Hi, my names Andrew, and i've been doing Everquest for the past couple of months. It started as a social thing, but.... In other words EQ ate my brain and my anime review skills, assuming I had any, are rusty. So please take that into account. I got to see this movie as part of the Japanime Festival 2002 in Melbourne. The cinema was small, the blurb for the movie was awful, but I am deeply grateful for the chance to see this.
None. Seriously, I only give a idea of the story so that people can judge whether they are interested in the anime or not. Since there's no human reason not to strive to see this film why would you need one? And even if I tried, it would only capture the most superficial elements and potentially spoil the fun.
All i'll say is that the story begins with a young girl and her parents moving to a new house and life in suburban Japan. They somewhat miss the mark however and end up driving down a dirt track and coming to a dead end in front of a run down and abandoned building, a small tunnel leading deeper into it. It's a bit scary for the young girl, but dad can't imagine that anything could be dangerous and is curious to see what's on the other side. However whats on the other side quickly proves to be something out of Miyazaki's vivid imagination. And when he's doing the driving nothing can be taken for granted.
The most important thing to say is that it is good, very good. I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to see this film. As for any Ghibli movie it has a superb sense of story, atmosphere and character. Beautifully conceived, painstakingly designed and superb animation to make it come to life. A good mix of action, character moments and a strong story arc and firm pacing to make it all hang together. Face it, these guys know how to make great films.
The second thing to mention is that it is extremely weird and very Japanese. If your a narrow minded xenophobe... well, you probably don't like anime and won't be reading this review. But this movie feels a hell of a lot like a Miyazaki daydream. It's playful and fun on the surface, but there's deep undercurrents of Japanese mythology and personal fantasy. It's the product of someone who has absorbed a thousand stories, a million myths in one day and then had a strange dream that evening. And decided to craft the fantasy into a story without breaking the dreamlike air. It's an awful lot like Alice in wonderland in which the clever author gives us a vision into an unashamedly personal dream. Does it have some secret meaning? It has a thousand of them, the mind that constructed the fantasy is clever and aware of itself, weaving all sorts of thoughts into the mix. But focusing too much on one will cause you to miss more than you gain.
And like Alice in wonderland, or any good myth, the world is a mixture of light and dark. There is normality mixed up in fantasy. There are the mundane elements of life mixed in with the dealings of gods and spirits. There are weird creations but echoes of human emotions and spirit. And, most importantly, there is humor and there is danger seamlessly intertwined. There is a very pleasant dark edge to some of the story, a genuine feeling of danger, which gives it such a nice depth. There's no gore, but there is an edge of horror to this film. Which means I suspect the kids are going to love it.
It's fun to compare it to Mononoke Hime, the last big Ghibli film. That film was strong and direct. It was telling a story, a story about strong people and important events. This one is much more playful and abstract, it's a story restricted to a normal person in a fantasy world. Mononoke had crowd scenes, this one is very strongly focused on a single character. As a result it feels "smaller" but "warmer" than Mononoke, full of that marvellous observation of detail and atmosphere that Ghibli does so well. Speaking personally I adore this element of Ghibli, but those who like "epic" action might feel differently.
Technically speaking the animation is Ghibli quality. That's a shorthand way of saying superb in every aspect and the way they balance together. The animation, the design, the colors, the music are all strong and form an intensely harmonious whole that makes each support the other. I give up, find any word that is equivalent to "awesome" or "fantastic" and just apply it till you get bored, this really is that good. At the same time the level of detail is almost obsessive. I noticed at one point the main character was climbing some stairs, she's only 10 and they were to big for her. The way this was subtly captured in the way she moved almost brought tears to my eyes, so much care for so small a detail. I did notice that Ghibli has continued to work with computer animation, albeit in a cautious and conservative way. There's still work to be done in seamlessly blending the two but they're getting much better at it. There was some sort of "odd" movements on the lead character at times though, which made me wonder if they'd started taking movements from live actors (some odd foreshortening in there). The voices where wonderfully chosen and directed, the music and sound effects where likewise done with talent and taste.
I don't know why I bother with a review though. It's a Ghibli. No matter how deep I am in EQ when there's a chance to see a movie from these guys I take it. It makes me sad to imagine a world in which Miyazaki isn't pushing them to create another masterpiece.