Monday, September 8, 2008

Scud at the Movies (of Hayao Miyazaki): Part III

Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese writer, creator, and director of animated feature films and co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli.

Spirited Away
I first heard of him when this film, release in 2001, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I was in college then and I remember scouring that film in Carbon, the Cebu version of Quiapo (read: pirated discs) then. I was able to find one and I was blown away by how great and engrossing the animation and story was. Unfortunately, the second disc (dvds were not popular back then) malfunctioned and I wasn’t able to finish watching the movie.
Many years later I bought myself a dvd copy of that film. This time I was able to watch in its entirety and my awe of its animation and plot didn’t diminish years after seeing it for the first time. This film won the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival sharing the prize with the outstanding Bloody Sunday from Paul Greengrass.

The movie begins by introducing Chihiro, a whiny, pessimistic child, who is annoyed about having to move to a new town. While driving to their new house, Chihiro's father attempts a shortcut; they subsequently lose their way and come across a mysterious tunnel which leads to what appears to be an abandoned theme park, lined with seemingly empty restaurants. Finding a restaurant fully-stocked with unattended food, both parents eat the food they find there and prompt Chihiro to join, but she refuses and leaves them briefly. She looks at the area but then returns to fetch her parents but finds they have been turned into pigs. Chihiro's distress at losing her parents is compounded by the discoveries that the world around her has changed and that her body seems to be dissolving. A mysterious boy named Haku appears, comforts Chihiro, and gives her something to eat, which makes her solid again.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

Howl’s Moving Castle
The next Miyazaki film I bought was released in 2004 and based on Dianne Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name. This film premiered at the 2004 Venice International Film Festival and yet again, Miyazaki impresses with this feature film who was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2005 Academy Awards.

The film starts off with the protagonist of Howl's Moving Castle, Sophie, a timid and unsure 18-year-old girl who works in her late father's hat shop. She has a chance encounter with the mysterious wizard Howl (27 years old), who rescues her from some menacing soldiers. However, by doing so, Howl brings Sophie to the attention of the Witch of the Waste, who visits Sophie and puts a curse on her, transforming her into a 90-year old woman. Unable to tell anyone of the curse, she sets off on her journey to the Waste, to beg Howl to lift the curse. On the way she meets a magically animated scarecrow whom she names Turnip Head. Together they find Howl's moving castle.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

Princess Mononoke
The third of six Miyazaki movies that I saw and the second best after Spirited Away was released in 1997. The film is set in the Muromachi period of Japan, and thus is a period drama, and focuses on the struggle between supernatural guardians of a forest and the humans who consume its resources.

Princess Mononoke follows the journey of the last Emishi prince, Ashitaka, and his attempts to make peace between the human settlement, Tataraba, and the creatures living in the forest that surrounds it.
The film begins with Ashitaka saving his village from a vicious assault by killing a
demon who is actually the giant boar god Nago corrupted by rage. During the fight,
Ashitaka receives a demon mark on his right arm, and he is cursed by the Boar God's
hatred and pain. Ashitaka is told that the mark will spread throughout his body, killing him. A ball of iron is found inside Nago's corpse which is somehow connected to the curse. Ashitaka resolves to journey to Nago's origin, the lands to the West, to try and find a cure for his curse.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

The next three Miyazaki films I watched these past two weekends don’t hold a candle to the first three films I listed but it’s not bad either. One of these, which I think comes awfully close to the best 3 I have mentioned, is Laputa: Castle in the Sky released in 1986.

The name Laputa comes from the name of the floating island in Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels. According to legend, humans were fascinated with the sky; therefore they created increasingly sophisticated ways of lifting aircraft from the ground. This eventually led to flying cities and fortresses. Over time, the cities came crashing back to the ground, forcing the survivors to live on the ground as before. One city, Laputa, is said to remain in the sky, concealed within the swirling clouds of a violent thunderstorm. While most people consider it to be fictional, some believe the legend is true and have sought to find the ancient city. Airships still remain in common use.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

My Neighbor Totoro, released in 1998, was fun to watch especially the character Mei which reminded me of the adorable kid in Monster’s Inc, one of my favorite Pixar (or was it Disney?) movies.

In 1958, a university professor and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, move into an old house in rural Japan, so as to be closer to the hospital where his wife is recovering from an illness. The daughters find that the house is inhabited by tiny animated dust creatures called soot sprites, which their father explains are makkurokurosuke, a small house spirits seen when moving from light to dark places. When the girls become comfortable in their new house and laugh with their father, the soot spirits leave the house.
When Mei, the younger daughter, plays outside the house while her father works inside after Satsuki has left for school, she sees two white, rabbit-like ears in the grass (reminiscent of The White Rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland). Upon following this creature under the house, she eventually discovers two small magical creatures, which lead her through a briar patch (once again alluding to Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole), and into the hollow of a large Camphor Laurel tree. There she meets and befriends a larger version of the same kind of spirit, which identifies itself by a series of roars she interprets as "Totoro". Her father later tells her that this is the "keeper of the forest".

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

The least entertaining (but not thoroughly bad like Sony Pictures’ Open Season) is Kiki’s Delivery Service released in 1989.

Kiki is a 13-year-old witch-in-training, living in a small rural village where her mother is the resident herbalist. The film opens at the time traditional for Kiki to leave her home to spend a year alone in a new town to establish herself as a full witch. Kiki therefore flies off on her mother's broom with her closest companion, Jiji, a loquacious black cat.
Kiki settles in the beautiful seaside city of Koriko, and, after initially finding it difficult to adjust to the city's pace of life, starts a delivery service that takes advantage of her ability to fly. Kiki experiences several setbacks, such as slow business, misplaced merchandise, rude customers, and illness. She also must contend with her loneliness, worries, and home-


(courtesy of Wikipedia)

Just recently, Miyazaki released his latest (and probably last) animated feature, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, about a five-year-old boy named Sosuke and a Princess goldfish, Ponyo, who wants to become human. I am looking forward to getting a copy of this and other Miyazaki films like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Porco Rosso (1992).

Below is the list of Miyazaki films that I have seen (from best to least favorite):
1. Spirited Away (2001)
2. Princess Mononoke (1997)
3. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
4. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
6. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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