16/01/2018

Spirited Away - Sink Into Who You Are

Thoughts On: Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001)


A young girl is lost to a realm of spirits and is left to figure her way out.


Spirited Away has to be Studio Ghibli's most iconic film. Intriguingly, it is also one of their most complex. Following in the footsteps of Princess Mononoke somewhat, this has numerous layers - many of which I'm not sure I know how to peel back yet. With a plethora of intriguing characters who also strike you as symbols, Spirited Away seems to be using its rather juddered and unannounced narrative structure as a thin veil that hides an abundance of subtextual points. As said, I'm not sure how to peel back this veil and assess each and every character relation just yet. And nor will we attempt to do this today. With our first look at Spirited Away (when we will return to it is unofficial), we will attempt to assess some of the key motifs of the narrative, those being memory, time, responsibility and growth.

All of these motifs or themes are very present in My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, and such makes complete sense as we are seeing Miyazaki construct yet another coming-of-age film with Spirited Away. All three of the mentioned films are about using adversity of some kind - losing parents through coincidence, sickness or tradition - to go on an adventure where young female protagonists have to bear the burden of increasing responsibility by looking after other people or working for them. We actually see this to be a central narrative paradigm present, in some shape or form, in almost every single Ghibli film; this is most obvious in Porco Rosso, Grave Of The Fireflies, Castle In The Sky and Princess Mononoke.

The Ghibli philosophy of coming-of-age is, in my opinion, a very strong one. This is because growing up is shown to be based on losing and then finding oneself through hard work. If we contrast this philosophy to the Hollywood coming-of-age tales, we see rebellion and a confrontation between generations that is far more severe and revolutionary than anything shown in Ghibli films. Taking a minute to think of Rebel Without A Cause, Saturday Night Fever, Boogie Nights or American Graffiti, we see that the American philosophy of coming of age has much to do with realising that adults are very childish. With these films, we see the act of coming of age as a downwards pull; children pull parents down to their level. In Ghibli films, we see quite the opposite; children often pull themselves up to the level of adults. This is strikingly true in Porco Rosso and Kiki's Delkivery Service. However, it must be noted that, with Spirited Away and Grave Of The Fireflies, parents are presented as very fallible. However, never are parents rebelled against as we see in the mentioned Hollywood coming-of-age films. This, I'm sure, is reflective of the differences between Japanese and American culture in regards to generations, growth and learning.

The handling of coming-of-age in Spirited Away is quite unique in contrast to that presented by Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbour Totoro. Kiki's Delivery Service, as we have explored, is about selling your soul, about becoming a genuine individual and splitting yourself up amongst a community. Growing up, here, is shown to be about a form of sacrifice and an act of trust. In My Neighbour Totoro, which we are yet to explore in depth, we see growing up explored through the threat of loss and the realisation of what is precious. Growing up is then shown to be about the confrontation of fear and the consolidation of self under the pressure of destruction. In Spirited Away, there is the loss of parents, just as there is the selling of ones soul, but, more so, there is an emphasis on remembrance. There is then a slight contradiction about Spirited Away as growing up is shown to have a relationship with the realisation that you are still a child with parents.

Much of Spirited Away is then centred on an invisible bond between Chihiro, her childhood and her parents. As Chihiro then evolves across this narrative, transforming from a klutz, to a genuine help, to a hero of sorts, we see her grow away from childhood and her parents so that she may return to them with greater strength.

If we think of the opening to Snyder's 300, we see the tale of a young Leonidas having to venture out into the cold wilderness to kill a wolf before he can return to be the king. This is a symbolic ritual present in many stories that is predicated on growing as a circular journey away and then back towards the motherland and the kingdom of youth. So, whilst Leonidas has to kill a wolf in the wilderness before he can become king, Chihiro has to save a dragon in a fantasy land before she can be a developed teenage daughter. Thus, we see the circle of adventure that leads away from home and then turns back to it drawn quite plainly. In contrast to this, however, returning home in American coming-of-age films is usually a symbol of failure and so success is often signified by the complete, symbolic death of the parents. Think then of Rebel Without A Cause, Boogie Nights, American Graffiti or Saturday Night Fever where escape is everything. With seeming commentary on these very films, we have recently gotten Lady Bird, which suggests, as we are now, that the journey back home is part of life - something that we could argue American films often fail to recognise. On the other hand, it could be argued that the death of parents is an inevitability, and so their symbolic movement into the abstract is key - which is what American coming-of-age films capture. It must be noted, however, that the position parents play in the abstract of films like Saturday Night Fever and Rebel Without A Cause is one of caution: children do not want to be their parents. Thus, we come back to the likes of Spirited Away, which sees children return to their literal parents who, though they may die and move into the abstract one day, won't just be cautionary lessons, instead, guiding stars. And as you may pick up on, whilst many live-action American films feature quite the opposite of this, Disney, with films such as The Lion King, Pinocchio and Dumbo, are also all about this return to home and the following of a guiding star.

If we focus on Spirited Away specifically here, we have a narrative that plays out, seemingly, completely in the abstract spirit realm. We are not then seeing a literal adventure out into the wilderness and a return to home, as we do in The Lion King, instead, a journey of the spirit through spirits. As mentioned at the top of this essay, so much could be said about all of the specific spirits in this film and what they may represent in regards to Japanese mythology and folklore, but we shall save such an intricate examination for another time.

With the abstract journey of the spirit through the spirit realm in this film, there is a clear internal journey taken, one in which Chihiro has to grow from the inside out. This seems to be why love features in this story; love is an internalised marker of growth. If we look beyond Spirited Away to other films from other cultures, we will see love expressed not just romantically, but sexually. Comparing the journey seen in Call Me By Your Name or Blue Is The Warmest Colour to that of Spirited Away or Kiki's Delivery Service, we then see two kinds of stories that utilise love as an internal growth mechanism. Whilst on one hand physical and literal experience is shown to be important, on the other, the conscious, spiritual and existential awakening to love is shown to matter more than - and to be quite separate from - the consecration of such an awakening. The being rather than the doing is then emphasised by Ghibli. And interestingly, love in Spirited Away also has an arc that comes full circle as Chihiro falls in love with an act of compassion experienced in her childhood; she falls in love with the spirit of the river that she almost drowned in. And such an idea is incredibly expressive.

With this journey towards loving what was almost a tragedy, we see that Chihiro reconciles with her immaturity, with her frailty and with her youth to become a better, stronger, wiser person - all by falling in love with Haku. What we are clearly seeing here is the embrace of chaos and the remembrance of security. Life, in Spirited Away, seems to be an elemental force of water. Water threatens to drown you, but it is also where you come from, what you are made of and what keeps you alive. What keeps you from drowning in this ocean are paddles of memory that will steer you back to stability; a boat that remains afloat on the waters and in the wind. This seems to be why it is so important for Chihiro to remember her name, to remember Haku's real name and to remember who her parents are: she has learnt to survive without a boat, and this has made her a stronger swimmer and more able of braving the tides of life, but she cannot swim forever - she needs to find that boat of family and security again.

Finding this boat requires, somewhat ironically, an immersion into waters. By sinking into chaos and into ourselves, we find the memories that give us the ability to paddle back home. Chihiro figures this out, in large part, by seeing other people fight off drowning by pulling others beneath them. This is what the malevolent spirits and corrupt figures do with the employment or the payment of people they want to use. Chihiro never employs people and she rarely accepts payment, nor does she pay for things. Instead, she finds and secures friends, she is thankful and she is generous. This sees her shed weight as she tries to swim and also sees her build a stable raft of a community about her as she searches for the paddles of truth and memory that will get her back to her parents and the real world beyond the realm of the spirits.

The key ideas within Spirited Away then seem to be that we must venture out into the world only so we can become a better person and successful sink into who we are by remembering where we came from and who we owe that to. So, with that said, I'll leave the intricate analysis of the characters and beats of this narrative to you. What are your thoughts on Spirited Away and all we have talked about today?

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The Shape Of Water - The Monstrous Lover

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The Shape Of Water - The Monstrous Lover

Thoughts On: The Shape Of Water (2017)

A cleaner in a secret government facility falls for a prisoner.


The Shape Of Water is a pretty good movie. It has quite a few glaring plot holes and doesn't build into anything that will change your life, but it is a classical story rife with well-constructed archetypes that is told quite well. It goes without saying, but this also looks great too.

The most interesting element of The Shape Of Water is the relationship between our main protagonist and her love interest: the Creature of the Black Lagoon. Reworking the classic monster movie, Del Toro essentially tells the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

The Beast as a lover to a female protagonist is an incredibly prevalent archetype with many faces: the Beast can be a werewolf, vampire, pirate, zombie, surgeon, corrupt billionaire, jerk or bad-boy of some kind. This Beast, despite his monstrous facade, almost always has a weakness within him, and this is so often loneliness of some kind. Moreover, the monster within the Beast almost always projects his anger outwardly, away from the female protagonist. It is she who is attracted to the inherent antithesis within him (his loneliness, his hidden weakness, his corruption) and means to tame that Beast as no one else can. Again and again and again we have seen this played out in movies: in Beauty and the Beast, 50 Shades Of Grey, Twilight, The Hulk movies, Gone With The Wind, It Happened One Night, Edward Scissorhands, Shrek, etc. In all of these movies, we see beastly male archetypes confronted and tamed by women.

In some senses, this kind of narrative is then one about maternity and a woman's compassion; she finds a man with attractive attributes that are maybe a little out of hand, but, using her influence, carves out the man of her dreams from the Beast. There is then a strange line that is always almost toed in these stories. As in narratives that reverse these roles and see men save the damsels in distress, there is an element of infantalisation; the damsel becoming a weak child and the beast becoming a mother's baby boy. However, it would often be wrong to pick up on this and think you have struck gold. This infantalisation comes with the weakness within a subject attracting the hero. For example, in The Shape Of Water, we see loneliness weaken and infantalise The Creature From The Black Lagoon to some degree. In other movies of this kind, 50 Shades of Grey for example, this infantalisation is also at play with the monstrous side of the corrupt billionaire manifesting often as a toddler's temper tantrum (what's more, I'm pretty sure he has plenty of mummy issues). This puts the female archetype on the precipice of becoming an oedipal mother (which essentially means in a potentially abusive, life-sucking relationship), just like male archetypes seem to be approaching pedophilia sometimes. However, it is only with bad writing that this problem becomes obvious. It is nonetheless interesting to see many movies that fit into these classes skating a line between classical romance and something rather nasty.

On the note of 'something rather nasty', it is also interesting to see the Beast be captured quite literally in many stories of the kind we are discussing. The Shape Of Water is an example of this: throughout this story we see a woman fall in love and then develop a sexual relationship with a fish-man. Never is this really questioned in the film, and most engaged audience members won't question this either. Instead, the cuteness and the prowess of the thing is made clear - as is his humanity through his weak attributes (his loneliness and silence).

One of The Shape of Water's best attributes is then that it fully embraces the rather strange qualities of this classical story and its archetypes. What's more, it emphasises certain key elements; for example, the sexual relationship between creature and human is not hidden as it is with, for example, Beauty and the Beast. The inner psychology of the audience and this kind of film becomes very stark when watching The Shape Of Water. And in such, we see intriguing subconscious affinities emerge, those that have something to do with maternity, sexuality, monsters, binding weakness and female enchantresses.

All of these various elements may be a reflection of what it is that the archetypal woman wants: she wants a monster to fight for, to defend her, to love her and to be weak with her. And this is all, as must be noted, in direct conflict with the real monster: the Gaston archetype, who is monstrous toward the woman, and who also plays a role in this narrative. As misogynist as this analysis may appear to some, it is overwhelmingly obvious that this is the subtextual point of The Shape Of Water and the plethora of other movies like it. In genuinely capturing what may be an archetypal truth, this is then a movie that is very hard to dislike. As said, this isn't perfect and doesn't build into anything particularly substantial, but, this is awash with some nice characters, some comedy that hits and an immersive story, and so was quite a good time.

To end, we'll conclude as we usually do. Have you seen The Shape Of Water, or even films that sound like this? What are your thoughts on the monstrous lover?






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Shoah - A Historical Document

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14/01/2018

Shoah - A Historical Document

Quick Thoughts: Shoah (The Holocaust, 1985)

11 years of questioning what the Holocaust was and what its impact is.


What can I say? What can I write down for you to read having just spent a whole day with this film? How can I choose--how can I even decipher a moment to talk about? What am I to articulate, and how am I to do this?

These are questions I don't think I have any good answers for, and so I won't try to confront them - not yet. However, I can try to tell you what this is. Shoah is one of the greatest and most important documentaries ever made - I don't think such a point is debatable. This is not a documentary about history, however. Rather, Shoah is a historical document. In such, this never attempts to directly explore and bring back to life the Holocaust. The Holocaust is instead so often symbolised by the sound of heavy wheels on old train tracks; it is a happening lost in the past that no one can ever bring to the present to explain in full or even comprehend, yet it is also a weight that the world will likely never feel alleviated. With the train repeatedly used as a symbol of the Holocaust it is shown as the climax of the industrial age and the precipice of a new, forthcoming one. Moreover, it is portrayed as an entity that has evolved, but nonetheless remains. What Shoah does so well is manifest this ominous train with detail, scope and depth, and then have it run through your consciousness, billowing voices whose words, it seems, we will never be able to listen to properly.

It is ultimately a gross understatement to say that this has left me speechless as I don't even know how to deal with what it has left me. This is a film that everyone needs to see once in their life time. Find a day, and spend it with this film, and then you will know what Shoah is.






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End Of The Week Shorts #40

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The Shape Of Water - The Monstrous Lover

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End Of The Week Shorts #40



Today's shorts: What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932), Thor (2011), E.T (1982), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Destiny (1921), The Cremator (1969), The War Game (1965)




What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a heart-breaking film about being trapped within a bubble of shame and embarrassment - a bubble of love and responsibility - and trying to make it a better place despite the chaos and atrophy around you, despite the pressures overshadowing that bubble and despite the temptations of the world and its freedoms that may lie beyond the shadowed poll you call your life and your family. This is then a film about attempting to traverse an internal corridor of torture that exists between the individual and the collective self. 
Far too easily overlooked and forgotten as one of the most poignant and touching small-town dramas ever made, this is stacked with perfect writing, tremendous performances and so much more. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a classic and a great movie - undeniably so.



Boudu Saved Fom Drowning is a spectacular satirical comedy that is, thematically, quite like Buñuel's Viridiana. However, the comedy of Boudu Saved From Drowning brings about a harmony from chaos that Buñuel doesn't attempt. And in such, this is a simultaneously critical and forgiving film about the pretense of charity and the rules of the bourgeois. Ultimately then, this is a film about freedom, destiny and embracing life as is and as your imperfect self - which is more than refreshing considering the weight of this film's themes if they were taken seriously. 
Energised by tremendous performances and writing, and captured beautifully by Renoir's often unique mise en scene and blocking, this is a pure joy to watch and a film I can't help but recommend.



Quite mediocre, but nonetheless good fun. 
The humour and a few of the characters keep Thor beyond bad. Thor and Loki are then played and written pretty well, and the comedy that revolves around them is pretty strong. However, all of the minor characters are written and played in a highly cliched and senseless manner. The same can be said of the plot: cliched and pretty senseless. And the direction... The constant, constant, dutch angles are truly ridiculous. I don't know how you could think they would work as a director. 
I think the biggest problem with this film is the fact that the director wanted to capture the comic books - which, from what I can tell, are quite dumb. However, that's a subject for another time. All in all, I had a good time with this, but it remains mediocre.



E.T is Spielberg at his absolute best. Heart-breaking, heart-warming, all at once, and brilliantly so. 
This is, in some senses, a film about losing someone (for Elliot it is his father), and then going on an adventure that teaches you how to make a new great friend, but also how to fight to let them go. This is then a story that is as much about building something as it is about seeing it evaporate, yet all whilst retaining faith in memory and hope in what has passed, knowing that, in the abstract, someone can always live on through you. For the way in which this is captured through a child's eyes, and with one of the most magical scores ever composed for a movie, it is undeniable that this is a classic and a Hollywood masterpiece.



Thor: The Dark World is... ok. 
The direction, in comparison to the first Thor, has improved greatly. However, the comedy is in places it needn't be and all the minor characters are still very weak. What's more, I care less for the main characters in this film - mainly because we're not given too much of a reason to like them. This comes down to the unnecessary focus on minor characters (Portman's character is played and acted worst of all), and the journey we see characters go on. Whilst this journey has some nice moments of action, it feels weightless. And where there is weight and drama, it is quite cliched and predictable. This doesn't stop this being watchable, but this is quite a throw-away movie. See it once and you'll have seen it plenty.



Lang's Destiny is a tremendous picture that seemingly sees Sjöström's Phantom Carriage integrated into Griffith's Intolerance. In such, this is an episodic film about death, fate and mourning wrapped in some powerful expressionism. 
With some great special effects and some incredible manipulation of the cinematic space through framing and lighting, this is a striking visual spectacle. Beyond this facade, however, is a complex story in terms of structure and subtext. Whilst some chapters of this episodic story are weaker than others, the front and back end of this narrative solidify it as a masterful silent picture. As this narrative develops, we then learn the true meaning of love being stronger than death; love will not overcome death, but, love, if it is genuine, overshadows all that lies beyond the now. 
For the manner in which the various elements of Destiny meld, this is then a film I won't hesitate in recommending.



A masterful showcase cinematography, camera movement and montage, The Cremator is a dark allegorical analysis of Nazification and the Final Solution. Often lost in between rooms and locations, very rarely having a full grip of what is going on, this film has a staccato formal approach punctuated by biting montage and dizzying zooms that manifests a legato sense of cinematic space that bears a liquid continuity. The discord between form and content, between the juddering mise en scène and smooth character journey, demonstrates a descent into madness catalysed through an obsession with death and purity and characterised, thanks to the jarring form, by absurdity that is sometimes funny, other times horrifying. 
Difficult to analyse, but almost impossible not to be struck by, The Cremator screams "New Wave" and demands to be seen. Highly recommended.



The War Game is a somewhat interesting BBC television documentary about possible nuclear fallout in Britain during the Cold War. Whilst this was made in 1965, it was deemed too horrifying to be screened, and so was held back for 20 years until it was cleared for broadcasting. 
It is clear why this was considered horrifying thanks to some graphic details, gruesome imagery, worry interviews and dumbfounding facts. However, this is very clearly a contrived document that far too often becomes sensationalist - seemingly with the intention of shocking or fear-mongering. The War Game is then ultimately confounding. It seems to bear graphic truth that would do well in shattering all illusions people may have had of nuclear war. However, it is almost always on the brink of sensationalist ridiculousness. In the end, best taken with a pinch of salt.





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Good Morning - The Silent Fool

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13/01/2018

Good Morning - The Silent Fool

Quick Thoughts: Good Morning (Ohayō, 1959)

Two children want a T.V, and they won't shut up until they get one - that is, until their parents tell them to shut up and they decide that they will... until they get a T.V.


Good Morning is an Ozu film - brilliantly so. Far lighter than the likes of Tokyo Story this retains a focus on family and time, but captures the humour of the ignorance of youth. My only criticism of this film is that they children, who decide to give their parents the silent treatment when they won't buy them a T.V, are a little too obnoxious at times. This undermines the bigger picture of the film ever so slightly, and so cheapens the motifs of naivety to a degree. However, looking beyond this (which is easy to do), we see a network of genuine characters drawn together in an intricate and warm world with humble mastery, leaving this a pure joy to watch.

Recently, we talked about the idea of the fool as the precursor to the saviour, and such an idea maps onto this film quite directly. In such, Good Morning captures the idea that a foolish act catalyses the emergence of truth. We see this picked up on with a local chairwoman having to accept responsibility for a mistake, with two young love birds talking about the weather instead of letting their true feelings known, with two bratty kids shutting up as their parents want them to as to allow the adults around them drop their personas and fill their silence with their own thoughts/anxieties, and with a young boy soiling his underwear daily in an attempt to fart when someone presses his forehead and so join in on the other kids' game. Without being put in a compromised position, a position of foolishness, the characters of this narrative are shown to be unable to access the truth, nor what they want.

As is clear, this narrative isn't just concerned with truth in a strict sense. Characters often become fools as to reconcile with silence. We see this with the two children refusing to speak so that they can get a T.V (an idiot box) and sit in front of it in silence, and we see this with adults greeting one another and sharing niceties that all mean nothing, but nonetheless carry positive weight that silence does not bear. In these situations, we see characters embodying fools as to accept the truth that they are fools; adults use formalities to quash anxieties and the kids use T.V as to distract themselves from the work they should be doing. In a world without fools, without humans that overthink things, that grind through their days without thanks, that try too hard and fail to try at all, there would be complete silence. It is by acting a fool - going to work when we hate it, sitting in front of the television when we should be studying - that we find ourselves silenced and our lives in balance. This silence can be a burden to bear, but it can also be an alleviation. This silence seems to be the outer and inner world at peace and society functioning smoothly, and it takes many fools and many foolish acts to run the machine and to sustain it.

It is through this relationship between truth, foolishness and silence that Ozu finds comedy. This comedy triggers the contortion of our features and the ringing of silly noises from our mouths, but it also brings about an inner-harmony and a sense of peaceful silence within ourselves. And thus we see this film come full circle. Good Morning is as much about breaking silence through foolishness as it is being a fool to find silence. This silence is harmony, and this foolishness is humanity, and such is the subtle profundity within this film. So, with that said, have you seen Good Morning? What are your thoughts?






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Lady Bird - The Limitations Of The Teen Drama

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