Archive for My Neighbor Totorro

Without a Sound

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2016 by dcairns

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Looking at LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE and SAMURAI WOLF, and am blow away by the use of sound in these 60s and 70s Japanese samurai flicks. What’s impressive is not so much the steely clashes as the silence around them.

SWORD OF VENGEANCE director Kanji Misumi uses one particularly lucid technique to heighten his swordplay. Much of the film consists of flashbacks depicting how jowly protagonist Tomisaburo Wakayama became a masterless ronin. These flashbacks tend to feature water — rain, a rushing weir. But the water makes no sound. An eeriness is created, from which the shrill clang of blades emerges with alarming clarity. There’s basically no atmos whatsoever, so that the sound mixer’s golden rule — always be having something going on — is abandoned. The audience is always quieter when the film is quiet. We fear our movements will give us away, revealing our position to potential enemies elsewhere in the auditorium, or to the giant, godlike figures on the screen. Heaven help you if you attract their attention.

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Of course, Misumi’s choice also helps distinguish flashbacks from present tense.

Hideo Gosha’s slick SAMURAI WOLF uses silence as the sound of death. Normal sound is cut off with the swipe of a sword — we lose the whistling wind sound, the cries of the dying victim continue for a second, and then get flicked off as with the throw of a switch — this seems to follow the advent of slomo, as a kind of delayed after-effect. As with Kurosawa (THE SEVEN SAMURAI) and Peckinpah after him (THE WILD BUNCH) slomo is the speed of the dying man, that adrenalin shot of death-trauma putting your last moments into a slurred timescape, a last chance to put your thoughts in order before oblivion reels you in. And with no sounds to distract you — how thoughtful of someone.

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The last great repository of silence may be the anime, where, since every sound is added afterwards anyway, Japanese filmmakers still occasionally withhold an effect. Miyazaki does neat things with the SIZE of sounds too — in TOTORRO, the titular nature spirit is big and noisy, but in an extreme long shot he can alight with a comical PLOP, like a fat raindrop. In Otomo’s AKIRA, Tokyo blows up in the opening shot, a black bubble of destruction which spreads and bursts without a single sound, the audio vacuum somehow suggesting a roar too great for any cinema’s speakers.

Pane Pleasure

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2012 by dcairns

What with the Shinji Somai retrospective raging in Edinburgh, it would be hard for me to see my way to writing about anything else for The Forgotten this week — and indeed, Somai is a perfect fit for such a column. “It’s incredible that these films didn’t get a proper release in the UK,” said my friend Duncan. I pointed out that in SUMMER GARDEN, aka THE FRIENDS, the kids sing the theme tune to MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORRO — and THAT masterpiece didn’t get a western release at the time, so what chance could a live action drama made for young adults but featuring a harrowing account of war crimes have?

Despite such apparent commercial disadvantages, SUMMER GARDEN really does deserve to be widely seen, and would undoubtedly be appreciated if it were. You can see a little of it at The Forgotten.

Euphoria #22: In the middle of nowhere…

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

Vincent Ranaldi, sci-fi and movie buff extraordinaire, suggests the opening journey from Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful SPIRITED AWAY as a prime example of Cinema Euphoria, the gift that keeps on giving.

I was into this guy before anybody! Anybody in Edinburgh, anyway. Me and my friends were into him, anyway, thanks to Kiyoyuki Murakami, who was our fellow student at Edinburgh College of Art. Back around 1990, none of Miyazaki’s movies had been translated and released in the west, except for bad dubs of LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND and CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (the standard-issue Japanime Cute Girl characters always sounded like Sunset  Strip hookers). Nobody had even heard of TOTORRO.

there goes the neighbourhood

Kiyo had VHS copies of most of Miyazaki’s work up to that point (PORCO ROSSO was the latest) and it was unbelievably amazing to us. I was blown away by the variations in pacing, unheard-of in American or European animation (VERY fast + VERY slow) and I loved Miyazaki’s skewed takes on British culture and landscapes (LAPUTA is purportedly inspired by Miyazaki’s visit to Yorkshire at the time of the ’80s miners’ strike, but to British audiences it’s still a bizarre Neverland). Simon Fraser, a cartoonist himself, as well as a film student, was captivated by the design as well as the storytelling.

Kiyo even produced episodes of LUPIN THE 3RD directed by Miyazaki, including one with a giant Spruce Goose aircraft that TRANSFORMS into an IRON GIANT, prefiguring the Ted Hughes Iron Man type robots from LAPUTA. (I’m guessing the title of that one, derived from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, was altered to CASTLE IN THE SKY because the suits at Disney  realised that La Putais Spanish for “whore”). And there was really early stuff like PANDA KOPANDA, which is drawn in a completely different style from later Studio Ghibli stuff. The panda is a big friendly guy who sounds like an old wino.

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None of this stuff had subtitles, so we coped with Kiyo’s minimalist live translations — as a Benshi film describer he was not quite as precise as David Wingrove, who is like a human babelfish converting European cinema into English as you watch — Kiyo would basically give a one-sentence summary of what had just passed in each scene. Miyazaki’s plots err towards the minimal and underexplained, so this was generally fine.

‘Why can’t Kiki fly anymore?’ we would ask.

‘Not, uh, really explained,’ said Kiyo.

So we would fall back on the stunning images to guide us.

The sense of place in H.M.’s films is always really strong. I’d love to visit the sparkling Mediterranean islands of PORCO ROSSO, the coastal town of KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, and especially the decayed island in the sky from LAPUTA.

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SPIRITED AWAY opens with smart character intros but also a great landscape and a Lewis-Carrollian journey from everyday norm to a World of Fantasy and Strange Peril. It’s this magic evocation of place and time and noplace and notime that I think made Vince choose this sequence out of all Miyazaki’s work.

Footnote: have people out there seen GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES? Isn’t it AMAZING?