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PonyoToday, it’s all about the love, people. To know me is to know that I am a huge fan of the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Near the top of any list of my all-time favorite films would be his masterwork Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, which you, in your sad ignorance, probably refer to by its English title, Spirited Away. This one time I will forgive you your cultural insensitivity. Film like My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kiki’s Delivery Service are great favorites in my home. Some of his other movies don’t cross the culture barrier quite so effortlessly, but his work is always brilliant, beautiful and compelling.

This weekend I went to see his new movie, Ponyo, which did not disappoint. Everything I’d read suggested that it was his most child-friendly movie since My Neighbor Totoro, so we brought on not-yet-three-year-old son (a big Miyazaki fan) along for his first theatrical experience. A great success all around, by the way.   Close observers of my son’s behavior noted patient-sitting and not too much shouting at the screen.

The movie suffers from some of the rapid-fire plot moves that Miyazaki often relies on, though unlike in some other movies, these developments seem rushed rather than incomprehensible. What matters is that all the things you want in a Miyaxaki movie are all here: touching, well-drawn characters willing to accept the wonders they discover in their world; and beautiful, hand-crafted animation. The film is chock full of references to his earlier works, so it’s sure to please the fans, but it is also one of his most accessible films and a great introduction to new, especially younger, viewers.

Elephant JokesAlso… to know me it to know that I love Guided by Voices and, to a necessarily lesser extent, former-front-man Robert Pollard’s other work. Pollard is famously prolific, usually releasing at least two solo CDs a year along with several more side project CDs, EPs and singles. I listen to everything he does, but not all of it, I am sad to say, is as good as I’d like. I’ve tended to feel that he could combine the best material from every two or three CDs to put together a single good one. More than that, he’s gotten into some sloppy habits, contributing only lyrics and vocals to a lot of the side projects, writing songs that are way too long (Guided by Voices could generally get in and out of a brilliant song in under two minutes), and sometimes shocking devoid of the hooky sensibility that made GBV what it was.

So, I’m happy to report that Pollard’s latest, Elephant Jokes, is easily his best effort since the break-up of GBV. Short, hooky songs (most under two minutes, and certainly none of the 4 – 5 minute monsters from recent releases), are the order of the day. Pollard actually plays guitar here, and that makes all the difference. In recent months, Pollard has frequently said that he’s been re-energized by his new band Boston Spaceships, and those CDs do represent some of his better moments from recent years, but Elephant Jokes is really the most vital and vivid we’ve seen Pollard in years. Hooray.

One Response to “”

  1. April C. says:

    My daughter, Blythe, loves Spirited Away, et al and now won’t stop bothering me to take her to Panyo. When she first mentioned the movie (and probably because my Dad was an “upmarket” loan shark for much of my youth) I thought she was saying Pawn Yo. Most of the expensive items given to me by my Dad (sporty bike, super cool acoustic guitar, second and third car, my front teeth . . . were “good deals” my Dad negotiated . . . . so you can see the confusion.
    I finished The Devil’s Company in two days while on vacation; getting a serious lack of sleep the second night of reading because I had to get to the end, I loved it so much. Death is an occupational hazard for me and I thought the pages devoted to a loved one’s death were warm, uplifting with the right touch of anger, and very human. I also loved the treatment of the “mollie” house. I worry Weaver has met his match with Celia.

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