Sunday, September 05, 2004

Miyazaki's Corner

WARNING: Includes Japanese terminology and wordplay. See my Manga definitions post to find out more on these foriegn words.

Scroll down for the reviews on my favorite Miyazaki Hayao's animated works. Otherwise, read on to find out why I am such a nerd.

I first jumped onboard the ANIME, or rather "Otaku" wagon by being introduced to Vampire Hunter D, and Akira. Later on I found out about Macross Plus, another great jumping on point, especially if you don't have the patience for longer OVA's like Lain or Neon Genesis Evangelion, which both have prominent religious themes which dive dive deep into religious theoglogy. When I was able to pick my own shows I chose to get the blues funk, and watch the uber-realism of Cowboy Bebop. A jazz space opera, that entertwines the realism of everyday living with a complex plot of human relations. Any person studying human behavior will find this cartoon errie in it's realistic portrail of people within the frame of American pop-culture. Then I caught the electronic fever, and watched avidly the Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone complex series, half convinced at the end that my own computer was capable of gaining a soul. In any case, what was it that brought out this geeky/nerdy side of me? My love of animation and art of course! So, it would be a sin not to mention the greatest Animated films of all time.

Even though it was my older friends that introduced me to Anime, it was my first Japanese girlfriend that got me introduced to Miyazaki films. Although late in the game, I'm glad she forced me to watch the classics from her childhood, and I can assure you, it is anything but Disney. For those of you who care to culture youselves a little more, I'm going to do a short review on each studio Ghibli film I've seen, no spoilers of course, and you can email me if you want to know more. (Ghibli is the name of Hayao Miyazaki's animation studio in Tokyo.)

Tenku Shiro no Lapyuta (Castle in the Sky)
Along with Kiki, and Spirited Away, Lapyuta is one of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki films. (I can't really decide which one I love most.) People often complain about Lapyuta's animation, but we're all used to the glossy crap that passes as Anime today. This film came out in 1985, and I don't know of any Disney film from that era that can compete. It still seems fresh by today’s standards, albeit dated by animation style. However, like most Miyazaki films it is driven by a vast imagination with no end in sight, and the stories play with common themes that adults and children can recognize. The English Dub on this one sucks (in my opinion), which is sad, so I highly recommend watching the subtitled version. If you have the DVD then you get both versions of the language track! Also, the mythos itself is loosly based off of the same mythical floating island as in Gulliver’s Travels. The music in Lapyuta if by far my favorite out of all Miyazaki films, well perhaps with the exception of Spirited Away.

Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
This is my least favorite Miyazaki film. However, the animation is first rate and I love the cultural aspect of utilizing the Ainu culture (a minority of Natives in Japan similar to our Native Americans in America). The movies new age message is neat, but has been said better in other Miyazaki films. The English dub is halfway decent, so you can enjoy it either way.

Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso The Crimson Pig)
This is by far the funniest Miyazaki film. It's about a WWII fighting ace pilot who gets turned into a pig by a curse when he fails to rescue his buddies. It follows similar themes to the timeless fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast , but it has a much more powerful message of love and acceptance. Also Miyazaki's love of flying machines comes through more in this film than in another. This one isn't out in the U.S. yet, but Ghiblie has released a remastered two disc version in Japan, along with all of Miyazaki's other films. If you speak Japanese, or really enjoy Miyazaki films, then do what I do and import them! is a good website to import Asain movies from. Also you can probably find pirated versions on VHS (bad quality) here in North America, but don't tell anyone I told you.

Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)
This was the first Miyazaki film I'd ever seen. I originally watched it in Japanese without subtitles, and was struck in awe. It's extremely kids friendly, and has the first appearance of the famous dust/coal mites. I'd say Kiki's Delivery Service is more kid friendly, and would be the best jumping on point for Family and younger viewers, but Totoro's charm keeps you coming back for more.

Majo no Takkyubin (Kiki's Delivery Service)
This is one I watch at Least once a week. There is so much charm and magic in this movie that you fall in love with the characters right away. I always forget they're not real people, but that's part of the amazing quality of Miyazaki's movies, the fantasy becomes reallity. Kiki starts her journey to womanhood, and thus, goes on a journey to find herself. Along with her black cat Jiji, Kiki embarks on a journey to a far away town. Once there, she starts to try and find work so her and Jiji can eat. Soon she meets people who help her, or don't, but everyone lending to the valuable lessons of growing up. The English dub is my favorite of all of the Miyazaki films released to date. This is also the most kid friendly of Miyazaki's films.

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)
UPDATE: Spirited Away is the WINNER of the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Strangely enough, it won in the catagory of an American film, because Disney decided to release it in the states under their Banner. Another ploy in their attempt to take the spotlight of the Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli names. This was only the choice after the first attempt to hide the Mononoke release through the sister company of Miramax. Back in the late 80's, Disney bought the distribution rights for Ghibli films being released in the U.S. They quickly canned all of the titles, and shuffled the competion under the rug, so to speak. However, in 2000, John Lasseter of PIXAR entertainment (a personal friend of Miyazaki Hayao) convince Disney to release the most well known Ghibli films. Now with the acceptance and aproval of the American audiences, and also the Academy Awards, Disney's plot backfired. Because Spirited Away won the OSCAR, Disney is now going to release more of Miyazaki's films stateside, against the statement of one of their press junkets stating that Spirited Away would be the last.

I still don't understand how Disney went so far as to change the meaning from The Adventure of Sen and Chihiro to Spirited Away, but it was a good move on their behalf. Miyazaki's mysticism in this film may often times be misunderstood by Western audiences. Of all his movies this is the most culturally motivated and is filled with Japanese historical, cultural, and religious references that American audiences just don't get. The three rumbly tumbly heads in this film all represtnt Japan's three most famous unifiers, generals who were all beheaded by the Shogunate for their radical beliefs on how to unify Japan. Also the ghosts aren't supernatural in the supernatural sense, they represent Japanese ancestry in a more spiritual manner, as the society places high respect on ancestral worship and ceremony even today. It's called Shintoism. If you don't understand Kanji (the Chinese symbols the Japanese use in writing) then the significance of Chihiro's name being changed to Sen is also lost. However, this all aside, it is the finest made animated movie ever. Just preview it first before showing it to young kids, there are some scary moments!

Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaa Valley of the Winds)
This is the Anime based of the Manga that put Miyazaki Hayao on the map and shot him to super-stardom as a comic book artist. There is a version floating around in the U.S. called Wind Warriors, but 20 minutes were cut out and the film was chopped up worse than Escaflowne on FOX Network. (If you're familiar with Escaflowne, also an amazing fantasy OVA, the DVD release is in its entirety and has the best English translation and voice acting. Cowboy Bebop would be next for dub quality.) Nausicaa gets the new age message across really well, and at the same time manages to tell a unique story about insects, a princess, and the future.

Heisei Tanuki gassen Pompoko (Pompoko the Raccoon War)
This is Directed by Isao Takahata who is Miyazaki's long time friend and partner. It's about Magical raccoons (Tanuki) fighting the urbanization of rural Japan. The best environmental message I've ever seen in a film. It's just as charming as any other studio Ghibli film, and is produced by Miyazaki, but the enviromental isn't overbearing the fun plot of these mistiveous racoons, fighting to save their forest. Sadly, however, this film has many cultural things that may not allow an American release. Moreover, the utilization of the Racoon scrotum attack may all but be banned from our more sensative viewing needs. At the very least I hope Disney will release this movie unedited with a PG-13 rating.

Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies)
This is another Isao Takahata film. Roger Ebert considers it among the top 5 war films of all time. It's partly autobiographic, as it shows the aftermath of WW2 war torn Japan. Such instances of the fire bombings of Tokyo, and the impoverished state of the countryside come through brilliantly in this animation. It is probably the most historically accurate and sad movie you'll see. Be sure to have a box of tissues with you. Also, there is an interview on the remastered DVD (you can get in the U.S.) with Isao Takahata that is wonderful as he recalls his most heart wrenching experiences in the aftermath of the war. That interview had me balling. But I'm a big sissy anyway.

These titles only cover the first half of his work. I was lucky enough to see many of his other feature films while I was in Japan. You can find and buy any of Miyazaki Hayo's films on Region 2 DVD. Just make sure you have a Region FREE (Universal) DVD player before you import.

For more on the complete works of Hayao Miyazaki, check out the Internet Movie Database at:

Look for his next big blockbuster this Christmas in Japan:
Hauru no ugoku shiro (The Walking Castle)

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