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Freeling's Reviews 2.22

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You mean me? Kei's cousin?
I've decided to get back in the reviewing game. I'm starting a new thread since I'm too lazy to revive the old one that's been dead for almost four years since I gave up on it after a whole review disappeared - plus I wanted to start with a new slate and with how long it's been dead, I decided it was best to let it stay dead. I've also adopted a new format since my old reviews, of which I've deleted one, had none whatsoever and decided to discuss the musical scores of the films I review, something I previously glossed over that became an increasingly glaring issue as I went back over them. That said, let's kick off this thread with my first review in almost four years.

July 16, 1988 (Japan)
December 25, 1989 (United States)
124 minutes
Rated R for graphic violence and brief nudity
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
Written by Katsuhiro Otomo and Izo Hashimoto
Produced by Ryohei Suzuki and Shunzo Kato
Based on the Manga by Katsuhiro Otomo
Characters Designed by Katsuhiro Otomo
Music by Geinoh Yamashirogumi

Voice Talent (1988 Streamline dub):
Cam Clarke as Shotaro Kaneda
Jan Rabson as Tetsuo Shima
Lara Cody as Kei
Bob Bergen as Kai and Masaru
Tony Pope as Yama and Colonel Shikishima
Melora Harte as Kiyoko
Barbara Goodson as Takashi and Kaori
Lewis Arquette as Dr. Onishi

Voice Talent (2001 Pioneer dub):
Johnny Yong Bosch as Shotaro Kaneda
Joshua Seth as Tetsuo Shima
Wendee Lee as Kei
Anthony Pulcini as Kai
Jamieson Price as Colonel Shikishima
Michael Lindsay as Yama
Sandy Fox as Kiyoko
Cody Mackenzie as Takashi and Masaru
Michelle Ruff as Kaori
Simon Prescott as Dr. Onishi

Voice Talent (Japanese):
Mitsuo Iwata as Shotaro Kaneda
Nozomu Sasaki as Tetsuo Shima
Mami Koyama as Kei
Takeshi Kusao as Kai
Taro Ishida as Colonel Shikishima
Masaaki Okura as Yama
Fukue Ito (credited as Sachie Ito) as Kiyoko
Tatsuhiko Nakamura as Takashi
Kazuhiro Kamifuji (credited as Kazuhiro Kando) as Masaru
Yuriko Fuchizaki as Kaori
Mizuho Suzuki as Dr. Onishi

Still a state of the art adventure three decades after its release

Let's make one thing clear right off the bat: this review is gonna be positive. Akira is not only my favorite anime but my favorite animated film bar none and one of my favorite films in general. Katsuhiro Otomo has crafted an animated sci-fi actioner for adults that's above reproach as a film, a rarity since the vast majority of "adult" animation fails miserably by relying on dopey sex jokes and idiotic plot rather than solid storytelling and likable characters. Otomo's film weaves together themes of friendship, honor, betrayal, the deadly consequences of playing God, gang war, espionage, corruption, and the abuse of power while maintaining a breakneck pace throughout its running time. Throw it all in a blender and you've got one of the greatest, if not the greatest animated film of all time, a classic in every sense of the word.
On July 16, 1988, Tokyo was obliterated in a massive explosion, setting off World War III. In 2019, Tokyo has been rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo, a megalopolis crawling with malignant crime and governed by corrupt politicians where 16-year-old Shotaro Kaneda (Cam Clarke in the 1988 Streamline dub, Johnny Yong Bosch in the 2001 Pioneer dub, Mitsuo Iwata in Japanese) is the tough, cocky, skirt-chasing, and bullheaded leader of the Capsules, a biker gang that's currently at war with the Clowns, a band of savage rapists. Kaneda's gang consists of his friends, 15-year-old Tetsuo Shima (Jan Rabson, Joshua Seth, Nozomu Sasaki) who's like a brother to him, 15-year-old Kai (Bob Bergen, Anthony Pulcini, Takeshi Kusao), and 16-year-old Yama (Tony Pope, Michael Lindsay, Masaaki Okura) along with a few others. During a brawl with the Clowns, students are protesting and an odd-looking boy named Takashi (Barbara Goodson, Cody Mackenzie, Tatsuhiko Nakamura) with psychic powers has been abducted. After Tetsuo takes down a Clown, his bike explodes upon nearly ramming Takashi. The boys arrive to find a battered Tetsuo. The army, led by Colonel Shikishima (Pope, Jamieson Price, Taro Ishida), arrives on the scene and takes both Tetsuo and Takashi away, while the boys are arrested. At the police station, Kaneda gets 17-year-old resistance member Kei (Lara Cody, Wendee Lee, Mami Koyama) released with them, having taken an interest in her. Dr. Onishi (Lewis Arquette, Simon Prescott, Mizuho Suzuki) and his team of scientists conduct experiments on Tetsuo, prompting his escape. After Tetsuo steals Kaneda's bike to run away with his girlfriend Kaori (Goodson, Michelle Ruff, Yuriko Fuchizaki) and both are attacked by the Clowns, Tetsuo beats a Clown to a pulp before he is again taken by the army to the facility that also holds Kiyoko (Melora Harte, Sandy Fox, Fukue Ito who is credited as Sachie Ito), Takashi, and Masaru (Bergen, Mackenzie, Kazuhiro Kamifuji who is credited as Kazuhiro Kando). When Kaneda tries to find out what happened to Tetsuo, he and Kei soon find that Tetsuo, newly equipped with telekinesis, is being consumed by psychosis, and after he murders one of their friends, an enraged Kaneda resolves to stop him.
As you can probably guess from the summary, there's enough going on in Akira that it takes a few times seeing it to get everything, making repeat viewings that much more rewarding. Even with Otomo having removed much of what was in his then-incomplete manga, there's still more than enough to warrant its 124-minute length. We see Kaneda worry about Tetsuo as a true friend does, Tetsuo lose his grip on sanity and become someone else, and Colonel Shikishima struggle against dirty politicians who only care about money; it's interesting, arguably scary, to consider how much of this stuff is actually happening in the real 2019 and has been happening for ages. We see the dangers of playing God in the result of Dr. Onishi's experimentation as Tetsuo wreaks havoc on Neo-Tokyo which also doubles for the abuse of power and even earlier when Colonel Shikishima says that maybe they should leave that power alone. We also get glimpses at honor when Kaneda tries to curb Tetsuo from killing a Clown he's already beaten severely and with Colonel Shikishima's musings on a soldier's duty. On top of that, Otomo throws in religious fanaticism as people blindly follow Tetsuo, thinking he's ďAkira.Ē There's more where that came from and the stakes keep rising to keep you on the edge of your seat until the endgame finishes things off with a bang. Due to Otomo and Izo Hashimoto's excellent writing skills, the film isn't overstuffed and nothing feels out of place.

The animation is stunning. All 327 colors are jaw-dropping; check out those reds. Each background is vastly detailed; the streets of Neo-Tokyo are gritty and grimy, buildings vary from excellent condition to run-down and deteriorated, we see walls and even a door with English profanity painted on them, and the sewers are as filthy as a real one while the interiors of the hospital are immaculate in contrast to the clutter and graffiti of the school the boys attend. Each character looks like a real person, with the wide array of facial expressions that entails, while clothing looks like what real people wear. The gore is also highly realistic. Let it be stated right up front that anyone without an iron stomach will want to steer clear of Akira. Internal organs spill out, a cop loses half of his face, and limbs are removed, which is not to mention the mutation scene akin to something out of John Carpenter's The Thing. With that said, the gore serves the story rather than the reverse. The attention to detail goes even further to the few animals depicted in the film; the attack dogs near the beginning and even the dog that's seen in a commercial on a TV in the background look like real dogs and the rats in the sewer look like real rats. Put it all together and it's a depiction of 2019 that looks a lot like the real thing. Another element that never ceases to amaze is the way Otomo keeps everything perpetually moving. Otomo's decision to record the dialogue first and animate every nuance of the actor's mouth is where he pulls out all the stops since this wasn't done in Japan at the time, making it even more impressive that both dubs match the animation as well as they do.

Whichever version one prefers, though this fan is partial to the Streamline dub - probably since it's how I first saw the film, performances excel and the film is well-scripted across the board. Clarke, Yong Bosch, and Iwata are uniformly excellent as Kaneda, the tough, cocky and womanizing biker who cares about his friends and won't let anyone hurt them if he can help it, a lot like I was at that age; moreover, that was around the time my sister became consumed by psychosis in much the same way Tetsuo does. While some have argued against both Clarke and Yong Bosch (usually in favor of the other) as sounding too old, I don't think that's the case with either; when I was 16, I didn't sound all that far removed from Clarke's take, having had a naturally deep voice since age 12. Another argument some have made against Clarke is that he speaks in monotone, but nothing could be further from the truth; his tone changes appropriately with the situations the character finds himself in. The same can be said of Rabson, Seth, and Sasaki as Tetsuo, though Seth lags just a little behind. With that said, this can be partly attributed to the Pioneer dub script, though it is grating that Seth often mispronounces Kaneda's name as ďKah-nee-duhĒ rather than ďKuh-nay-duhĒ or ďKah-nay-duh.Ē Take the scene where Tetsuo advances on the soldiers in the government hospital and Seth says, ďIt's no use hiding anymore,Ē while neither Rabson nor Sasaki says, ďanymore.Ē It's not that big a deal and it can be attributed to the Pioneer dub script, but it takes away from his menace some. With that said, all three portray him as an abused kid who loses his sanity and despite being the villain, you feel bad for him - or at least I do since I see a lot of my mentally ill little sister there. Cody, Lee, and Koyama are first-class across the board as Kei, portraying her as tough but sensitive, well in line with how Otomo conceived her. The same can be said of Pope, Price, and Ishida as Colonel Shikishima, playing up his no-nonsense attitude and sense of a soldier's duty. Bergen, Pulcini, and Kusao are superb as Kai, one of the film's most likable characters. So are Pope, Lindsay, and Okura as Yama, the most confrontational Capsule, and this can also be said for the rest of the three casts. Long story short, you can't go wrong with any of them and each dubbed or subbed option is entertaining in its own way and tells the story faithfully enough.

Music is a crucial part of any film. Akira is no exception and the Geinoh Yamashirogumi are up to the challenge, using drums, chants, guitars, gamelan percussion, and even a church organ to form the musical score. Kaneda is the most recognizable, having been used in nearly every trailer. It's easy to see why; it's an exhilarating track and it's hard not to feel pumped once you've heard it. The same can be said of Battle Against the Clowns, Tetsuo, and Exodus from the Underground Fortress. The score mostly remains the same, with the only radically different version being the Japanese hypersonic track that Geinoh Yamashirogumi founder Shoji Yamashiro mixed in 2008 for the film's Blu-ray release. In this version, which Yamashiro mastered at 192 kHz, music has been moved around, some pieces are shortened, some are replaced with alternate versions, and the piece used during the flashback to Kaneda and Tetsuo's first meeting has been replaced with an organ, heavily altering the scene and not necessarily for the better; if you want my honest opinion, the flashback is more powerful with the original piece of music sampled from Requiem. That said, the entire score is incredible and I've listened to it countless times. In addition to the score itself, Otomo squeezes in Tokyo Shoeshine Boy by Teruko Akatsuki during the scene at the mall where the groupies walk off from Kaneda, Kai, and Yama. Throw a head-turning sound design into the mix and you've got a terrific film that's firing on all cylinders.

Akira is a fun and exciting film I could watch over and over again; as of writing, I've seen it upwards of 30 times since my first viewing. Wanting to see it ever since age 11, it knocked my socks off when I finally saw it at 18. At 30 years old, it continues to stand the test of time. It's a timeless film, just as relevant and engrossing today in 2019, if not more so than when it first dropped on Japan in 1988 and the United States in 1989. Akira was one of the first anime to arrive in the western world uncut; without it, we may not have Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind and many more of the best Japanese animation has to offer without a single frame removed. Akira is the best animated film ever made for an adult audience and one of the best films of the 1980s, anime or otherwise. Its characters are well-drawn and feel real, it deftly handles global issues that are still at work today, its frenzied action scenes continue to thrill with repeated viewings and it's vastly quotable. Its imagery will remain burned within your psyche for the rest of your natural life and its musical score will ring inside your eardrums long after the credits roll. If you love sci-fi, love action and can stomach the violence, you should see Akira at least once. Who knows? Maybe you'll like it and want to come back to it repeatedly. Akira earns my highest recommendation.
Look, Dr. Lesh, we don't care about the disturbances, the pounding and the flashing, the screaming, the music. We just want you to find our little girl.

You mean me? Kei's cousin?

August 2, 1986 (Japan)
April 15, 2003 (United States)
124 minutes
Rated PG for fantasy action violence and peril
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Isao Takahata
Characters Designed by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Carrying You (Kimi Wo Nosete) performed by Azumi Inoue
Composed by Joe Hisaishi
Lyrics by Hayao Miyazaki

Voice Talent (1998 Disney dub):
Anna Paquin as Sheeta
James Van Der Beek as Pazu
Cloris Leachman as Captain Dola
Mark Hamill as Colonel Muska
Jim Cummings as General Muoro
Richard Dysart as Uncle Pom
Mike McShane as Charles
Mandy Patinkin as Louis
Andy Dick as Henri
John Hostetter as Pazu's Boss

Voice Talent (Japanese):
Keiko Yokozawa as Sheeta
Mayumi Tanaka as Pazu
Kotoe Hatsui as Captain Dola
Minori Terada as Colonel Muska
Ichiro Nagai as General Muoro
Fujio Tokita as Uncle Pom
Takuzo Kamiyama as Charles
Yoshiito Yasuhara as Louis*
Sukekiyo Kamiyama as Henri
Hiroshi Ito as Pazu's Boss

Still one of Miyazaki's best

Some films simply transcend the border of what's on the surface. Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky (known as Laputa: Castle in the Sky internationally) is such a film. Miyazaki has crafted a fun and exciting adventure film that also doubles as an emotionally satisfying journey into the human condition, a film that meditates on love, compassion, friendship, selflessness, and what really determines one's worth. The result is my favorite film produced under the Studio Ghibli banner, only bested by Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind for the top spot as my favorite Miyazaki film and I have no problem saying it's become one of my favorite films in general. Yes, Studio Ghibli's first official film has stood and will continue to stand the test of time for years to come.

It is the 19th century. While returning to work in a mining village with his boss's dinner one night, 12-year-old engineer's apprentice Pazu (James Van Der Beek in the 1998 Disney dub, Mayumi Tanaka in Japanese) catches a sleeping girl his own age after seeing her float down from the sky, a glowing crystal around her neck keeping her afloat. After getting off from work, Pazu takes the girl to his house where he has lived alone ever since his father passed away while it is unknown what befell his absent mother. When she wakes up the next morning, she reveals herself as Sheeta (Anna Paquin, Keiko Yokozawa) and the two quickly form a bond. When Sheeta notices a framed photo of Laputa, the titular castle which was also visited by Gulliver, Pazu reveals that even though his father took the photo from an airship, no one believed him, but also says that his father was no liar and resolves to prove Laputa's existence. After a chase with pirates who want Sheeta's crystal, where the army (who also wants her crystal) intervenes, Pazu and Sheeta enter the underground caves where Sheeta reveals that after losing her parents, she was abducted from her farm by the army. It is also here that they encounter Uncle Pom (Richard Dysart, Fujio Tokita) who reveals that only the people of Laputa knew how to mine the element Sheeta's crystal is composed of, also stating that it's dangerous to abuse the crystal's power for selfish reasons. Having vowed to find Laputa together, the two are soon ambushed by the army, Pazu is pistol-whipped, and both are taken to a nearby army base. This base is where, in order to advance his ulterior motives, Colonel Muska (Mark Hamill, Minori Terada) coerces Sheeta into cooperating with the promise that they will release Pazu. Sheeta tells Pazu to forget about Laputa, but he can't forget, arguing that Laputa means too much to both of them. Even so, Pazu returns home in despair after a nasty encounter where Muska shoves money into his hand, only to find 60-year-old pirate captain Dola (Cloris Leachman, Kotoe Hatsui) and her boys waiting for him. When they reveal that they're going after Sheeta, Pazu insists he be allowed to rescue her. After Pazu rescues Sheeta, a race against the clock begins as they set out with Dola and the pirates to find Laputa before Muska can enact whatever evil plans he has for the legendary island.

Miyazaki has filled the film's story to the brim with depth, heart, and soul and it serves as 124 of the most worthwhile minutes you'll ever spend watching a film. Pazu and Sheeta have lived alone ever since losing their parents, but after finding each other, it is likely they will never have to be alone ever again, or at least not for very long. The love that grows between them is one of the most beautiful things put on film and perhaps nothing better exhibits its beauty than a scene in the latter half where they keep watch in the late hours of the night. Dola and the pirates show that there is more to a person than what they might initially seem. The friendship that forms between them and the two kids is one that will bring smiles to a whole lot of faces and continue to do so with repeated viewings. Miyazaki also expertly shows how greed and selfishness can corrupt the heart and soul. No character proves this point better than Muska, who is arguably the most evil villain Miyazaki's ever created. His complete lack of compassion has consumed him before the film even opens and he pays the price. Contrast this with Pazu and Sheeta, who don't want any of Laputa's treasures but end up finding the greatest treasure of them all, more precious than any material thing. Material treasures can never match the value of a human being, the value of love, the value of compassion, the value of honor, or the value of friendship. Character traits such as compassion, honor, and selflessness define a person's worth more than money or any other materialistic treasure ever can. Pazu and Sheeta recognize this. The pirates, for as much as they seek treasure, also recognize this and are thousands of times more decent human beings than Muska. Even so, Muska is simply a figurehead for the sinister principalities our heroes stand against. We also get to watch as, bit by uplifting bit, Sheeta garners the inner strength to make a pivotal decision that may turn the tide of the battle against evil and we get to see not only her old wounds, but Pazu's as well, finally heal. On top of that, the scene where they finally make it to Laputa is as satisfying a scene as one could ask for and we get an endgame that closes things out perfectly, serving as not only an ending but also a beginning. It may be the end of the search for Laputa, but it is also clearly only the beginning for Pazu and Sheeta, a magnificent end to a magnificent film and one that is, in a way, both triumphant and poignant. There are also subtle bits of depth that reveal themselves with each new watch, making repeat viewings just that much more rewarding.

The animation is everything you'd expect from a Miyazaki film. There is an abundance of lush colors, from the blue of the sky to the green of the plants to the red of Sheeta's hairband. Character designs match the proportions of real people and we get the wide array of facial expressions that naturally follow as well as a diverse array of natural skin tones and realistic clothing. Close-ups also reveal interesting details, like the fact that both Pazu and Sheeta have blue eyes. Each background is vastly detailed. The interiors of airships show every nook and cranny you'd expect from a creation of its steampunk nature, Laputa is exactly what you'd expect from a floating city that houses greatly advanced technology, and Pazu's house is as homey as you'd expect while the army base has a fitting calculated coldness and the mines are just as dirty and cavernous as a real one. We also get some cool-looking giant robots and a variety of animals, which are also highly detailed. Miyazaki also pans across various backgrounds to keep the viewer engaged. All of this came off especially well when I saw the film theatrically. Overall, Castle in the Sky couldn't have been animated better.

The film is also well-acted and well-scripted in both English and Japanese. Van Der Beek and Tanaka are excellent as Pazu. Some have criticized Van Der Beek for the fact that he was 21 years old when Disney dubbed the film in 1998, but that doesn't come anywhere near stopping him. Van Der Beek gives it his all, imbuing the character with all the enthusiasm and energy a 12-year-old boy would have and also supplements this with a wise beyond his years moxie as the film progresses, especially in the latter half when he and Paquin's Sheeta have a conversation about Laputa, the crystal and what its power implicates. Then again, I had a naturally deep voice at that age, so I guess it wouldn't bother me. That said, Tanaka does the same, albeit in a different way. The same is true of Paquin and Yokozawa as Sheeta. Paquin has also been criticized by some who have called her ďstilted and unreliableĒ and accused her of (and I'm paraphrasing) ďnearly sending the film's English dub crashing down to Earth,Ē but I disagree. She starts off somewhat wavering but grows more steady as the film goes along, which is actually a perfect match for the character's transformation as she finds her inner strength. Leachman and Hatsui are also excellent as Dola, encompassing the pirate captain's compassion every bit as much as her gruffness. So are Hamill and Terada as Muska, effectively depicting the character's seared-with-a-hot-iron conscience, selfishness, and altogether despicable nature; Hamill sounds like a colder version of Joker as he voiced him in Batman: The Animated Series, but it actually works a lot better for Muska than you might initially think. This is also true for the rest of the two casts. All in all, both are full of life, character depth, and purpose and you can't go wrong with either. If you want my advice, watch it both dubbed and subbed and enjoy both for what they bring to the table.

Joe Hisaishi is a master at musical scoring and he gives one of his best here. Or should I say two of his best since he composed an expanded score for the dub that Miyazaki himself approved? The expanded score actually works together with the excellent voice acting to tip me in favor of the dub. I know, some have claimed the expanded score adds nothing to the experience, but I don't think that's the case. The expanded score serves for a more complete and immersive film. Simply compare the opening minutes with and without Prologue/Flaptors Attack and the two versions of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky that play over the film's opening credits and you'll find that the expanded score is more nuanced. In the morning when Sheeta wakes up, Pazu's Fanfare is also more nuanced in the expanded score where it is more electronic and repetitive in the original score. If I had to name one of my favorite tracks from the expanded score, it's Confessions in the Moonlight which plays when Pazu and Sheeta keep watch, perfectly encapsulating the scene's warmhearted tone. Comparing the film's endgame, the expanded score is more nuanced and complete; the scene where a certain spell is uttered is accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful chanting piece that gives this fan goosebumps every single time he watches the film dubbed. Like the animation, the expanded score is another thing I couldn't help noticing yet again when seeing the film theatrically. With that said, the original synthesizer score is really good for what it is considering what Hisaishi had access to and I'll admit I probably wouldn't be saying any of these things if the expanded score didn't exist. Still, though, the expanded score is a magnificent score for a magnificent English dub of a magnificent film. One thing that remains the same is Azumi Inoue's Carrying You (Kimi wo Nosete) playing over the closing credits. It's basically The Girl Who Fell From the Sky with lyrics Miyazaki himself wrote, but it's a perfect note to end the film on and when you look up the English translation, it turns out that it flawlessly matches what the movie is all about. Throw in an amazing sound design and Castle in the Sky does everything right.

In case it wasn't already obvious, I love Castle in the Sky. As far as I'm concerned, it's Studio Ghibli's finest hour, one of Miyazaki's finest, and one of the best films of the 1980s. I've seen the film in the theater and several more times on Blu-ray and it never ceases to impress me in every possible way. The film is not only a fun and exciting adventure but an emotionally satisfying look at love, honor, compassion, friendship, selflessness, and the triumph of the human spirit. The film is also visually stunning and the various chase scenes continue to thrill with each new watch. Its most likable characters are easy to become invested in all over again and its story is all too easy to find oneself swept along in as if seeing the film for the first time. Pazu and Sheeta's battle against evil remains as compelling as ever. The bond that forms between them will remain etched within your subconscious for ages and both of Hisaishi's scores, especially the expanded score, as well as Inoue's theme song will ring inside your ears long after the credits roll. Oh, yes, Castle in the Sky earns my highest recommendation.

*Yeah, so I had to add an extra "I" to get past the censor.

You mean me? Kei's cousin?

March 11, 1984 (Japan)
February 22, 2005 (United States)
117 minutes
Rated PG for violence
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Kazunori Ito
Based on the Manga by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Isao Takahata
Characters Designed by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by Joe Hisaishi

Voice Talent (2005 Disney dub):
Alison Lohman as Nausicaš
Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa
Shia LaBeouf as Asbel
Uma Thurman as Kushana
Edward James Olmos as Mito
Chris Sarandon as Kurotowa
Tress MacNeille as Obaba
Mark Silverman as King Jihl
Emily Bauer as Lastelle

Voice Talent (Japanese):
Sumi Shimamoto as Nausicaš
Goro Naya as Lord Yupa
Yoji Matsuda as Asbel
Yoshiko Sakakibara as Kushana
Ichiro Nagai as Mito
Iemasa Kayumi as Kurotowa
Hisako Kyoda as Obaba
Mahito Tsujimura as King Jihl
Miina Tominaga as Lastelle

A classic turns 35.

Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind is one of my favorite movies. I can always throw it into my Blu-ray player after a crappy day and come away satisfied after each viewing. Hayao Miyazaki has lovingly crafted an uplifting, poignant, and emotionally satisfying film, a film that examines the human condition at both its best and its worst, both the compassion and selflessness we're capable of and the anger and arrogance that cause some of us to commit the worst acts against our fellow man. On top of this, it's all so very relevant some 35 years (whoa!) after the film first arrived in Japanese theaters.

1,000 years after the Seven Days of Fire, a world war that destroyed much of the Earth, the fast-spreading Toxic Jungle threatens the lives of the last of the human race. Nausicaš (Alison Lohman in the 2005 Disney dub, Sumi Shimamoto in Japanese), who is a natural with animals, including the Ohm, giant insects that guard the Toxic Jungle, and Teto, a fox-squirrel that becomes her pet, is the 16-year-old princess of the Valley of the Wind, one of the only countries left in the world whose people live in peace. Nausicaš's father is King Jihl (Mark Silverman, Mahito Tsujimura) who has recently taken ill. Mito (Edward James Olmos, Ichiro Nagai) is the Valley's sergeant-at-arms who tends to worry himself sick for Nausicaš's safety, namely because she tends to explore the Toxic Jungle. One day, Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart, Goro Naya), the greatest swordsman in the land, returns home after visiting other kingdoms where Obaba (Tress MacNeille, Hisako Kyoda), the Valley's wise-woman, claims he is searching for the mythical Man in Blue, who some believe will restore mankind's connection with the Earth. That night, a Tolmekian airship crashes in the Valley despite Nausicaš's attempts to save it. In the aftermath, Nausicaš finds that the Tolmekians flying this airship had abducted Lastelle (Emily Bauer, Miina Tominaga), the princess of Pejite who pleads with her to ďburn the cargoĒ before succumbing to her injuries. The next day, Princess Kushana (Uma Thurman, Yoshiko Sakakibara) of Tolmekia invades the Valley of the Wind with the Tolmekian military who, led by staff officer Kurotowa (Chris Sarandon, Iemasa Kayumi), assassinate King Jihl. After Nausicaš single-handedly takes out a good many of her father's killers, which she subsequently feels guilty for unlike the Tolmekians, Kushana begins the rites of subjugating the Valley and claims to be able to set fire to the Toxic Jungle and eliminate the Ohm while capturing the cargo from the airship, which Lord Yupa suspects is one of the Giant Warriors that destroyed the Earth in the Seven Days of Fire. While traveling, Nausicaš, Kushana, and Mito get caught in a firefight with Pejite and after she gets separated from the others, Nausicaš meets Asbel (Shia LaBeouf, Yoji Matsuda), Lastelle's twin brother and the teenage prince of Pejite, who soon joins her cause to end the murder and strife before it's too late.

Basing the film on his own manga that he created to trick the studio into seeing how good it would be as a film, and fresh off of The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki stuffs Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind to the gills with so much depth and meaning that I'm not even sure how to begin to unpack all of it. There's enough here that viewers will pick up on more and more with repeated viewings. Miyazaki and co-writer Kazunori Ito, the latter of whom would go on to write Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, explore anger and arrogance as well as the dangers they pose. When Nausicaš's anger drives her to kill, she immediately recognizes the danger anger poses and makes no excuses for her actions even though she was arguably in the right. Similarly, even though Asbel was arguably justified in his anger against the Tolmekians for abducting his twin sister, he still feels remorse for shooting down the Tolmekian ship Nausicaš was aboard after learning that she comforted Lastelle in her last moments. This also shows how violence wreaks not only physical havoc on the victim but also spiritual havoc on the person committing the act. For example, the Tolmekian soldiers seen in the film have enacted so much violence against their fellow human beings that they've become desensitized and all but lost their humanity, the only emotions they have left anger and arrogance. This arrogance is on full display when several of them face off against Lord Yupa in battle, only to face sound defeat. Miyazaki also shows how fear often causes a person to take leave of his or her senses. Kushana's fear of the Ohm, along with her anger against them, is what causes her to hate the Ohm and want to destroy them while her arrogance leads her to think she can destroy both the Ohm and the Toxic Jungle so easily. With that said, Miyazaki portrays the character as flawed but not evil and as the film progresses, we learn that she has well-founded reasons for feeling this way. Contrast this with Nausicaš who exemplifies selflessness and courage under fire. She refuses to let fear or anger consume her and she makes a valiant effort to end the burgeoning war so that no one else has to die a senseless death the way her father did. Much like Ashiitaka later does in Miyazaki's equally excellent Princess Mononoke, Nausicaš offers a balanced view of the conflict between Pejite and Tolmekia, able to see where both parties went wrong. On one occasion, for instance, she, rather bluntly, informs Asbel's father that he and his advisers are ďsavagesĒ who are ďjust as bad as the TolmekiansĒ for what he plans to do in the Valley. The film also shows where man's pollution of the environment can lead if unchecked, which also doubles for the fact that Nausicaš is trying to heal a broken world, both the humans who live there and the environment they inhabit. Underneath the violence and acts of ugliness seen in the film, Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind is a love letter to compassion and selflessness, highlighting how these two traits will almost always win the day in the end, and perhaps no scene better demonstrates this than its endgame that proves both triumphant and poignant. All things considered, its story is a timeless one, every bit as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

The animation is, as you'd expect of a Miyazaki film, absolutely stunning. Even though Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind arrived before Miyazaki and producer Isao Takahata founded Studio Ghibli, it matches up to the iconic studio's standards in every possible way I can think of. Its colors are stunning, namely the reds and blues. Its character designs are well-proportioned and realistic and clothing is believable for the world its characters inhabit. The Ohm and other insects have very intricate designs that match flawlessly what a giant insect would probably look like. The locations are also truly amazing, with everything from the grass and hills of the Valley of the Wind to the sandy dunes of the deserts to the (albeit poisonous) nature wonderland of the Toxic Jungle displaying an arresting amount of detail. Vehicles like Nausicaš's glider and the various airships follow suit. Last, but certainly not least, future Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno's work on the Giant Warrior scenes is absolutely mesmerizing, the icing on the cake that is the amazing animation job on this lovingly crafted film.

Performances and dialogue can make or break a film, so I'm glad to say Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind is well-acted and well-scripted in both English and Japanese. Lohman and Shimamoto are perfect as Nausicaš, the titular princess and protagonist, both perfectly capturing the character's personality and each giving her a smooth, calming voice that perfectly matches that personality. Stewart and Naya are also excellent as Lord Yupa, the master swordsman who serves as a mentor to Nausicaš after King Jihl's assassination, each offering a voice that is both commanding and comforting in the way a father's or grandfather's might be. LaBeouf and Matsuda are also first-class as Asbel, the teenage prince of Pejite who quickly befriends Nausicaš even after firing on the Tolmekian airship she was aboard, each molding him into a likable character with aplomb. Thurman and Sakakibara are more than adequate as Kushana, the Tolmekian princess who has ďchosen the bloody path,Ē portraying her as flawed but not evil. Olmos and Nagai are marvelous as Mito, one of Nausicaš's allies, perfectly capturing not only his tough and gruff exterior, but the kind and selfless heart that lies beneath it. Sarandon and Kayumi knock it out of the park as Kurotowa, the Tolmekian military's sardonic staff officer whose face is almost always twisted into a smirk, perfectly capturing the character's wry and wisecracking nature. MacNeille and Kyoda are terrific as Obaba, each completely convincing as a wise old lady whose words carry serious weight and are not to take lightly. The dub also includes a haunting opening narration by Tony Jay that sets the tone for the entire film when viewed in English. All in all, this is a film full of life, character depth, and purpose in both English and Japanese so watch it both ways and enjoy both for what they bring to the table.

Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind marks Miyazaki's first collaboration with musical scoring master Joe Hisaishi. While some have criticized this score, and someone even dubbed Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind Miyazaki's ďworstĒ film based on it, I for one love it and it is very clear to me what Miyazaki saw in Hisaishi and why he would use him for each of his subsequent films. From the opening credits accompanied by images of the Giant Warriors during the Seven Days of Fire to the very last frame, Hisaishi makes it feel like we're watching an epic even though the film runs just a little under two hours in length. The piano pieces such as The Legend of the Wind and its variations send a chill down the spine every time. The synthesizer pieces like Stampede of the Ohm generate serious thrills. The Battle Between Mehve and Corvette is genuinely thrilling with its mix of piano, drums, and other instruments. The chanting pieces like Nausicaš Requiem are hauntingly beautiful. Overall, it's a great score and it's a perfect fit for the film. An excellent sound design also serves to make the stampede scenes and battle scenes that much more visceral.

For my money, Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind really is above reproach as a film. It is my favorite film directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and my second favorite anime, just behind Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. Having decided at age 14 that I absolutely had to see it, I finally blind bought the Blu-ray at 19 and seeing it is something I have no regrets about. I've kept coming back to it and it never ceases to amaze me. Films like Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind represent not only the zenith of anime but the zenith of cinema in general. Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind is a timeless classic, every bit as relevant and engrossing now (if not more so) as it was when it first arrived in Japanese theaters 35 years ago. The studio didn't want it made, but they changed their minds once Miyazaki created the manga and Miyazaki got the chance to make his masterpiece. New World butchered it by leaving more than 20 minutes on the cutting room floor in 1985, but Disney rescued it 20 years later with a proper English dub and proper subtitles to translate the Japanese dialogue and now it's widely available in its uncut form, Warriors of the Wind all but forgotten. The film is often ignored because it came before Ghibli, but without it, there wouldn't be a Studio Ghibli. The film's success is what helped Studio Ghibli's formation. Simply put, it's still an important piece of Ghibli's history and any fan of Miyazaki who hasn't owes it to themself to see this film. Anyone who simply allows themself to be transported to the world the film creates will be amazed. Its characters are easy to get invested in, its themes hold much weight even today, Hisaishi's musical score truly is a masterpiece despite what some say, its animation is absolutely amazing to look at, performances are excellent in both English and Japanese, and Miyazaki's vision is clear. It is thought-provoking, uplifting, poignant, emotionally satisfying, and absolutely unforgettable. Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind also repays repeated viewings and if I had to guess, many seeing it for the first time will probably want to return to it repeatedly as I have. With all that said, it probably goes without saying at this point that I hold no qualms whatsoever about awarding Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind my highest recommendation.

You mean me? Kei's cousin?

July 20, 2001 (Japan)
September 7, 2002 (United States)
124 minutes
Rated PG for some scary moments
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Toshio Suzuki
Characters Designed by Masashi Ando
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Always With Me (Itsumo Nando Demo) composed and performed by Yumi Kimura
Lyrics by Wakako Kaku

Voice Talent (2002 Disney dub):
Daveigh Chase as Chihiro Ogino
Jason Marsden as Haku
Susan Egan as Lin
David Ogden Stiers as Kamaji
Suzanne Pleshette as Yubaba and Zeniba
Michael Chiklis as Akio Ogino
Lauren Holly as Yuko Ogino

Voice Talent (Japanese):
Rumi Hiiragi as Chihiro Ogino
Miyu Irino as Haku
Yoomi Tamai as Lin
Bunta Sugawara as Kamaji
Mari Natsuki as Yubaba and Zeniba
Takashi Naito as Akio Ogino
Yasuko Sawaguchi as Yuko Ogino

Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning adventure celebrates its 20th birthday.

I'll never forget October 28, 2018, for two reasons. The first is that it was my 20th birthday. The second is that it's the day I went to see a movie. It was a movie I already owned on Blu-ray and had seen several times, but that couldn't dull my enthusiasm. The movie in question was, of course, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, a film notable for being not only the only piece of Japanese animation but also the only hand-drawn animated film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. More than that, Spirited Away is that rare Oscar winner that actually lives up to its hype. Miyazaki has crafted an ode to the best parts of the human condition that masterfully explores fear and how to overcome it, the follies of greed and gluttony, the importance of compassion and selflessness, the importance of friendship, the true definition of bravery, and the triumph of the human spirit, all through the eyes of a child. The result is one of Miyazaki's most intensely satisfying films, one that many consider his finest hour even some 20 years after its arrival in Japan, and one that this Miyazaki fan certainly counts among his favorites.

10-year-old Chihiro Ogino (Daveigh Chase in the 2002 Disney dub, Rumi Hiiragi in Japanese) is not at all pleased with the fact that her parents Akio (Michael Chiklis, Takashi Naito) and Yuko (Lauren Holly, Yasuko Sawaguchi) have decided to move to the middle of nowhere, not wanting to leave her friends behind or to have to deal with a new school that's "gonna stink." As if that wasn't enough, however, Akio takes a wrong turn and the family ends up in front of a creepy tunnel rather than at the door to their new home. Moreover, Akio decides he wants to see what's on the other side. When Akio and Yuko stuff themselves on some unknown food at an oddly empty restaurant and mutate into pigs, it seems like Chihiro's situation can't get any worse. However, a boy named Haku (Jason Marsden, Miyu Irino) gives her carefully laid-out instructions on how to survive in this ghostly world. First, she must ask Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers, Bunta Sugawara), the six-armed man who operates the boiler, for work. Since Kamaji already has all the help he needs, he has Lin (Susan Egan, Yoomi Tamai) take Chihiro to see Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette in her final film, Mari Natsuki), the witch who rules the bathhouse. The sorceress first tells Chihiro to leave, playing up her scare tactics but Chihiro, not one to hang her parents out to dry, persists, informing Yubaba right up front that she won't leave without a job. Yubaba concedes, but not without taking Chihiro's name, giving her the name Sen, and beginning to drain her memories, a process Haku soundly annuls the next morning by returning Chihiro's name. He also warns her that she won't be able to go home if she completely forgets her name, recalling that he can't remember his own name. This doesn't spell a sudden end to Chihiro's troubles in the spirit world, however. Aside from Lin, the other workers in the bathhouse look down on Chihiro with what can safely be called genuine disdain. Not only that, but Chihiro will also soon have to deal with a polluted spirit, a gluttonous No-Face, and even Yubaba's identical twin sister Zeniba (Pleshette, Natsuki) on her way to rescue her parents.

Goodness. Two decades later, and we're still talking about Spirited Away. One of the foremost reasons is its storytelling, Miyazaki stuffing the film, all 124 minutes of it, with enough heart, depth, and meaning, and, yes, enough thrills and light scares, that it's nigh-impossible not to get swept along in the depths of Chihiroís ghostly adventure. Each character has either a story or a purpose, often both, and none come off as superfluous to the film, including a money-grubbing frog. It's perfectly understandable why Chihiro isn't happy with the move. She has friends in her old home, friends she doesn't want to leave behind, and it's not like she's grousing for nothing. When I was 10, I know I wouldn't be very happy if my parents suddenly decided to leave my hometown where all my friends lived. Haku has a well-developed backstory that Miyazaki reveals in manageable increments throughout the film, the bond that eventually forms between himself and Chihiro arguably forming the film's emotional backbone just as much as Chihiro's lost parents. While Chihiro's parents make a foolish decision, Miyazaki doesn't portray them as the worst parents of all time. While Lin initially teases Chihiro, it's clearly devoid of genuine animosity. While not a likable character or a good person by any means, even Yubaba is entertaining. For as scary as he can sometimes be, No-Face is not the evil monster some might expect him to be. Through it all, we see Chihiro find the bravery she never knew she had during her venture to rescue her parents and the resulting character transformation and trampling of fear is something truly special to behold. Moreover, little bits of the story reveal themselves with repeated viewings, and it all serves to make Spirited Away a film that's equal parts exciting and emotionally satisfying.

Equally importantóSpirited Away is an anime, after allóthe animation is absolutely stunning; when has Miyazaki ever delivered anything less? Every color is nothing short of striking. Each character is fully detailed and Masashi Andoís character designs are well-suited to the film while clothing is full of natural textures. Each location, from the town we see in the film's opening to the bathhouse where the bulk of the film takes place, is mesmerizing. Every object is well-detailedóis that a box of Kit Kat bars in the car at the film's opening? Every creature is well-drawn and believable within the world the film creates, while the CGI such as that used during the train sequence enhances rather than denigrates the film. All things considered, the team at Studio Ghibli did a real job animating Spirited Away.

Another key to the film's rampant success is its voice actingóin both English and Japanese. Chase and Hiiragi are excellent as the film's young protagonist, Chihiro Ogino. While each has received more than her fair share of criticism from a handful of fans who prefer one audio track or another, each effortlessly brings Chihiro to life and makes her likable, sympathetic, and easy to root for. Marsden and Irino are equally impressive as Haku, a mysterious boy who claims to have known Chihiro ever since she was very small. Egan and Tamai are also excellent as Lin, the bathhouse worker who takes Chihiro under her wing and takes on a sisterly role as the film progresses. Pleshette and Natsuki are also rock-solid in their dual role as Yubaba, the wicked witch who rules the bathhouse and Zeniba, her twin sister who ends up taking on a very different role from the one many viewers might expect from judging solely by her first appearance. Ogden Stiers and Sugawara effectively make Kamaji, the six-armed operator of the boiler room, gruff but likable. Chiklis and Holly, and Naito and Sawaguchi are also solid in their brief time as Chihiro's parents. Overall, Spirited Away couldn't have better voice actingóit's full of life, character depth and purpose dubbed and subbed. Watch both and enjoy both; I guarantee you won't regret it.

Miyazaki's longtime collaborator Joe Hisaishi lends Spirited Away one of his very best musical scores. From the moment One Summer's Day, a somewhat melancholic piece of which several variations play at key moments throughout the film, plays over the film's opening scene, we know Hisaishi's about to deliver something special. Dragon Boy is genuinely thrilling. Sen's Courage is very effective in both scenes in which it plays, evoking a sense of dread in one scene and a sense of catharsis in the other. No-Face also effectively conveys a sense of dread, the unknown, and otherness with its drumbeats and metallic tones. Reprise is an extremely satisfying piece that features in one of the film's most intensely satisfying and memorable scenes. To top it all off, the film closes with Yumi Kimura's Always With Me (Itsumo Nando Demo), a bittersweet piece accentuated by Kimura's voice and the harp she plucks expertly throughout, Wakako Kaku's lyrics reflecting perfectly on the two hours that preceded it despite the song not being created specifically for the film. The incredible sound design also helps pull it all together, with each sound effect fully realized to make the film just that much more involving.

My affection for Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away knows no bounds. It is my second favorite film produced under the Studio Ghibli banner, just behind Castle in the Sky, as well as one I consider an all-time favorite, anime or otherwise. Its story is one of the filmmaker's very best, its principal characters rank as some of his most likable, its animation ranks with the best of them, and Joe Hisaishi's incredible musical score is also one of his very best. The resulting film is every bit as relevant and engrossing in 2021 as it was in 2001 (if not more so), as touching as it is beautiful, as haunting as it is poignant, and as captivating as it is unforgettable. I've kept coming back to it since the first time I saw it at age 19 and it never ceases to amaze me. Its core story of overcoming one's fears continues to satisfy time and again with repeated viewings, its characters are all too easy to get invested in all over again, its animation continues to amaze with each new watch, the voice acting is faultless in both English and Japanese, and Joe Hisaishi's musical score continues to send a chill down the spine. The film is uplifting, poignant, exciting, emotionally satisfying, and consistently rewarding with repeated viewings. The fact that even those who don't consider themselves fans of anime often count Spirited Away among their favorite films speaks volumes to its beauty and power. It deserves its reputation and every award it won, including but not limited to, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year. If you haven't, see it ASAP. Trust me, it's worth it. All in all, Spirited Away is above reproach as a film, and I'm awarding it my highest recommendation.

You mean me? Kei's cousin?

August 26, 2016 (Japan)
April 7, 2017 (United States)
107 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language, and smoking
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Written by Makoto Shinkai
Produced by Kōichirō Itō and Katsuhiro Takei
Characters Designed by Masayoshi Tanaka and Masashi Ando
Dream Lantern (Yume Tōrō), Zenzenzense, Sparkle, and Nandemonaiya written, composed, and performed by Yojiro Noda

Voice Talent (2017 NYAV Post dub):
Michael Sinterniklaas as Taki Tachibana
Stephanie Sheh as Mitsuha Miyamizu
Kyle Hebert as Katsuhiko Teshigawara
Cassandra Lee Morris as Sayaka Natori
Ben Pronsky as Tsukasa Fujii
Ray Chase as Shinta Takagi
Laura Post as Miki Okudera
Glynis Ellis as Hitoha Miyamizu
Catie Harvey as Yotsuha Miyamizu
Scott Williams as Toshiki Miyamizu
Michelle Ruff as Futaba Miyamizu
Katy Vaughn as Yukari Yukino
Marc Diraison as Taki's Father

Voice Talent (Japanese):
Ryūnosuke Kamiki as Taki Tachibana
Mone Kamishiraishi as Mitsuha Miyamizu
Ryo Narita as Katsuhiko Teshigawara
Aoi Yūki as Sayaka Natori
Nobunaga Shimazaki as Tsukasa Fujii
Kaito Ishikawa as Shinta Takagi
Masami Nagasawa as Miki Okudera
Etsuko Ichihara as Hitoha Miyamizu
Kanon Tani as Yotsuha Miyamizu
Masaki Terasoma as Toshiki Miyamizu
Sayaka Ohara as Futaba Miyamizu
Kana Hanazawa as Yukari Yukino
Kazuhiko Inoue as Taki's Father

"I was planning to tell you that wherever you are in the world, I swear that I'll find you again no matter what."

Let's make one thing clear right off the bat: Your Name is one of my favorite movies. It's one I can throw into my Blu-ray player any time. Rising filmmaker Makoto Shinkai's animated summer blockbuster has earned a reputation as one of the best of its kind, exploring themes of love, loss, abandonment, and the human condition through a perhaps unusual, but no less effective, sci-fi/fantasy lens. With its stunning animation, gripping storytelling, likable characters, faultless voice acting (in both English and Japanese), and incredible RADWIMPS musical score and songs, this lovingly crafted film isn't one to miss.

17-year-old Taki Tachibana (Michael Sinterniklaas in the 2017 NYAV Post dub, Ryūnosuke Kamiki in Japanese) lives in Tokyo with his father (Marc Diraison, Kazuhiko Inoue) and works as a waiter at an Italian restaurant. Taki leads a simple life, spending much of his time with his friends Tsukasa Fujii (Ben Pronsky, Nobunaga Shimazaki) and Shinta Takagi (Ray Chase, Kaito Ishikawa). 17-year-old Mitsuha Miyamizu (Stephanie Sheh, Mone Kamishiraishi) lives in Itomori, a small town in the Japanese countryside where everyone knows everyone, with her 82-year-old grandmother Hitoha (Glynis Ellis, Etsuko Ichihara) and 9-year-old sister Yotsuha (Catie Harvey, Kanon Tani), carrying on her family's shrine maiden tradition. Mitsuha's father Toshiki (Scott Williams, Masaki Terasoma), who is the mayor of Itomori, walked out on the family when Mitsuha's mother Futaba (Michelle Ruff, Sayaka Ohara) passed away. Mitsuha also leads a simple life, spending most of her days with her friends Katsuhiko Teshigawara (Kyle Hebert, Ryo Narita) and Sayaka Natori (Cassandra Lee Morris, Aoi Yūki). However, Mitsuha has grown discontent with this life, essentially feeling suffocated and chained down, to the point of wishing to be "a handsome Tokyo boy in [her] next life." Taki and Mitsuha's simple lives are thrown into disarray when they begin periodically waking up in each other's bodies. Taki-as-Mitsuha is more assertive, not suffering bullies and gossips, often frightening those around Mitsuha who have gotten used to her silently putting up with being mistreated, though also worrying Mitsuha's friends and teacher, Yukari Yukino (Katy Vaughn, Kana Hanazawa), who think Mitsuha's forgotten her name. While a bit self-effacing and insecure in contrast to Taki's laid-back and assertive ways, and also worrying Taki's friends when she knows next to nothing about his life, Mitsuha-as-Taki is a hit with those around Taki, even influencing Taki's relationship with his coworker Miki Okudera (Laura Post, Masami Nagasawa), who Taki has a crush on. Taki and Mitsuha eventually begin to rub off on each other and begin to fall in love, but when Taki decides to go meet Mitsuha in person after the switches abruptly stop, he meets a far more formidable obstacle than the distance between Tokyo and Itomori.

One of the film's greatest strengths is Shinkai's storytelling, the filmmaker exploring many themes throughout its 107-minute length. Shinkai infuses Your Name with enough heart, soul, and character depth that viewers will discern more and more with each new viewing, making repeated viewings even more rewarding. One of the themes Shinkai explores is the positive ways the person or people you love can rub off on you. Taki and Mitsuha's character development throughout the filmóespecially in the latter halfóexemplifies this. We see Taki become kinder and gentler and Mitsuha become more confident and assertive. To be clear, Taki doesn't become as submissive and self-effacing as Mitsuha is when she opens the film. Neither does Mitsuha become as brash or arrogant as Taki is early in the film. Both characters simply become more balanced throughout the film, with neither becoming too much like the other. On a more personal note, Taki's character development heavily resonates with me because he mirrors many character changes I underwent as my teenage years ended and I became an adult. Looking back, I was a lot like Taki as a teenager. I was arrogant. I thought I knew everything, and I thought I could do everything on my own. In one scene later in the film, he bluntly tells Tsukasa and Ms. Okudera, "I don't need a babysitter," and in another, "You haven't done anything," which should give you an idea of what I was like at that age. The film also boasts well-developed supporting characters. Taki's friendship with Tsukasa and Takagi produces some good-natured jivingóusually about Mitsuha's antics while in Taki's bodyóthat builds some of the film's more lighthearted moments. The scenes with Taki and Ms. Okudera are also some of the film's best. The fact that they maintain a healthy friendship after Ms. Okudera realizes Taki now likes someone elseóeven before Taki himself doesóis something all too rarely seen in cinema. In many other films, this scene would precede a lengthy, drawn-out verbal brawl full of F-bombs, so Shinkai's decision to skip that route is refreshing. Sayaka and Teshigawara also rank as some of the film's most likable characters, contributing to some of the film's more lighthearted scenes in much the same way as Taki's friends. Yotsuha contributes to much of the film's well-considered humor. Be it her reactions to Taki's antics in Mitsuha's body, or to Mitsuha asking to be a Tokyo boy in her next life, or to Hitoha's speeches about the old Miyamizu traditions, Yotsuha nearly always has some kind of deadpan remark that's all but guaranteed to garner a few belly laughs even with repeated viewings. While steeped in the old tradition Mitsuha's fed up with, Hitoha is a good grandmother to Mitsuha and Yotsuha, giving some genuine insights periodically throughout the film. Even Toshiki, who's arguably the closest thing Your Name has to a human antagonist, has a well-developed backstory that explains why he's the way he is. Having such well-developed characters only adds to the film's exploration of the human condition. The film deftly explores human bonds and connections, what it is to be in love, and what it is to feel like you're "always searching for something" through Taki and Mitsuha's main storyline. The scene where they finally meet in person is incredibly satisfying as a result. The film also expertly explores themes of loss and abandonment with Toshiki's storyline and the issues between him and Mitsuha. The way Shinkai incorporates sci-fi and fantasy themes into the film is also very effective. Moreover, all of this leads to one of the most satisfying endgames in the history of film. Overall, the film's storytelling is nothing to sneeze at and it's a big part of why it's such a rewarding film.

The animation is stunning, as you'd expect from a Shinkai film. The colors are absolutely jaw-dropping, namely reds, blues, oranges, and purples, the latter especially prevalent in scenes depicting dusk, often called "magic hour" in the film. The landscapes and backdrops are equally impressive. Shinkai's animators have meticulously recreated real-life Tokyo locations, from the architecture of buildings and skyscrapers to street lights to even greenery in the surrounding area. Even the train lines in the film are real-life Tokyo lines. The resulting depiction is very accurate to what the real-life Tokyo looks like. While fictional, Itomori is also close to what the Japanese countryside looks like in the real world. The skies are incredibly well-realized. Even Taki's sketches of Itomori are incredibly detailed and realistic to the point of looking like real sketches. Masayoshi Tanaka and Masashi Ando's character designs are realistic and well-suited to the film, with a wide array of facial expressions, natural skin tones, and realistic clothing. On that note, Shinkai explains in an interview included on the film's Blu-ray release that the animators make Taki's eyes bigger when Mitsuha is in his body, and Mitsuha's eyes smaller when Taki is in her body. The animators have also done a great job of animating light, as seen in the shading and in shots where light is reflected, such as a shot of Taki's smartphone's darkened screen under a lamp. This makes objects look very real and gives the film's look an overall realistic feel. Natural phenomena such as rain, snow, and even a comet are also well-done and highly realistic. Overall, Your Name couldn't have been animated better.

Your Name is also incredibly well-acted in both English and Japanese. Sinterniklaas (who also co-directs the film's excellent English dub with Sheh) and Kamiki are excellent as Taki, both effectively capturing the character's self-confidence and initial arrogance while dialing back the arrogance in just the right way to follow Taki's character growth. While both excel in these scenes, I'm always especially impressed by how Sinterniklaas picks up the feminine tones when Mitsuha is in Taki's body, notable examples being an early scene where Mitsuha picks up Taki's phone and asks no one in particular, "Tsukasa? Who's that?", and Mitsuha's first meeting with Taki's friends. Sheh and Kamishiraishi also impress as Mitsuha, capturing the character's more quiet and self-effacing ways. They also effectively pick up the masculine tones when Taki is in Mitsuha's body. In a slightly different way, they also keep up as Mitsuha's resolve strengthens in the film's latter half. Hebert and Narita are also excellent as Teshigawara, the more boisterous of Mitsuha's two best friends, who is often even blunter than Taki. Morris and Yūki are equally impressive as Sayaka, Mitsuha's more dutiful and perfectionistic friend. Pronsky and Shimazaki are also up to par as Tsukasa, one of Taki's best friends who is perhaps a bit meddlesome, but well-meaning. Chase and Ishikawa are also solid as Takagi, the more carefree of Taki's friends. Post and Nagasawa are terrific as Ms. Okudera, Taki's compassionate and charming coworker who he initially has a thing for. So are Ellis and Ichihara as Hitoha, Mitsuha's wise old grandmother who may know a bit more about what's happening than she lets on. Harvey and Tani steal several scenes as Yotsuha, Mitsuha's wisecracking sister. Williams and Terasoma are also rock-solid as Toshiki, Mitsuha's stubborn father. So are Diraison and Inoue as Taki's father, Vaughn and Hanazawa as Ms. Yukino, Mitsuha's teacher who is also the female lead in Shinkai's short film The Garden of Words, and Ruff and Ohara as Futaba, Mitsuha's late mother, as brief as their screen time might be. The rest of the two casts are also up to par. All told, Your Name is full of life, character depth, and purpose in both English and Japanese. My suggestion would be to watch it in both languages and enjoy both.

Another unforgettable element of Your Name is the music by RADWIMPS. RADWIMPS has created not only the musical score but also four vocal songs that Yojiro Noda performs in English for the dub and in Japanese for the sub. The songs are absolutely beautiful in both languages, which is another very good reason to watch the film in both languages. While some have criticized the fact that the film has four songs, I've come to love all of them, and I couldn't imagine the film without them. From the moment Dream Lantern (Yume Tōrō) sounds over the film's title card, we know RADWIMPS is about to deliver something special, the lyrics speaking to many of the themes the film deals with. Zenzenzense is arguably the most remembered since it even got its own single, not to mention its appearance in nearly every trailer. It's certainly the most upbeat of the four songs that feature in the film and its popularity isn't exactly undeserved. Sparkle is also very effective, with many of its lyrics seeming to reflect many of Mitsuha's feelings towards Itomori and the old traditions. The instrumental pieces are also beautiful. Date, Mitsuha's Theme, Magic Hour, and Date 2 stand out as some of the most poignant pieces of music in the film. Kuchikamizake Trip and Council of War get the blood pumping. Pieces like Cafe at Last and Unusual Changes of Two effectively capture the more lighthearted and humorous sequences. To top it all off, the film closes with the simultaneously triumphant and poignant Nandemonaiya ("Never Mind" or "It's Nothing"), which is my personal favorite of the film's vocal pieces, reflecting perfectly on the film that preceded it. An incredible sound design pulls it all together to make the film just that much more immersive.

I won't even try to deny it: I love Makoto Shinkai's Your Name. The film is sweet, charming, fun, uplifting, thought-provoking, poignant, and emotionally satisfying. I've found it consistently rewarding with repeated viewings, and it's become a favorite of mine. I can just throw Your Name into my Blu-ray player after a lousy day, and it always puts a smile on my face, always makes me laugh during the funny parts, and always makes me feel a bit better by the time the credits roll. If I were completely honest, I'd say Your Name deserves its reputation and all the awards it won, including, but not limited to, the Newtype Anime Award for Best Picture and the Seiyu Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress. With likable characters, engrossing storytelling, faultless voice actingóin both English and Japanese, RADWIMPS' incredible music, a positive message about how the people we love can change us and how much we can accomplish for the people who matter to us and, yes, stunning animation, Your Name earns my highest recommendation.