch up. As for filmmakers I like, Makoto Shinkai is the only one that hasn’t worked with Ghibli who I know I’ve seen a few from and he generally makes films I quite enjoy. For types of stories, anything goes but when I watch anime, or any film really, I’m always thinking about why did they choose this particular medium to tell this story and the times when I really love anime tend to come from the film doing something that would be impossible to do in any other way. It’s part of the reason I think the Disney remakes of animated films are so heinous. They already showed us they could tell these stories in a different way and now they cut out the things animation let them do that live action can’t replace and they add nothing new. But when I see something like the worlds in Spirited Away or Paprika where it’s so jam packed with detail that simply can’t exist in the real world and any attempt at live action would pale in comparison, that’s when there’s a sort of magic that really gets me into it.
Kern: I totally agree. Animation allows for so much creative freedom, which is why it’s so disheartening to see how uncreative Pixar films have become, just slightly tweaking their tried and true formula and changing the environment. Though it didn’t entirely work for me, I loved the concept of Millennium Actress, and I’d love to see more anime that experiments with how a story is told like that. At the same time though, I’m drawn to the simplicity of something like Only Yesterday, which tells a very human story but is elevated by the lovely animation. As far as continuing to explore the genre though, I’ve been told Neon Genesis Evangelion is incredible so I plan on watching that on Netflix soon. Do you have any you’re specifically looking to tackle now that you’ve completed most of Ghibli?
Henry: I definitely want to rewatch Cowboy Bebop since it’s been a while but I loved it last time and it’s been on my mind since it passed Parasite recently to become the highest rated thing on Letterboxd and I have a few other shows and movies that are anime and have been on my list but I think before I get to any of it I’ll take a bit of a break. This week I’ve been watching a lot of Agnès Varda films and that’s been a real change of pace and I’ve got Satantango on tap for today. So I’m sure I’ll cycle back around to anime at some point but after spending a few days really doing a dive in, I think it’s best to take some time to explore other things and come back to it with a fresh mind.
Do you have any you’re specifically trying to check out?
Kern: You mentioned Paprika earlier, and I really like what I’ve seen from Satoshi Kon so far, so I might try to get to the other three films of his I haven’t seen (including Paprika), since his filmography is easily manageable. Eventually I’ll pull the trigger on Evangelion, but other than that, I don’t have any specific plans. I’m happy to take suggestions from you or readers if they feel there are specific anime films or filmmakers I might enjoy. I watched Satantango yesterday (it was my 18th film this week; I’m exhausted), so maybe next week we could get into our thoughts on that film and open it up more broadly to a discussion about slow cinema.
Henry: Sounds like a plan! Hopefully a few readers have stuck with us and are still reading now so for those of you left, join us next week for a discussion on slow cinema centered on everyone’s favorite seven and a half hour black and white Hungarian film and hopefully one day soon we’ll see you all at the movies!
In Conversation agnes varda akira cowboy bebop ghost in the shell hayao miyazaki isao takahata kikis delivery service makoto shinkai masaaki yuasa my neighbor totoro my neighbors the yamadas nausicaa valley of the wind neon genesis evangelion night is short walk on girl paprika parasite perfect blue porco rosso satoshi kon spirited away tales from earthsea toy story 3 your name