“My Neighbor Totoro”: the anime that will make you fall in love with anime

By Roxanne*

The 1988 Japanese animated film My Neighbor Totoro is what is considered to be one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best films (not to mention, Totoro is the mascot of Studio Ghibli as Mickey Mouse is to Disney). Studio Ghibli has produced films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and the famous/infamous Spirited Away (by contrast, My Neighbor Totoro will leave you a lot less confused).

Video Provided by Youtube user: Kevin Chung

The plot centers on sisters Satsuki, (which means May in Japanese) dubbed over in the American version by voice actor Dakota Fanning, and Mei, (the phonetic pronunciation of ‘May’ in Japanese) by Elle Fanning. Firstly, Miyazaki perfectly portrays the whole older sister/ younger sister relationship as the girls vary between playing and quarreling throughout the movie.

The story begins as the two girls and their father move into a new home in the countryside in order to be in closer proximity to their mother who is suffering from an illness in a nearby hospital. One of the most alluring aspects upon viewing My Neighbor Totoro is the rich quality of the scenery, which will have you wondering if you are looking at a children’s cartoon or an oil painting.

The sisters soon find they have magical new neighbors, who are forest spirits that can only be seen by children. Some of the spirits include soot sprites, a ‘cat-bus’, and most notably, Totoro, the King of the forest (who only roars throughout the film, but is interestingly portrayed by the same voice actor who plays Scooby doo.)

One critique would be the limited screen time of the iconic “Totoro.” We only actually get to see him for maybe about a quarter of the movie or so, and he doesn’t show up until half way through the movie. On the other hand, this could also be beneficial. It makes his selective appearances even more special, and you end the movie still wanting more (or wondering where you can buy the plush version).

One of the most memorable scenes is when Totoro and the girls take a ride in the magical cat bus.

It would seem that “My Neighbor Totoro” is geared toward children, but it is more than appreciable for all ages. There are a few dark scenes, one where Mei goes missing, some eerie depictions of their haunted house, and the condition of their sick mother, but nothing unsuitable for children. At the end of the day, this film proved to be a refreshing contrast to the ADD-driven, action packed mainstream movies that are more prevalent today- check it out if you haven’t!

Interview with Directors, Divya Cowasji and Shilpi Gulati, on their new documentary: “Qissa-e Parsi: The Parsi Story”

Film Syrup Founder, Colleen Rowe, interviewed directors, Shilpi Gulati and Divya Cowasji (currently based in India) on their documentary film project: Qissa-e Parsi: The Parsi Story. This film “is an attempt to understand a community which has always been numerically small, yet culturally and socially formidable.” Produced by: Public Service Broadcasting Trust & Ministry of External Affairs.

 

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1. Film Syrup: What attracted you to this particular community? Do you have a specific tie to the Parsi culture?

Divya: When I first moved to Mumbai from Delhi in 2008, I felt an inexplicable sense that I was coming home. I not only belong to the Parsi community, but have been in love with the idea of being a Parsi all my life. My research on the community at TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai) during my Masters dissertation led me to a nuanced understanding of our history and an admiration for the formidable feat of holding our own as a minority community and yet influencing the world around us in nothing short of a significant manner. As the community is plagued with anxieties over its dwindling numbers, it is important to focus on all that is good and admirable, and to note that the community has always been numerically small, yet culturally and socially formidable.

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2. Film Syrup: Do you think you took a subjective stance as the creator of this film or did you remain wholly objective to the content presented in it?

Shilpi: A documentary film can never be objective. The very process of a documentary production, which involves research, scripting and editing, makes it a subjective process for there is always an argument that the filmmakers are trying to construct for the audiences. The narrative flow of Qissa-e Parsi historically locates the Parsi community in India, delves into basic ideals of the Zoroastrian faith and tries to understand their relationship with the British and with the city of Mumbai. Additionally, we also look at contemporary debates gripping the community, especially regarding issues of women and inter-faith marriages. We have made these choices, keeping in mind that this is the first film in our larger project of documenting the community. At every critical juncture of the production process, both of us made sure that we brought in our respective subject positions into our work. In such a scenario having two directors, a Parsi and a non-Parsi, therefore proved to be rather helpful.

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3. Film Syrup: How is the history (between the 8th and 10th century) of the Parsis relevant to the community that lives in Gujarat, India today?

Divya: When the Parsis arrived at the shores of Gujarat between the 8th and the 10th Century (the exact time of arrival is widely disputed), they did not land here by accident or mere chance. Having previously fostered trade relations with India, they knew they would be coming to a friendly people, who would understand their plight and help them in whatever way possible. According to the Qissa-e Sanjan, which is the first written account of the Parsi arrival and settlement in India, the local King Jadhav Rana asked them for an explanation of their religion and customs. He granted their request for asylum and freedom to carry on their religious practices as they saw fit, provided they adopt the local language of Gujarati; that their women adopt the local dress or sari; and that they henceforth cease to bear arms. Having accepted these conditions, the Parsis formed a settlement at Sanjan and subsequently spread around several parts of Gujarat, incorporating local customs and ways of life that bear their mark on Parsi identity until today. It is only centuries later, with the advent of the British in India, that the Parsis ventured beyond Gujarat to cities like Bombay and Calcutta. Several still remain in the state that gave them much needed asylum all those centuries ago.

Shilpi and Divya

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4. Film Syrup: How is Mumbai different from the areas that surround it? Why is it particularly intriguing?

Divya: In tracing the rich history and lives of the Parsis in India, one must inevitably end up in the city of Mumbai. This influential, albeit small community, has helped shape the city of Mumbai, or more appropriately erstwhile Bombay,  into the metropolis it is today, and in turn the city itself has come to leave its mark on the Parsi identity, with over two-thirds of the world’s Parsi population calling this place home. One has only to walk down the streets of South Bombay to encounter the everlasting impression of the Parsis on the history and ethos of the place, be it architecturally, in the numerous statues that unassumingly dot the leafy lanes, in centres of cultural significance, in quaint Irani eateries, in schools, museums, hospitals, charities, and the endearing eccentric bawas (an affectionate colloquialism for Parsis) who run these establishments or offer their faithful patronage.

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5. Film Syrup: Are you/did you film from a feminist viewpoint when reviewing the issues of inter-faith marriage? If not, what was your viewpoint?

ShilpiThe community today is faced with the stark reality of its dwindling numbers and the near and very real possibility of extinction. This has given rise to anxieties over issues of conversion, intermarriage, and purity of race; the burden of which seems to be falling increasingly on the Parsi woman. In what seems a strange confluence of religion, race, law and custom, the Parsis have constructed for themselves an extremely exclusive identity, where any form of plurality appears non-negotiable. According to us, the implications of justifying the discrimination faced by women in the 21st century on the grounds that something has been a certain way for centuries and should therefore unabashedly continue to be so, will prove to be extremely detrimental for the community. We see this as a concern not just for the Parsis but for women in other Indian communities as well. So far we have dedicated a section of our film examining this debate and hope to explore it more extensively in future.

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Film Syrup: Do you think this culture/community will die out if their numbers continue to decrease?

Divya: It is estimated that under 70,000 Parsis remain in India today, and the threat of extinction seems to be a very real possibility for the community. However, it is worth noting that the worldwide Parsi population, at its peak, has never exceeded 1,50,000. We have always been a numerically small people, capable of great things. The situation today is however accelerated by increasing incidences of inter-marriage, late marriage, not marrying at all, decline in fertility and rampant emigration, to name a few. But I believe that if the community puts their heads together, and allows the panic to bring us closer together instead of tearing us further apart, this too we can overcome, as have so many things in our past.

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 All photos that are included in this interview posting have been provided by Shilpi Gulati and Divya Cowasji.

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A Journey “Under The Skin” 

By Langston Teijeiro
 
Aliens? Extra-Terrestrials? The Third Kind? The Fourth Kind? Maybe you turn to the Spielberg classic “E.T.” for answers, or to Ridley Scott’s crowning achievement, “Alien,” for a compelling sensation of vulnerability, and helplessness, as I do. Maybe you even look up at the stars? Well, early in 2014, I had the pleasure to sit in a quiet, empty theater for the newest work by Jonathan Glazer, a British director who has led some independent classics such as “Sexy Beast” and “Birth”. Undoubtedly, “Under the Skin” is the Golden Standard of Science Fiction. It gave me chills beneath my skin, despite the fact that one primitive human being booed as the ending credits began to roll.
 
Scarlett Johansson delivers the performance of her career as an attractive being who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually lost on Earth . The film is photographed and shot so eerily, that I began to feel as if the spirit of the great Stanley Kubrick lent a helping hand. This story is best said through the eyes of Johansson’s character, who is clearly in pain, finding her thrill by sexually teasing men and then disposing them into her own fluid. This is an interesting concept, especially since the majority of sexual activity derives from fluids. 

However, by the third act of the film, we realize that her beauty is really only skin deep… and we can feel her torment. The human audience magically finds themselves relating to a character not born in this world, and we begin to pity her. She can’t find peace anywhere, and her beauty is her curse. The film ends as an expose of her repulsive characteristics– her “true” colors are shown.

Langston Teijeiro is a 24 year old screenwriter based out of New York City and Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of planning his first directorial debut (Which he wrote himself) and should begin shooting Summer 2015. He was born and raised in Miami, FL, and graduated from Florida International University in August 2012.

“Into the Silent Sea” (2013)

By Colleen Rowe

andrej Landin SBFF

(Andrej Landin post-screening of “Into the Silent Sea” at the 19th annual Stony Brook Film Festival, July 2014)

Filmmaker, Andrej Landin’s film, “Into the Silent Sea,” reveals a premise that surpasses the meaning of “short” by its simple definition. Powerfully presented, this 25 minute short taps into the emotions that wither in a man’s heart as he partakes in a journey that might be directly responsible for his emotional and physical demise.

Alexander (Zack Sayenko), a young cosmonaut, is assigned to a mission to space that has not been fully prepared. To beat the Americans, Russia must prevail in space travel and advanced technology. The larger premise revolves around Alexander’s physical and mental journey as he faces complications far away from a civilized world. Andrej Landin had explained during a Q & A at the 19th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival that he had been reading Joseph Conrad’s book, “Heart of Darkness,” and the sense of solitude that invades its pages inspired him to capture that isolation in a different way.

Why is this concept so unique? The setting is relevant to the story, but it isn’t crucial in comparison to the other aspects of this film. It is not the placing of Alexander, but the conversation he has with Italian radio engineer, Alvaro (Peter Arpesella). Alvaro picks up the astronaut’s call for rescue and they seem to become acquaintances that potentially change each other’s lives.

At times, why is it easier to speak with a stranger? The interaction is partially anonymous.

Reliving past experiences with his fellow astronaut and lover, Tanya (Tatiana DeKhtyar), Alexander tells a tale of immediate attraction and unexpected deception. The conversation between these two men via long-distance radio communication technology fills blanks into Alexander’s life and suddenly viewers feel that they experienced it with him.

There’s a retrospective scene that is particularly captivating: as the sun sets, the two young cosmonaut lovers, Alexander and Tanya, walk in a field that is worlds away from the deteriorating space craft Alexander is exiled to. Visually, this scene was necessary, depicting a safe place—a happy time—with the sky’s natural aesthetics to soften the film’s generally dark tone.

There’s a lot to be said about “Into the Silent Sea,” but my first response to those who inquire about it is: just watch it.

Depending on each viewer’s individual experiences with love and loss, this film has the potential to produce uniquely original and differing views. Controversial, challenging, and directed with purpose, this short film achieves in portraying a powerful message: Regardless of the familiar groups we identify with, it is sometimes strangers who save us from all-encompassing inner turmoil.

“Into the Silent Sea” Awards:

San Luis OBISPO International Film festival 2014 Best Student Film, BAFTA Los Angeles Grand Jury Prize 2013, Stony Brook Film Festival Special Jury Recognition 2014, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Best Narrative Short 2013.

More: Facebook.com/IntoTheSilentSea

5 Reasons Why “Captain Phillips” Was The Most Accomplished Film Of 2013

By Langston Teijeiro

Hello, fellow cinephiles. I hope that you are settled in after “12 Years a Slave” won the big award and “Gravity” became the big winner (7 Academy Awards). As we are preparing for another fall season, I figured it would be beneficial to take a trip back down memory lane as I explain why Paul Greengrass’ masterpiece (Bloody Sunday, United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, etc.) known as “Captain Phillips” was truly the biggest triumph of 2013. 

Though there are many more, here are 5 reasons why:

1) What Was Written:  As a screenwriter, I understand what it takes to make a film work behind the camera. Screenwriter Billy Ray’s approach was to adapt Richard Phillips’ memoir to an entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking Docu-Drama. The script was a multi-layered examination of the 2009 event, rather than a dull lecture. This film was written with grace from beginning to end, making an intense, informative, and jaw dropping roller-coaster ride. Billy Ray’s writing efforts won him the Writer’s Guild of America Award in 2013, as well as an Academy Award nomination in 2014 for Best Adapted Screenplay. Well deserved, Mr. Ray…Well deserved.

2) What Wasn’t WrittenHave you ever heard the phrase: A screenplay is merely a blueprint? Well, it’s true. Nobody understands this concept better than masterful director, Paul Greengrass. With a resume that ranges from the critical acclaim of “United 93” to the commercial success of “The Bourne Supremacy”, Paul Greengrass’ approach to storytelling is recognized. Much of Captain Phillips was improvised, including the iconic line that first time actor, Barkhad Abdi, ad-libbed in, which is present in arguably the most iconic and powerful scene of the entire film. However, despite the power of that famous scene, the improvisation that captured my attention the most was the captivating ending in the infirmary on the ship.

 3) Technically, The Film Should Not Have Succeeded:  When one looks at the trailer for this film, it can be concluded that “Captain Phillips” is a typical, Hollywood propaganda piece meant to sell tickets and entertainment to jaded audiences. However, thanks to Scott Rudin, Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca, this film is a golden treasure that embarks and captivates, rather than merely entertains.

 4) Launched Careers: It’s always a beautiful thing to see a pack of newcomers from Minnesota shine on a big screen and, at times, steal the show from a Two-Time Academy Award Winner. However, there is one Somali from Minnesota who completely nailed his performance. Barkhad Abdi shines in this epic with no prior acting experience. His menacing demeanor, facial expressions, and impeccable body language earned him an Academy Award Nomination, Golden Globe Nomination, Screen Actor’s Guild Nomination, and a British Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor! Who is the captain now?

 5) Solidified Careers: What more can an artist do after they make history and pass their prime? Oh yeah, reach a second career peak. Throughout the film, Tom Hanks maintains a reserved, composed, and calm demeanor as the lead performer. However, in the third act in the lifeboat, Phillips’ composure runs out, and as the pirates are executed in a brilliant fashion, Hanks delivers in a way that no other actor could have. The ending in the infirmary shows Hanks’ prowess as an actor and he shows all of the reservation, composure, and calm being channeled through shock, distortion of speech, tears, and trauma. It’s the perfect examination of the human brain after it experiences a traumatizing occurrence which, in my opinion, equates to Hanks’ finest work to date.

With Henry Jackman’s score, Barry Ackroyd’s lighting, Greengrass’ brilliant ability to engage a story, and plenty of other technical challenges this film had to endure (Shooting in tight spaces, filming on the ocean, etc.),“Captain Phillips” diligently executes cinematic structures and formulas. However, it rebels in every way possible, making this film the greatest cinematic accomplishment of 2013.

Now all we can do is sit back, watch the news, and predict what story Paul Greengrass will grace us with next.

Langston Teijeiro is a 24 year old screenwriter based out of New York City and Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of planning his first directorial debut (Which he wrote himself) and should begin shooting Summer 2015. He was born and raised in Miami, FL, and graduated from Florida International University in August 2012.”

Abject Bodies and Gender Instability in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

By Dan Spada, originally published on Raving Through Dark Nights. Republished with permission.

The way performance functions in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” reflects a deep, abiding preoccupation with gender roles and the truth economy that is generated therein. The oscillation between masculine and feminine, and the instability of gender is depicted in the construction of characters that do no satisfy ideal, conventional roles regarding sex and gender, but rather expose a profoundly unsettling inconsistency in respect to bodies, both abject and normalized. The gender role reversal in Psycho is blindingly obvious, particularly in the scene where Lila goes to explore the house and find Mrs. Bates, while Sam acts as a decoy to distract Norman. This scene and the following one, in which it is revealed that Norman has been preserving the skeleton of his mother and dressing up in her clothes, stress the transience of gender, and how it is not always in sync with biological sex. Sam’s aggressive homo-social taunting of Norman in this sequence, and Lila’s exploration of the house, leading up to the discovery of the skeleton and Norman’s performance as his mother, all hint towards an inherent gender instability within the characters of the film and a masculine/feminine malaise that is developed throughout the course of the film.

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Before Lila begins to look for Mrs. Bates and Sam distracts Norman, they search through the cabin one for any clues. They find a slip of paper Marion wrote on regarding the stolen money (just numbers and equation signs) that missed the toilet when she flushed the rest down. Lila becomes desperate to search the house and speak to Mrs. Bates, and Sam fulfills the typical role of male protector by saying, “I don’t like you going into that house alone.” This dialogue is in line with the heterosexist ideology of the time, and an ideology that Sam’s character clearly held true. He sounds resigned when he says that he’ll find Bates and keep him occupied.

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It is important to note that Sam’s gender performance, like everyone’s inside the world of the film (and outside, according to feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler), is a failure. He cannot provide for Marion in the way that she wants and needs him to (as evident from the first scene); ironically, right after Norman watches the swamp swallow the car with Marion’s body in it, Sam is seen writing a letter to Marion professing that he doesn’t care if they are poor, cramped, or miserable – at least they’ll be happy (and alive). This could be why he overcompensates when in pursuit of the truth about what really happened to her, and this overcompensation comes on particularly strong throughout the scene in which he keeps Norman occupied. His hyper-masculinity in this scene is almost to be expected, especially with someone as weak as Norman.

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However, Sam’s hyper-masculinity does not surface until after they enter the office. Norman is already suspicious of the couple, and Sam is clearly nervous, at first (before entering the office), to be diverting Norman’s attention. He knows that he is a potentially dangerous person, although he is not yet sure in what way. The sexual tension between the two is immediately felt in Norman’s body language. His confidence (both in body and speech) when he asks, “You looking for me?” slowly begins to dissipate shortly thereafter. His body then enters a visible state of unrest, and Sam’s teasing line, “I never can keep quiet enough for her, so I thought I’d look you up and talk”, with all its erotic undertones, hints towards a fluctuation between homo-social and homoerotic interaction – that also begins to dissipate after those few seconds.

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Sam then begins to try to bully the truth out of Norman, which, although it does not work (in regard to what he wants to hear – about the money and Marion), puts him in a progressively more distressed state over the duration of their conversation. It seems that Hitchcock implies that when Sam says “Buy a new one, in a new town, where you won’t have to hide your mother,” when talking about the hotel and the money, that Norman is actually thinking about himself and his gender identity. Hitchcock is also suggesting the possibility of Norman thinking Sam is aware of his secret, which makes him noticeably tense up – his jaw muscle begins to contract faster, and his speech begins to tremble.

In the office scene, the frame is split perfectly in two. Sam inhabits one side (the left – customer), Norman the other (the right – owner): one proper body, one abject; one (normalized) heterosexual identity, one (shamed) queer; one searching for what he will not find, and one hiding something everyone is looking for – but also the opposite, something no one expected to find. Lila exploring the house while Sam distracts Norman also could be looked at as a gender role reversal – why is it Lila exploring the house while Sam distracts Norman? Shouldn’t they use Lila’s female sexuality to keep Norman’s attention while Sam (born explorer, essence of man) searches the house? Or were they already unsure about Norman’s sexuality? They certainly were not given any clues to his gender trouble at that point.

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The revelation of Norman as Mrs. Bates is a different kind of performance when looked at against those outlined by Judith Butler. Butler offers drag as the ultimate portrayal of gender instability. However, almost always, drag offers some sort of comedic edge (whether it be inherent in the participants/the performance or reactionary from the audience) and her syllogism that if one understands drag as a portrayal of gender instability, then they must believe gender to be socially constructed, is reductive and unrealistic. With Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock offers his character’s gender trouble in a less deductive and more effective/affective way: Norman is not a sideshow, a circus act for the people from within the film or the audience to laugh at (up until the end, when a feeling of camp arises). Hitchcock is not setting it up so that once the audience witnesses the wig falling off Norman’s head in the big reveal that they will instantly be convinced of gender’s contingent foundations. Hitchcock is, however, offering a deeply troubling ambiguity that confounds the characters within the film, and finds the audience feeling a deep unease in regards to what they have just seen. It’s the slippage between masculine and feminine, the undeclared sexuality of Norman that is emphasized by Hitchcock and felt by the audience; it is that uncertainty which functions as the crux of the film and is the key to its understanding. With drag, you only get the performance. With “Psycho”, you get more: the visage of the boy next door and the spirit underneath the skin of Norman Bates – the creation of a monster a little too human for our liking.

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About the writer: Dan Spada has a Bachelor’s in Women Studies and Film from Hunter College. He currently works for Tribeca in the Acquisitions Department. Dan was on the Pre-screener Committee for the Hampton’s International Film Festival taking place this October (2014) and was on the selection committee for this year’s Rooftop FIlms Summer Series.

If We Encapsulate Richard Attenborough in Amber, Can We Clone Him?

By Roxanne Pfaus

Just short of his 91st birthday, Richard Attenborough died whilst in home care, after his health had been reportedly declining for quite some time. Not to be confused with his brother, David Attenborough, who has solidified himself as a  legendary narrator of natural films and documentaries, both siblings hold memorable positions in historic and modern media.

“Lord” Richard Attenborough is prolific in British film as an actor and director. Many will remember his famous performance in the Box Office classic “Jurassic Park” (1993)  His portrayal of the eccentric bio-engineer (John Hammond), who gave off a grandfatherly appearance with his stark white hair and beard, will remain a cinematic feat. His works in movies such as Gandhi, Doctor Dolittle (1967), Miracle on 34th street, among others, have not only scored him 31 awards in film, but will also be celebrated and surpass his time on earth.