Animated films just don’t seem to get Criterion’s juices flowing. With no animated films amongst the ranks of DVDs and Blu-rays currently in print under the watchful eye of The Criterion Collection, and Pixar’s newest film in theaters this weekend (the wonderful-sounding Brave), it’s about time that I let you the readers, which hopefully includes those guys and gals behind the beloved brand, hear my two cents about what film should brink the genre’s Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray cherry.
In the history of animated film, there is classic upon classic upon classic. Snow White, Akira (former Criterion Blu-ray), Fantasia, and Triplets Of Bellville all pop into mind when discussing what films are the cream of the cartoon crop. However, there is one that stands above even those, and honestly, the vast majority of feature films in general. Directed by Isao Takahata, there is not a single greater animated feature film than his masterwork, The Grave Of The Fireflies.
Following the story of two young children living in late WWII Japan, the film looks at the lives of Seita and Setsuko, a sibling pair, who must come to terms with a vicious world, the death of a mother, and seemingly unbeatable odds. A visceral, emotionally devastating and intellectually charged anti-war feature, Grave is what any great animated film should be. It’s beautiful, its moving, and it’s utterly enthralling. However, it’s also so much more. So very much more.
War films come a dime a dozen. It seems as though, in a post-9/11 world, we get war films almost every other week. Tossed into romantic dramas, comedies and hell, even superhero films (the last hour of The Avengers could be considered a war film), war has always been one of the most cinematically inclined subjects we have. Hell, even horses get in on the action. However, much like its closest Criterion kin, Paths Of Glory, Grave is very much an anti-war film.
Coming out of the house that Miyazaki built, Studio Ghibli, the film is based on a novel from writer Akiyuki Nosaka, the film’s greatest attribute is its pure emotive power. Takahata’s masterpiece, the film is visually awe-inspiring. Taking the now patented anime style trappings of Japan’s animation style, and imbuing it with a burrowing sense of melancholy that, come the film’s finale, will leaveÂ you in a muddy pulp of tears and depression. The cinematic manifestation of the ‘emotional rollercoaster,’ the film moves through wave and wave of emotion, be it anger, hatred, or come the aforementioned conclusion, maybe even just a pinch of hope, with a deft hand from the first frame to last. Built all with a brutally honest sense of childlike wonder, the viewer is entrenched in this world, and through the eyes of a child, where the world is your oyster.Â A brutal, mean and even evil oyster.
Visually, the film is inspired. A very rough looking film aesthetically, Takahata does everything in his power to avoid pulling punches. The trappings of war are truly cruel, and while this film in and of itself doesn’t use these moments to manipulate the audience, Takahata has such a skilled hand with his camera and his style, that these moments live and breathe with such vivid strength. Proving that the atrocities of war don’t start and stop on the battlefield, the film is, above all else, a tone poem about how war can be a tidal wave of violence. Families are devastated. Cities trampled. Lives, forever changed. As much a meditation on familial relationships as it is a war film, Grave Of The Fireflies is simply one of the deepest and most emotionally affecting animated films ever made.
That leads me to the final topic for discussion here. Why isn’t animation found within Criterion’s ranks, ever since it started to release DVDs and Blu-rays? Personally, this is an oversight that I don’t see any reason behind. The company has only even released one animated film in their entire existence, in the form of the Laserdisc edition of Akira. People have always rumored that films like Fritz The Cat would one day hit, but at this point, nothing has come close. While I do think that Grave would be a perfect first release, there are a cavalcade of other films that could fit that bill just as well. Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly are both brazenly inventive and also have underwhelming home video releases. Animal Farm is an underrated masterpiece. The films of Michel Ocelot could make for an interesting Eclipse series release. Indies like Gandahar, When The Wind Blows and the Sylvain Chomet film, The Illusionist could all fit perfectly. There are a cavalcade of able and willing releases, here’s to hoping that we’ll be getting one here soon enough.
Which animated film would you like to see hit Criterion?