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The Letterboxd Show 2.13: Ghibliotheque’s Michael & Jake
[clip of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade plays]
INDIANA JONES The old man is dense, this is a castle isn’t it? There are tapestries!
BUTLER This is a castle and we have many tapestries, and if you are a Scottish lord then I am Mickey Mouse!
[clip of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ends]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about movies from Letterboxd: the social network for film lovers. Each episode your hosts Slim—that’s me—and Gemma are joined by a Letterboxd friend to chat about their four favorite films. That is the four films you choose as your favorites on your Letterboxd profile. As you listen along, we’ll have links in the episode as to the movies, lists and people we talk about. So there’s no excuse not to add these films to your watchlists. Today, in a first for the four favorites format, we have two guests who have an overlapping fave.
GEMMA Please say konnichiwa to Jake Cunningham and Michael Leader, the co-hosts of the sugoi Ghibliotheque podcast, which since 2018 has gently walked the lanes and landscapes of Studio Ghibli’s films. And, they have a delightful new book out based on the podcast. Jake’s four Letterboxd faves are It’s a Wonderful Life, Ratatouille, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and My Neighbor Totoro. Michael’s four faves are Who Framed Roger Rabbit, North by Northwest, Still Walking and My Neighbor Totoro. So you can see where we’re going here. Today, purely because otherwise we would be here all day. We’re going to mainly talk Indy, Roger Rabbit, and Totoro. Jake and Michael, Doozo Yoroshiku, Onegaishimasu! Hello!
MICHAEL Hello! Oh wow, what a lovely intro. Slim, when you were talking about our four faves and this being a first, I thought it was the fact that we’ve got four faves in this very Zoom call. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Never been done. New favorite guests in the show. We’ve already supplanted Jonah. Jonah I’m sorry, you’re off to the tops list. Is this the first podcast in history combining Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Totoro and The Last Crusade? Has this ever been done, Michael, in the history of audio?
MICHAEL Well, I’m sure we can take that mantle if no one else wants to take it before us. This is gonna be a very late 80s podcast right?
GEMMA Oh, yeah.
MICHAEL We should crank up The Cure. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Oh my god.
MICHAEL If we’re going back to ’88, ’89.
GEMMA I have the blue eyeshadow on. I don’t know if you can see it.
SLIM It was all planned from the get go, I love it.
GEMMA So where do we even start with Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 classic—tell you what. We usually drop this in early, sort of around the middle of a chat about a film. But we’ll start with Jack’s facts, because they’re pretty impressive. My Neighbor Totoro on Letterboxd is in the top 250 films of all time at number 188. [music from My Neighbor Totoro fades in] That’s the number twelve on the highest rated animated films of all time. It’s the 30th-highest-rated Japanese film on Letterboxd. And it’s Miyazaki’s second most popular film behind—can you guess?
MICHAEL Spirited Away?
GEMMA Aha! I guess we start where you started, Michael, because the whole conceit of your podcast is that you’re they’re Ghibli expert and Jake was the newcomer to all of these films. So where did it start for you?
MICHAEL Oh, I wish I could remember when I first watched Totoro. I suppose my fandom around Ghibli was very much defined by what films were available in the UK in the late ’90s, early 2000s. It took quite a while for most of those films to come out. I talked about this a lot on our podcast, but my first viewing experience was a probably slightly bootleg Princess Mononoke DVD that we got kind of passed around our high school, probably sourced from Chinatown in Manchester. And then everything was based predicated on Spirited Away got a theatrical release in the UK and then slowly after that, Optimum Releasing released DVDs of the film. So it was probably around then as a late teenager, maybe even at university age, that I saw it for the first time and was just entranced. But of course the best thing about the podcast is introducing Jake to all these films and sort of revisiting them while we talk through them. I wouldn’t call it—this is funny. This is the way that I’ve sort of slightly messed with the top four. Ask me any other day of the week, any any other Ghibli film could be there. Even Whisper of the Heart which is the one I’m on record saying is my favorite of Ghibli’s films. That’s not Miyazaki movie, he only wrote that one.
GEMMA And that’s why I like you the most. [Gemma laughs]
MICHAEL But Jake, I think this is the one where We almost say this is the perfect Miyazaki movie.
JAKE Yeah, absolutely. And this is the one that has kind of stuck with me the most. I think after like the first watch, maybe not so much. Like there were other ones, because I was going on this whole Odyssey and watching one of them for the first time. And it’s the kind of this onslaught of crazy imagination and artwork. And so lots of things kind of flitted in and out. Like Porco Rosso remains a great favorite of mine in that Miyazaki filmography. But it was over the last eighteen months, that Totoro kind of secured that top spot for me because I watched it four times over lockdown and considering kind of the circumstances of everything that the world was going through. And considering the kind of the tone and comfort that this film provides, you can imagine why someone might want to watch that four times over a couple of months.
SLIM So I am more like Jake, in this view, where I grew up, I think, Spirited Away I saw maybe fifteen years ago. And I actually was—not for the first time—and then I tried to show it to my son, I think, because I forgot what I thought about it. My son was way too young for Spirited Away. I was like, man, these movies are crazy! Like I was really new to the whole scene. So listening back to the podcast and hearing Jake’s journey, it’s very similar to my own and I only saw Totoro for the first time, I think within the last year, and that was maybe like my second Ghibli movie altogether. So it’s fascinating to me to hear how you’re going through like this entire library for the first time. So when you were going through these movies and then Neighbor, do you have like the hype train to worry about by the time you got to these movies? Because I have a bad habit of being like if movies too hyped, I don’t want to see it, because I’m already like ruined for too long. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA That’s the worst habit.
SLIM It gets influenced. So I’m like, okay, I need to come back to this in like a year. Did you have that problem when eventually you got to Totoro and some of the other films?
JAKE Luckily not with Totoro, that lived up to the expectations, but there were certainly a few where I expected more from it or didn’t quite grasp it the first time round. I suppose, there are two examples out there. One where I have flipped on it, where Princess Mononoke, this is in one of the early episodes of the podcast—so forgive me listeners, even though it is on record, of me saying that it didn’t really work for me. And then in the end this rewatching of these things to write the book, I can say that Princess Mononoke does actually work and actually it’s really good and it’s a masterpiece. [Slim laughs] And everything that people say about it is true. But then on the other side of the coin, Howl’s Moving Castle, which came after Spirited Away and internationally at the time came with so much hype. And so for me I already had a baked in knowledge of it. It was maybe like Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl are probably the four that have the biggest kind of international cultural awareness. And actually, that just didn’t work for me the first time watching it. Doesn’t work now. [Gemma laughs] What became more exciting for me in the journey of the podcast was actually the ones that didn’t know anything about. Never heard a Whisper of the Heart. Never heard of Only Yesterday. And those are the ones that I absolutely adore.
MICHAEL I love the idea of a hype train related to Ghibli because of course, they love their train sequences. I’m sure it’d be a very sort of ethereal, relaxing, sort of mysterious, beautifully rendered train, that’s very slowly building a pipe across a very quiet scene. [Slim laughs]
JAKE There’s like anime fans on the platform, just screaming at me, whilst I just try and travel off into a lovely, gentle void. And they want to tell me I’m wrong! [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA We should probably talk about the movie we’re talking about, we can come back and talk about some other Ghibli films soon. But so for anyone—anyone—who hasn’t yet seen My Neighbor Totoro, and, frankly, given Michael’s story about having to, you know, track it down on some dodgy DVD, the kids these days have got HBO Max and Netflix. And it’s just, it’s never been easier. It’s never been easier. So for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, the basic story is that two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, move to the country with their father. Because that’s closer to the hospital where the mother is convalescing from some mystery illness that she may or may not recover from. And dad has to work full time as parents do. And so the kids are kind of left to their own devices. And then magic happens. The main thing about Totoro is it’s almost—there is a plot. But the plot is sort of besides the point. Would you agree?
JAKE Yeah, it definitely is a film for the vibes rather than the plot. And that’s something we won’t talk in too much detail about the Miyazaki movies, but he’s making this off the back of very swashbuckling adventure type movies. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky, and he wanted to pare this back to be a story for kids and to focus on, in his words, the things we don’t see, the things we miss. [music from My Neighbor Totoro plays] And so focuses in on these small moments like a really early highlights about when they move into their house, which is a strange western style house in the middle of the Japanese countryside. And they’re just opening up all the doors, all of the dust and the dust bunnies are there in the corner of the frame, as they’re running around going upstairs thinking you may be haunted cleaning the floors, just these wonderful, beautiful domestic moments. So yes, a good chunk of this is plotless. Although we talked about revisiting this movie. This is one where, of course it’s quite infamous in the world of Letterboxd. But our friend David Jenkins, his review of this, where he lists all of the things. All of the sort of screenwriting 101, filmmaking 101 aspects that are not in this film. There’s no villain.
GEMMA Oh my god. Should we go there? I’ve got it open now. Who wants to read it?
JAKE I have it open. If you want to read it, go ahead Gemma. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Okay, so here we go. David Jenkins, Little White Lies. Once again, the most popular review of Totoro on Letterboxd. “No plot. No central character. No antagonist. No defined purpose for side characters. No threat. No three acts. No jokes. No punchlines. No explanations. No internal references. No catchphrases. No political polemical voice. No melodrama. No lessons. No beginning. No end. One of the best films ever made.”
JAKE Which is an amazing Letterboxd review. And, you know, all credit to David. I once had a very long argument with him on stage. [Jake laughs] After screening of a Ghibli movie, where he sort of mounted that argument. And I think there are—you can query a few of them. And one I would query is this sort of sense of a lack of—some people say a lack of sort of stakes or threats in a film like this. Watch it with a eighteen-month-old kid and Totoro is terrifying. [Gemma & Michael laugh]
GEMMA Watch it with a five year old kid, you know, who first saw it at about two years old. And, and Totoro is going to save the day, along with the Catbus, it’s all gonna be okay. And it doesn’t matter that Mei has gone missing, because Catbus is going to fix it all. So, it’s so lovely how children can access this film at any age. And I just mentioned bicycling, but my son and I have this daily magic related to Totoro. And I swear this is true, when we ride up—so we’re bicycle kids. When we go on our daily commute, we go up this path that’s painted like a rainbow. Been painted like a rainbow by the city because it’s just right at the part of the bike path, where you crest the hill and you look out to the west. So you get these rainbows and sunsets on your way home. It’s incredible. And then just past there, there’s a run of sweetgum trees. And so pretty much almost year round, there’s a scattering of sweetgum balls on the ground. And as we ride past, my son goes “Soot Sprites! Watch out for the Soot Sprites, mum!” [Slim laughs] Because I don’t know if you know, have you seen sweetgum balls? They’re the ones—like just look on Pinterest. They’re all over Pinterest. There’s kids who have taken sweetgum balls, painted them black and put eyes on them. And they are—I swear—they are the living embodiment of Soot Sprites, dust bunnies. It’s amazing.
SLIM We need to move to New Zealand.
JAKE You just live in paradise, Gemma. [Jake & Gemma laugh] It’s a bit different around where we are.
SLIM One of the main things that jumped out at me on my viewing was the voice acting in the American dub. So I am still have only seen, of the few that I have seen, the American dubbing. And Dakota Fanning and her sister play the two leads and I was blown away by their performance in this movie! I feel like I’m spoiled—like spoiled in a bad way—of like modern, you know voice acting today. They get the stars, they get like Chris Pratt in, you know, the Disney movies. And this movie back then I feel like they’re really putting the umph in voice acting. Jake, did you have any thoughts when you first saw this movie and on rewatches too?
JAKE Well, so I the first time when we were doing the podcast, and I was doing everything for the first time, I watched them all subtitled. And as I’ve gone further into the world of Ghibli and all the surrounding conversations around dubbing and subbing. Watching without the dubbs is equally fine. And I’ve watched them with the dubbs as well. And I think there’s a period where they shift. So the version that you’re seeing there is not the first version of the dub. And so there would have been an original English—as, well, as we would be told to say for the Ghibli team. We want to say an English language version, not the dub version. There was a version which I’ve never seen, which was the Buena Vista version of Totoro. Which I would love to encounter. But I really loved that Dakota Fanning one. I think their performances are really good and they get to some of the charm and kind of unhinged energy that is in Mei and Satsuki, because they’re not kind have sweet gumdrop little sister, kind of all a bit too saccharine. Like they screech and scream. And that’s what I really love about those vocal performances in both versions of it.
[clip of My Neighbor Totoro plays]
SATSUKI Wow! It’s creepy.
SATSUKI It looks like it could be haunted.
MEI What?! Haunted?!
SATSUKI Whoa. Look! It’s rotten! [Satsuki and Mei laugh]
[clip of My Neighbor Totoro fades out]
SLIM You mentioned the dub with the English language and the different versions. But Michael, what is your view on, you know, you’ve seen them all, you have a deep history with these films. What’s your preference when you rewatch? Do you prefer the English language? Do you prefer the subtitle? Does it matter to you guys when you watch?
MICHAEL Oh wow. We’re going there. That’s a big can of worms to open, Slim. So I’m actually quite open to this. Particularly with something like Ghibli, where they’re very involved in the process of creating international versions, particularly the English language one. So when we went out to Japan, we went to interview Jeffrey Wexler, who was for a long time there head of international, and then moved on to Studio Ponoc afterwards—who made Mary and the Witch’s Flower, which is very much a riff on Ghibli made by former Ghibli staff members. And he, as Jake said, he doesn’t like the word dub. He likes to call them English language versions, because they’re made in parallel. They are overseen by the studio. It’s not—there’s a sort of tendency to view it almost as the evil American distributors or even evil Western distributors grabbing the films and rewriting it and recutting it or putting this dub together that’s not in the spirit of the original, with the original artists intentions. But Ghibli, from the 2000s onwards, were very involved in the way that their films were localized internationally. There’s a really great book that was released by Steve Alpert, who was their first international, their first gaijin hire, first Western that worked for Ghibli. And he was hired with the view of selling Ghibli to the world and to America in particular. And there’s lots of great details in there about those first deals with Disney and one investor in the States and how the things they would just do naturally, changing the soundtrack and how he’d have to go over and watch it in a preview screening with the engineer saying, “You’ve added in extra footsteps and rustling and these little musical bits here, why are you doing all that?” And make them adhere to their contract. But I think these films are for families, they’re for various audiences. And if you’re screening it to a preschool kids who maybe can’t read subtitles, or rather not, the dub versions are pretty terrific. They are also, if you really want to go all out in the cinephile realm, Totoro is a sort of film you could watch not understanding the language at all, it’s just so powerful. And it’s visual storytelling, like another filmmaker we might talk about shortly. [Gemma laughs] So really, it’s one that I can go either way on. But it’s something that a lot of people are very, very opinionated on. When I used to work for Film4, which was the UK broadcaster that had Ghibli films under license and they’d show them during school holidays during the day for kids, we’d get a lot of complaints of why are you showing them in the English language versions, not the subtitled one? It’s because it’s for five year olds, some of these films, at the end of the day.
GEMMA One of the things I also love so much about this story, it’s something we don’t get to see—I mean, we’re talking about ’80s, you know, movies, and the ’80s in general have such a great output of films about kids just going into the wild. I mean, I’m thinking about Stand by Me, I’m thinking about Goonies, whatever. And this is one of those where the dad is, he’s working. Sometimes he’s working at home, sometimes he’s taking the bus to the city. He’s just trying to get on with his job of being a professor of something. And the children are left to their own devices, which we don’t see enough in films anymore. And it’s extraordinary. It’s extraordinary or—were you okay with it, Slim, as a parent?
SLIM God, the idea that like—well, first of all, if my son had waited for me to give me an umbrella after work, I’d probably cry tears of joy. But I mean, they were standing out there and the rain and I was like sweating. I was like, oh my god, if my wife found out that my son was just walking around waiting by the bus—it’s like a different world. And I think that lends to the kind of magical nature of this freewheeling plot. Where, yeah, this is fun. This is—I don’t need to care about any of the other junk. You know, it’s just they’re just enjoying life in the fields. They’re having fun with Totoro, waiting in the rain. I think you called out the umbrella scene, the ASMR of the audio of the rain, Gemma. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Yeah, I put that in the notes purely so that we get it in the edit. [Gemma laughs] Right now, we’re all gonna pause and listen to those raindrops. [clip of My Neighbor Totoro plays] And we’re back. [Slim & Gemma laugh] My last thought is probably the first thing I thought of when I saw this movie, is the animation. For anyone that is not, you know, like maybe if you’re a newn like I was last year—or Jake was a few years ago—that haven’t taken in these movies. And you’ve only really had the experience of like Disney and DreamWorks. But this animation in these movies is going to blow your mind. Just the animation of these two running blew me away. [Slim laughs] When I first saw this movie. And then the youngest sister, you know, when she was first scared when she saw the Sprites and her hands, her fingers are moving grabbing her chest. Like it’s just these crazy little things that, you know, you grow up, you hear everyone talk about these movies, like “You gotta see these movies! You gotta see this movies!” But you do! You do need to see these movies. And I think that’s hard to kind of convey in a long term sense. But you guys do very well with that on the podcast. I was listening to it all week, I went back to the beginning, even though Jake was sweating with some of his earlier opinions on those earlier episodes. But it does come through and when you were doing this podcast, did you guys worry about the trepidation of how to talk about these storied movies? And Michael, I mean, you have a thick love for these movies. Did you worry about that—having that audience? Like I need to take care with bringing people into the fold for these movies?
MICHAEL Yes and no. I think these are fundamentally very accessible movies. There are some deeper cuts, like Jake mentioned, like Only Yesterday, which require quite, you know, proper context around them. But it’s a it’s a world where at least in the UK, they’re that they are pitched, you know, very well as very accessible films, you can just go down and buy from wherever you buy DVDs. It’s not really framed as these enshrined World Cinema classics. We don’t really have that tradition here. Maybe in the States where there is quite a tradition of a fandom around anime that can be very protective of how these things are talked about. It might be different. Or likewise elsewhere in the world where there is more of a—you go to Italy or France or places in continental Europe and these films and the TV shows that Ghibli’s animators worked on in the 70s, would be on TV, and it’d be a whole other discourse around it. So really, the thinking behind the podcast is most people in the UK—unless you’re quite hardened cinephiles—but we approached it as if the Film4 audience of just this broad, everyday TV film viewers who maybe have heard of one or two of these films that haven’t gone deeper, we had that person in mind. And Jake and I are on this seesaw where I may have all of that knowledge that comes with being an anime nerd. But Jake has the frame of reference. You know, Jake has watched lots of films in his life. He’s a film critic, film podcaster. But hasn’t watched much anime, hasn’t watched necessarily much animation. So he’s bringing a very different frame of reference. And we sort of checked each other in that sense.
JAKE You’re so close to saying “And Jake’s basic!” [Gemma & Jake & Michael laugh]
GEMMA Well—I’m gonna add something that might be controversial, but bare with me. Not so much basic—so the Ghibliotheque pod focuses on, you know, the films of Studio Ghibli, a great Japanese animation house. But also you’ve looked into the works of Satoshi Kon. You’ve also done to my extreme joy, expanded sideways, into the cartoon saloonaverse, a deeply popular move in my personal household. But these are all animation houses that exist in countries with their own cultures and legends and mythology. And you’re—I mean, you know, there’s no other way to put it. You’re white, English, colonizers. [Gemma laughs] Have you ever brought that into your thinking about how you approach your podcast talking about other cultures’ art?
MICHAEL I will say that very, very shortly Jake will be an Irish citizen.
MICHAEL So that’s why we can talk about cartoon saloon. [Gemma & Michael laugh]
SLIM Paperwork is in the mail.
GEMMA I’m interested to know if you’ve put thought into it.
MICHAEL We absolutely have and that’s why we’ve always placed our our views as purely subjective but also in a continue over the readings and discussions and debates. So the framing of each episode of the podcast is I do this sense of context and history, part of which will be will involve international reception, various ways these films have been read. And then very much the review section is Jake coming to this as somebody who was brought up on Disney films or Steven Spielberg movies, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, we often make those references. And we’ve always used every opportunity we can to broaden that conversation, with the understanding that the core voices are ours. So we have these miniseries in between the film based or filmography based miniseries where we have interviews with filmmakers, animators, writers, artists, who are also inspired by or influenced by Ghibli. And as part of that, we’ve spoken with—gosh—from director of Luca, Enrico Casarosa, so you can bring that Italian point of view. Or Rebecca Sugar, Domee Shi, you can bring the North American points of view. We’ve also spoken with people from Ghibli bringing that Japanese point of view. So we’ve tried to do that as much as we can, whilst also being very honest about the limits of our own perceptions.
SLIM The one call out, I was listening to a recent episode—talking about me admitting that I’m a basic. Basic boy, I’ll say.
JAKE We’re the basic boys, you and me Slim! [Michael laughs]
SLIM I’m standing in solidarity. There’s one point in an episode where we’re talking about a background artist, like this beautiful background. And I think Michael, you’re like “Actually, this wasn’t the normal background artist. This was done by x, y and z.” And I thought to a recent podcast episode that I was on, where I called an answering machine, a voicemail machine on the show. [Gemma laughs] I couldn’t think of a word answering machine. And that’s the first thing I thought of. [Slim laughs] While listening to the Ghiblioteque. And I was like, okay, that’s fine, I’m learning. It’s good. I appreciate this. [Jake laughs]
GEMMA We do need to move on. But I’d love to just finish up with a few other gorgeous Letterboxd takes for anyone who’s still inconceivably on the fence about giving Totoro a first time watch. And I think my favorite is the wonderful Willow Maclay writing “I know that human beings are capable of being alright, because our species somehow made My Neighbor Totoro. Surely that counts for something in the great balancing of the scales.” I love it. And then aliyah writes “don’t take my word for it but i have a feeling that this was the film that invented magic” [Michael laughs]
MICHAEL That’s lovely.
GEMMA Yeah, and finally this astute and very deep, gorgeous comment from Brendan “I loved Totoro so much that by the end of the movie I had lost all desire to eat him”
JAKE Well, that’s a very good point actually. One thing we did do in Tokyo was we did eat Totoro.
SLIM Is it like a cake or something? What was it?
MICHAEL Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory does a cream puff in the shape of Totoro. Oh, and they do four flavors. Three regulars which are the hazelnut, vanilla and chocolate. And then a guest flavor, which at the time we were there was a strawberry cheesecake.
GEMMA Oh, shut up! Oh my god. Speaking of eating animals, it’s time to get out the rabbit dip. [Slim laughs]
JAKE Very good.
GEMMA Thank you. Been working on that one.
SLIM All timer. All timer segue. This is Robert Zemeckis. 3.9. average on Letterboxd. This is Michael’s fave. ’Toon star Roger is worried that his wife Jessica is playing pattycake with someone else, so the studio hires detective Eddie Valiant to snoop on her. But the stakes are quickly raised when Marvin Acme is found dead and Roger is the prime suspect. Just for me, this movie scarred me as a child with the steam roller scene. But Michael, what was your first experience with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
[music from Who Framed Roger Rabbit plays]
MICHAEL Probably very similar to you, Slim. This was one of the earliest films I remember watching, I think at the cinema as well. My parents took me very that was very young for the cinema. And I remember seeing this and Ghostbusters II—both which scarred me. Prince Vigo, the portrait in Ghostbusters II.
GEMMA Oh my God.
MICHAEL And then yeah, Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And I must have been three when this film came out in the UK. So to try and think that I have a three year old now and I wouldn’t show him this film. So what a different time the ’80s were to now. [Michael laughs]
GEMMA I tried showing my five year old this film and we got 20 minutes and and he was just like, “I’m bored.” And I think it was just a whole Noir thing.
MICHAEL I’m not surprised. The reason why I love this film, it’s not just pure nostalgia, as well the memory of watching it when I was little. It is just the fact that I’ve revisited this, you know, when I was a teenager, when I was in my 20s and rewatch it now quite often. And I just find something new every time. And now I watch it—like we watch many ’80s movies that were marketed towards families, as an adult movie. Like Ghostbusters is a movie for adults. Gremlins is a movie for adults. But for some reason in the 80s we thought that they were family movies that kids could watch as well.
GEMMA Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a movie for people who like a shirtless Bob Hoskins. [Slim laughs]
MICHAEL Who doesn’t?
GEMMA Oh—my god! The thirst.
SLIM He’s the most agile big man I’ve ever seen. He could run a six-minute mile if he really needed to. He is so quick and so mobile, blows my mind.
GEMMA I was fanning myself through most of this film, man, this time around. And I just sort of realized that I guess the first time I saw it, yeah, you know how there are films that kind of determine your sexuality? [Michael & Slim laugh] My sexuality is Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
MICHAEL That’s so fascinating, Gemma, because so many people would say that this film defined their sexuality because of Jessica Rabbit. You’re the only one saying Bob Hoskins.
JAKE There I was with my Christopher Lloyd calendar. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM When I put this on, amazingly, this is in 4K on the Disney+ app in the States. I didn’t even know there was a 4K release of this movie. It does feel like a really adult movie. And it’s wild to look back. And you know, you’re right. This is like a total kids movie promoted film. And it’s also wild to see all these characters in the same movie. You know, Warner Brothers, Disney characters, side by side. You know, it’s like I’m moving my glasses up and down. Like, am I seeing this right now in 2021?
MICHAEL And there’s a crazy balance between all of the characters that all of the Warner Brothers and Disney characters have to be on screen for the same amount of lines as well. Like the logistics to put this together, from a technical perspective, was obviously insane. But just from a legal perspective as well. Zemeckis is churning out like, one big hit a year at this point as well. The man is a machine at this point.
JAKE But this film doesn’t at any point, come across like a sort of shameless IP dump in the way that say Space Jam 2 have. Or something like Free Guy this year did. Seeing those two big movies back to back where it just feels like they’re just throwing whatever toys they have access to, into a film just to try and make the audience feel something really upset me. Because as a filmmaker, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was so delightful because they’ve moved these legal mountains, licensing mountains, to get all these characters together. Not to just say, oh, look, it’s this cameo, that cameo, this cameo. It’s to be in tribute to the art form of the short form animated film from the 1930s to the ’50s. That by that point was a throwback. It’s quite easy to forget that now because that film is just right up on the cusp of the renaissance of Disney and all the other American animation that happened in the ’90s. And also, you can watch this film, in a way that the best Muppet movies could work if the Muppets were played by human beings. This is about cartoons, but really the cameos aren’t that important. The other main character Roger Rabbit, and a lot of the other main characters are original creations. It doesn’t rely on those cameos to work.
MICHAEL Well the sincerity and how straight the Bob Hoskins performances is so key to that believability. Because if this was being made now, if they were rebooting, Who Framed Roger Rabbit—and obviously Ryan Reynolds is going to get cast to be the detective character and constantly he’s looking into camera and saying like, “Oh, it’s so crazy!” And he knows that he’s in a Noir. And but because Hoskins like absolutely, like just is so focused on playing that straight man character so, so well, and he lets the cartoons be cartoons. And you believe him more and you believe the cartoons more. And amazingly, compared to all the other actors in the film. He is the best one to acting with things that aren’t there as well. Like all of his eyeline stuff is amazing. It’s a wizard!
GEMMA The whole scene in his office when the Weasels come to find Roger Rabbit, but from the whole Murphy bed coming down and Roger’s there—that entire sequence, and how he played—like, there’s not a moment where you don’t believe that Roger Rabbit is a living ’toon rabbit in this office with him, in the sink with the dishes. It’s such an incredible sequence! And this is, you know, this is Zemeckis at the height of his powers working with his favorite cinematographer, his favorite animation director, his favorite production designer, his favorite editor. Ah, my god. ’80s banged, man! Can we get the ’80s movies back? [Slim laughs]
MICHAEL But I really think that also you look at this and it feels like we just got this—I mean, of course there are many other great films from the ’80s. But this one really feels special to me because of so much of the serendipity and uniqueness around it. Bob Hoskins was not their first choice. They wanted someone like Bill Murray to be in this film and Bill Murray would be a bit too ironic and knowing. Bob Hoskins is the fulcrum point of his career where beforehand he’s in—god— you know, Mona Lisa, The Long Good Friday, Pennies from Heaven. That’s why he can commit to this sort of role because he has this—he has played crime dramas in the past. Yet he does have this, as you say Slim, physicality to him that he can bring as well as a great sympathy, empathy you can play that you can really—
JAKE Oh, the moment between him and Betty Boop.
JAKE Hoskin in that. It’s incredible!
[clip of Who Framed Roger Rabbit plays]
BETTY BOOP Long time no see!
VALIANT What’re you doin’ here?
BETTY BOOP Work’s been slow since the cartoons went to color. But I still got it, Eddie—’Boop boop be-doop’.
VALIANT Yeah, you still got it, Betty.
[clip of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fades out]
MICHAEL And he never really gets it again, because he is in Hook and Super Mario Brothers, and doesn’t really have another moment like this. And it’s once again back to sort of independent British cinema that he shines after this. So it really feels like we got away with this one. Looking back in history.
GEMMA Yeah, there’s something else amazing in the history of kind of animation, live action, going all the way back to the ’20s and ’30s. And the Fleischer brothers, they’ve always played with the concept of the animator themselves, putting themselves in the picture playing with their characters. Like Betty Boop, for example. What I love about Roger Rabbit is that you never see the hand of the animator. And it’s almost as if animators—like the animation is so extraordinary. But also because the animators have truly taken a backseat to the to the point that is there anything more terrifying than a giant machine full of turpentine heating to wipe out the world’s most beloved and iconic cartoon characters, and the sort of idea that they will never come back. Because animators don’t exist in this world. It’s so trippy.
MICHAEL And that speaks to how it doesn’t have that ironic detachment. It doesn’t need to nod to these characters aren’t real, really. Even in that Muppets way of how the Muppets would play with, you know, whether they’re real or not. It is fully dedicated to these magical characters, and we should celebrate them. And that’s what that effect is. It makes me well up, that final scene when they’re all together. And it really is just how cool that as there’s points in history where all these amazing characters created to cheer us up during times of depression and war and everything that comes with it.
GEMMA And Porky Pig has never been less annoying than in that scene. [Slim laugh]
SLIM We should move to our final fave. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. 1989—we’re still in the ’80s, thank god. Steven Spielberg, average rating 4.0. This is Jake’s fave. When Dr. Henry Jones Sr. suddenly goes missing while pursuing the Holy Grail, eminent archaeologist Indiana must team up with Marcus Brody, Sallah and Elsa Schneider to follow in his father’s footsteps and stop the Nazis from recovering the power of eternal life. Jake, where were you when you first saw this movie? Do you have a deep memory of that first viewing? [music from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade plays]
JAKE Oh, probably sat on the floor in front of my TV about two feet away from it. Oh, just watched this all the time. I didn’t actually—funnily enough, I didn’t have it on video. But Michael can attest to the fact that in the ’90s all the way up till now, this film, and the Indiana Jones series is shown on BBC all the time. Like Easter holidays, summer holidays, Christmas. So I’m probably watching this, I would say four times a year from the point that I’m six to now. [Michael laughs] And I will gladly do it every time. It’s just such a joy. It’s one of the best films ever. I love it so much. But it’s one of those things where it’s kind of been with me for so long that I never really thought about it as being a favorite or being great because it’s just always been there. It’s such a staple and it’s only maybe in the last five or so years that I’ve come to consider it as being such a kind of key text for me. And just being a great work of art. It’s astonishing. I love it.
GEMMA Having said that—I have a question for you.
SLIM Oh god.
GEMMA Jake, this is your fave, but it’s curiously not in your Spielberg Ranked list on Letterboxd?
JAKE No, so if you check the description of the Spielberg Ranked it’s added as I watch, so it’s already there, Gemma! I knew you’d be looking! [Gemma & Slim laugh] But yeah, I think number one on there is Catch Me If You Can at the moment, which is pretty controversial choice as well.
SLIM I agree. I agree.
JAKE There’s some pretty big films on there but Catch Me If You Can is core.
SLIM Is that the greatest Christmas movie of all time?
JAKE Yeah, why not? Let’s say it, Slim! Let’s do it! We’re the basic boys! We’re coming in! [Gemma laughs]
SLIM We’re already gonna get negative comments for when I said dub versus English language version. I’ve already been canceled in the chat, in comments. Why not go further?
JAKE We already mentioned earlier that one of my faves is It’s a Wonderful Life. So I don’t think—[Jake laughs]
SLIM Don’t backtrack! Don’t leave me in the lurch right now! I need support here.
GEMMA So this is, again, Spielberg—and Lucas, by the way, because don’t forget that George Lucas co-wrote, produced and co-edited this film. That’s pretty exciting. So they’re, you know, height of their powers. Third Indiana Jones movie. So at this point, they can do anything. And so what they do is they get James Bond to come in and play Indy’s dad. And then they get the biggest star, like young star of their time, the dear departed River Phoenix to come in and play young Indy. I mean, these are some bonkers wonderful casting decisions in 1989. Like, nobody should be in any doubt about that. And what I realized on this watch, was that it’s the perfect—because when I saw the first Indy film at whatever age I was. I mean, horrifying, terrifying—also, also, helped establish my sexuality by the way. But horrifying. But this, Last Crusade is the perfect gateway Indiana Jones film for younger kids. So the five year old was into it, man, because it starts with the whole young Indy caper. It’s such a great opening! Can we talk about how great this opening is?
JAKE Oh, god, it’s I mean, when you think about it, Last Crusade is the best prequel and sequel of all time. [Slim laughs] Take that Godfather II. But it’s true. Like that opening sequence is amazing! And like the action of it. Like we’ve mentioned—Michael, you teased about directors who are just so good at kind of momentum, movement guiding you through the screen, through the story, but almost silently. That is like so much of what Indiana Jones is about. And that opening train sequence combined then, with Michael Kahn doing the cut as the hat goes on young Indy’s head to old. Come on, come on! [Slim laughs] So, so good. Gemma, I think what you’re saying about this one working for young kids is absolutely correct. And I think that’s why, like if I had not seen any of these films, and then I watched Raiders when I was sixteen or something, maybe that would be the one that is my favorite. But you’ve got that opening where you can imagine yourself in this character. But also, like, there are so many kind of—more so than the others—like a puzzle of treasure hunt, feeling to this film, like X marks the spot. That moment when it cuts to the wide shot of the library, you look down, so good. And “Jehovah begins with an I!” [Gemma laughs]
JAKE There was a kids TV show in in the UK called Jungle Run, which was a game show, which was very much inspired by Indiana Jones. And it was you had these different tasks where you would have to tread on certain tiles or move a ball from here to here. And it was very much like kind of what I imagined like being in Indiana Jones film was like, it was so cool. I just wanted to be in it so much because you just thought you can play the film!
SLIM Michael, where does Last Crusade place on your Spielberg list?
MICHAEL So, very high as well. So I’m a bit older than Jake and I saw Roger Rabbit at cinema, this is very similar year, very similar age. I have a very strong memory of the poster for Last Crusade being at my local kind of two screen cinema in the town I grew up in. I didn’t see it at that point. My traumatic Indiana Jones memory was—and Gemma speaks to your sort of which is the best gateway Indy film—I’d say Temple of Doom is not the best gateway Indy film, not just for the racism, but for the fact that if you’re a kid, you have your surrogate with Short Round. And then Short Round is betrayed by indie in the moment where he may be possessed by Kali Ma. And that’s the moment where you’re like, ‘why is my sort of older brother dad gonna kill me?’ And that’s a vaguely traumatizing moment for me as a young cinema viewer. But like Jake, rewatching this over and over again. And it is, all of these great notes you’ve have been talking about. The script, of course, you know, Tom Stoppard very famously says he did a bit of a polish on this. [Gemma laughs] And so we credit him with all the good stuff. That’s the benefit of being the script doctor. So the other one, you know, I forgot my Charlemagne. This one leans into the cartoonishness a bit more, I feel, certainly than Temple of Doom which is almost too dark. And then Raiders which probably is kind of like straight down the middle. You know, the idea of having Henry Sr. with his umbrella using birds to foul a Nazi and is going to kill them, is quite preposterous but it’s played so well by Sean Connery. The thing that I always like to talk about this is, you know, we always loved that age discourse. Film Twitter loves an age discourse argument. How much older is Sean Connery than Harrison Ford? He’s like fifteen years older? [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Yeah, not a lot. [Michael laughs]
MICHAEL But at this stage in his career, Sean Connery—Harrison Ford, everyone forgets the Harrison Ford has already in his 30s before he even played Han Solo. I think he’s like 30 in American Graffiti. So all of these iconic roles Harrison Ford, he was like a 40-year-old man in the ’80s. And but Sean Connery, not blessed with a full head of hair, sadly, beyond his Bond years.
GEMMA But I’m cool—all that suggests to me is that Henry Jones Sr. had a thing for older women and that’s—that’s good. That’s fine with me.
MICHAEL Is Henry Jones Sr. a DILF, Gemma? [Gemma & Slim laugh] He has his own topless moment later in the scene where they get shot and they call the gray along there. I think Sean Connery has a sort of silvery quality to him.
SLIM If Bob Hoskins and Sean Connery appeared in a movie shirtless together running down the beach, Gemma would pass out instantly. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA No words. No words. [Slim laughs] There are some great lists that this film appears on, on Letterboxd. And one of them is a truly iconic list. If you are a fan of Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford films ranked by how much he wants you to get off his plane. Beautiful Harrison Ford jokes. [Gemma laughs] Hit ’80s—I don’t even know if I should say this one. Hit ’80s movies that should be remade with all-female casts in order to fuck with cinebros. And then beautiful, beautiful list. I’ve actually, as of a few podcast episodes ago, started keeping—it’s private at the moment, but I will launch it soon. A list of maggots and movies. But it will be a partner to this list which is the cineRATic universe. And oh my god, the rats! The rats in Last Crusade.
SLIM What a title for that list. I’m never going to click on that list but the title is amazing.
JAKE Oh man, two of my faves are rat films.
GEMMA Ahhhh, true!
SLIM You should dive deep on that.
JAKE I’ve never seen Rat Film, the film.
SLIM Jake, have you ever seen the Young Indiana Jones episode that Harrison Ford was in?
JAKE No, I never have. I’ve always avoided the TV show. It kind of scares me a bit. [Slim laughs]
SLIM They’re long. For those who don’t know, there was a TV series that Lucas put together, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. So it follows a young—I can’t remember the actor who plays the lead, but they’re like TV movies. They’re like an hour and a half. And the one that Harrison Ford appeared in one episode, doing bookends where he had a little storyline that started the episode and close the episode. He has a beard. And because he was filming The Fugitive at the time. So it’s just as insane cameo. It’s like a TV version of Indiana Jones. It’s in the winter. He’s driving a truck through snow. So it’s on YouTube. So by all means, check this out. What’s even crazier is that the original series had a bookend for every episode with an elderly Indiana Jones. And that also was on YouTube. If you want to have your mind blown right now, go to YouTube and look for these episodes because you’re not ready if you’re an Indiana Jones fan.
JAKE All of the untold stories that are even just in the design of that character. Like he has an eyepatch.
SLIM Yes, yes!
JAKE Well I was just going to say, this is what annoys me about all your aforementioned cinebros getting all hissy about casting and like “Uhh they can’t play Indiana Jones!” How many people have played Indiana Jones? [Slim laughs] He’s not Harrison Ford. It’s fine! Like you’re allowed to do this.
SLIM We should talk about the book. I’m not sure if we’ve talked about the Ghibliotheque book, the unofficial guide to the movies of Studio Ghibli. It’s out now! How does it feel to start a podcast and then have a book in bookshops? That’s not the normal trajectory for podcasters, in my experience.
MICHAEL No, it is bizarre. And we’ve worked for a digital agency, where all of our stuff is exists out there in the interwebs. And so we come in and say can we publish a book? And they’re like, what’s a book? Is it like a thing that you read on your phone? [Gemma & Michael laugh] No, it’s really cool. I mean, for me personally, growing up reading, you know, the ’90s was a great time for very accessible film books. Favor putting out not only books or criticism, but like you would buy Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino screenplays and have that in your bookcase as a budding film fan or a film bro if you want to say it that way. And then reading in preparation for the podcast all these amazing books on anime and Ghibli. People who have come before us. Andrew Weissman, Helen McCarthy, Susan Napier, some amazing anime experts, and then finding a space within that bookshelf of something by us, is absolutely wild, because both Jake and I do write prose. We write reviews for places. But the idea of writing a book—we thought we were podcast guys, we thought we were pigeonholed into that forever. But no, now we are published authors. We’re essentially like contemporaries of Tom Stoppard now. [Slim laughs]
GEMM Oh god. Your partners—you must be insufferable.
JAKE They’re sick of us. We both actually got kicked out, we’re actually living in the same house now. It’s just us living together, our partners live together now. We’re in the opposite rooms right?
GEMMA No, I was really excited because I looked at the book to, you know, put an Amazon link into our episode notes. And the first thing that came up for me was all of my local book shops here in New Zealand, with your book on it. And you know, the ability to preorder. So this is big and it’s going far and wide. And I guess there are already a lot of books about the Studio Ghibli universe out there, including by Miyazaki himself. So how do you hope that people will come to yours and choose yours amongst the others?
MICHAEL Gemma, it’s interesting that you say there’s lots of books about Ghibli. But there’s actually more just lots of books about Hayao Miyazaki, or there’s one or two books about Isao Takahata and there’s books about the individual films. But what we’ve done here is we’ve written a book that’s about all of Ghibli’s films, so that we can and we have given as many words to Whisper of the Heart as we have Spirited Away, because we can! And so we wanted this to be like the kind of very much gates open, come on in, we love this thing. We want you to love it. And if you want to start and follow chronologically, then do so. Or if you just want to grab a chapter of the one that you’ve just watched, you can do so as well. And we want it to be that welcoming, encouraging thing, for all of the film’s not just the ones that you might have heard of, or might have won an Oscar.
GEMMA Oh my god, I just laid out the red carpet for that answer. [Michael laughs] It’s beautiful!
SLIM If I had a book, I would probably be like walking into bookstores with friends. Like let me just walk in, I gotta check something out. “Oh look at this old thing over here! What’s this over here?”
JAKE We definitely didn’t do that last week. We absolutely didn’t take an afternoon off to do that exact thing. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM Just start signing copies until an employee comes up and ask what the hell you’re doing. “Don’t worry. I wrote this.”
MICHAEL The author Neil Gaiman, who I’m a big fan of who does that whenever he’s in an airport or something. He just kind of like wanders over to the pile of his books and starts signing them. I don’t think we’re at his level yet. I don’t think we’ll get there.
SLIM You should just start signing the Sandman graphic novels for no reason in any comic shops. [Slim & Gemma & Michael laugh]
GEMMA Can just say that I’m very proud to call Neil a ‘somewhat neighbor’ at the moment being that he’s been sheltering in and out here in New Zealand?
SLIM Oh, excuse me?
GEMMA I just want to sidestep here and ask a question, which is not on any of our notes. So Slim has no idea what’s coming. But particularly for those of you with young children, how excited are away for the Puffin Rock feature film from the Cartoon Saloon.
JAKE So Gemma, I don’t know if speaks to your experience at all. But now there’s been the great splintering in our household where he’s now three, our son, and he now will watch nothing but Hey Duggee.There was a phase where it was a bit of Hey Duggee, bit of Bluey, bit of something else. But now it’s like he will hackle us if it’s anything other than Hey Duggee. However, Puffin Rock is one that I will happily watch so I’m looking forward to that movie. We’ll have to do a special episode.
GEMMA It’s just devastating when they move off a show that you love and that is also so pleasing in an audio sense. Honestly, when when my one started watching any screens at all, I spent a month just searching for the nicest sounding and most beautifully rendered, you know, most beautifully drawn theories. And so yeah, we ended with Puffin Rock, Sarah and Duck. So good. Yes, Kitty and Lu, which is a claymation series out of New Zealand with Jemaine Clement as one of the voices. What was the other one? Bluey, of course.
MICHAEL Twin Peaks.
GEMMA Yeah, Twin Peaks. [Michael laughs]
JAKE Bluey in the last year has taken over the UK. Like they finally started putting it on, but I guess it’s an institution over in Australia and New Zealand.
GEMMA Oh my god! So Duncan Jones watches it with his kids. Guy Pearce watches it what is son. Like the Bluey love amongst the celebs, you know, old days of young children is insane right now. We need a Bluey feature film.
SLIM I’ve heard about this show Bluey more in the last year than I ever have. I have a few friends that are talking about it with young kids. Like “Are you watching this Bluey show? It’s really good.” No idea what they’re talking about. Puffin Rock I’ve never even heard of till this exact moment. I just had to Google on my laptop while you said that to make me sound somewhat intelligent.
MICHAEL So happy that you guys can watch that and I can just go and watch my filth. [Gemma & Slim & Jake laugh]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show and thanks to our guests this episode, Michael Leader and Jake Cunningham. You can listen to the Ghibliotheque podcast on Spotify and wherever good podcasts live. And the book, Ghiblioteque: Unofficial guide to the movies of Studio Ghibli is out now.
GEMMA You can follow Slim and Gemma—that’s me—and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. Thanks to our crew, the theme music is Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker. Jack does the facts, Linda Moulton looks after our guests and Sophie Shin provides the episode transcripts. The Letterboxd Show is a TAPEDECK production.
SLIM If you are enjoying the show and have guests ideas, be sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Shout out to Jason for their Apple Podcasts review. Quote “This is a great podcast for movie lovers. It’s a great podcast to learn more about the world of movies. Keep up the great work, Gemma and Slim.”
GEMMA Aw, we will. And that’s the show. Remember: try laughing, then whatever scares you will go away. Sayonara.
[clip of Who Framed Roger Rabbit plays]
ROGER RABBIT But I don’t want the drink.
JUDGE DOOM He doesn’t want the drink.
VALIANT He does.
ROGER RABBIT I don’t.
VALIANT You do.
ROGER RABBIT I don’t.
VALIANT You do.
ROGER RABBIT I don’t.
VALIANT You do.
ROGER RABBIT I don’t.
VALIANT You don’t.
ROGER RABBIT I do.
VALIANT You don’t.
ROGER RABBIT I do.
VALIANT You don’t.
ROGER RABBIT [taking drink] Listen, when I say I do, that means I do!
[clip of Who Framed Roger Rabbit ends]
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.