He’s already stomped all over box offices around the world and now finally the nuclear lizard from the ocean’s depths, Godzilla, is coming home. It seems ironic that something so unmistakably Japanese should take so long to get here, but Japan’s release schedules are an obstacle even a radioactive dinosaur can’t crush. Godzilla isn’t the only Japanese icon hitting screens this month as Studio Ghibli, whose popularity and acclaim outside its native country has steadily increased since the Oscars success of Spirited Away in 2001, are putting out their latest, When Marnie Was There. Check out our picks for a sci-fi and fantasy heavy summer.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
When Marnie Was There—July 19
The arrival of a new Studio Ghibli feature is always cause for excitement, but this time around, there’s a degree of trepidation carried in the mix. Last year saw the release of the final film from legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises, which was swiftly followed by The Tale of Princess Kaguya from the often overlooked, but no less talented, Ghibli second-in-command Isao Takahata, whose advanced age and the time it takes him to put a movie together leaves a question mark over future work. This latest effort, When Marnie Was There (Omoide no marnie), is paving the way for the next generation of Ghibli filmmakers and could be seen as an indication of the direction the company is heading. From Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the story is based on a classic English children’s novel of the same name by author Joan G. Robinson. Described as an atmospheric ghost story, the action follows a lonely little girl named Anna who makes her first ever friend, a young girl named Marnie, who appears to live across a lake in the mysterious Marsh House. When Marnie disappears and a new family moves into the house, Anna learns that her friend wasn’t all she appeared to be. Expect the impeccable animation the studio is known and loved for and a wistful, melancholic tone in this tale of friendship and loneliness.
Edge of Tomorrow—July 4
Edge of Tomorrow is the latest sci-fi action vehicle for Tom Cruise, and it’s based on an original novel from Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka (it will carry the novel’s original title, All You Need is Kill, here in Japan). Cruise plays Major William Cage, an inexperienced officer thrown into a combat mission against an invading alien enemy. Cage is killed instantly but awakens on the morning of the previous day, ready to fight and die again. Cage hooks up with legendary soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who teaches him her skills. The pair are able to improve their battle performance, getting one step closer to victory with each death. The film looks, at least on the surface, like a mash-up of most of the sci-fi output of last year: Cruise’s Oblivion, the hard action and exo-skeleton body armor of Elysium, the military training/alien war themes of Ender’s Game, and Looper’s time-travel antics. Fans of the genre won’t be disappointed in this visually impressive and confident blockbuster from The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman.
Rising from the ocean depths to cause devastation on the streets of Tokyo, the iconic monster that has become synonymous with Japan is once more ready to destroy the world under his colossal frame and atomic breath. Born in 1954 under a cloud of post-war nuclear fear, Godzilla would go on to legendary status—but not without the brand being diluted with increasingly child-friendly fare. Standing in stark contrast is the creature’s inception as a symbol of fear in our post-nuclear age (check out our online article for an in-depth look at the giga-lizard’s history). British director Gareth Edwards was chosen to helm the epic return of the beast to global screens off the back of his excellent indie hit Monsters, with the less being said about the 1998 Roland Emmerich turkey the better. Bryan Cranston, in his first major role since the end of insanely popular television series Breaking Bad, stars alongside Sally Hawkins, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass), Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy), and Japan’s own Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa, who you may remember as the eye-patched mad scientist of the original movie. Godzilla, monstrously impressive in his biggest incarnation to date, does battle with fellow beasties in a stark lesson of nature’s power over the arrogance of man.
Since the 1939 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney has been putting its own stamp on many a fairy tale and children’s story to build its collection of animated classics. As technology has improved and attitudes have changed, these stories have begun to be adapted into live-action vehicles that take the source material and beef it up to epic levels, retaining the core themes of hope and fear that make fairy tales so compelling. Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman have already been the subject of these reimaginings, and now it’s time to return to the world of Disney’s 1959 feature Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent focuses not on the bland and dated Princess Aurora, but on the far more interesting wicked fairy of the film’s title. One of Disney’s greatest and most terrifying villains, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) looks stunning as the dark fairy whose back story has been fleshed out into a tale of heartbreak and betrayal. Elle Fanning co-stars as Princess Aurora with Sharlto Copley as her father, King Stefan. This is the first film from Robert Stromberg, the award-winning special effects artist behind the likes of Avatar and Oz, the Great and Powerful.
Is anyone not bored of feature film trilogies based on teen fantasy fiction yet? With Twilight having ended, The Hunger Games still going strong, and the likes of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones already having been released this year, there seems to be no end of films vying for the teen-girl audience. Divergent is set in a future world where children take a test at the age of sixteen that assigns them to one of five groups based on their defining characteristic. When young Beatrice “Tris” Prior takes the test, she displays the attributes of several factions and is therefore deemed “divergent.” So far, so Hunger Games. Tris joins the Dauntless Faction and enters into training, eventually learning of a plot to eliminate divergents, inspiring her to uncover the truth about the threat these people seemingly pose. Shailene Woodley, who impressed in The Descendants, plays Tris and the likes of Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd add weight to the cast.
Gun Woman—July 19
If you’re looking for something a little outside of the Hollywood mainstream, Gun Woman is a glorious celebration of rampaging violence that wears its B-movie heart on its blood-soaked sleeve. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, lead actress Asami, a cult favorite thanks to the likes of The Machine Girl and Dead Sushi, plays the title character in a bold and physical performance. Held hostage by a twisted doctor who trains her for a demented mission of violent revenge, this “Gun Woman” will eventually have to hide gun parts within her own body and remove them at the opportune moment to complete her mission. Backed by a pounding Bond-esque soundtrack, director Mitsutake Kurando weaves a heady tale of vengeance not for the faint of heart (or stomach).
Best of the Rest
Miss Granny is a Korean fantasy-comedy that has been hugely successful in its home country, and picked up awards at this year’s Okinawa International Movie Festival. Crotchety old Grandmother Oh Mal-soon is forced to leave the family home due to her cantankerous ways, only to be magically transformed into her 20-year old self by a mysterious photographer. With a wise old head atop young shoulders, she joins a band and gets a second chance at romance in this delightful comedy. (Out July 11)
The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) is the latest from Alejandro Jodorowsky, the legendary surrealist director and subject of last month’s documentary feature Jodorowsky’s Dune. The film is an exploration of the filmmaker’s childhood blended with metaphor, mythology and poetry. (Spanish language) (Out July 12)
Uzumasa Limelight tells the tale of Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) a “kirare-yaku” – a film extra who specializes in samurai sword-play. In the twilight of his career, Kamiyama can only watch as the samurai dramas he has worked on his entire life fall out of fashion. Hope arrives by way of a young girl prepared to learn the skills the aging extra has spent his career accumulating. (Out July 12)
Girls and Panzers is the first feature length animation based on the anime television series of the same name. In a world where high schools take part in sports competitions using modified WWII era tanks, Miho and her friends must battle it out against their rivals to save their school. (Out July 5)