This film was a pleasant surprise to find and watch. The story is compelling, the Japanese voice acting is excellent, and the level of imagination is fantastic.
I was struck by the sheer attention to detail in this film: gradual changes in daylight within individual scenes, subtle dirt and weathering, precise animation of water effects, accurate animation of wildlife, and excellent use of light and color. These little extras did not go unnoticed. All of this helps to create a richer visual experience.
The characters were interesting and quite nuanced and the musical score suits the film well.
Now here's what really surprised me.... This is the director's first full-length feature and first time working with the larger-scale studio system. Couple this with the fact that he's a young director and you have someone with a very strong career ahead of him.
The style of this film is similar to that of Miyazaki, and this is intentional. Miyazaki's style was chosen because it is recognized worldwide and it has proved itself effective for dramatic story-telling. Watching the behind-the-scenes information for this film was fascinating and it was amazing to see how young the crew were. Certainly there is a great deal of talent in Japan today -- talent willing to make 'classic' high-production-value anime. And for that I'm grateful. The next generation is sure to enjoy animation of the level that I enjoyed in my youth.
In summary, I like this film a lot and I highly recommend it. If I were to nitpick this movie, I'd say that a few scenes were cut short a tiny bit too soon. I recommend the director watch the director's commentary for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. In there is a discussion about holding the camera at the end of a scene and why it's important for dramatic shots. I should also mention that although this is an animated film, there are scenes of violence and some sequences that children may find frightening.
So if you're a fan of Miyazaki's work or simply a fan of imaginative drama and fantasy films, be sure to check this one out.
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