Isao Takahata, eternal firefly

Isao Takahata passed away in April. His obituary at the Guardian reminds us of his seminal role in founding Studio Ghibli:

Takahata returned to feature directing with Chie the Brat (1981) and an adaptation of Kenji Miyazawa’s Gauche the Cellist (1982), while working as a producer on Miyazaki’s breakthrough animated version of his own manga, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984).

The film’s huge success led to the establishment of Studio Ghibli, the name, due to Miyazaki’s love of aviation, taken from an Italian second world war plane, with Takahata producing Miyazaki’s first work for the new enterprise, Castle in the Sky (1986).

Of course, his masterpiece was the partly autobiographical (!!!) Grave of the Fireflies, which was released as a double feature with Totoro, a sentence that still amazes me when I type it out. TOR recently had a must-read historical look at the intertwined history of Totoro and Fireflies, and the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster effect combining them must have had on audiences. Bonus, it intriduces a great theory that I am instantly adopting as headcanon:

So about that Camphor tree…In Grave, Seita lies to Setsuko about their mother’s death for a while, hoping to give her the news in a gentle way. She finds out anyway, and he tries to soften the blow by lying again, this time telling her that their mother is buried beneath a lovely Camphor tree, and that they’ll visit her after the war. (In reality, their mother’s ashes are in a box that Seita carries with him, and seems to lose, before the film ends.) Guess what kind of tree Totoro lives in? Yeah, it’s a Camphor. And Totoro just happens to be accompanied by a middle-sized Totoro, and a small Totoro. And the small Totoro just happens to be the one that attracts Mei’s attention in the first place.

So I’ve just decided that the Grave of the Fireflies characters were all reincarnated as Totoros. Big Totoro is Mother, the Middle Totoro, always the caretaker, forever collecting acorns for Baby, is clearly Seita, and Baby Totoro is Setsuko—the one who first befriends a little girl who’s the same age she was when she died.

And if I’ve just ruined My Neighbor Totoro for you I’m sorry, but how much better is Grave of the Fireflies now? If you watch the movie believing that they all get to be Totoros in the end, you might just get through it.

Prayers for Steven DenBeste

via Ubu, SDB has been out of contact for over a week, since the big storm. An escalating investigation by the Otakusphere led to this by Brickmuppet:

A few minutes ago I was contacted by the Beaverton police. My information was quite limited and so there were three addresses that could have been Steven’s. As it happened, the second was Steven’s family. The officer had offered to escort them to Steven’s house, but they said they would handle things in the family and declined further assistance. That is all I know at this time, and, as I’m not family, it’s all I am likely to discover.
It does not sound at all good.

Follow here.

UPDATE: Steven has passed away. Indeed we belong to God and to Him indeed we return. Expressions of sorrow by Pete, Ubu, Brickmuppet, Ed Morrissey, Bill Quick, and others at the thread on Chizumatic. Please share links to other tributes in comments.

Like everyone else, I encountered Steven via his blog, USS Clueless, and appreciated the depth of his analyses even as I disagreed with nearly everything he wrote. He was an incredible writer with a gift for condensing complex ideas into teachable form. He forced me to be more rigorous and think through my positions, strengthening me and making me a better writer and blogger about politics. In a strange way he was akin to a mentor, despite our differences.

And then he retired and became an anime blogger, which opened up an entirely new vista, for myself and also my children. Steven’s recommendations of Bottle Fairy, Someday’s Dreamers, and Sugar Snow Fairy truly delighted my kids and enriched them. His recommendations of darker, sometimes offbeat fare such as Kino and Haibane Renmei resonated with me, to the extent that I named the blog after the latter, which is a honest example of something that truly blew my mind. And Steven plied me with his fair share of guilty pleasures, of which Ranma is easily the standard bearer 🙂

Steven was a kind soul whose opinions and passions were grounded in his essential humanism. I wish I’d had the chance to tell him at least once what he meant to me and how much I appreciated him.

Kid-friendly anime – suggestions wanted

an anime Family
A few years ago, I posted a few guidelines for in kid-friendly anime, and we had a really good discussion. That was long ago enough that I wanted to open the floor again to see if I could solicit more suggestions and ideas. As a reminder, here were my three basic requirements:

1. No fan service.
2. Young characters.
3a. A moral lesson or example of personal growth,
and/or
3b. A sense of wonder.

(see the older post for more detailed explanations of what I mean by each of these)

I know that in the past 6 years there has been a LOT of new anime released and I have had barely time to catch up with my own backlog from back then let alone make any headway on new titles. But I am resolved to watch anime with my kids instead of just for myself. So please do spread this post around and help me build up a great list for posterity. Old anime, new anime, whatever – just please keep the suggestions flowing.

My girls are now ages 9 and 4. It’s amazing to me that when I wrote the old post, my elder daughter was only three! Time, etc…

Japanese trailer for Pixar’s Brave has a Mononoke vibe

ok, this is just stunning, and completely changes my assessment of Pixar’s new film Brave, in both plot and in tone:

My earlier complaint that Brave was going to be just another Princess movie was taken up by Erik over at Forbes, who rightly pointed out that there doesn’t seem to be any love interest in the movie, and the trailer above confirms that the plot is definitely not a standard Disney formula.

In fact, as Nordling at AICN remarks, it’s actually got a much more Miyazaki vibe. Maybe it’s all a matter of the trailer editing process, the different emphasis for Japanese vs American audiences, and choice of music. But the movie looks more like Princess Mononoke or the (non-Miyakazi, but Miyazaki-esque) Secret of Kells.

There was never a chance i wouldn’t faithfully see Brave just like I see everything by Pixar, but the trailer above has me substantially mollified. Maybe the earlier trailer was just aimed at the Disney demographic that expects the formulaic plot, as a kind of lure. There’s a reason that appreciation of anime hasn’t gone mainstream in the US and why Ponyo didn’t garner the respect it should have.

To return to Erik’s response to my earlier post though, he’s right that Brave is a Pixar film more than a Disney one. This is a 3D animation film with Lasseter et al running the show, not something out of the old animation studios (though I was quite impressed with Princess and the Frog). My complaints centered on the Disney Princess franchise, of which Rapunzel from Tangled is the sole 3D member – the rest are all pure animation. Thematically, Rapunzel fits – her old dream of seeing the lantern lights fulfilled, her new dream is her man, as per her own literal confession. And the theme of escape is there, which the first trailer from Brave certainly overplayed.

The key complaint I have though remains, and Erik’s post doesn’t really address it. Where are the male role models for young boys? In UP, the main characters are an old man desperate for sentiment and loss, and a young kid who’s basically a round goofball. The animal sidekicks have more personality than the boy does. Moving, yes. Beautiful, yes. But it doesn’t address the void I perceive (though still, a masterpiece on its own merits, in its own category).

Erik goes on to list other counter-examples:

Toy Story was about friendship rather than romantic love; Finding Nemo explored the relationship between father and son; The Incredibles dealt with the sometimes-rocky travails of having a family, and of finding great things even in the mundane; Monsters Inc. was about friendship in the workplace and the fear of the other

All true, but again, none of these provided a role model for a young boy dreaming of adventure and finding his place in the world. These are all movies about adult relationships and family, they look inward rather than interact with the outer world.

Maybe I’m not articulating what I am looking for properly.. I certainly am NOT asking for more testosterone or railing against a proliferation of wimposity or anything like that. What I want in a nutshell is to see characters in Disney animation that a boy can relate to with the same part of the brain that I as an adult relate to when I see a character like John Crighton, or Han Solo, or Samwise Gamgee. These archetypes appear in other media, there’s no shortage in our culture of them, but they don’t seem to have penetrated children’s animation yet.