Friday, February 18, 2005

Pistol Opera

Seijun Suzuki's Pistol Opera is a stylish blend of genre cinema and Japanese Avant Garde (Butoh) theatre and a deadpan (off-the-wall) sense of humour reminiscent of Canadian director Guy Maddin.

The plot is quite simple. Stray Cat, the #3 assassin in the guild is trying to rise to the #1 position by killing those above her. Of course, those below her are trying to do the same. She gets her advice and information from her female guild handler which wears a disguise in the form of a purple scarf and white robe and compulsively flirts with her while giving information. That's it. There really isn't more to say about the story because it is barely there and not really the point of a film like this.

The fight sequences are also quite funny, including a westerner who feels no pain and isn't afraid to prove it to people (even it it means stabbing through himself to get to the target), as well as (at the risk of sounding politically incorrect) an assassin who chases after people in a racing wheelchair while shooting at them. The final sequece jumps fully into the realm of performance art which really shows off the films Butoh influences and is a stylish kicker of a sequence.

There are constant digressions which appear to allude to either gender politics, social commentary or just the whims of the director (I especially loved the hazy yellow underworld where Stray Cat hangs out with her victims, and the bulldozer which instead dumps rose petals on the to-be-destroyed house). One can never be sure as to what it all means, as I really don't have a handle on Japanese culture, though the film never failed to engage me at some level.

Suzuki is an interesting fellow who really doesn't give a shit about the narrative in his films, opting more to focus on the mood of individual scenes and compositions. This sensibility got him fired from Nikkatsu studios when he released the assassin epic Branded to Kill. He worked in Japanese television for about a decade before beginning to sporadically direct films again in the late 1970s. Pistol Opera (2001) is in fact a loose re-envisioning / sequel to Branded to Kill which carries over a couple characters but discards the black and white cinematography for splashy colour, and most of the male assassins are now women. There is mournful jazzy score over the film which is reminiscent of Chinese director wai kar wong for it's resonance through repetition. Like wkw, the Criterion Collection loves Suzuki and have put several of his films out, a good enough sign for any self-respecting film fan to have a look at the body of his work.

It takes a pretty open mind to get through this film, you have to be willing to go with the flow and breathe in the imagery. For those brave enough to take that journey, the rewards are ample.

One last note. I'm really looking forward to Suzuki's next film, a filmed operetta starring Zhang Ziyi called Princess Raccoon.


Blueberry is exciting precisely because it is such a strange blend of styles and genres. The Heaven's Gate to the Mind's Eye? With it's glossy and aztecian CGI butting up against some of the most textured hickory and tumbleweed cinematography I've ever seen, the film is schizophrenic to say the least. At times I felt like I was watching Les Pacte Des Loups juxtaposed on top of The Beastmaster while Dancing with Wolves. Blueberry (the american DVD I watched was titled Renegade) features an eccentric cast comprised entierly of international character actors: Colm Meany (Ireland), Geoffrey Lewis (US), Temura Morrison (New Zealand), Djimon Hounsou (West Africa), Eddie Izzard (England), Tchecky Karyo (who i don't even think I spotted anywhere in the movie), Juliette Lewis and Ernest Borgnine. There is one real star, Vincent Cassel. And really, he is only really famous in France if you discount his small role in Oceans 12 as the Night Fox.
Cassel playes Mike Blueberry, who arrives in Cheyenne country from Louisana (he's Cajun, not Francais) to work on his uncles farm. Very quickly he falls in love with a local prostitute who is murdered in the course of a scuffle between Blueberry and a dangerous trigger-happy lunatic, played laconically by Michael Madsen (somewhere between Mr. Blonde and Budd Sidewinder from the Tarantino-verse). Mike is a weird looking protagonist with his skinny bearded face, hawklike nose and francophone-cowpoke accent. Somehow, the look is perfect for this material.
For a movie based on a comic book, typical comic-to-film conventions are very much left behind the euro-art feel. The film is grainy and rich, you can almost feel the old dusty wood, the waterfalls, the rocky buttes and scrubby plains leap out of the screen. A full frontal nude scene of Juliette Lewis under water feels arty. Some of the most gorgeous prostitutes you've ever seen in a beaten western town feels comic book. The western details and set design of the town feels quite authentic, strangely enough, even with all the central europeans walking around. On top of the several french immigrants, there is also a German geologist/cartographer (Izzard) and an African cowboy (Hounsou) who would feel more at home in Sam Raimi's Quick and the Dead, especially an encounter with the injuns on sacred land.
The final showdown is trippy CGI-laden Billy Jack shamanism which was both surprisingly effective and somewhat anticlimatic. It was original in it's own way and absolutely worth a look for off-beat and unpredictiable (to say the least!) western.

Because I spent much of the running time during the film waiting for Crispin Glover, Lance Henrickson and Michael Wincott to walk on screen, I'm going to say that Blueberry would make a great double bill with Jim Jarmush's Dead Man.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Tuesday night at 8:30pm come by for the Singing in the Rain of Asian Comedy. When I caught this at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, I remarked that it was one of the most flat out effortlessly enjoyable movie experiences i'd had in a while (probably since 2003's ONG BAK, which oddly enough debuted in North America theatrically last weekend). It is the Warner Brother's Looney Toons meets the Shaw Brother's kung-fu! Director/Star Stephen Chow has not had his films imported across the ocean to large audiences despite the fact that he constantly beats Jackie Chan and Jet Li at the chinese box office. His movies combine a chinese sense of humour (a strange blend of humilation and violence passed off as farce) with lots of mainstream eastern and western film references. His Shaolin Soccer is a near-masterpiece of madcap lunacy with state of the art special effects and a campy premise. Here Chow has upped the bar so high, I don't think he will ever top it. To give away the story is to destroy the many, many hilarious surprises that pile on top of each other. Suffice it to say that when the big city axe-gang (shades of Gangs of New York who do cheoreographed dance-numbers with their axes in 1940's shanghai gangster suits) moves in on pig-sty alley, the local landlady and residents aren't going to take it. There are kung fu masters popping out of the stonework everwhere you look and it all adds up to inspired lunacy.
If this film were made in America it would be something throwaway (pun intended) like Dodgeball : Light, parody-driven, fluffy entertainment. But, here, the asian flavouring gives this movie an edge in North America (who know's perhaps somebody in Hong Kong is writing a parallel review of a Ben Stiller movie using Kung Fu Hustle as a conterpoint example...on second thought, probalby not).
Anyway, no brain is required; just a willingness to be entertained by the giddy silliness of the whole affair.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle is unfortunately the weakest of Miyazaki's past three films. This may seem like a knock against the film. It most certainly is not. Howl's Moving Castle is only the weakest because his last two were--ARE--cinematic masterpieces. Howl's falls only a very short step of also being one. Howl's is only weaker than Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke (for me) because of a difficult to understand lead character, Sophie. Early in the film, a witch puts a curse on the young girl and turns her into an old woman. Abandoning her family from the shame of the transformation, she sets out to find the mysterious and elusive Howl, a wizard who wanders the wastelands in a giant castle that walks on narrow metal legs and belches copious amounts of steam and smoke. She hopes that he can remove the curse. Sophie finds and infiltrates the castle to be caught up in the internal dramas of the misfits in the castle, but also the external wars between kingdoms and wizards.

My chief stumbling point with the film is that there is just not enough time spent with Sophie before the conflict comes into play to get to know her as a character prior to transformation. This leads to some narrative glitches, (or culture lost in translation) as she not only becomes an old woman in body, but somehow also in spirit. Somehow she gets the 'wisdom' of being old, lessening the severity of her fate and aiding in her solving the problem of her curse. To some, this may be considered a strength, because it opens up more thematic texture to the film, but it pulled me away from sympathizing with Sophie's plight. With only minimal emotional connection to the main character, my overall emotional investment in the story is minimized to the detriment of the enjoyment of the film. Or something like that.

Howl's is strong in every other aspect.

The complexity of the animation tops anything Ghibli has done before. Truly the last three big Japanese animated films (Howl's, Steamboy and Innocence) showcase the vibrancy of 2D animation to tell a wide range of stories. There is not a single weak point in the visuals, and it breaks new ground in terms of the sheer scale of the animation. Much like Steamboy, Howl's is set in some alternate hybrid universe where technology of different ages are mixed together to form a fantastic and alien universe for it's story. The microcosm of the castle interior with the relationships between the denizens is pure Miyazaki. In fact, you are drawn into the innerworkings as much as, or even more than the Baths in Spirited Away or Iron Town and the Old Forest in Princess Mononoke. Howl's also has so much going on, both in a visual sense and a narrative sense that there is much to be gained from repeat viewing. (I only expect my opinion to rise on this film as I watch it again.)

As always in Miyazaki's films, a strong environmental and anti-war message provide thematic grist for the mill. It is always a pleasure to see what twists and turns his messages will take with the story. The ending comes abruptly. This is a slight weakness, the quick wrap up to an epic story. It is a bit jarring, as you've spent 2 hours with these characters, and you would like to spend more time in their world and there are many loose ends to tie up. But overall it is two hours well spent. I look forward to experiencing (and that is the proper term) this film again.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

About 30 Films in 2005

I spend way too much of my limited free time browsing the web…that being said, I have decided to put some of my wasted time to the use of other people (or, the cynic might say, to waste other peoples time!). Nonetheless, here are films that I have heard or read about that are coming along in 2005 that have my interest. With any year, there are always about a dozen (or more) films that blind-side you completely and obviously they are not on this list. The list started as a thread on the forum, but has grown considerably in the last month, so here it is, but first an interesting trend:

If anything stands out of these expectations of 2005 is that it is truly the year of the animated film. All styles are represented. Traditional animated 2D film, Selick-style stop-motion animation, and claymation (although the Wallace & Gromit feature film is not on the list it is coming out in 2005). The Digital Back-lot style which was pioneered by Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and but also by French film Immortel and Japanese film Casshern (all in 2004, but the Star Wars films were pretty much there in 1999 and 2003) is really beginning to take off. And Richard Linklater is using the 'Rotoscope' technique used in Waking Life and The Polar Express to make a feature film. That is a lot of high-profile animated film to be released in a single year. And this doesn’t include the fast-growing number of 3D CGI animated films Madagascar (from DreamWorks), Chicken Little (from Disney), Robots (from Fox) or Cars (from Pixar) because I believe they will all be failures. Yes, even Cars which I’m sure will make a tonne of money, but will still be awful (being pushed back into 2006 is not a good sign either).

Feel free to give me crap in the comments section if I’ve missed something, but before you do, note that there are some major studio films I did omit for my own reasons (Batman Begins, Be Cool, The Fantastic Four, The Interpreter, The Island, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the above mentioned CGI films).

Here is the list (in no particular order):

Sin City – The first thing that captures you is the look. The most graphic-novel-looking film made to date, it dazzles between black and whites and primary colours. The second thing that gets you is the odd cast: Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benecio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba. Personally, I don’t really imagine any two of these actors in a film together, let alone all of them. Directed by fast-and-loose director Robert Rodriguez -- this gives you an idea of how he makes movies -- (from the IMDb) After a poor Hollywood experience in the early-'90s, Frank Miller refused to relinquish the movie rights to any of his comic works, "Sin City" in particular. Robert Rodriguez, a longtime fan of the comic, filmed his own "audition" for the director's spot in secret. The footage, shot in early 2004, featured Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton acting out the "Sin City" short-story "The Customer is Always Right". He presented the finished footage to Miller with the proclamation: "If you like this, this will be the opening to the movie. If not, you'll have your own short film to show your friends." Miller approved of the footage and the film was underway).

Mirror Mask – "The Wizard of Oz filtered through the looking glass a 21st century Cyberpunk lens doesn’t even begin to describe this Digital Back-lot film. Neil Gaiman and David McKean working with only $4M and Jim Henson Productions (The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth) have fashioned something that is definitely not for all tastes, but frighteningly original. Now if only the story-telling lives up to the sweet visuals.

Layer Cake / Revolver – Is the type of cheeky gangster picture in the same vein as Guy Ritchie (pre-Swept Away). This is not a surprise, as it is being directed by the producer (?!?) of Ritchie’s two gangster pictures, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Speaking of Ritchie, after being swept under the carpet with his last picture, he is going back to what he knows. Initial stills of the flick look very, very good. Ray Liotta is a good casting choice.

Ana-life – Is one of those asian explorations on reality and existance. It has a strange and unusual trailer that reminds me of 3-Iron (another film in the same genre) in a lot of ways. Considering how highly I regard 3-Iron, I’m there when this movie comes out.

The New WorldTerrance Malick is a director who puts out starkly lyrical pictures, usually at the rate of 1 every 15 years or so. So it is quite impressive that he is going to release The New World only 7 years after his WWII masterpiece, The Thin Red Line. This film seems to be a non-historical variant on the Pocahontas story.

Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith: Despite George Lucas crapping on his cash-cow franchise for several years now, there is still a spark of anticipation for the third (sixth?) and supposedly darkest entry into the Star Wars Universe. I really don't have to say more on this subject, as it is about to be rammed down your throat from massive merchanidising tie-ins.

Brick – A high school drama filmed in the style of 1940s noir, with the hard-boiled dialogue and narrative labyrinths?? Unusual to say the least. To boot, it had a fair bit of buzz coming out of the Sundance Film Fesival.

Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog) – Who would have ever figured we would get a movie starring Jet Li and Morgan Freeman? Delroy Lindo maybe, but not Morgan Freeman. And who would have figured it would be a French production using a Chinese, English and an American Star? Anyway, this looks like Li could finally live up to his promise from many of the great Chinese films he made in the 90s (and of course recently in Hero).

King Kong – Is it just me, or does Naomi Watts look a bit like Frances McDormand in that photo? Can this modern take on the Big Ape live up to either Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the original 1933 version? Many people think it can, and judging from the various production video-diaries on the website, it is going to look good. But will it have the narrative and story beyond the visuals? I'm not worried.

Howl’s Moving CastleHayao Miyazaki is the Godfather of modern animation, and a name that deserves to be as gigantic as Walt Disney. In Japan he has reached that status, but over here his great films have always received short shrift. What particularly smarts is the total indifference Disney released Spirited Away in North America despite it somehow managing to win the Oscar for best animation. Howl’s Moving Castle is about a young girl who is transformed into an old woman, and must find the secret to getting her youth back in a gigantic castle which walks on mechanical legs and spits steam and fire into the air. It's getting a mixed reaction over in Japan right now, but even mediocre Miyazaki is better than most films animated or otherwise.

Corpse BrideTim Burton delves into a project with Stop Motion Animation again without collaborating with Henry Selick (probably because he was busy doing The Life Aquatic and Coraline, but possibly due to a falling out after A Nightmare Before Christmas)…Using one of his regular actors, Johnny Depp in the lead role and Helena Bonham Carter as his bride from beyond the grave. Playfully creepy and darkly funny, this looks like it will rescue Burton from his string of lackluster films (Planet of the Apes, Big Fish) . I'm also looking (somewhat, reservedly) forward to his remake (arrrghhh!) of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Mike Judge Untitled Project (aka 3001) – The IMDB has the plot summary of Mike Judge’s new film as follows: “Private Joe Bowers, the definition of "average American", is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program, set 1,000 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.” Can Judge outdo his own cult comedy, Office Space? With this great premise, I’m hoping so.

Brothers Grimm – After going several years without a Terry Gilliam film, we might possibly see two in 2005 (See also, Tideland on this list). With the luck Gilliam usually has, we will be lucky to see either. The Brothers Grimm is a fictional story about the two brothers who combed the German country side compiling faerie tales and old stories. In the movie, the brothers (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) are traveling con-artists bilking villagers out of money with bogus exorcisms of the faerie. They are blindsided by the appearance of the real thing in a real enchanted forest. Will this be Sleepy Hollow meets The Frighteners with a Gilliam look and feel?

The Woods – A couple of years ago there was this great little quirky horror picture called May which had some genuinely disturbing images. Director Lucky McKee is back with his second film about a private girl’s school with strange things going on in the woods. With small roles from Patricia Clarkson and Bruce Campbell, it is definitely going to be worth a look.

Land of the Dead / Evil Dead 4George Romero adds a forth entry into his zombie anthology, the first of which gave birth to the modern zombie film. Each of the previous films were laden with commentary of their times – Night of the Living Dead on race, morality and social conscience, Dawn of the Dead on commercialism run rampant, Day of the Dead on the pressures of competing agendas leading to self destruction (i.e. during the early eighties cold-war spike). What territory will Land of the Dead cover. I’m hoping it is not being made just because Zombie films hot right now due to 28 Days Later and the remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. And what is up with casting Dennis Hopper? Interesting. At the other end of the spectrum, Sam Raimi may be taking a break from the Spiderman films and making a 4th entry into the classic screwball horror Evil Dead Series. There is a remake in the works which is a bad idea, but a 4th film starring “The Bruce” and directed by Raimi is enough to get almost any fan-boy salivating. Now do they continue from the “S-Mart Ending” or the “Alternate Future World Ending”?

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – A book that many consider un-filmable. The humour in it is so textual. Nevertheless, positive advance word and great casting (The Office’s Tim as Arthur, Stephen Fry as the Guide, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod and Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin) leave me hopeful that it will all come together.

A Scanner DarklyPhillip K. Dick (at his most paranoid) provides the source material for this Richard Linklater animated film. An undercover cop trying to get to the source of a drug distribution ring gets so addicted to the drug; he begins to narc on himself…while in the middle of a mental breakdown. Using the ‘Rotoscoping’ techniques (digital animation over top of footage of live actors) pioneered on the surreal Philosophy 101 film, Waking Life, Linklater and a small army of animators recreating a comic-book / anime look and feel over Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., and Wynona Ryder.

Romance & Cigarettes: A musical directed by legendary character actor John Turturro, the IMDB has this to say: This big-screen musical is being described as Pennies From Heaven meets The Honeymooners, as set in Bensonhurst, N.Y. In it, a two-timing husband must choose between his mistress and his beleaguered wife. James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Eddie Izzard, Steve Buscemi, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken and Kumar Pallana(from Wes Anderson's films). Wow. Great Cast!

Jarhead – After Ray and Collateral in 2004: Here comes Jamie Foxx into 2005. Sam Mendes (American Beauty) directs a script based on Anthony Swofford's Persian Gulf War memoir. Drawing on his own experiences as a Marine grunt in Vietnam, William Broyles wrote a script that studio and producers felt captured Swofford's voice and vivid descriptions of war.

Nobody Knows – A Japanese film about a woman who abandons her 4 children in the apartment where they live with only a few dollars. The children are not sure when she is coming back and eventually begin to fend for themselves. Friends who saw this film at last years Toronto International Film Festival loved it. Warning, this is not a happy story, and there were few dry eyes at the TIFF screening.

Coraline – The first full stop-motion animated feature from Henry Selick since Nightmare Before Christmas (his unique animated techniques were used for most of James and the Giant Peach and Monkey-Bone, but sparingly in The Life Aquatic). This is based on the Neil Gaiman creepy children’s novel, which I will have to read before seeing the film. I’ve got it earmarked as a 2005 film using the IMDb as a reference, but word around the internet is that it may be 2006 or later before the film is actually released.

The Kind Ms. Geomja (aka Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) – The conclusion to Chan Wook-Park's original and disturbing 'Vengeance Trilogy'. The trilogy is composed of three extreme films which are more connected by theme than story elements. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy (which just came in second for the Palm D'Or at Cannes, losing to the inferior Fahrenheit 911) are fantastic (if extremely disturbing) films putting Wook-Park in the elite of S. Korean directors working today.

Princess Raccoon - You have to see the trailer to really understand why I’m looking forward to this film. A Japanese film starring Chinese superstar Zhang Ziyi (the second japanese character she will be playing including her role in the film version of Memoirs of a Geisha) which is in the vein of Moulin Rouge, One From the Heart, or Tears of the Black Tiger…It wears it artificiality on its sleeve. I have a soft spot for films that pull this off. The director of the film, Seijun Suzuki is one of the prolific Japanese directors, with films stretching all the way back to the 1950s and he is a Criterion Collection favorite. I have not seen a single one of his many other films, unfortunatly.

Domino / Southland Tales - There are two new projects from Richard Kelly (the writer/director of the massive cult-hit Donnie Darko) coming out in 2005. Domino is directed by Tony Scott and I’m hoping it is more of a True Romance than a Top Gun. The cast is interesting, with cameos from Christopher Walken, Lucy Liu, Mickey Rourke, Jacqueline Bisset and Delroy Lindo. It stars very young actresses Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Mena Suvari (American Beauty). This is very much Scott style material, as the IMDb plot summary goes: A recounting of Domino Harvey's life story. The daughter of actor Laurence Harvey turned away from her career as a Ford model to become a bounty hunter. Southland Tales is written and directed by Kelly and, according to the IMDb, is part musical, part comedy. It stars a host of young actors who have been making (good or bad) names for themselves. Don’t let the IMDb mislead you, the website is creepy as hell and while it sounds, in the description, quite a ways away from Donnie Darko material, it may not actually be too far of a divergence. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what Kelly does with his second kick at the can.

Thumbsucker - I'll let the 2005 Sundance Film Festival Catalogue do the talking here: Addiction can take many forms: drugs, gambling, sex, and food are common ones. But for Justin Cobb, it is thumb sucking. A bright but awkward high-school teen, he wants to quit, but nothing works. He tries everything from putting ink on his thumb (a tip from his woefully uncommunicative father) to hypnosis from his New Age orthodontist. He gets so desperate that when a school psychologist suggests using medication to help him focus, Justin leaps at the chance, despite his loving mother's concern. In a refreshingly original and humorous spin, the meds begin to work. But are they the answer or just a more acceptable form of pacification? Thumbsucker features a truly extraordinary cast that turn in magnificent performances captured by exquisite cinematography--creating an ethereal aesthetic to shape a modern-day fairy tale filled with humor, charm, and fragile love. Acclaimed graphic artist and music-video director Mike Mills returns to Sundance (his short, Architecture of Reassurance, played in 2000) with another beautifully rendered examination of suburban angst. With his feature debut, he delivers on his unlimited potential, displaying an amazing cinematic dexterity combined with an acute insight into the human condition to produce a visually stunning and thought-provoking portrait of addiction--rooted in suburbia, but relevant to everyone.Trevor Groth (SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL)

A History of Violence - A David Cronenberg film adapted from a graphic novel…An average family is thrust into the spotlight after the father commits a seemingly self-defense murder at his diner.

Banlieue 13 – After the martial arts action film was re-defined in 2003 with Thailand’s ONG BAK: Muay Thai Warrior (to be released, February 2005 in North America, but picked up by French Uber-producer Luc Besson in 2004), along comes a Besson production which may reach similar heights.

Wow, that took longer than expected to post, but I'm not finished yet...

Lastly, if you are not overwhelmed by the massive list here, I have seen the following films which are being released in 2005 and highly recommend them (links go to Blog entries in most cases):

Ong Bak - Muay Thai Warrior (February)
3-Iron (March)
Kung Fu Hustle (March)
Gunner Palace (March)
Clean (September)
Vital (hopefully sometime in 2005, maybe 2006)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Come out at 8:15pm for drinks before an 8:30pm show.

Noticing the the heavy Asian content of KBT screenings, I am looking this week to remedy a gap. There has been no Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki film screened. Princess Mononoke, with no hyperbole, is quite possibly the best animated movie ever made. It is a fantasy film, and action film, an environmentalist cautionary tale and a character drama. A boy-prince from a remote village of tribes people gets attacked by some sort of demon leaving his arm scarred and diseased. The village elders tell him to head west in search of a cure for the disease. When the prince leaves he encounters a complex world outside his village with a group of people trying to eke out a living by mining, but at war with the forest creatures for destroying their old-forest. The emperor has designs on the iron works as well. The animals of the old forest are bigger and smarter than ordinary animals, able to converse with the humans. Also, the wolves have adopted an orphan girl who fights on the side of the old-forest. She and the boy-prince become mediators in the war of progress vs. tradition. Sumptuously animated almost completely by hand, it is gorgeous to look at, and epic in scale. Disney, who owns the North American rights to distribute all animated pictures from Japan’s Studio Ghibli (who produced this film in 1997), layed down an excellent English dub track with Hollywood actors (Clair Danes, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thorton and Billy Crudup) and a voice script adapted by graphic novelist, author and soon to be filmmaker Neil Gaiman.