August 20, 2008

Miyazaki's European flying arc

As a general rule, Ghibli films that Hayao Miyazaki has written or directed are based on Japanese mythology and fairy tales (Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo on a Cliff), or belong to his "European flying arc." The latter take place in Europe (or reference the region), include exuberant flying sequences, and feature a spunky teenage girl as the heroine.

Excellent English dubs of these films have been produced and released by Disney, with impressive talent behind the microphone. For example, Michael Keaton, Brad Garrett, and Carey Elwes (sporting a Texan accent) face off in Porco Rosso, with Kimberly Williams as the spunky teenage girl and David Ogden Stiers (sporting an Italian accent) as her grandfather.

The following list classifies the films according to period and setting.

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Victorian steampunk with a Dickensian tone. A young girl literally falls out of the sky into Muska's arms, setting off an Indiana Jones-type adventure to discover the legendary "Castle in the Sky." In hot pursuit are sky pirates (a Miyazaki favorite) and sinister government forces (Mark Hamill voices the Darth Vader character).

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Late Edwardian. The movie begins with a Disneyesque depiction of the ideal, early 20th century European burg. But before long, Howl's playing of all sides against each other (as in Kurosawa's Yojimbo) has drawn Sophie and him inexorably into the latter stages of the Great Game and finally into the devastation of the Great War.

Porco Rosso (1992)

A classic "Lost Generation" piece set in the Northern Adriatic. The leads could have been played by Bogart and Bacall straight out of To Have and Have Not. The "Red Pig" is a cynical WWI ace living with the guilt of being the sole survivor of his squadron while battling a bunch of bumptious, bumbling sky pirates.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Miyazaki homages the Northern Mediterranean in this coming-of-age story based solidly in the 1950s. The setting is his most picturesque, sans the dark political overtones of Howl's Moving Castle and Porco Rosso. Kiki is an enterprising young witch who starts her own bicycle messenger service (well, by broom, of course).

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

The story takes place in present-day West Tokyo, but Nishi-san's Curiosity Shoppe comes straight out of the Hans Christian Andersen school of architecture. Nishi-san bought the Cat Baron in Germany before the war, which we see in a glowing flashback. Shizuku's boyfriend goes to Cremona, Italy, to study violin making.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Miyazaki's first Studio Ghibli production. Princess Nausicaa fights to save her village from being overrun by marauding environmental forces and warring armies. Though it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, Nausicaa's village has a distinctive medieval European look, as does her arch-enemy Kushana's armor.

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# posted by Blogger Eugene
8/20/2008 3:06 PM   
The third category of Ghibli films could be called "realistic slice of life" (the WWII drama Grave of the Fireflies belongs in a class by itself). Both Whisper of the Heart and Totoro qualify, as do My Neighbors the Yamadas, Only Yesterday, and I Can Hear the Sea. The latter three don't have any fantasy elements.

I Can Hear the Sea, a teen angst/love story, has been tied up in licensing issues. Only Yesterday is about a twenty-something woman working in Tokyo who visits the old home town and falls for the boy who never left the farm. You could call it an animated chick flick. The editing and art direction are superb.

Disney owns the rights and it's got a stub on Amazon, but no publication date yet.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
9/12/2008 3:52 AM   
Hey Eugene,

What do you think of I Can Hear the Sea?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
9/12/2008 8:36 AM   
I quite like it. As a coming-of-age teen melodrama, it's a bit out of place in the Ghibli oeuvre, though similar in mood and genre to Only Yesterday.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
9/13/2008 2:52 AM   

What about the theme? I feel as if there's very little to go on in terms of actual statements from characters. There is perhaps one statement in which I think something could be deduced from it:

`` It's kind of like changing seats. When you're young and have to sit next to someone you hate, you don't even want to go to school. The problem is that your world is too small. If you have something other than school, such as a piano lessons then people you dislike aren't a problem.'' (Also mentioned here.)

There is, of course, the ocean but I feel like I'm mostly contradicting myself on it. What is the ocean metaphor? I have three sources of ideas: the scene with Matsuno and Taku in front of the sea, the ED, and a transcript of the second live-action.

It seems mostly impenetrable, I can't create a logical string of thoughts on it. I really like it but I'd love it more if somebody gave me some ideas to go along with to help understand it.

P.S. I read your translation for Twelve Kingdoms before Tokyopop released theirs. I never thanked you but thanks! I think it's sad to see what the TV series did to the first arc by introducing the other characters. Personally, the 3rd arc was my absolutely favourite--the speech by Youko in episode 39 is an all-time favourite of mine.
# posted by Blogger Eugene
9/13/2008 3:57 PM   
If I had to single out a theme for both Only Yesterday and I Can Hear the Sea, it would be "reconsidering the past." To be honest, it's been a while since I last watched it. Though now I'm getting curious enough to want to read the novel.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
10/31/2008 5:03 PM   
Very nice article.