Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away Opens in China 18 Years After Its Original Release: See Beautiful New Posters for the Film

Animation fans all over the world love the films of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, but animation fans in China have never, until very recently, been able to see them on the big screen. Part of the problem has to do with the sensitivity of Chinese authorities to what sort of media enters the country — especially media from a country like Japan, with which China has not always seen eye to eye. "Miyazaki films did not open theatrically in China until a re-release of My Neighbor Totoro in December 2018," writes Indiewire's Zack Scharf, "one sign that the relationship between Japan and China is getting less tense."

Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has produced few characters as winning as Totoro — the outsized guardian of the forest who resembles a cross between a cat, an owl, and maybe a bear — and his winning over of China's censors seemed to have opened the gates to the Middle Kingdom for the rest of Miyazaki's beloved filmography. "The Totoro release was a huge box office success with more than $26 million," writes Scharf, "and Spirited Away is widely expected to perform even better given its enduring popularity." Having opened in Japan back in 2001 as 千と千尋の神隠し, or "The Spiriting-Away of Sen and Chihiro," it stands not only as the top-grossing film of all time at the Japanese box office, but one of the several undisputed masterpieces among Miyazaki's works.

Spirited Away tells the story of a ten-year-old girl who, lost in an abandoned amusement park, finds her way into a parallel world populated with the countless spirit creatures enumerated in the Japanese folk religion of shinto — which, as revealed in Wisecrack's video essay "The Philosophy of Hayao Miyazaki," figures heavily into some, and perhaps all of the master's work. As displeasing as the presence of religion, let alone a Japanese religion, may long have been to Chinese higher-ups, the Chinese public's enthusiasm for Miyazaki's films can hardly be disputed.

That powerful force could even return to Spirited Away the title of most successful Japanese animated film ever, which it held until Makoto Shinkai's Your Name came along in 2017. The marketing of Spirited Away's eighteen-year-late Chinese theatrical release, which includes this series of posters newly designed by artist Zao Dao, will certainly help give it a push. Every Ghibli enthusiast in China will certainly come out for it, and with luck, they may also be able to see the upcoming How Do You Live? — Miyazaki's next and perhaps final film, for whose production he came out of the latest of his retirements — in theaters along with the rest of the world.

via @MadmanFilms

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


Watch The Meaning of Life: One of the Best Animated Short Films Ever Made Traces the Evolution of Life, the Universe & Beyond

They say creativity is born of limitations. If that's true, then is any animator working today more creative than Don Hertzfeldt? "The stars of his movies are all near-featureless stickmen with dots for eyes and a single line for a mouth," writes The Guardian's David Jenkins in an appreciation of Hertzfeldt, whose "method of making grand existential statements with almost recklessly modest means" — animating everything himself, and doing it all with traditional hand-drawing-and-film-camera methods that at no point involve computer-generated imagery — "has made his cinematic oeuvre one of the most fascinating and enjoyable of all contemporary American directors."

As an example Jenkins holds up 2005's The Meaning of Life, which "tackled nothing less than the nature of organic life in the known universe, addressing the painstaking development of the human form through a series of (often highly amusing) Darwinian transmutations."

You can glimpse its four-year-long animation process, which appears to have been almost as painstaking, in time-lapse making-of documentary Watching Grass Grow. At Short of the Week, Rob Munday writes that, though The Meaning of Life takes on "a subject already familiar to the format (evolution has also been portrayed in short film by animators Michael MillsClaude Cloutier and I’m sure many more)," it also sees Hertzfeldt adding "his own distinct take to proceedings with his unmistakable style and injections of dark humor."

That special brand of humor has long been familiar to the many viewers who have stumbled across Hertzfeldt's earlier Rejected, a short composed of even shorter shorts originally commissioned — and, yes, rejected — by the Family Learning Channel. As one of the first animations to "go viral" in the Youtube era, Rejected not only made Hertzfeldt's name but paved the way for projects at once more ambitious, more surreal, more comic, and more serious: take the 65-minute It's Such a Beautiful Day, which follows one of his signature stickmen into prolonged neurological decline. The Meaning of Life might seem positive by comparison, but its cosmic sweep belies Hertzfeldt's underlying critique of all that evolution has produced. As Jenkins paraphrases it,  "Were we really worth all that effort?"

The Meaning of Life--which Time Out New York named the film one of the "thirty best animated short films ever made"--has been added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Jeff Tweedy Explains How to Learn to Love Music You Hate: Watch a Video Animated by R. Sikoryak

Punk rock peer pressure forced Jeff Tweedy, founder of Wilco, to shun Neil Young and other  "hippie"musical greats.

Ah, youth...

Were Tweedy, now a seasoned 51-year-old, to deliver a commencement speech, he'd do well to counsel younger musicians to reject such knee jerk rejection, as he does in the above animated interview for Topic magazine.

Not because he's now one of those grey beards himself, but rather because he's come to view influence and taste as living organisms, capable of interacting in surprising ways.

That's not to say the youngsters are obliged to declare an affinity for what they hear when venturing into the past, just as Tweedy doesn't fake a fondness for much of the new music he checks out on the regular.

Think of this practice as something similar to one millions of childish picky eaters have endured. Eat your vegetables. Just a taste. You can't say you don't like them until you've actively tasted them. Who knows? You may find one you like. Or perhaps it'll prove more of a slow burn, becoming an unforeseen ingredient of your maturity.

In other words, better to sample widely from the unending musical buffet available on the Internet than conceive of yourself as a wholly original rock god, sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus, capiche?

The narration suggests that Tweedy's got some problems with online culture, but he gives props to the digital revolution for its softening effect on the ironclad cultural divide of his 70s and 80s youth.

Was it really all just a marketing scheme?

Unlikely, given the Vietnam War, but there's no denying that educating ourselves in our passion includes approaching its history with an at-least-partially open mind.

If you want to snap it shut after you've had some time to consider, that's your call, though Tweedy suggests he's never comfortable writing something off forever.

If nothing else, the stuff he dislikes teaches him more about the stuff he loves—including, presumably, some of his own impressive catalog.

Kudos to director Keith Stack and Augenblick Studios, animator of so many Topic interviews, for matching Tweedy with cartoonist R. Sikoryak, an artist who clearly shares Tweedy's creative philosophy as evidenced by such works as Terms and Conditions and Masterpiece ComicsHere is another who clearly knows how to make a meal from mixing old and new, traditional and experimental, high and low. One of the bonus joys of this animated life lesson is catching all of Sikoryak's musical Easter eggs—including a cameo by Nipper, the face of His Master's Voice.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist ofthe East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City June 17 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch “Critical Living,” a Stop-Motion Film Inspired by the 1960s Movement That Rejected Modern Ideas About Mental Illness

Along with Michel Foucault's critique of the medical model of mental illness, the work of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing and other influential theorists and critics posed a serious intellectual challenge to the psychiatric establishment. Laing’s 1960 The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness theorized schizophrenia as a philosophical problem, not a biological one. Other early works like Self and Others and Knots made Laing something of a star in the 1960s and early 70s, though his star would fade once French theory began to take over the academy.

Glasgow-born Laing is described as part of the so-called “anti-psychiatry movement”—a loose collection of psychiatrists and characters like L. Ron Hubbard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Foucault, and Erving Goffman, pioneering sociologist and author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. For his part, Laing did not deny the existence of mental illness, nor oppose treatment. But he questioned the biological basis of psychological disorders and opposed the prevailing chemical and electroshock cures. He was seen not as an antagonist of psychiatry but as a “critical psychiatrist," continuing a tradition begun by Freud and Jung: “the alienist or ‘head shrinker’ as public intellectual,” as Duquesne University’s Daniel Burston writes.

Like many other philosophically-minded intellectuals in his field, Laing not only offered compelling alternative theories of mental illness but also pioneered alternative therapies. He was inspired by Existentialism; the many hours he had spent “in padded cells with the men placed in his custody” while apprenticed in psychiatry in the British Army; and to a large extent by Foucault. (Laing edited the first English translation of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.) Armed with theory and clinical experience, he co-founded the Philadelphia Association in 1965, an organization “centred on a communal approach to wellbeing,” writes Aeon, “where people who are experiencing acute mental distress live together in a Philadelphia Association house, with routine visits from therapists.”

Based not in the Pennsylvania city, but in London, the Philadelphia Association still operates—along with several similar orgs influenced by Laing’s vision of therapeutic communities. In "Critical Living," the animated stop-motion film above, filmmaker Alex Widdowson excerpts interviews with “a current house therapist, a former house resident, and the UK author and cultural historian Mike Jay, to explore the thinking behind the organization’s methodology and contextualize its legacy.” For Laing, mental illnesses, even extreme psychoses like schizophrenia, are personal struggles that can best be worked through in interpersonal settings which eliminate distinctions between doctor and patient and abolish methods Laing called “confrontational.”

Laing’s work began to be discredited in the mid-seventies, as breakthroughs in brain imaging provided neurological evidence for mainstream psychiatric theories, and as the culture changed and left his theories behind. A friend of Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and Allen Ginsberg, and an intellectual hero to many in the counterculture, Laing began to move into stranger territory, holding workshops for “rebirthing” therapies and giving people around him reason to doubt his own grasp on reality. Burston lists a number of other reasons his experiments with “therapeutic community” largely fell into obscurity, including the significant investment of time and effort required. “We want a quick fix: something clean and cost-effective, not messy and time consuming.”

But for many, Laing’s ideas of mental illness as an existential problem—one which could be just as much a breakthrough as a breakdown—continue to resonate, as do the many political and social critiques he and his contemporaries raised. “In the system of psychiatry,” says one interviewee in the video above, “there’s a huge emphasis on goals, and on an ending. In the more in-depth therapies, they’re more sensitive to the fact that the psyche can’t be rushed, it takes time.”

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the World’s First Animated Cartoon, 1908’s Trippy, Funny Fantasmagorie

Trying to describe the plot of Fantasmagorie, the world’s first animated cartoon, is a folly akin to putting last night’s dream into words:

I was dressed as a clown and then I was in a theater, except I was also hiding under this lady’s hat, and the guy behind us was plucking out the feathers, and I was maybe also a jack in the box? And I had a fishing pole that turned into a plant that ripped my head off, but only for a few seconds. And then there was a giant champagne bottle and an elephant, and then, suddenly I was on an operating table, and you know how sometimes in a dream, it’s like you’re being crushed to death? Except I escaped by blowing myself up like a balloon and then I hopped onto the back of this horse and then I woke up.

The brainchild of animation pioneer Émile Cohl (1857 – 1938), the trippy silent short from 1908 is composed of 700 drawings, photographed onto negative film and double-exposed.

Clocking in at under two minutes, it's definitely more diverting than listening to your bed mate bumble through their subconscious’ latest incoherent narrative.

The film’s title is an homage to a mid-19th century variant of the magic lantern, known as the fantasmograph, while its playful, nonsensical content is in the spirit of the Incoherent Movement of the 1880s.

Cohl, who cut his teeth on political caricature and Guignol puppet theatre went on to create over 250 films over the next 15 years, expanding his explorations to include the realms of live action and stop motion animation.

The crashing modern score giving such urgency to Fantasmagorie, above, was composed by Fabio Napodano.

Fantasmagorie has been added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

For the definitive biography of Emile Cohl, read Emile Cohl, Caricature, and Film by Donald Crafton (Notre Dame).

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City tonight, May 13, for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Rise and Fall of Western Empires Visualized Through the Artful Metaphor of Cell Division

We can hardly understand how the modern world arrived at its current shape without understanding the history of colonial empire. But how best to understand the history of colonial empire? In animation above, visualization designers Pedro M. Cruz and Penousal Machado portray it through a biological lens, rendering the four most powerful empires in the Western world of the 18th and 19th centuries as cells. The years pass, and at first these four cells grow in size, but we all know the story must end with their division into dozens and dozens of the countries we see on the world map today — a geopolitical process for which mitosis provides an effective visual analogy.

Cruz and Machado happen to hail from Portugal, a nation that commanded one of those four empires and, in Aeon's words, "controlled vast territories across the globe through a combination of seapower, economic control and brute force." We may now regard Portugal as a small and pleasant European country, but it once held territory all around the world, from Mozambique to Macau to the somewhat larger land known as Brazil.

And the other three empires, French, Spanish, and British, grow even larger in their respective heydays. That's especially true of the British Empire, whose dominance in cell form becomes starkly obvious by the time the animation reaches the 1840s, even though the United States of America has at that point long since drifted beyond its walls and floated away.

Wouldn't the U.S. now be the biggest cell of all? Not under the strict definition of empire used a few centuries ago, when one country taking over and directly ruling over a remote land was considered standard operating procedure (and even, in some quarters, a glorious and necessary mission). But attempts have also been made to more clearly understand international relations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries by redefining the very term "empire" to include the kind of influence the U.S. exerts all around the world. It makes a kind of sense to do that, but as Cruz and Machado's animation may remind us, we also still live very much in the cultural, linguistic, political, and economic world — or rather, petri dish — that those four mighty empires created.

via Aeon

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Steven Pinker & Rebecca Goldstein Debate the Value of Reason in an Animated Socratic Dialogue

Academic power couple Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein probably need no introduction to Open Culture readers, but if so, their lengthy and impressive CVs are only a search and click away. The Harvard cognitive psychologist and novelist and philosopher, respectively, are secular humanist heroes of a sort—public intellectuals who have dedicated their lives to defending science and classical logic and reasoning. So, what do two such people talk about when they go out to dinner?

The TED-Ed video above depicts a date night scenario, with dialogue recorded live at TED in 2012 and edited into an “animated Socratic dialogue." The first scene begins with a defensive Goldstein holding forth on the decline of reason in political discourse and popular culture. “People who think too well are often accused of elitism,” says Goldstein, while she and Pinker's animated avatars stroll under a Star Trek billboard featuring Spock giving the Vulcan salute, just one of many clever details inserted by animation studio Cognitive.

Pinker narrows the debate to a dilemma—a Spockean dilemma, if you will—between the head and heart. “Perhaps reason is overrated,” he ventures (articulating a position he may not actually hold): “Many pundits have argued that a good heart and steadfast moral clarity are superior to the triangulations of over-educated policy wonks.” The cowboy with a six-shooter and a heart of gold depicted in the animation bests the stereotypical eggheads in every Hollywood production.

The “best and brightest” of the eggheads, after all, says Pinker, “dragged us into the quagmire in Vietnam.” Other quagmires advocated by other policy wonks might come to mind (as might the unreasoning cowboys who made the big decisions.) Reason, says Pinker, gave us environmental despoliation and weapons of mass destruction. He sets up a dichotomy between “character & conscience” on the one side and “cold-hearted calculation” on the other. “My fellow psychologists have shown that we are led by our bodies and our emotions and use our puny powers of reason merely to rationalize our gut feelings after the fact.”

Goldstein counters, “how could a reasoned argument entail the ineffectiveness of reasoned arguments?” (Visual learners may remember the image of a person blithely sawing off the branch on which they sit.) “By the very act of trying to reason us into your position, you’re conceding reason’s potency.” One might object that stating a scientific theory—such as the theory that sensation and emotion come before reasoning—is not the same as making an Aristotelian argument.

But this is a 15-minute debate, not a philosophical treatise. There will, by nature of the forum and the editing process, be elisions and some slippery uses of terminology. Still, when Goldstein dismisses the critique of “logocentrism” as an allegation of “the crime of letting logic dominate our thinking,” some philosophers may grind their teeth. The problem of logocentrism is not “too much logic” but the underlying influence of Platonic idealism and the so-called “metaphysics of presence” on Western thinking.

Without the critique of logocentrism, argues philosopher Peter Gratton, “there is no 20th-century continental philosophy.” Handwaving away an entire body of thought seems rather hasty. Outside of specific contexts, idealized abstractions like “reason” and “progress” may mean little to nothing at all in the messy reality of human affairs. This is the problem Pinker alludes to in asking whether reason can have moral ends if it is mainly a tool we use to satisfy short-term biological and emotional needs and desires.

By the time the check arrives, Pinker has been persuaded by Goldstein’s argument that in the course of time, maybe a long time, reason is the key driver of moral progress, provided that certain conditions are met: that reasoners care about their well-being and that they belong to a community of other reasoners who hold each other accountable and produce better outcomes than individuals can alone. Drop your assumptions, watch their stimulating animated dinner and see if, by the final course, you are persuaded too.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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