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  Card Captor Sakura: The Movie hysterical hallucinations in Hong Kong
Year: 1999
Director: Morio Asaka, Nanase Ohkawa
Stars: Megumi Hayashibara, Sakura Tange, Aya Hisakawa, Junko Iwao, Kikuko Inoue, Megumi Ogata, Motoko Kumai, Tomokazu Seki, Yukana Nogami, Chiyako Shibahara, Hideyuki Tanaka, Kazuo Hayashi, Kotono Mitsuishi, Nobuyuki Tanaka, Rika Wakusawa, Ritsuo Sawa
Genre: Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A phenomenally popular anime show, Card Captor Sakura revolves around the cute, titular heroine, gifted with magical powers to hunt down the enchanted Clow Cards. Each card holds a particular kind of spirit, whose powers Sakura can use to fight supernatural evil, aided by Kero, the tiny winged lion cub who is Guardian of the Cards, and best friend Tomoyo. Seemingly having a schoolgirl crush on Sakura, rich girl Tomoyo designs a series of colourful, fan-favourite costumes for her and insists on filming her every move ("You’re so cute, Sakura!"). Also on the ticket are rival, Chinese card captors Li Meiling and Li Shaoran (Sakura's would-be boyfriend, but not if Meiling has anything to say about it).

Card Captor Sakura was created by the hugely talented, all-girl manga collective known as CLAMP. Scriptwriter Nanase Ohkawa (who supervises their anime adaptations), artist Mokona Apapa, mascot and cute character designer Tsubaki Nekoi, and all-round assistant Satsuki Igarashi specialised in immensely complex, fantasy-horror epics before their commercial breakthrough with a series of "magical girl" anime. When sold abroad, American distributors reedited the show in a vain attempt to make Li Shaoran the main character. It didn't work. Make no mistake this show is "girl power" all the way, with fluffy romance, fairytale imagery and an adorable heroine who kicks butt and models stylish outfits.

In her first feature-length outing, ten year old Sakura enters a prize draw and unexpectedly wins a trip to Hong Kong. A suspicious Kero suspects there is something besides good luck at play, but the gang, including Sakura's prankster big brother Touya and his buddy Yukito (with whom Sakura is hopelessly in love - although he's voiced by a woman?!), jet off to Hong Kong. While they visit the local sites, Sakura is plagued by strange dreams that slowly invade reality. Two strange birds lead her to a phantom world where Sakura learns she was drawn to Hong Kong by an eerie, floating witch who wants revenge on the legendary, original card captor Clow Reed. Problem is, Clow Reed has been dead for centuries…

Plot-wise, the film is rather light and centred mostly around a fun travelogue of Hong Kong - with photo-accurate buildings and landmarks as bossy, little Meiling brags about her hometown - and amusing episodes, like Li Shaoran embarrassed when his four, gorgeous sisters fawn over Sakura, Tomoyo and the handsome boys. A leisurely first third offers character insights, including an encounter with Xiao Lang's regally beautiful mother, which affects the orphaned Sakura deeply. Happily, once the fantasy-adventure stuff kicks in, the animation exudes a real sense of magic and mystery. CLAMP productions typically dazzle on a visual level and the set-pieces are awesome: an antique bookstore that fills with water and turns into a parallel world (shades of Dario Argento's Inferno (1980)), a spell book with living illustrations that attack Sakura, and the high-flying fantasy battle above the glittering lights of Hong Kong.

Despite an outward simplicity, the mystery is engrossingly told in little, evocative details. In another typically CLAMP touch, dream sequences pitch this into abstract, psychological territory and there is a poignant finale as Sakura bonds with the villain over mutual loss. The groovy, sax-led, easy listening soundtrack is a winner too and how many films aimed at little girls can say that? Fans claim the second movie, Card Captor Sakura: The Sealed Card (2000), is the best.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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