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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Me and Studio Ghibli: Part 8

Welcome to the penultimate edition of my me and Studio Ghibli feature. To day we are going to look at the two latest Ghibli releases on this side of the world in a Miyazaki double bill. However, the first of the two sees Hayao taking a break from the director's chair and letting his son have a go.

2006-Tales From Earthsea
Tales From Earthsea is the directorial debut of Goro Miyazaki, who must surely be commended for following in the footsteps of his father in the face of the obvious scrutiny and inevitable criticism he was going to face

The film is set in the fictional land of Earthsea where two dragons in the sky have appeared and are seen to eat each other an omen of impending disaster. The story follows the journey of the young Prince Arren rescued by Lord Archmage Sparrowhawk as they venture to find the source of the imbalance. They track it down to Cob who's drive to find the secrets of immortality  threatens to destroy the land.

Thematically Earthsea is adapted from an epic series of books by Ursula le Guin taking characters and situations from across the series. While the possible romantic interest between the young prince  Arren and Therru is not a fully realised one the theme of love is clearly present. Also tackled is the idea of immortality and the never ending conflict between good and evil.

Earthsea received a very mixed reception. Opponents said that the film lacked humour and was poorly knitted together. Others lauded the film's strong animation and  beautiful action scenes. This film paradoxically won Japan's Bunshun Raspberry Award for Worst Film and Goro took Worst Director but was still nominated for Animation of the Year by the Japanese academy.

 The film also drove a rift between Goro and Hayao with Hayao believing his son was poorly qualified to take on a film. During the film's production neither men spoke. Although Hayao did attend the first screening of the film and wrote in a  note to his son that the film was honestly made and therefore good. It is hard not to agree that Goro lacked the necessary experience to write and direct the film. While it isn't bad by any means it is one of the weakest in the Ghibli catalogue. The film lacks any energy and drags for much of its run time. However, I have no doubt the Goro will learn from this experience and will make some fantastic films in the future and hopefully people willl judge him for himself rather than his parents. It is getting its first US theatrical release as we speak, opening the 13th of August 2010.

Ponyo is the latest Miyazaki film to be released and is a complete stylistic shift in terms of animation for the company using a dazzling watercolour style to bring Ponyo and Sosuke's magical world to life.

Ponyo is a little fish who is washed ashore on a beach in a fishing town in Japan where Sosuke a young boy finds her. Then she licks his finger to heal the cut he has on it. She has escaped form her father and is happy for Sosuke to take care of her and feed her ham, her favourite snack everyday. Her father comes searching for her and brings her back to the ocean. She sttates she is in love with Sosuke and manages to grow legs and arms as a consequence of the human blood she tasted healing Sosuke's wound. Before fully escaping she releases her father's magic potion which fully transforms her into a human but in the meantime throws the whole world out of balance. Can Ponyo and Sosuke find a way to clear up this mess and stay together?

In setting out to make Ponyo Miyazaki said he wanted to cater to a group younger than those who could enjoy Totoro. And this film really does skew towards toddlers. however, I loved in nonetheless. The way in which it basks in the wonder and amazement of children will have you smiling from ear to ear. Ponyo though, is a film that keeps love firmly to the forefront which in any film besides Ponyo would be slightly bizarre. for a man in his twighlight years Miyazaki has an unparalleled ability to venture into a world of wonder and magicg that is lost to most people  half his age.

Ponyo was released in the US last year by Disney to a much greater marketing push than other Ghibli films. Apparently the Studio was angry at the paltry takings of their films in the West.  While Im unaware of their promotion was successful the film did open to 927 theaters in America compared to just 26 for Spirited Away and 36 for Howls Moving Castle. It has grossed over $200 million dollars worldwide. Its score is also mightily impressive winning the Outstanding Musical Achievement at the 32nd Japanese Academy awards as well as receiving the prize for Animation of the Year.

Next week I'll be wrapping up the feature and looking at the future of one of the worlds most beloved animation houses.

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