As you may or may not recall, I’m trying to widen my cinematic horizons a bit and finally tackle the film genre of anime. There’s no real reason for me to be so ignorant to it, it just never really felt like “my thing”. But the time has come to see what I’m missing, and thanks to a few faithful friends a watchlist has been compiled to get me started.

I’ve watched a few of the selections, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to recap how things have been going so far.

I’m not sure if SPIRITED AWAY was supposed to be the starting point or not, but that’s what happened. I do know that it’s the film I’ve long been ashamed to admit I haven’t seen, and the one I hear spoken of in the highest regard. So whether or not it was what my mentors had in mind, it was my portal of choice.

With that in mind, let me offer this: If ever anyone comes to you and asks “I’m curious about anime. Where should I begin?”, the answer is most definitely SPIRITED AWAY. The whimsy of this movie was extraordinary, and felt like a trip down the rabbit hole. Actually, at the risk of betraying my former avatar, it was even better than the classic trip down the rabbit hole since it featured a clear narrative thread (as opposed to Alice which is more a series of wacky vignettes). It’s a delicate balance really that shouldn’t be under-sold, as often times stories like this can just turn into “weird for the sake of weird”.

The character design and really the whole world was a really delightful way for me to begin this experiment, and before too long had me saying “So this is what they love about it!”

I’d love to sit here and tell you that SPIRITED AWAY was the beginning of a journey that never had me second-guessing…but I’d be lying. The follow-up selection (which was admittedly much further down the list) was MILLENNIUM ACTRESS. Perhaps beginning with SPIRITED AWAY set the bar too high for starters, but I wasn’t as deeply immersed in my second helping as I was that first night. That’s not to say that I think it’s bad, or that I didn’t like it. What I mean to say is that I didn’t connect with it in quite the same way.

I could have watched a bad copy of it or something, but something in the look of the film felt a little flat to me. The artwork didn’t have the same sort of snap, and the faces lacked the expression that had drawn me into the other film so deeply. It might just be the difference in style between what Kon wanted for this story and what Miyazaki wanted for his. If that’s the case I’ll chalk it up to a rough programme transition. That said, the story was pretty darned cool and I loved the way the narrative cut back and forth from the conversation to Fujiwara’s memories. That echoed the biggest draw from the first film, which was the way it would draw me in with the unexpected.

While I loved the way the director and DP weren’t just listening to the stories, they were actual witnesses (and sometimes participants), when it ended I was left a little unsure of what I’d got myself into.

Any hesitancy I had towards the experiment was immediately dispelled with my next selection, Satoshi Kon’s 2006 gem PAPRIKA.

The cool thing about this one was that it was the first of the series I watched through 5.1 audio…and Sweet Moses did it ever give it a boost! Effects were coming at me every which way, with the complete mix sounding like a Pink Floyd record! It’s rare that I go all AV nerd on what I watch at home, but the difference that it made makes me happy that I waited until I had he proper set-up to throw this one on.

Of course, the film returns to the fantastical elements that spoke to me in SPIRITED AWAY, and sharpens them with some really heady espionage. Over the last year-and-a-half, I’d been increasingly curious about this film since it seemed to be the title many people brought up when discussing INCEPTION. Now, I understand why. The way it wrapped its fantastical elements around the structure of going in-and-out of dreams was a joy to watch, and allowed things to feel a bit more truthful (as opposed to the Lewis Carroll-esque qualities of SPIRITED AWAY).

Thinking about the three films together, I think that PAPRIKA might be my favorite one so far! But we still have a long way to go. I’m hoping to discuss the next round this time next month if I can catch up with TEKKONKINKREET,
5 CENTIMETRES PER SECOND, and GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. I especially want to get them all in before March, as something rather fortunate will be coming down the road then!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…