Monday, 18 April 2011

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki Part Two (1990- Present)

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki Part Two (1990- Present)
Welcome back to my Hayao Miyazaki filmography ‘breakdown’. If you haven’t already read  Part One, the link is here:

Today we will focus on the 1990s, and the new millennium where Miyazaki gained his true global recognition in animated cinema. 
Porco Rosso  (紅の豚)(1992)

Another lesser known Miyazaki film is Porco Rosso. Instead of the usual magical approach to story, Miyazaki tells a much more historical and cultural drama. Set around the Adriatic Sea, the time frame of the film is somewhere between World War I and II, and focuses on the developing world of aviation. The film balances the fast-paced nature of flight, whilst telling an engrossing story and introducing us to entertaining characters, all in a beautifully rendered setting. 
The plot follows a humanoid pig fighter pilot (you figure that one out!) called Porco Rosso. Nicknamed the ‘Crimson Pig’, he was originally a pilot for the Italian Air Force, but now is a bounty hunter defending ships against pirate gangs. Now with a bounty on his own head, the only thing lying between this conflict is the presence of Madame Gina, owner of an island resort. Gina and Porco’s romantic relationship remains strong from childhood, yet Gina fears for the loss of another love. However, the intrusion of an American pilot, Curtis, threatens this romance and Porco’s own life. The plot is relatively simple but compelling, as it carefully blends action, comedy and drama. All the characters are well developed and hold unique personalities and emotional characteristics. Porco, though stern and cheerless is plagued with guilt and mysticism. His physical condition has led to his isolated self. But his growing romance to Gina and the newly-formed friendship with a peppy engineer, Fio, brings out a newly formed and confident ‘man-pig’. 
Overall Porco Rosso is a departure from the magical landscapes and characters, expect for the talking pig thing. Instead here we focus on a much more historical drama piece. The film brings a lot of inspiration and atmosphere from Miyazaki’s early work in the Lupin III series. The characters are well structured, the animation is glorious and the sound is fabulous. You truly gain a proper cinematic experience. 
Princess Mononoke  (もののけ姫)(1997)

Princess Mononoke, is a much more mature animated film when compared to the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and the most recent Ponyo. It was fourth highest grossing animated film in Japan, and gained a substantial following in America. Again, Miyazaki has implemented a historical setting to his film; the Muromachi period (14th-16th Centuries) of Japan’s history. Yet, it still pertains the traditional imaginative and magical essence of Miyazaki’s cinematic ideology and themes. The result is an epic and intense adventure film built on Japanese myth and folklore. 
The plot is complex, but here goes. A young warrior of a small village, Ashitaka, is stricken with a deadly curse after being attacked by a bore-god/ demon. He must journey to the west in order to save his life. Along the way, he is caught in the middle of feuding war between Lady Eboshi and the ‘gods of the forest’. Princess Mononoke, a brave and strong-minded women who has been raised by the wolf-god, fights alongside the spirits of the forest. However Eboshi, Mononoke and Ashitaka realise that they have to unite to defeat a vengeful Forest Spirit that threatens humanity. 
The plot is constantly intense, and to some extent is complex. Even I had trouble following the story until watching it a number of times. The writing is intelligent and sophisticated when compared to previous works. The animation is fast and furious, and is probably the most violent Miyazaki has ever gone. The killing of wolfs, the shooting off of limbs, its quite shocking to see a director that produced Totoro, use such imagery. However it never goes overboard, instead it serves to show the horrifying consequences of hatred and hostility. Princess Mononoke’s plot is truly crafted for a more adult audience, but with the magic and action, it will certainly entertain everyone. 
The characters are well-voiced and engaging. Ashitaka, a true warrior, builds into a character that plays the mediator between the human forces and the spiritual ones. Working for both sides, he tries to preach that co-existence and peace is the way forward. Princess Mononoke or San, is an almost primitive individual, basing her actions and human contact on that of her ‘forest spirit’ guardians (in the form of wolves). She is aggressive and committed to defending her lands and forest spirits from the invasion of human activity. Laby Eboshi is built up to be the film’s antagonist with her stern personality and devotion to firearms and technology. However, she harbours intentions no more evil than her opportunistic ideology; trying to make it in the world. 
Overall Princess Mononoke is a much more complex and challenging film than Miyazaki’s usual works. The plot has a barrage of unique and deep characters and personalities, and constantly excites and amazes. The animation is fantastic and manages to portray the action-packed, epic nature of the film. Entertaining and intelligent, its well worth a watch for those who like adventure films. 
Spirited Away  (千と千尋の神隠し) (2001) 
Spirited Away will be known by many, due to it winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The film has been highly praised by the general consensus of film critics, and has been featured in many ‘Top Animated Film’ Lists. It has been his critical reception that has seen Spirited Away enter the Western world of animation. This was also the time when Hayao Miyazaki started to be recognised by film lovers and other studios. Sure many of his films such as Princess Mononoke had been released in cinemas across the globe, but not to the same extent as Spirited Away. 
The plot focuses on a 10 year old girl, Chihiro Ogino, as she moves to a new town with her parents. After getting lost, they stumble upon a tunnel and decide to explore. They discover a deserted town where Chihiro’s parents descend into greed, and transform into pigs. From then on we experience a colourful and magical adventure as Chihiro has to rescue her parents, in a world of gods, witches and dragons. Unlike the previous 3 films on this list, Spirited Away sticks to its Japanese roots, offering more of a traditional culture of bathhouses, ceremonies and mysticism. We meet a barrage of strange and colourful characters, who help and hinder Chihiro’s progress. Miyazaki manages all the characters and plot points skilfully never creating a dull moment or blank individual. The animation and Japanese voice-work are amazing as usual, both brilliantly match the personalities and scenes. Its simple spectacular how Miyazaki is able to create such unique and complex ‘world’ from his imagination. 
Whilst not as straight-forward to understand as Kiki’s Delivery Service, overall, Spirited Away is fantastically animated, structured and acted. Its very much a lively, magical, ‘coming of age’ atmosphere that plays well to the younger members of the audience. However, hidden is a deeply philosophical and moral message, questioning modern Japanese society’s greed and its disconnection from traditional culture and values. Its a mystical and magnificent film. 
Howl’s Moving Castle   (ハウルの動く城)(2004)
Very much using the same ideas of witches, war and conflict between human and magic societies, Howl’s Moving Castle is loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel by the same name. Originally to be directed by Mamoru Hosada (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars) he soon left, resulting in a production with no director. Miyazaki, who was retired at the time, took up the project and completed the film. It would have been interesting to have seen Hosada’s interpretation of the novel and final ‘product’. However, we are left with a film that has the consistently beautiful magic of Miyazaki. 
The plot follows a young hat maker, Sophie Hatter (creative?), who leads a boring life with no inspiration or excitement. Her life is changed when a young, handsome yet mysterious wizard sweeps her off her feet, named Howl. However, now involved in ongoing war between magicians and humans, she is cursed by the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’. Transformed into an elderly women, Sophie seeks a return to normality, while gaining sanctuary at Howl’s moving castle. Plot-wise, Howl’s Moving Castle uses the various themes of Miyazaki’s work; magic, war, and the human condition are all commented on. However, it is all brought together masterfully and remains engrossing.
The characters are well constructed and delivered. Sophie, although initially shocked by her curse, soon builds a stronger-willed character that is absolved of fear and anxiety. Howl’s character is one of mysticism and ‘split personality’. From the kind, strong hearted wizard, to a fearful monster, he is constantly changing with the evolving situation. Markl, Howl’s child apprentice, brings humour and charm with his witty, innocence. Beautifully visualised and acted, all the characters remain interesting and special. For the majority of my reviews for Japanese films, I have been unimpressed by the English dubbing. However, Howl’s Moving Castle was the first Miyazaki film where it has actually been good. Christian Bale offers his voice for the magician, Howl, and plays the part realistically. However the standout is Billy Crystal voicing the ‘heart of Howl’, Calcifer (a talking flame that is the ‘soul’ of the moving castle and of Howl). Crystal plays the comedic relief for the film, and does very well to balance humour with drama within his performance. 
Overall, Howl’s Moving Castle is great, yet fails to top Spirited Away. Personally, I felt more of an initial and stronger connection to Chihiro in Spirited Away rather than Sophie. However, comparing the two is impossible, both are excellent films and have their own individual atmospheres and charm. Howl’s Moving Castle has a scale that is much larger and a premise which is a lot more complex. However, it pulls it off spectacularly well. The characters are imaginative and have interesting personalities, and the animation is great as usual. Its a great film to follow an Academy Award winner. 
Ponyo  (崖の上のポニョ) (2008)
The most recent Miyazaki work is Ponyo. Ponyo is essentially Miyazaki’s own depiction on the ‘Little Mermaid’ story. Gone, are the explosions, strange characters and intense plot. Instead, Ponyo is a much more light-hearted affair when compared to his last 2 films, aiming for a much more younger audience. Ponyo is colourful, cute and a joy to watch. 
The story surrounds on a magical fish, Ponyo, who desires a life beyond the sea. These ambitions are frowned upon by her former-human father, Fujimoto, who is has gained a distaste for the human race due to their polluting ways. Yet Ponyo manages to escape and is eventually rescued by a young boy called Sosuke. After a short meeting between the two characters, it soon ends with Ponyo returning to her father’s lair. However, she longs to be human and to be back with Sosuke. Her dangerous use of her father’s magic, transforms her into a real girl, however it also causes an imbalance in the sea. Tidal waves flood the coast and see the sea taking over the land. Thus it is up to Sosuke and Ponyo to save the locals and fully complete Ponyo’s transformation.
The plot is simple, yet effective in entertaining and charming the audience. As always Miyazaki comments on social issues, especially the damaging relationship between man and nature. Here, the focus is water pollution with the various depictions of rubbish filled coastlines. However the main focus of Ponyo is the relationship between Sosuke and Ponyo. Initially a friendship between a fish and a boy, it soon develops into a charming, cutesy, children’s romance between a girl and boy. Ponyo’s introduction to human life is genuinely funny, as she repeats what others say and fails to understand household objects. The language and dialogue is that of children, and is easy to understand and appreciate. 
Overall Ponyo, whilst primarily targeted for children, is still bloody brilliant. I feel that the plot takes a much more ‘backbench’ approach, with the brilliant animation becoming the focus. Don’t get me wrong, the story is great but the animation is spectacular with the colours really jumping out. The characters are full of emotion and are likeable, and the ending is satisfying with a humour to it. 
So that’s my round up of Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography, and as you can see his films are all spectacular. Famous actors like Liam Neeson, Michael Keaton and Gillian Anderson, have lent their voices to his films, showing a growing and popular interest in this prestigious filmography. (Or they want to be linked to a ‘good’ film). From his amazingly detailed imagination and creativity, to his careful and precise ability to structure and manage his productions, it all leads to a director that is just simple magical. While snazzy special effects and £D (3D) have unfortunately become increasingly popular, Miyazaki’s creations remain beautiful to look at and have consistently engrossing and entertaining stories. I have failed to mention the musical input by Joe Hisashi, the infamously talented Japanese composer. His powerful scores and dramatically musical presence help to reinforce the visual nature of each of Miyazaki’s work. All these features add to an amazing cinematic experience, that pleases all audiences. I think there has been a reluctance by many to access the world of Japanese ‘anime’. This predominately due the stereotypical image of the excessive violence, pornography and embarrassing themes. However, I praise Miyazaki for portraying true story, true characters and true animation. He is Brilliant!!!!!

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  1. Great post! I have only seen a few of Miyazaki's films, but Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are certainly my favourites...

  2. Ooo, yes. I've still got a lot to add my Ghibli collection, but if I was to pick a favourite now, it'd, My Neighbour Totoro.