Everyone has their favorite Studio Ghilbli film. Some go all the way back to the studios roots while others enjoy their titles that made them a national phenomenon. I’ve never really had a favorite, I’ve just enjoyed them all… until now. Something about this film spoke to me. It captured and confirmed what I know of Japanese culture from animations just like this one. It became an instant classic and solidified its place as my favorite Miyazaki/Studio Ghilbli film. The story begins following a young high school girl named Umi. We follow her complex morning routine as she prepares breakfast for the entire house hold and takes care of whatever else she needs to handle that day. Her routines are choreography of perfect timing and ends with her raising two signal flags on the flag post in the front of the home. One of the ships passing by sounds its horn and we head down to the harbor were a young boy named Shun is raising the same flags on his father’s tugboat, in response to Umi’s. The tugboat docks and after another well-choreographed routine begins and ends with Shun as he leaves the ship and begins riding his bike to school.
At this point the plot is still unknown to the viewer, but we have learned quite a bit. We know our main characters and have seen their normal day. We know that this is post war society and that families are incomplete due to deaths and hardships. We can also see that the women’s role in society has changed and grown. It’s not exactly a women’s right movement, but it’s clear that due to the absence of husbands and sons they’ve adapted to a self-sufficient life and taken on other roles in society.
We travel to school and follow Umi again. As she sits down for class a friend shows her a poem in the school newspaper. It’s about a girl flying signal flags and sending her thoughts to the sky. Her friends say that the poem has to be about her and even Umi is silently sure that it is. Later that day while the students are eating lunch outside we’re shown a building that becomes a large part of the story. It’s an old clubhouse that literally houses all of the school’s clubs from newspaper to philosophy.
The dirty shutters open and a flood of students stand at the ready holding banners. They let the banners loose and it becomes clear that they’re protesting the destruction of the clubhouse. Shun and another boy stand together on the roof while other students remove a safety grate over a well. Shun and Umi’s eyes meet for a second, but Shun is giving the go ahead. Without hesitation he runs and leaps from the roof and falls into the trees below, but catches a good bounce and ends up in the well. Umi springs into action and runs over to see if Shun is okay. He pops up and again their eyes meet, but this time the entire school is watching.
The story is incredible. It shows how complex the world can be and that the pains of war are lasting. They don’t simply disappear because the war is over. For both of our characters they’re dealing with the pain of loss, but neither of them imagined that that loss would complicate their budding romance or what romance would do to their normal routines. The writing is again, incredible. The pacing of the plot and the twists and turns are simply perfect.
With any Studio Ghilbli film there is an expectation with the animation. Sometimes we entering a magical world full of fantasy while other times we’re grounded in reality. This story is grounded in reality and it’s beautiful. From the moment I saw the trailer I knew that I wanted to see this movie for the animation along. Watching it I was literally transported back to era, it’s that amazing. The characters are wonderfully animated and have fluid movements. Watching the students clean and bend over could make you sore from watching it was that realistic. The entire world’s movement resembles the real world that we live in.
For me personally, when it comes to animation what makes or breaks it is the coloring. It’s why CG animation can never replace traditional animation. This film has the best coloring I’ve ever seen. Everything from the sky to the sea comes to life due to the vivid coloring making the entire film candy for the eyes.
Part of me wishes that I had watched the film in the theater, that I had tracked down a show time and drove to who knows where to see it. The other part of me is glad that I saw it in the comfort of my own home because it made for a personal viewing experience. It’s because of that reason that this became my favorite film from Studio Ghibli. With the home release just over two weeks away, I would highly recommend pre-ordering a copy to have the day of its release. It’s an absolute treat even if you’re more accustomed to the studio’s fantasy based films. My money says that you’ll enjoy this film the same if not more.
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Animation Studio: Studio Ghibli
Home Release: GKids
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD Combo
Release Date: 9/3/13