Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Also known as: Hotaru no haka (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music by: Michio Mamiya
Cast: Japanese Language: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi; English Language: Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black, Marcy Bannor, Andrew Love

Shinchosha Company, Studio Ghibli, Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” – Seita

Man, this is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen but it is also one of the greatest anime pictures ever crafted. It’s a massive gut punch to the soul and it’s also one of the sweetest, beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.

This was made by Studio Ghibli and it was the first film they did that was directed by Isao Takahata, as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki. Upon its release, it was paired up with another Studio Ghibli film, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.

The story is about a fourteen year-old boy and his four year-old sister, whose father went off to war and whose mother was burned alive by an American attack on their town during the height of World War II. The orphaned kids go to live with their horrible aunt but eventually, she rejects them and they have to try to survive on their own, living in a cave by a lake. They have no money, no food and eventually the little girl gets very sick. Once the boy finds out that his father is most likely dead, things really, really get dark and whatever hope these kids had is gone.

Yet, in spite of all that, the bond of these siblings is powerful and there’s nothing but love between them and that’s what makes the picture so precious and so heartbreaking once you reach the tragic, immensely depressing end of the film.

I respect that this movie shows the horrors of war and also that it shows it from the perspective of the other side, at least for those of us in America. I think it’s an important story to tell, as these are things that most people don’t want to think about. Especially, when our government is at war with another government because its not the regular civilians that are generally doing the fighting but it’s those people who are the victims of the fighting, more times than not.

The fact that this is a story about kids is supposed to make the message more powerful.

Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible, beautiful and emotional picture about what can happen to innocence when it’s confronted by the worst parts of humanity. The film is astonishingly effective and it not only accomplishes what Isao Takahata wanted to say but it greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Also known as: Laputa (alternative title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1986 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Mayumi Tanaka, Keiki Yokozawa, Kotoe Hatsui, Minori Terada; English Language: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Andy Dick

Tokuma Shoten, Studio Ghibli, Toei Company, 125 Minutes

Review:

“The earth speaks to all of us, and if we listen, we can understand.” – Uncle Pomme

This is the first official Studio Ghibli movie and the studio was off to a tremendous start with this one.

While the same core creative team did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, two years earlier, this picture took that style and formula and improved upon it.

Where Nausicaä paved the way for Studio Ghibli to be born, it’s this movie that really became the studio’s foundation and allowed for other great animated features to see the light of day and touch the world.

This is just a really fun adventure film that’s family friendly, sweet and kind of cool.

This should go without saying but the art and animation are incredible and pretty damn flawless. This was one of the best looking animated features, up to the point of its release. Ghibli would continue to improve, though, but their later work still doesn’t diminish the visual look of this one.

This may even be a good jumping on point for those who would really like to dive into Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre.

I liked the story here and it was pretty simple, which is all it needed to be. This didn’t need to be overly complex with an overabundance of details that would be unimportant by the end. This, like all Ghibli films, carries a message in its story and its something that is timeless, meaningful and I think that kids can grasp it.

I don’t really want to give too much away with these movies, though, as I want to encourage people to check them out if they haven’t.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Gamera the Brave (2005)

Also known as: Chiisaki yûsha-tachi: Gamera (original Japanese title)
Release Date: Junes 10th, 2005
Directed by: Ryuta Tasaki
Written by: Yukari Tatsui
Music by: Yoko Ueno
Cast: Ryo Tomioka, Kanji Tsuda, Kaho

Shochiku, Kadokawa Daiei Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera the Brave is the first kid friendly Gamera movie since the original film series that ended about a quarter of a century before this was made.

This follows the ’90s Gamera trilogy of films that were very dark but also, very cool and very, very awesome.

I really enjoyed this for what it was and it did have some moments that hit you in the feels in that special way that only a kids’ tokusatsu TV show or movie can hit you in the feels. If you’re a fan of the genre, you know what I mean.

This film is also kind of magical in that it effectively brings you back to that headspace where you were a little kid enjoying things like this.

Overall, I liked the story and I liked the special effects, even if they were pretty much all CGI and this picture was lacking the traditional “guy in a rubber suit” trope. I liked that the previous trilogy of film employed CGI and really good practical effects. However, the CGI was better than what was the norm for Japanese sci-fi in the mid-’00s.

I liked the characters, I especially liked the main kid and I thought the concept of the pet baby turtle growing into a new, young Gamera was a cool idea. I also thought that the villain monster was one of the best in the franchise and he was sort of an homage to Barugon in how he uses his extending tongue as a weapon.

I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would. It was the only Gamera film I hadn’t seen at all but that’s also because it wasn’t very accessible to those of us in the States until I just discovered it streaming for what I believe is the first time.

Rating: 6.25/10

TV Review: Hellsing (2001-2002)

Original Run: October 10th, 2001 – January 16th, 2002
Directed by: Umanosuke Iida (chief), Yasunori Urata
Written by: Chiaki J. Konaka
Based on: Hellsing by Kouta Hirano
Music by: Yasushi Ishii
Cast: Joji Nakata, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Fumiko Orikasa

Madman Entertainment, Funimation, Manga Entertainment, Fuji TV, 13 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, I loved this anime series when I first discovered it almost twenty years ago. I watched through it multiple times and was kind of annoyed that they only produced 13 episodes. Granted, they did a 10-part OVA series later on, which kind of told a much more complete story.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen this since about 2009 or so but I wanted to review it for awhile and I figured the week leading up to Halloween was as good of a time as any.

First thing, this still holds up. Tremendously well, in fact.

While I think that the OVA releases are better, this is still probably the best introduction into the Hellsing franchise outside of reading the manga, which are hard to find in the United States, currently.

The story is about Hellsing, a secret British agency that deals with supernatural threats, primarily vampires and vampire related monsters. They have a vampire in their employ, Alucard, and he’s pretty much their best defense (and offense) against these supernatural threats.

You have a pretty good cast of other characters too but the entire show really rest’s on Alucard’s shoulders. Frankly, he’s just a cool and badass character and I feel like he’s somewhat inspired by D from Vampire Hunter D but he’s not chill, he’s a lot more aggressive and talks a good amount of shit before turning his enemies into fodder. Sometimes he meets a solid rival and his fights aren’t so easy but you know immediately, that Alucard isn’t someone to fuck with and if you do, you’re going to have a really bad day.

I like the animation in this a lot, as well as the music. Both are perfect together and really give this series life and a neat tone.

Horror anime fans should dig the hell out of this but at the same time, they should’ve already seen it.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Also known as: Kyûketsuki hantâ D (original Japanese title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: Toyoo Ashida
Written by: Yasushi Hirano
Based on: Vampire Hunter D: Volume 1 by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Music by: Tetsuya Komuro
Cast: Kaneto Shiozawa, Michie Tomizawa, Seizo Kato, Keiko Toda

Ashi Productions Co., CBS Sony Group, Epic/Sony, Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve lived for almost ten thousand years. Believe me you have no idea what that means: boredom. Everlasting and hideous boredom. A never ending search for ways to pass the time… and mating with a human female is one of the few I enjoy. Eventually they become tiresome. For in spite of their vitality, they are fundamentally stupid creatures who couldn’t survive without the nobility to rule them. Perhaps now you’ll understand my wanting to have some fun every thousand years or so?” – Count Magnus Lee

Vampire Hunter D is one of the first “not for kids” anime films that I ever saw. My friend Carlos had it and showed it to me when I was in high school. I pretty much fell in love with it, dubbed a copy and watched it a dozen times or more over the next few years. However, I haven’t had a working VCR in at least fifteen years, so I’ve wanted to revisit it for quite some time.

Seeing this, in HD for the first time, I was pretty blown away. Man, the animation really holds up and I forgot how atmospheric this movie was from the visuals, the sound, the music and the talent of the English language dub cast.

I also forgot how many monsters and characters were in this and all of them are pretty cool and interesting in their own way. While there are small sequences in the film that kind of get in the way of the overall flow, they all still features cool creatures and villains for the hero to fight.

Other than the title character, D, I really like the primary villain, Count Magnus Lee, who was a very large, elegant looking vampire. The character was named and somewhat modeled after Christopher Lee, specifically his version of Dracula. The Count was just a damn cool, intimidating villain that you kind of like despite him simply killing and doing evil things out of boredom.

This is just a cool fucking anime film. It really takes you to a cool, unusual world and let’s be honest, here, this obviously was a major influence on the Castlevania video games, as far as aesthetics and designs go.

While there was a second Vampire Hunter D film, as well as a series, years later, this is something that deserves to be a bigger franchise than it is.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Also known as: Kaze no tani no Naushika (original Japanese title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1984 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Sumi Shimamoto, Gorō Naya, Yōji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi; English Language: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, Tony Jay

Nibariki, Tokuma Shoten, Hakuhodo, Studio Ghibli (unofficially), 117 Minutes

Review:

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!” – Nausicaä

This wasn’t officially a Studio Ghibli film, as that studio didn’t exist yet, but many consider it to be the first and it helped pave the way for that studio’s creation and it becoming the standard barer for what was possible with classic, hand-drawn, 2D animation.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is also the first Studio Ghibli-associated movie that I ever saw. When I fired this up, I didn’t think I had seen it but once certain scenes came on, it flooded back into my memory from childhood. But I’m not sure if I saw this in the theater in the ’80s or if it was on VHS or premium cable. The version I saw would’ve had a different dubbing track than the version that exists now.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this movie from beginning to end. Sure, the story is a bit convoluted and I found some of the details hard to follow, although I am getting older and I partake in edibles in the evening on most nights. So I don’t want to pound too heavily on the plot. Also, some things may be lost in translation, which is common with anime and usually due to how well or poorly the translation and dubbing are.

I felt like the dubbing was pretty damn good, though, and I enjoyed the English voice cast quite a bit. I especially thought that Chris Sarandon’s work really stood out and provided some solid laughs at points, because of how pompous he made his character.

The thing that blew me away, which typically blows people away with Ghibli films, is the animation. It’s just beautiful and smooth and for 1984, I can’t think of any other non-Ghibli movies that looked better.

As I said, this helped pave the way for Studio Ghibli being born. Without this film, we may not have ever gotten all their other iconic work. While I can’t say that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s best feature film, it might very well be his most important.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Cliffhanger (1993)

Release Date: May 20th, 1993 (Cannes)
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Michael France, Sylvester Stallone, John Long (premise)
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, Bruce McGill

Pioneer, Canal+, Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Kill a few people, they call you a murderer. Kill a million and you’re a conqueror.” – Eric Qualen

This is one of my least favorite Sylvester Stallone films from his legendary run from the early ’80s through the mid-’90s. However, I still enjoy it because it’s Stallone and he has John Lithgow and Michael Rooker to work with in this.

The story is about a team of people that rescue mountain climbers. The two men on the team had a terrible falling out when one of them couldn’t save the other’s girlfriend and she fell to her death. However, they have to learn to work together again when a group of criminals crashes a plane and loses the money they stole in the mountain wilderness.

The two heroes are forced into being the criminals’ guides but once the money is located, the criminals try to take out Stallone. Stallone gets pissed and decides he needs to rescue the other guide, his former buddy, and to take out these criminals before they hurt more people.

The stunts in this are pretty impressive, especially considering the terrain and the environment. Sure, there are shots where it’s obviously not a real mountainside but they still had to get certain shots to make the film feel as real as possible.

There’s also a good amount of decent helicopter work in the film and the finale with the helicopter crashing and getting wrapped up by a cable ladder is pretty good.

Overall, this is exactly what you’d expect from a movie with Stallone on snowy mountain caps. It’s basically Die Hard on a mountain and that’s fine, as Die Hard created a formula that the action genre still tries to emulate.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Golden Eyes (1968)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchû: Ôgon no me (original Japanese title), Booted Babe, Busted Boss, Ironfinger Strikes Back (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 16th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Jun Fukuda, Ei Ogawa, Michio Tsuzuki
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Beverly Maeda, Tomomi Sawa, Andrew Hughes, Makoto Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya

Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

Since I thought Jun Fukuda’s Ironfinger was a pretty solid spy comedy, I wanted to give its sequel a watch, as well.

Fukuda is mostly known, at least in the States, for being one of the two most prominent directors of classic Godzilla pictures. While he doesn’t seem to be held in the same regard as Ishiro Honda, I always saw the two directors as fairly equal. Honda, however, did more of the earlier Godzilla films, where Fukuda did more of the later ones, which some fans like less due to them becoming more and more kid friendly as the franchise rolled on.

Fukuda did lots of other pictures over his career, though, especially for Toho, who loved pumping out quick sci-fi/tokusatsu fare. But between those movies, Toho also had Fukuda do these cool, ’60s spy flicks.

It’s obvious that these films are inspired by the James Bond movies of the era, as well as other spy flicks. At the time, there were many spy comedies like this, which sort of parody the genre but don’t completely deconstruct it like the Austin Powers movies would do later on.

This one pretty much follows the beats and tone of its predecessor but I didn’t enjoy it as much. There are some insanely goofy moments and some of the more over-the-top antics felt like they were too hammy.

For instance, there’s a gunfight scene where the heroes throw two assault rifles closer to the baddies and then shoot the rifles with their own guns, lifting them into the air from bullet ricochets where they fire and kill the villains. It’s f’n ridiculous and while it’s funny, it’s a “jump the shark” moment that happens pretty early into the film.

Still, I did enjoy Akira Takarada in this, as the spy hero. He’s just a good, fun actor and he was in dozens of Toho pictures and also worked with Jun Fukuda quite a bit.

Now I did miss Mie Hama in this one but since these movies are essentially ripping off James Bond, we can’t have the same chick in both films.

In the end, this isn’t as good as Ironfinger but it’s still cool and enjoyable if you like ’60s spy comedies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, Ironfinger, as well as other ’60s spy comedies.

*No trailer available online.

Film Review: Gunhed (1989)

Also known as: Ganheddo (original Japanese title), Robot War (Germany), Killer Tank (Philippines)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Masato Harada
Written by: Masato Harada, James Bannon
Music by: Toshiyuki Honda
Cast: Masahiro Takashima, Brenda Bakke, Yujin Harada, Kaori Mizushima

3D, Bandai Entertainment Inc., Graphical Corporation Crowd Inc., Nippon Sunrise, Kadokawa, Imagica, Toho Co. Ltd., 100 Minutes

Review:

Gunhed is a movie that I’ve wanted to watch since first seeing a trailer for it on a VHS tape I rented in the early ’90s. None of my local video stores ended up getting a copy and once I got a job at one of those stores, I wasn’t able to order it because, by then, it was out of print.

It also never saw print in the US after that, as far as I know. I would’ve bought it on DVD but I never came across one.

However, I finally stumbled across this streaming on an old movie archive site. So without hesitation, I figured I should watch it while I had the opportunity because who knows how long it could last there before being pulled down.

Gunhed not only piqued my interest with its trailer about thirty years ago but I had heard James Cameron mention that it was a favorite movie of his. Being that he was once one of my favorite directors, especially in the era that this film came out in, made me want to check it out even more.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations but looking at it through rose-colored glasses for three decades probably didn’t do it any favors.

That being said, I did still like it and thought it was a cool flick with pretty solid special effects, considering the budget and the era in which it was made. 

I mostly liked the characters but I was distracted by how bad the dubbing was in the version that I watched. Honestly, it might have not been perfectly synched due to it being uploaded in mediocre quality.

The film is also a bit slow, at times. However, the big action sequences do pay off and if you dig cyberpunk shit, you’ll probably enjoy the high points of this movie.

This was cool and interesting enough that it probably could’ve been adapted into a manga series or an anime film or show. Then again, there are already a lot of cyberpunk options in those mediums. Plus, super tanks and mecha are a dime a dozen in late ’80s/early ’90s Japanese fiction.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk films from the ’80s and ’90s, specifically those from Japan whether live-action or anime.

Film Review: Audition (1999)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1999 (Vancouver International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan
Based on: Audition by Ryu Murakami
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina

Basara Pictures, Creators Company Connection, Omega Project, 115 Minutes (original), 113 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“Only pain and suffering will make you realize who you are.” – Asami Yamazaki

I was somewhat late to the Takashi Miike party, as this was the first film of his that I had ever seen. He had a lot of pictures under his belt by the time Audition hit the United States but this was still my introduction to the director, who many people love but I simply don’t.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the man’s work rate and his effort, as he’s always working on something. But his movies typically don’t connect with me. And that’s certainly not the gore or a cultural issue, as I love lots of film with gore and if you’ve followed Talking Pulp for awhile, my love for Japanese cinema should be pretty apparent.

That being said, Audition is probably my favorite film of Takashi Miike’s after Ichi the Killer. That doesn’t mean that it’s great but I do think that it’s terrifying as fuck and damn effective.

The story is about a single father who has his friend hold fake acting auditions in an effort to screen women for the real life role of his new girlfriend. He does find what he’s looking for. However, the girl he selects is pretty much psychotic and ends up torturing and disfiguring him after she feels slighted.

The movie moves at a snail’s pace but the high points are damn good and will probably give most men nightmares.

It’s well acted, well shot and well directed. It’s much more grounded than Miike’s more surreal stuff and that’s probably why I connect to it more than most of his work.

In the end, though, many view this as a classic and I just view it as just a fucked up flick that took me two decades to revisit.

For those that think its over the top, it really isn’t when compared to some of Miike’s other pictures.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films.