Month: August 2006


totoro-umb.jpgYesterday while I was rearranging my audio CDs, I came across an old anime favorite (Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro) that got mixed up in the pile by mistake. Without further ado, I popped it into my player.

As the familiar strains of the upbeat opening song wafted into my tiny living room, I found myself sliding into this mellow, nostalgic mood that automatically kicks in when I’m watching something that I really like.

Among Miyazaki’s animated films, I’ve always found My Neighbor Totoro (1988) far easier to relate to because, notwithstanding the supernatural element of of old forest spirits, the story is essentially grounded in reality (and roughly autobiographical on Miyazaki’s part, according to some) and takes place in a sleepy rural setting.

Also, it’s not particularly violent, which should make this animated feature fairly suitable even to young children. Basically, it’s one anime title that I’d be pleased to recommend to anyone regardless of his/her age.

The animation, as expected for a Studio Ghibli (founded by H.M.) product, is top-notch, and characters well drawn. The story focuses on two young girls who, along with their father (a university professor), moved into an old country house — a quaint, rustic structure complete with cobwebs, rotting posts and rattling windows — in order to be near a hospital where their mother is being treated. In one of her rambles, 4-year-old Mei (and later, along with ther her older sister Satsuki) stumbles into the slumbering guardian spirit of the forest — a huge, cuddly, bear-like creature called Totoro, who’s apparently only visible to young children…

Without giving away the rest of the story, there are several items in this film that should be fairly obvious to a Miyazaki enthusiast. The main protagonist is a young girl (or in the case, girls) who’s learning to grapple with the complexities of life (a resurring theme in many Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle, Porco Rossi, etc.). There’s also an endearingly clumsy young boy, Kanta, who shows an abiding interest in planes/aviation (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle, Porco Rossi), a trait that Miyazaki shared as a child. This movie likewise emphasizes, in unobtrusive but touching intances, the way the Japanese show respect for their old and the ‘natural’ spirits around them.


 I don’t know how much of what is shown in My Neighbor Totoro actually reflects Miyazaki’s childhood,  but I’ve read somewhere that he was quite close to his grandmother and that his mother has also suffered from a serious ailment which required a lengthy hospital treatment. He’s known to care deeply for his female relations and I think it shows in the way he presents his female characters.

My Neighbor Totoro still ranks (and will undoubtedly remain) as one of my top 10 anime favorites.

9/11 Events on Mainstream Films

wtc.jpgAs we wait for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center to hit the local theaters (almost 5 years after the event), I am reminded of another 9/11 movie that was shown about 2 months ago.

United 93, helmed by British director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday), is a chilling, no-nonsense account of what transpired during its fateful flight. The San Francisco-bound 757, through the courageous act of its crew and passengers, was the only (out of four) flight that was able to thwart its captors’ grim intent of turning planes into hurtling missiles.

The film, which features little-known actors and real-life personalities (who are playing themselves in the movie) as well as airline and military personnel, was shown to the public with little bombastic fanfare that usually accompany big-budget Hollywood movies — perhaps a more fitting and more respectful tribute to the plucky crew and passengers of U93, who were unwittingly thrust into the ghastly business of grappling with terrorists while everybody else was still struggling to understand the magnitude of that day’s horrifying events.

My friends and I had planned to watch a different movie (at the time I had no firm idea about U93’s play date) but when I saw U93 was on, I knew this was one movie I needed to watch.

u93.jpgWith all that’s going on these days (e.g., the failed terror plot in UK, unfinished business in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, etc.), U93 — which runs like a documentary — hardly offers its viewers an opportunity for closure. But like everybody else, I was curious to see what directors would do to cover the ghastly events of that day. Greengrass’ spare, no-nonsense approach offers no sugarcoating nor does it attempt to milk blatantly sentimental, cinematic or righteous mileage out of the movie’s grim subject. The cast was effective and the story inescapably gripping.

Another notable point (which made the whole thing more potent as far as I am concerned) was the way both sides were presented: the desperate passengers and the frantic hijackers locked in a deadly battle to wrench control of the plane — and with that the chance to survive or to die for a reprehensible cause. Shots of terrified crew and passengers (praying, saying their goodbyes, crying, hatching plans to fight back) are interlaced with glimpses of anxious hijackers uttering fervent invocations as they struggle to bring their plans into fruition.

It’s also interesting to note that, based on RottenTomatoes‘ tomatometer, U93 scored well among film critics (92%), with a few declaring U93 as one of the best features they seen so far this year (2006). Although some critics haven’t checked in yet, WTC‘s rating is pegged at 71%.

still another update…

Well it looks like the controversy relating to pictures submitted by freelancers on the ongoing Middle East conflict isn’t going to end anytime soon.

Another questionable photo, snapped by Issam Kobeisi, has been attracting a lot of attention from conservative web sites (such as Little Green Footballs, mypetjawa, etc.), and this time the offending media source is the New York Times (see this juicy bit for more comprehensive details), which had printed a correction regarding an erroneous caption it had made earlier.

Hmm… although i remember seeing a couple of pictures of this shirtless guy (wearing a cap) before, i hadn’t realized that that they were just a tip of the iceberg. I don’t know if i’m getting a bit paranoid myself, but since that Reuters incident, i find myself scanning ME pictures (taking notice of the photo credits, too!) with a skeptical eye. Especially if they can be misconstrued one way or the other…and judging from the way people from various sectors have reacted to the incident, i’d say it’s no wonder that conspiracy theorists have been fairly busy these days (see this and this, too).Huge Terror Plot Foiled

Also, this just in:

UK authorities disrupted a huge terror plot to blow up commercial jets flying the UK-US route (specifically United, Continental, American Airlines). As a result, 21 suspects (who were mostly British-born men of Pakistani origin, according to initial reports) were arrested in the UK, with more being questioned and possibly a few still at large. Flights from British airports have been delayed due to tighter security.

The initial buzz is that these guys (who may have al-Qaeda ties) were planning to use liquid explosives in hand-carry luggage. This plot, which authorities claim could have reached or exceeded 9-11 proportions, would have involved as many as 10 aircraft.

[err, my blog is fast turning into a (second-hand) news site… heheh]

Ay-ayy-ay, things just keep getting worse. i’m crossing my fingers that this isn’t going to explode into another horrifying debacle. we have had too much of that already.

**you may also check out my other posts at triond.**