[Jul 24] “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)
After the events of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is on the run and still trying to track down what’s going on with Treadstone and his past. When journalist Simon Ross finds out about the Treadstone successor program Blackbriar, Bourne gets a lead, but is soon dodging evil CIA officials and assassins again. I liked this movie a lot more than The Bourne Supremacy, it was very well paced, giving Bourne just enough information to keep the mystery intriguing all the way through. I liked the way that it wove together the end of the previous movie – at the beginning, Bourne is escaping from Moscow after talking with Neski’s daughter, and the epilogue scene where he talks to Landy is actually in the middle of The Bourne Ultimatum, and it’s integral to the plot. I wasn’t a big fan of the shaky cam and quick cuts (continued from the previous movie), and I found the action scenes similarly hard to follow, but that didn’t matter so much because of the better pacing.
[Jul 25] “Porco Rosso” (1992)
Another Studio Ghibli movie, and probably one of the least well known Miyazaki movies. We follow Porco Rosso, who is an ace seaplane pilot and bounty hunter off the coast of Italy in the 1930s. He also happens to be cursed to be an anthropomorphic pig. When brash American pilot Donald Curtis shows up, he quickly becomes Porco Rosso’s rival in flying, courting women, and in the bounty hunting business, and Porco has to figure out how to deal with that. I thought this would be a movie aimed squarely at children, what with the protagonist being a pig, but it’s actually exactly the opposite. There’s adventure and pirates and cool flying and so on, but Porco is a curmudgeonly character (voiced masterfully by Michael Keaton) with some pretty serious flaws, which makes him interesting, but definitely not straightforward. The other characters are great too, I especially liked Fio – Miyazaki really does spunky young women like no one else. Cary Elwes seems like he’s having a lot of fun voicing Curtis. I also liked the ending a lot, there’s no grand triumph, but it ends very nicely. I’m not sure why more people don’t talk about this movie.
[Jul 26] “The Bourne Legacy” (2012)
We found out today that the fifth Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, is releasing this week, and since we’ve coincidentally been on a Bourne kick lately, we figured that we might as well catch up on the series completely. Jason Bourne is not actually in this movie, it’s about operative Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner) from a related project, Operation Outcome. As the revelations about Treadstone and Bourne are revealed to the world, all the Outcome operatives are taken out to hide the truth of the program. Of course, Aaron Cross escapes and now he’s on the run. I liked this movie in a lot of ways; it expands the world of Bourne, it integrates tightly with the other Bourne movies (this series is really good at that), there are a lot more interesting settings, Jeremy Renner is charming, and Rachel Weisz plays a realistic-seeming scientist that actually seems passionate about her technobabble. I went into it expecting Aaron Cross to be another Jason Bourne, but the programs seem pretty different – Treadstone seemed more about assassination, whereas Outcome was about intelligence gathering – so Cross knows who he is, he smiles often, he doesn’t seem to have been brainwashed, he’s just genetically enhanced. That makes for a pretty different type of story, but once I got used to it, I enjoyed it. I thought the end could have been better and had more closure – I wasn’t clear why they would have stopped looking for him.
[Jul 28] “Pom Poko” (1994)
Pom Poko follows a population of raccoon dogs (tanuki) who live in the Tama Hills outside of Tokyo. As the city is expanding, Tama Hills is scheduled to be cleared and leveled to build a high density suburb, which would leave the tanuki homeless. The tanuki decide to fight back, some using their amazing transformative powers to “haunt” the area, and others fighting back in more violent ways.
I watched this movie a really long time ago, before I know much about anime, and I remember thinking it was extremely weird (especially the magical expanding scrota of the tanuki.) It’s actually a pretty compelling movie, and all the things I found odd before didn’t even register as notable this time around. The movie can be read as having an environmentalist message, but I think it’s more about seeing how a population reacts to rapid and inevitable societal change. It’s never nice to see animals lose their habitat, but the movie doesn’t dwell on the sadness, instead focusing on the tanuki living life to the fullest despite their circumstances. We see the stories of many different tanuki without moral judgement on their choices, and that ends up making the overall movie a lot more nuanced than others I’ve seen.
[Jul 29] “Whisper of the Heart” (1995)
Whisper of the Heart is the next Studio Ghibli movie, and the first non-Miyazaki or Takahata directed movie (although it was written by Miyazaki.) Shizuku, a girl who loves reading books notices that the same person (Seiji Amasawa) has checked out all the same books as her. In parallel, she meets an infuriating boy that’s in her grade, who of course turns out to be Seiji.
I’ve seen this movie before, but I don’t think I understood how good it was until I watched it this time. It’s a sweet and subtle romance, but it’s also a coming of age movie – like Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Shizuku must come to terms with herself, but Whisper of the Heart portrays that growth in the context of having good relationships with others. The relationship between Shizuku and Seiji seemed completely natural to me, showing strong emotion without any melodrama. I enjoyed the other characters too – Shizuku’s parents and sister (and their relationships with Shizuku), Seiji’s grandfather and his story with Louise, and especially the Baron.
[Jul 30] “Princess Mononoke” (1997)
Another Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki movie (and arguably the most famous one.) Prince Ashitaka must travel far to the west to find a cure for a curse that he acquired while protecting his village from a demon. Once he gets there, he finds himself in the middle of a fight between a mining colony and the inhabitants of the local forest. The inhabitants of the forest are mainly animals and spirit gods, but one of them is San (Princess Mononoke), a human girl raised by wolves.
As with Pom Poko, one of Princess Mononoke‘s themes is man’s relationship with nature and the inevitability of loss as man progresses. Neither side is portrayed as good or bad – the main enemy is just a refusal to compromise. San and the animal spirits are enraged and violent at the loss of their forest, and Lady Eboshi is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that her settlement and factory is not threatened. But she is also kind and protective of her workers, and works with people that no one else will – ex-prostitutes and lepers. Just like Ashitaka, you end up admiring both San and Lady Eboshi, but despair whether they can ever find common ground. The soundtrack is fantastic – it’s much more epic than the previous movies. Also, the movie was adapted to English by Neil Gaiman, which means it flows extremely well, although many references to Japanese folklore and tradition were removed to make the story more accessible. I don’t think this is the most enjoyable Ghibli movie, but it’s definitely one of the best ones.