Studio Ghibli might well have gone out not with a bang, but with a whimper if, as rumored, this animated feature from Hiromasa Yonebayashi had been their final release. (Happily, not the case after 2016's THE RED TURTLE.) A physically lovely, but consistently maudlin piece about a lonely orphan girl’s crush on an imaginary playmate from the past, it shares many of the malnourished narrative faults of Yonebayashi’s directing debut, THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY/’10. There’s something insistently creepy about both films, though this may simply be a cultural divide thing. (Why such a princessy blue-eyed blonde fantasy friend?) But the painterly look of the settings and some strikingly detailed interiors don’t solve story construction problems or stiff characterizations. Our orphan heroine is certainly plucky, striking out again and again on her own; but must she trip, fall and conk herself out on every journey only to have the big tragic mystery explained by a subsidiary character in a long final monologue? It’s a real three-hankie humdinger, too. Someone’s clinically depressed here, but is it the girl or the film studio workers?
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Even those who love Studio Ghibli product wonder why the mouths of their female leads always look like ‘Nilla Wafers.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Hayao Miyazaki’s PORCO ROSSO/’92 remains the least seen of his masterpieces. He’s retired; what are you waiting for?
LINK/ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: This film’s main musical theme keeps threatening to morph into Francisco Tárrega’s ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra.’ Here’s a link to Pepe Romero’s beautifully paced recording. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrtW99qTk6E