‘Ponyo’ – Hayao Miyaki’s ‘Little Mermaid’ fable on HBO Max

Part Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, part ecological fable, and part children’s fantasy come to life, Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo (Japan, 2008) is a gentle storybook film, a simple, sweet tale animated with a delicacy unique to animated features. Ponyo is a water sprite, a curious undersea creature and daughter of the sea gods who […]

Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 acid flashback horror fantasy 'House'

‘House’/’Hausu’ – Japanese madness on HBO Max and Criterion Channel

I can’t begin to find the words to describe House (1977), aka Hausu, an unclassifiable Japanese haunted house/high school romp/demon killer/surreal fantasy film from Nobuhiko Obayashi. Made in 1977 and recently revived and released to the rest of the world, it’s the archival cult find of the decade: a candy-colored style bomb of horror movie […]

‘Shoplifters’ – a family business on Hulu

“What defines a family?” is a question that runs through many of the films of Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda, from the heartbreaking abandoned children of Nobody Knows to the strained relations and recriminations of Still Walking to the loving embrace of Our Little Sister. Shoplifters (Japan, 2018) presents a family on the margins brought together by […]

Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’ on HBO Max

The Wind Rises (Japan, 2013) is a very different kind of feature from Hayao Miyazaki, the beloved filmmaker and animation legend famed for his lush, ambitious, inventive fantasies and mythical adventures. It was a passion project for the director and he chose it as his fitting swan song, a final feature before retiring from filmmaking […]

‘A Silent Voice’ – a powerful animated drama about bullying on Netflix

A Silent Voice (Japan, 2016), an animated feature, adapted from the popular manga serial “The Shape of the Voice” and directed by Naoka Yamada, takes on the issue of school bullying through the story of Shoya (voiced by Miyu Irino), a fun-loving rascal who feeds off the attention he gets when he starts making fun […]

‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ from Hiyao Miyazaki and son on HBO Max

If your idea of Japanese animation is space opera, cyberbpunk action, and Hiyao Miyazaki’s modern fairy tales, then From Up on Poppy Hill (Japan, 2011), might surprise you. Produced and co-scripted by Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro Miyazaki, this is a gentle, somewhat slight story of student life and young love in early […]

‘Mirai’ – Oscar-nominated family fantasy on Netflix

A surprise Oscar nominee in the animated feature category, Mirai (Japan, 2018) is the sweet, imaginative tale of a four-year-old boy who becomes jealous of his newborn sister Mirai when she becomes the center of attention in the household while his parents grapple with new strains that the growing family puts on the household. Mother […]

‘Okko’s Inn’ – an orphaned girl finds purpose on Netflix

An orphaned girl finds purpose when she goes to live with her grandmother, the aging innkeeper of a small spa in a country vacation town known for the healing waters of its natural springs, in the lively animated feature Okko’s Inn (Japan, 2018). Okko, an urban girl who loses her parents in a devastating car […]

‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ on HBO Max

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Japan, 1989) carries us into the experiences of a young witch as she charts her path in the real world. Sincere, spirited Kiki has turned thirteen, the age when witches leave the nest for a year of solo training. She’s ready to take on the world with her broomstick and her best […]

‘Princess Mononoke’ – Miyazaki’s mythic masterpiece on HBO Max

“Something’s wrong. The birds are all gone. The animals too.” Hayao Miyazaki recasts the mythic tale of man’s dominion over the Earth with an animist mythology and a conservationist message in Princess Mononoke (Japan, 1997), his rich fantasy of the battle between the forest spirits and the industrial revolution. Set in the era of Japan’s […]