Tag Archive | anime

Monday’s movie(s) you might have missed: Summer Wars and Wolf Children

No country’s cinema has so thoroughly explored the family as Japan’s. The master Yosujiro Ozu focused almost exclusively on interactions within families in his films. Animation, such a robust part of Japan’s cinematic legacy, is no exception. Among animators, I don’t think anyone, from any country, has asked what it is to be a family with such inventiveness and curiosity as Mamoru Hosoda.

Today, I hope to bring to your attention two of the very best animated films of the 2010s: Summer Wars and Wolf Children. Both films center squarely on families: one a huge, sprawling clan gathered for a reunion, the other a mother and her two children, simply trying to get by.

Summer Wars is one of those films so loaded with detail that explaining all of it can seem dizzying. The protagonist is a young man named Kenji. He is a mathematician who helps moderate a social network called OZ. OZ is a vast virtual world that is half-RPG, half every app you have on your smartphone. You can have a duel with a ninja rabbit there one moment and take care of your banking the next. Kenji gets invited by a pretty young woman named Natsuki to her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday party. She explains that her family expects her to have a boyfriend, and she asks him to pretend to be hers. He accepts. We think we know where this story is going: a sweet summer romance plot, where the two characters find they actually like each other. It goes there, sure, but that ends up only being a fraction of the film’s plot.

There are two overarching plots in this film. First, Kenji goes around meeting Katsuki’s family. Her great-grandmother, Sakae, is a matriarch in every sense of the word. The family bends to her wisdom, and thankfully she possesses an ample supply. A vast army of parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, and every other form of family in between shows up for the birthday party. There is nowhere to run without bumping into multiple sets of scrutinizing eyes.

The other plot involves a hostile AI called Love Machine taking over OZ. This has global implications: most of the tech-using world uses OZ, including entire banks and militaries. Somehow, Summer Wars manages to meld these two storylines together. Kenji ends up getting mistakenly blamed for creating Love Machine, and ends up having to recruit Katsuki’s family to defeat it. In classic anime fashion, we see these showdowns in full theatre: real time fights play out in the virtual world between the family’s characters and the AI.

What I just described could easily be a plot for a mindless yet fun story. What elevates Summer War is how deftly it works the story of a family into the fabric of its gleeful sci-fi absurdity. Long before we witness combat between avatars, we meet every member of the family. There are long breaks in the action for dinners, conversations, and arguments. The story is always driven the characters, and the cast is large and lovingly written. When the showdown with Love Machine ends up threatening the world, and the family rallies together to attempt to defeat it, it’s a joyful moment. The climax of the film involves a series of escalating stakes we might expect from a sci-fi adventure, but the stakes are higher and the moments more meaningful because we know and like everyone involved. We are rooting, not for a character, but a team.

Wolf Children is a major change of pace from Summer Wars, but its plot is similarly unusual. Its protagonist is a college student named Hana. She meets and falls in love with a man who (it is revealed on their first night together) is a werewolf. That doesn’t affect her feelings, and they settle down and have two children together; a daughter, Yuki, and a son, Ame. The children are also werewolves, changing between their human and wolf forms as they see fit. What happens after that I will not spoil: this is a film that spans years in Hana’s life, whose power is derived from the small moments it uses to tell the story of those years. Wolf Children is abundant with splendid scenes that deserve to be seen without being spoiled. This film is full of heart and empathy. At its core, it is about the struggles of raising children with few resources. Hosada gracefully integrates the wrinkle: the children are werewolves. Raising human children is hard enough. When an argument can turn into a literal dogfight, or if your apartment forbids pets, it creates challenges that demand some extraordinary resourcefulness from Hana.

Hosada takes this material seriously. We are soon drawn into its rhythms, its portrayal of a family with a unique set of challenges. We never see the expectations of genre storytelling creep in. Hosada has more important questions to ask of these characters. As the children get older, do they have to continue to hide their identities? How do they handle those identities? Yuki and Ame begin to develop fiercely independent streaks: Yuki wants to blend in with her friends, while Ame finds himself drawn more and more to the woods. Hosada casts no judgements on the characters for the decisions they make for themselves. He is simply observing, letting this most unusual and fascinating story play out on its own terms.

Hosada is a storyteller of immense ambition and precise touch. Both Summer Wars and Wolf Children could easily have succumbed to their inherent strangeness. Instead, both films achieve a familiar quality without pandering to genericness. Summer Wars achieves this through an extraordinary balance of its stories. Wolf Children, meanwhile, is a fable told by a scribe more interested in the characters than in lessons. Both films are lovely to look at as well. OZ is one of my favorite science fiction movie locations. Like the very best places sci-fi can take us (my personal favorites are the cities from Dark City and Metropolis) OZ is both vividly rendered (my favorite detail is a shot of half a dozen stadiums, each for a different sport, floating in an arch in the void) and replete with possibility. It is full of charming minutiae and seemingly infinite in size. And Wolf Children is often extraordinarily beautiful, in Hosada’s mastery of its tone and his attunement to its emotional beats.

Mamoru Hosada has been cutting his teeth in animation since 1999. He worked on shows like Digimon and Samurai Champloo before getting his feature film break with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. That film, a more straightforward sci-fi (based on a beloved novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui that has had 8 total film and TV adaptations), hinted at what he was capable of as a filmmaker: taking old-fashioned genre plots and propelling them with strong characters. Summer Wars and Wolf Children show Hosada in full command of these strengths. With both films, he turns plots that look like grab bags into stories of remarkable beauty and power.

The most Studio Ghibli moment of all is not what you think

The single most Studio Ghibli moment of all Studio Ghibli moments occurs in Whisper of the Heart. It’s not a moment of artistic splendor or imaginative wonder, but a throwaway line by a girl who’s mad at her dad.

It occurs when Shizuku is at her best friend Yuko’s house. They are about to discuss some major boy troubles. Yuko glances at her dad sitting in the living room. He greets them cheerfully. She whispers to Shizuku “we’re not speaking,” or something to that effect, while the dad appears to be utterly oblivious to this apparent tension with his daughter.

I think about this moment, in the context of cinematic world building, a lot. Yuko is a secondary character in this film. She has some key scenes, a minor arc of her own, but it’s all backup to Shizuku’s goings-on. Yuko’s dad never appears again. It’s a throwaway line of dialogue with absolutely no bearing on the plot. And yet it packs a lot of information that gets us thinking about these characters.

Is Yuko playing up her conflict with her dad? Or maybe she has a strained relationship with her dad, and this is a regular occurrence? We never know: the film doesn’t linger on the dialogue. Shizuku also doesn’t have anything to say about it.

But also consider that Shizuku and Yuko are best friends. The line is the sort of thing people actually say to their friends that rarely ends up in movies. Normally, such a line would have to be followed up in the story. Chekov talked about guns but we apply to the rule to just about everything. Instead, its passivity is actually a very subtle indication of Yuko’s comfort in talking to Shizuku.

Studio Ghibli films are regularly marvels of packing a lot of information in small packages; one of my main gripes with the English dubs is how often they fill silent moments with unnecessary verbal exposition. The films are masterpieces of less-is-more storytelling. This scene is not important at all to the plot. But Yoshifumi Kondo and Hayao Miyazaki obviously saw it as a moment to flesh out this world, a chance to know these characters a little but more.

In Miyazaki’s fantasy films, he fills the screen to the brim with detail, often hiding incredible works of art on the outer edges where we might never notice them. Isao Takahata’s masterpieces of quiet real-life, Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday, are full of moments that show that there is no better way to learn about someone than to see what they do when nothing else is happening. In this contemporary film, one of the very best made by Studio Ghibli, there are no mythical monsters and sentient lamps to put on screen. But there is still ample worldbuilding to be done.

As I said before, Whisper of the Heart‘s drama is constructed entirely around the anxieties of growing up and realizing that you are going to leave behind all that is familiar to you. That Whisper of the Heart takes every possible moment to make that world as familiar to us as it is to Shizuku is one of its greatest strengths.

Unlocking Millennium Actress, Satoshi Kon’s Masterpiece (Review Roulette: #8)

“After the full moon it starts to wane. But with the 14th night, there’s still tomorrow. And hope.”

This line of dialogue has resonated with me for years. When I first saw Millennium Actress, I was startled by the places it took me. As a 16 year old starting to fall in love with movies, here was an animated film like no film I had ever seen. At times it’s a frenzied chase through Japanese history, at times a slapstick comedy, and at times like the scene that gives us the quote above: sincere, contemplative, and bittersweet.


The line is spoken by a painter. He is a revolutionary, on the run from a fierce looking army officer with a scar on his eye.  He finds refuge for the night thanks to a teenage girl named Chiyoko Fujiwara. She finds him wounded, takes pity on him, and hides him in the storage shed of her family’s store. Chiyoko and the painter share one night together, one that consists entirely of quiet and earnest conversation. He tells her of the beautiful winters in his home town. He says he will take her there to repay her for her help. He leaves her a key as a thank you present. He is gone in the morning. Their one meeting serves as core from which Millennium Actress derives its boundless energy, as it takes us through Chiyoko’s life. She becomes an actress, and then a major movie star. She marries a successful filmmaker. And she never stops looking for the painter. She holds on to the key like a relic.

The film opens on a documentary filmmaker named Genya and his harried cameraman named Kyoji trekking up a very tall hill to Chiyoko’s home. She is old, her former film studio has just closed, and Genya (an unabashed fan of Chiyoko and her films) wants to get an interview with her for his documentary about the studio. They start to talk, Kyoji films, and the movie begins to unfold.


If this all sounds straightforward enough, buckle up.  Chiyoko’s stories from her life weave imperceptibly in and out of memories from her movies. Scenes repeat themselves, in different eras, sometimes clearly on film sets, sometimes clearly from Chiyoko’s life, often apparently both. Genya and Kyoji are always right there in every jump through time and reality. Genya plays along, sometimes inserting himself as a character, or weeping at how a moment that is clearly from Chiyoko’s real life made him cry thirty times. Kyoji, mercifully for the audience, is confused as he is jerked through time and reality, providing a running commentary of dismay.

Confused? Don’t be. Millennium Actress very quickly reveals itself as a film about feelings, not facts. We are following Chiyoko’s emotional quests, not a linear story of her life. Her search for the painter is not a quest in any traditional sense. It occupies her soul and affects her life time and time again.


I love when films take radical approaches to how we perceive memories. In my piece about The Tree of Life, I mentioned how we don’t recall our pasts in perfect, chronological detail. The Tree of Life presented memories of a childhood in sun-drenched fragments that aimed less to tell a story than to bathe us in feelings. Millennium Actress takes an even more audacious approach, disregarding chronology and realism almost entirely.

But Millennium Actress is not science fiction. Chiyoko is telling Genya her life story. Genya is a huge fan of Chiyoko’s movies. Together, their memories might very well combine create something that looks like this movie. That Kyoji is very much afraid for his life as he is dragged through time is another matter for another time.

Millennium Actress was the second film by animator Satoshi Kon. His first was the psychological thriller Perfect Blue. That film was a hot mess in the best possible way, a headlong tumble into a genre rarely broached by animators. In Perfect Blue, a pop star turned actress deals with a violent stalker who is angry that she has abandoned her music career. The film, like Millennium Actress, deliberately blurred the lines between showbusiness and reality. But while Perfect Blue used this device as a thriller would, to disorient the audience and draw us into the world of a character growing detached from reality, Millennium Actress is more versatile. One montage of Chiyoko’s film career at first simply seems to be an exercise in style (a beautiful one at that) until it suddenly segues into something far more serious.


The movie continually informs its narrative during its forays into Chiyoko’s memories. And when Kon makes it clear that a scene is depicting an actual event in Chiyoko’s life, those moments are all the more potent as a result. Consider a wordless scene where Chiyoko finds a gift that the painter left for her in the rubble of her post-war home. Or a scene late in the film when Genya confronts the scar-eyed general to learn more about the painter. The general pops up throughout the film like a specter of Chiyoko’s fears, but he is all too real a person, now broken by a lifetime of cruelty. These scenes are simple but overwhelming in their power. Millennium Actress builds to moments of heartbreak by showing us the contents of Chiyoko’s heart, rather than a point by point rundown of her history. We may not know the precise chronology of her life, but we are fluent in who she is.

Millennium Actress envelops you and then flies. It is a roller-coaster ride through memories and feelings, and it knows that those two things are inextricably linked in ways that movies all too often forget. Its is heartbreaking and uplifting, often at the same time, in ways that only a movie about an entire life can be. Chiyoko looks back through her life, one with seemingly far more regret than triumph. She dedicated so much of it to a chase that seemed destined to be fruitless. And all she can do is smile. It was the chase, she says, that she really loved.


Words Unspoken: Studio Ghibli and Visual Storytelling Part 1

Hey all! Here is part one of my online, written out version of my Anime Boston Panel. Two more parts are forthcoming. There will be extra content in these posts that wasn’t in my panel because I’ve had three weeks to think about them. Consider these a director’s cut.

Part 1: Light and Whisper of the Heart

Describing the basics of the visual language of movies can take a long time and be very boring and who wants that, so here’s a quote from Martin Scorsese talking about light:

“Light is at the core of who we are and how we understand ourselves.”

-Martin Scorsese

All right, so why did I throw that little nugget in there?

Knowing the context of that quote helps. Last year, Martin Scorsese gave a speech at the Kennedy Center about the language of cinema. The alphabet of that language, Scorsese argues, consists of lighting and movement. Now, I have a lot to say about the movement in Whisper of the Heart, but for this discussion I’ll focus on light.

Scorsese went on to talk about how crucial light is to creation stories. Consider the first three lines of the Bible:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

From a storytelling perspective, light is hope against despair. It is possibility in the face of confusion. It is that inkling of inspiration flying free from the tendrils of doubt.

You also need light to see a damn thing. You may as well use it creatively.

Now, let’s watch the first few minutes of this movie. Watch the whole thing you really feel like it (and you should as it is an amazing movie) but for the purposes of this post I’m going to stop right when Shizuku exits the grocery store.

I love this opening. It’s a warm blanket and cup of cocoa of an opening.

What makes it so cozy, though? And more importantly, how does this opening begin telling this movie’s story? The answers actually go hand in hand.

Remember what I was saying about light before? Yoshifumi Kondo’s use of light in this sequence is telling right from the outset.



It’s easy to sit here and tell you that these shots are warm and comforting and just hope you believe me. But it’s important beforehand to consider how cities can take on characteristics of their own in a film.

For example, consider this first shot of the skyline in Dark City, the 1998 sci-fi film by Alexis Troyas (and my personal favorite sci-fi movie).


You can barely see a damn thing haha it’s called Dark City I get it now!

The skyline in Dark City is imposing and obscure and impossible to see because that’s the role it plays in this movie. This is a city that changes itself every night, a city that is unpredictable and even deadly. You can’t rest on your feet in this city. It’s scary, mysterious, and the opening shots tell us that right away.

Let’s look then at another famous skyline:



For the purposes of The Wizard of Oz, the Emerald City skyline needs to serve the opposite function as the Dark City skyline. It is bright and towering and a beacon of hope for our already optimistic crew. It shimmers in the distance, resembling not so much a city as a mythical rock formation, bursting with magic and possibility. It’s literally at the end of their damn trail this movie isn’t trying to be subtle here.

Skylines set the tone for their movies at both ends of the pole here. So where does Whisper of the Heart fall? Somewhere much closer to Wizard of Oz, I think. Let’s look again at that image of East Tokyo.


At first glance, there’s not much more here than an establishing shot. But there’s a watercolor quality to this image, and coupled with the music it’s a very inviting cityscape. This is not ominous. It’s more akin to The Wizard of Oz, bright colors, a sense of warmth, even a bit of mystery; while the Emerald City looks more like a beacon, a landmark than a city, this snapshot of East Tokyo invites us to peer in deeper and to learn more.

As the opening progresses, the portrait of this neighborhood only grows more inviting:

This is the first ground-level shot of the neighborhood, and isn’t it just cozy? Brightly lit storefronts and cars in the foreground, a meandering road leading up to the neighborhoods on the hilltops, speckled with multi-colored lights of their own. Turn off the storefronts, remove the cars, darken the hill, and you’d have a shot ready-made for a ghost story. Instead, Kondo goes out of his way to make us feel at home here:

See what I mean? Here we get another shot overlooking the city. However, instead of the detached, birds-eye view from the opening shot, we get a view from someone’s back porch! Hell, there’s even a sleeping cat perched there, the light from the house reminding us that we are home, no longer wandering (or… flying?). The colors of the skyline are more defined than the watercolor splotches of the opening. Again, the key here is tone: a city and its skyline can help define the tone of a scene. Uncertainty makes us paranoid. This shot, coupled with the ones before it, create about as human-feeling a city as you’ll find.

And here is the first shot of our protagonist, Shizuku. The film has finally established its where enough to begin to show us the who that live within. Again, note the lighting; we can only tell it’s nighttime because of the shots that came before.

Shizuku is walking out of a grocery store, a location that is often used to symbolize all that is sterile and nightmarish about quiet suburban life. In The Hurt Locker, a grocery store is more frightening to Jeremy Renner than defusing IEDs in Iraq.



Whisper of the Heart isn’t interested in portraying suburban unrest, however. For the purposes of this story, this little corner of the city needs to feel warm and comforting. It needs to be the light at the beginning of the tunnel. The significant lyric within the song playing over the scene is not the “country roads” at all; it’s where they lead, and where Shiziku is headed: home.

So why are light, comfort, and “home” so important to this opening? Whisper of the Heart’s drama hinges almost entirely on uncertainty. Not just any uncertainty, but the uncertainty of adolescence. Shizuku worries that she might not get into a good high school. It might not matter, because all she wants to do is write, and she worries she might never be good enough at that. The boy she thinks is her adversary turns out to be pretty cool. She likes him. A lot. Except he plans on leaving Japan for an long apprenticeship in Italy. These are all find and dandy plot points, but they don’t resonate unless it’s clear that they are genuinely shaking Shizuku’s world. And the best way to tell a story of teenage drama and make it resonate is to start at a place familiar and comforting, so that we understand how much each aspect of the story poses such a genuine challenge to Shizuku. It would be easy to turn this plot into a comedy. But when romance and school and anxiety are what you are venturing into from a place of unpreparedness, they can seem as dramatic and profound as anything.

And that it why it’s crucial for Whisper of the Heart to establish a sense of “Home” in its opening scene. And that is why the lighting is key. We aren’t just meeting Shizuku here; we are visiting her home. We start high above her city, narrow our view down to the street until we find Shizuku, and then she leads us to the place she is beginning from: her apartment, where she lives with her parents and sister.

There was no plot-related need for Yoshifumi Kondo to take this roundabout way of introducing us to Shizuku. He could have started at her school, or in the library, anywhere he saw fit. Instead, he introduces us to her home first. This is a film about a teenage girl realizing that she is going to have to find her place in the world, that growing up can be a terrifying thing, even when (and perhaps because) it so often consists simply of waiting through the unknown. And that carries far more weight if the place from which we launch is well-established. Once we feel at home, we don’t want to leave. Whisper of the Heart is about that feelings that arise when we realize that staying forever is not an option.

(I will work on parts 2 and 3 soon, but this one post has been holding up my blog forever, and I’m desperate to write a few more non-Ghibli posts this week)

(also: all uncredited images were captured by me)

Favorite movie reviews, selected at random: 5 Centimeters Per Second


(Some spoilers ahead)

Hey now, a post of a movie I’ve already reviewed? What are these dark magicks?

Well, I’ve decided to have some fun by shoving a list of 30 of my favorite movies, a list compiled in a crazed, 2 AM haze into a list randomizer, and reviewing the film at the top of said randomly generated list. That’s what I now consider fun, and you should take that into consideration before letting your 13 year old start an account on a movie forum like my mom did.

Anyway, the randomizer/Hand of God chose 5 Centimeters Per Second.

So that’s what I’m going to review. And I’m not complaining: I love this movie to bits and pieces.So here you go, even more thoughts on this pretty much perfect little anime:

There’s a moment in 5 Centimeters Per Second where two characters share a moment that, for one of them, is devastating. She is in love with the boy. He is not in love with her. She knows it. It’s crushing. Behind them, a space shuttle launches. Its trail soon towers over them, soaring into space. It’s a gorgeously composed shot, with a sense of scale and awe that most films don’t seem aware of.

The scene, from “Cosmonaut”, the second chapter of 5 Centimeters Per Second, features the two recurring motifs of the chapter. The first is space. The second is scope. The characters are constantly juxtaposed against the landscape, looking tiny against the horizon. Then planets, stars, fill the horizon, looming hugely against the tiny planet than already threatens to make these characters seem to insignificant.

And through it all, a girl’s heartbreak over unrequited love is treated with tender seriousness. There’s no attempt to minimize her feelings. They consume her. Love can hurt like that. Love can feel bigger than the universe.

I’ve long and often sung hosannas about “Cosmonaut” to anyone who’ll listen, and many more who don’t. But it’s just one chapter out of three that form, for me, a perfect short story anthology of a movie. I’ve often said it about 5 Centimeters Per Second: at 65 minutes, it’s exactly as long as it needs to be.

Three chapters, connected by the presence of one character: a boy (and, by the last chapter, a man) named Takaki. He’s the protagonist in the first chapter, the object of affection in the second, and seemingly unaware that he was ever in a narrative in the third.

The first chapter, “Cherry Blossoms”, is itself a pitch-perfect exercise in restraint. Its plot is simple: Takaki is about 13, and taking a long train ride to see his best friend, a girl named Akari who moved to a new town and whom he hasn’t seen in a year.

The train ride is longer than he expects. It snows. The train gets delayed. Hours pass. The wait becomes inexorable. Every passing minute is laden with dread. There’s not much to the plot, but the story is so human, so palpable, that it’s nerve-wracking. Its payoff is earned and then some.

The virtues of animation are endless, but more often than not good animation is praised for its distance from reality, for its ability to create worlds otherwise unfilmable. But what about stories like this? This is a film whose script could easily have been filmed live-action.

But, would it or could it have been improved as a live-action film? I don’t think so. Makoto Shinkai is so in control of his instrument here, composing visual symphonies. I’ve heard people say that “the animation is better than the story” in this movie. I think this is misguided. The images are inseparable from the story. The realism of the environments in “Cherry Blossoms” are crucial in its enveloping nature, in drawing us into its rhythms so that the simple passing of time becomes something to dread. And the spectacular scope of “Cosmonaut” is a storytelling device itself. It takes the weight of the universe and overshadows it with the simple, singular sting of a broken heart.

Edit: I realize I didn’t say anything about the third and final chapter of the film. It’s pretty much a short epilogue, and while quite lovely in its own right, I don’t really have much to say about it that I can add to what I’ve written about it already. That, and I’m tired and need to sleep. There are limits to my night-owl powers.

Reviewing Ghibli: Spirited Away

When I began this series of reviews last year, I intended to review this film, that holds such importance to me as a lover of movies, last.

And then Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement yesterday

Yes, I know it’s not the first time. It’s the third time, I think. But I think this one is going to stick. He’s 72 years old, and would probably be 75 or 76 should he finish another film. He has given us opuses and visual operas the likes of which we might never see again. His most recent film, The Wind Rises, is by most accounts a quiet and personal film for him. As actual retirement goes, this seems about right.

So screw it, I’m writing about Spirited Away.

And, fair warning, this is going to be a less polished piece than I usually write. This film means so many things to me that I’m not going to bother trying to tie everything into a neat thesis. I just recommend that only people who have seen the film read on, because I imagine that will help make sense of things.

Unlike Princess MononokeI have no trouble describing why I revere this so very deeply revered movie. And lord, is it revered. Spirited Away established Miyazaki as one of the finest filmmakers in the world in any medium. It gave him his biggest international hit (it held the world record for the highest-grossing non-English language film until The Intouchables broke it last year) and his Academy Award (still the only Animated Feature Oscar to go to an anime).

Spirited Away occupies my top tier of Ghibli films, joined by Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, and Yoshifumi Kondo’s Whisper of the Heart.

All of these films light up different parts of my brain and my heart and my soul. Princess Mononoke inspires reflection and awe; My Neighbor Totoro, delight; Grave of the Fireflies, grief; and Whisper of the Heart warmth.

Spirited Away generates a feeling that cannot be described in a single word. Many people have attempted. Perhaps the most common word you’ve seen describing it is “enchanting”, or perhaps “beautiful” or “dazzling”. It is all of these things.

But my reverence for Spirited Away is less for its visual splendor, and more for the sense that Miyazaki achieved something totally uncanny: he made the film I had always hoped to see as a child, and never thought could actually be made, the movie that visualized my daydreams and nightmares.

He made a movie more true to the spirit of a child’s imagination than any other fantasy. He started on this path with Totoro, but to commit to it completely, he’d have to make the film scarier, bigger, more immersed in the worlds of spirits and gods and things that adults grow out of seeing. My Neighbor Totoro imagines a magical world existing alongside ours. Spirited Away tumbles headlong into its maw.

At his best, Miyazaki completely disregards the notion of the obligatory. Many films are little more than obligatory elements stitched together into two-and-a-half hours of footage. Obligatory, boring characters in an obligatory, boring story with obligatory action scenes thrown in to keep you interested even if said action is filmed with little skill or excitement.

Spirited Away is blessedly devoid of exposition. Chihiro, the heroine, doesn’t have the luxury of convenient explanations, so why should we? And what a joyful thing that is. Spirited Away is a bull rush of a movie at its outset, throwing Chihiro into a world worse than she could possibly have dreamed before, and forcing her into immediate survival mode. Within minutes of her stumbling into this world of gods and monsters, she is employed at a magical bathhouse, her parents ready to be turned to pork, and there’s no apparent way out. Your move, Chihiro.

This film shows Miyazaki in total command of his instrument. Every scene is robust and assured, moving the story forward, telling us about this world, these characters, showing us something he knows we have never seen before. Earlier this summer, I wrote about my disappointment with Monsters University, and how a good film can still be unsatisfying if it could easily have bucked convention doesn’t bother to try. Spirited Away has so little regard for the conventions that held Monsters University  back, and is such an immersing experience, that it achieves greatness without seeming like it’s trying. It’s not a complicated film. Greatness often isn’t complicated. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a vision and committing to it, without being bogged down by the particulars.

It is a dazzling film, but Miyazaki’s loving attention to detail is as crucial to its success as its grandeur. I remember talking about this film with my sister, and she mentioned how she loves one moment when Chihiro ties her hair into a ponytail. She actually ties it, her fingers working her hair through a hairband in a split second, quick but clearly visible. Miyazaki didn’t need to throw in the extra frames to make this sort of detail realistic, but finding truth in Chihiro as a character, down to the smallest actions, makes her journey through this world all the more gripping.

On numerous other occasions, I’ve spoken to people who, without prompt, mentioned a throwaway moment where Chihiro is putting on her shoes, and she taps her toe against the ground to make sure the shoe is on all the way. Miyazaki relishes these moments, which are a hallmark of Studio Ghibli animation. I mentioned before how full of movement the characters in Whisper of the Heart; their physical actions are not purely reactionary to something we can see. Much like Shizuku in that film, Chihiro is a character chock full of movement and unconstrained emotion.

It’s interesting that for a film that is easily Miyazaki’s most lauded, Spirited Away is at times his most sentimental. The film is rather unabashed about Chihiro’s deepening friendship with Haku being her primary motivation for her actions in the film’s last third. And one scene that I’ll get to in a moment is simultaneously one of the sappiest and most triumphant in any Ghibli film.

The film doesn’t lean on sentimentality, it’s just not afraid to acknowledge it when it’s appropriate. Miyazaki’s command of this story allows him to both break from the plot when he feels he needs to (defying conventional storytelling) and delve into sentimentality, knowing his story has earned it (or transcend conventional storytelling).

The film’s two best scenes are brilliant examples of this dichotomy working in tandem. The first is the oft-mentioned sequence where Chihiro and her motley crew of companions (including the legendary No-Face, who is very good at spinning thread like that) go on a train ride. This scene is a perfect illustration of storytelling detatching from the plot. As a plot point, the scene could be described as “Chihiro takes a ride on a train”. But the scene lingers, and lingers, and lingers. It acts as a visual tone poem, both eerie and soothing.

The train is full of shadowy passengers. We don’t know who they are, any more than we do the fellow commuters we might encounter on a long train ride. The train tracks are laid on top of a body of water and cut through a series of environments that show us a world much, much bigger than just the bathhouse. We pass an island with a single house on it, and many passengers come and go, all looking like clothed silhouettes. At one point, Chihiro focuses on a girl, a small shadow dressed in a pink skirt. Who are these people? We don’t know. They are just part of the world Miyazaki has constructed and he is showing them to us because, well, the film is better for it.

In the other scene, one of intense sentimentality, Chihiro suddenly remembers Haku’s name as they fly back to the bathhouse at the film’s end, which will allow him to be freed from serving Yubaba. More than that, she remembers that, as a toddler, Haku, a river god, had saved her life when she’d fallen into a river. Chihiro and Haku fall through the sky together as Joe Hisaishi’s triumphant theme plays. The scene would be corny as hell if it weren’t so completely earned. In the train scene, Miyazaki lets the film breathe. In the “name scene”, Miyazaki goes for the heartstrings, knowing it’s what we want and, more importantly, it’s what the characters deserve.

Yes, the film’s story is its driving force, but it’s the sights that linger on long after it is over. The barrage of stunning sights would seem surreal, except they continually serve logical purposes within their universe. It reminds me of how differently I perceived dreams as a child. Today, I awake from an unusual dream and think how the strangeness should have been a giveaway that it was a dream in the first place. As a child, what I dreamed while asleep was not all that different from what I perceived when I daydreamed.

Spirited Away is the film that will define Miyazaki’s career, and it’s the right one to do so. Ask ten people what their favorite Miyazaki film is, and you might very well get ten different answers. But Spirited Away is both his most universal story and the clearest, strongest demonstration of his artistic voice. Movies so often reduce the experience of children to noise and crude humor. Spirited Away speaks to truths about childhood we so often forget: that the things we know as adults are myths and fables are as real to us as children as they are to Chihiro. And it shows us that, just maybe, what scared us within our imaginations as kids might actually astound and enchant us as adults. If only we could remember what we imagined.

Looking too deeply into single scenes: Princess Mononoke edition

When you see a movie way, way, way too many times, you start to pick apart its logic in a way that’s probably unfair to the director, but that’s kind of inevitable. You start to view the movie like a member of your family: you’re hyper-aware of its imperfections in a way that no one who isn’t related can understand, but you still love them.

And sometimes, those imperfections make you love them all the more.

So, I’ve seen Princess Mononoke 21 times. It’s pretty much infused in my blood. And, well, I still think it’s pretty much perfect. I adore it to little adorable pieces.

But after the 21st viewing, the scene when San attacks Irontown began to bug me for reasons I cannot explain.


(the scene responsible for this awesome gif, which was made by toto-ro)

Quick rundown of the scene: Ashitaka is visiting Irontown and chatting with Lady Eboshi. San attacks said town, intending to kill Lady Eboshi, but does a piss poor job of it and finds herself surrounded. Ashitaka saves San with his mega-super-arm. Then the rest of the movie happens.

Anyway, my problem (if you can call it that) with the scene is this:

  • Either San is attacking the town for the first time, which might explain why her attack is so poorly planned and reckless (without Ashitaka there, she’d have died) in which case Ashitaka’s timing being there is remarkably convenient.
  • Or she has previous experience attacking the town (which makes sense, given the implication that she an Eboshi have a history of conflict), in which case her utter recklessness is a little hard to believe. And, of course, Ashitaka’s timing is still remarkably convenient.

In other words, this scene provides us with two scenarios that don’t really work, but that if overlooked allow the film to rather easily set up both its primary relationship (San and Ashitaka) and its primary antagonistic storyline (San and Lady Eboshi), which would be somewhat difficult to accomplish otherwise because the film doesn’t have a straightforward protagonist vs. antagonist plot. Ashitaka is at odds with neither San nor Eboshi, and this scene allows him to establish that by furthering the animosity between Eboshi and San and allowing him to choose neither side. Just like that, a hugely important aspect of the movie’s plot is taken care of, and the actual story can take hold again.

So I now have an added layer of accepting this scene is a necessary bit of plot patchwork that allows the film to flow more smoothly without relying on exposition, which at the end of the day, I’m really quite cool with. It makes me appreciate the intricacy of Miyazaki’s storytelling. After all, nobody’s perfect, but true loves don’t come around every day.

(Featured image source)

Reviewing Ghibli: the music of My Neighbor Totoro

After a busy day at Anime Boston, I’m too tired to watch AND review a new anime film like I hoped to do every day. So to fill the void, here’s my next entry in my Reviewing Ghibli series: the relentlessly charming “My Neighbor Totoro”.

There are two authorities on film I trust more than any other: the late Roger Ebert (goes without saying), and my 14-year-old sister Rosie (whose knowledge of old Hollywood cinema is pretty astounding).

Ebert listed Totoro in his esteemed “Great Movies” collection (one of three Ghibli films in the list; “Grave of the Fireflies” and “Spirited Away” are the others). Ebert, in one of my favorite lines of his, said of the film: “Whenever I watch it, I smile, and smile, and smile.” My sister described it as one of the few films she loved as a small kid that makes her as happy today as it did then.

Those two observations sum up the unique appeal of this film. In his recent, brilliant speech at the San Francisco Film Society, Steven Soderbergh expressed fear that the increasing reliance on overseas grosses in Hollywood, and appealing to as many people as possible around the world (let alone just the USA), is leading to more watered down, uninspired movies. Films are increasingly sterilized to be as generic, and easy to market, as possible. It’s a legitimate concern, and I encourage anyone to read the speech in full.

But not to stray. I bring the Soderbergh speech up because with “My Neighbor Totoro”, Hayao Miyazaki created one of the most universally appealing of films, a movie that still is as imaginative and unique as anything else in his canon. In this case, the appeal stems not from homogenization, but in mining the truths of childhood or, more accurately, in his crafting of the most honest child’s-eye-view of the world the movies have seen. The film is enchanting, yes, but it’s also full of moments that will ring true to anyone who remembers what it was like to truly believe in monsters, magic, and catbuses.

To dismiss (playing devil’s advocate) “My Neighbor Totoro” as cutesy and childish is to willfully ignore its craft. I talk a lot about rhythm in film, and I swear that I’m not crossing streams. Watching a movie that is on a plot-based autopilot is like listening to song without rhythm or melody. “My Neighbor Totoro” has plenty of both. It finds its rhythm section in its day-to-day observance of the lives of its characters. I love when films let us learn about characters through observations detached from the main plot. “My Neighbor Totoro” tells us more about the sisters Satsuki (older) and Mei (younger) in a scene in which they race through their new house than any amount of expository dialogue could. Satsuki opens and closes doors and windows and Mei, as younger siblings do, tries desperately to keep up and copy her older sister’s every move. Rather than impose his own rhythm on these characters, Miyazaki observed them as actual people, and found a rhythm in their lives.

The film’s finds its melody as a showcase for Miyazaki’s unmatched imagination. Has there ever been a filmmaker capable of conjuring such images as Miyazaki, and then fitting them seamlessly into a story? The Totoros are timeless characters. They lack dialogue, but they are full of expression, movement, and sound. Their motives and day to day routines are mysterious. Miyazaki never tries to explain why these creatures do what they do. The girls don’t care, so why should he?


I find pointless explanations a bane of good storytelling. If you’re explaining something for the sake of it, then you have begun to miss the point. Satsuki and Mei instantly accept their new friends, and why not? They are completely non-threatening, and can summon trees from mere saplings. Miyazaki also resists the urge to even suggest that the Totoros are simply figures from a dream, or worse, to have the girls’ father try and dissuade them from their belief in the Totoros.

The girls’ adventures with Totoro and his Totoro-minis are a distraction for them from their mother’s illness. The exact nature of the illness is not elaborated upon, nor is it played for much drama, aside from the occasional panic caused by misheard information. Like much else in this film, it is simply a part of their lives. They deal with it as they must.

And yes, part of dealing with it involves their fun with their new fuzzy pals. But these interludes are not played for sentimentality. Miyazaki is relishing in the sheer joy of his creation. These characters could be interacting under any circumstances. The scenes are not a dramatic device or a sugar dispensary. They exist because because, in the world of this film, they could happen. They are the melody, floating in time with the film’s rhythms.


(featured image source)

“Five Centimeters per Second”, the best movie you haven’t seen that you should watch right now

As I am want to do with films that I love, I’ll be delving into spoilers in this, but I’ll try to keep them minor.

How often are teenagers in the movies portrayed as hopelessly earnest? So many movies portray teens in so many lights (consider the rash of cliches that the “high school comedy” genre has provided: cynical, bubbly, horny, square, nerdy, jock…ish?) but rarely do the venture out of archetypes and address the way teenagers so often live on a constant plane of heightened emotion. One of the toughest parts of being a teenager is how little those emotions are taken seriously by adults. It’s much easier for movies to depict teenagers as emotional infants with the desires of adults than to hone in and approach teen characters with utmost seriousness.

It is that earnestness that drives Makoto Shinkai’s magnificent “5 Centimeters Per Second”. Here is a film that takes the melodrama of teenagerdom completely seriously. There were elements of this approach is Shinkai’s previous two works, the short film “Voices of a Distant Star” and his first feature “The Place Promised in Our Early Days”. But both those films framed their emotional stakes alongside intergalactic conflicts. “5 Centimeters Per Second” doesn’t bother hedging its bets: it’s completely about its earthly characters. It has cosmic elements, but they’re poetic parallels to the story, not the driving forces.



And the film doesn’t just work when it seems like it ought to drown in melodrama- it excels. It is, by far, my favorite entry into the teen romance genre aside from “Whisper of the Heart”. And yes, both those films are anime. For the non-anime watchers out there, there are a ton of genuinely great films that you’re missing out on.

“5 Centimeters Per Second” presents itself as a trio of short stories, and that’s about right. It’s only 62 minutes long. Few films deliberately mimic the short story format. While the likes of Guy de Maupassant and Edgar Allen Poe made short stories viable with twisting and turning plots, the form came into its own with tales that emphasized the gravity of small moments over dramatic turns of screws. The most dramatic scene in my favorite work of literature, James Joyce’s “The Dead”, involves a woman simply telling her husband about an event in her past that he hadn’t heard of before. She considers it a minor story, but it strikes her husband, and the reader, like a lightning bolt. “5 Centimeters Per Second” follows this kind of beat. The opening act, “Cherry Blossom” has a plot that is incredibly simple: a 13 year old boy taking a long train trip to see a girl. More significantly, a girl who occupies a space that’s neither fully romantic nor platonic, but that for someone of that age contains more importance than anything else. The simplicity of the story rings true to anyone who has been on a delayed train, and that ends up making it absolutely nerve-racking. The boy, named Takaki, experiences delay after delay thanks to a severe snowstorm, and experiences a full course of dramatic stresses, starting with nervousness and evolving into panic and, finally, resigned defeat.

Which is why the ending of the story, again, almost spare in its simplicity, is so utterly satisfying. The girl, named Akari, waited for him. They meet, share their first kiss, and take shelter for the night in an old shed. Shinkai takes a plot that anyone could have made puerile and imbues it with so much truth that it feels triumphant. Every stop Takaki makes, every delay he experiences, brings us as much misery as he feels. If we were being told this story point for point, it might seem boring. But in this film, it’s captivating.



It is the second part of the film that elevates it to greatness, however. “Cosmonaut” is, again, a story we’ve seen before. Takaki is relegated to supporting status, and the segment is narrated by a girl at his high school named Kanae. She is hopelessly in love with Takaki, in that way that adults can’t seem to take seriously and that teenagers feel like is unrecoverable. And slowly, she tries to work up the courage to tell him. However, she is unable to get past the fact that he is constantly texting someone, someone who she feels will forever have a place in his heart that she will never occupy. Without saying any more, “Cosmonaut” absolutely nails teenage unrequited love, and how it’s perceived by all those involved. It treats Kanae’s misery with utmost respect, while simultaneously understanding Takaki’s situation, as the film knows exactly what we do as well. This teenage melodrama is splendidly framed in front of a constant backdrop of stars, rockets, and other cosmic objects. Shinkai is not trying to diminish these characters’ feelings by juxtaposing them against proof that there are much bigger, more important things than summer romance. Rather, the film’s visual scope truly isolates these characters. They are alone in their feelings, feelings whose magnitude is equal to the size of the cosmos.

(screencap by yours truly)

The third part of the film is an odd little denouement  one that takes place with the characters as adults. To say anything about it is difficult, as it’s a very short segment and any piece of information would be too much of a giveaway than I’m comfortable with in this review. So I’m going to leave it at that and let you get back to me when you see this magnificent film.

Reviewing Ghibli: Princess Mononoke

It’s been a good long while since I entered a proper film post on this blog, and even longer since I wrote an entry in this series. In light of what has been a thoroughly depressing week of news, I’ve decided to end my blogging hiatus. I love movies. I love writing about them. The combination makes me happy. I’m going to be back, blogging regularly, and I’m going to kick this series back into gear with the entry for a film that is both my favorite by Studio Ghibli, and my favorite film, period.

There are two lenses through which I view Princess Mononoke. The first is one of intense sentimentality. I first viewed this film when I was 13. It was airing on Starz. I had heard of it in my early forays into learning about the movies on the Internet, but aside from that I was completely unfamiliar with the works of Hayao Miyazaki. I had missed the first third of the film, which provides the bulk of its plot. Instead, I was enchanted by its rhythms, its tone and its visuals. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or why, but it was beautiful and strange and unlike any film I’d seen before.


Two years later, I was a budding movie lover. I was actively involved on a wonderful film discussion forum, one that I still keep up with today. Because of countless raves from my friends on this forum, I had watched Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”, and fallen in love. It was the movie I wished existed as a child and never thought it would be made. I immediately rewatched “Princess Mononoke”, and would proceed to watch it 20 more times in the next three or four years. There was something indelible, something haunting about it that I could not shake.

It is that resonant beauty, the second lens, that continue to draw me to “Princess Mononoke” to this day, and why it remains my favorite film. My favorite films are appealing like great poetry. The basic elements, the words and rhythms, are perfect, but their greatness resides in the stirrings, memories and emotions they evoke more than how they look and sound.

“Princess Mononoke” has one of the most basic plots in Miyazaki’s canon. All his films, save the virtually plotless “My Neighbor Totoro”, have more involved, zanier storylines. “Princess Mononoke” presents a three-pronged conflict in the most basic terms: man vs. nature, with the protagonist, Ashitaka, attempting to mediate. It’s the same setup as “Mononoke’s” spiritual predecessor, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” with one major change: in “Princess Mononoke”, Miyazaki decided to the nature side of the conflict more than a benevolent victim. The role of the “Nausicaa’s” Ohmu (the huge but inherently innocent mollusks at the heart of its story) is largely filled by the Shishigami in “Princess Mononoke”, a huge but benevolent god who acts as something of a MacGuffin in this story (although it turns out to be anything but). The entire plot of the film revolved around the Shishigami, and yet it resides at the periphery, as the conflict centers square on the films triumvirate of leads: Ashitaka, San (the princess of the title) and Lady Eboshi.

“Princess Mononoke’s” two female leads are the other primary divergence from “Nausicaa’s” storytelling. Lady Eboshi is the closest the film comes to having an antagonist, but her only sin is her unwavering devotion to her town. She has built a thriving community by rescuing prostitutes and lepers, and her interest in killing the Shishigami is businesslike and pragmatic, not malevolent. She wants to mine the forest and cure the lepers she has been sheltering. Miyazaki presents her desire to kill the Shishgami as clearly in the wrong (she clearly has no understanding of the potential consequences of killing a god) but it’s impossible not to empathize with Lady Eboshi in her situation.

Meanwhile, while San would normally command our automatic sympathy as protector of the forest, she is too insular to be truly heroic. The first time we see her, she kills two of Eboshi’s men. Both men were married, and we meet their grieving widows afterward when Eboshi gives them a chance to exact revenge on San. Action scenes so rarely bother with showing the ripple effect of mindless killing. San makes an attempt on Eboshi’s life that would be suicidal if not for Ashitaka’s intervention. Her desire to save her home is absolutely right, but San is as motivated by raw hatred that completely clouds her judgment.

And yes, that is a reference to the film’s unsubtle declaration of its thesis in its first act, when Ashitaka’s village elder tells him to travel west and see “with eyes unclouded by hate.” Miyazaki dabbles in restraint now and then, but he’s at his strongest when he’s at his showiest, and he can be downright didactic at times. However, he rarely lets the message overwhelm the story, and “Princess Mononoke” is a magnificent display of his strengths. He builds his characters quickly and sets them into play. He wastes no time on exposition when demonstration does so much more elegant a job. The film’s introduction of San to Ashitaka is one of Miyazaki’s greatest scenes. Ashitaka sees her across a river, cleaning her mother’s wounds by sucking out the blood. She sees him too and stares at him, her expression a mixture of intense distrust and curiosity. Miyazaki lingers on the moment, just a bit longer than it requires, before San sets off with a dismissive “leave”. The scene tells us more about San with a stare than five minutes of expository dialogue ever could.


“Princess Mononoke” is structured as a fable, but its story’s appeal is in the viewer’s curiosity in the characters. When Lady Eboshi decides to kill the forest god, it fulfills the requirements of a fable’s moral; she harms nature and unleashes terrible, unforeseen consequences. But unlike a fable, her motives aren’t telegraphed for the purposes of expressing the story’s moral. It’s entirely plausible that she kills the god. In her shoes, not knowing the potential consequences, you or I might very well have done the same thing. True fables disregard this sort of empathy for the antagonists.

Indeed, if “Princess Mononoke” has a moral, it is one of unbending empathy. Ashitaka steadfastly refuses to choose sides between San and Lady Eboshi, which earns him puzzled remarks and accusations of treachery throughout the film. While his motives are technically self-serving (he is, after all, on a deadline to save his own life) by the film’s end he is far too involved in trying to save as many people as he can for a cynical view of his character to realistically apply.

San and Lady Eboshi represent different examples of how people can compartmentalise their empathy at the expense of others, with potentially disastrous results. San’s hatred from humans is understandable, but then complete disregard for an entire group of people because of the actions of a select handful of individuals is both the root of human conflict and a precise demonstration of what it is to lack empathy in the first place. In the film’s plot, she is given the moral high ground by default, but Miyazaki resists making her a victim, and her primary complicitness in the film’s conflict, and what ultimately separates her from Ashitaka, is her inability to empathize.

Lady Eboshi, on the other hand, has an astonishing amount of empathy for someone in a medieval setting. She provides shelter and work for prostitutes and lepers, refusing to disregard their humanity like the rest of society has. There is a moment when Ashitaka is about to fly into a rage at Lady Eboshi for her destruction of San’s forest, and an elderly leper stops him. Lady Eboshi was the only person to treat him with dignity, he says. Her views, compared to thesocietal standard, are downright progressive. Lady Eboshi’s error at the end of the film lies in her ironclad pragmatism when it comes to business. Her empathy allowed her to build a thriving community where no one else would have tried, and her keen business sense turned her into an iron kingpin. The latter, however, begins to supercede the former when she desires to expand her empire. Conquest for the sake of it is, of course, incompatible with empathy. It prioritizes personal glory over the lives of others; in Lady Eboshi’s case, that includes the lives of her own people.

In that sense, the film’s lovely, ambiguous ending is rendered more bittersweet than it already is on the surface. Ashitaka remains unwavering in his quest to remain empathetic, choosing to help rebuild the now destroyed Irontown and live among its people, while still visiting San (with whom he has grown very close, and perhaps fallen in love) in the woods from time to time. San’s empathy is still childlike. Her struggle with her humanity is a focal point of the film, and she has only begun to accept it by accepting her feelings for Ashitaka. He seems to be an exception, however, and she quietly affirms her inability to forgive the rest of humanity at the end of the movie. Lady Eboshi loses her arm, her town, and most of her people. Her battle between empathy and ambition has played out, and her overzealousness backfired tragically. She resolves to rebuild, but to do a better job this time. Whether or not she is doomed to repeat her previous mistakes, or if she will build a community capable of living alongside the forces that nearly tore it apart, Miyazaki leaves unresolved, as he should. Giving Lady Eboshi total comeuppance would be a disservice to her, and spelling out her destiny would be at odds with a film that floats on ambiguous destinies and motives.

The film’s last shot is one of Miyazaki’s masterstrokes. Miyazaki often has some trouble ending his films. “Nausicaa”, wonderful as it is, has an ending resembling a train wreck of conflicting narrative ideas and incomprehensible story editing. “Whisper of the Heart” works at the end only because the charm of the characters and story prevents Miyazaki’s didactic instincts from becoming overwhelming. But the ending of “Princess Mononoke” is a shot of a single kodama, a symbol of hope emerging from destruction. It’s sentimental, but earned. More importantly, it’s a natural ending for a film about empathy. Empathy isn’t just sunshine and happiness and understanding each other and becoming friends. It’s acknowledging that, even when differences can seem overwhelming, there can still be room for progress. As long as there is life, there is hope that things can get better.


Featured photo source

%d bloggers like this: