Friday, February 18, 2005

The marvels of Miyazaki

My first exposure to Japanese animation was, like most folks my age, via Speed Racer, which I thought the coolest thing ever. Then, as I got older, I discovered Star Blazers, which simply blew me away, and Battle of the Planets, which was fun if predictable. In college, I saw Akira and thought it interesting, but it didn't convert me into a worshipper at the anime alter. In fact, I took great delight in referring to the art form as "JapCrap" simply to send its passionate devotees into spasms of apoplexy. In the years since, I watched a bunch of anime's offerings, including Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Record of Lodoss War and a host of others. They were all quality for the most part, but none sent me scrambling to the video store to snap up more. Well, except for Star Blazers, but that's more nostalgia than anything else.

Until I saw Spirited Away during its brief theatrical run in the U.S. I'd never been so awed by a movie, with the possible exceptions of Star Wars and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I'd wanted to see Princess Mononoke during its release, but it never showed near me, and I was never in the mood for a rental after that. But Spirited Away blew me away on every level. The sheer imagination at work was stunning. Sure, the platitudes about love towards the end disrupted the honesty of the film some, but I put that down more to East-West language and philosophical differences than everything else. When Disney released it on DVD, my wife bought it for me as a gift and I can't remember how many times I watched it with my girls (who loved it, except for the pig scenes, which horrified them). In short order, we got Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky on DVD as well, and found both of them brilliant in different ways. When Lisa and I finally saw Mononoke (no way are the girls going to see it until they're older. Far too violent for them) we were suitably dazzled. What a great film.

I have become an unabashed fan of Hayao Miyazaki's work. Apart from the great animation and artistic skills he brings to the films, and the afore-mentioned towering imagination, he is an excellent storyteller. His plots aren't linear, veering off into unexpected directions, but at the same time once the resolution is reached it comes off as the only possible outcome. I greatly admire that. But possibly the biggest single reason his work is welcome in our household is the fact that he invariably features the strongest female characters around. I'm not talking Thelma & Louise us-against-them females or Sarah Connor kill-the-machines-before-they-kill-us types. I mean just normal women who are portrayed as the equals of men, fully capable and intelligent in their own right, without a big deal being made of this fact. That this work comes from Japan, where Crown Princess Masako has been driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown by pressure to give birth to a son (as having an Empress on the Chrysanthemum Throne is forbidden under Japanese law). The U.S. has many gender stereotypes ingrained in society, but from what I've seen, Japan has far more.

I love the fact that my daughters are growing up with the pro-active Sailor Moon and Miyazaki's films to instill a strong degree of positive gender identity in them. And that continues in the next three Miyazaki releases from Disney--The Cat Returns, Porco Rosso and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. One of the really cool things about reviewing books and DVDs is that sometimes you get copies of the respective works before the general public. The new Miyazaki discs won't go on sale until next Tuesday, but we've had them for almost two weeks now. The Cat Returns isn't really a Miyazaki film, and isn't as good as the other two. But both Porco Rosso and Nausicaä are very entertaining, if uneven at times. And they both feature as strong female leads as anything Miyazaki's ever done. These are two excellent films and I recommend them to anyone--my reviews should be published at RevSF sometime in the coming week.

But yeah, Miyazaki continues to amaze me. I find myself incorporating some of his stylistic storytelling techniques in my writing on occasion, referencing the way he handled certain plot difficulties when I'm working through various concepts. That doesn't say all that much, because it's not as if I'm Stephen King cribbing from Miyazaki, but it illustrates the degree of respect I hold him in. To say I'm looking forward to the U.S. release of Howl's Moving Castle is an understatment, to say the least.

And lest you missed it, I've had the new DVD releases for two weeks now, nyah nyah nyah!

Now Playing: Greg Kihn Kihnsolidation

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:39 PM

    Vampire Hunter D, dude. Rent it, buy it, or bum it from a friend. It will make you come to the altar that is amine