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High praise for the 5-decade film diary 56 UP, women of India in The World Before Her and Japan’s Studio Ghibli animations

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All in all, 15 titles will be shown including one that pre-dates Studio Ghibli and two rarities. The Ocean Waves, which was made for TV, and Only Yesterday have never been released in North America in any form. Animation enthusiasts will be delighted. Many titles will show multiple times and you should check out the two theatre’s websites (http://www.thecinematheque.ca/  and  http://www.viff.org/theatre) or their widely-available printed schedules for details.

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND kicks off the series. Hayao Miyazaki directed it from his own anime comic series and because of its success founded Studio Ghibli along with several colleagues. Even though the central character is a typically wide-eyed young woman, this is not a kid’s story.

It’s 1,000 years after industrialized civilization has collapsed. A toxic jungle is spreading. Giant insects are threatening the last of the human race and cause a mysterious airship to crash. When alien soldiers arrive to recover an ancient weapon, Nausicaa has to lead a resistance that includes uniting her people and taming the insects. It’s not always clear who is an enemy or friend. There’s magic and prophecy, big adventure and a strong environmental angle (trees that absorb toxins) delivered in grand, sweeping animation and ultimately a call for human compassion. The resolution comes too fast for a story that’s so complex but it’s early in the Ghibli catalogue.  4 out of 5 

CASTLE IN THE SKY (also starting its run on Friday) is Ghibli’s first official film and one of Miyazaki’s most imaginative. It too shows his anime roots. A young woman is kidnapped but escapes from the airship she’s being held in when pirates attack. She falls gently to the ground, into the arms of a young miner and the two set off in search of a legendary and riches-laden island said to be floating in the sky. In this equally complex story, they ally with the pirates led by a scary witch-like woman and find extended  adventures with finely drawn battle scenes and an environmental  message as a final payoff. Oddly none of the characters look Asian and the film for all its busy action feels a bit long.  3 ½ out of 5

THE WORLD BEFORE HER: In India, beauty pageants are still a big deal. They’re not passé like here but a sign of modernization. They offer an escape to young women who might otherwise never get out of their village, or even their homes.  As one of contestants says: “We have a voice. We have a choice.” In this fascinating documentary, Nisha Pahuja, Indian born, now living in Toronto, puts it up against another choice. Young women in a dry, rural camp train for and fervently talk up “the movement,” a strident Hindu nationalist group called Durga Vahini.

 

They’re against modernization, westernization and Muslims.  They learn to shoot guns, to hate Gandhi’s non-violence and, as one woman says, are prepared to kill. “Are you going to spend your whole life chopping vegetables?” an instructor asks them. This is the first time filming has been allowed in one of these camps. Over at the pageant, the girls are learning to walk and pose and get skin-lightening makeup. But gradually as the film switches back and forth between the two venues and visits with a few parents we see the two groups are not as different as we thought. Subtlety and with a great eye for telling scenes, Pahuja shows how alike creating beauty queens and “warrior goddesses” really is. And how little the status of women has improved in India. The film has won many awards at festivals.         (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5

PLAYING FOR KEEPS:  Gerard Butler must have gotten into this mess willingly. He’s the producer as well as the star. He plays a once-big-name soccer star who’s best days are over. He can’t pay his rent or get a good price for his sports memorabilia. He’s moved to Virginia to be close to his son who his ex-wife lets him see now and then. He dreams of a new career as a sportscaster.

 

One day, taking his son to his weekly soccer game changes everything. The coach is incompetent and he takes over. The team starts winning. A local mover-and-shaker (Dennis Quaid) latches on to him and the soccer moms, desperate housewives all of them, come on to him. One whispers: “When you see me tugging at my ear, it means I’m imagining you on top of me.” Pretty ludicrous stuff and when one of the moms, (Catherine Zeta-Jones) an ex-sportscaster, gets him an ESPN audition we get the trite dilemma: ESPN or be there for his son and coach the big game. Sunny, cheerful but also shallow and silly. It has the highest profile though, among the new films this week. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5

NOTE: All images are movie still supplied by the studios and therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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