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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Producers in Focus: Todd Nathanson (Todd in the Shadows)

            It’s such a simple idea, perfect for an amateur starting out with nothing more than an idea and a camera- sit in total darkness, save for just one well-placed lamp to highlight your silhouette, set up the camera and mic, and just talk. It’s so basic it’s something of a wonder that no thought of it before Todd did.  In that sense, the trajectory of his internet career perfectly encapsulates the Wild West nature of the early Web, where whoever happened to try out a particular gimmick first then had that niche effectively cornered forever. 

            It’s also an extremely durable style that, location changes and the occasional camera upgrade aside, Todd has not had to alter at all since he began his videos in the Fall of 2010, and he, or rather, his shadow, has remained a constant presence providing regular, sharp, on-point music commentary ever since.    

            It wasn’t too long before he started out on Youtube that Todd was invited to join the TGWTG team, and by 2011 he had already established himself as one of the site’s heavy hitters.  He had a particularly close working relationship with Lindsay Ellis (aka Nostalgia Chick) and Allison Pregler (Obscurus Lupa); the three would make frequent cameos in each other’s videos, and at one point even created a particularly tortured love triangle between their respective personas in the year leading up to To Boldly Flee (and say what you will about the film as a whole, the reveal of Todd’s “face” was one of its most inspired moments).  His videos remained a major part of the website until March of this year, when, right when #ChangeTheChannel started to really heat up, he became one of the first to publicly break with the site, and was soon followed by, well, everyone. 

            The span of his pop song reviews, which make up the bulk of his work, serve as a remarkable glimpse at how trends, figures, and styles in the American pop scene have shifted over the past decade.  His early videography is dominated by Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, and Kesha, among others, but they no longer define the pop charts the way they did at the turn of the decade.  Train forced its way onto his radar for a few years with a series of hideous number ones, but has since faded.  Sadly, Taylor Swift, Maroon Five, Chris Brown, and Justin Bieber have continued to be regular (and necessary) targets of his ire. 

            For a number of years now, though, he’s also worked to expand the sort of work he does.  In “Cinemadonna,” he went through each and every film appearance of Madonna in her efforts to establish herself as acting as well as a musical threat (spoiler- she didn’t).  He’s released a small number of videos under the title “Trainwreckords,” about particularly disastrous albums released by major musicians.  My favorites, though, are his “One Hit Wonderland” videos, where he examines a wide variety of one-hit wonders from musical history and provides a remarkably comprehensive look at the origins and eventual fates (some good, some not) of musicians that, for one reason or another, were able to streak across popular culture and make a mark for a brief moment before fading from public view. 

            His style and tone has also altered little- his style has always been quieter, more subtle, and effortlessly self-effacing, eschewing the theatrics more typical of his contemporaries.  That noticeable difference may be a key to what made him stand out early on and allow him to build his own fanbase.  Plus, the fact that he has consistently stayed “in the shadows,” resorting to an eye-covering mask when forced to appear in harsh daylight, has allowed him to retain a certain anonymity increasingly rare in our digital world.  For his sake, I hope it stays that way as best as it possibly can.  I have no doubt there exists a whole cottage industry devoted to “spotting Todd,” but I intend to remain perfectly ignorant of it for as long as I live.   

            Movies and video games were early and easy targets during the rise of internet criticism, but Todd was one of the first to realize the untapped potential in being a video music critic, and his establishing of himself in this field makes him as important and as influential an entrepreneur in the world of online video as anyone.  His videos are fun, funny, and are never less than immensely informative.  Here is a shortlist of my favorites (thus far). 

All His Top Ten Best/Worst Pop Songs

            The links above are for his latest Top Tens for 2017, but all of them are amazing time capsules worth your time, as they consistently rank among his best and most entertaining works. 

The One-Hit Wonders

            Here, again, all of these videos are worth your time, and are on such an equal plane I feel it would be unfair to pick out the “best,” but for the record, the ones that, for one reason or another, have the most personal meaning for me are 500 Miles, Who Let The Dogs Out, Float On, and Safety Dance. 

Todd’s Pop Song Reviews

            There are SO MANY of these at this point, all of them are solid, most are great enough to merit repeat viewing, and given vagaries of taste and humor style there’s no way one person could categorically list the “best,” but here are a few that have remained all-time favorites of mine-

Firework vs. Born This Way

            One of his earliest videos, this contains some of his best examinations of the dual careers of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, especially since I always felt both these songs were a bit overrated at the time.  It’s hilarious to watch it now and think over just how radically different the trajectories their respective careers have since taken. 

Turn Up The Music

            Despite the best efforts of the entire Republican Party, Chris Brown remains at the top of the list of the most vile human walking the face of the earth, and in one of his first videos directly dealing with him, Todd breaks down as best as anyone can why. 

Talk Dirty AND Wiggle

            I actually had to sing an early Jason Derulo hit with my college acapella group way back when, so when he reappeared on the pop charts with these two songs, both of which are particularly heinous examples of “bro” music, Todd’s takedowns were especially needed to help me rebuild my faith in humanity.    

The Time/Dirty Bit

            One of the biggest drivers in Todd’s early videos was the rage induced in him by the worst of what the Black Eyed Peas were putting out at the time, and this video, right when the group was finally falling apart, is where it all comes to a head. 

Look What You Made Me Do

            The last Taylor Swift single I was able to stand, and actually liked, was “Mine.”  Since then it’s been all downhill.  Todd has a somewhat more mixed opinion, and has argued in favor of a number of her lesser hits from recent years, which I can get, but the bad Taylor stuff has been really, really bad.  All of Todd’s videos of her work are well worth watching, but my favorite remains last year’s examination of, arguably, her worst one yet. 

            Are there any former TGWTG/CA producers you’ve been missing and what to get caught up on?  Then check out and follow the Unawesomes page on Twitter.  Let’s make the internet economy of tomorrow a better, more equitable place, starting now. 

-Noah Franc

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review: Infinity Wars

Infinity Wars (2018): Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.  Starring: EVERYONE.  Running Time: 149 minutes.  Based on the comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Rating: 3.5/4

            It’s all been building up to this.  10 years of some of the most ambitious expanded-universe filmmaking in cinematic history, and the cumulative effort has finally hit theaters and is already breaking box office records.  And for my money, one of the most highly-anticipated movies of all time pretty much manages to meet most of what could have reasonably been expected of it.  It has far more named characters than any other superhero movie to date, and there are about a dozen moments where the whole thing could have easily flown apart at the seams, but it works (mostly).  It’s beautifully crafted and realized, and is noticeably more cohesive and tightly-managed than its predecessor, Age of Ultron.  While I’m not sure its one of the “best MCU offerings ever” (though definitions of that are highly variable), it is a solid work worth seeing and experiencing cold on the big screen. 

            One of the smartest moves the creators made- one really only possible with a dozen-and-a-half prequels backing it up- is to not stop for more than a few seconds at a time to try and exposit who Thanos is, what infinity stones are, and what they do.  The story and action just starts, and flows until the end.  As such I, too, will not bother to try a plot summary, because this is an Event Film, and no one’s here for the story- we’re here to see Ironman and Doctor Strange try to out-wit each other while fighting off a Space Magician.  And besides, anyone committed to knowing the minutia and lore already does, and anyone who doesn’t will have no trouble following along, because the primary plot of “Magical McGuffin is bad, no let Bad Guy get Magical McGuffin” is about as simple and straightforward as human storytelling gets. 

            The real trick is in taking the sheer number of named characters coming together, in many instances interacting for the very first time on-screen, and balancing out their scenes to let them feel fun and interesting and action-packed, but not too uneven.  Thankfully, the movie pulls this off; this is a massive, loooooong cinematic undertaking, but it pretty much never drags or feels padded out just to get one more quip between Thor and Starlord muscled in.  There are plenty of jokes that made me laugh out-loud, but many of the central characters get powerful acting moments that build on character development set up in previous films.  Thor, Starlord, Gamorra, Spiderman, and Captain America each get to do some real heavy lifting here, highlighting some of the best scenes in the film.   

            And that, for me, speaks to what has always been the greatest strength of the MCU, one that I suspect is the key to their success, despite the very real flaws in many of the movies and in the expanded universe concept as a whole.  For all the massive budgets and fancy special effects and oddball fighting powers they toss around, these movies ultimately work because they have always gotten the characters right, through perfect casting and solid writing.  These characters have always felt vibrant and real even in the weakest MCU offerings, and the scenes that make this movie one of the best are all scenes that hinge on one or several characters having moments of real emotional pathos. 

            This is especially true for, of all people, Thanos.  I have always felt the trope of “MCU villains always suck” to be a tad overblown- they’ve had plenty of effective antagonists, even if few of them are really great- but Thanos easily earns a ranking as one of the best.  Josh Brolin is able to convey the twisted internal logic of Thanos’ mind through facial expressions and his voice despite all that fancy CGI work making up his body, proving yet again that he is both one of the best, and yet most underappreciated, actors working today.  That said, some of the debate around his character has already gone way too far; why no, having a purely logical argument in its favor does NOT make genocide okay, because that’s what separates Fascists from Not-Fascists. 

            We are long past the point where any one human can reasonably be expected to have followed up on EVERYTHING in the MCU, and we are also long past the point where there is much use in trying to bring people in cold who aren’t already on-board; either you are with this crazy ride, wherever it may lead, or you aren’t.  And if you aren’t, that’s fine!  But if you are, this movie is as great, and in a few instances as daring, as anything this project has yet offered us. 

-Noah Franc

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cinema Joes Podcast: April 2018 Update

           This is update is a bit delayed this time around, which is all on me.  It was another fairly low-key month for us, but May will already start out with a bang, with our upcoming episode on Infinity Wars.  Until then, check out our work on our Itunes page. 

April 1st: A Wrinkle In Time/The Polarization of Film Criticism

April 8th: Our Favorite Underappreciated Character Actresses (mini) 

April 18th: Ready Player One/ The Beauties and Perils of Nostalgia

April 22nd: Our Worst Comic Book Movie Villains (mini)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Producers in Focus: Lindsay Ellis

            The big shift, in my mind at least, was the Rent video. 

            On New Year's Eve 2016, in that time following the 2016 election when the Trump years hadn't officially started yet and we had nothing solid to try and mitigate our fears with, Lindsay Ellis released a 45-minute examination of Rent (both the show and the musical) that genuinely felt like a shot across the bow of American culture, a statement of the kind of critical thought and active engagement we would need to survive what was coming. 

            She'd been doing longer-form video essays for a while before this; after debuting her original internet persona of the Nostalgia Chick on That Guy With The Glasses in September 2008, she continued to build her audience and develop her voice as a critic and analyst after leaving the site in 2015 (under patently awful circumstances) with her Loose Canon series, where she examined the cultural evolution of how various characters and topics are treated in media (a pre-election examination of comedian interpretations of Hillary Clinton ended up being particularly, painfully prescient). 

            But something about the Rent video felt, and still feels, fundamentally different.  It was angrier, more pointed, and cut much deeper not just into the direct matter of the movie itself, but in what the movie's treatment of the AIDS crisis failed to do when compared to the real-life struggles of the LGBTQ community in the 80's to gain the recognition and help they deserved. 

            And she's been on a non-stop tear since then, regularly releasing massive video essays of similar length on a wide, wide range of shows, movies, and topics, and never failing to actively critique and consider how our production and consumption of media reveals truths in our society we'd often rather ignore, as well as what we can do about them. 

            When examining the collective body of work Ellis has produced in the past few years, I see a deep, thoughtful, and keenly perceptive mind producing some of the best and most meaningful film criticism to be found just about anywhere today.  Her dry, often ironic and/or detached style of humor is unlike anyone else online at the moment, making her unique voice all the more essential.  All of her work is worth checking out, but here are the works of hers that have made the biggest impact on me personally.   

Nostalgia Chick- The Lord of the Rings

            This was one of the last sets of videos Ellis officially did as Nostalgia Chick before leaving TGWTG, but given how much of her history with the franchise jives with mine, her in-depth examination of not only the movies themselves, but the stories around their development and the legacy they left behind makes this essential viewing for any fantasy fan. 

Loose Canon 9/11


            All of the Loose Canon videos are fascinating mini-history episodes worth watching, but my hands-down favorite of them all is this two-parter where Ellis explores the history, not of 9/11 itself, but of how we’ve processed it (or rather, haven’t) through film and television, noting different waves or phases in how we’ve thus far tried to interpret and tackle this terrible tragedy.  Like her Hillary Clinton episode, this was one that ended up being uncomfortably prescient in 2016. 


            With the abyss of a national government committed to eliminating health care and other systematic protections for the poor and vulnerable staring us in the face, Ellis’ closing segment of this video, featuring clips of a real speech exhorting action in the face of tragedy and ending with the echoing protest cry “Health care is a right!” was Goddamn revolutionary, and it was exactly the jolt in the arm I and many others needed.  Even well over a year later, it still gives me chills. 

The Whole Plate- Michael Bay’s Transformers

            This series is still ongoing and far from completion, but although I loathe this bloated corpse of a franchise as much as anyone, Ellis is right on point when she questions our willingness to not examine the cultural significance of one of the highest-grossing film series of all time.  Plus, watching her dig into more detail about these films than Bay has ever deserved it just plain funny, as well as hella educational for anyone who didn’t go to film school. 

The Producers

            Mel Brooks remains one of the greatest comedic filmmakers of all time, but his legacy has become all too often abused by people trying to find a shield to cover their own lack of talent and/or actual racism by using Blazing Saddles and The Producers as “proof” that society is too up-tight and politically correct these days.  This is wrong-headed for a number of reasons, and Ellis goes through each one in great detail, and for good measure she throws in a fairly comprehensive look at how American interpretations of WWII and, by extension, the Holocaust shifted in the decades between the war itself and the premiere of The Producers. 


            This might be my top favorite of Ellis’ videos, if for no other reason than that the continued global cultural myopia among whites and Westerners about the true extent, legacy, and price of Western colonialism is one of my biggest, most race-inducing bugbears.  It is a massive topic that can only be grasped through serious, complicated thought, but here Ellis did about as good as a job as can be done distilling it into a single sentence, which is quite a feat.

Stephanie Meyer

            I was all-in on Twilight hate during my college years, and so was Ellis.  So were a lot of people.  There has always been a certain disingenuousness to that, but it never really struck me until Ellis became one of the first major voices to point it out and examine the latent sexism in much of our “dialogue” about this odd franchise.  Not an easy take, to be sure, but a needed one. 

The Hobbit

            Her latest major work (as of this writing), a long-awaiting follow-up to her examination of the LOTR franchise, is a massive journalistic undertaking.  I was and have remained a defender of The Hobbit movies over the years, but following Ellis’ explanations of the many, many ways in which both the production of the films itself went south and how its legacy adversely impacted the New Zealand film scene have led me to seriously reconsider my stance.  Which is, in the end, the whole point of good film criticism.  The whole scope of the downfall of the franchise as Ellis paints is damn near the level of a Greek tragedy, one that I hope does not, in the long run, adversely affect the legacy of LOTR.  Sadly, as Ellis points out, a bit of that is unavoidable. 

            Are there any former TGWTG/CA producers you’ve been missing and what to get caught up on?  Then check out and follow the Unawesomes page on Twitter.  Let’s make the internet economy of tomorrow a better, more equitable place, starting now. 

-Noah Franc

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: Komunia (Communion)

Komunia: Written and directed by Anna Zamecka.  Starring: Ola Kaczanowski and Nikodem Kaczanowski.  Running Time: 72 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

            Komunia is a sparse and bitingly intimate portrait of the hard life of a poor Polish family.  The parents are separated for reasons we never learn, and the father’s alcoholism makes him effectively incapable of doing anything other than watching TV, leaving the teenage daughter, Ola, more or less alone in trying to take care of herself and her mentally disabled brother, Nikodem, who for most of the film is struggling to prepare for his first communion. 

            It is Ola who has to do all the cleaning and cooking.  It is Ola who has to coordinate every call and meet-up with their mother, who lets in the social worker to speak with her Dad and admonish him for not giving up drinking.  It is Ola who forces her brother to study for the religious exam he has to pass in order to be able to take communion, a task that she devotes herself to with a single-minded fervor, as though getting her brother through this particular rite of adulthood will make everything else worth it.  And still, between all this, she still needs time to just be a teenage girl, to dance and party with her friends in the one good dress she owns.  And sometimes, she can’t do anything anymore, except break down in tears of frustration and worry.   

            The movie is short, hard, and doesn’t try to comment on anything we see.  It’s as grounded and efficient as documentary filmmaking gets, which is what makes it great.  There is no effort to artificially create an “end point” for the family.  We see them live, the brother struggles through communion, the parents try getting back together and break right back up again, and by the end Ola and Nikodem are still sitting on the floor of their tiny apartment, sifting through their books. 

            And it must be emphasized how small the space they have to live in is.  The close-up nature of the camerawork- nearly every shot focuses almost exclusively on either Ola or Nikodem to the exclusion of everyone else- makes every place they are in feel tight, narrow, constricted, mirroring the circumstances of life they find themselves in.  And yet, they (meaning the children, not the adults) still find love and joy and grace even in the midst of their struggles. 

            Being a movie about a family preparing for a communion service, and a Polish one at that, Catholicism looms large over the film.  The many technical questions about the minutiae of the Catechism are treated as matters of spiritual life or death, and some of the film’s funniest or most poignant moments come when Ola or a teacher or a priest are trying, very seriously of course, to instill this or that tidbit of trivia into Nikodem’s brain, but his rapid-fire thinking and pure honesty won’t let him be tied down by whether or not the priest approves of what he says. 

            Komunia is a bracing experience, and at times hard to watch, but for such simple subject matter, this is as potent as a documentary can get.  Maybe I only related to it as much as I did because I myself am a part-Polish Catholic social worker with a mentally disabled brother, but then again, maybe that’s all that counts. 

-Noah Franc

Friday, April 20, 2018

Films for the Trump Years: Bowling for Columbine

            There was about a 36-hour period, starting quite suddenly about two days after the Parkland shooting, where I found myself filled with such a raging fury I could barely breath.  I thought Sandy Hook and the utter refusal of Republicans to allow a proper response to the slaughter of children had killed off my ability to get emotional about this particular topic.  Somehow, miraculously, I was wrong; I am not yet so jaded.  But that doesn’t make the suffering of these victims any more bearable. 

            Like everyone, I expected the usual rinse-wash-repeat cycle to happen as it inevitably had for these past twenty, interminable years.  But this time, so far, it hasn’t.  The survivors of Parkland, linking arms with past victims across the country, have been able to push back against the cycle and seem to be on the verge of breaking it (although we’ll have to wait until after the midterms to determine if it really is broken, or just strained).  An unprecedented public focus has been sharpened on gun violence, enhanced by a school walkout last month and the monumental March for our Lives in D.C.

            Today, on the 19th anniversary of Columbine, a second school walkout, expected to be even more expansion than last month’s, will take place, and I feel there is nothing more appropriate I could do this month with my Trump Years series than couple today’s walkout with a look back at Michael Moore’s seminal work, Bowling for Columbine, which remains his most well-known and potent film. 

            The combination of seeing this film for the first time and reading Moore’s book, Stupid White Men, in the summer of 2004, as that year’s election was heating up, was a pivotal moment in my life.  The boldest passages from the book and the most provocative parts of the film were like lightning bolts to my brain, jolting my intellect into an alertness I have worked tirelessly to maintain ever since. 

            Now, of course, as a 28-year-old adult seeing the film again for the first time in at least a decade, it’s much easier for me to see when and where the clear flaws in Moore’s in-your-face narrative style pop up, as well as his occasional weakness for over-simplifications that often hurt, rather than help, his arguments.  There was always a bit of the juvenile in many of his antics, something that has only slightly mellowed in his later works.  I will never forget the chill that ran down my spine the first time I saw the “Wonderful World” montage, but with over a decade of studying history now behind me, I can clearly see the many cracks in that kind of sensationalist approach.

            However, while it is fair to criticize him for the times he overreaches, if he wasn’t as balls-to-the-wall daring as he is, he would never reach nearly as many moments of painful clarity as he does, which are the hallmarks of great documentary filmmaking.  Yes, the movie’s flaws are more salient than ever 16 years after it took Cannes by storm and netted Moore his Oscar.  But its most powerful moments, and its clearest damnations of the American psychosis surrounding guns, are even more so, and have never been more relevant than now; Moore highlighted a ream of uncomfortable truths and problems within America that have only worsened since the film’s release. 

            The recurring topic of fear, and how it can be and is used to manipulate people, is central to the movie, but while Moore seemed to believe then that those first few years after 9/11 were the apogee of American fear, we now know all too clearly it was merely a paltry prelude to what was to come, the first stirrings of a darkness in the American mind that has now lasted nearly two decades. 

            Moore and his cinematographers have always had a special talent for capturing images, moments, and exchanges that perfectly encapsulate the paradoxes and contradictions of the American character, and Bowling for Columbine is chock-full of them.  A guy buying guns “just to be safe” wearing a “Fuck You” baseball cap.  An employer of Lockhead Martin standing in front of a massive, uncompleted missile from the US nuclear arsenal opining how you can’t just shoot or bomb someone every time you get upset.  Two survivors of Columbine going to the headquarters of K-Mart to try and return the bullets, purchased at a K-Mart store, still inside their bodies.  And my personal favorite; a conspiracy theorist, after showing off the loaded gun he sleeps with and talking about his friendship with the Oklahoma City bombers of 1995, admits that SOME materials, like weapons-grade plutonium, should not be in civilian hands, because, quote, “there’s wackos out there.” 

            Then there’s the racial aspect that the film sometimes, but not always, touches on; both then and now, it’s inevitably white people extolling the virtues of firearms and of uncontrolled private gun ownership.  It’s whites who, according to the Hestons and LaPierres of the world, that have the God-given right to stroll around with loaded assault rifles at the ready, while anyone black, brown, or otherwise only has the right to die, whether or not they had a firearm on them.  These people claim universality for their twisted, perverted worldview, but it’s merely window dressing for old-school, boilerplate racism.  And we keep letting ourselves forget that, time and again. 

            It’s amazing how much the film now works as a time capsule of those last few, precious years where school shootings were still rare enough to spark genuine outrage and sadness, not apathy and resignation.  When the 90’s were dying, yes, but still had a few breaths left in them.  When “Columbine” was a singular event with a singular meaning in the English language.  There was no talk of “like Columbine” or “since Columbine.”  Just “Columbine.” 

            From the speeches Moore shows in Littletown in 1999 to the March for our Lives just last month, the parallels are chilling and at times overwhelming, as is any serious effort to understand just exactly how much two decades of inaction have cost us.  A recent Washington Post study, an absolute must-read, estimates that nearly 200,000 current and former US students have been exposed to gun violence and struggle with the various after-effects and traumas associated with being a survivor.  What that has cost us as a nation and as people is beyond money, beyond numbers, beyond quantification, and above all else, beyond excuse. 

            We are, each and every one of us, complicit in this senseless slaughter.  We can all choose to be part of the solution.  But it requires our active choice, today, tomorrow, and forever. 

-Noah Franc

Previously on Films for the Trump Years:

Part 1- Selma

Part 3- 13th

Part 4- Get Out

Part 7- Human Flow

Part 9- Black Panther

Sunday, April 8, 2018

In Memoriam: Isao Takahata

            A giant has left us.  Several days ago, on April 5th, 2018, Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, died.  He was 82. 

            This is a heavy blow to anyone who considers themselves an anime fan.  Takahata was, in many ways, often overshadowed in the public eye by his longtime collaborator and Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, who is certainly better-known to most casual filmgoers, but everyone who has followed Studio Ghibli knows just how deeply the two depended on and supported each other throughout their careers.  Each would likely never have had the sustained success they’ve had without the other. 

            Often referred to as the “animator who can’t draw,” Takahata long carried the nickname “Paku-San” around the Ghibli office; he would often come in each morning loudly chomping on bread, the Japanese onamonapia for which is “paku-paku.”  He was often teased by his co-workers for being comparatively lazy and laid-back, especially when compared to Miyazaki’s legendary work obsession.  In his afterward to a book cataloguing the studio’s early years, he credited their professional partnership as being one of the driving forces behind his achievements, writing, “It is through Hayao Miyazaki’s very existence that I have always felt scolded for my slothlike tendencies, been made to feel guilty, been cornered into doing work, and had something greater than whatever limited talents I might possess squeezed out of me.”

            However they were brought out of him, willingly or no, Takahata’s works will indelibly stand alongside Miyazaki’s as not just great animated films, but as some of the greatest films of all time.  He was never as prolific, per say, as others, being credited as the director for just five of Ghibli’s feature films to Miyazaki’s nine, but each film project he did choose has had a striking impact, and revealed a mind capable of working through a cast array of artistic styles and story types. 

            His most well-known and arguably most influential film, 1988’s Grave of the Fireflies, is a realistic-looking, devastating portrayal of Japan during WWII, one that Roger Ebert argued had to be on any serious list of the greatest war movies ever made.  He followed this with a meditative work on childhood, country life, memory with Only Yesterday (1991), a film whose tone could not have been more different, and after that, he made the even more bizarre and fantastical Pom Poko (1994).  My Neighbors the Yamadas, released five years later, was yet another wild departure, a series of slice-of-life vignettes from a typical, middle-class Japanese family, drawn in an almost comically child-like style. 

            For whatever reason, he didn’t head another major project with the company until nearly a decade-and-a-half later.  But when he finally did return to the directing chair, the result was an artistic thunderbolt.  2013’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya not only ranks as one of the best works in the Ghibli canon, I have fervently argued on more than one occasion that it deserves to be considered one of the greatest films of all time.  It now turns out that it will stand as his final feature film, but my God, what a note to go out on. 

            Takahata may be gone, but his works resonate with such power and force that his memory will long outlive us all.  Every film of his is worth seeing, and if you haven’t seen any of them yet, now is as good a time to start as any. 

            Arigatou gozaimasu, Paku-San.  You are already sorely missed, but you will never be forgotten. 

-Noah Franc