I’ve been meaning to this for a while now but it was delayed because I was working on the Burwood Bulletin since it’s due to be published in September with three of my six writers off duty. In addition, I got some extra work shifts from my second job. So I actually had to undertake the job duties of a journalist in addition to editing. When I return home, nothing seems better than a good sleep.
It was tough to hit the ground running with this one but I really wanted to share so I’ve got my butt into gear. These films meant so much to me even if they were animated and either dubbed in English or subtitled. What I am talking about are cinematic creations by Hayao Miyazaki.
Howl’s Moving Castle
The first Miyazaki film I watched was Howl’s Moving Castle. Based very loosely on a book by Dianna Wynne Jones, the story is about the adventure of a young girl, Sophie Hatter, who is cursed with an old woman’s body. To break the spell cast on her by the nasty Witch of Waste, she seeks the help of a handsome but terrifying wizard by the name of Howl. His residence is a home that moves. A fire demon in the home, Calcifer, makes a deal with her that he will release her from the spell if Sophie releases him from the contract he has with Howl. The catch is he is not allowed to tell her how she can bring this about. When the disreputable wizard starts to fall for Sophie’s genuine charms, the fun begins. The characters and creatures are crafted excellently although Miyazaki has shown more strength in his character development in other productions. The animation is stunning and we are treated to a moral tale by changes of physical appearance and of character, reducing its preachiness while managing to work well as a lesson. It’s not as bad as Roger Ebert imagines.
The Oscar-winning Spirited Away is another mind-blowing movie by the “Japanese Disney”. Ten-year-old Chihiro, who is moving away with her parents to a new neighborhood, is upset about leaving her old friends and school behind. Her father’s attempt to take a shortcut to their new town leads the family to an abandoned theme park where they find an unattended food stall fully laid out. Her parents dig in but Chihiro is uneasy and frightened. She encounters a spirit called Haku who warns her that she and her family have to leave before nightfall. But when she runs back to alert her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. It turns out she is stuck in a spirit world. So with the assistance of Haku, she gains a job at the bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. She’s renamed by the witch as Sen and learns if she does not hide her true identity, she’ll lose her sense of self forever. While she is whiny at the start of the movie, the responsibility she is saddled with develops her as a character. She begins learning how to deal with difficulties and becomes a stronger person because of her trials. After her parents turn into pigs, she’s scared and lost, but by the end of her journey in this fantasy spirit world, she is confident and strong. The film is rich in cultural symbolism and was vastly popular with the Japanese audience. It didn’t do too badly in the western world either as Disney took it on board but it did lose some significance in the transition…unfortunately.
I’ve also watched Princess Mononoke, which could be considered an animated fantasy Japanese period drama. A young warrior by the name of Ashitaka is stricken by a deadly curse when he’s protecting his village from a rampaging boar-demon. To seek a cure, he goes to the forests in the west where he finds himself mixed up in a war humans are waging against the forest. The Lady Eboshi and her clan who live in a sacred area use their guns against the forests gods and a young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god. The young warrior sees both sides are good people and the war is unnecessary and does his best to intervene. The groups each begin to think he is working for the enemy while he tries to convince them there are no sides. While this maybe an animated film, it is the adults who will gain more to learn from it. Besides the fact this is mostly hand-drawn makes it a major achievement.
The Cat Returns
A young girl called Haru saves a cat from traffic. She starts receiving gifts and favours from the King of Cats that she does not want for saving him. He wants her to marry his son, the Cat Prince Lune. Her rescue of the cat forces her to involuntarily become engaged to the cat prince in a magical kingdom. She finds the assistance of a real but grouchy cat and an elegant cat statuette that has come to life. These two cats also made a cameo in Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart. They help her to find the way to escape from the cat kingdom. This is a more relaxing and fantasy oriented film with that can be enjoyed in its own right as a splendid example of animation.
Whisper of the Heart
Whisper of the Heart is an animation so sweet that it tugs at the heartstrings. The plot is about a budding teenage romance but this constantly explored theme is given a new veneer as it avoids typical stereotyping. This screenplay was written by Miyazaki but it’s direction was undertaken by another talented man, Yoshifumi Kondo, who died of an aneurysm in the following year. We meet the girl, Shizuku, who regularly checks out books from the library. To her annoyance, someone else is checking out the same books. Later she coincidentally meets the culprit to blame, a boy. He finds a song she’s writing for graduation and tell her the lyrics are corny. Pissed off, she leaves to bump into him again after following a curious cat. Seiji turns out to be the grandson of a violin maker and he himself wants to develop his skill in that art in Italy. When she hears him play, she is entranced and inspired to pursue big dreams of her own by writing a book in the midst of their budding affection for each other. She feels as she is uncertain of the future she wants and he has big plans, they might not suit each other. You’ll see a different ending if you watch the American version but I watched a fan dub and was not displeased with the future marriage possibility discussion by the two adolescents. There is a manga that uses this title but it is not possible to say the print and film versions are the same story.