Studio Ghibli animation can skew toward the kids (TOTORO/’88; KIKI/’89) or toward adults (WIND RISES/’13; SPIRITED AWAY/’01), but this feature from Yoshifumi Kondô aims at the CW demo, female ‘tweens.’ (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) It’s all junior high rivalries & embarrassment, raging hormones & unrequited first love; led by a scatter-brained girl whose adorable-quotient can be calibrated by the viewer’s age. Naturally, she’s a bit of an outsider, giggling over possible boyfriends with her BFF girlfriend, reading every book in the library and trying to figure out what direction her life should take. A question amusingly answered when she follows a wandering cat into a new neighborhood and a new set of interests, including a slightly older boy who knows exactly what he wants. He’s off to Italy to become a luthier! Something you don’t see in many YA stories! Hmm, YA stories, maybe writing’s in her future? There’s a fair amount of charm in the characters and situations (life at home is especially well handled), but nothing to match the sweeping landscape vistas of Tokyo that constantly pull your attention away from the foreground, and a story that never sorts itself out. Plotlines are abruptly dropped; music & peripheral characters are introduced to little effect; then the film takes a disastrous turn illustrating one of the girl’s perfectly awful fantasy tales. Ultimately, the whole thing feels like apprentice work. Perhaps it was since Kondô, who died at the age of 47 without making a second film, was a likely successor to Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli.
DOUBLE-BILL: George Stevens’ I REMEMBER MAMA/’48 is far less sentimental about a young girl’s early romantic writing, sending her back to her notepads with orders to ditch the over active imagination and write about something she knows and feels.