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Good Green Anime
Emily Gertz, 29 Jul 05

howl's moving castleI finally caught Howl's Moving Castle yesterday -- the dubbed version, sorry anime purists! -- and was totally enthralled by the multi-layered fantasy story and gorgeous animation.

Maybe there's nothing newly worldchanging about Hayao Miyazaki's masterworks, and I suppose it could be argued that his nostalgia-tinged visions are atavistic. But I feel much of what makes his movies so unique would be essential components of a worldchanging cinema: recognition of beauty; wide-eyed delight in nature, and how scary and destructive it can be to mess thoughtlessly with nature; fascination with the physical intricacy and human pageant of cities; disdain for violent solutions to complicated problems; our need for connection and community; strong and intelligent women characters of all ages and motivations that don't fall back on sexist cliches (never mind reveling in them); and, a sense of humor.

Miyazake meshes these elements into "Howl's Moving Castle" and still manages to make a fantasy centered on something else entirely. Nice. I was struck by how fresh and unusual it all seemed compared to most movies -- even those that deal overtly with matters ecological (rare) or fantastic.

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But I feel much of what makes his movies so unique would be essential components of a worldchanging cinema: recognition of beauty; wide-eyed delight in nature, and how scary and destructive it can be to mess thoughtlessly with nature; fascination with the physical intricacy and human pageant of cities; disdain for violent solutions to complicated problems; our need for connection and community; strong and intelligent women characters of all ages and motivations that don't fall back on sexist cliches (never mind reveling in them); and, a sense of humor.

All of what you've listed is true and would be for naught if the story didn't engage and we didn't care about the characters. Miyazaki is a storyteller first and a darned good one.

I _cared_ what happened to Mei and Satsuki in 'Totoro' and likewise his other films and that's the mark of a master.


Posted by: Brian on 29 Jul 05

Excellent point, Brian.

I should edit my list to include: "...a really great, well-written story with characters I care about to hang all this on; and, a sense of humor." Still a list of relative rarities in a lot of the current mainstram cinema!



Posted by: Emily Gertz on 29 Jul 05

The New Yorker profile of Miyazaki is revelatory as to his connection to nature. He is aghast at the lack of natural experience among the younger generation of animators at Studio Ghibli and feels that it is wrong for kids to watch his films over and over again.

One strong and subtle point about Miyazaki's work is that there are no real villains in his work. The antagonists of the protagonists have real reasons for what they are doing and their perspective, their very villainy, can change into something that may not be completely good but something close to it.

Miyazaki portrays a generous world and he is generous to all his characters.

Maybe because I know some Japanese, I find the subtitled versions of his films to have more resonance for me but any way you see Miyazaki is fine as long as you see Miyazaki. His work is a gift.

And I've been trying to score a decent copy of My Neighbor Totoro to give to some kids who need to see it for months now.


Posted by: gmoke on 29 Jul 05

Miyazaki may have those elements in his films, but it's hard for me not to think it's simply a coincidence. He has said himself he makes his movies for his Japanese audience, and i really don't think most Japanese viewers dissect the movie as much as the west seems to enjoy doing. Not to mention that Miyazaki is a chainsmoker and thinks that Japan will 'disappear' (which in it self could or could not be a result of some kind of ecological POV oh his part)

I work at a Japanese company in Tokyo, and a lot of my coworkers have asked me what western audiences think is so great about Miyazaki. And outside the fact that he's in vogue right now, It's alternative to the the formulas for animated stories that we've become tired of from Disney, Pixar, and other animation houses.

But I do agree that there may be, whether or not unitentional, environmental theme in his films. He did say that he was consciencously thinking of the Iraq war when he made this film, so the 'disdain for violent solutions' part is right on the mark.

Incidentally, a Japanese film that has a beautiful environmental message is Kurosawa's 'dreams'. It's a series of 8 semi-connected dreams that all follow a theme of environmentalism. The cinematography (well except for a few of the dreams towards the end) is beautiful (in fact some parts are like 'Howl''s shooting star valley. ) The first two, and last dream in particular.


Posted by: travis on 30 Jul 05

Miyazaki may have those elements in his films, but it's hard for me not to think it's simply a coincidence. He has said himself he makes his movies for his Japanese audience, and i really don't think most Japanese viewers dissect the movie as much as the west seems to enjoy doing. Not to mention that Miyazaki is a chainsmoker and thinks that Japan will 'disappear' (which in it self could or could not be a result of some kind of ecological POV oh his part)

I work at a Japanese company in Tokyo, and a lot of my coworkers have asked me what western audiences think is so great about Miyazaki. And outside the fact that he's in vogue right now, It's alternative to the the formulas for animated stories that we've become tired of from Disney, Pixar, and other animation houses.

But I do agree that there may be, whether or not unitentional, environmental theme in his films. He did say that he was consciencously thinking of the Iraq war when he made this film, so the 'disdain for violent solutions' part is right on the mark.

Incidentally, a Japanese film that has a beautiful environmental message is Kurosawa's 'dreams'. It's a series of 8 semi-connected dreams that all follow a theme of environmentalism. The cinematography (well except for a few of the dreams towards the end) is beautiful (in fact some parts are like 'Howl''s shooting star valley. ) The first two, and last dream in particular.


Posted by: travis on 30 Jul 05

"Howl" was astonishing. I was bothered by the revelation of the scarecrow's true nature (anticlimactic and kind of cutesy-gloopy), but most everything else was just amazing.

I've been loaning my copies of Miyazaki's stuff to my sister for my nieces, who badly need dedisneytoxification. They were scared, amazed, and enthralled by _Sprited Away_. They're getting _How_ when it comes out on DVD, and _Nausica_ when I'm done with it!


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 30 Jul 05

Yes indeed, Kurosawa's "Dreams" is a visionary film from the first dream of the fox spirit' wedding to the last dream of the windmill village, one of the few real ecological utopias on film.

Japan has always had a reputation for the reverence of nature. Partly this is inherent in Shinto, partly it is about the Japanese aesthetic that is represented in the formal gardens and small spaces in private homes where a single plant may become emblematic of all nature. Yet, that exists side by side by great pollution, chainsmoking, machine culture, and a tendency to destroy the old in favor for the newest of the new, to say nothing of a mania for the building of golf courses.

BTW, Kurosawa chewed over themes in his work a number ot times. You can see a dream sequence in the early film Drunken Angel repeated in Kagemusha or echoes of Ikiru (To Live) in his last film, Mada Da Yo (No, Not Yet). Kurosawa also made a very strong anti-nuclear film with Record of a Living Being with, of course, a great performance by Toshiro Mifune and echoed it with Rhapsody in August.


Posted by: gmoke on 30 Jul 05

That was a great profile in The New Yorker, I agree -- it doesn't appear to be online at TNY website, but here's a question and answer with the writer, Daniel Cappello:

Q: Miyazaki seems to have definite feelings about the world today, in terms of technology and the environment and the effect they have on the way in which we perceive and live life. What does he think, and does it translate into his work?

A: He's a big critic of our dependence on virtual reality¬ócomputer games, TV, and animation, too. He complained, when I met him, that so much in our culture is "thin and shallow and fake." He's also an environmentalist, of a somewhat dark and apocalyptic variety. He's said, not entirely jokingly, that he looks forward to the time when Tokyo is submerged by the ocean and the NTV tower becomes an island, when the human population plummets and there are no more high-rises.

So Miyazaki's got a touch environmental fatalism, apparently, but leavens it out in his creations with a countervaling vision of beauty and hope -- if not for the whole world, at least for the capacity of his heroines to learn, grow, and discover how to make the right decisions.


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 1 Aug 05



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