Posts tagged “Studio Ghibli

Film Talk – Contemporary Silence – Part 1

Tonight’s Film Talk focused on the silence and minimal dialogue found in contemporary film, the notes are below.

I’m taking a look at a more obscure aspect of film – silent or minimal dialogue in contemporary film. Starting with The Red Turtle (2017) a French and Belgian co-production with Studio Ghibli. Directed by Oscar winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, which he won for Father and Daughter (2000) about a daughter who longs to see her father return from a rowing trip.

“In this elegant short film about how love can transcend time and death, a young Dutch girl witnesses her father inexplicably rowing out to sea, never to return…A simple and poignant dialogue-free story it is complemented with elegant and graceful design and animation, and the use of silhouettes and shadows.

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier -Pg. 324

The Red Turtle is a castaway film that begins by pitting man against nature as a lone survivor is washed up on an island, we first his multiple attempts to escape, only to be prevented by nature – in the form of a giant red turtle, before a woman, who he has a family with, joins him. They stay together on the island and live into old age; complete with all the trials that island life brings them. What I was initially drawn to was the radical choice to have no dialogue in the film, an idea that has been explored in my own work. De Wit’s reason’s comes from a story telling decision, which he explains in this interview.

I wouldn’t be doing the film any favors without looking at past desert island films, which have periods of little or no dialogue. First looking at Hell in the Pacific (1968), a WWII film that placed an American and Japanese soldier on a desert island, first they are still at war with each other, before they realise they have to put their politics and ideologies to one side in order to escape. The first barrier being language that had to be over come. There are sections where there’s no dialogue, a decision taken by director John Boorman , which he explains in this clip.

Moving forward to the turn of the century – Cast Away (2000) there dialogue is kept to a minimum when Fed-ex man Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks lives for years on a desert island, he has only himself and later his ball – Wilson for company, essentially he’s projecting his thoughts onto an inanimate object.

Admittedly there are some vocals – cries or gasps of emotion when necessary in the narrative, as De Witt allows for these moments of verbal expression. An example of this can be scene in the Tsunami scene.

Staying with animation, the decision to have minimal or no dialogue is nothing new. As we saw in the director’s short film Father and Daughter (2000), other animators have made the same decision. Such as Sylvain Chomet The Illusionist (2010).

“The lack of conversation is rationalized here by the different nationalities of the characters and is carried off by the strongly visual nature of the animation, creating a treat of visual story telling that leaves space for its audience to use their minds and discover the detail for themselves.”

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 392

Relying on visual cues and associations to bridge the gap. In Pixar’s WALL-E (2008), the first act of the film is near silent, referencing silent film, relying on other audio to express the little robots thoughts and emotions.

“…Wall-E comes to resemble a pet whose thoughts and feelings we believe we can interpret. And like a pet, WALL-E cannot talk, expressing himself only in mechanical beeps and squeals”

The Art of Walt Disney – Christopher Finch – Pg. 400

Whilst in Japan we have Kunio Kato’s short film Le Maison en Petits Cubes/The House of Small Cubes (2008) focusing on an lonely old man who reflects on his past.

“This story is told without any dialogue or narration, there is just a simple soundtrack.”

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 379

In the next part I’ll be looking more technically at the function of sound in animation and film.

Bicycle Thieves/Ladri di biciclette (1948)

bicycle-thieves-1948There was a time, a long time when I thought I would never see Bicycle Thieves/Ladri di biciclette (1948) for a number of reasons. My almost complete rejection of foreign films which now looks very silly with all I have now seen, Of course not so readily available to me, I am far more open-minded to foreign films ever since my love for Studio Ghibli and which opened the floodgates leading to Breathless (1960) last year opening my eyes to the reality that foreign films are just as good if not better than those of your own language. During time I had known about Bicycle Thieves on every list imaginable about the best films ever made, I never really took any notice, the more I heard about I switched off. Today I look out for these films wanting watch them, I’m indeed waking up and enjoying the smell of foreign/Italian roses.

Putting aside my warming relationship to foreign films I need to turn to this film which I really wished I seen years earlier. I’ve made up for that tonight, seeing a film that when viewed today still has powerful resonance. We’ve all had a time in our when we have nothing going our way, it just gets worse and worse until you hit rock bottom, you see no way out. For Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) he’s survive WWII to now pick up the fragments of domestic life, having been given a job he now has to fight on the streets to keep hold of it. We don’t know his real trade, possibly a decorator when he’s given a job pasting posters, namely of Rita Hayworth. He rightly jumps at the job even under the condition of having his own transport – his bicycle, which we learn he pawned so he could support his family. We see a man whose a devoted family man torn to ultimately do the right think. Don’t we all strive to do that throughout our lives?

If you boil this film to its essence there’s not really much to it, a mans offered a job which requires his own transport that is later stolen before going to spend the rest of the film trying to find it. However all who have seen the film will know that such a basic premise for a plot can produce one of the most human of stories. I’m going to be provocative and say that if you watch this film and are not moved by anything that happens then you are not human. I mean to say that if you don’t feel for Antonio and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) as they walk and run around the streets of Rome in hopes of finding his bike. A bike that will see them have a better lifestyle, a decent steady income that will ensure his family won’t go without. Don’t we all aspire to have be able to live a decent live in some comfort, without fear that it’ll be threatened after a single event in our lives.

For me I knew that the bike would be stolen, holding on tentatively to the bike whenever it was on-screen. Once it’s brought back from the pawn shop, not just the average small shop on the high street, a mass of personal belongings held by the state to support the public live and survive. Having the infrastructure behind the wooden counter there is an ever-changing archive of human history that depends on money. A cycle that could go on forever whilst the nation is getting back on its feet after being battered during WWII, their leader had misled them into a war that only brought death and misery, now the ordinary man, woman and children are picking up the pieces that Mussolini left behind.

The drama begins on the first day of his new job, filled with hope after being shown the ropes, pasting up an image of Hayworth, an image of great beauty, that’s to be desired from a foreign land they have only seen at the cinema, images they are only just being delighted with. His job is taking him a step closer to the dreams that Hollywood indulges him in. When that dream is suddenly pulled from under him by a thief Vittorio Antonucci taking his bike and riding off into not the sunset which is might as well be, never to be seen again. Instead it’s a bustling town filled with bikes and traffic, never to be seen again.

Father and son waste no time in searching for the bike the following day with the help of Baiocco (Gino Saltamerenda) as they are taken to a market where the possibility of finding the bike even in pieces could bring the search to an end. It’s torture seeing them both look at the bells, the lines and lines of bikes they quickly look up and down, hoping the next one will be theirs. My god I hoped they’d find it here, sadly it’s not to be, having the carry on in the desperate search for a needle in a metal haystack.

Antonio and Bruno slowly loose hope through the day they dedicate to the search, or at least the time we have with them. Sinking from despair for the lost job to a world they would never think they’d even tread. From hassling an elderly man who only wants a meal, to possibly accusing a young man of being the thief until he becomes one himself. A transformation from a role model father trying to do his best to crossing into a potential life of crime in order to carry on the life he thought to be gone forever. It’s dramatic yet a very real possibility that we could all go through. With a click of the fingers we could lose that all important independence that allows us to be free and live out our dreams, or merely provide.

I didn’t think this review would be touching the 1000 word mark, only a few solid paragraphs, but this is a film really gets inside of you. You could be that parent who needs to feed their child who could steal that loaf of bread to ensure they get the basics. I’m so glad to have seen this film and will be looking out for more Italian Realism.


First off I didn’t know that Studio Ghibili had one more film up their sleeves in the form of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013) which visually reminds me loosely of My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), thats not the point of why I’m posting tonight. Wanting to add to Mark Kermode’s video on the issue of subtitles, which I myself have gotten used to. It takes time to adjust to foreign language film. The nearest I got before was probably a few scenes where the baddies were talking amongst themselves. I’ve touched on the theme a few times already this years. Most recently with The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) which was poor subtitled, constantly reminding me I was listening to Sioux, not another language. Also Yurusarezaru mono/Unforgiven (2013) was had its share of subtitle issues, having white text in the snow, bit of no brainer really.

Still Kermode’s post was about the original foreign film versus dubbed version. Thankfully I’ve only really seen the Studio Ghibli’s which have been treated rather well, some under the supervision of Walt Disney Studio’s. In the past even the English language versions have been criticised by Hayao Miyazaki has criticised them (probably the earlier ones). Personally I have seen various versions of these films, sometimes wishing for the original, getting used to the speed that the dialogue is delivered. I maybe re-watching a few again in the original Japanese of Film4 next month, wanting to experience the original language. Its like seeing work in a gallery, when you see it in the flesh, its the best feeling ever, to experience it’s aura, how it was intended to be seen. Of course subtitles aren’t for everyone, kids need the dubbed versions to even engage with the film or they are lost, thankfully more recently the dubbing is done with care.

I know that spaghetti westerns were rife of dubbing, but that i feel is part of the fabric. Italian made, a homage to an English language genre, which is dubbed for an international English speaking audience. I’m used to this, seeing it as part of the fabric, films made quick with international casts, there was no time to get the language right, match it up later in the recording studio. Makes sense when they turned out so many.

Another plus to subtitles is that the audience can and has to be more engaged if they really care about it. You really take a chance to half-watch a foreign film and still understand it. Something I feel I did with City of God (2006) recently, still enjoying the film that had so much to offer beyond the Portuguese language. And that is the sign of true lover of film, someone who can get beyond the language barrier and see and enjoy the plot. Having a film in its original language you are really accepting it experiencing it as the film-makers intended.


The Wind Rises/Kaze tachinu (2013)

The Wind-Rises (2013)Widely seen as Hayao Miyazaki‘s farewell and indeed the last film from Studio Ghibli for the foreseeable future too, which is even more poignant when you look back at the incredible output of the Japanese animation studio. Traditional animation for feature films is indeed a dying art. Even Disney have stopped working in 2D, but that’s more to do with the critical reception, and more financial reward from computer generated animation. I wonder if that could be a possible new direction for the Japanese studio, who have triumphed for so long in the traditional media. I can’t honestly see the awesome wonder they create on the computer.

I remember catching a glimpse of The Wind Rises (2013) when I caught From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) reminding of the earlier Porco Rosso (1992) which also had a strong aviation theme. Unlike the majority of Ghibli’s film are centred around a female protagonist, The Wind Rises focuses on the dreams and aspirations of one male aeronautical designer, a brave leap for a company that for 20 years or more has championed the independence of the female. We have a dreamer in Jirô Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno) as a boy who frequently steps into his dreams of one day bringing to life his glider like plane, with the added dread that some how it would be a disaster. Sharing his dreams with personal hero, the Italian designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (Mansai Nomura) they meet several times throughout the dream in these dream sequences that explore Jiro’s inner mind, he deepest thoughts are set free. If only they two designers actually met in the real world?

Set during the build-up to Japan’s entry into WWII we find Jiro as a young boy who has big dreams which we see slowly come to fruition. Not before an incredibly animated earthquake sequence where he first meets the love of his life. It not all plain sailing for this couple. Focusing more development, drive and passion that sees Jiro and his friend Honjô (Hidetoshi Nishijima) starting out a juniors designers who are working on a winning design for the navy’s aeroplane fleet. I am already thinking forward to Pearl Harbour that pulled America into the war, but there is little talk of the war itself.

Build up begins when they two designers visit Germany in hopes of bringing technology back to fast forward development of their own planes. Tension is in the air, with Ghibli’s own version of the SS who already have a tight grip on the country for Hitler. We’re pulled out before it becomes too serious really, we don’t really receive the traditional history lesson in a pre WWII film, even from Japan’s point of view. Not like the heart wrenching Grave of the Fireflies (1989) that deals with the aftermath of the atom bomb. Focusing on the ambition of a designer who takes every opportunity to bring his sleek glider design to life.

The love interest doesn’t really take off until much later, first meeting her as a young girl who caught his hat, every time they meet is due to the wind bringing them together, it was mean to be. Its feels so natural, to see Jiro and Naoko Satomi (Miori Takimoto) who meet at a hotel by chance alone. All linked with the wind that determines the course of the film, Allowing for mad-cap designs take flight, really playing with classic designs. The fantastical of the mechanical that Ghibli are known for is paired back in this final film. They don’t want to show off in what is easily their swan-song, if that is what we have here. If we do get another Ghibli film it could be a few years yet. We have a graceful film full of wonder in the skies, celebrating a period on Japan’s history before things got messy for them.

This was indeed worth the wait, that little taster wetting the appetite of what is a graceful film that celebrates part of their aeronautical history. The animation is not as impressive as previously films, they didn’t to go over the top, instead emphasising nature, allowing us to see the wonders of the world from the sky. The choice of male protagonist goes against the tradition for the company and their environmental nature loving ethos, becoming more of standard film. We are not being delivered more of the same of what we have to expect in terms of plot elements, our expectations are instead blown away, quite literally at times.

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Confessions/Kokuhaku (2010)

Confessions (2010)I’ve realised recently that I am having a growing love for Japanese cinema, I know being in Europe and an artist I should like the works of Francois Trouffaut, Jean Luc Goddard and Jean Renoirbut they just don’t fit with me at the moment. I think Studio Ghibli has a lot to answer for really, taking the animation route into the Japanese world of cinema which has recently lead to Akira Kurosawa and his relationship with western cinema. I will probably come full circle in a few years to the discover in my own time the others auteurs. Which leads my latest find from the country Confessions (2010) which sees a teacher exact her revenge on school children.

I kept thinking that such a film would never be made in the west, due to the subject matter and the cultural mindset which we have over here. The violence is not the problem for a possible translation. The nearest we probably have is Taken (2008) (I say that very loosely) from the parental point of view and for the children involved Boy A (2007) which focused on child killer Jack Burridge.

What starts off as a normal day in the classroom form teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsuwho has decided to leave her job. But before she goes she decides to leave a much lasting impression on the students. Beginning with a little known law that states that children aged 14 and under cannot be held responsible for a crime, even murder (Over here in the U.K. I believe the age is 10) which means they can get off scot-free, or held under a supervision order. In the case of the teachers daughter as we find out, who is killed at the hands of two of her students, named only A and B for now. The teacher really has nothing to lose really in telling them the story, she has lost her daughter which is far more than they can comprehend in their short lives.

The events surrounding this horrific and calculated Murder by two boys, one intelligent and after the attention of his mother who abandoned him, and another who is perceived as weak and naive are told from all three perspectives, before during and after the event. Life seems to go on for everyone, with the added knowledge that the two boys may have HIV, causing them to go off in very different directions.

Both child actors deliver exceptional performances, one Naoki Shimomura (Kaoru Fujiwara) falls into a state of depression, making his mothers life unbearable, becoming violent and angry all the time, unable to cope fully with what has happened. Whilst Shuya Watanabe (Yukito Nishii) stays in school, trying to live with what has happened as best as he can. Whilst the rest of the class hold him in contempt for what he did, fearing what he has become both socially and medically, a danger wrapped in fear and bullying. 

The confessions from all three, the mother and the young killers is profound and shocking, you never know what is going to happen next. You can more understanding of the two boys. Whilst the new form teacher Yoshiteru Terada (Masaki Okadatries to reach out to the now home-schooled Naoki believing his has the flu, going out of his way to reach out to this disturbed young man who behind the closed doors of home is a frightened and dangerous individual. Making his mothers life hell, trying her best to love and understand her changed son who only months ago smiled, now a filthy mess who constantly cleans the house in fear that she too will contract HIV. Not knowing how it’s really contracted.

Whilst Shuya Watanabe has a far different situation, a self-proclaimed child genius who wants to be recognised for his achievements. Not just by the world but his mother. The criminal mastermind of the plot to kill a four-year old girl, wanting the medias attention. In the end just another messed up child wanting to be loved goes horrible wrong.

The dark twist at the end sees a form of justice being handed out by the teacher who has been pulling all the strings, never really leaving their lives. Watching on from a distance. Unable to move on with her life, consumed with grief her life is devoted to revenge on these two boys, still really innocent to act they have really committed. Making a powerful film that lingers in the gloomy world of revenge. Darkly atmospheric at every turn from the point of view of the students who don’t really understand what has happened. There’s nothing quite like this over here in the U.K. or Hollywood where I get the rest of my film fill, which makes it stand out. A truly original story which takes some beating when you think of other revenge film.