In the opening scene, we meet Kiki who is taking off for the big city with her talking companion, a black cat called Jiji. Kiki is a 13-year-old witch in training. She lives in a village where her mother is the herbalist. When witches reach the age of 13, it is traditional for them to live on their own for a year. She decides to live in Koriko, a city near the seaside. Her insecurity poses problems for her in finding good friends and a decent place to stay. This difficulty is compounded by the fact she’s not quite adept at the art of flying her broom. To support herself, she establishes a delivery service.
Kiki experiences some complications – both in her job and her emotional state. Tombo, a boy crazy about aviation, pursues her as he likes her and respects the fact she can fly. But due to an unfortunate meeting with his friends who had created an unfavourable impression on her previously leads to loss of her flying power and her ability to talk with Jiji. She is devastated but her friend Ursula, an artist living in a forest cottage, identifies her inability as akin to “artist’s block.” It’s a reflection of Kiki’s increasing lack of confidence in herself, as things don’t keep going to plan. When she finds a suitable purpose, she will get herself out of this quandary. Feeling a bit happier, Kiki returns to the city and finds an opportunity to rescue Tombo. Her desire to save him reactivates her powers.
This story is actually based on a book by author Eiko Kadono but the screenplay credits goes to Miyazaki. The episodic novel is more about the people who meet Kiki during her delivery service and her interactions with them. Dramatic and climatic moments in the film are due to Miyazaki’s input. This was actually an enjoyable movie but without a lot of subtext.
My Neighbour Totoro is a film that can capture young and old alike with its innocence. Satusuke and Mei move to a house in the country with their father in order to be closer to their mother who is recovering from a long illness in hospital. They discover the house is populated by house spirits and the garden by forest spirits. These magical creatures are called Totoros (pronounced toe-toe-ro). They befriend these Totoros, and have lovely adventures including on the Catbus, a character reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat. For me, this film was like an animated Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland. To tell the truth, Hayao Miyazaki originally conceived the characters Satsuki and Mei as a single girl. The original girl had features of both Satsuki and Mei, and was 7: halfway between the ages of Satsuki (10) and Mei (4). Given Miyazaki is a big fan of Lewis Caroll, perhaps he drew inspiration from the book. But this is no adaptation as a substantial amount of Japanese folklore is inserted into the film. Totoro is so well recognised that Toy Story 3 paid it homage by including it among Molly’s toys. When Satsuke scolds her little sister Mei, the youngster decides to journey to the hospital by herself to make her mother better and Totoro accompanies her to keep her safe from harm.
Nausicaa, the princess of a small pocket of humanity on Earth in the distant future, lives in a world that was subject to the “Seven Days of Fire”. The place where she lives is called Valley of the Wind. Instead of trying to destroy the Toxic Jungle, she tries to understand it by making her best effort to stop warring nations from destroying themselves. She realises they keep contributing to the spread of polluted wastelands and is keeping the world from the only means by which it can be saved.
The US released an entirely different film in video under the title Warriors of the Wind borrowing heavily from this plot in the mid 1980s. The heavy editing was done unbeknownst to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. He was unhappy with the changes to the story which was based on his graphic novel and counselled those who have seen it “to dismiss it from [their] minds.”
For me, this was an OK film – there are Studio Ghibli produced, Miyazaki directed ones far more preferable. The plot didn’t engage me as much but then I enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro which uses different settings. Most of the time, I dislike the futuristic flying object based ones even if those are trademarks for Miyazaki. I think what this shows is my preference for fantasy over science-fiction.
Ponyo (or rather, Brunhilde) is a goldfish princess who decides to see more of the world by riding away on the back of a jellyfish. She is discovered and rescued by a human boy called Sosuke. While he is helping her, he cuts his hand. Ponyo licks his wound which heals instantly. The boy promises to protect her forever. Meanwhile Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, is looking for her and believing she has been kidnapped by humans, he sends wave spirits in search of her. The wave spirits take Ponyo away, leaving Sosuke heartbroken and unable to be cheered up by his mother, Lisa. Meanwhile Fujimoto and Ponyo fight when she declares she wants to be human because she’s in love with Sosuke.(Little Mermaid reference?) Suddenly she gets her wish, a consequence of swallowing Sosuke’s human blood. Fujimoto summons her mother, Granmamare. After becoming human, Ponyo releases a lot of magic into the ocean creating a huge natural imbalance that precipitates a tsunami. She visits Sosuke, riding the waves of the resulting storm. Ponyo, Sosuke and Lisa wait out the storm and on the next morning, Lisa visits the nursing home where she works to check the residents are okay.
Sosuke’s father sees Grandmamare on her way to visit Fujimoto and recognises her as the Goddess of Mercy. Ponyo’s father notes the moon has been displaced and satellites are falling like shooting stars creating chaos. Granmamare declares that if Sōsuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored to its former state. If he fails, Ponyo will turn into sea-foam. On waking, Sōsuke and Ponyo find the land around the house is submerged. As Lisa has not returned, using Ponyo’s magic, they make Sōsuke’s toy boat life-sized and set out to find her.
After finding Lisa’s empty car, Ponyo and Sōsuke go through a tunnel. There Ponyo loses her human form and turns back into a fish. They are taken by Fujimoto into the ocean and down to the protected nursing home where they are reunited with Lisa and meet Granmamare, both of whom have just had a private conversation. Granmamare asks Sōsuke if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sōsuke answers that he “loves all the Ponyos.” Granmamare then allows Ponyo to become human again once he kisses her on the surface. This was a cute movie but is geared toward the young ones.
This is about a floating city by the name of Laputa (yes, it is a reference to Jonathan Swift’s city in Gulliver’s Travels) which is obscured by a violent thunderstorm. It is said such flying cities existed in large numbers but after a huge disaster, survivors were forced to live on the ground again except for those on Laputa. We meet Sheeta, a girl who is being escorted by agents under the command of Colonel Muska. The airship they are on are attacked by a group of sky pirates – Dola and her three sons. In the commotion, Sheeta takes a pendant from Muska and escapes. She is seen by an apprentice miner called Pazu and he takes her to his home.
At Pazu’s home, she sees a photo of Laputa. Pazu’s father, an airship pilot, had taken it before he had passed on but his story was never believed by those who heard it. Pazu believes the city exists and wants to find it. Here they are interrupted again by the sky pirates but they find refuge in an abandoned mine shaft thanks to Sheet’s pendant. In the mines, they meet Uncle Pom. He tells them about “volucite” – the crystal that keeps Laputa floating in the sky. This is where we realise the significance of that pendant. Pazu and Sheeta are split up by army soldiers who imprison them in a fortress once they reach the surface after she reveals a secret to him about inheriting a secret name.
It turns out the government is also searching for Laputa. They decide Sheeta and her crystal is the key to discover the floating city. Muska reveals he knows Sheeta’s secret name and shows her a huge robot belived to have been created in Laputa and tells her unless she cooperates, Pazu will be harmed. She tells Pazu of her intentions to aid Muska and he is upset by her betrayal. On returning home, he finds Dola there and tells her about the Laputa mission and asks for help. Strangely, they accede to his request. Meanwhile Sheeta chants a spell that points to the floating city and reactivates the robot that ends up setting fire to the fortress. The robot rescues Sheeta before being destroyed by the airship commanded by Muska. Dola and Pazu arrive to free Sheeta from the burning fortress but her crystal is found by Muska who uses it to find the city. Dola and the other sky pirates pursue the airship intent on finding Laputa beforehand. During an intense discussion, Sheeta mentions a spell she has never used: the Spell of Destruction. Dola overhears the conversation through the intercom. After a battle with the airship, Dola and the pirates are separated from Pazu and Sheeta but they enter Laputa, which is devoid of any life except for a robot responsible for its flora and fauna and a giant tree.
It turns out Muska is the villain of the piece as he betrays everyone in the end but receives his just deserts. Pazu comes through for Sheeta in her moment of desperate need. Dola and her pirate band survive and are rewarded for their efforts. The remains of Laputa, despite being subject to the Spell of Destruction, survives and floats into orbit above the Earth. This animation had an interesting plot with the perceived bad guys being good and the perceived good guys being bad but I feel Miyazaki’s other works have more mass appeal.