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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Me and Studio Ghibli: Part 7

In the 7th part of our Studio Ghibli film we approach the middle of the 21st century with the directorial debut of Hiroyuki Morita, the Cat Returns and Miyazaki's second to latest Howl's Moving Castle.

2001-The Cat Returns
The Cat Returns is the second theatrical feature by Studio Ghibli not to  be directed by either Takahata or Miyazaki. It has a rather fascinating history based on Whisper of the Heart (detailed in Part 5) which I'll explain later.

The plot deals with the story of Haru, an average high school student in Japan who has the bizarre ability to talk to cats. When she saves the cat prince's son from being run over by a car she is offered his hand in marriage and numerous gifts. When she doesn't refuse outright she is whisked away to the land of cats. As she slowly herself begins turning feline she must plan her escape and return home with the help of the Baron.

Thematically the film does away with  the traditional environmental ideas that pervade most of Ghibli's work. However, the journey Haru takes is quite typical of the Studio herself being a young woman in her teenage years.

It began life as a short to test young animator's abilities at t he studio. They had been asked to compose a short based on cats by a Japanese theme park.  Aoi Hiiraji who had written the novel on which Whisper of the Heart was based was asked to write the manga from which the short would be derived. The responsibility for the short would fall on the shoulders of Hiroyuki Morita.Eventually on the strength of the main character a feature film was commissioned.

The film is one of the weakest in the Ghibli stable however, it was in fact the first of their work that I ever saw so it did inspire me to delve deeper into their canon. While it may lack the depth of storytelling of Princess Mononoke or Pom Poko it is still an enjoyable journey with Haru into the magical kingdom of cats.

2004-Howl's Moving Castle
Howl's Moving Castle had an interesting history. Originally slated to be the directorial debut of Mamoru Hosoda for Ghibli, he abruptly left the project leaving it to Miyazaki to take the rains. The film is based on the novel by Diana Wynnes Jones of the same name.

The plot follows Sophie a young girl made elderly by the spell of the witch of the waste. Previously befriended by the magical Howl she finds her way to his moving castle where she hides out trying to find a way to remedy her curse.

The film again deals with the intellectual growth of the female lead. It also shines a light on narcissism, the struggle between good and evil and young love. Particularly fascinating for me was the degeneration of the witch of the waste. She begins the tale a bitter old woman but by its conclusion has been taken in by Howl and Sophie as she herself has become a frail elderly woman nonthreatening and  capable of rousing pity in the audience. I also enjoyed the performance of Jean Simmons as older Sophie. She succeeded in embodying the girl with a youthful energy besides the outer appearance, showing age is independent of personality.

The film was a roaring success for the company and to this day it remains the 4th most successful film of all time in Japan. It was also nominated for the 2006 Oscar for Best Animated Film. Critically lauded and the receiver of a multitude of awards in Japan Howls moving castle re-asserted Miyazaki's position at the top of the list of worldwide masters of animation.

If you want to catch up on any of the editions in the series check the archive and make sure to check back next week at the same time for more as we are brought right up to date with the releases of this animation powerhouse.

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