More Miyazaki: Castle in the Sky/ My Neighbor Totoro/ Kiki's Delivery Service

He is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney, and with good reason. Over the course of nearly four decades in animation, writer/director/auteur Hayao Miyazaki has carved out a niche in foreign cartooning that few in his artform can claim. Indeed, name another international animator whose work is as widely known and warmly received as Miyazaki and you'll quickly understand the comparison. Such a challenge ultimately requires you to look back toward the warm Uncle Walt and his House of Mouse as a possible frame of reference. Working outside the hometown industry standard of anime, this master of color and shape celebrates the best of both tradition and technology. His movies typically employ limited or no CG, while his stories often center on folklore, fantasy, and the fire burning inside the young at heart.

In fact, it's safe to say that Miyazaki is the modern day equivalent of those old fairy tale founders from the past. His movies are as magical and timeless as those beloved tales involving Snow White, the Three Bears, and little wooden puppets who long to be boys. One need look no further than Disney's recent two-disc rerelease of three of Miyzaki's most important, foundational films (Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service) to see why. The Mansion that Mickey Built has been championing the filmmaker ever since Pixar guide John Lasseter first fell in love with his work. While these discs also offer the unnecessarily "Americanized" version of the titles, including A through D list stunt voice casting work, the original Japanese has been preserved - and in their true form, Miyazaki's mastery shines through it all.

Dealing with all three films individually, we can see where this filmmaker's foundations lie, as well as where his muse mandates he go next, beginning with one of his most underrated:

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Sheeta is a young orphan who posses a magical gem that allows her to levitate. She meets up with engineering apprentice Pazu and together they battle against sky pirates and the army to find Laputa, the legendary floating castle in the sky.

As the film which truly catapulted Miyazaki to the forefront of world animation, Castle in the Sky remains a flawless primer of his standard creative conceits. Elements that he used in his previous masterpiece Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are expanded on and forwarded - the coming of age of a young girl, the fascination with flight, the battle between old world and new world ways, and most importantly, the belief in a destiny beyond the everyday and mundane. Miyazaki's classicism derives directly from the Hans Christian Anderson/Brothers Grimm school of subconscious wish fulfillment. His characters are constantly battling against a belief that they are meant for more and yet often find themselves stuck in situations in which their gifts/greatness is marginalized or even rejected. It's what gives his films such undeniable universal appeal.

As with Nausicaä, our heroine must fight to prove her mantle, and it is in the adventure material that Miyazaki and this movie truly shine. The anime-like aspects are obvious, but it’s the more complicated shots and compositions that will astound. It has to be said that there are times when it appears the director has found an actual pen and ink dimension and set his camera up to capture it. Form and shape swirl and bend, flawless line drawings diving around the screen in sequences so spectacular it's hard to remember they were created by people with little more than a pencil, some paper, and a clear artistic vision. While the emotional level in his stories would develop more with the next two films in this collection, Castle in the Sky is an equally uplifting experience. It's the perfect place to view where Miyazaki has been and where he intends to go.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Mei and Satsuki move with their father to the country, refurbishing an aging house near a foreboding forest. As they wait for the return of their hospitalized mother, they come face to face with Totoro, a wise and welcoming woodland troll.

Few family films have dealt with the issue of death and faith more brilliantly than My Neighbor Tortoro. Sure, Miyazaki is working through a great deal of rural Eastern philosophy, what with all the "forest spirits" and "soot sprites" mentioned in the narrative, and one can't escape the fact that some of the storyline centers on elements that are both fantastic and highly fictional. Still, with a main narrative thread dealing almost exclusively with a pair of young girls and their reaction to their mother's continuing illness, the arrival of a large furry troll and his delightful little minions plays effortlessly into anyone's idea of a defense mechanism. The entire storyline, as a matter of fact, centers of growing up too fast, being displaced from one's natural environment (in this case, the family moving from Tokyo to the country), the possibility of ultimate loss, family, and the complementary adventure of discovering the highs - and lows - that life has to offer.

Miyazaki's approach is almost flawless. We get an opening sequence showing how scary moving away can be, plus the fun and fear of one's natural curiosity and desire to explore. When Totoro arrives, it's not in some big scary set-up, but in a quite moment of accidental exploration. Mei and Satsuki's connection as sisters is also established early and often Miyazaki making it very clear that he sees something inherently unique about the relationship between female siblings. His almost exclusive focus on girls as protagonists is one of the themes that make his movies so unique. By the time the smiling (if slightly sinister) cat bus shows up to save the day, we've been taken away on a trip into the imagination that few - if any - could top. Visually arresting and consistently compelling, this movie is magical. But it's the heart in My Neighbor Totoro that stays with you long after the optical wonder has dissipated. It's a powerful, powerful feeling.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Per tradition, 13 year old witch-in-training Kiki must leave home and find a place to complete her apprenticeship. When a pregnant baker and her husband from a far off town take her in, she starts a flying broom based delivery service.

It may seem odd to say this - especially since the story centers on a teenage witch going out into the world to make her own way - but Kiki's Delivery Service is one of Miyazaki's least fantastical films. Of sure, it has talking cats, landscaping sweeping broom rides, magic potions, and a last act dirigible disaster that tops almost anything the director has done since. But at the core of this fascinating film is the notion of growing up, of finding one's way in life, and learning what it takes to be an adult. Our heroine is mandated by witch law to spend a year away from home, learning her trade. But as we quickly see, Kiki is not really out to master the white/black arts. Instead, she frets about money and a place to stay. Her concerns are less about spells and more about making friends and being responsible. None of the adventures in this vignette-oriented tale truly deal with the supernatural. Substitute witch-in-training for any other coming-of-age tale and you'd have the same storyline.

That's one of the reasons Kiki is so special. Miyazaki has found here the perfect balance between allegory and the actual. Our heroine wins us over because of her desire to learn and be accountable. She's frightened by this newfound level of duty and is driven beyond the capacities of most adolescents. Her friendship with black cat Jiji also illustrates one of the torments of aging. As the animal discovers its own way, it no longer functions as our heroine's constant companion, sounding board, and conscious. Instead, Kiki must look beyond her insularity, into a society filled with bosses and customers, peers and personal role models. The finale, which finds her using the special gifts that she has to save the day, secures our faith in her ability to move forward in life. Maturing is a scary, unsure process, and no film - live action or animated - does a better job of understanding and slyly symbolizing the situation better than Kiki's Delivery Service.

Working in wonder and his own special brand of moviemaking delight, Miyazaki manages to be both earnest and ethereal. He can take the most outlandish idea and bring it down to Earth with sensitivity and sensibleness. There is no denying his gift, few filmmakers even capable of coming close to his visual panache and flair. But there is more here than just outlandish ideas and bigger than life recreation of same. Miyazaki is making the same celebrated cautionary tales that helped generations of children understand the multifaceted world they were born into, brightly flavored tints and coolly clever shapes offering explanation and examination of what the future holds. From the quest in Castle to the formative exploits of Kiki and her cat, Miyazaki manages to both teach and tantalize. In a genre that really strives for anything other than easy entertainment, that's saying a lot. Of course, with Hayao Miyazaki, mere words are never enough…and we animation fans can be thankful for that.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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