Spirited Away (2003)

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Carroll

Spirited Away has been heralded as one of the must-see children’s films of all time and is indeed captivating for adults and children alike. It is an animated film (that the Japanese seem to be so good at) with Chihiro, a 10-year old in the centre of the plot. She is moving with her family to a new house and on the way her father takes a detour and they end up going for a walk through a tunnel. What happens on the other side of the tunnel in this new world is the result of an amazing imagination. Chihiro has to give up a lot to survive, even her name. However, it can be a bit intense and edgy though – I watched it with my seven-year old and he covered his eyes at many points. To me, it is a cross between Monsters Inc and Harry Potter, without any comedy. If you look closely at the DVD cover you will get an idea of the types of characters you’ll come across in the film.

On the DVD that we watched, it was a double DVD with the film in the Japanese language but it also had an English language version. If you are watching it with younger kids who don’t speak Japanese, I would go for the English version first as I think the ‘scare’ factor is increased if they can’t understand the words and are instead picking up on every nuance of the music soundtrack as they can’t keep up with subtitles.

Winner of the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated Film and the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. It has been the most successful film release ever in Japan.

The Director of the film is Hayao Miyazaki, who also directed Princess Mononoke. In Japanese with English subtitles. Some DVDs in English.

To buy  Spirited  Away  and other  Japanese language films>>
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Princess Mononoke (2001)

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

The film is set in ancient Japan; the story begins with a Curse God approaching a small village and destroying everything that gets in its way. Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) rides out to stop the God and he succeeds in killing it. The God puts a curse on him, which will eventually kill him. The village wise woman tells Ashitaka that he must travel west and find the Forest Spirit who is his only hope for survival. The film portrays his trek to find the Forest Spirit and the encounters he finds along the way.

On his travels the Prince becomes friends with a monk (Billy Bob Thornton) and he comes to the edge of a forest where Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver) has built a village with a large ironworks. With the creation of her village she has caused a lot of animals to die, leading to near extinction. The animal gods of the forest begin attacking humans who come too near to them and who pose a threat. This is where we meet Princess Mononoke (Claire Danes) who is fighting alongside the animals and will stop at nothing to kill Eboshi.

Princess Mononoke is a Disney film, but when watching it you would not think so. Yes, there is a prince and a princess and of course the moral of man vesus nature but that is as far as the traditional story tale from Disney goes. The film has violent images and a lot of bloodshed, but this helps to tell the story. The visual images of the film are fantastic and Miyazaki really is a genius when it comes to directing. If you enjoyed Spirited Away you will definitely enjoy Princess Mononoke.

Language is Japanese with English subtitles.

To buy  Princess Mononoke  and other  Japanese language films>>

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Akira (1987)

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Akira is a Japanese animation. Directed and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira begins on July 16 1988. What seems to be an atomic bomb is dropped on Tokyo, completely destroying the city and WW3 begins. We are taken 31 years later to Neo-Tokyo (a city risen from the ruins of old Tokyo). The city is experiencing problems caused by biker gangs. Tetsuo, a member of a bike gang has a near accident with a young boy. The military capture both the young boy and Tetsuo. They discover that Tetsuo has a psychic ability.

Tetsuo is then used as a test subject to find Akira (the cause of the explosion that destroyed Tokyo in 1988). The military’s plan to find Akira using Tetsuo backfires and Tetsuo becomes a medium for Akira. Tetsuo has incredible powers and begins to go on a rampage that leads to violent and bloody death, nearly destroys Neo Tokyo, and reveals Akira’s secrets which have been buried for over 30 years.

Akira is a fantastic visual film. It verges on a little too much violence at times but this only adds to the impact of the film. Even though it is an animation Akira shows a scary future which is very real. The characters are so well thought out that you cannot help but feel for them even though they are animated. This film is a must although I would not recommend it for children as it is anything but a Disney film. It is very graphic and violent and there are brief scenes of nudity during the film.

A Japanese animation with English subtitles.

To buy  Akira  and other  Japanese language films>>

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