Not long ago, I posted a beautiful anime-style short. Following a trail from Twitter, I was led to the site where it was featured, and to my surprise, it was Rober Ebert’s website. But, I was only surprised for a second – after all, the nation’s leading film critic (and the first to ever win the Pulitzer Prize) has championed anime for many years and Anime News Network has described him as a closet otaku. He even wrote an article entitled “The Beauty of Anime.” In fact, aside from John Lasseter, there’s likely no more powerful voice for anime in U.S. mainstream culture.
Roger Ebert should be familiar to most of you. Forbes called him American’s #1 pundit (and in the Internet age, that designation is no small feat). Then again, maybe I recognize him better than most because I religiously watched “At the Movies” as a child, wanting to weekly see him duke it out with his first partner, Gene Siskel. Later, I continued to watch (and then read) because I realized: a) I agreed with him much more than not; b) even when I didn’t agree, I learned something from his reviews; and c) his writing is clear, calculated and wonderful. Even if you’re not familiar with Ebert, you certainly are with his (official) trademark of the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down,” regarding movie recommendations.
When Ebert discusses anime films, he comes at it as an admirer of the form, as when he reviewed Ghost in the Shell or selected Akira as a “video pick of the week.” The Great Movies section of his web site, which itself has become widely admired, includes both My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies on this list. Think of that – two anime among a U.S. movie’s critics best movies of all time. Read how he ends the Grave of the Fireflies review:
When anime fans say how good the film is, nobody takes them seriously. Now that it’s available on DVD with a choice of subtitles or English dubbing, maybe it will find the attention it deserves. Yes, it’s a cartoon, and the kids have eyes like saucers, but it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made.
Look how he closes his review of Metropolis (2002):
If you have never seen a Japanese anime, start here. If you love them, “Metropolis” proves you are right.
Even when he doesn’t recommend a Miyazaki film (as with Howl’s Moving Castle), he addresses the animator and the form with respect and wonderment:
When his movies are working and on those rare occasions when they are not, Miyazaki nevertheless is a master who, frame by frame, creates animated compositions of wonderment.
How many people not familiar with anime have viewed the form because of Ebert? I imagine it’s probably a hefty number. In fact, I can’t quantify it, but I believe Ebert had a major hand in the buzz around Spirited Away (from his review) and it’s subsequent good theatrical numbers (for anime in the U.S. at least) that accompanied its wide release.
Ebert is a fan of most of Hayao Miyazaki‘s films
But it’s not just Ebert’s film criticism and enjoyment of Miyazaki that draws me to him. He’s also become a popular tweeter and blogger. And he holds no punches back – he’s as truthful as anyone, caring little about being criticized in return or of losing popularity. And a frequent subject of his blogs is religion. He grew up Catholic, but now considers himself an agnostic. Generally, through reviews and blogging, Ebert is respectful of religion and promotes conversation about faith. His entries on faith are often among the most-commented – this recent one has received over 700 comments. More impressive than the number is the fact that he takes time to often respond to comments.
Today, Roger Ebert reviews as many films as ever – this despite spending the better part of the last decade dealing with the effects of surgery for thyroid cancer. Because of the cancer and surgeries, Ebert has lost most of his jaw and can no longer speak (Esquire did an excellent piece on him and his health earlier this year). Through this ordeal, I’ve grown to admire him even more. And I’m thankful that he remains active, and here’s to hoping that despite even recent health issues, Roger Ebert remains a strong voice in film criticism and a continued champion of Miyazaki films and anime.
Ebert and Roeper review Spirited Away
Ebert reviews Metropolis