The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show (Season 8, Episode 14) Original airdate: February 9, 1997 Written by David S. Cohen Directed by Steven Dean Moore
The Simpsons has always been focused on lampooning and critiquing the medium of television. The method of doing this frequently comes from episodes centered on Itchy and Scratchy, the in-universe children’s cartoon series featuring a hyper-violent cat and mouse. In 1990, the series did its first episode with Marge against Roger Meyers Jr. and the animation studio that makes Itchy & Scratchy. In 1997, with The Simpsons looking like it would last forever (and arguably has), the writers decided to comment on what happens when a show has been around for so long that it appears it might be going stale.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) Written by Isao Takahata & Riko Sakaguchi Directed Isao Takahata
When people talk about Studio Ghibli, you will most often hear them talk about it in the context of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. That’s completely reasonable as the studio’s most prominent work started with Miyazaki before becoming a collaborative effort. However, he was only the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, with his partner being Isao Takahata. Takahata was the director behind films like Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. Takahata’s take on animation was quite different than Miyazaki, but both men worked to push the medium in ways it never had been, both artistically and thematically.
22 Short Films About Springfield (Season 7, Episode 21) Original airdate: April 14, 1996 Written by Richard Appel, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Jennifer Crittenden, Greg Daniels, Brent Forrester, Rachel Pulido, Steve Tompkins, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, & Matt Groening Directed by Jim Reardon
In season four, the staff realized they were short a couple of minutes for the runtime of “The Front.” They tacked a very short “bonus” Ned Flanders cartoon complete with a theme song and title card, a la Looney Tunes, or Hanna-Barbera. The staff loved the silliness of the short they tried to find places for them over the ensuing years but just could never fit them in.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the most financially successful Japanese films ever made. It grossed $236 million worldwide, which is quite a feat for a picture like this. It’s also yet another Miyazaki film that has had heaps of praise for its inventive magical world and characters. However, it’s the first Miyazaki movie in this series that I would rate below everything that has come before. For all of the technical mastery of animation and the fully developed world, I would argue something is lacking to pull all the elements together. Miyazaki revisits some old themes and some new ones, and I think the result is a very confusing picture.
Spirited Away (2001) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Spirited Away became the Studio Ghibli film that opened the floodgates into the American theatrical market. It was just home video sales of movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service had doing well until this picture. However, seeing a Miyazaki movie in a theater was a more challenging experience to find. If you lived in a major urban area, your art-house theater might show them, but it was difficult outside of those venues. That isn’t to say Miyazaki films became marquee pictures in the States. However, from my own experience, it was from this point forward that I knew I could go to my local Regal cineplex; when these animated films reached our shores, they would have them playing on at least one screen.
Deep Space Homer (Season five, episode fifteen) Original airdate: February 24, 1994 Written by David Mirkin Directed by Carlos Baeza (with David Silverman)
For some staff and crew, including creator Matt Groening, this episode felt like jumping the shark. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it is derived from a pretty ludicrous episode of Happy Days and has come to mean a moment when a television series goes off the rails, losing touch with what made it special, and instead becomes centered around an outlandish weekly gimmick. I can definitely see the argument for Deep Space Homer being that type of episode, but I still contend that the “jumping the shark” moment was later in The Simpsons’ development.
Princess Mononoke (1997) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
This is the moment where I met Miyazaki. I can remember going to the theater at the mall near my college. It was my freshman year, and I sort of went along to the movies without really know what was being seen. I believe it was my friend Clint that wanted to see this. I had no idea that is was animated or Japanese; it was merely a Friday hanging out with people I knew. When that Joe Hisaishi score kicked in, and the story began, I was immediately taken away to another world much in the same way Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring trilogy felt around the same time. Afterward, I had to know who made that movie.
Whisper of the Heart (1995) Written by Hayao Miyazaki Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo
Despite the marketing art, Whisper of the Heart is not a movie about a young girl and a magical talking cat. Instead, it is a very grounded coming of age movie about the transition from childhood into young adulthood. It was also one of the rare Studio Ghibli films not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. That honor went to Yoshifumi Kondo, who was seen as the natural successor to Miyazaki and was groomed to take over Ghibli when the founder eventually receded into a different role or retired. But that wasn’t to be, and in 1998, Kondo died suddenly from an aneurysm, which led to Miyazaki retiring temporarily from filmmaking. Such tragedy surrounding Whisper of the Heart makes is an even more bittersweet meditation on fragile our lives can be.
Last Exit to Springfield (Season Four, Episode Seventeen) Original airdate: March 11, 1993 Written by Jay Kogan & Wallace Wolodarsky Directed by Mark Kirkland
It seems like a natural premise to feature on a show where the father is a blue-collar work, a company strike. There wasn’t much more to the idea when writing began other than mining the humor that would come out of Homer participating in a labor strike. The real hook came when the company dental plan was introduced as the driving reason Homer kept his fellow workers striking. What is surprising is that this episode is overflowing with cultural references and comedy that are seemingly unrelated to the core premise yet never feel disconnected from the story.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Japan often remixes Euro-American fantasy tropes to create incredibly different contexts and characters. This is done with traditional Western witches in Kiki’s Delivery Service. The black cats and flying brooms are here, but the context is changed so that being a witch is passed down from mother to daughter. There are no wicked witches here; instead, the women serve as community healers and advice-givers. This does tie into the Japanese folklore of tsukimono-suji (hereditary witches), but the iconography is most definitely the classic Western culture witch.